Saturday, December 1, 2012

So Long November

It's been a long month.  The month started with a very tough decision.  The decision to stay at my school or to head home.  This was not something that I was looking forward to.  However, by about the mid-point of the month I knew that I would have to leave.  It's not because I think my chances or finding work in the US are better now than they were before.  It basically came after advising some friends that they cannot be afraid of change.  I realized that I was giving advice that I was not in turn following myself.  The easy decision would have been to stay here, stay safe, stay employed.  I knew that leaving for the US meant that I would be looking for work in one of the worst job markets ever.  I knew that it meant a world that was entirely unpredictable and a giant leap of faith.  In all the choice to leave everything that I have built and done here was exceptionally tough, but I really had no choice.  I have to take the chance that I might fail instead of playing it safe.

Once I finally reached my decision I decided to hold off a bit on telling my school to ensure that it was really what I wanted to do.  I started looking for job programs and teaching programs that would allow me to teach while earning my credential.  Basically I am looking for jobs that will pay me to earn my credential.  The other option is to try and live a year without work while I do my credential.  Given the amount of money that I have saved I can do this provided that a few things happen.  First I find a decently cheap place to live, second, I don't splurge to hard on whatever vehicle I buy, and third, that I live cheaply.  That isn't really a problem as I know how to cut costs and my social life back home doesn't really revolve around going to bars and spending lots of money.  Unfortunately this week I received some bad news.  SDSU no longer offers a 6 month intensive program.  This was my primary option if I was going to earn my credential by going to school.  It was a great primary option because I could easily do 6 months without work and after I received my credential I could substitute teach while looking for work in San Diego.  Substitute teaching isn't ideal, but it is still money earned.  However this is no longer available and a year long credential just seems to be a hard slog when I know I'm already more than capable of teaching.

The past couple of weeks have consisted of job hunting from afar.  I have been looking at programs in multiple states and have begun the process of contacting them and filling out applications.  I have multiple applications out and I am hoping that one of them will come back with a positive reply before I leave Korea.  Unfortunately there are almost zero working options available for me in San Diego where I want to eventually end up.  I have to follow the work wherever it takes me, but I would love it if it took me back to San Diego.

When you add all of the job uncertainty with a normal month it makes for a long month.  However, this was no normal month.  This year saw my yearly attempt at a Thanksgiving dinner.  This year, we decided to go big, and big we went.  At first I thought we'd only get about 20 people who were interested in showing up.  I was wrong, we ended up with over 40 people.  Luckily, a majority of the food was done pot luck style.  However several of the primary holiday fixings were provided by myself and a couple of other people who I know can cook.  In total we managed to get the entire meal out almost on time (only about an hour later than I planned but people didn't show up with their ovens until an hour after I told them) and feed over 40 people.  By all measures it was a smashing success and something that I am hoping to never have to do again.  I have a newfound respect for chefs and people who do this nightly on a far larger scale.  Granted they signed up for it and have access to much better equipment than I do.  However, it is still exceptionally difficult to get a meal hot and ready for 40 people in only a few hours even with people brining food to share.

All in all this month has been quite stressful, but it is a month that I will hopefully look back on in the coming years and realize that all the stress and all the work were worthwhile.  From here on all I can do is step forward into the unknown and hope that everything works out in some semblance of what I hope for.  Who knows, but forward is the only way to go.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Decisions R Us

Welp, it is that time of year again.  Only this time the decision is not so much should I stay or should I go, but if I do go, where do I go?  I'm not going to lie and say it depends on who wins on Tuesday, it really doesn't.  Neither Obama or Romney will be able to save California's fiscal sh$storm.  I left with an 8 billion dollar budget shortfall, and after four years of cutting costs, and raising taxes, California finds itself at a 16 billion dollar budget shortfall.  America's own personal Greece.  The more I look at it the more it looks like California is completely out of the question.  That doesn't necessarily mean that I won't try, but honestly I'm not holding my breath, not one bit.

I, unfortunately, am left with several questions that I have no answers for right now.  First, if I come home what are my chances of finding a job outright, or will I have to go through a year of schooling for my Teacher's Credential before finding a job?  If I budget right and end up in the right place I can survive one year without work.  It will be close and a lot will depend on where I end up living and how much that rent situation will cost me.  Right now I'd say that my chances of finding a job through an alternative credentialing situation are about 50%.  That is probably an over-estimation but I have to hope that my chances are that high.  I don't really care where I end up in the US but reciprocity on a teacher's credential for me is an absolute must.  No matter where I get my credential I would like to return to San Diego and work there.  I love the city, I love the place and it is home for me.  I am realistic enough to understand that this might take several years.  In fact it might not even happen, but I cannot bring myself to think that right off the back.  I am a dedicated teacher and I love to do it.  I just need the right breaks.

The second question is a far easier one to answer.  If I do not find a job or a program that is suitable for me what are my options?  The first option is to try and find a job as a substitute teacher and to try again next year.  This honestly is not much of an option for me.  This is not a lateral move, nor is it a step forward.  For me it is a step backward.  If I obtain my credential and than have to find work as a sub so be it.  However, at this point just working as a sub is a bad idea.  If i do not find work I will more than likely head abroad again to teach.

With that decision more or less made the next question is am I qualified enough to find the types of jobs that I want abroad, or do I need more training?  That answer is simple, I need more training, but acquiring that training is difficult and expensive in the United States.  A CELTA (one of the best credentials you can acquire for ESL) is a month long intensive training course.  In developed countries this costs between 4,000 - 6,000 dollars.  If I take the course in Thailand or Vietnam it costs  1,600 dollars. It is the same training and the same diploma, just a ton cheaper.  The time requirement is the next issue.  I will have the time and the money when I leave Korea to make this happen.  However, this throws a wrench in my plans to travel as it will take a month and I probably need to find my way back the states by mid-April to have any chance of getting into an alternative credentialing program.  Moreover, most those programs will require and in person interview and it's hard to do that when you don't live in the country.  I need to look at the dates and times for these things and ensure that it fits with my time-schedule.  If it doesn't than I am more or less screwed and  going to spend more time abroad.

Finally, the hardest question is, what exactly do I want?  I love Korea.  I love the place and I love what it gives me.  If I stay another year I can easily have 30,000-40,000$ dollars saved up.  Korea is an awesome place to bank money and to travel from.  My job at my school is an excellent job, and my school respects the hell out of me.  My principal asked me this week (four months before I will actually leave if I do) if I was going to stay another year.  This is the first time that he broached the subject to me personally and that it was broached this early is somewhat important.  He would like me to stay, so will several of my co-workers.  However, as much as I love it here, I think another year is probably a bad idea at this point. 

Why, you may ask?  My future is extremely uncertain right now.  However, this uncertainty is not something to be afraid of.  It is something to step into boldly and to see what develops.  I know I have a fall back in teaching abroad.  I know that I can make money doing it and with a bit more training I will be able to go anywhere in the world to purvey my wares.  It allows me to keep traveling and to keep exploring the world.  However, where I stand right now, it is a fallback.  I could making teaching abroad a career if the right option was given to me.  If I could work at an international school teaching history for a long time. I have the attitude required to teach abroad and I do love it. If I could teach history I might just never come back. Not that my parents want to hear that, but I'm not going to lie either. I could do it. So the question of to stay or to go seems to be more or less answered. More than likely I need to go and face down this uncertainty before it becomes too hard to do so. Now that I've said that though, where do we go from here? The first step is always the hardest but it always has to be taken. If you never start you never go anywhere and life becomes dull and rusted. I am determined not to let this happen to my life. This is my life and I don't get another shot at it. There are no redos or restarts. There is only today and the future. I guess I need to get going, otherwise I might change my mind for the 10 billionth time. Stay tuned, maybe you'll know before I do.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I May Have Attended a Cult Function.

A friend of mine does a lot of work with Mannam Volunteer Association. They were having a huge party up in Seoul and were offering free transportation to and from the thing. I figured I'd go check it out because it was supposed to be a cultural/world peace festival. I thought it would be a good chance to see some Korean culture performances and maybe meet some people, etc. Well...let me tell you that was far from what happened.

Besides the fact that they tried to fit 100,000+ people in a stadium built for about 80,000 and didn't have enough seats for everyone they bused in. Well after getting seated in the stadium, some nice Koreans gave us their seats and moved to where they couldn't see, we sat down and proceeded to listen to about two hours of speeches. It was a pretty auspicious start to a world peace festival (but not out of the ordinary for stuff in Korea). After that the show started with about a 30 minute mass games (think north Korea mass games). As soon as they announced the show was going to be about the 6000 year history of the bible I knew something was up. Throughout the whole show I thought it was pretty funny that at a multicultural world peace event where you have bused in foreign people from all different countries (Thailand, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc) you start with a strict creationist show stating that the world is 6000 years old and only through the bible can evil be defeated.

Following the show our guides (babysitters) gave us a coupon for 4,000 won at the food court area (international foods) and asked if they would mind if they (the babysitters) went and got us food. Well, I needed to get up and stretch my legs because I'd been seated for about three hours and was cramping. So I told them it's ok I'll go get my own food. To which they basically said, no we have to go together. After walking down to the food court area a couple of the girls I was with had to go to the bathroom, and the guides had to escort them to and from the bathroom. It was at this point that I decided that I was going to leave after lunch. I can handle the religious message, but being escorted around like this made me feel like I was being watched and had to be accounted for at all times. After talking with the other foreigners I was there with (three teachers from Seosan) we decided just to tell them we were leaving. They felt the same way that I did and everything just felt off about the day. Our guides were sad but understood. We basically left as soon as we said goodbye.

It wasn't until yesterday when I started talking to my friend that I finally understood what was going on. She asked me what I thought of the day and I started telling her how I thought Mannam made several mistakes. I told her basically everything I just wrote and her response was that Mannam is a secular organization and is not allowed to be religious. However, she told me that the reason for the religious message was that the "honorary" chairman of Mannam just happens to be Lee Man Hee who is the founder and leader of Shinchonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony. This church happens to more or less be a cult with about 100,000 followers in Korea. It's not a kool-aid drinking end of the world type, but more of the we're the only enlightened ones type.

Mannam was co-hosting their event with the Shinchonji religious Olympiad which just happens to be held a day after the dear leader's birthday every 4 years. It's funny, because Mannam has come out saying they're not associated with the church. And then the biggest party Mannam has put on happens to be co-hosted by the church and the honorary chairman of the organization is the damned leader of the church. Moreover there are several reports coming out in the news that Mannam is just a front organization for the church and is actively recruiting for the church. It's to the point where Korean universities are warning their foreign students not to attend functions hosted by the organization.

At this point I started doing some digging online and found a lot of disconcerting stuff concerning the church, their association with Mannam, and the event which I unwittingly attended.  Well, I guess this just goes into that life experiences category. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nara and Osaka

It's taken me a bit but here is the last part of my Japan trip.  After John and I left Kyoto we headed down to the first capital of Japan, Nara.  Nara is a about 45 minutes from Kyoto and Osaka respectfully.   There are two reasons why people go to Nara.  First, because it is the original capital of Japan and has some pretty cool sights to see.  The second, is because there are deer there.  Not only are there deer there but tradition states that they are heavenly animals and are to be protected.  What does this mean, you might ask.  Well quite simply, in Nara Park (where all the cool old buildings are) there are tame deer.  Not only are they tame, they're quite friendly/forceful when they are hungry.  You can pet, take pictures with, and generally do things to deer that most people can only do once they're stuffed and mounted.  These deer lounge around the park waiting for tourists to pay about two dollars to feed them flour biscuits.  Once a tourist has purchased a set of biscuits the deer descend and jockey for position to get food.  Some have been trained to bow, others gently nibble at your clothes, and some just straight up headbutt you.  These deer want their biscuits.

Everything to see in Nara is centralized in Nara park.  Nara park is home to numerous shrines, temples and the world's "largest" wooden structure.  There is some dispute as to whether this is in Kyoto or Nara and both cities claim to have the biggest.  These structures are almost overrun with deer.  Which gives the entire place the smell of a petting zoo.  It's not overpowering but the smell of urine and feces is definitely noticeable.  After wandering around the town John and I went back to the park to see it all lit up at night.  Apparently there was some type of lantern festival going on while we were there.  All throughout the park were thousands of little paper lanterns arranged in various shapes and designs.  It gave the park a surreal feeling.  Nara for most tourists is done on a day trip only, but John and I spent the night.  We had time and I didn't feel like rushing.  After that night we headed to Osaka for our last two nights in Japan.

The first day in Osaka we went off and explored Osaka Castle.  Osaka Castle is a traditional Japanese style castle.  It was rebuilt after World War Two and offers excellent views of Osaka as well as housing a museum about the history of the castle and the local history surrounding the castle and the families that built it.  After the castle John and I ran off to a very famous restaurant to eat expensive but awesome crab.  Everything had crab in it and even though it was expensive it was pretty delicious.  Following lunch we explored a giant shopping neighborhood in Osaka and then wandered into America-mura.  America-mura is a counter-culture  center for Osaka.  It was interesting to walk the streets here because it truly felt like walking the streets of a beach boardwalk (without the beach or the boardwalk).  However, the people there were very much the type of people you would find wandering around Ocean Beach.  The next day we explored Osaka a bit more and then went to one of the greatest sporting events I've ever been to.  I went and saw a Japanese League baseball game.  The game was the Hanshin Tigers versus the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.  The game itself wasn't that great of a game, but what was amazing was the organized cheering by the home fans.  The home fans chanted the entire game when their team was at bat.  I have been to a couple of games in Korea and the chanting is quite common, the main difference was that the amount of chanting and the amount of people engaged in the activity.  It was endless, and everyone who was a fan of the home team chanted the whole game.  If this wasn't enough the team also has a tradition called jet balloons.  This tradition is done during the middle of the 7th inning, much like the 7th inning stretch back home, but it involves everyone in the stadium blowing up two or three six feet long, hot dog shaped, balloons and then releasing them at the same time.  These balloons have an adapter on the end that makes the balloons fly up in the air as the air inside them expelled.  They also whistle as they do it.  Now this might seem rather juvenile, but when there are 30-40,000 people doing this and close to 80,000 balloons being fired off at one point it is quite awesome.

The following day John and I boarded the ferry back for Korea and back for work.  The ferry ride again provided a nice bookend for the trip.  It was a chance to relax and decompress after travelling for 8 days straight.  The peacefulness of the ocean and the beer probably helped to make the trip go quite well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Postcard Japan

It seems that people have an idea of what Japan is.  Maybe it s due to their place in America's memory/idea of what Asia is.  Perhaps it is the obsession we've harbored with Japan for 60+ years.  That being said I present to you my descent into the postcard ideal of Japan.

Riding the subway in Osaka I found myself gazing out the window while we were above ground.  It was here that my first glimpses of Japan would be had, and I must admit, I was anxious to see if several of the preconceived notions I had about Japan were true.  At first glance I was not let down.  We were traveling through the suburbs and the streets were clean and the buildings were somewhat haphazardly built upon each other.  It looked as if the city had been designed in the 60's and was cutting edge in the 80's.  Further up the line we descended under ground and proceeded to make our way to the train station for our ride up to Kyoto.  Having spent 4 years in Korea it was hard not to constantly compare the two countries.  Japan was cleaner, it was quieter, and it seemed to run more efficiently.  That being said it was also a bit more confusing because the public transit is run by several different companies and has not been consolidated.  In Seoul different companies own the subways lines but they are all linked through the same system and one ticket works for all the lines.  The cost of getting around Japan was also a bit probative.  Going on stop on the subway cost 120 yen which costs about $1.50.  To go from Osaka to Kyoto (a 45 minute drive roughly) cost $15 dollars on the Shinkansen (bullet train/15 minutes).  Yes we could have taken a cheaper option but when in Rome.

Still, upon arrival in Kyoto I felt like I was fulfilling some ancient calling or lifetime goal.  Maybe it's because I had wanted to go there for as long as I could remember and had planned the trip three years ago.  Either way I was gripped with anticipation and excitement.  It's hard to explain.  Kyoto was everything I thought it would be.  It was ancient temple after ancient temple.  There was the imperial palace, a fort, Shinto shrines, kimono, sushi, etc.  It was as if they packed every idea we have of Japan and put it there.  From a historians perspective this place was gold.  Every corner dripped of history and culture.  It is tourist heaven.  For four days John and I biked around Kyoto getting lost and seeing temple, after temple, after shrine.  It was amazing.  We ate awesome food and drank a little bit but not too much.  It was pretty expensive which I was both grateful for and disappointed in.  Still the coolest moment in Kyoto for me had to be Fushimi Inari.  This is a Shinto shrine with thousands of orange gates running up the mountain side forming a semi covered walkway. When you could find a spot to be alone with the cicadas and the forest it was truly impressive.  I felt like I could have been walking through this shrine 500 years ago surrounded by ancient samurais or costumed geishas.  We saw so many shrines and temples that they all seemed to run together. 

However, as sight after sight blended into one, I came to understand what had drawn me to Japan.  It was not for a world that is different from my own.  I've lived in Asia for 4 years now.  What was drawing me to Japan was the chance to see everything I've studied about, everything I've read about, and everything I've heard about Japan.  It was a chance for me to go there and discover for myself a small portion of the history and the soul of a people we know so much about.  That, is why I was there.  I was drawn to Japan to discover if it was the Japan that I had envisioned in my mind, or if it was altogether something different.  Luckily, it was a mix of the two.  The world may have preconceived ideas about what Japan is, but those ideas are firmly on display in Kyoto.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ferry Musings

There is something about being on a ferry.  A calmness to the time spent getting somewhere.  In today's world it is rare that we make the journey part of a vacation. Too often it is get in and get out as fast as we can. How we get there doesn't matter along as it is fast and cheap.  This ferry from Busan to Osaka takes roughly 18 hours.  It involves two meals and sleeping on the boat.  Yet more importantly it involves time to relax.  It involves time to clear your head, and time to restfully transition to vacation.  For me this trip has involved the first real days of rest in a long while.  Between the constant movement and reality that is life in Korea and the drain on your body that is teaching anywhere, it is necessary for me to recoup some semblance of sanity before I am able to truly enjoy myself.  For me that time is now. Ensconced on a boat, and with the stark beauty of an empty ocean.  A place where the wind can drown out the sound of the world and my life.  Where buffeted by stiff breezes I can feel as if the world is fading away and all I'm left with is the promise of discovery.  The promise of a new land, a new culture, and a new understanding.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I've Been Gone for a While.

Well folks, I'm not going to lie.  I've been neglecting my duties to the internet world recently.  I wish I had a good reason for it, but the simple fact is I don't.  I've been busy but no more than normal.  However, I am aiming to rectify this situation in the next few months.  If I can't rectify it I will shut this down and probably never run a blog again.  The past few months have been a rather interesting mix of problems, solutions, and more problems.

For starters, a lot of you know that my health has been really up and down this year.  In fact this has been the worst year I've ever had in terms of my health.  I have spent more time on medication and in the doctors office this year than I have in my entire life.  Luckily at this point I'm just dealing with a couple of the side effects of my liver inflammation.  It's not totally dissipated but it is definitely improving.  When I get back from vacation I'm going to hop into a doctors office for another check up just to make sure but everything should be fine.  Luckily that check will be the final all clear and I'll gratefully put this crap behind me.

Moving on from my health, my luck with women recently could be termed comical.  I have run into several women recently that I have hit it off with great.  Only to find out a few days later that: hey they've got a boyfriend, hey they're leaving the country, hey they're moving to another city, etc.  I swear I must have a sign around my neck right now that says "hopeless."  Now most of this is my fault because I didn't ask ahead of time but ohh well.  Speaking of that, I am so screwed when I come back to America in terms of the whole dating scene.  Dating in Korea is an entirely different approach and what is normal here would come off as an over-abundance of confidence with a lot of American women.  Which I guess could be a benefit.

Professionally life here has been pretty much the same it has been for the past year or so.  Although there was a new requirement that we obtain a 100 hour TEFL certificate to continue teaching.  I've already finished mine and I'm planning on completing a 50 hour business English course when I get back from Japan.  I am not to broken up about having to get the TEFL because I had been kicking it around for a number of years.  I don't know if I'll ever actually have a need for it but you never know.  Who knows, maybe I'll parlay this into a career abroad.  Either that or it's a nice way to slip into school mode again.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when I get back chances are I have to get back into school.  Which means a lot of writing and proofreading and any type of practice for that is good.

Finally, I have officially descended into the modern world.  In the past six months I've procured an iPad and a Kindle e-reader.  Well, this week I had to take the dive into the smart phone world.  Which is a little ridiculous considering that I'm leaving in 6 months.  Ohh well, I figured if I'm going to get screwed I might as well get screwed by getting a new fancy phone and I purchased the Samsung Galaxy S3.  This phone is kinda nice and has all the bells and whistles.  Of course, this also means that I have zero brand loyalty, because I am currently running a service on the three companies fighting it out in the smart world.  At least I don't have a Kindle Fire because that would just make this ridiculous.  Ohh well.  I guess I had to jump in eventually.  Alas good people, I will try to get a few more posts up and shorten the downtime.