Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Guitars

A great piece of advice that I got before leaving for Korea was to "bring the one thing that you absolutely know you will miss, even if it costs money to put it on the plane, or to ship it."  It was a great piece of advice that I heeded.  I brought my acoustic guitar.  I know some of you will be asking, "Why didn't you just buy a cheap one in Korea?  It wouldn't cost much more than the price of checking it on the plane."  My answer to that is my Taylor acoustic guitar is my companion, and if I left it behind, playing a cheap one in Korea would cause me to miss it even more than not playing one at all, and I would never be able to stop playing.  On the flight from New Orleans to Los Angeles, I carried it on the plane.  On the Asiana flight between L.A. and Seoul, the compartments were too small for me to carry it on, so I had to check it, which costed fifty dollars.  I knew I would miss both of my guitars, and bringing my acoustic was worth it.

I realize that you may find this to be rather bizzarre, but I name my guitars and guns.  I'll start by quickly sharing the names of my guns.  My 12-gauge shotgun is definitely a female.  I gave her the name, Bernice.   I also have an SKS assault rifle that is undoubtedly a male, and I named him Rico Suave.  I am not a hunter.  I am a "city boy," and although I can count the number of times I've been hunting on one finger, I do believe in exercising my second amendment rights as an American.  I believe in protecting oneself in the case of an emergency.  I also love to occasionally go out and "pump lead" in a country field.  Not much feels better than destroying a watermelon, or watching a two-liter of coke explode.  Shooting a gun feels amazing, as does playing a guitar.

Before coming to Korea, I tried to make it as a traveling singer-songwriter, and I didn't succeed as a professional musician for two reasons.  I didn't work hard enough, and I simply wasn't good enough.  I am not bitter, and I don't regret pursuing my dream.  A blessing that came as a result of my pursuit is that writing lyrics has made me a better writer of prose, as I focus just as much on the flow of my words as I do the content.  Contrary to what one might believe, my love for music has grown exponentially since my pursuit.  Music relaxes me, and enables me focus.  The only thing that feels better than hearing an amazing song is performing one in front of people.

I currently own two guitars.  My acoustic guitar is definitely a male that I named, Jake, and as I stated earlier, he is here with me in Korea.  Bringing him was one of the best decisions that I made regarding my time here.  I play and sing on the worship team at my church, and that has been an amazing blessing in itself.  I still write music, but not nearly as frequently as I used to, but when I do, I take comfort in knowing that my companion is with me to be my aid in inspiration.  Every once in a while I still get the itch to perform, and whenever an opportunity arises, I have Jake with me to "blow minds (not really)."  I also enjoy "fine-tuning" my singing and playing quietly alone in my apartment, as I find that to be one of the most soothing things a human can do.  Squeezing the neck, pressing the strings, strumming, and quietly matching the tone and rhythm of my voice to that of a guitar other than Jake, here in Korea, would just not be the same.

My other guitar is an electric, and is a female.  She is a black Fender American Standard Telecaster that I named, Rosalyn, but I call her Rose.  Rose has a white pick guard, and was a graduation gift that I received from my parents upon finishing my studies at LSU.  My older brother received a beautiful gold graduation ring, and as much as I would love to have such a meaningful symbol that is such a wonderful source of pride, I asked instead for the guitar of my dreams.

I plug Rose into a Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp.  It's called a twin because it has two twelve inch speakers that sit side-by-side.  Rose and the Twin Reverb together are capable of blowing the roof off of any large building.  It is also capable of blowing down most brick walls.  I don't understand why they ever used sledge hammers bring down the Berlin Wall.  I have a few petals (no pun intended) for Rose, one being a Keeley modified Ibanez Tube Screamer, which gives it a nasty distortion sound with a vibration that feels absolutely incredible in the chest when the volume is high.  I would have loved to have brought her here to Korea, but that just wasn't feasible, being that the amp is enormous and extremely heavy, and not to mention, toting along the petal board, which would have been counted as another checked bag.  An acoustic is a lot more practical here, because of it's portability.

Rose is one of the things that I miss most about home.  I get excited, and my heart beats a little faster every time I think about plugging her into my petal board, plugging that pedal board into my Fender Twin Reverb, flipping the switch, watching that red light on my amp begin to brightly glow, turning up the volume before squeezing Rose's neck, and pressing my fingers against her strings that stretch above her rosewood fretboard.  I would then tap my foot on that green Ibanez TS9 Keely modified Tube Screamer pedal to activate the distortion, and authoritatively hit a chord, as I begin to feel power at my finger tips.  I get chills thinking about it, and when I lay in bed at night, if I am not careful, and I think about it too much, I won't be able to sleep.

I miss Rose, and can't wait to play her again, but it is also comforting to know that my faithful companion, Jake, is here with me here in Korea to aid me in my joy, my pain, and my worship.  I am also excited knowing that Rose will be at home waiting for me on my return.  I can't wait to get back.

This week, we had writing tests at school.  Some of my students never cease to amaze me, and one of my sixth graders, Jenny, is among them.  She has always been such a kind girl in class, who has such a pleasantness about her, as she always playfully asks me if she could wear one of the Angry Bird badges on my jacket, or if she could keep one of my red pens.  Before reading this, I never knew that a sixth grader was capable of possessing such wisdom, along with the ability to express it so profoundly.  I almost tear up thinking about it, and if you knew her, and saw her wonderful humility, along with her work ethic, you probably would too.  I'll let you read what she wrote in response to the question, "If you had a time machine, what time period would you like to visit?"  I know that the future of our world is in good hands.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plastic Surgery in Korea

I am currently in Seoul for the weekend.  Whenever I get bored in Gwangju, and feel like spending time alone, I'll hop on a bus, and enjoy a weekend of walking the streets of Seoul with my headphones and my ipod.  I am currently in a coffee shop in a district called Gangnam.  From what I've read, it is a district where the most affluent of Seoul live.  Upon walking the streets, that definitely becomes apparent.  The women are all extremely fashionable.  The men here carry themselves as one would expect from a person of wealth and status.  The latest and the most expensive of everything seems to be the norm in this area.

Generally speaking, Koreans are wealthy people.  Korea is among the top twenty economies in the world, and it is among the top twenty five nations in per capita income.  Obviously, as is the case with all people who are wealthy, generally speaking, Koreans have a significant amount of disposable income.  And as do women of all nationalities, backgrounds, and income levels, a huge amount of Korean women have issues with their self image.

I teach students ranging in grade levels from the second through sixth grade, and these problems with a negative self image are definitely prevalent, even among them, and it is especially evident among my sixth graders.  On the bimonthly written tests that we give our students, one of the questions for a test given to one of my sixth grade classes was, "What do you like about yourself?"  

One girl wrote, and I paraphrase, "I like the fact that all my friends are very pretty."  She continued, "I don't understand why they are friends with me, because I don't think I am pretty enough."     

I also hear rumblings, and rumors of various female middle school students in my school who don't like the way they look, so they have verbalized a desire to get plastic surgery when they get older.  I hear of Korean high school girls, who upon graduation, have their parents pay for double eyelid surgery, a procedure done to make the eyes appear larger, as a graduation present.  Many Korean girls also have surgery to enlarge their noses, and some have procedures to make their cheeks appear smaller.

Quite frankly, it's sad.  It's upsetting because it's evidence of a problem, and that being that Korean society, like many other affluent societies in the world, places an excessively high emphasis on the importance of vanity, which causes girls of all ages to have a negative self-image.  This is especially true with the prettiest.  It's the norm for Korean celebrities to have such procedures, and it puts a positive spin on something that is negative, and it has sadly perpetuated the epidemic.

It saddens me, because, especially in my youngest students, I see so much beauty and potential in each of them, as individuals.  And much like English, they are being taught, at a young age, this unnecessarily excessive importance of vanity.  It saddens me because many of these students, especially girls, as a result, will grow up to have a negative self image, and will sadly hear the lie that plastic surgery is the answer.  As an authority figure in their lives, I feel that I have a moral obligation to nurture their growth as people, to guide them, and to enable and empower them to become productive citizens in society, and these negative self-image issues are definitely a hinderance. 

Obviously, girls in the west suffer from this as well, and it is an area where husbands, boyfriends, and mothers in these affluent societies have failed.  Especially in Korea, a society where people are driven so hard, and have so much pressure applied to them at such a young age in order to better themselves, a significant amount of girls are never told by their fathers that they are pretty.  Wives and girlfriends are encouraged by their significant others to have cosmetic surgery, instead of being comforted, and reassured that they are beautiful as they are.  Many of these young girls are told by their mothers, "you have to do 'this and this' to become more beautiful," instead of being told, "You are beautiful as you are."

It is a failure in our world's medical industry.  Instead of being driven to become orthopedic surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, and/or even neurosurgeons, many young med students in Korea are choosing to become cosmetic surgeons in order to make young Korean and Japanese girls' eyes and noses appear larger, not because these girls are victims of car crashes or birth defects, but because these girls are victims of this notion that they are not beautiful enough.  Instead of working more vigorously to find a cure for such horrible deseases as aids and cancer, many doctors in America are figuring ways to perfect breast augmentation procedures on young healthy women, who instead being victims of breast cancer, are victims of this belief that they are not pretty enough, and that cosmetic surgery is the answer. 

This excessive emphasis on vanity in these affluent societies is a problem that can only be solved by the men of these societies.  We, as men, must be the ones to take a stand and declare that this is wrong.  We must do so by being better fathers.  We must tell our daughters that they are beautiful as they are.  We must do so by being more effective examples for our sons, and show them how to be better husbands, by loving our wives as they are.  We, as men, must learn to be strong, and tell our significant others and daughters, "No."  We must show the girls in our society that they are pretty enough, and do so in such a way that when they see an advertisement for a particular cosmetic surgical procedure, they will be inclined to confidently state, "I'm glad that I will never need that."                   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Few Stories from Class

When I walk around my classes observing their group conversations, sometimes the students look up at me as they are sitting.  Whenever one particular student, Lena, looks up, she says in a Korean accent, "Teacher!  You have big nose hole!"  Her particular class is full of girls, as there are eleven of them, and only one boy.

All the other girls would chime in, "Teacher!  You have big nose hole!  Teacher!  You have big nose hole!"  Apparently, I have what is called a "high bridged nose," which is the reason for my abnormally large nostrils, by Korean standards.

I would then proceed to put my chin up in such a position to make me able to pretend that my nostrils are my eyes, and I am looking at my students through them.  I would flare them to make them appear even bigger.  The class would then then erupt with, "EEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW!!!!  Teacher!! You are so ugly!!"

I always respond with, "They are not nose holes!  They are called nostrils!!"

I shave around once a week, and when the five o'clock shadow becomes it's darkest, some students begin to notice, and comment. One of my other fourth graders, Jan, while touching her cheeks, would say in the most concerned manner in a Korean accent, "Teacher, you need the chuck, chuck."  Apparently, to Koreans, "chuck chuck" is the sound of a kiss, and it is an expression that is used to describe moist healthy skin that is worthy of being kissed.

At first, I would respond in the most reassuring manner, "Ok Jan, I will be sure to get the 'chuck chuck,'" as I touch my cheeks also.  I later asked the Korean woman who handles all of our questions and problems, "What does 'chuck chuck' mean?"  She laughed, and explained it.

As an English teacher, I feel it is imperative that I respond in a grammatically correct manner, whenever comments such as this arise.  So now, I respond with, "Ok Jan, I will be certain to shave, and moisturize the skin on my face in such a way to make it worthy of being kissed."

Sometimes I can be bad at remembering names.  I've gotten better, but there are some that I can never seem to remember.  I have a sixth grader named Elaine.  For some reason, I always call her Olivia.  To me, she looks more like an Olivia than an Elaine, and the two names register similarly in my mind, so I always call her that.  We'll be in class, and I would ask a question from a random story that was read, "How did So and so do such and such?  Olivia," I would say pointing to Elaine.

She would look at me with a playful scowl.  She would say absolutely nothing for what would seem to be a very long time.

"Teacher, my name is not Olivia,"  She would say very calmly in a Korean accent with a hint of playfulness, and a little bit of agitation.  "My name is Elaine!!"

I do the same thing in another sixth grade class, one of my larger ones.  I have three girls in that particular class who all look sort of similar.  Their names are Sherry, Penny, and Lucy.  For some reason I call all three of them Sherry.  The names, Penny and Sherry, register similarly in my mind, so I always call Penny the name, Sherry.  Sherry and Lucy have a similar height, build, and demeanor, so I call Lucy the name, Sherry, also.  On a random day in that class, I would ask a question, "What did So and so do during such and such?  Sherry!"  As I look directly at Penny.

Penny is laid back and quiet, but still extremely sharp, and attentive.  She would stare at me with her Korean eyes behind a pair of glasses with blue frames.  Apparently, from my experience, all Korean sixth graders react similarly when called the wrong name.  Penny is so calm, as she doesn't move in the slightest bit.  She would give me a blank stare with a hint of playfulness, and slight agitation for what seems to be a very long time.  She would say calmly in a Korean accent, "Teacher, my name is not Sherry.  I am Penny."

Then Sherry would chime in.  "Teacher!  I'm Sherry!"

Whenever I call Lucy the name, Sherry, she would say nothing.  I would know, when I hear an, "AAAAWWWW?!  Teacher!  I'm Sherry!" from Sherry.

I would, later that night, call Lucy during our required telephone interviews, "Hello.  May I speak to Lucy please?"

There would be a pause where nothing is said.  I would continue, "Lucy?"

After the long pause, she would finally speak calmly in a Korean accent, "Teacher, my name is not Sherry..."  There would be another pause and she would continue, "Today, you called me Sherry.  My name is Lucy."

"Ok Sherry- I mean Lucy, I'll remember that,"  would be my response.

I've gotten to the point where I no longer do it accidentally.  Now, I never call the mentioned girls by their actual English names just to get a rise.