Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years

Living in Wonju South Korea, These Many Long Years: Version 2.0!

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Taiwanese Special Forces
The phone rings.  It's been a month since waeg's phone has actually worked: the mic finally shat the bed after he'd dropped it a few dozen times.  Damn you Apple!  Now I have to use headphones to make a call!  Yet today he does have them, as he brought his laptop to work to surf porn and post anonymous comments on various websites.  It isn't a spam number so he answers:

Wow, Mr. Waeg!  It has been such a long time!  How are you?  Let's have dinner!

A student from long ago, when he actually still cared about such things.  He hasn't heard from him in well near ten years.

So he goes.  He taught the kid when he was in elementary and middle school, a time that seems near imaginary, save for how easy it could be to find himself there again.  Kid is now a dude, somewhat broken by a bad love affair Waeg soon sorts out from the conversation, but that becomes secondary when dude starts talking about his time in the military.

Well, yeah, I went to the states, a Good School, it was all grand, thanks for your help by the way, but the girl I had in high school, well, I kinda fucked that up, as some random blonde hottie threw herself at me at this frat party, and, well, yeah, I responded, because she was hot, and I'm like wasted, what's a guy supposed to do? so wooooooah!  The pictures got onto Facebook, but whatever, that's not what you asked!  The military wasn't so bad I guess, since I had not such a bad job doing translation, but man!  All I could think was that the military was so fucked!  Most of what I did was bullshit, and yeah there were times when I sweated my ass off, but most of the time I was expected to sit around and wait for the higher ups to make some decision, and I'd leave at five and get called back at six thirty, then sit there until ten, eleven, mostly doing nothing.

So you've been well prepared for life as an indentured servant with your favorite chaebol then!

Haha ya you can say that!  It seems though that most of the problem in Korean society are because of the military, since I know that once I become an old dude after kissing so much ass over time, I'll just expect the same since that's what I had to do.  That's why I'm thinking I should just say fuck it and go work in the states.

Waeg wants to say something about brain drain, commitment to the nation that helped make you who you are, but he doesn't.  He knows this guy will be back.  It's in his nature.  But Waeg knows this is the reality of the situation, since he sussed it out years ago.  Angry educated dudes escape to the West almost as frequently as jilted, maligned women do from this greatest of peninsulas, with the latter far less likely to return; but no matter for the Minjok, as many of these women end up marrying ethnic Koreans in their newly adopted state, despite how they've all been corrupted from the purest vision of what Korea was, is, and should be. . . sadly, it's too late for them to abuse the new fresh off the boats who have run the dry cleaners and grocery stores their parents or grandparents slaved in to afford them the Ivy league cred, now they actually have to earn their way by the same rules as everyone else.  But then Waeg knows talking of this is well, racism!  It's the fault of the white man!  It seems a mantra in the Asian diaspora these days.  But Waeg knows he's gone off on a tangent, so focuses again on dude.  They talk about a camping trip and promise to meet up again soon.

It's late.  Waeg knows he's almost on borrowed time.  Yet something still nags.  It's not how myopic the hyphenated Asians are in western countries.  It's more about what he missed in effectively sublimating the White Man's Burden

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Saturday afternoon. Waeg is out with the fam; an old friend who left this most finest of peninsulas years back has returned for a visit with his wife’s family.  The decision was made to spend the day at world number one best amusement park, Everland, as the kids had been pestering them about it for weeks.  There were reservations expressed about this plan, as the incredible popularity of said number one world best park would ensure massive line ups, but the kids had latched on to the plan and would become inconsolable if it were changed.

The crowds are thick as respective broods are led from ride to ride. The interminable waiting becomes near unbearable when a break for lunch is suggested; a cold drink greatly appeals to waeg, and the herding of the kids towards the concession stands begins. The lines seem longer for food, but no matter: sustenance will be procured! The heat and noise of the crowd are starting to affect the band of adventurers, evident as the kids start to bicker. While standing in line, waeg daydreams about pandemics that wipe out 50% of the world population. He imagines how such a scenario would play out when he is interrupted by a yell of pain from his friend. He turns around to see him holding his hand tightly and glaring menacingly at a little girl; she looks bewildered, shocked, then darts off into the crowd.

She freakin’ bit me! She just kept tugging at my arm yelling how she wanted some water and then sank her teeth into my hand!

This is truly a WTF moment, and waeg understands his friend’s anger. His friend rants on about being glad for leaving Korea, how he got really sick of listening to the kids act like such rude little idiots around waegs, always acting so disrespectful since they hadn’t been taught properly.

When I was a kid, the first time I saw a black guy I pointed to him and said, Mom, look, a black man! She smacked me upside the head and lectured me on how rude it was to point, that there were many different types of people in the world and they all deserved respect. Korean parents just don’t teach that kind of shit man, it’s more like randomly walking through Emart and Korean mom or dad tells little Minsoo to go up to the only waeg in the store and practice his English! Or they would come over and start petting my kids, and flat out say how cute the little mixed race kid is! I would just say look lady, be civil or just leave me and my family alone, got it? Man, I can’t believe it, been here less than a week and some kid comes over and freakin’ bites me! Unbelievable!

Waeg can understand, as he too has experienced similar situations. But the tension is too high, and won’t help get cold drinks and food, so he deflects the situation by asking about his friend’s new promotion to district manager. This works reasonable well, and soon they are seated at a bench staked out by the kids enjoying frosty drinks and sandwiches. The mood is much improved as they finish up and decide to try the bumper cars before calling it a day.

They are standing in line waiting when suddenly a little girl a few meters ahead starts bawling her head off. Waeg clocks that it is the same girl that had bit his buddy; she is standing next to a man who is probably her father. She wants to leave, wants to get out; her dad tries to console her, to calm her down, but she will not listen. Dad, annoyed as they’d wasted considerable time standing in line, has no choice but to take her away. As they pass, waeg does a double take. The dad is wearing a lime green polo shirt and tan pants. His buddy is wearing the same. Waeg draws this fact to his buddy’s attention: maybe the girl had been tugging on his arm asking for a drink since she had confused the two, and bit him when he didn’t respond thinking she was biting her dad.

Dude, really? I’m not Korean, don’t you think she would have noticed that?

Possibly. But stranger mistakes have been made, and the big city is bright and loud, maybe the heat and confusion just got to her.

Yeah, sure, whatever. What kind of dad lets it get to the point that your kid thinks it’s OK to bite you when you want attention? Forget it man, I’m glad I left.

For a moment, waeg thinks about what he can say, but nothing comes. His buddy is right: it probably is a good thing he left. Many a waeg gets stuck in a loop, living in cheap crappy housing, surrounded by ijits, doing work that brings no satisfaction and few rewards. Being a long term expat can take its toll on even the most intelligent and hardy traveler; waeg is just happy it’s been a while since he’s had a meltdown or gone off on someone for idiocy, although he knows it will happen again eventually. Such are the trials of living as a waeg. He changes the subject, and talks about happier times in lands far, far, away.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Tonight I decided to be a bit more social and meet up with some of the parents from the girls' school.  I have been neglectful of my social responsibilities of late, and figured it would be nice to meet some of the adults attached to the kids my daughters hang out with.

The evening started fairly benign: light conversation over a nice seafood medley.  I quickly clocked who was who, being a bit surprised by one pair of parents who appeared far more Amish than I would have expected.  Still, the mom did have a smart phone.  Whatever.  The rice wine was flowing pretty steady, and I found myself having a pretty good time, chatting up many of the moms and a few of the dads.

As we moved on to the second round at a norae bang, one of the dads obviously had something weighing heavy on his mind.  I'd noticed him brooding in a corner during the meal, and when a moment presented itself I asked how he was doing.

He seemed to mull over the question as if it tasted like some exceptionally sour piece of kimchi, deciding whether it was actually tasty or some foul concoction that would best be reburied, when he blurted out:

You've lived here how long?

Coming on 14 years, yeah.  It's been a long road hahahaha

So why is it you still speak Korean so poorly?

All conversation seemed to cease, and the music seemed to suddenly become sucked into a vacuum.  I'm still in jovial fun mode, so I say:

Yeah, my Korean isn't fluent, sorry about that!  I still make silly mistakes, especially when I am writing.  But language is something that takes a good while to learn, and I'm always working on it!  Come, lets drink!  Where is your cup?

His frown seemed to deepen as he waves off my offer:  

You can't even speak well after having been here so long.  How can you hope to understand Korea and Koreans?  You can't know us since you can't even communicate well!

At that moment one of the other dads intervenes and drags brooding man away.  I don't think too much about what he said at the time, as I figure it wouldn't do much to enhance the mood of the group to go on about it.  I've had this conversation more than a few times; whenever it comes up, I inevitably remember some of the ijits I worked with back home, who were all about: learn English or GTFO my country!  I think of all the immigrant families I'd seen over the years, the parents unable to speak more than a few words in English, being berated by their kids who were fluent because they were busy being social in school while mom and dad slaved away at whatever job they had to bring in the cash.  I'd worked for a few such families over the years, and always respected the parents despite their inability to communicate well with the locals, knowing they knew full well the shit that some dished on them for their broken speech or bad accent while mocking openly: 'don't worry they can't understand!'  But saying all that didn't seem apropos, nor bringing up how if I couldn't understand Korea or Koreans, then only a European could really teach about Europe, only an American can accurately talk about America, and only a native English speaker can teacher English.  It all seemed inappropriate to mention, since, well, there was still rice wine to drink, and I knew I wasn't paying the bill.  So I kept my mouth shut and went to punch in the next song on the machine.  Let the good times roll, at least for tonight!  Pass that jug of wine!