Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Most of you probably already know, but I just found out about 10 days ago that I’ve been “officially” re-contracted at my elementary school for a third year. I’m delighted and relieved as I know I will be able to stick around at the school I’ve grown to love (although, some days are a pain) and have the stability of a pretty good job for at least another year. For those that know me well, know that peace of mind is paramount, and so it’s a relief to finally realize that I will not be troubled with searching around for another decent gig. Also, I enjoy my colleagues, and I enjoy my students and seeing them grow and learn. Indeed, there is a small portion back deep in my mind that expresses a small bit of regret and worry, primarily stemming from the fact that my 2nd year in Korea was much more difficult than the first. I say “difficult” in regards to my higher demands at work, my own work ethic and self-discipline, spiritual struggles, and just life in general. Let’s just say it was a tough winter and the struggles of life and work have taken time to thaw themselves out and disintegrate.
With the first half of the school year having ended and being amid a 2-week vacation in Japan, I’m feeling tip-top. I feel like I accomplished much in the last six months in terms of my work and ability, but also my spiritual walk, which of course still needs plenty of fine-tuning. The calamities that beset my spiritual walk in the past have only bolstered my stride toward the future with tranquility, hope, and triumph.
It was my 31st birthday a few weeks ago, and in between getting a nice lunch & dinner with friends, I relaxed while reading a book inside my apartment for a few hours with the wonderful view of the hillside and skyline behind me. I caught myself staring up at the sky various times and I again ultimately became very content on where I am at in the world. I felt content, and I still do feel quite content and confident on where I am. The only thing I constantly feel lacking while living in Korea is the ability to speak Korean, something of which I have been honestly reluctant to learn. When I first arrived, I was driven to learn it, but I quickly became disenchanted with the idea of making the much needed daily sacrifices in order to master it. Having learned Spanish, I understand the commitment and sacrifice necessary to actually learn and effectively communicate in another language, and this had fostered my relatively stubborn reluctance. It took nearly two years, but this reluctance to learn Korean has finally ended. The desire and joy to learn it has returned, for good.
I must say that Korea still surprises me from time to time. After having had a grand birthday lunch near Hongdae University, I boarded the usual bus that takes me back to Gimpo. Amid my ride home, an elder Korean gentleman roughly aged between 70-80 slowly stepped on with T-Money bus card in hand. Upon realizing that not enough money was charged on the card, he took his time reaching into his pocket and took out a 10,000won bill ($10) and attempted to give it to the bus driver. Now, I’ve learned during my time here that it’s just not smart to ride a bus with the plan to pay a large bill as 90% of the time the bus driver will reject it for either lack or change, laziness, or pure stubborness for having meticulously bothered him/her with another mundane task. So without much surprise to me, the bus driver fervently said (in Korean), “Don’t pay with that.”
“Don’t talk to me like that,” the old man said.
“I can’t accept that,” the bus driver quickly snapped without even looking in the old man’s direction.
With the bus already in motion, the old man took a deep breath and then meandered to the back of the bus and sat down without the slightest gringe of worry.
“Sir, you must pay!” the bus driver yelled.
“Sir, please come back here and pay!”
The bus driver was supremely perturbed by the old man’s utter refusal to pay, but appeared unwilling to stop the bus and get up to confront the man. I’ve actually seen instances like this countless times, but it still greatly baffles me. In Korea, there are just some unspoken rules. Old men are somewhat revered here, and in many instances, they are able to live above societal laws. I’ve even seen old Korean men briskly slap police officers in the face or even push them away over and over again, something of which will get one arrested if done back in the US, no matter how old or young one may be. So as I continue to live and work in Korea, I’m sure I will continue to see more societal surprises that would be almost impossible to get away with back home.