Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Reign Has Ended

I am writing this to say goodbye. I like the title I picked for this post because I think it's catchy. To me it means two things: 1. I, aka, Queen For A Year, am retiring this blog and 2. Lately, I have had some hard times and in being proactive and making a change I hope that personally my life will improve and that the "rain" will end. I was thinking about the song from the musical Annie "The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow they'll be sunshine...."

I will be returning to Eastern Canada on Monday, March 19th, 2007 so I will no longer be living and teaching English in South Korea so it seems like the right time to say goodbye to you and this blog. Moreover, I have not posted since just prior to Christmas 2006 and some of you may be wondering why. I feel that I owe you an explaination. I could very easily just let you assume it was because I was busy planning my return to Canada but that is not the truth. I have always tried to be honest and maintain my intergrity in keeping this blog so to lie to you by omission now goes against the grain. I just can't do it. So, here's the truth.

I have not been doing my weekly post recently and the true and primary reason for this is that unforunately rather than promoting understanding and discussion I have received several "comments" [which although I chose not to publish - at the time] I feel hurt and personally attacked by. This has taken the fun out of blogging for me. It's one thing to write about your own personal experiences while in your own country and culture and surrounded by the people you love and who love and support you. However, it is quite another thing entirely to try and write a weekly blog when far from home. As some of you know, Korea is called "The Hermit Kingdom" [even my Lonely Planet Korea book calls Korea that] and it can be a very socially isolating place for a Westerner. To live here and has been a series of ups and downs but to live my life more publically became too much a strain for me.

After four years here, I will be leaving Korea permanently. I feel that I have given Korea more than a fair chance and I have come to the conclusion that it is time for me to go home. I came here very idealistic and I leave some what dishearted. The truth is I no longer feel comfortable living and working in Korea nor do I feel that I can make a difference here. One of my critics who I had chosen not to publish [at the time] made a comment on my post about Korean Bakeries which I titled "Not Quite Right" and he told me and I quote him "Bob Barker has left a new comment on your post ""Not Quite Right"": Heard it all before.... not quite right? or night quite what you're used to?If you dont like it, go home. " And, I have chosen to go home.

I am aware of the fact that people who write blogs often receive a lot of judgements by people who don't know them and some of them are even harassed over cyberspace. I alluded to this a little bit in talking about Shawn Matthews committing suicide in Beijing and that some people said that one contributing factor was that we deleted his Korean Life Blog and had given up blogging - which he loved in response to hassassment.. I talked about this in my post titled "Goodbye Shawn" [here a link to that post
  • Goodbye Shawn
  • found in my June Archive]. Although, thankfully, I in no way have received the same amount of harrassment that Shawn did I feel as he did - compelled to stop blogging. It's no longer fun and enjoyable. It not longer makes me feel less isolated and more understood but rather the opposite.

    I wrestled with how much I wanted to get into the negative comments and rather I wanted to put them here for everyone to see and read. But, in the end I decided to because I want people to know the truth and I, also, want to serve as warning to other bloggers - becareful what to write. If you are too candid you will be criticized and sometimes even personally attacked.

    Sunday, February 25th, 2007 I received what I consider to be my worst "comment" so far. Of course, the harshes of of the negative comments were made either with someone using "Anonymous" as their ID or another obvious fake ID names. At the time this really annoyed me since prior to this very moment [when I just removed my e-mail address] I have always had my name, photo and even my e-mail address posted on this blog for the world to see. I would have like to personally answer these people. However, now I have decided that it is a good thing it was done this way as it allowed me time to calm down and thankfully now and I more collected. I have chosen not to respond to these critics because I have come to the conclusion that there are some people who read blogs with their own personal agenda of finding fault. I no longer am idealistic enough to think that I can change the minds of these "hard liners". It is the more moderate people who have always been the target audience of my blog - at least in my mind.

    Thus without farther ado here is the latest "comment".
    "Anonymous has left a new comment on your post ""Not Quite Right"": I work at an English Language Center in the U.S. We receive students from every part of the world, and found your blog through a friend. She emailed me the entry about the discrimination you face in Korean. After I read that post, I continued reading the rest of your blog. First of all let me state that the "discrimination" you mentioned you are experiencing in Korea is the same here. I mention this because I can add the voice of many people from many countries with many experiences, not just one person from one country relaying one experience.

    I think the reason you are so outraged is because you somehow have taken the title "queen for a year" to heart. I hope that you understand that people are allowed to assign their own rules in their own country as they see fit. They do not have to give you special privileges because you are a white Canadian.

    I kept reading your blog because I thought that you were just going through an adjustment period, I was wrong. I also cannot believe your attitude in your later post. You state that some things in Korean are "not quite right." I find it unimaginable that you have lived in Korea for 3 years and you are still fighting against the culture. Other countries are not a different version of the "first world" as many westerners would like to think. If it exist in Korea, then it is just right from bean curd popsicles to eating dogs. I am sure that if you had encountered the same puffed air dessert in France you would rave about it.

    I am well versed in the ways of the ugly American, but the ugly Canadian, for some reason I didn't think it existed. I guess I was wrong. "

    Another comment I received but did not publish at the time was this one. "chacha has left a new comment on your post "New Furniture": Nobody says white people get a lot of male attention. They just stare because they're wondering wtf you're doing there. Don't flatter yourself, babe."

    I even received what I consider to be attacks on my ample figure. For example I got these two comments. "leone has left a new comment on your post ""Not Quite Right"": Perhaps it's a good thing that Korean cakes don't taste so good to you - think of your figure!!!! "

    "Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Adventures in Cooking": why are your boobs next to your belly button"

    Moreover, even my right to express my opinion and experience was questioned. I write as a white, Canadian woman because that is what I am. I never made a secret of that fact. I can only write about my experiences through my own eyes. However, again and again, I was told that because I was a "white Canadian" I could not write about discrimination or I think that only when a "white Canadian" experiences racism do I think that it is important Here is one such criticism I received on my post "Discrimination Against Foreigners in Korea".

    "Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Discrimination of Foreigners in Korea": i am a korean canadian, living in US. although i feel sorry for your troubles, for most of us, it's pretty much the same. your post makes it sound as if korea is the only country that treats foreigners like this, but it simply isn't true. i work with a company here in US, in California, and whenever i have people come on an extended business trip from, say, Korea, they go through the same: need to deposit $500- $5,000 to get "secured" credit card (you can only use up to the amount you deposit). they have to deposit $500 (another $500 if they want to call overseas) to get a mobile phone service, if they can get it at all.

    I'd love to join a local country club, but alas, my money is not good with them. apparently, i have to be white and old (they say, you must know a member and get recommended by one - sure if you are new, you'd know people like that)

    You claim that you can navigate through most websites in Korea, apparently not so. I don't have Korean citizenship, so when I signed up for Cyworld, for example, I used my Canadian passport to sign up. And I do use it frequently. i.e. Cyworld does accept foreigners. and yes, i have nate/nateon messenger as well.

    Foreigners in Korea feel they are discriminated against, sure, I think that is true to some extent, but I am not sure it's any worse than what people get when they come to either Canada or US. i certainly hope anyone is implying that only when a canadian/american gets discriminated it's worth blogging about while the other way, it's just way of life here. "


    Not all comments were negative and some were very favorable and encouraging. To those of you who enjoyed my blog and wrote to thank me let me offer my thanks to you. I appreciate your support. I feel you understood the true spirit of my blog - which was not intended to be a social commentary or political lighting rod but rather a frank and sincere personal account of my sojourn in "the land of the morning calm".

    It is with mixed feelings that I say goodbye to you and this blog. If you enjoy my writing and want to hear more from me don't fret. I am in the process of writing a book about my adventures living and teaching English in South Korea. Moreover, it will not just be a recap of my blog but a include fresh new ideas and material. I have always planned to write a book about my experiences and therefore although I used this blog to try and discipline myself to consistently write and to try and hone my writing skills nonetheless it was always with the knowledge that I needed to save some of my funniest and most dramatic experiences for my book.

    I plan to keep this blog as it is and later offer an excerpt from my book as well as a link showing where you will be able to purchase my book - as soon as I complete it.

    Rest assurred this will not be the last you hear of me or my writing. "Queen For A Year" was rather tame or so I thought - and yet it invited a level of viciousness that was - at least to me -shocking! However, through this experience I have become even more convinced that words are power - they can hurt or they can heal. They have the ability to convey emotion and allow others to learn and grow vicariously though another person's experience. It is with this hope that I embark on the next chapter of my life and journey.


    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    Christmas in Korea

    It has taken a lot to get me into the spirit of Christmas this year. It just doesn't seem like Christmas to me without snow. This time of year seems to naturally lead to reflection and I amazed to realize that this will be my third Christmas in Korea. Wow! It seems like so long ago I first arrived here in South Korea and yet time has gone fast.

    To get into the spirit of the season I have consciously made an effort to try to feel more seasonal. My journey went something like this:

    I noticed a lady selling roasted sweet potatoes in the market area behind my apartment building and I could actually smell them [amazing with my bronchitis] and they smelled so good. I stopped and got some for my dinner. They were delicious! Since then every Friday night I stop and chat to the vendor and buy some more sweet potatoes for my dinner. The wood fire is so pretty sometimes I just stand and watch it for a few moments and think... it does seem a little more like Christmas.

    Last week when I made my weekly visit to Dunkin' Donuts [its my mid week treat] I saw a poster and was able to read that they were offering a new "Holiday Coffee". It looked good so I ordered one and sat drinking it and looking at the decorations and started to get into the Christmas spirit.

    Across from my apartment building is a Korean Beef Restaurant [a Galbi Restaurant as I would call it] and they have some nice lights out for Christmas. But, I have to admit is still looks strange to me to see outdoor tables and Christmas lights at the same time. It's too cold to even consider eating outside in my hometown in Canada anytime around Christmas.

    Mega Mart the large supermarket [small department store] near my house has some lovely Christmas lights. I went for a walk last night to look at the Christmas lights around here and took this picture.

    Another shot of the Christmas lights outside Mega Mart.

    We put up a few decorations in the teachers' room at school. And, that made it feel a little cozier and a little more seasonal.

    This Santa Claus is on display at one of my schools. I love that his banner is on him in Korean. I wish I could read it. Just when I think my Korean is improving I can't read a simple Christmas banner. Ba hum bug!

    Even the subway stations are decorated for Christmas. This is the Nampo-dong Subway Station Christmas tree.

    Last night in the Nampo-dong Subway station there was a band wearing Santa hats and preforming. They were pretty good and a number of people stopped to listen and enjoy the music.

    This is "Julie Teacher". She is the Elementary School Korean-English teacher at one of my schools. She gave me a lovely red scarf for Christmas.

    Yesterday, at my Yong-do school we had a Christmas party and of course there was pizza. Here's "Harry" enjoying some pizza and posing for a picture for me.

    I snapped this picture of my students digging into the pizza. I guess pizza really is an international favorite food. Notice that it's still so hot that the cheese is stringy. YUMMY!

    My Grade 6 student "Rocky" surprised me with a Christmas present of a set of 4 Cappuccino Mugs. They are so pretty and huge. Lately, I been making a mug of hot chocolate at night and curling up on my bed with it. There I've been watching Christmas shows which I download using bit torrents and watch on TV via my Xbox and the FTP program [that sends them to the Xbox without me evening having to burn them to a DVD]. Who knew I'd even become so technologically sauvy? Not me.

    This week I had a class on how to make a Christmas card in English for my students. I expected them to take the cards for their families. However, some of my students surprised me and gave me the card they had made at the end of the class. They wrote really nice messages like "I love you" and "Annabelle Teacher, Pretty". I am so flattered.

    More Christmas cards and postcards.

    Another Christmas card from a student.

    This Grade 5 student wrote in English and smaller on the left in Korean. I am embarrassed to say I had to get a Korean-English teacher to help me read the Korean message. I speak Korean much better than I can read or write it and I think in that way I have fooled the children into thinking I'm much better at Korean than I actually am.

    Still more Christmas cards.

    More Christmas cards and postcards. I feel so loved.

    Last but not least I finally broke down and bought myself a new digital camera. I've been wanting one for a long time. I love my old digital camera but it's only 2.0 mega pixels and it doesn't do on well close ups. I have been wanting to take clear, crisp pictures of some of the Konglish I see daily but haven't been able to with my old camera. This is a Sony Cybershot camera with 7.2 mega pixels and a macro feature that lets me do close ups of printed material.
    I am considering this to be my Christmas present to myself for surviving my ill health and getting into the Christmas spirit in spite of being far away from the people I love most int he whole world. Merry Christmas to me.
    Well, I'm off to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on my Xbox and TV and drink some hot chocolate.
    Merry Christmas everyone.

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    Too Close To The Fire

    I haven't posted in a couple of weeks because I am still sick. I thought it was just a very bad cold but come to find out I have bronchitis. I am managing to drag myself to work everyday but it's not easy and my free time tends to be spent coughing and sleeping. I try to watch tv or read a book only to find that I have fallen asleep. Of course, I realize this only later when I wake myself up coughing.

    I have tons of medication from an Internal Medicine Specialist called a 내 과 [nae gwa]. In case you don't know, in Korea often you have know what's wrong with you and see a specialist. There are some general practice doctors or family doctors around [or so I have been told] but I can never seem to find one so I just figure out what kind of specialist I need and go directly to see them. Luckily, almost all doctors here can communicate quite well in English.

    Here in South Korea, there are no fancy pill bottles with your name and the medication name and dosage printed on them. You get a paper bag with the name of the pharmacy on the outside of it and the telephone number of the pharmacy. Inside the paper bag are a strip of wax paper envelopes filled with pills that you tear apart at the perforations to made individual envelopes that are small and easy to take to work with you in a pocket or purse. It's really quite convenient.

    Your pills come in a sealed wax paper envelope and you often get several different kinds of pills to take at one time and you don't even know which drug is which. Sometimes the envelope has the pharmacy's name printed on it but never the drug names or dosages. Moreover, these pills are taken 30 minutes after meals and sometimes they are different for each meal. The name of the meal is printed on the envelope in Korean. However, most pharmacists give me a permanent marker and tell me which meal and I write it in English on each envelope so as not to get confused later. However, this time all the envelopes are exactly the same for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I didn't need to do that.

    I, also, got a bottle of cough syrup. It, as you can see, is also not labelled with a drug name only the date it was prepared and the dosage to take [in this case 20cc]. The Korean teachers laughed at me when they saw this bottle of cough syrup. Apparently, Korean adults never take this only children. So, they teased me that I must be just a "big kid". But one teacher speculated that maybe it is because Korean drugs are very strong and that maybe this was better for a foreigner like me.

    I hate to admit it but I am sure that the reason I am so sick is that my school is not properly heated. In fact, until just last week there was no heat at all. Even now the heat is on only about 4 or 5 hours a day while the children are there and not the 8 hours we teachers are in the building. Once the kids leave for the day the heat gets turned off again and we are left to huddle around any portable heaters we have.

    Some teachers buy electric heaters and hide them under their desks to use. I assume they think management wouldn't let them use them since if they are too frugal to pay for an couple extra hours of heat they wouldn't want to pay a larger electric power bill. Once I got sick, however, I went to see the owner of the school and told him I need a heater in the teacher's room or I would have to resign. I wasn't playing hard ball it's just that if I get sick any sicker than I won't be able to work. And if you can't work most schools fire you cutting off your health insurance. I wasn't willing to take that chance.

    Moreover, since I work at three different locations of the same school I would have had to buy 3 heaters an expensive proposition. Not to mention the days I wasn't at the school the heater would likely get used and confiscated by management or broken. I have terrible trouble at one school even keeping a pencil in my desk drawer. The next time I look for it or anything else, I stupidly, left there it is gone - obviously someone else has walked away with it.

    Lucky for me the owner of my school likes me and didn't want to see me resign. So after some negotiating he told me he'd provide a heater in the teacher's room of each school for me to use. Now, I am feeling warmer and hopefully can start to recover. The negative fallout from this is that some of the Korean teachers resent me and feel I am getting special treatment. But I try not to worry about that too much I had to fight my own battle and since they work at one location most of them had already bought a pillow for the cold seat of their chair and a blanket to bundle up in and a number of them had, also, smuggled in electric heaters. They did what they needed to do to make their work-place bearable for themselves I am I did what I needed to do to take care of myself. I wish they could understand we aren't so different. We're all just trying to get along the best way we know how.

    Anyway, here are some cute pictures I took of the children all bundled up against the cold.


    This is "Sara" in her cute pink bear hat. She usually makes me try it one so she can laugh at how funny I look in it.

    This is "Anny" wearing her winter jacket counting her BINGO chips to make sure she has 25.

    "Vicky" is showing me her Sponge Bob fingerless gloves.

    "Toby". How can such a devilish little boy look so cute in a picture? He is the bane of my Grade 3 Class.

    All this got me thinking about one of the funniest things that ever happened to me my entire time teaching here in South Korea. About 3 years ago I was teaching at a school just outside of Busan and it had no central heat. So we used portable heaters in our classrooms. It was cold so usually I kept the gas heater very close to my desk at the front of the room.

    This school [like some of the other private Language schools in South Korea] had a rule that you couldn't wear your outdoor footwear inside. So, there was a shelf just inside the doorway where you took off your shoes and put on slippers. When winter came I wanted to find a warm pair of slippers so I went shopping in Nampo-dong [the huge outdoor market area of Busan] and bought a very unique pair of slippers. They were bright pink and warm and fuzzy and they had a feather boa on the toe. They even had glitter writing on them that said "Good Girl Gone Bad". I loved them they were just so over the top!

    However, I have a nasty habit. When I am wearing sandles or slippers that don't have a strap on the back and I am sitting down I wiggle my foot back and forth flipping my slipper on and off my heel. With a soft slipper and not a flip-flop this doesn't made much noise and althought somewhat of a distracting to the children it seems like an innocent enough habit - that is until you add the open flame of a gas heater.

    One day in class I was cold and I guess I had snuggled up a little to close to the gas heater. Because one of my students raised his hand. "Yes, Turner?", I said. To which he replied, "Annabelle Teacher fire!". I had had a somewhat heated discussion with the manager of my school that morning so I replied jokingly, "Scott's firing me. Yipee! I can go home to Canada and visit my family."

    My poor students didn't understand - the only reason I had darned say such a smart ass comment in the first place. But the little boy had a frantic look on his face. I thought maybe he had understood what I said after all. So I said, "Don't worry. I'm just kidding. Everything's okay." To which Turner burst out, "No, teacher. Fire!" I still misunderstood the situation. So I piped back, "No Turner. No one is being fired. I'm going to teach here a long time."

    At this point poor Turner is jumping up and down in his seat. I looked at him with suprise. "What's wrong?", I demanded. To which he screamed, "You teacher, you fire!", and pointed to my burning slipper. At this point I followed his gaze to my flaming slipper. I smelled smoke and saw the flame shoot out in the air about 10 inches. I used my text book to smother the flame and ran to the bathroom with my still smoldering slipper and ran cold water on it.

    No harm was done except to my slipper. Once I aired out the classroom and calmed down the children and put on a pair of plastic bathroom shoes - things returned to normal and I resumed teaching. Now it is just an amusing but true story I tell sometimes. Thank God my student so very persistent in trying to communicate the problem to me.

    "Scott" the manager of the school. We had a love/hate relationship. There was a lot of chemistry between us and several times we went out partying together. We flirted shamelessly and drove everyone else nuts. Sometimes we argued. Like the morning of the day my slipper caught fire.

    A portable gas heater. It is exactly the same color, make and model of the heater that lit my slipper on fire.

    A pair of fuzzy hot pink slippers similar to the pair I loved so much an caught on fire. I bought these this week while looking for a pair of warm slippers to wear in my apartment. I saw these ones and the memories of my slipper fire came flooding back. Since I have no portable gas heater in my apartment hopefully I don't catch these ones on fire.

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    "Not Quite Right"

    I picked the title of this post from the quote some of us westerners sometimes use about South Korea that it is "the land of not quite right".

    What do I mean by that? Well, mainly that things aren't done here like they are back home. For example, often you will order a ham and cheese sandwich in a restaurant and get served a ham, cheese and jam sandwich. One time at the restaurant chain "Bear Mountain" I ordered chicken quesadillas and they were served with sweetened whipped cream [like you might use as a dessert topping] of course I didn't expect this or realize it until I had spread it over my meal and thus ruined the entire thing. I have learned that even when things look right and are presented in the way you are used they still might not be correct.

    I have been thinking about this in regards to food lately. Maybe because I have a terrible cold and have had for weeks now - nothing smells or tastes good to me. This got me thinking about the fact that in Korea nothing smells good. You can walk by a fried chicken shop or a bakery and smell nothing. I'm not sure if it is the pollution or what. But, it sure is different from back home. When I lived in Moncton, New Brunswick and attended Moncton High School there was a bakery about 6 blocks away and the smell used to waft in - especially in the fall and spring when the windows were open. The odour used to practically drive us to distraction. I can't speak for anyone else, but I was rendered like one of Pablov's dogs with my salvating. It was the most fragrant and delicious smell imaginable.

    This got me thinking about the fact that Korean people say they don't like sweets. What I am wondering is if that is true. Is it that Korean people don't like sweets or that they don't like that they make here and call "sweets" cause quite frankly I don't like them either. They look like real cakes and are decorated beautifully but they are mostly puffed air and sometimes some sweetened cream. I have never had a cake here [not even for someone's birthday] that actually tasted like a cake. They don't use icing sugar or frostening on cakes or cinnamin buns. The cake is always a light sponge-like cake. I've never had a confetti cake or a cherry loaf or even a real chocolate cake. I'm not sure if it is because it is difficult to find the necessary ingredients [real cocoa powder is very hard to find] and from the taste of the "chocolate cakes" I've tried from bakeries they used cocoa mix [cocoa that has been cut with sugar and milk powder and is ready to make a cup of hot cocoa] or if they just don't know the difference.

    A picture of a normal Korean bakery and the delicious "looking cakes". If only they tasted even 25% as good as they look....

    Apparently, I am not the only one to dislike Korean bakeries. Last weekend I went to visit my friend "Ray" in Ulsan. And, I picked up a copy of the November issue of the "Ulsan Pear" an English magazine about living in Ulsan. In it there was an article about "Stohrer Bakery". The article by Jim Saunders starts like this, "Bakeries in Korea seem to be a rather hit-and-miss affair. A casual glance around your local Paris Baguette or equivalent reveals a lacklustre number of tasty looking goods on offer that also seem to contain a strange mix of fillings (sweet potato anyone?). And when an unsuspecting pastery that looks really good spills bean paste into your mouth it can rather darken the day."

    The article goes on to take about a bakery in Ulsan called the "Stohrer Bakery" owned and operated by Mr. Son Su Dae who gained experience in Japan and France. It continues to say that although expensive the quality is great and it does seem to attract a upper class clientele. This piqued my interest. And, adds to my hypothesis that Koreans would actually like "Western food" if it were actually prepared and served correctly here.

    I convinced "Ray" to join me on my quest to find this bakery. Truthfully, it didn't take much persuading. "Ray" and a few of his friends had tried to find the bakery a few weeks before without success and I think "Ray" was just curious to see how I would go about trying to find it since I have only been to Ulsan a handful of times and had always managed to get lost while there. But, knowing my persistence he knew it would be interesting to watch. The fact that the bakery was difficult to find just made me more determined than ever to find it. That's just the kind of girl I am. I guess you could say I like a challenge. Whenever, life gets hard and frustrating here in Korea I just pretend I am on "The Amazing Race" and that this is a "roadblock" [a task that only one player can perform before the team can move on].

    A picture of the tarts in the Stohrer Bakery. They were delicious. I bought a plum one.

    Needless, to say we found the bakery and as promised it was quite expensive and the quality was great! I couldn't be more pleased. I should confess that I used the phone number of the bakery and recruited a Korean University Student to call and get me directions. And, later I talked to a Korean guy and showed him the directions and got him to point me in the right direction.

    It was an interesting quest and the bakery treats were a delicious reward.

    The most delicious treat at the bakery were the chocolates. They were very expensive at 1,300 won [over $1.30 Canadian] a piece but they were exceptional! Yummm... My mouth waters just thinking about them.

    **One note of interest: When the University Student called the bakery to get directions she told the person at the bakery that "Two foreigners were trying to find the bakery" and that she was calling for us to get directions. I've noticed that whenever I ask a Korean to help me they always say "wae-guk-in"["foreigner"] and somehow that is a pertinent part of the equation. I'm not sure why this is and why it matters.

    A funny picture I took the other night of a lady taking her dog into the bakery with her. It's even funnier if you think about the fact that Korea is a country where men still eat dog meat especially in the summer to help improve their "stamina".

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    State of Affairs in South Korea

    I have been thinking a lot about the situation in South Korea lately. Being away from South Korea for my vacation in Taiwan let me read international newspapers and see the situation with North Korea and its testing of nuclear weapons in a different light. Living in South Korea with it's insolar state of affairs means that one often lives in a state of denial that North Korea is and can pose a threat to our safety here. I got away from that for a brief while and the blinders were removed from my eyes and there is no turning back.

    Since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon the pollution in the air in Busan has been unbearable. For the last two weeks we haven't seen the sun and a neon yellow-green hazy hangs in the air. I don't like to think that I am being irraiated and yet and am starting to think that must be the case. Finally, in the last week the air has started to clear a little. Still I wonder and worry about the effects or maybe I should say fallout of the test. Am I over-reacting?

    Maybe. Certainly, I shouldn't be downloading a watching CBS's new hit TV show "Jericho" about a small Kansas town that is left to survive after a nuclear bomb goes off in nearby Denver. Bad idea for me to be watching it at a time like this but it is a good TV show.

    Moreover, I downloaded and read the Canadian Embassy's "Emergency Evacuation Plan" and I have to say it is not very reassuring. The fact that the Canadian Government has not updated their plan since I first arrived in Korea in January 2003 and subsequently registered with the Canadian Embassy in Seoul and they first e-mailed me the Evacuation Plan is not a good sign. In fact, even in light of the current heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula the plan says "The chance that an evacuation might be necessary is rather remote."

    Moreover, they advise me that "In case of emergency, Canadians have to carefully listen to the public broadcasting such as TV and radio, but AFKN [American Forces Korea Network] should be their first source". They give the following frequencies for me to monitor "Pusan Radio FM 88.1 and AM 1260" both of which I tried just this minute [to double check] and surprise, surprise they don't work. In fact, I can get NO ENGLISH broadcasts on my CD Player/Radio. I didn't think the frequency would work now that Camp Hialeah is closed and therefore I assume not broadcasting or relaying transmittions in the Busan area.

    I am left feeling so nervous and wanting to get out of here and thus the "preceived danger area" that I don't know what to do. I went to my doctor and got sleeping pills cause I can no longer sleep here anymore. I truth I would go home to Canada in a minute it I had the money to. But I am an economic slave so to speak. If I were to leave now I would have to pay back 1,000,000 won to repay the recruiter who brought me here. That's over a thousand dollars Canadian. I would have to repay my airfare to come to Korea [if I give notice or leave prior to teaching six months here]. Moreover, I might have to pay some penality money to my employeer and give one month's notice and I might even be expected to help find a replacement for myself. All, in all I am stuck. I will just have to try and keep my head down and keep my mouth shut and keep marking off days on the calandar until I can get out of here. I will continue to try and make the best of it but truthfully my nerves are shot.

    I think that I probably never felt in danger before because in all my time in Korea I have always lived close to an operational and functional American Military Base and now that Camp Hialeah in Busan is closed I am not feeling so safe and secure. I used to spend the majority of my free time including all weekends and holidays on the base with my friends here in Busan and before that when I lived in Gumi at Cp Carroll in Waegwan or Cp Walker in Daegu. I felt like I always knew what was going in and that if anything happened that I'd be taken care of. Maybe I was wrong in assuming that [since I am a Canadian not an American citizen] nonetheless that's how I felt.

    In reading the Emergeny Evacuation Plan more closely I note that it does say that "The Embassy must stress that although a 'global agreement' does exist between the Canadian and U.S. governments to assist one another in times of crisis, there is no specific agreement pertaining to Korea. The understanding is that USFK [United States Forces Korea] and the U.S. Embassy personnel will take care of U.S. nationals first, and nationals of other countries with which they have "global agreements", second, should their resources permit this. Should Canadian nationals proceed to an American military facility for assistance at the time of a crisis, they must exercise patience, and be prepared to wait until American citizens have been dealth with. It is this fact that should encourage all Canadians in Korea to react early to deteriorating political, military or other situations on the peninsula, and arrange for their own and their dependents early departure via commercial transport."

    All this got me thinking about Camp Hialeah and my days there. I didn't take a lot of pictures there or at least not that many that feel free to use. I try always to protect people's privacy and don't post their pictures unless they give me permission. That said I found the following website that has lots of pictures of what CP Hialeah in Busan used to look like. Here's the link.

  • Pictures of what CP Hialeah used to look like

  • I took the following pictures during my Hialeah Days.

    The main gate at Hialeah.

    Picture taken outside Hialeah's front gate. This picture was taken on the duty bus back from CP Walker in Daegu.

    Hialeah's Army Community Services Center.

    A street on the base.

    J. a friend of mine, and me taken on the base in front of the playground.

    Business card showing the location of the Dallas club just outside gate 4 the main gate at Hialeah.

    The enterance to the Dallas Club. The place everyone went dancing at 6 am on Saturday morning [the time curfew ended and everyone was allowed out again].

    Dancing at the Dallas Club.

    The Dallas Club.

    Painting on the wall at the Dallas Club.

    "Mama-san". A small shop owner just outside the back walk-in gate. She sold long distance telephone cards and cigerettes. I wonder if she went out of business now that the base and thus all her customers are gone?
    To all my army buddy friends from Hialeah and elsewhere. I miss you. Take care.