Monday, October 31, 2005

On Critical Consciousness, Being Critical, Critiquing...and Community

My first reaction to when someone promises to take me to a small festival in the early afternoon and then suddenly wants to keep me for lunch, all afternoon, dinner, and the evening... is to get really annoyed, creeped out, and guarded (actually I have reacted like that). However, after I remember the countless times that people have shown their hospitality that way --by going all out and giving me a full day with beautiful tours, great meals, and lots of attention-- I can't blame any one family or person. Especially after they have offered to help me find my family that I have not been in touch with for over 10 years. So when people spring sudden requests on me to come to their church and correct their pronunciation for their English Christmas play or when I am forced to take a picture as the honorary American (for an English extracurricular activity here that I have never once been to) I comply.

I can either be creeped out, sad, and then righteously angry at how English is elevated and therefore privileges me and many others...and then privileges white people even more so that --damn it-- racism and white privilege follows me here, too. I can be critical and point out how this all comes from U.S. neo-colonization after World War II, after Japan left, and under the guise of being a South Korean ally...that now English is an extension of U.S. neo-imperialism. Examples and traces what some see as innocuous and others as noxious: brands and advertisements are done in English so that the product or the company can be perceived as more modern, savvy, and hip vs. Korean writing which is considered "chunsooruhwoh" (cheesy or uncultured).

However, to put it all like that, in my opinion, is to be judgemental and critiquing. I hope a critical consciousness is more than seeing the problems in history, institutions, and power. I hope a critical consciousness includes understanding that the horrors and realities of then and now stand more chance of being transformed and created into something better when many activists release themselves from their own entrapping bi-polar analyses of oppression. Oppression, Oppression, Oppression, Oppression...Neo-colonization, Neo-imperialism, Sexism, Racism, Ableism...Yes, yes. It all's thrown in our faces here in Korea, in the U.S., in poor or written off communities anywhere. Of course, without such an analyses and critical distrust of information we are given, written off communities will just fall off. However, I think one vice of a lot of activists or anyone slightly privileged (which can even mean you're dirt poor, but you could have been lucky enough get a good me) is this kind of intellectualized,waxed existential poetry. Sometimes when you just accept what you see as "oppression" --when you stop blaming the white man or the institution or unequal power or racism or history-- you will see how people around you actually transform it into something to some degree empowering or their own.

I'm not just being idealistic, I think I'm being more fair to people who suffer the worst of oppression. What good is analyzing history gonna do for people who have to rebuild their house right there after the hurricane? What good is to go over and over about U.S. imperialism when my students --and all Korean students-- are gonna still have to know English to get into college? So I lend my body and my face to take the picture with the third year students for the English extracurricular club class because it makes them happy and a little bit more excited for their next club class. I swallow my selfishness and go to the church and decide I will not yell at them while I try to fix their r's and l's. I will get to know them, have fun, and begin learning about their community. To say no out of principle because I think I am erasing their beautiful Korean tongues is to deny them what they need --which is to become more proficient at speaking English so they can communicate better and get to wherever they need...and hopefully they will find themselves communicating and mentoring others and building community.

That's not selling out. That's seeing reality and doing, not just waxing. Chapter 3 in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed he starts off with some definitions:

words without action = verbalism
action without words = activism
words and action = praxis

But it's essential that the words + action are self-reflective. In a democratic community with dialogue --that has let go of entrapping bi-polarisms such as oppression and privilege, evil white man and poor colored person, privileged man and oppressed woman, because by fighting the other within these bi-polar frameworks, you yourself keep yourself in that "other" position-- self-reflection, mentoring, sharing knowledge, and education happens. Thus, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

So what am I doing other than waxing and being a damn academic myself? I'm trying my hardest to be a good teacher, be as honest and open and patient as possible even when I think my church has some sexist policies, even when elder male veneration makes me sick and see how it oppresses women...I give my time the way people ask me to give my time and I don't judge or tell them how they should do things instead. I have been discovering that by being a part of peoples' lives and letting them decide for themselves how to do it, I find my way into more and more intimate relationships so that I can take more active roles in transforming methods, procedures, and thoughts by just being a part of many small communities.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New Kid

Hello all! I certainly feel like the new kid at school, trying to fit in with all the cool kids who have already made posts and have been going through this whole 'community blogger' thing since they started. I sit in anticipation...will they accept me or will they shun me?

For those of you who don't know, I am coming to you LIVE! from New Zealand. Christchurch to be exact, and I am amazed at all that has happened in just a month of my living here. I can't even believe it has been a month. A suppose a quick run down is in order:

I flew into Auckland, NZ on 27 Sept. I made a friend and we travelled the North Island, up to the tip of NZ, and eventually down to the south island where we are both now living. This is such an amazing country I cannot even begin to do it words or pictures can explain the things I have seen, but I hope someday that I may relate to you my adventures (my personal blog actually has a lot of stories from my travels on it that my be of interest.)

I have learned a lot about life and myself and what is important to me. I think that this Kiwi lifestyle is a healthy one for me to experience. It is teaching me to relax more and to make important choices between what people have told me I should do and what I really want to do with myself. I have realized that I am capable of handling even the most adverse situations and that being 9000 miles away from home, while difficult, isn't as terrible as I once expected it to be.

I am making this short as it is late here and I've got to rise early to get to work tomorrow morning. It is good to feel connected to you all again and I hope you know that I think of you often. I wish you all my best and I look forward to reading more about the adventures you are all experiencing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blood means good luck

I threw my roll of toilet paper into my backpack and headed downstairs to the bathroom. There isn't toilet paper in the stalls so you gotta bring your own, but it would be strange walking around the hallways with a roll of toilet paper and everyone knowing you're off to take care of your business. And, you don't wanna just tear off some because you never know how much you're gonna need. Still, sometimes no matter what you do and how many bases you cover, there's still something you can't when a teacher came running over to ask where I was going. She was afraid I was taking off though I had to proctor a few classes as they took some tests. Since she's one of the English teachers, I was able to explain my rationale and once again prove yes, I am the crazy American trying to do my best to make sure I fit in, but never really do.

Maybe yesterday this would have unnerved me a seemed like no matter what happened --last minute news that I had to judge an English speaking contest today, my Wednesday classes would be cancelled (and therefore I would have to modify my lesson plans....there's no point in a curriculum because classes are constantly getting cancelled for some kind of testing), students skipping my evening class because they have too much homework-- it was a day full of little irritating things that kept adding up. Today...I feel so good and awake nothing can really phase me.

My co-teacher said my dream last night explains the change in my mood. This morning while we were sitting and talking during our prep time I had to tell her about the crazy dreams I had last night....

I was in an apartment and there was a huge, long, dark gray fish swimming in a big tub in a kitchen. There was also a huge lizard (which looked like a mix between a komodo dragan and an alligator) hangin around that was pretty friendly and harmless. Something was wrong with the fish so I went over to it and held it, but then for some reason pressed it hard against a sharp edge, giving it a clean gash and it began to bleed. Once the lizard/alligator sensed the blotts of blood, it started chasing the fish around in the chased and the fish evaded, over and over...finally I got up the nerve to plunge my arms in and save the fish. I slung the fish over my right shoulder while the lizard/alligator started climbing everything in the room to snap the fish off of me. Somehow I found a large bowl, washed it and stuck the fish inside and put it in another room while the lizard/alligator calmed down and forgot about the fish.

The interpretation and symbolism a la my co-teacher:
Blood is good luck. Gold-colored fishes are also good luck, but dark colored fish --like the one in my dream-- are bad luck. This confused me. I thought maybe the good and bad luck were cancelled out in my dream. However, according to my co-teacher, she says since in my dream I'm the one who caused the blood-letting gash in the fish, I broke a spell of bad luck or or other bad fortune. This was pretty amazing to me because yesterday I was in the worst mood and today I woke up refreshed and energized. It's largely thanks to being able to vent to Kristofer last night and laugh a little bit...but then again, the blood-letting in my dream could also be a metaphor for my stress-relieving talk with Kristofer.

In case you don't believe in cosmic dreams, here's another strange coincidence. After the dream of the battle between the me and the great fish with the lizard/alligator, I had another dream. In this second dream I was standing around waving my clasped hands. Then I realized something was inside my hands. When I opened them I saw a small silver fish the size of my palm. I immediately tossed it because I was creeped out by the slimy feeling (even though in the previous dream I had a gigantic wet fish slung over my should for 20 minutes before I figured out what to do with it). Anyway, the coincidence: when I sat down to have breakfast this morning I saw four of the same palm-sized fish sitting on a plate on the dining room table. Seeing the fish triggered a flashback of all my dreams, which is how I remembered them today because lately I have had no clear recollection of my dreams even though I usually do.

Other symbols of good luck in dreams:
Pregnant women.

Symbols of bad luck:
Children - because they usually represent some kind of trouble such as crying, mischief

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ok now you can really comment

Clearly...I am having issues with our blog's settings. Now you can comment, give love, whatever you want. :D

Friday, October 21, 2005

Now you can comment on our blog

I just realized that only registered users were allowed to comment. I changed the option so now anyone should be able to comment. Or you should at least be able to comment on my blogs. Kristofer and Hilary may have to change their settings...

Hilary and Kristofer, go into your dashboard, settings, and then into comments and change the option for everyone to be able to comment...(^_^)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Teacher's Small Victories

Many times that what it feels like --being on a battlefield: screaming girls with their hair puffy and bouncing everywhere as they shout out their classroom windows, stampedes running down the hall knocking me over, confusion "Teacher nice to meet you! I mean, no, I love you, Teacher!!!", rebellion (not sitting or speaking when they are asked)....and I am exhasted when it is only 12 o'clock in the afternoon. Then...the quietest student comes along and shows me the back of her notebook and all the care she took in doing a random homework I threw out. The assignment: what do you want to learn about America? What do you want to learn in this class? Probably the most ambiguous question they have ever received since they are used to being lectured and told to repeat. But as I looked down on the small notebook, it's cover resembling the back pocket of a pair of jeans with "Whenever, Have a nice day!" scrawled on the front, I noticed her neat meticulous writing which gave me very clear examples of what kinds of lessons we could do. She even incorporated drama like I have been using in the class these days. The homework was so good, I asked to keep it for the weekend so I could truly plan new lessons around it.

I call it a victory, but I don't really believe the students are something to be conquered...though sometimes I have to catch myself from being a push over because all I really want is to win over their affection. There's really no need. They give their love freely. Even after the worst lesson plan ever.

So now I understand why I may have received lots of attention when I was younger in school...because I always did my homework. It's so hard not to want to favor the diligent student, even though I know the reason why other students aren't diligent isn't necessarily because they're not smart or are bad, but maybe they just have a lot goin on in there lives.

It's so difficult not to be consumed by this career or lifestyle. Here I am at my school and it is 10 pm at night. There were about 5 other teachers leaving just about 10 minutes ago. Some stay late to give students extra help studying for their Korean SATs (the students don't have the money for private academies so some teachers mentor and help when they can) others have night duty for students staying late to study. Even when I am not at school though, even when I am not in class, it is hard not to be be worried about students who skip endless meals because they are "dieting" or hope that sick students will be able to get over their cold despite the fact that they don't arrive at home until 1 am because they must study at a private academy.

I am also always thinking of how to perfect that lesson to make it more efficient, more clear, more purposeful, more fun, more interesting, more useful. But I must remember revision is endless.

Thank you Hilary so much for your "looking back and listing" blog on Hilary Beans. I must find the time to look back and list...or breathe and look at the mountains. Even though I am getting involved as much as I can so that life doesn't pass me by here, life is starting to rush by as it consumes me.

Thank God for those small victories and for community (my community here and abroad...).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Today I Love Korea...again

Classes are cancelled today because of physical testing. A student just told me she is tired because she had to run, do sit ups, bicep hang, and then some other motion that I could not understand (she just bent over and started stretching towards the ground). The teachers are chilling out in their jeans and sweatshirts. The sun is shining, like it usually is in Mokpo, and my hands are a little cold as I type, indicadent of the crisp air-- nice break from the sudden 24 degrees Celcius we had yesterday (75 degrees Fahrenheit for you Americans! haha...ok, so I cheated and looked it all up).

My closest teacher friend, an older teacher who sits beside me in the teacher's room (kyomushil) said we are going out for lunch today. It will probably be an inexpensive feast because she is frugal, but knows what's important (as most Koreans do)--food! Our lunch group of four --her, another senior female teacher, a male senior teacher, and me (senior being older)-- is a fun crew. The other female teacher is the "whang", which means king or queen, but basically you don't want to get in trouble or you will have to see the same time many girls look up to her because she's brilliant, a workaholic, and a great mentor. The other male teacher is the silent type, has only spoken 3 words to me, but when he does speak you want to be sure to listen. He doesn't preach, just says what's on his mind, which is usually honest and maybe not the most important point of view, but maybe the more socially just or fair view.

Back from lunch. Like I said, it was a feast. Spicy dumpling soup with lots of vegetables and hand made noodles, with another spicy noodle dish after that. A peaceful place in a part of Mokpo that was laid out by Japanese when they occupied Mokpo. The owners are former art teachers and make paper, paper and laquer decorative boxes and lanterns. I am welcome to come learn for free any day at 3 pm, I just have to pay for my own materials. As long as they play Louie again (Louie Armstrong fit the environment perfectly as we enjoyed our afternoon lunch date), I am going to try my best to be there.

That is how things have gone here. One person invites me to go somewhere with them--to a meal, to a mountain, to a temple, and though it may turn into a longer affair than I planned, we always meet amazing people with an outpouring of hospitality ready to offer or share anything they have. That is how my Korean traditional dance classes started out, that's how I went traveling with my calligraphy teacher back during orientation, and that's how I went to one of the most beautiful gardens when I visited Gwangju when I ran into some college kids from the area.

Gotta remember these times when I am depressed and wishing I were back home in New York City or when I interpret a man's loud voice as him violently yelling when it's acceptable to scold anyone depending on your rank: oldest men are highest, then old women, and on with children being at the bottom...and being a young woman, I feel like I am sometimes treated as or looked down upon as a little girl. Those are the worst days...when I feel vulnuerable and unsafe because I am a young woman. I know it sometimes in my head, but I have been randomly scolded by older men --for example some bus driver-- or have watched other young woman embarassed on the street or in the subway by older men who are just seeming to flex their higher social status and power.

But today...I feel safe and warm...surrounded by those brilliant and hilarious older teachers, the girls at my school...and the one man that I have the most daily contact with --the male teacher in my lunch group-- is so quiet and fair that today, being here in Korea doesn't feel so scary or lonely as it had been....