If you've ever known someone who has been to Korea and told you that it's not as nice as living at home or not the same or something to that effect, I'm sure like most people you've wanted details. People don't often have an appropriate story they can give you off the top of their heads. It might be that they forget or they force themselves to forget. It might be that they are defensive about saying anything bad about Korea because you might be a person trained to question anything negative he/she might say. It happens. So they might say something like, "Trust me you don't want to know." Or they might say, "It's no picnic," or "There's a reason U.S. soldiers there still get hardship pay." The bent of many a North American is to jump to the completely inaccurate conclusion that people who say these things are just jerks or racists or have trouble coping with change or things that don't fit into their personal comfort zones. Shame on you for thinking that!
One of my more recent pet peeves is when a person with a narrow view of the world jumps right to the defence of a people he/she knows exactly nothing about. It really offends me when people do that to me because from their ignorance they are questioning not only my statements' veracity, but also my judgement and my ability to make reasonable judgements. People often assume your judgements are wrong if they are negative. These are what I will call the "Happiness Nazis". They want to FORCE everybody to be happy.
Now I know I can be a breath of stale air sometimes but believe me, I've tried to fake like everything is honkey dorie and it's just not for me. I feel happy when I can talk about things that piss me off and get them off my chest. It doesn't work for me to ignore them or bury them in make-believe. And I take more and more offence to people who want to force me to.
A recent example: Last night while in my dorm room I heard an announcement at around 6 o'clock PM. I had no idea what it was about of course because it was all in Korean. And the Idon'tcaretaker wouldn't think to walk the 20 steps to my room, KNOCK on my door, and inform me that today is the day the heaters become functional in our rooms. So I should remove anything that might burn, melt or malfunction if it's sitting on a hot heater. No, as I have posited on this blog before, I am pretty damn sure the bastard is enjoying every single one of the petty irritations he causes me. If he liked me or was even indifferent I would have been informed of many of the things that have happened here like when they shut the power off, shut the water off, don't heat the water or change the usual water heating time. They absolutely LOVE not telling me these things.
Okay, okay, I know I've been in Korea a long time and I've got a very low level of speaking and understanding of the language. Again there are good reasons for this but people who want to blame me COULD say that the Koreans are justified in expecting me to understand the announcements. This is what I'm talking about. And I'm gonna sound like a jerk for saying this but you have to know Koreans to fully understand what's going on here. The announcement was not made to help anyone, it was made as a matter of procedure. A rule states that you need to announce these things. It's much like the meetings that took place in cities around Korea this past weekend designed to LOOK LIKE they will help foreigners with problems they might be having in Korea. EVERY single person who is not a native here would LOVE to go to one of these meetings because every person has problems here. I could have gone to see if I could get some money back for the cable internet scam Hanaro Cable in Mokpo ran on me. My friend Kasia was in a taxi accident and has gone through hell with that. There are no avenues in Korea open to foreigners who need help such as this. So why didn't I go to this meeting? Because there was no advertising at all as to where and when it would be. One sagacious person saw an ad in one of the English newspapers about it and told the Gwangju News, a magazine I voluntarily contribute to from time to time. They wanted someone to go to the thing and write something up about it so they sent me the info, but I asked them and even THEY didn't know times and locations. The meeting probably wouldn't have helped any foreigners either. I'm saying that from experience. The ad said there would be lawyers, doctors, immigration professionals and people like that at the meeting. I wonder if any of them spoke any language other than Korean. Again from experience, I doubt it. And as to whether there would have been any help offered to a foreigner who can speak Korean, I'm guessing no. The purpose of this meeting was to have the meeting. That's all.
Say this to a Korean and they'd probably just shake their head and agree with you. Because it happens every day here. There was a message posted at the immigration office that said there would be help offered to any foreigner who has any difficulty finding work in Korea due to the new immigration laws. The sign was in Korean and there have been thousands of people who had a helluva time with the new laws including me. I have yet to hear of anyone being helped.
This is how they do things here. Not just to foreigners either. The same stuff happens to Koreans. It's all smoke and mirrors. The appearance of help, not help. But to tell this to a happiness Nazi whose never known a Korean or been to the country would get me at the very least a stern tsk tsk tsk.
The bottom line is this is not yet a developed country. They are trying their best to make it LOOK developed but it's still what Thomas Friedman calls a "cleptocracy" like surrounding countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos etc. You are pretty much on your own in those countries and you are pretty much on your own here.
So back to my heater problem. I noticed the room heating up just around the time I was heading off to bed. This is not unusual. I actually used my air conditioner the night before last, (October 21st for the love of GOD!), because it was too hot for me. But I got into bed and immediately noticed that the heater right beside my head was on. So I look on the side of the heater. There's a thermostat. I adjust it as low as it goes. But it only goes down to what looks to be about 27. As you can see the numbers go below that but there is no way to adjust it to anything less than what this ridiculously inaccurate gauge shows to be like 27? 28? You be the judge.That's too hot. As you can see, there's a red button on the bottom of the thermostat that says in English "on/off". So I turn that off and go to bed. It just gets hotter in my room. I remember the last time I taught here having trouble with this and somebody told me I had to open up a little door in the side of the heater. Of course this little door is locked and there is no key. Another thing the Idon'tcaretaker "forgot" to give me. So I jimmy it open with a knife. Inside is a fuse switch. I throw the switch and go to bed. It just gets hotter in my room. I get up AGAIN and go back into the little door area where there is another dial. I turn it all the way down. Or at least what any reasonable person would think is down. Toward the side of the smaller numbers. I go to bed again and it gets HOTTER. Evidently 3 is the lowest setting. Lower than 0. And 3 being the absolute lowest is STILL not off!
I'm pissed off now and sweating in my room. I've got the windows open but it's not really cold outside here yet even at night. Cool but not helping my perdicament at all. I notice a plug in the heater and I yank it angrily out of the socket then go back to bed. IT FUCKING GETS HOTTER!!! I swear to God I wake up and turn on my air conditioner! Now I'm sitting here at 6 AM sleepless, sweaty, with my heater AND aircon BOTH running and still no closer to a solution to my problem.
You want details? I give details. These are the kinds of problems that happen all the time all over Korea to everybody. Although I sound like I'm ready to kill someone right now, I'll go through my day today, teach my 5 classes dead tired, slough home to a toasty hot apartment and be happy because I KNOW that this is Korea. And I have this blog and a few close friends where I can write down or talk about my problems. That allows me to deal with them. I wouldn't have been able to last for as long as I have here without that ability. I CERTAINLY would have gone postal by now if I had been running away from all that is not cheery while spreading sunshine to everyone around me.
You think I'm a grumpy old man? Well screw you!