29 July 2008

Mildly Frightening Moments

  • Walking around a deserted back street of Yeosu late at night with a couple of other drunken teachers, one of whom laughingly tells me in broken English that they are going to take me someplace to kill me and sell my body.
  • Riding in a car with 형식's family as he drives it up a twisting and narrow gravel road to the top of a mountain. Then white-knuckling the seat as he backs down part of the way to get out, going twenty miles per hour backwards while describing the road as "very dangerous road."
  • Wandering around Yeosu alone with a pen and paper, trying to make a working map, only to realize that it's getting on near midnight and I am completely lost.
As it turns out: the teachers were just going to another bar; we made it down the mountain okay; and I got home just by asking for directions in horrible Korean.

17 July 2008

한글

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I have never been good with languages or with accents. They've always just been difficult for me to manage, and I have done poorly with the languages I have studied.

Well, it turns out that I just needed to be put in the right situation, since I learned all of Hangul yesterday. In the space of the morning, I went from knowing two of the letters to being able to read everything. My attempts prior to departure with flash cards were miserable failures, but I guess sometimes you learn things differently. I chose three sentences and wrote them down repeatedly yesterday morning, speaking each sound as I did so, then moved on to a few children's books, and by the afternoon I was reading street signs and my Korean teacher's textbook.

Obviously, I don't understand what all but a few things actually mean, and my spelling is pretty lousy so far (안녕핫세여?), but I guess it's true what the creator of the language, King Sejong, once said: you can learn Hangul in a single morning.

16 July 2008

Day Two

Well, it is now day two. I am in Yeosu, my city. The first day was insanely difficult, and I spent the night seriously wondering if I had made a big mistake. My only aid to trying to accomodate myself to an entirely new world and culture was a guy who only speaks stumbling English - and I myself have only a few phrases.

It is as hot as Florida, but there is the distinct difference of there being very little air-conditioning. I have had to learn a few tricks already in order to get by and stay cool, like everyone else here.

Every goddamn thing is small. I duck to go through many doors, the provided slippers for walking around at work (shoes come off at the door) have my heels hanging off of them, and even the equipment for my physical at the hospital was too small. It was only with great difficulty that I crammed myself into a small cubicle in order to get my hearing test. There are bigger problems, of course, but it's kind of interesting.

Almost every single person I have met has told me I was tall or told me I was handsome. So I guess I should really count my blessings. The children at the school react in an amusing fashion - without exception, they either giggle and run or else become very friendly and try to have a conversation.

Volleyball is very important in Yeosu and the surrounding area, and the school team recently won the championship, so that has also led to many people asking me if I would play for the team. I am unable to communicate that I know how to play, but I suck, but I think they will get the hint. They probably just assume that because I am tall, I will be great... but I proved that theory wrong about basketball too, back in the day. In sports with balls, I have the adeptness of one half of a radish. But no one asks the radish to join the team. That's discrimination.

It is getting incrementally less than incredibly difficult to make my way here.

14 July 2008

Daylight

The flight was long. Absurdly long. I arrived at the airport about dawn, and boarded just as the sun was starting to rise. Then we started to fly. When we hit Detroit, it was something like noon, but the plane to Tokyo turned fully west.

For almost a solid day, I chased the sun.

Arriving at Seoul, the sky was darkening and night finally arrived. After hour after endless hour of daylight, shut out by airplane blinds, it's very welcome. So will be the sleep, here in a Seoul youth motel. This sort of place has no analogous service in America; back home, it would exist somewhere between Motel Six and the Hyatt, with a mixture of poor hygiene and friendly amenities not to be found.

All is well.

13 July 2008

Hundredleague Boots

Well, I'm sitting in the Tampa airport, waiting for my flight now. First to Detroit, and then to Tokyo, and finally to Seoul. I am pretty exhausted, what with every little last-minute thing that comes up when you are leaving the country for an extended period of time. Ruri and I got about five hours of sleep, then she helped me drag my five bags to the airport. It cost a fortune to check a third bag; rather than money, they actually just set a bucket next to me and opened my vein for two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. They had a table set up nearby with a big knife, in case any of them were overweight, but thankfully I got to keep everything.

There's a kid of about thirteen sitting a few rows away from me in the terminal. He's leaning forward, chin on his hand, and he has been staring intently at the chest of a woman sitting across from him for about ten minutes. It's pretty amazing, I don't think he's even blinked the entire time.

I am pretty scared. I am pretty excited. Description really fails me as to both points... every step I take feels like a hundredleague stride, carrying me far away from everything I know with amazing finality. But I also feel as though my enormous steps are bringing the horizon up in front of me with its gentle curve, and that I will soon be able to simply stride over the edge of the world and find a new one.

You know, actually that woman does have a pretty good rack. I'm going to go join that kid.

09 July 2008

FISA bill passed, civil rights apparently not so important

Despite the efforts of a few brave figures like Sen. Russ Feingold, Congress just passed the new FISA bill with the telecom immunity included. This gutless move - backed by both Obama and McCain - passes an only marginally weakened version of the original Republican bill. Bush had threatened to veto the bill if it did not include immunity for those telecoms who broke the law when they permitted illegal warrantless wiretapping, and the clever Republican electioneering ensured that the "compromise" bill was almost a copy of their own. Democrats, terrified of allowing FISA to expire and being vulnerable to claims of being "weak on terror," buckled in short order.

Numerous lawmakers had spoken out strongly against the no-warrants eavesdropping on Americans, but the Senate voted its approval after rejecting amendments that would have watered down, delayed or stripped away the immunity provision.

The lawsuits center on allegations that the White House circumvented U.S. law by going around the FISA court, which was created 30 years ago to prevent the government from abusing its surveillance powers for political purposes, as was done in the Vietnam War and Watergate eras. The court is meant to approve all wiretaps placed inside the U.S. for intelligence-gathering purposes. The law has been interpreted to include international e-mail records stored on servers inside the U.S.

"This president broke the law," declared Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.


So that's that. Once again, the Republican party proved it was soulless, and the Democratic party proved it was gutless.

02 July 2008

Itinerary

Departure - Sunday, July 13th, 9:42 AM

Tampa to Detroit - 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Detroit to Tokyo - 12 hours, 55 minutes.
Tokyo to Seoul - 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Arrival in Korea - Monday, July 14th, 9:35 PM

I'll be traveling 22 hours, including layovers, yet will arrive in Korea 36 hours later. I can tell time is really going to get screwed up for me.