One of the things that still hits me at certain moments on the bus, subway or just walking down the street here in Korea is how similar everyone looks. It is so strange to come from a country that has so much diversity and variety of looks amongst its people, but I wonder what Koreans really think when they see a foreigner so different from them.
In my grade 1 classes we have been covering descriptions and there’s nothing to hit this topic better than when I’m going around a class of 30 students trying to find a kid that doesn’t have the same hair cut or hair length as the others. Most of the girls have either the long black straight hair or the bob cut medium length hair cut. The boys most have the medium length (for a boy) cut and of course it’s black and straight. Most of the kids are the same body shape and height as well.
I understand why there is such pressure to look like the KPop stars or to file in the line and be like everyone else. Yes it’s a sense of community and the greater good, but on my quest for finding my own individuality it is so different from my basic principles on what I want for my life.
It’s not all bad though, please don’t take it that way. It’s just another cultural perspective that is so different from what I want or what I’m used to, but it sure is teaching me a lot.
As I stated in my last post, I was inspired by my templestay to take a week off from Kakao, Facebook and Spotify.
Monday was tough. I found myself coming back to my phone even though it was in airplane (my damn phone won’t turn off- thanks Apple). And I found myself wanting to write different friends stupid meaningless comments about my day. It made me realize how superficial I’ve become in my conversations via text/chat.
Tuesday was better, although my floor heater is broken so my coteacher was trying to reach me to check on me as it was the first really cold night.
Wednesday coming into school my coteacher hadn’t known of my challenge and was trying to reach me the night before. I turned my phone on and had to text my templestay group members I wouldn’t be coming to the last meeting as I didn’t have any other way to contact them and I needed my phone for my coteacher as my floor was supposed to get fixed (it didn’t).
Thursday, I had gotten out of my habit to check my phone, but did notice that I had close to 90 Kakao messages (two or three group chats so hold your panic), 5 Facebook chats missed and over 30 Viber messages- again group messages and my family likes to babble about not significant things of the day, but let’s you know what’s happening in the now.
So as tomorrow is the day I will turn my phone back on these are my thoughts of my whole experiment: 1) it is really hard to be abroad and be disconnected from your daily life- what’s happening, last minute and future plans, etc. 2) I quite enjoyed watching the sunsets, hearing the bus driver turn on his tablet and have Christina Aguilera, The Eagles and Mariah Carey come on and just being aware of my surroundings more. 3) I realized I have created a sense of self-importance (and maybe all of us have this complex) wherein I like to feel wanted and needed by a simple text/ Facebook post or chat daily. Once I realized this I was able to think more inwardly about what I want for me. This is something that is truly hard for me to do. I am always about making others happy, but I need to worry about myself first. 4) My mood was more about MY mood and not those in my life (relates to #3). 5) I will be doing this challenge again, but I will be doing it with forewarning to friends and family and will probably be doing it on my winter vacation wherein I hope to be doing a meditation retreat where they take my phone for over a week.
Attending the temple stay program (see below) made me realize that it was time for me to take on my challenge that I had said I would eventually do in Korea- detach for one week. Now, I’m not going to be all emo about it, but at the temple stay they took our phones away when we got there and got them back the next day. During this time I had a deep think on the benefits of me keeping my phone off for 1 week. No Spotify, no Kakao, no Viber and most importantly no Facebook/ Instagram or other social media. This also applies to computers at school and at home.
Now, in the mornings, I do listen to Sound Cloud as my floor heater is broken it’s below freezing temperatures in the morning and I wake up and go to school before the sun rises now. My music helps wake me up and move.
I have 5 more days (going Saturday-Saturday) and I have found so far that I am very attached to my phone and all the above features. I find myself thinking “OH, that would be a good post”“, “so and so would love to hear this in a FB chat/kakao”, or “people might find this interesting, I should post this [picture/article,etc].
I find it interesting that I have become so dependent on these ways of communication and how I feel a sense of self-importance that probably didn’t exist before the smartphone and all the social networking sites.
Yesterday going home on the bus without my Spotify in my head I looked around more as the bus drove and listened to the sounds around me (mostly Korean radio or conversation surrounding me). But I was able to witness a beautiful sunset as the bus drove me home. I love sunsets and sunrises. This one was especially beautiful as there were still fluffy clouds in the sky from the storm with many patches of blue sky. The sun poked through from behind one of the clouds and had that pink/yellow tinge that comes with a winter’s sunset- something I miss about Arizona.
What do I hope to achieve from this week off from it all? A realization that I do not need to post on Facebook and maybe actually make my phone texts worth while. Now maybe that nonsense texting helps keep the relationships, but it has been nice to just be with myself in my head and now worrying about someone else’s thoughts, actions, feelings effecting my own.
I did my first temple stay this past weekend, November 23-24. It was with the Temple Stay Supporters Program I had joined and I was very pleased with the overall outcome. We learned a lot about meditation and different ways to meditate. We did 108 prostrations- Korean bowing where you are standing then kneel and bow all the way to the floor with your hands and head touching the ground. We did this twice, along with more bows in the Sunday morning procession. So overall I did 300 bows and let me tell you, I need to get my quads back in shape! I am so sore from that experience!
Besides that I meditated for a total of 50 minutes or Seon meditation as they call it here. The most/ longest I’ve made it prior to this was 10 minutes at a time. We did 2- 20 minute meditations and that was quite the challenge for me, but I made it and want to continue to reach this goal.
The Monk that has been teaching us, Jawoo, has been amazing at answering my loads of questions- I’m quite curios- and has answered them with the purest heart I think I’ve met.
We have another temple stay to attend December 21 and that experience will be very different. Overall, I would highly recommend anyone to try this experience at least once to understand a different way and style of living.
Tonight I went out to dinner with 3 of my favorite students. One of them brought up jimjilbangs, or sauna’s, wherein Korean people go to relax and unwind. She being all of 15 years old has gone to one and more than once. It’s a family affair at times (so I’ve heard) and children of all ages can go in. The one catch, and the reason why I haven’t gone is because for most of the time you are completely naked.
I’ve been an avid gym rat and even worked at many gyms. It was very rare to see women walking around naked (sorry men, I know you may think otherwise). But nudity in America is something most of us do not do with others in public places, especially strangers.
I find it interesting that a country that is so anti-homosexuality, so conservative politically as well with their views towards women that they could be so liberal about being around other women completely nude. Especially when the one’s I’ve seen at my gym are not the perfect K-Pop stars that you see in posters all around that Korea is so image-hungry for.
Now it’s probably a good thing that they teach children to be comfortable in their own skin. This is something I have struggled with my whole life. Growing up as a chunky kid/teen in Orange County didn’t help with those issues as well, but I have thought on this topic many times and have wondered why Americans are so shy about nudity as opposed to other nations in including Korea.
If you are American you probably read that title and think “what is she going to be talking about? Is she having relations with the students??” The answer is yes, but not in the way American’s have become accustomed to think. I think one of the hardest things for me to adjust to in Korea is the relationships between teacher and student. Because this country has a very low crime rate and you do not hear about teachers having intimate relations with their students the relationships between the two parties involved is very loving and caring in a way that America no longer allows teachers.
I am not having the inappropriate relationships that you hear of in the news in America, but I do take some students to ice cream (in a group) after school without permission of parents and have spent a day with one of my best students (longer story mostly due to miscommunication).
In fact it is highly encouraged here to get to know students better. In some cases, Korean teachers will have students sleep over or come over for dinner. They do not sleep in the same beds, but rather it is an Aunt/Uncle- Niece/Nephew type relationship.
It is strange to be from America and have these voices in the back of your head all the time thinking “if I am playing UNO with just this student in my office (that is shared by 3 other teachers) am I out of line?” It is because as American’s we have become a society that is un-trusting and at times disturbing.
I have found myself having those types of thoughts when interacting with students mainly because I do come from America and in America there are sick people. Now, I’m not saying that these types of people are completely non-existent in Korea, but cultural expectations and interactions are very different that it seems uncommon (or maybe perhaps not talked about if anything bad is happening).