Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oh Korea, land of contradiction.  I spend entirely too much time trying to understand your people.

You drive like bats out of hell in cars, on motorcycles, and on bikes but wait ever so patiently at ridiculously long lights to cross the street on foot until the Green Man says so.

You endure some of the most humid weather imaginable, especially in the summer (so I’ve heard) yet you insist on wallpapering every inch of free space.  Even the ceiling.  Can you say peeling, moldy mess?  Who the hell wallpapers a ceiling?  Koreans do.

You are as smart as they come in math and science yet you believe in fan death.  Don’t even get me started on the absurdity of this.

You drink like fish, but possess a considerable lack of beer muscles.  I find this odd given that so many of you are trained in some form of martial art.  I consider this a very good characteristic.  I never feel like a fight could erupt at any moment because you seem as a culture to get happier and happier the more you drink.  And boy, can you drink.

I could go on and on, so I’ll save the rest of my observations for another post.  But on that last note, I’ve found it incredibly calming that guns are illegal here.  I’ve said on more than one occasion that I feel safer here than I do in the States.  Every country has its crime problems, but as a whole I feel safer.  And I think the lack of guns definitely contributes to that.

In our time in Mokpo, I haven’t seen or heard of any specific acts of violence.  Acts of stupidity that resulted in people being hurt, yes.  Violence, no.  That was until a couple weeks ago.  It happened in our school.  Not in a bar.  Not on a random street at midnight.  Right in our school at 2 in the afternoon.  And, being Korea, it was as confusing as anything else…

On that day, I went to the office downstairs just before classes to print my daily quizzes.  Our director and some guy, slightly large for a Korean, were sitting at the front table.  I was in my own little world as usual and didn’t notice they were in a rather heated discussion.  The big guy started speaking at a high volume and proceeded to get louder and louder.  And then I noticed I was the only other person in the room with them.  I obviously don’t understand Korean, so it takes me some time to differentiate between the white noise I’m used to hearing and the eruption of an actual situation.  And none of the office workers bothered to give me a heads up that, you know, maybe now’s not such a good time to go in there.  Thanks, guys.

I figured the best thing I could do was be quick about it and scoot out to let them finish whatever silly debate it sounded like they were having.  I assumed the guy was a pissed off parent or maybe they were talking politics and surely it couldn’t get too out of hand.  Until my director stood up to go back to his desk and the guy followed him.  And then he went for the throat, grabbing my director with both hands around the neck.  Since I was boxed in, I had no choice but to watch the whole thing unfold.  Finally, a couple people came in to attempt to break it up, and I shuffled upstairs before the big guy went all Mike Tyson and started biting ears off.  The man continued to scream up a tirade, which we could hear through the open lobbies between the floors.  I, silly American, assumed they called the police.  But in Korea, land of contradiction, there’s no need for police or restraining orders or being fired from a job for a little workplace violence.  Let’s just talk it out.

So, who was this man and what was he so pissed off about?  Surely, someone said something about someone’s mama to make him go for the jugular like that, right?  Turns out he was our school’s bus driver, and he was upset that he had to work long hours.  As in, like 9 hours a day.  Wow.  That’s it?  So anti-climactic.

We found this out only by asking our immediate manager the next day what had happened.  She pretty much brushed it off by saying that they were just upset with each other.  We tried to explain to her that at home you would be fired for this.  There would be charges pressed and possibly jail.  Definitely lawyers.  To which she just responded, “Oh, really?”  And the next day, in that very same office with the very same men, it was business as usual.