on to the next thing…

Even though I still have a few months left in Korea, and so much more to learn about this country, my thoughts are naturally drawn to the next one. I was wondering about the huge contrast I saw in Bangkok between the rich and the poor and just today there was an article about that very subject on BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7328054.stm

Learning really never ends, huh?

Four days a week I teach a free-speaking class in the evenings to seniors. I learn something new from them every day about Korea. Today we talked about what we do to stay healthy and take care of ourselves. One man told about how when he was a child he was very sickly. His parents spent a lot of money to take him to a deer farm so he can drink fresh deer blood. This is attributed to his later good health. I had heard of this practice before but he’s the first person I’ve met who has actually done it. I’m told it’s illegal now but that you can still do it in China and that people do travel to do it. The reason is, they don’t kill the deer. They basically stick straws in them and take a little blood at a time. There are a lot of things that people eat and drink in Korea that you will not find in the West but for some reason this one fascinates me the most.

I have also been hearing more and more stories about the military service here. All Korean men are required to serve in the military, usually for just over two years. Many men study through their freshman year of college, go to military, then finish. Alternately you can go straight after high school or do ROTC in college which seems to allow you to finish college before joining (although I’m not 100% sure about that one). My freshman guys all haven’t gone yet and are totally scared about it. I do have two freshmen who just finished service, so are 22 or 23 years old, and do not seem to help allay the fears of the younger guys. My senior guys in the conversation class are pretty comfortable about telling their stories. All hated their time there and most seemed to have left feeling rather cynical about life. It makes me sad. They say “you are not a person in the army”.

Most days, when I don’t really think about it, I do not have the most favorable opinion of Korean men. Their general views about women don’t sit well with me and I don’t relate to the cynical viewpoints and emphasis on acquiring status. Of course, each individual guy I get to know I end up liking, in spite of these things. You can’t blame them really. They are under enormous pressure from every side to conform to impossible standards. They have so many obligations in society– towards their family, boss, wife. Many more so than in our society I think. On top of that it is much more competitive here. There is just not enough of the high-status or high-paying jobs for everyone who is qualified. I would be cynical too if my family insisted I must do A, B, and C to be a “good child” and then my boss was also saying I must do everything under the sun he asks to have my job (and finding another job is out of the question) and my spouse says I must do D, E, and F to be a good spouse. Yikes!

It all certainly makes me appreciate the freedom I have in my own life, that’s for sure!