Friday, May 28, 2010

Oh, boy...

Well… CNN and BBC reports have been interesting of late. I’ve been busy, too. A couple of reasons for not having updated sooner. Work hours have somehow found a way to increase, and though I am pleased with my new essay class, the roughly 6-8 hours of editing that the class comes with, is somehow not factored-in to my teaching time. It’s the little things like this that remind me that hagwon life wasn’t all terrible – at least we got paid for that, or did until others had their way.

I suppose it would be a moot point to mention that work has again gotten me down of late. The business of my life: After-school classes 3 days a week, Korean classes an hour away every Tuesday and Thursday night, and trips out of town almost every weekend have made the situation worse than it needs to be to be sure – I bring my tiredness to the table, and when the table consists of my regular classes with the lethargy of the students, and the apathy of my co-teachers, it’s a breeding ground for resentment and mediocrity.

After a particularly frustrating class of low level students who simply did not pay attention, even to the simplest demonstrated instruction, I asked my two (count them: two) co-teachers who had during the class been as hands-off as you could possible be, how they felt during their regular classes with these students. Did they feel that the students were making progress? Did they feel like they were getting through? Their answer was to laugh (for a good 10 seconds) at my apparent naïveté – “Oh, no… our main job is to keep them quite and discipline them.” Two things which I must say, they can’t seem to find the time to do in my classroom.


Honestly, some kids just aren’t going to learn a second language – if they are now in the Canadian equivalent of grade 8, and they can’t read the word “boy”, chance are that 4 more years of being forced into the same situation where they begin, exist and end their school English career as failures, isn’t going to do much for their self-esteem, or for their ability and confidence in other areas of academics.

Anyway, remarkable, I suppose that I still find this struggle important considering all that’s been going on here on the good ol’ Korean peninsula over the past month or so. Chances are, if you’ve read the news lately, you’ll know that a South Korean military vessel was hit with an explosive and destroyed – killing 46 young South Korean sailors. Just over a week ago, an international investigation team recovered the ship and the parts of the torpedo that allegedly took the ship down. It was announced that the torpedo came form North Korea.

Without getting into the specifics, which can be read elsewhere, this is merely the latest flare-up between the two Koreas. The simplified version is this: North Korea is falling apart and has been for years. Every time they require more international aid to feed their populace, or more likely their military, they do something zany – like develop a nuclear weapon, test long-range missiles, or torpedo a ship. It’s a strange way to get attention.

Anyway, I was here for the underground nuclear tests in 2007. While emails came from back home wondering if we were nervous, I was surprised to note that most of the locals were not – so why should I be?

Well, this time it feels a bit different for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on. The talk of war has been prevalent in the local and international news, and South Koreans are pissed that 46 of their young men have been killed by North Koreans who seem to treat incidents like this as opportunities to galvanize their brainwashed populace into believing the world is out to get them, and that it’s high time to get back to the goose-stepping military parades that show the world who the top dog is. It is the country that the end of the Cold War forgot.

I’m no politician, but it looks as though the South has had enough. Their government is getting even more hard-line with the North, and the US has re-stated its commitment to its defense of the South. Now, the world waits to see if China will remove its head from its ass and condemn the actions by the North. Historically, they have not.

In the meantime, I ponder the immediacy of it all. A Korean friend, when commenting on the threat, noted that the North has thousands of warheads pointed at Seoul, and has for decades – in increasing number – the better to impose their will when it comes to negotiating for aid. My friend told me that after a launch, we would have less than one hour before Seoul is no more – or as Li’l Kim, himself, puts it – Seoul will be a “sea of fire.”

So – despite the fact that the Canadian government has not put a travel advisory on South Korea yet, they have been reminding people through embassy websites of what to do in case of a needed evacuation. This includes registering with the Canadian Embassy, which I will do today. This way, in case Harper’s government decides it’s important enough to get me out, I will be notified and accounted for. Also, I am to pack an “emergency bag” – including all important documents (passport etc.), 3 days worth of non-perishable food, extra clothes, a road map of my area, a flash-light, short-wave radio and list of American Forces Network frequencies, extra batteries, medication, etc.

So, I see it like this. If the North goes all nuclear hell-fire, none of this matters as it will be sudden and un-announced, and unless I have a lead-lined ‘50s era refrigerator in my emergency kit, I won’t be making any Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull escapes.

If other lesser warheads fly my way and my Northern Seoul apartment doesn’t come-down, I can presumably, with my emergency pack, make my way through the rubble of war towards some safe beacon like in a Cormac McCarthy novel, and eat peanut butter, beans, and tuna fish along the way.


It’s out of my hands. Also, I’m not leaving. I have someone here I wouldn’t want to leave behind in any evacuation. It’s a wild and crazy world, and there’s one especially wild and crazy guy up North who sees his regime imminently crumbling. What has he got to lose? Let the chips fall where they may.

Not sure I’d want to live in a world where Pyeong-Yang could level Seoul and China would condemn a US-led retaliation against the North.

These be exciting times. Regardless, I’m heading out of town this weekend to a place called Chuncheon. It’s a mountain/lake area in the North-East quadrant of South Korea. I’m game for some hiking. Mountains are nice.


Kid Atomic said...

Dude, scary times. Maybe you and your friend should just come to Canada for a visit. In fact, maybe you should just come to Oakville for a visit. And bring that Whittle dude too.

Anonymous said...

I always said, when stuff would go down over there, that I wouldn't freak out until the Koreans did.

Hats off to you for keeping a more level head than I might. In that vein - Godspeed and be safe, my friend.

Andrew Irwin said...

Great post Dave, I've been thinking a lot about the situation in the North of late too and I agree, it does feel different. Obviously I'm not around to feel the difference on the streets of Seoul, but internationally and across the blogsphere there is definitely something different about this one.

I disagree though on the North launching an attack, I can't see any benefit for them to do so. If they did, China would be forced to either condemn them and side with the U.S. or approve and side with the North, AGAINST the U.S. As I can't see this happening I can't see any reason for the North to do anything other than a few more sneaky boat sinkings.

But even though my opinion is shared by a few others, there is always the craziness factor of the north, of an aging leader and am imminent leadership transfer. Apparently little kim the third is just as crazy as his daddy and may be looking to prove himself somehow. I hope for the best and one day, I too would like the see the Koreas unified, but I can't see it happening without war and perhaps that war is coming. Hopefully not.

My travel plans haven't changed though and won't likely change based on the North. So I should see you early 2011. Stay well.

N-D said...

Honestly, as an American gyopo, all of this is fairly nerve-wracking.

I have several family members that live in the Seoul area, and on a daily basis...I don't really give the situation much thought. But upon reading your blog I was immediately reminded of Hitler, and his, well craziness.

I agree with the previous comment, and I don't believe North Korea will launch a nuclear attack as the costs clearly outweigh the benefits. However, Kim Jong-Il's son will feel the need to fulfill, and prove his position as the new dictator (when it becomes time for that)--which can only lead to further speculations.

I personally think that the North's attack on the naval ship was based on the fact that they know their UN-aid end this July (I think it's in July...), and they want global attention.

Anyway, I'm also going to Korea at a hagwon in early 2011, but hopefully by then everything gets settled.

And just to close on the Hitler reference: As the saying goes, "we should learn from our past." Then shouldn't something be done about the attack???