Thursday, July 28, 2011

Greetings from Busan

I would like to start by congratulating my brother, Ben, and his wife, Buff, on their new baby, Benjamin Graves.  I would also like to congratulate my parents on their first grandchild, as well as Buff's parents, Mr. Ronnie, and Mrs. Connie on their third grandchild.  I would also like to congratulate my little brother, Jon, on his recent marriage to his wife, Sarah.  It was a big week for our family, and it's times like these when I wish I were home celebrating with them.  I wish each of you the best as husbands, wives, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  That goes without saying, because I know all of you will do fine.

I am writing this post from a coffee shop in Haeundae beach in Busan, South Korea.  Busan is a coastal city on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.  It is an enormous city, roughly the size of Los Angeles.  And I arrived late last night.  My first impressions of the city are that it is absolutely gorgeous.  Numerous high rise apartments are among a sea of mountains, and small buildings line the foothills.  It's a beautiful sight at night.  I came here to take a ferry to Fukuoka, Japan, but decided to stay in Busan for the next couple of days, because I like it here so much, and because an overnight stay in Fukuoka was not worth the price of the ferry.  I think I will plan a proper trip to Tokyo and Osaka within the next couple of months, but for now, I am content perusing the beaches and city life here.  I have no major plans for this trip.  The only plan that I have is to relax, wake up late, walk around, eat some good food, and enjoy the great scenery.  Maybe I am different than most, but I don't like vacations with a full itinerary.  Itineraries make me tired.  And I want to return from a vacation recharged, not more exhausted.

I've recently had a case of writers block, and I have been unable to shake it.  I've started a few posts, and have been unable to finish them.  I guess I have a desire to write something great and captivating, and I find myself stuck in the middle of a piece, feeling as if I failed, before erasing it all together, and starting over.  With this post, I have decided to fight through it, and post it however it turns out.

I recently had two separate, but similar conversations, with my friends, Dean and Brett.  We talked about the similarity between art and relationships.  They are similar in that if you go into them with a certain expectation, you will almost always fail.  If you go into a painting, a writing, or any other form of art with the expectation of what it will be like in the end, you will always be stuck, and/or disappointed.  I think my writer's block has come from the fact that I have had a certain expectation of my writing.  

Relationships are similar in that if you go into them with a similar expectation, it will fail.  I think the only expectation that one should have in a relationship is to have fun, and it should not be dependent on the other person.  It depends solely on you, the individual.  If you are having fun, and are naturally happy and content, it will be evident to the other person.  Unfortunately, desperation is also evident.  And nothing turns off another person more than desperation.  And the expectation of something more, or less, than the simple notion of having a good time will always lead to desperation and loneliness.

It can be compared to getting in your car, and driving for the simple purpose of discovering where a particular road will take you.  An effective work of art will give the artist a greater knowledge about his or herself, and will lead to discovery.  A good relationship, like art, will lead a person to discovery, and will enable a person to see things the way he/she has never seen them before.

I'm not saying that life should be undertaken haphazardly with absolutely no goals and expectations.  One should always have goals as to what they would like to become in terms of success and careers.  Goals give us focus.  In the realm of careers and competition, desperation can lead to success.  If you watch a football game between two evenly matched teams, most of the time, the team that is more desperate for a win will win the game.  Many times, a salesmen does his best work when he is desperate for money.  But that is not the case with art and relationships.

A few weeks ago, some friends and I took a trip to a small island off of the west coast of Korea, called Seonyudo.  The island was too small for cars, so everybody got around on bikes and golf carts.  It was a rainy weekend, but it stopped just long enough on Saturday for us to explore on bikes.  I thought the rain made the island, and the mountains more beautiful.  The rain clouds created a fog that covered the top of the mountains.  It was gorgeous.  It was a fun trip with some good friends that I made here in Korea, and we ate well.

My friends in front of the place where we stayed.  It had an amazing view from the porch, and windows. 

The place where we stayed from farther off.  Notice the mountain behind it.

I should have some pics of Busan in a later post.  Have a good next few days everybody.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On a Normal Week Day

Not much has happened in the past week, so I've decided to tell you what happens on a normal week day when I have no plans.  I usually wake up at around 9:00 am.  One of the perks of my job is that it doesn't start until 1:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3:10 on Fridays.  I don't like to sleep past nine, because if I wake up later, I always feel as if my day was wasted, because I have less time to do things, even if my day simply consists of watching ESPN highlights on  I always get an eerie feeling when I sleep in on a work day no matter how late I have to come in.

Once I awake, I have a morning devotion.  I like to start my day reading the bible and praying while still in bed.  I used to run after my devotion, but I recently stopped because I have been losing too much weight.  I have lost sixteen pounds since moving to Korea.  So now, I eat a large breakfast which usually consists of rice, kimchi, 2 eggs fried in sesame oil, juice, milk, and a multivitamin.  I usually eat a large meal for breakfast and lunch.  I normally finish breakfast, and clean up after myself at around eleven.  After breakfast, I normally surf the internet.  I check my facebook, view sports highlights on, read about and comment on the the latest happenings concerning LSU football on, download music, view various videos on youtube, and watch reruns of Southpark and The Office.  

Sometimes, I'll walk to the coffee shop down the street, and have a cup while relaxing on the patio.  Coffee shops seem to be on every corner here in Korea.  Koreans sort of see them as a hip place to see and be seen.  I normally do that once or twice a week.  I also run errands when needed, and I usually talk to my family on skype in the mornings.

I leave for work at around 45 minutes before school starts to give myself enough time to eat somewhere before I start.  It takes around 15 minutes to walk there.  On days that I start at 1:30, I leave twenty minutes before, pickup something to eat, and have lunch at work.  I didn't think it could get more humid than New Orleans, but I was wrong.  Gwangju is not as hot, but it's more muggy.  It's impossible to walk to work without sweating.  It's something I've learned to accept.  I don't stink, so I don't worry about it.

We have to be at work an hour before class starts in order to prepare our lessons for the day.  I teach 4-6 classes a day from Monday to Thursday.  I teach three classes on Fridays.  During the periods that I don't teach, I correct essays written by my upper level students.  I find the essays to be very interesting, because I learn a lot about my students as individuals.  I also find that these essays give me a glimpse into the views of the youth of Korea as a whole.  Through these essays, I am able to learn a little more about Korean culture, and what these students value.  I assign topics such as, "Tell me three things that you are thankful for, and why; If you could make a memorial for any three people, who would they be, and why?;  What three things could you not live without, and why?"  Through these essays, I learn that Koreans are extremely family oriented.  In all topics, parents are always discussed, and the students write extremely fondly of them, as I have yet to read an essay where a student had something negative to write about his/her family.  It is rare to see them write about their friends, although some do.  My students are also very proud of their country, and they hold strong opinions regarding that.  I always find their essays to be fascinating.  

I also call each of my students during my down time.  I am required to reach all of my students every two weeks.  I have around 175.  I now know all of their names, and am able to associate a face to the name when I speak with them on the phone.  Phone calls are another opportunity to get to know them more as individuals.  It's always interesting to learn about their hobbies, and interests.  The boys love soccer and baseball.  A lot of girls love swimming, and being with their friends.  Both sexes love being on the computer.  The boys play various computer games, and the girls spend time in chat rooms.

I finish work at 10 pm on Monday through Thursday.  I finish at 9:15 on Fridays.  I usually eat something light after work.  Most of the time, it is either ramen noodles, or rice with kimchi at my apartment.  Sometimes, I'll eat out at night if I am craving something in particular.  I usually unwind in my apartment by surfing the internet.  My computer has replaced the television as my primary source of entertainment.

My blogging is usually done at nights after work in a coffee shop with wifi.  I find that I am more productive and creative at night.  I also enjoy hiking the mountains after work.  The views at night of the city from atop these mountains are absolutely incredible.  I am usually the only one there, so I see it as a time to reflect and pray.  I'll hike at night if something is on my mind, or if I had a difficult day.  It's a wonderful way to relieve stress.  I usually fall asleep between 1:30 and  3:00, depending on how busy I am, or what I did.

So there you have it!  A normal day when there are no plans!

Another K-drama that I find myself watching is a show whose title has a few different English translations from it's Korean title, among those being Shining, Twinkle Twinkle, and Sparkling.  The protagonist in this particular drama is played by an actress, named Kim Hyun Joo, who I find to be absolutely stunning on camera.

These photos are not mine.  They were downloaded from various sites via google images.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Being a Christian in Korea

I would like to start by wishing my friends, Carolyn and Heather, the best as they go back to their respective countries.  It is always a blessing to find people who are at similar points as I am in their walks with Christ, and who share similar beliefs.  Even though I have known these two ladies for only a short time, I feel like I had known them all of my life.  I realize that it sounds cliche, but it is the only way that I can describe it.  When you find a brother and/or a sister in Christ, you find a friend for life.

When I came to Korea, I was worried.  I read horror stories online about people being stuck in jobs with horrible living and working conditions.  People seem to be more vocal when they are unhappy, and it's sad.  It's always easier to complain.  I was worried that I would hate my job.  I was worried that my apartment would be below the standards that I am accustomed to.  I was worried that I would have a difficult time finding friends.  I was worried that I wouldn't find a church where I felt comfortable.  I was worried that I would be taken advantage of, or mistreated by my superiors.  I was worried that my students would be difficult.  I stopped drinking two years ago.  The pressure to drink and smoke here in Korea is immense.  I was worried that I would return to my old habits.  I had many worries because I was flying halfway around the world to a city that I knew nothing about.  I was merely relying on the word of a recruiter in determining that my job and living conditions would be suitable.

It's amazing how, sometimes, things seem to work out perfectly.  I have a great job teaching wonderful children.  My superiors are laid back, and trust my judgement.  My coworkers are friendly.  I am a runner, and there is a beautiful lake to run around less than 200 yards from my apartment.  The sidewalk even has a rubber track surface.  I live within walking distance of two mountains with incredible views.  I live in a big city with almost everything to offer.   My church, Wolgwang, has been incredible.  It's a great feeling to go to a church on Sunday, and leave feeling "full."  The minister, pastor Jeremy, always has an inspiring message to teach.  I play in the praise band with some fantastic musicians that challenge me.  I have been introduced to numerous wonderful friends whom I trust, both Korean and western.  I realized that politely saying, "no, but thankyou though," when offered a drink had become a habit that would definitely continue halfway across the world, despite the pressure.  I could go on about how good everything has been.

There are no coincidences in this world.  I believe that I have all of these things because I prayed for them.  It's comforting to know that I serve a God who provides, and takes care of all of my needs, despite the fact that I sin, and "fall short."  Nonchristians always seem to be watching, and so readily throw around the word, "hypocrite," when they see a christian fail.  It's sad that that is the only aspect of christianity that they are able to see.  It's a shame that many are blinded to a christian's contentment, peace, and joy.  It's sad that they are blinded to the fact that christians are blessed, and that "doors open" for those who trust God.  All christians are hypocrites in some way, shape, or form.  More over, with the exception of Jesus, all humans are, were, and will always be hypocrites.  Jesus was the only human to walk this earth without making a mistake.

The difference between a christian, and a nonchristian is that a christian is able to truly feel forgiven, and is free to live a blessed life, a life with eyes open to the fact that there are no coincidences, and that the hand of God is upon both believers and nonbelievers alike.  It's comforting to walk into uncertainty with confidence, not in myself, but in a God who provides, and makes his children "the head, and not the tail."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

More Random Observations

I hope everybody has a great 4th of July weekend.  I have never been truly proud to be an American until I lived outside of the States.  When people ask me where I am from, I tell them that I am from America, and do so with a lot of pride.  Many of the foreigners here are from Canada, South Africa, The UK, and Australia.  Americans have an indescribable swagger that becomes more evident when you see them interact with other foreigners outside of the states.

As an American, there are many things to be proud of.  Here is the source of my swagger.  I am proud to be a gun owner.  I am proud of edgy rock music, which is virtually nonexistent in Korea.  I am proud of American Football.  I talk about my favorite southern American dishes with a great deal of pride.  I love the look people give me when I tell them that I drive an SUV back home.  I am proud of my sense of style that is different than most here.  More on that later in the post.  Most Koreans love Americans, and sort of look at us like Richie Cunningham looks at Fonzie.  

July 4th has only recently become one of my favorite holidays. Christmas and Thanksgiving are family holidays.  The 4th of July is a holiday for communities.  It is an opportunity to celebrate not only with family, but more importantly, with friends and neighbors.  Although we may have differing opinions on exactly what it is that America should stand for, the beauty of America is that we are allowed to peacefully disagree.  I encourage all Americans to get out, be with your friends and neighbors, see your local fireworks display, and celebrate the fact that you live in the greatest country on the planet.

I was even more proud when a random Korean, who happened to study in the states, stopped me on the street, and asked me, "Are you a southerner?"

I said, "Yeah, I'm from Louisiana.  How can you tell?"

"I went to Auburn.  You look like a stereotypical southerner.  I can tell by your hair, your workboots, your jeans, your polo shirt, and your costas.  I can pick out a southerner from a mile away, especially now that I am away from the it."  I enjoyed that conversation.  The rest of it was spent talking SEC football.

I feel bad for the youth of South Korea.  Much like westerners, they go to their regular school from 7:30am to 2:00pm, where they will be required to do lots of homework.  The similarities end there.

The youth of Korea works extremely hard.  On some weeks, they are required to attend school on Saturday.  Korean parents pay thousands of dollars a month to send their sons and daughters to these after-school academies where they will learn English, Math, Chinese, Piano, and etc.  These academies hold classes late into the night, and are usually more difficult, and assign more homework than their regular schools.  So when these kids get home, as late as it may be, they still have hours of homework to complete.  Because parents pay money to these academies, they demand results, so more pressure is put on the children.  These kids spend hours a day completing various homework assignments, and preparing for upcoming tests.

When I first started working, I would ask them, "What did you do last weekend?"

I would get the same answer every time, "I studied."  Friday and Saturday nights are spent studying.  Sometimes they let loose on Sunday afternoons, but they are unable to stay out late, because they have to go to school the next day.  Partying and hanging out with friends on a Friday and Saturday night are extremely foreign concepts to the average Korean teenager.  I now ask them, "What did you do last Sunday?"  Or if it's at the end of the week, I'll ask, "What will you do this Sunday?"  A large portion of Sundays are spent studying as well.  But their time to have fun with friends, or to simply relax, however short it may be, is spent on Sunday.  I feel bad for them.

I've had the opportunity to give numerous students of mine English names.  Boys are a lot easier to name.  They'll take any name that you give them.  Girls are a lot more picky.  I simply give them names that sound similar to their Korean names.  I have a little fun with boys.  Some notable names include Antoine, Clyde, Tyrone, J.W. (short for John Wayne), Waylon, Larry, Kingsley, and Chaz.