Notes from South Korea (part 1)

These notes were originally written in 2007 in South Korea. Enjoy!

Teaching is rewarding when a) you feel a connection with the students and b) they want to learn. There are a few classes per day where this is actually the case. The rest of the time, I’m just babysitting little crazy children, trying to keep them in control while they scream and play and talk in Korean. And in the evenings, I babysit the big kids, in this case I have to be tougher on them and make them study. Because when they go home and their parents ask them – what did you learn? and they learned nothing, guess who will get the blame?

I spent the new year alone, meditating into it. I figured that would be best, because my intention was and is to stabilize away from the emotional ups and downs, simplify, spiritualize my life and revert to the innocence and purity I remember having when I was a child.

I‘m seeing overall progress in the classes now, pretty much everyone is ahead and skipping levels.. Moving up exponentially… After school, I usually spend a few hours painting and listening to radio shows on new science or to good music. The painting process has been especially rewarding lately, as I was able to effortlessly and quickly create some of my favorite works so far.

Korea KidsI haven’t been going out much at all. There is no point. Because the restaurant food usually makes my stomach upset plus has other consequences. I feel more comfortable and relaxed at home anyway, and these days, I’m trying not to lose my center, not wear out and recover, like I used to do, but instead go steady and slow.

I am also accustomed to simplicity now. No TV, no news, no radio… Now also no computer, because my monitor is broken. Just walks in nature, bike rides, shopping for food, cooking it, painting and pure love. Haven’t been out of this city in a while. Don’t have any desire to go! That’s the reason I have not been posting pictures. I haven’t been doing anything exciting enough and public enough to share pictures of it with hundreds of people on the Internet.

My diet has grown Asian… I just eat the foods I buy from the farmers here, supplemented by the supermarket, but hey, in the last while I have not eaten anything pre-made, canned, or processed. My body is starting to look like that of an Asian person.

I have been a bit homesick lately, just cause I miss a lot of things… But every time I step outside my door it’s really nice… Especially after all this time here. There isn’t a day when I go for a walk and don’t meet someone I know – a friend or a student. And it makes me feel really nice. Today I saw two of my students in different locations.. I don’t know, you get such a connection to these kids that it feels like they’re almost my own… One girl gave me a walnut cookie, and we actually were able to make small talk. Then I went shopping for food – apples, seaweed, bread, and some wine. Just the basics… The weather here is great. I can’t tell what season it is like, but it feels like April or October or something.. Today I just walked in a sweater with no jacket and wasn’t the slightest bit cold.

Sometimes the air quality is bad, especially in the house.. Don’t know why. This fact is causing me to sleep more than usual. But it’s also nice to take that rest and stay in bed. Yesterday I also went for a walk, saw rabbits near a church and fed them. Then payed with a little dog tied up on a farm.. And tried to pet a black goat. I walked past kids and they kept saying bye to me, over and over, till I was about 200 meters away. Then I walked back the same way, said hello to them again and then waved goodbye. And I saw bulls on an apple farm.. Wild bulls, adult and kids, running around in an apple garden. Quite a sight… So those little things keep me in good spirits, even though at other times I get a bit down… But overall things are good and I’m looking forward to the short but welcome Christmas break.

Exploring a new area out of town, the George Carlin standup in my earphones was interrupted by the squealing and wailing of dogs. I paused for a bit and stood and listened to the sounds coming from a large hangar-like structure where dogs were apparently being bred and slaughtered for consumption as either a “health food” or a “delicacy”. I contemplated going there and just letting them all out, even if they died under car wheels it would be better… Because it was obvious that they were suffering every second of their existence. But there was a truck parked there and it was clear that people were there, talking and going around their business. It just makes me completely nauseous and sick to know that some people actually make their money doing this kind of thing.

I could only tolerate being there for a short while. Then I thought about cows and pigs and chickens and all the other animals we just mistreat, destroy, and treat like dispensable little plastic products. Nobody cares, because they like the taste and just eat the stuff. But seriously, people ought to see some slaughterhouses…

It’s not that I thin there is anything wrong with eating meat per se. I mean there are hormones in the meat, and all that, but… Basically people say – eating meat is natural. Or God put these animals here for us to eat. It is natural, but when about 3 billion greedy humans want to eat meat on a daily basis, that is a bit of a problem, no? Do we realize the scale of the entire thing? I say – if you want to eat meat, either hunt it down or raise it yourself. Otherwise you have no excuse for eating it. That is just my feeling about it. Besides most meat is so contaminated by drugs that you would be doing yourself a big favor.

Then, I thought about love, and the fact that if we had love, we wouldn’t be so careless about the environment, we wouldn’t treat animals like commodities, and we wouldn’t kill other human beings in the name of religion or nationalism. And if we had love, we would do something – whatever small thing we can to make things better. But we don’t do anything, and the insanity goes on. So obviously, we have no love.

And then, if we do feel it, we find it so difficult to express it… It is so difficult to express that it sometimes makes me wonder whether it is there or not, and the very words “I love you” are so cliche that it almost makes me feel like they devalue and dilute the love… Maybe it’s just me, but to me those words mean almost nothing. I can feel the love, but words words words… Again, they have been said for thousands of years and there is no evidence of them being true.

I wonder if a love is not expressed, does it have value or not? Because when I passed by some kids on the road, I could feel that I love them. When I climbed a mountain, looking at the fresh dirt, I could feel that I love it. But… I just watch the world devour all those things and people I love…

These days I’m beginning to miss home. For example waking up, it would be nice to hear some birds singing. Ain’t no birds around here… But the weather is still really nice and sunny, so I go for walks everyday. I also still like the kids I’m teaching and that whole environment. But I miss my friends, family, some home cooking and all that.

The mind that thinks about money, sex, or anything else good or bad – on its own, without your choice to think about it – is just a parasite entity. It is not your mind at all. I can stay without unconscious thought most of the day, but in the evenings when I am very tired, it comes on. And last night I watched it and saw how it functions. All of a sudden I start thinking about things I could have in the future (success) and then about how I didn’t do some things that were “steps on the way” to that. So here comes desire and guilt. And desire brings self doubt. And that leads to some kind of unconscious, destructive behavior. I’m sure each of us has a different vice, but this is when they get activated. And once you fall into that trap – it starts with desire and moves from there – you will create more and more problems for yourself, and then think about how you created them and how to solve them. And the more you are concerned with them, the worse they get. And this mind entity is then going on and on nonstop and you can’t relax and it just destroys you. You start feeling sick… It happens to me periodically. Then I have to do something drastic. And I realize what happened and do my best to stay away from those thinking patterns.

But last night, I just rejected the whole thing at the first step. The moment I realized the mind was waving the carrot of success under my nose – I said “I don’t want it” and stopped at that. So the mind tempts you with whatever desires it can offer you just to take over your life… This cannot even be understood properly if you still have the view that it is “My mind” and “my thoughts”. So I realized that all the thoughts are nothing but illusions. They cannot offer me anything. So I just rejected it right there. Any plan to make money – rejected. Any desire for anyone or anything – go away I am not interested… I think only if you are really not interested in anything the world or the mind has to offer can you live sanely. Otherwise you just slowly go mad. And not wanting, not desiring doesn’t mean that you can’t have it or that you reject things like a monk. You just say “I don’t want it” to anything thought has to offer you. If thought offers me a sexual fantasy – i’m not interested at all. If a girl comes and wants to spend time with me tonight – that is a different story. But purely mentally – I don’t want it!

When you go downtown, its pretty much happening any day of the week, till 8 AM.

By about 5AM you see girls crying in their boyfriends’ arms because they drank too much soju.

Soju is this stuff that’s 20 percent alcohol and cheaper than bottled water… and it has some chemicals that make you trip out, give you the worst hangover and make you mentally retarded the next day.

You can get used to it I guess. I know one or two girls who don’t get hungover from it… But Paintings Koreathis stuff doesn’t hit you until its too late.. So its like no effects and then BAM you’re gone like after 15 shots of vodka.

We sat at a restaurant a while ago and I watched two guys and two girls.. One girl was out cold. The other was eating and drinking.. The guys ordered all kinds of food and drinks… One of them kept pouring his shots past his mouth unto the floor, and the girl he was with didn’t see.. I resisted the temptation to go over there and beat his face in.

So after some time the girl passed out. At this point the dude grabbed her purse and tried to get her to walk with him. She protested weakly for 30 seconds saying “no” but he couldn’t care less and basically dragged her out… I don’t know why I didn’t beat his ass…. Anyway the two bastards left. leaving the one passed out girl alone. After some time, the waiter came and gave her the bill. So both girls got screwed, one literally and the other figuratively. Fortunately for the second girl, she sobered up enough to run away before the waiter caught her.

Judging by my classes in school, this is a male dominated society and girls generally don’t have high self esteem.

I‘ve been recently listening to a lot of Beat generation audio books including “Dharma Bums”, “On The Road” and “Big Sur” by Jack Kerouac. Also “Junky” by William Burroughs… The earlier books made me want to travel, hitchhike and sit in the mountains. But after Big Sur, made when Kerouac was 40, I realized that Kerouac wasn’t really satisfied. Basically, the life these Beat poets lived was a failure… And now all that romanticism has faded away.

I learned that Kerouac died due to alcohol overuse, and Burroughs was a Junkie and also didn’t look particularly happy. These guys were down and out, although they thought the Hippies were the ones who were out of it.

Interesting.. 60’s romanticism also dropped away from me, and now 60s music does nothing for me, really. Still, it’s better than most modern music. However, I found myself listening to very little music over these last weeks.

One thing I have noticed, aside from the fact that people are extremely easy going here, is that it is not at all unusual for men or boys to call each other handsome. Nor is it uncommon for girls to call each other pretty. I am called handsome on an almost daily basis, sometimes at the market when I am buying something. If this happens, I usually ask for “the handsome discount”, although so far I haven’t succeeded in actually getting one. The other day, a construction worker outside my house started talking to me and my roommate as he saw us exit the building. We are not entirely sure what he was saying, but he used the word “handsome” extensively. Finally we thanked him and left, still understanding almost nothing about what just happened. Another time, I was biking near a school, and some kids saw me, possibly some of my students. I waved “hi” to them and they shouted, “teacher, teacher, handsome!” Things like this are pretty routine now and don’t really surprise me. It is pretty normal here to behave this way, and it’s no indication at all as to the sexual preference of the person making the comment.Studio Korea

One often sees men walking hand in hand, or boys holding hands or hugging each other. Of course, the same is true with girls. I have heard that this kind of closeness between friends is present in India, although there it extends beyond fiends, so even strangers will be hugged and touched affectionately. A friend of mine who has been there told me that it was unnerving at first but that he missed it after leaving India and coming back to Canada. Some of my students have now began to like me enough to hug me, hold on to me, or hang around in very close proximity to me. I have to say that it is a little bit uneasy at first to have the boundaries removed like that. Mostly, it’s fear of what others will think, or fear of the authorities, because we all know that back home in Canada it’s extremely dangerous to show any affection towards kids in these crazy times.

I think that in the West it is automatically assumed that if you show any affection to a member of the opposite sex, you probably want to have sex with them. Equally as certain is the assumption that if you show any affection to a member of the same sex, you are homosexual and want to have sex with them. Finally, if you show any affection to a child, this means that you are some kind of a pervert. It is scary to think about how crazy the world is becoming!


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