February 15, 2011

8760 hours pt. i

I walked into the lobby of a motel confused; I thought I was supposed to be taken to the apartment I would call home for the next year. Instead, I was in the lobby being greeted by my then to be, and now current, employer. She wasn’t alone; there were also two girls from Canada whose experience in Korea started only a few hours before mine. That night we were all smiles after a pitcher of beer, and a bottle of soju.

I never really got to know the two girls I met in the lobby that night. One of them would be fired from my school a week later in a now semi infamous potato chip heist. She would later find another job, but left that contract before Christmas. The other girl fell victim to a freak accident and broke her leg as she was celebrating her birthday. The slip also exposed the business side of Korean Hogwans, as she was viewed expendable and shown the door.

It was a sad ending to what started as a great beginning in Korea for those two. Yet I remain, and on the anniversary of my arrival I realize how much I’ve learned in 12 months. In memoriam I’m going to write a three post series as I prepare for my second 8760 hours (one year).

a correction

my grandparents were given an up to date printed copy of all the blog entries for Christmas (thanks Dad!). That led me to re-read some of my posts, and realize how my perception of this country has shifted. I called them the other day and my grandfather said to me “Sean, any Koreans reading those (blogs) might be unhappy that you imply they are all drunks”. Well, I’d like to change that.

My original posts  all seemed to originate from the same place, and rice beer is a helluva drug. I originally treated Korea as an extension of college, and thought the country was simply a giant party. I wrote about drunken Koreans and plastered weiguks, unaware and naïve to my surroundings. I had true friends openly tell me that three sober days in sixty means you have a problem. I shrugged them off and replied ‘Korea is all about drinking’. My rebuttal was easy because I only surrounded myself with people who drank; bearing witness to an alternative wasn’t clearly visible through the bottom of a shot glass.

I’m not saying that I regret that period of time; I had some great fun (I was smiling in the pictures I don’t fully remember). I was also fortunate to meet some amazing people, some stuck around and others I’ve unfortunately lost contact with. During that time I crafted a somewhat inaccurate view of Seoul to those who read my blog.

I wrote about consistently seeing drunken Koreans, and that was easy because I’m in Korea, much like you see Russians in Russia, and Canadians in Canada. You are also likely to be around drunken people if you are in fact drunk yourself. While Korea does have extremely lax drinking laws, you can purchase and consume alcohol anywhere at any time. I think a problem is encountered when you abuse that privilege. Just because you can drink on the subway doesn’t mean you always should, and for months I did.

While I wasn't completely inaccurate in some prior entries, it isn’t unusual to see stumbling Koreans on the sidewalk at any time of day. What I neglected to mention is that they were often engulfed and ignored by surefooted Koreans busy with their lives. Every culture is likely to have drinkers, and with Seoul having one of the largest and densest populations on the planet, coupled with a superb public transit system, they are going to be more visible here.

I mentioned previously in this post about being naïve to my surroundings, in the first six months I was. Reputation in Korea is very important, and weiguks have an awful one. I’m sure if there was data reporting the amount of alcohol abuse in Korea (on a per capita basis), weiguks could easily outnumber any ethnicity in the country. That is our famous reputation, as drunks, and I perpetuated that for most of my beginning months in the country. Most foreign teachers are in their twenties and the prime demographic to alcohol producers around the world.

It was a lot easier to see that Seoul was a vibrant city when I wasn’t wandering dark lit streets. This city is brilliant, and there are far more activities than power drinking. I don’t want to be taken wrong here though! I’m not denouncing drinking, or those who drink, as I’ve actively searched out micro brews in Seoul (a post co-written with Corwin is in the works). I just wanted to set a record straight that I spent months wrongfully reporting. I am a part of a demographic in Korea that abuses alcohol more often than Koreans.

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