Unpacking with Danielle

Travel & Exploration

Tag: culture (page 1 of 2)



Alexandra.  The weird girl.

I met Alexandra as a third grader.  She was fat for a Korean kid.  She was also obsessed with pink.  So she was a fat Korean girl who always dressed in pink.  I thought she looked and acted like Miss Piggy.  No one in Korea knew who that was.  But when I showed my co-teacher and her homeroom teacher a video of Miss Piggy they cracked up and agreed, Alexandra was just like Miss Piggy.

In addition to the pink, she also had a pudgy face and pig nose.  Her voice was nasally, like sound originated somewhere between her throat and chest, then traveled up into her nasal passages and out through her nostrils.  It was delightful.

All of the other kids in her grade knew she was weird.  When I first met her she was in class 3-3, class 3 of third grade, which had two bad boys- the worst in her grade.  One kid, Colton, was kind of bad, like you could sometimes bring him to the good side.  But the other kid, Gabriel, was so bad a good day was when no one cried.  

Colton had ADHD.  He had trouble sitting still and focusing on classwork.  Instead he often goofed off for attention, ripped paper and ate it, licked glue sticks, bothered other kids, and ran around the room.  According to his homeroom teacher his mother didn’t know how to mother him, so she’d just let him do whatever he wanted.  So Colton’s issue was a mix of needing a parent who knew how to handle him and getting his ADHD under control.

Gabriel, on the other hand, was a wreck.  He was evil.  He would bother the shit out of other kids.  Not in a lighthearted, silly way like Colton would.  He would torment and bully them until they cried.  I kid you not- almost every single 3-3 English class the first half of my first semester there someone cried.  He had a knack for knowing how to piss off people and get lots of negative attention.  He shredded his English book, the pieces would be on the floor after class, so he couldn’t do any work even if he wanted.

Since Alexandra was weird, these boys loved to pick on her.  They’d run up to her and pull her hair or pinch her, she’d scream, and then my co-teacher would get upset that she was being disruptive.  She didn’t care about the details of what had happened, she just wanted Alexandra quiet.

Alexandra didn’t give up without a fight, though.  Every time one of these boys would torment her she’d try to get my co-teacher’s attention.  First she’d raise her hand.  If that didn’t work, she’d call my co-teacher’s name.  When that didn’t work, she’d get out of her seat, walk right up to her, and explain what was going on.  I had to hand it to her, she was determined to get justice.

Where was I when all of this was happening?  I was in the room, observing, trying to help.  But the thing is, when these kids don’t speak English and you don’t speak their language, there’s a limit to what you can do with classroom management.  You can’t have a discussion with them.  At best you’ll rely on body language and simple common words and hope it works out.  After that, you need to involve the co-teacher, a native speaker, especially when you’re dealing with complex, long term problems.

My co-teacher, though, was apprehensive when it came to discipline.  She didn’t want to fuck them up.  She was afraid that disciplining them would draw more attention to their bad behavior and egg them on further.  She wanted to ignore it, hope they would stop and all the problems would go away.  From my perspective, she was burying her head in the sand.  

My biggest concern with how this class functioned revolved around Alexandra.  She was the sorest subject of these two boys’ negative influence on the classroom environment.  Everyone was victim to these boys, including us teachers, but Alexandra got hit the hardest because she was weird.  

Being weird makes you a target.  I love weird people.  I’m weird myself.  The last thing I’d want to do is encourage a weird kid to stop being weird.  Being weird in Korea just isn’t allowed in most contexts because they value sticking to the straight and narrow path.  This is especially true in school, so if I could offer a kid even a little reprieve from that- a place where they could just be-  I’d feel I was doing something good for them.  So I didn’t want to snap the weird out of Alexandra.  Instead, I wanted to give her a space to be weird in English class, if that’s what she wanted to do.

Working with my co-teacher to pull this off was hard.  She really didn’t want to pull out the big guns in terms of discipline.  It felt too wrong to her.  But she was open to reorganizing the seating.  It was an indirect approach that didn’t call out any one kid- everyone would get a new seat and therefore everyone would be treated the same.  I wanted to give Alexandra some space.  3-3 was a stressful class for her to be in with those boys, and I wanted coming to English class to be 40 minutes of peace from the drama she normally found herself in.  I felt that if I could give Alexandra that, then maybe everyone else in the class could benefit too.

I decided to put Colton in the front of the room in the corner.  That way he could easily pay attention but not be so close to other kids and random shit in the room to mess with.  It also meant that if he ever needed to get up and move around, he had some empty space to do it.  Plus he was right next to the door so he could slip out and make an ass of himself in the hallway, if he so pleased.

I put Alexandra on the opposite side of the room.  She was in the back corner.  She had no one in the seat right next to her, so she could stretch out.  The kids who sat in front of her were mellow.  Helpful if she needed it, but otherwise kept to themselves.  

Gabriel I put in a solo desk, in the back, by himself.  He needed to be away from other students for a while.  He lost the privilege of being near classmates because he just couldn’t play nice.  To bother people, he’d have to make a big, bold effort, which it turned out he wasn’t interested in doing.

It’s amazing what a simple seating arrangement can do.  At first, Alexandra quietly sat back there and observed the room, taking it all in.  She’d put her feet up on the empty seat next to her, sitting sideways, with her right arm over the back of her chair, looking up at the board.  Sometimes she’d play with her pink pig pencil case.  I didn’t care.  She was relaxed, having some fun, and at times focused on class and learning.  Then after a few weeks she started getting into class the full 40 minutes.  She’d pay attention, follow along, write in her book, and she even started raising her hand!  And getting answers right!  She was coming into her own and into class so quickly in her new seat.

As we got into December it was getting cold outside.  We had our first snowfall and the ground was freezing over.  One day as I was walking back to the classroom from lunch, I noticed all the third graders were outside on the playground, playing on the ice.  No adults were around (which is completely normal in South Korea, that kids play on their own, even at school during school hours).  “They don’t bubble wrap their kids,” as one of my British friends put it.

So I’m walking by, kids are running and sliding on ice, giggling, playing, and Alexandra is on her own, sliding in her own weird way towards the edge of a huge patch of ice.  She slips and falls.  I then see Gabriel in the distance immediately yell something, then charge towards her.  A group of boys follows.  They run and slide to her.  They surround her and start kicking her.  Alexandra is on the ground, on the ice, surrounded by the boys of her grade, getting kicked from all sides.  Like some Lord of the Flies shit.

I yell at them.  They all flee and I can see Alexandra laying on the ice, crying.  Gabriel then runs back for a few more kicks.  I yell again and he runs away again.  I go to Alexandra, as do a couple of girls in her class.  We have a hard time getting her to sit up, then stand up.  She wants to be left alone.  I spend at least fifteen minutes trying to help her.  Still no other adults around.  Eventually she gets up and the two girls somehow tell me they will take her inside to their homeroom, I think.  

I should have gone with them, but instead went to my room.  About twenty minutes later the two girls came running to my room, asking if I knew where Alexandra was.  They lost her and didn’t know where she went.  I felt like shit for not sticking around.  I didn’t know what to do or how to explain anything to the other teachers in Korean.

Eventually my co-teacher came back to the room and I told her what had happened.  She called the homeroom teacher and headteacher to explain.  They then held a meeting with Alexandra’s mother and the mothers of all the boys who kicked her.  I wasn’t invited, but this is what was later relayed to me:

Alexandra’s mom spent the meeting apologizing for how weird her daughter is and kept saying she understands why the boys acted that way- because her daughter is strange.  The boys were never punished.  According to the school handbook, whenever there’s any kind of violence the abusers will have a long punishment, like lots of hard labor to do around the school for several weeks or months, depending on the situation.  But nothing happened to these third grade boys because they lied to their mothers about how bad it was, and Alexandra’s mother accepted that her daughter will be tormented sometimes.  

The head teacher told me she wanted to slap Alexandra’s mom across the face for putting her kid down like that and not sticking up for her.  I couldn’t believe her mother’s wishes could override the terms of the school handbook.  It was a disheartening outcome.  That abusers can get away with abuse.  That boys can get away with mistreating girls.  That “normal” kids mean more than “weird” kids.  That the feelings in a discussion weigh more than established protocol.  These were not ways I was raised to think.  These were not norms I was accustomed to living with.  It was a way of thinking and operating I found hard to respect.  It worried me what else Alexandra, and kids like her, endured for being different, and it scared me to think of the long, hard process it would take to truly carve out a free space for them.


Winter break rolled around a few weeks later.  Alexandra and all the other kids had five weeks off from school.  They came back to school for two weeks in February and started their new school year in early March.  Alexandra was then in fourth grade and got placed in the best homeroom teacher’s class.  She was still an oddball, but in no way a nuisance or embarrassment to anyone.  If anything, she inadvertently provided comic relief in an otherwise serious, studious class, and we all welcomed her wholeheartedly.

Colton was in her class, too.  He was also a changed kid, for the better.  Apparently his teacher ripped his mom a new one, which improved her parenting.  He was still goofy, but the big difference was that teachers could get through to him.  He was sweet to work with.

Gabriel ended up in a different class.  He remained disengaged, but he kept to himself.  He was still a problem, just a different kind of problem.  I never figured out how to work with him.  He was so broken I don’t know if I ever would have.
It’s been four months since I’ve been in that classroom in Korea.  I’ve had time to reflect on my experiences and what I can say is this: the classroom environment absolutely makes or breaks a student’s ability to learn- to see themselves in the space, to feel a part of the lesson, and to trust it enough to add to it.  It’s the teacher’s responsibility to do everything in their power to create that welcoming environment.  I hope I was able to do that for my students.

How it Pays to Buy an $850 Phone

Nine days after I came back to the US, AT&T charged me $121.86.  ‘FOR WHAT?!’ I wondered.  I hadn’t put their SIM card back in my phone.  In fact, the SIM card hadn’t been in my phone for 13 months!

It seemed ridiculous to me that I should have to pay so much for a service I wasn’t using.  When I called to get the details, they said they had put my contract on hold for a year and I should’ve known when it was going to restart, without any warning.  Meanwhile, I had been paying $11 and some change monthly so they could hold onto my number- that’s about $135 for the year, and with no communication about when anything would change and how it would change.

Over a few phone calls I was able to talk them down to charging me only $50, but that still seemed like a lot to pay for something I didn’t want or use.  I could understand if they had sent me a notice giving me a head’s up of when the account would be reactivated, but that never happened.  It was all done passively in the background and I was supposed to be the one on top of it, contacting them to find out.

I have to say I felt cheated.  They did something for me I never asked them to do and they expected me to pay for it.  Why should I?

One of the benefits of living abroad is you experience how other cultures handle things.  Nothing like this happened to me in South Korea.  Even with the language barrier, my cell carrier was straightforward and a breeze.  I didn’t have one surprise.

Even when I traveled abroad, as soon as my plane landed my carrier sent me text messages saying I’d have to use a different network to make calls, send texts, and use data.  The roaming price per unit was spelled out in the text, along with the price to get unlimited roaming and instructions on how to sign up.  The last text said roaming would be automatically shut off at $100/month.  That means when I was in China for 2 weeks and I roamed on occasion, I got a daily update saying how much I had spent on roaming and I knew I’d never exceed $100.  It was considerate and fair.

It was also 3 weeks before AT&T slapped me with a huge bill, unannounced, with no services rendered, which made for a shocking juxtaposition.  It didn’t make sense how the company in Korea could offer great customer service and a superb technical experience (they do have the world’s fastest internet), all for around $70/month and that AT&T couldn’t.  It hit me that in America, large companies don’t do what’s right, they do what they can get away with.

Bejeweled toilet at AT&T (at least in my imagination).

Bejeweled toilet at AT&T (at least in my imagination).

This attitude doesn’t sit well with me.  So much so that I will complain and try to get as far away from it as I can.  So I figured out another option, and it’s way, way better.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Buy whatever phone you want outright (or use your existing unlocked phone)
  2. Set up a Google Voice account and use it as your main number (you can port your current number, if you want)
  3. Turn off cellular data access in your phone’s settings so you automatically use wifi*
  4. Get pay-as-you-go minutes, texting, and data in case of emergencies when you don’t have wifi**

*For step 3, think about where you spend most of your time.  For me I’m typically home or at work.  Since there’s wifi at both places, this means the majority of my web browsing I can do through wifi.  It also means that when I’m out shopping,  killing time on public transportation, or whatever and there’s no wifi, if I want to browse online I’ll dip into my prepaid data.  Knowing that, I typically will choose not to use my phone unnecessarily because I don’t want to pay extra for it.  This has the added benefit of keeping phone addiction at bay.  That said, people’s browsing and spending habits vary, so be self aware and consider what you’ll likely do.  Even if you use a lot more talk, text, and data than me, the savings are so great I expect you’ll still come out ahead with prepaid.

**If you’re concerned about connectivity issues with pay-as-you-go, fear not.  The company I went with, Tracfone, uses the same towers as AT&T, so coverage is exactly the same.

Now, let’s say you do what I do and it turns out you only need 300 MB for web browsing a month from cellular data (because you’re doing the rest of your browsing through wifi).

Here’s the math if you get the latest iPhone 6s Plus, 64G:

Option A: Buy phone, then do pay-as-you-go with Tracfone

iPhone 6s Plus: $849 ($35.38/month)

Service: $300 ($12.50/month for 24 months)

2-Year Total: $1,149 ($47.88/month)

Service Details:

Tracfone Nano SIM card + 1st 90 days access: $40

(includes 360 minutes, 360 texting, 360 MB data)

2 years of minutes & texting:

$120 1 year service, 800 minutes (also doubles all future minutes) & 800 texts (remember, these are for emergency, non-wifi times)

$40 9 months service, 300 minutes & 300 texts

2 years of cellular data:

300 MB/month x 24 months = 7.2 GB/2 years

–> $50/4 GB card x 2 cards = $100


Now let’s say you want to go the traditional route with a cell carrier:

Option B: Get new phone with 2-year contract with AT&T

iPhone 6s Plus, 64GB: $400

Monthly Bill: $60 (300 MB) or $70 (2G) or $140 (15G)***

300 MB/month: $1,840 ($76.67.month)

$60/month x 24 months = $1,440 total 2 year charges + $400 phone = $1,840

2 year savings with Tracfone: $1,840 – $1,149 = $691 ($28.79/month)

2 GB/month: $2,080 ($86.67/month)

$70/month x 24 months = $1,680 total 2 year charges + $400 phone = $2,080

2 year savings with Tracfone: $2,080 – $1,149 = $931 ($38.79/month)

15 GB/month: $3,760 ($156.67/month)

$140/month x 24 months = $3,360 total 2 year charges + $400 phone = $3,760

2 year savings with Tracfone: $3,760 – $1,149 = $2,611 ($108.79/month)

***I’m including the 2GB and 15GB pricing options because I suspect most people fall into these categories, or somewhere in between.  I know I used to.

Finally, let’s talk about my own savings.  I decided to keep my old iPhone 4S because it still works pretty well.  Also, when I started the new iPhone wasn’t out yet and I didn’t want to buy a new phone that was about to be an old model.  So, I had no upfront phone cost.

My old plan with AT&T cost me $121.86/month.  If I hadn’t changed anything with them and continued to pay that bill with my old phone, I would have paid $2,924.64 in service fees over 2 years to use an old phone.  Given that the service fees with Tracfone are $300 for the same amount of time, I would have paid $2,624.64 in additional service fees I wouldn’t use with AT&T- that’s equivalent to 3 NEW IPHONES!

So there you have it.  Get rid of traditional service carriers.  They’re like any bad relationship: they’re expensive and come with a ton of bullshit.  You don’t need that.  You have better options.

Speech Police: Stop Telling Women How They Can Talk

About a month ago I noticed several female friends sharing this article on social media.  It’s about how using the word “just” makes people tune you out in the work place.  And the people who use it most?  Women.  So all you ladies out there, cut that word out of your vocabulary if you want to be heard!

I got so annoyed seeing this.  Sure, it was shared in the spirit of trying to help each other out.  It came with comments like, “I had no idea how much I was holding myself back!  I will need to work on this!” It was as if they had just learned that drinking soda was keeping them from losing weight.

The difference between this and hard sciences like food science is that, the way you talk and the way you’re heard is socio-cultural, meaning the society and culture you’re in influence how you speak and how people hear you.  There are no absolutes.  It’s completely based on culture.  And the thing that pissed me off about this is that no one ever shames men for the way they speak, but they openly and comfortably shame women for their speech.

If you don’t believe me try this experiment:

1. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of women.

2. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of men.

I bet it was much easier for you to come up with the first list about women, than it was the second list about men.  And I bet you also don’t realize that all the things you listed about women are also true of men, you just don’t pay attention to it.  And the reason you didn’t notice is that in American culture, we think it’s not just okay, but our place, to tell women how they can speak.  We do not do this to men.

So now I’m going to say: Shut up.

If you’re the one policing people in how they talk, shut up.  It is not your place to tell other people how they can talk, just like it’s not your place to tell other people how they can dress, who they can hang out with, and what kind of job they can have.  Speech, like so many other things, is a marker of our identity, and it’s not your place to tell another person how they should craft their own identity.


If I want to use the word “like” often in my speech, I should do that.  And you should shut up.

If I want to use vocal fry, or have a creaky sound to my voice, I should be able to do that.  And you should get used to it, and shut up.

If I feel the need to say I’m sorry to convey understanding and respect for another person, I should be free to comfortable do that.  You should understand that without negative judgment, and shut up.

If I feel like having uptalk, or a rising intonation at the end of my sentences, I should just do it.  You’ll learn to live with it, so shut up.

If I want to use the word, “just” as I’m making a point, I should go for it.  Nike makes a ton of money off of that word, so, just shut up.

If you don’t want to use these parts of speech, that’s fine.  You don’t have to.  The way you talk is your choice, so you’re allowed to not use them.  But the way talk is my choice, and the way other people talk is their choice.  I don’t get to tell them how they’re allowed to or supposed to talk.  You don’t get to either.

But if you think you do, perhaps you should ask yourself why.  Why do you think you get to tell other people how to talk?  Why do you think you should be allowed to control what other people say?  And, why do you only direct your control at women?

Instead of trying to tell other people that the way they talk is bad, you should try understanding what nuanced meaning they’re conveying.  Because when you tell women- or anyone- how the way they speak is bad, you actually expose that you just don’t get it.  It shows you have a limited understanding of and respect for the variety of identities that exist in the world, and that YOU are really the problem.  And the more people try to control others without examining themselves first, the more intolerant we are as a society of differences.  The less tolerant we are, the more problems we have.

So, enough with trying to tell women what they can or cannot say, and with “diagnosing” how they must feel (like they have no confidence) because of what you think you hear, and instead try harder to understand and appreciate the variety of styles you do hear.  I guarantee the effort will broaden your horizons, deepen your understanding of other people, and get you respecting them for who they really are.

Korean Work Culture

Koreans love to work.  They are addicted to work.  Work is their everything.

Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to make plans with Koreans because they’re always at work.  They never know when they’ll get out so they can’t commit to seeing you.

I know a lot of Americans think that we’re overworked, and we are. But Koreans take it to a whole ‘nother level.

Let me explain.

Most Koreans I know who work for a company work a minimum of 70 hours a week.  Anything less than that would make people think  they’ re just not committed to their job, and that’s a really horrible thing for people to think about you in a country obsessed with work.

So if you’re working 70+ hours a week, you must be getting a lot done, right?  Well, no.  The reason is that while they stay at work a long time, they tend to not have the most productive work habits.  I’m not making this up.  A study found that Koreans were the least productive of all OECD countries.

From how I understand it, a large part of work in Korea is about face.  You have to be there, you have to be available, you have to be a yes-man, you have to stay late, you have to go out with your co-workers- you have to do all these things so people think you care, that you’re dedicated, that you’re loyal, that you’re committed.  What you produce in that time is far less important.  The important thing is that you follow these few specific social norms so everyone believes you’re committed to your job.

Things about Korean work culture that I find peculiar are:

  • You can’t leave until your boss goes home.  Your boss can’t go home until their boss goes home.  Your boss’s boss can’t go home until their boss goes home.  This goes all the way up the the CEO.  So if the CEO stays late, EVERYONE else will be there late.  This keeps lots of lower level employees just hanging around the office trying to look busy until they can leave.
  • If your boss wants to go out drinking, you have to go and you have to drink.  Not attending would be extremely rude and not drinking every drink offered to you would also be extremely rude.  People get pissed drunk with their bosses all the time, even if they don’t want to.
  • Consequently, people are often seriously hungover at work.  No one bats an eyelash at this.  People openly admit to being out late drinking, and being hungover.  People will sleep at their desks.  Obviously, productivity is low when you’re hungover.
  • There’s a strict hierarchy and they value the “yes-man” so much that communication suffers.  People will get assignments and agree to do them without asking questions, including basic clarification questions.  No one ever pushes back.  This can result in poor quality work, unnecessary work, and work that misses the mark entirely.
  • Poor time management skills.  I see this in the schools as well.  Someone with authority will ask someone beneath them to do a project with hardly any notice, so it’s rushed.  This can result in poor time management in two ways: 1- leaders do not consider the needs of their staff to do quality work, so, as I mentioned before, the staff has to rush to get it done, and 2- always getting projects at the last minute does not help employees develop time management skills because the focus is always on hurrying, not on being smart about how to use their time to do the project well.
  • No sick leave.  Officially they have sick leave, but in practice you wouldn’t dare use it unless you were deathly ill.  My co-teachers told me the previous principal at my school would accuse teachers of feigning illness to get out of work.  In my teaching orientation I was advised to not use any of my 14 sick days for the year if I wanted to work a second year, as the school would view my using them as me being lazy.  I did use 3, once because I had a fever, once because I had a migraine, and once to go to the doctor to get more migraine medicine.  In addition to being sick, I was really worried about what would happen to me if I used them.  My principal later approached me each time to ask about my health, which at first I thought was really nice, but I later realized it was because he thought my condition must have been critical to warrant taking a day off.
  • Not surprisingly, all of this leads employees to being stressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out.

That said, Koreans seem to wear hard work as a badge of honor.  They like knowing they’re doing everything they can for their company/place of work.  It’s a huge compliment to tell someone they worked hard, even more so than telling them they did a good job.  They work hard and like knowing their effort is recognized.

So that’s what I’ve gathered after being in Korea for about a year.  What other thoughts and experiences do you have?

Little White Lie: Thoughts

Last night I watched the documentary Little White Lie.  If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a synopsis:

The filmmaker, Lacey Schwartz, explores race and identity by telling the story of her life.  Lacey grew up in a Jewish family in New York.  By all accounts, she had a typical NY Jewish childhood.  The only thing that stood out was that her skin was noticeably darker than everyone else’s and her hair very curly.  In college she discovered her mother had had an affair with a black man, and that she’s half black.  She takes you on this journey and how she came to understand herself, family, and race.

Here’s the trailer:

Overall, I found this to be an intriguing exploration of race, identity, and community in America.  Lacey grew up believing she was 100% white and Jewish.  When the question of her dark skin came up, the family referred to Lacey’s great-grandfather from Sicily who had dark skin.  Other than that, no one ever discussed it.

But when Lacey went to college, the university accepted her as a black student, and at college she was part of African American student groups.  College is what got her to take a good hard look at herself and to push her family and childhood friends to do the same.

It blows my mind how Lacey’s mother could, for so long, not acknowledge who Lacey’s real father was, and as a consequence, leave literally everyone else wondering what was going on.  It also blows my mind how no one discussed it.  Denial is one of those things I know happens, but I just don’t get it.

But the thing that also struck me about the film was how when Lacey discovered her biological father was black, how she started to call herself “black”.  Her biological mother was still a white Jewish woman, so she had just as much of her blood as her father’s.  But she still called herself “black”.

Why do we do that in America?

Obama’s mother was white and his father was black, and we say he is the first black president.  I’m not saying he’s not black, but he’s still half white.  I’m not saying Lacey’s not black, but she’s still half white.  So why, in both of these instances, do we call the person “black”?

When someone’s mother is Chinese and their father is white, we don’t say he’s “Asian”.  We say he’s “half white, half Asian.”  When someone’s mother is white and their father is Native American, we say she’s “half white, half Native American”.  Throughout Latin America, when someone is partly of European descent and partly of native descent, they’re called “mestizo”.

So why, in America, if someone has some African blood, are they “black”?

In the film, Lacey discusses this a bit with a couple of her friends.  One makes the point of the “one drop rule”, that if you have one drop of African blood, then you’re black.  They also say “black” is an inclusive term.  Anyone with some African can identify as “black”.

But when we use this label, we deny the totality of who they are.  We ignore the fact that, biologically, parts of them are not African.  There is nothing wrong with being African American- in fact, there’s a ton of history and culture to embrace.  And I’m not saying people who are part black, part White/Asian/Hispanic/Native American/etc forget their other part, but why as a society do we call them “black” when there’s more diversity than the term alone provides meaning for?  And why is “black” the only race we do this for?

I don’t have clear answers to these questions.  I don’t think anyone does.  At best we’ll have speculation and discussion, with no final THIS IS THE REASON.  But it is something to think about, and whatever conclusions we draw ought to tell us something about our own ideas of race, identity, and community.

My own thoughts are, people should use whatever term, or terms, they feel match who they really are.  It’s up to the individual to decide.  That said, it seems strange to use a term that only lends itself to part of who you are.  No one said you had to pick just one.

10 Korean Talents

When you live in another culture for a while, you notice some things people are really good at doing.  I mean, Americans are good at some things, but we aren’t good at everything.

So here’s a list of things I’ve notice Koreans not only do, but do very well.

10. Wearing long pants and long sleeves in any level of heat, humidity, and activity level.

Koreans love having white skin.  Like so white it’s can look ghastly.  So when summer comes, it’s like the sun is their worst enemy.  They still go out though.  It’s just that they’re often covered up so they don’t tan.

I don’t know how they do it.  I sweat way too much to wear long pants and long sleeves in the middle of summer.  But these people, I have to hand it to them, they do it.

9, Cramming lots of people into tiny spaces, especially public transportation.

I’ve already commented on this a lot, but I can’t stress it enough.  They PACK people into subway cars and buses.  A good day is one when your lungs aren’t pinched.  It’s too much for me.  I think it’s a big part of why I’ve gotten sick here a lot.

8. Drinking heavily, including mixing alcohol.

I don’t drink, but I see it and hear it all night long.  These people love to get drunk.  They go out often and for long.  There’s no shame in going to work hungover the next day.

7. Not being able to speak English or think critically, despite studying for more than 12 hours a day and valuing education.

I don’t get it.  They work so hard at it, but their efforts are for naught.  Too much emphasis is on memorization and going through the motions, versus thinking about how the subject plays out in the real world.

6. Holding a grudge.

You can add jealousy here too.  If you’ve in any way wronged people here, they will never forget it.  Japanese people will never truly be welcome.

5. Eating a lot and not gaining weight.

This is something most foreigners notice immediately when they arrive in Korea.  There’s so much street food, quantities of food in restaurants are large, and there are tons of cafes serving sugary sweets and drinks.  All of it gets consumed, often with some beer and soju along with it.  And yet, most Koreans are very thin.  Their metabolism is the envy of the world.

4. Brushing their teeth.

Koreans brush their teeth after every meal.  This includes the bathrooms at work filling up with employees brushing their teeth. American dentists would rejoice.

3. Falling asleep anywhere.

I’m more used to it now, but it still amazes me.  People will fall asleep anywhere here.  On the subway.  On a park bench.  On the sidewalk.  At a restaurant. At work.   No, these aren’t homeless people.  They’re normal people just taking a nap.  No one bothers them and no one steals their stuff.

2. Getting work done at the last minute.

One thing I’ve had to get used to here is the lack of planning, which results in getting asked to do things at the last minute.  Koreans are so used to this they will drop whatever they’re doing to complete a task at the last possible minute.  This has included my co-teachers having to work on a report instead of helping in class because they were just asked to do it and it was due in an hour.  It stresses people out and no one seems to like it, but it’s the norm so they don’t complain.  I think American corporations would love Koreans.

1. Eating after having just vomited.

This takes true skill and it’s downright disgusting.  But I’ve seen it.  Oh, I’ve seen it.  If you’re out drinking, there’s no giving up.  If you’re sick with a stomach bug, you still go to work and you have lunch with your coworkers.  I physically could not do it.

Top 10 Inside Amy Schumer Sketches

If you didn’t know, prior to coming to Korea I spent 5 years doing comedy in the US.  It was mainly improv.

I love comedy because people will let you rub their noses in their shit.  What I mean by that is, comedy can be a depiction of and comment on culture.  I love analyzing culture.  When I did it in an academic setting I found the general public often wasn’t interested in hearing about itself.  But as a comedian you can say SO MANY THINGS and people want to listen.

That said, the US is still a sexist place.  (There’s so much I could say on that, but to keep it brief: if you were unaware, then you’re part of the problem.) So when I did comedy there, I rarely felt like a feminist perspective was welcome.  The only times it was welcome was when I a) performed with only women, b) performed with gay men, or c) performed solo.  Those things didn’t happen too often.

I’m glad to see that Amy Schumer has her own show and that many of her sketches have a feminist bend.  We all need to hear it and the perspective she shares needs to become part of regular discourse in America.

Amy has had a few sketches that have gotten a lot of attention.  Last Fuckable Day and 12 Angry Men need no comment.  But she’s made a lot of other pieces that deserve a shout out.  Here are my favorites to date, and why I think they’re great.

10. Sext Photographer

Amy has made several sketches that examine what women do to make themselves attractive to men.  They tend to end with the men they’re trying to impress either losing interest, or it becoming clear the guy was just barely interested to begin with.  Here we see a girl trying to get the perfect selfie for a sext for a guy who is just the worst.  So awful.  So typical.

9.  POV Porn

Porn has gotten so out of control that I love the idea of porn being juxtaposed to the reality most women experience.  If you’re a guy and wondering- yes, this seems true to life.  You, and what you do, is not special.

I also love how Amy looks so into it.  Just like how guys can light up while watching porn.

8.  Focus Group

So messed up in so many ways.  These guys are not answering the question.  But they’re so dumb that maybe the interviewer was really asking the wrong questions all along.

Plus, so many girls have been objectified for so long that Amy’s reaction at the end is all too real.

7.  New Body

This is basically how I shop.

Whenever I start working out again I get these grandiose ideas of how I’ll look and what I’ll need.  Spot on.

6. Acting Off Camera

Nice comment on the entertainment industry.  It’s a great look at how they do business.  Everyone’s trying to be so positive they are nothing but fake, and they get away with so much shit by throwing the promise of money at people.

5. A Very Realistic Military Game

So true and so wrong.  The sketch says it all.

And how after all of that, Amy just sits there at the end.

4. Mom Computer Therapy

We’ve all been there.

Though, I could do without the foaming at the mouth at the end.  I like the idea in theory, but seeing it in the sketch is too much for me.  Just cut it with her starting to look crazed.

3.  9/11

When I saw this I got so annoyed.  The sketch is great.  It so accurately depicts how a lot of self-centered girls act nowadays.  But I got so annoyed because this reminded me of conversations I would have back in the US.  I haven’t had to deal with this attitude since coming to Korea and I don’t miss it at all.

2.  Lunch at O’Nutters

Do I even need to explain this?  If you’ve ever been to a Hooters you’ll understand.

1. Herpes Scare

Deals with religion and sexuality.  God clearly needs a vacation.

“I need to stop making so many white girls.”

Still Worrying About MERS

It’s been over a week and a half since people have been in a panic over MERS.  Last week I wrote about how my school has been handling it.  Here’s an update on things I’ve observed, read, and experienced.

The media hype about this is bigger than it feels, to me.  That might be because even though I’m here in Seoul, I mingle with a mix of Koreans and expats.  The expats generally think Koreans are panicking way too much.  As far as I’m concerned, if I take some pretty normal precautions, I should be fine.  But most Koreans I talk to seem to be more worried about it, to the point where they’re only leaving the house when absolutely necessary.

I don’t blame Koreans for being so worried.  From a PR perspective, the whole thing is a mess.  First, any health scare will always get a certain amount of people in a tizzy.  Next, consider the general lack of trust in the government due to the Sewol Ferry accident last year.  It’s natural to expect skepticism.  Then, after being asked repeatedly, the government took over 2 weeks to release a list of hospitals where MERS cases showed up.  And when they finally did release the list, it was wrong.

Then consider how medical treatment works here.  Generally in the US, when you’re sick you see your primary care doctor.  Your treatment is mainly through this one person unless a) they refer you to a specialist or the ER, or b) for whatever reason you feel you need a second opinion and go see someone else.  In almost all cases you’re going to a doctor’s office which is usually a pretty small place.  Most of the time when I go to the doctor in the US there are fewer than 20 people in the office.

In South Korea though, when you aren’t feeling well you go to the hospital.  You sit in the hospital’s waiting room and then you go see a doctor.  When I wanted to get a refill of my migraine medication here, I was at the hospital for about 3 hours and must have passed a couple hundred people in that time.  And next time I need more migraine medicine?  I can go to ANY hospital.  While it can be convenient for me, the patient, it’s scattered and lacks consistency from a treatment perspective.  This hospital doesn’t have my medical history, including where else I’ve been.  It also exposes me to a lot of other sick people, which can be devastating when you have something like MERS going around.

So, the fears and lack of trust among the general population make complete sense to me.

That said, I read Western media and also grew up with doctors for parents, so I’m not on board with all the worrying.  Should there be some cause for concern?  Absolutely.  If you’re stupid and don’t take any precautions you could get sick.  But should I put myself in voluntary quarantine when I feel fine?  I think that’s going too far.

So here’s what I’m doing:

  • I’m living my life as usual.
  • I’m being extra diligent about washing my hands regularly.  This includes bringing my own soap to work since they removed bar soap from the bathrooms and only have liquid soap, and theirs is basically lemon-scented water.
  • I bought a face mask, which I wore once because it felt disgusting always having hot air on my face.
  • I’m not sharing food with anyone.
    • Normally I don’t, but a lot of Korean cuisine involves sharing a large pot of stew, barbecue, and side dishes.  I’m just not going out for those meals.
  • I’m not going to the gym.  But that’s mainly because I’m lazy.

Since I teach at an elementary school, here are more things I’m doing:

  • Any kid who feels sick, at all, gets sent straight to the nurse.
    • While this is standard practice in the US, it doesn’t seem to be normal here. (Your education is too important to miss class!) What tends to happen is the teacher has a long conversation with the kid about how s/he feels, and then maybe after that they go to the bathroom and come back.
  • I spray disinfectant on desks and doorknobs daily.
  • I don’t touch kids.

I should also note that MERS has mostly spread in hospitals and among families of people sick with it.  The ones who’ve died were generally old and already had a severe illness, so their immune systems were weak.  I haven’t been to a hospital since the outbreak, I live alone, and I’m pretty healthy.

That said, I did feel sick last week.  The left side of my throat was swollen.  Normally I’d go to the doctor to get it checked out, but I decided against it.  Since most of the MERS cases spread in hospitals, I figured I’d wait it out rather than expose myself to who knows what.  It passed in two days and I feel fine, for now.


It only took the outbreak of a deadly virus, but I did it.  I bought a face mask.

My MERS mask.

My MERS mask.

Many Asians wear these, often out in public, so they don’t get sick.  My school’s now requiring we all wear one if we take public transportation.  I’m actually impressed with all the measures they’ve taken to keep us from catching MERS.

  • Wear a face mask
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • They cancelled our staff dinner (in case anyone was infected they wouldn’t spread it)
  • They cancelled the 6th grade field trip next week
  • They removed all the bar soap from the bathrooms – only liquid soap is left
  • They posted MERS info sheets in every classroom
  • Kids have to go home after school (they can’t hang around the school and play like they normally do)

But what I don’t get is… why isn’t school cancelled?  If someone has MERS and comes to school, won’t they still spread it?

The World Health Organization seems to think it’s coming for us.  Oh joy!

Simple Pleasures and Nice Touches

Every time I go abroad I see things and think, ‘I like how they did that’ or ‘You know… that’s a really good idea.’  Here’s a list of those things that have won me over in Korea.

  1. Elevators- if you accidentally hit the wrong floor, just push the button again. It will not go there.  HALLELUJAH! (I always wanted this in the US)
  2. Cheap street food everywhere. Usually under $2.

3.  Affordable, quality beauty products. It’s like a Crabtree & Evelyn is a stone’s throw away from wherever you are, and you can buy almost anything for under $10.

4.  Gel as a moisturizer. It’s really light, not sticky, and my skin soaks it up instantly.  This is really great when it’s warm and even lotion can feel heavy.

5.  Cheap, well run, public transportation. I spend about $1 to ride the subway in Seoul.

6.  General feeling of safety.

7.  Cheap haircuts with good service. The most I’ve spent for a haircut here was $27, and that was with the top stylist at a high end salon.  Most women’s haircuts are $20 or less.  In the US I was spending $80-$90.  The stylist also has assistants who will attend to your every need.  This means 2 people will blow dry your hair and massage your scalp at once.  It also means a lady will stand there with a giant cotton ball dusting little hairs off your face as your hair is being cut.


8.  You can use toilet paper for anything. No need to buy tissues, napkins, paper towels.  Everyone’s perfectly happy using toilet paper.

9.  Heated floors

10.  Heated subway seats

11.  Heated toilet seats

12.  Free samples- at the grocery store, at the beauty stores, people in general being generous

13.  Q-tips are sold in reasonable quantities. Gone are the days of buying 800 q-tips at once.  Now you can buy 30.

14.  Buttons on the table to call a waiter or waitress. They generally don’t bother you unless you push the button.  Push it and they come right over.  Good system.

15.  Metal door handles are covered with fabric like felt or velvet in the winter. This is so you don’t have to touch a cold handle.  Nice touch.


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