Thank You for Saving the World

So I know today is Thanksgiving, and I’d like to address that. But I’d like to start with something else because I finally watched Wonder Woman with some friends last weekend and the more time that elapses the more I appreciate what a film it is.

In particular, I’d like to collectively ponder a quote from the end of the film. It doesn’t give away any plot, though I guess it does reveal the psychology of the ending so if you haven’t seen it yet, go and do so before continuing.

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be.

First, I think it’s so mature and accurate to real life for a superhero movie to just say straight up that heroes can never save the world because people suck. In the end, we just choose. And choose every day, every moment, how to comport ourselves, how to speak to other people, how to act and think when no one else is looking. And, all too often, we will choose poorly.

Second, only love can save the world. I have no commentary for this.

It’s Thanksgiving and I would just like us to take a moment and pause to make a deliberate and heartfelt choice. To choose light and love. To enter into the greatest love of the God who came near and share it with another. And know, for that small moment, that we are living a part of saving the world. We will fall short of goodness again and again but, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “to this moment’s choice, give unfair weight.”

That is what I have for that. But this week has been pretty full so you’ll forgive me if I include a little more before getting to Thanksgiving, even if this post becomes cumbersomely lengthy.

On Saturday, I had some friends from church over and we played Settlers of Catan. I really love the game (a board game of… settlement and building if you’re not familiar) but haven’t played in ages. We had a lot of fun. I finished in the middle of the pack, but would have been a strong contender for first if we had rolled like Any sixes the whole game. I’m not bitter though, don’t worry.

It snowed on Monday, not for long and it certainly didn’t stick, but the flakes were large and wet and delicious. Yes, I caught a few on my tongue, heinous air quality notwithstanding. My friend caught me on video enjoying a bit of a frolic. She wanted me to upload the video but I’m too technologically un-savvy to figure it out, I’ll put it on Facebook and that’s the best I can do. Sorry Blair.

We also received our schedules for next term (*MY LAST TERM*) and it’s not terrible but it’s not great. I’ll tell you more about it next week when I’ve actually taught my classes. There was also a small breakthrough regarding Christmas but, again, more on that later.

Anyway, Wednesday was a half day as per usual. After work, we gathered at one of our apartments and had a small Thanksgiving-ish sort of time. And it was wonderful. (I refuse to the term Friendsgiving because a. we are not giving friends b. we are giving thanks c. one of the things we are giving thanks for is friends d. friends are a normal part of Thanksgiving e. it’s dumb).

It was a bit of an eclectic mix. Korean fried chicken, pizza dip, Kraft macaroni and cheese, dumplings, fig jam, and Costco pumpkin pie. In other words, exactly as Thanksgiving should be. In a pretty tame game of most likely, I was voted most likely to know how to dispose of a body and become a brutal dictator, and tied for most likely to start my own fashion line. All of which I took as the compliments they were.

I truly am grateful for my coworkers. For a place where I don’t I like working very much, I value my time at school substantially more because of them. They really have made a world of difference for my time here. I’m grateful for my church home here in Seoul, for opportunities to serve, for Paris Baguette, for just so many things.

I’ll be video calling my family tomorrow because it will be Thanksgiving in the US on Friday here. So that will be nice. Now that I have a few non-family Thanksgivings under my belt, it’s not such a strange feeling. Christmas, I’m sure, will be an entirely different matter, but I’m feeling pretty good for this Thanksgiving. I know people around me love me, and I hope they know I love them. I’m grateful, I’m grateful, I’m grateful.

That’s all it is, really. I’m so thankful to have people in my life, present with me physically and virtually, who choose love. Maybe not every time, but as much as possible. Maybe not perfectly, but as best they can. According to Wonder Woman, you’re saving the world. So thanks for that.

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Alarm Clocks are for Zombies

Next week is the last week of term and I expect I’ll have something to say about how close I am to the end of my time in Korea. But in the meantime, I still have another week. This week was less than ideal at work insofar as I had two combined classes, taught a class of third graders in a level I’ve never taught before, and had another class mostly as normal except in a random different classroom and which suddenly combined to double its size for the last half hour.

All in all, not huge burdens or anything but frustrating. A general theme I’ve noticed at my workplace (and which seems to be a common mindset in Korea) is to approach problems as if they only had one dimension. You choose what thing is the most important and you make that look the way you want without considering anything else. Which is frustrating because it means there are easier and simpler solutions that are overlooked. I get that this is for-profit education so money comes first. I hate it, but I understand. Sometimes, though, it’s just straightforward efficiency and time management issues.

Anyway, it’s my first full-time job and I’ve obviously joined the ranks of workers who think they know better than their bosses. Though I’m pretty sure I do, whatever.

On the plus side, though, I had a surprise day off on Wednesday which is always nice. I didn’t do much, surprise. I had a nice, brisk walk (it’s gotten pretty cold here) but nothing too arduous, just around town. I picked up some fancy groceries just because I could–pasta, cream sauce, and fig jam. Highly recommend. Mostly, I just lazed around and slowly went about a few household chores that I had been putting off. It was the right balance, enough to make me feel productive but little enough to let me feel rested.

Our topic today in my debate class was world government but I didn’t really like the lesson so, after doing obligatory lesson things, we had a debate on the proposition ‘War is always wrong.’ And my students (there were only four today) actually had some really good ideas. I helped provide them with some historical examples for both sides but they did quite a bit of work on their own, I was impressed with their maturity. These are mostly sixth graders. Though I did have to stiffle a laugh when, in their speech, a student talking about the US Civil War described slavery as “doing a lot of hard works, listening to bad words, and not being treated as human.”

Kind of funny but also I’m glad that they know enough about the world to say, without my prompting in any way, that slavery treated people as less than human.

You may recall that a few months ago I wrote about the mysterious alarm clock in my neighbor’s apartment that was on for like a day straight. Well, it was back again this week. Starting on Tuesday morning at 9:30 and ending sometime while I was at work, which means at least four and a half hours of beep-beep-beep. But at least it wasn’t overnight like last time.

My explanations then were murder and zombies, a brief recurrence later in the week seeming to suggest the latter. This week’s episode confirms the theory and, I think, zombies must just be heavy sleepers. Because there is no other possible explanation. Zombies.

Though honestly it doesn’t sit well with me that zombies have enough going on in their lives (unlives?) that they need to set alarms. No rest for the wicked, I guess. But are zombies really wicked, if it’s an infection that you can’t choose to get and then suddenly you have a need for brains?

I don’t know. These are the questions that occupy my time. At least I can say I’m together enough as a person, and have leisurely enough mornings, that I don’t use an alarm. In fact, the only alarm I hear in this building is the zombie’s alarm.

Take from that what you will.

Революция

A couple days ago marked the hundred year anniversary of the so-called October Revolution (so-called because at the time, the Russian calendar was about two weeks behind the Western one). The Provisional Government, formed after the abdication of Nicholas II in the spring, was overthrown. Lenin was the man. Which is to say, in short, it was the birth of what would become–after a devastating civil war– the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик).

As an aside for grammarians and students of Russian language, can you imagine having genitive plural as part of the name of your country?

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Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!

It may seem a little strange that I didn’t manage to muse publicly about the Reformation but do have the time and energy to write about the Russian Revolution. But, in truth, it’s not strange at all because of who I am as a person.

I follow a page on Facebook that has been posting quotations and informational stuff all year in memory of the anniversary (it’s called Project1917 if you’re interested). The past couple days they’ve also been doing faux news reports, especially as fighting broke out in Petrograd and the Soviets began taking over the city (note: soviet just means council). I find it so incredible (and also impossible) to imagine being present for all those momentous happenings.

I don’t have any profound historical insights, nor contemporary philosophizing. I just think it’s important to remember these unimaginably important moments in history. Though the Great Man/Great Moment theory of history is mostly a nonstarter for me, this gets pretty close. A lot of it came down to a few people seizing a short space of time and radically altering the history of the entire world forever. I could write a million counterfactuals around the idea of no revolution.

Today’s topic in my upper-level class was nuclear (non)proliferation. It was cool to have a relatively mature conversation about the pros and cons of different arguments. I also got to talk about the Cold War and some Soviet history which was nice.

I haven’t talked all that much about Russia on this blog, mostly because I’ve been doing other things. But I remain deeply interested in it as a country, culture, language, and just…place, you know? I have no idea how it might happen, but I would totally be okay with ending up in Russia next year. I would love to go back–and to see new places.

Not much else happened this week. Glad I didn’t have to endure another Bonfire Night in Stoneybatter because all that black smoke and burned mattresses were not doing it for me. It’s almost the end of week 11 which means only two more weeks left in term.

And then it’s my last term.

That’s soon.

Agh.

Wine Stains; Unsent Invitations

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to you, readers, but there is an extraordinarily comprehensive wine stain on the wall of my apartment. Sitting at my desk, where I spend most of my time, I am constantly thinking various droplets are bugs and sometimes even move almost involuntarily to smash them (not entirely unreasonable seeing as there are often bugs but that’s a separate issue).

To be clear, I did not put the stain there. It was the previous occupant, another teacher who left when I arrived and whom I never met. I have it on good authority that they tried very hard to clean it but it wouldn’t budge. There is even a place where they must have tried some truly serious intervention because it seems to have stripped away the protective layer from the wallpaper in a weird-shaped blotch before they gave up. Honestly, if I had made such an incredulously large and splattery stain I think I would leave it untouched as a badge of honor.

I would include a picture but the lighting and tones make it difficult to capture what I can see so easily. But believe you me, this thing is (I cannot impress upon you how un-exaggerated this is) approximately ten feet across and extends from the floor to the ceiling in a number of spewed arcs from what appears to be multiple sources. And by ceiling, I mean it extends in one particular sweep a solid three feet into the room.

There’s a Russian saying, к хорошему быстро привыкаешь, which means ‘you get used to good things quickly’ and which I think is probably true. But though it might take longer, I think most mediocre and even bad things can gotten used to. The problem is that being used to something is not, in and of itself, a bad thing but it usually ends up that way, at least in my life. Maybe that’s why (one of myriad reasons, I’m sure) it took so little convincing for me to agree to move to Korea.

‘Variety is the spice of life’ is one of my unofficial life mottoes. Aside from being absurdly cliché, it is my greatest retreat when people tell me I’m boring which I am. I like to think that I have variety in the small things so as to preserve the greatest possible monotony in the big things. This doesn’t seem to hold true insofar as living in one place goes, but in many other ways it is suspiciously close to a religious tenet. I make the same soup every day, but I season it differently. Usually. I get frustrated and resentful when my routine is disrupted but I also like going on spontaneous three-hour walks to new places.

Okay, basically my arguments about variety fall apart under even cursory examination. Anyway. I thought I might write about the Reformation this week but surprise, I’m not going to. A book got in the way.

The book is a seasonal favorite. I’ve read it a few times, not nearly as many as I’d like. It’s not an outstanding book but it’s good and it’s very Christmasy. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos.

1 November is the date on which I have historically sent out invitations (via Facebook) to my annual Christmas party. Annual as in since 2007. Annual as in this would have been the eleventh annual. Correct, would have been. Because I’ll be here, in Seoul. And while I’ve known that, of course, and knew it going in, sometimes I remember particularly and it’s a small anguish.

I’m very possessive about my favorites lists, it takes a lot to change them (I think we’ve covered that I’m not wild into change). One that I’ve had to face up to in recent years is favorite Christmas song. It used to be, for many years, The Christmas Song aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. But in Ireland, I think, I finally acknowledged that my new favorite is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Because it says, “Through the years, we all will be together if the fates allow,” and “Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.”

So I guess this post is mostly things I did not do this week. Invitations were not sent. Bugs were not squished. Well, actually they were, but not the phantom wine stain bugs. Changes were not made and my soup was only marginally spiced. Some weeks are just like that, I guess. Weeks of not. I’ll live.

Doughnuts, Sweaters, and Being Together

So the super important news of the week is that the Paris Baguette across from work, which has been closed all month, is finally open again!! It’s been magically transformed into a Paris Baguette Café which means I’m not sure what. But it looks very fancy and shiny and new (but also mostly the same). Yesterday was the grand reopening and everything in the store was 20% off, obviously I bought everything in the store. It really was almost exactly the same but still. One new product I saw was blueberry doughnuts so I got one and it was delicious (though it kind of made me miss Tesco).

It was truly a hardship while it was closed. There’s another one ten or fifteen minutes down the street near my grocery store, but I only ever go there on Saturday, it’s such a burden.

Okay, that is all the first-world complaining I have for this week, promise.

I would like to share a really precious picture of Camaro who just wonders why life gotta do her like that.

Camaro2017-10-23

Work continues to be pretty generally fine. I covered one of the three hour sessions of the extra course I taught last term and, while the class itself was fine, it did renew my gratitude for being free from teaching that this term. We’re also having a little Halloween poster contest for the whole hagwon, a fun diversion for them instead of stressing over the test. Some of them are taking it very seriously which is always nice.

My students are pretty good, several of them are definite favorites. Teaching higher levels is a major plus for me and hopefully I’ll finish strong next term with similar classes (and I’d love to have a bunch of my students again). Next week is the level-up test which means there’s only one more month left in this term.

Sweater weather is finally here, too. A great relief after long-enduring days of too much heat. It hasn’t been hot hot for a while, and we long ago left the humidity behind, but it was getting pretty late for an actual start to fall. So I’m very much enjoying wearing all my sweaters again, giving them some fresh air after too long stowed away in the closet.

Not much else has been going on this week. Doing some reading. Doing a lot of waiting because I’m on hold at the library for like twenty thousand books and it’s taking forever. Also, I have not suddenly become fluent in Korean, I’m referring to the Pierce County Library which has on online lending system for Ebooks that I’ve been using.

Also, how crazy is it that Martin Luther nailed up his theses 500 years ago? Five hundred years of protest. Maybe next week I’ll have some thoughts about it, I didn’t realize that it was actually on 31 October, just sort of interesting because, like, Halloween and stuff. You know. Not feeling eloquent today, and feeling generally lazy, so that’s all I’ve got on that but there is plenty to be said, maybe next week.

I don’t have much to say this week in terms of discussion topics, but I did have a little moment of almost déjà vu. Did you ever see those Android commercials from several years ago? With the animals playing together? I do happen to use an Android phone but regardless of that I really love the slogan for that ad campaign: Be together, not the same.

That’s my closing thought for today.

Breathing Old Breaths

I had Wednesday off this week which was a huge blessing. I felt like it was Saturday all day and every time I remembered it crushed me all over again. But it was 100% worth it. Work this term has actually been good, I think I even feel confident enough to say it’s my best term so far. But I’m sure you can agree, sometimes you just gotta be free. In lieu of my typical attitude of why-do-when-you-can-just-not, I decided to actually utilize my free day to Korea a little bit.

Korea-ing this week turned out to mean a trip to Olympic Park way out on the other side of the city. If you weren’t aware, Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics and there’s a big park that’s like a park but also home to several of the smaller venues like tennis, handball, and gymnastics. It was, in contrast to the weather generally, a grey and chilly day but not cold enough for me to want a coat with all the walking I was doing. There was some kind of school thing going on so there were hundreds of small children running around a large section of the park (and no, hundreds is not an exaggeration, it’s a big park and there were many different schools in attendance). Once I got away from them, though, I had a really pleasant time.

The park is built on the site of an old castle sort of thing from the kingdom of Baekje, one of the main kingdoms in Korea around the fifth century. I walked around the remains of earthen ramparts, next to the moat, and around the Olympic Plaza. Here are a few snapshots to give you the gist.

My week was pretty boring otherwise, so the remainder of this post I’ve dredged up from the depths of my draft bin. Not relevant to my week but interesting enough, I think. I hope you’ll pardon the sheer inanity of it; I may not stand by the writing but I’ll stand by the sentiment. People who sometimes feel nostalgic: what is something that you find yourself missing and with whom do you wish you could reminisce about it?

There is a painting by American artist Edward Hopper called Nighthawks. Painted in 1942, I just wanted to share it with you to strike the appropriate mood. I love the casual mystery of the scene and its occupants and I hope you find yourself as intrigued (and oddly soothed) as I am.

nighthawks_by_edward_hopper_1942

Without getting into the mind-boggling complexities of great scientific unknowns, I thought I’d offer up a few casual layman’s contemplations of the non-linear nature of time.

As a simple human, I can only experience time as a human may, and perhaps this is most comprehensively contained in the concept of memory, though not entirely so. Indeed, it may be that it is not the nature of time at all that I observe, the act of observing changing the reality. But that, too, is much farther into science and philosophy than I care to venture. Like, wow, sorry.

It seems to me that time can function both cyclically and randomly. An imperfect image, as all metaphors must of necessity be, is of the air. The uncountable millions of particles and molecules in our atmosphere continually course in and out of our lungs. Perchance, we will breathe the same individual atom any number of times, in quick succession or with decades between meetings. There is no way to keep track of what air we have breathed or to predict if ever we will encounter those breaths again. No breath is marked as different from the rest, save for the ease or difficulty of its breathing and the aroma we may chance to scent. Yet even aromas are false reminders, no matter their very particular resemblance, likely to be made of entirely new air simply carrying a similar perfume.

As often happens, I find myself rambling on and on and I hardly know what I am saying at this point. I apologize, it usually drives me wild when I go back and read posts like this. But unfortunate as it may be, I intend for this blog to capture all of me, including my incoherent pseudo-philosophical introspections. I take comfort knowing that I do not inflict it on you; you, reader, inflict it on yourself.

In a book, I encountered a sentiment that captures almost exactly what I want to say (simply saying it at the beginning would negate the need for the post). I will leave you with words from Robin Hobb:

It was possible to be homesick for a time, and to be lonely for the only other person who could recall it.

I have so few years to be nostalgic for but they weigh deeply in me, on occasion, nonetheless.

Sea

I haven’t been up to much this week so I’ll just give you a bit of a rundown of the last little bit of my Chuseok break, following up from last week.

I did make it out to Incheon on Friday and I had a really nice time. It was sort of a chilly, blustery sort of day which caught me unexpectedly as the previous day had been hot and sunny. It was about an hour and a half on the subway to get there, but a significant portion of the trip was aboveground and afforded me some pleasant scenery once we got out of the thick of Seoul. Of course, it’s pretty continuous city between Seoul and Incheon but there are many green places in between where the cities mostly leave off for a bit.

My goal for the day was vague, I wanted to see Central Park and the sea. Other than that, I just figured I’d wander around a bit and find somewhere to read for a while. Emerging from the Central Park subway exit, I found myself in a pleasant little space in the midst of more modern, prettier highrises than the ones I’m accustomed to in Seodaemun.

The park itself was a pleasant little waterway with green spaces on either side. There was even a small cruise boat of sorts that could carry you the length of the passage, though the canal section is only about one kilometer long. There were statues and pathways with flowers and plentiful benches. Most of the glory of the summer, I’m sure, was lost by the time I made it out, but it was still reasonably decked out. I sat down across from a group of (bronze?) urinating boys, as one does, and took out my Dostoyevsky to catch up since I’ve been slacking. I had some convenience store kimbap and tea. So I passed a while and it was nice.

After a bit, I got up and decided to walk down the road to the water–the actual ocean water, not the canal. It turned out to be much farther away than I thought but it wasn’t super long. The first ten minutes or so of the street passed through a forest of apartment buildings under construction, this time the plain, unattractive ones I’m used to. It was kind of spooky, actually: the five lane road next to me was almost totally deserted, the street lights were out at several intersections, the windowless holes in the towers peering down like little hollow black eyes. On a grey, slightly blustery day that looked and felt like five or six in the evening starting around 1 o’clock. I loved it.

The second ten minutes went through a section of completed apartments that, while no more attractive, were at least a little more homey-looking. The small, landscaped areas in front were complete and unobscured by construction miscellanea. People were a little more common, though still few and far between. There was a school so it didn’t look quite so post-apocalyptic. The trees along the city street (save for the traffic and the trains) rustled gently and redly in the wind.

The last ten minutes ran between a golf course behind a literal and vegetative fence on my right and the National University of Incheon on the left. I didn’t explore there but it seemed like a pretty campus. There were still very few people and cars about and I rather enjoyed the relative isolation after the unceasing closeness of Seoul.

At last, I reached the water at a little park-ish place. I think it was where large pieces of the Incheon bridge were assembled (since, if you didn’t know, Incheon airport is actually on an island). I was above the water and couldn’t find a place to go down to it. I couldn’t smell seaweed or fish or salt. There were very few seagulls and no barnacles. Nonetheless, simply seeing the water was incredibly refreshing. I am a saltwater man through and through and, as I quoted on here a few months ago, to see the sea once is to learn how to miss it.

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to escape the city a second time though, as always, Seoul managed to be visible. I went up with a friend of mine and her family (they’re Korean) and we drove up to Namhansanseong or Namhan Mountain Fortress. It’s a bit of a castle on a hill and it had some splendid views which my rudimentary camera skills were unable to quite capture. But I had a great time. We went to dinner afterwards and it was delicious. All in all a wonderful close to my first Chuseok.

There’s not really much else to report from here. Classes have resumed as normal. I learned that next term’s intensive classes will start on 26 December and I will probably (but maybe there will be a miracle) have to work on Christmas. Which I knew coming here. But still.

And in case you were wondering, obviously I’m always psyched about Christmas but the period of intensifying expectation of the coming of Christmas season is now in full swing. Started probs a month ago. Like, I’m so ready for Christmas. I need it.