Category Archives: in Asia

On the courage of losing sight of the shore (or lack of such)

10856621_10153179024543695_8452947408000280810_o

 

So I’ve moved to Japan, like I dreamed to, like I made it my Goal to, like I planned to. Yes dreams do come true once you stop thinking of them as of dreams. Now it’s time to find out how it feels to have made your dream come true, how to live that dream. That’s what they don’t prepare you for. How to remember why you aspired for this in the first place.

And if you can ever get close to regretting your choice of dream.

————————————————————————————————————————

Inspirational quotes tell us in powerful phrasing to be strong and aim high, yet they don’t mention how many tears there would be shed after you’ve made it. Because that’s where and when you’re most fragile. Having a goal you believe in and smashing everything on your way towards it (or taking each and every step with care and due precision) is like running your distance. As you cross that long-awaited finish line, you’re thrilled but out of breath and your heart aches. Well mine does.

It’s all good to have the courage to lose sight of the shore, yet in order to actually cross that ocean you need more than just that. You need all that courage to keep going all the way you have so bravely planned, plus a whole lot of other supplies.

 

*****

The following part of the post was typed at various times during my first days in Japan – in the street, on the metro, at my workplace (more about that in future posts).

 

***** First day things *****

As soon as I’m out in the street or even better on the subway, I start smiling involuntarily. That’s when I remember what I loved about this country in the first place and why I’ve come here at all.
Everything around me so far seems right and close to heart, like I got to know it and knew it to be. Streets, neat houses, pavements, cleanliness, small private businesses, trains with their warm seats that make you drowsy any time of day, people who I’m not afraid to address for help, shop windows, little details I pay attention to, like a bronze owl placed on top of a very ordinary tiled column at a metro station. The language that I want so much to learn as soon as possible so that I could belong to this place more. Because I want to.
It is now more home-like in my apartment thanks to the things I brought from home, but it’s cold and lonely.
***** First week frustrations *****
When the initial shock of being away and alone wore off a bit and with the day spent at school, for a couple of days life got down to almost normal. However, Friday brought me back to tears in a new way. Frustrations that came out were about me not being able to communicate in Japanese. For the first time out of all my time in Japan I felt an alien, clearly an outcast.
In a nutshell, I went to a bank to open an account but the lady refused to deal with me because I could not speak the language. She kept repeating the same thing over and over again and it just did not help – besides, I got stuck, paralyzed and couldn’t utter a word in Japanese, or English, or even Russian. My face must have looked dumb and eyes welled up with tears. When I was out in the fresh air and about 3 minutes passed, I knew it was all fair. I am a foreigner, they don’t have to speak English, I should have taken care of this communication issue myself as opening a bank account means you need to discuss important points and security. I felt low for the rest of the day and it even rubbed off on my English as I felt unconfident while talking with colleagues.
This unpleasant situation made me feel sorry for students who struggle understanding English in class if it’s the only language spoken by teacher. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it in my future posts, as soon as I get into an actual classroom and lessons begin.
*****
I would like to thank all those people who have wished me luck, supported me and keep doing so with their good words in public comments or private messages. I appreciate it ever so much. I would like to give a mostly useless but 100% sincere digital hug to the people who tell me they know it must be a hard time. It is.
Bottomline: a week and many tears past, I don’t regret my choice of dream yet.
IMG_6948
Thanks for reading.
Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Korea impressions

Last year was unique for me for several reasons, one of which being that it was the first time in my life I stayed, well lived more like,  in a foreign country for more than an ordinary vacation-taker’s 14 days. 5 weeks spent in Korea are certainly worth a lot more than a handful of posts about the classes I visited (those were precious and invaluable in every single way!).

 

I lived a life and that life did not remind me of a life of a tourist. There was no rushing in the mornings to make it to a breakfast in a hotel. There was no hotel, in fact. I had my pet. There were no excursion buses to hop on/off for cookie-cutter excursions “to get the best of the city”. There was me and the whole of Seoul to explore, at my own pace, at my own time, with my spontaneous choices oftentimes made right there at an exit of a station I’d picked to go to, on the spur of the moment.

 

There were things I wanted to do – walk up and down the hills, wander around neighbourhoods, take turns left and right without knowing where I’d end up. I stared at people who almost never looked up to meet the eyes of a stranger. I stopped in front of tiny workshops with doors ever open and businesses being done right there on the pavement. I bought several bags of tangerines from an elderly man in the street, because it was a discount but I didn’t quite realize what he was saying to me and actually only needed one of those bags (also never learnt the numbers and counting in Korean). I learnt to pick, taste and like street food. I enjoyed fresh pastry and I hunted for tea only to find that “tea” in a coffeeshop can be anything BUT tea, for what I know tea to be. I struggled with metal chopsticks when eating noodles. I loved, loved my Korean meals.

IMG_3462

I learnt so many things about the places and the people that it’d take tens of thousands words to write about them. All the notes you’ll now see below were made in Korea and have now just been elaborated with extra commentary. Somehow it’s all still painfully fresh in the mind. “Painfully” because I took to Korea in a very special way which I’ll only be able to analyze and comprehend fully after a longer while. For the moment, it feels like this experience was grand, different, spicy, probably life-changing, certainly unforgettable. I’m running out of adjectives that would do their job well, so here are the notes and some pictures. Enjoy.

Warning: if you’re based in Korea, you’re likely not going to be taken aback by any of these notes. They were taken by a tourist, even if an observant one with plenty of time on her hands, after all.

 

***** Notes and opinions about Korea, in no particular order, on all areas at once *****

1. Seoul subway cars have a colour marking on the floor, a wide stripe of the same colour as is the metro line itself. Clearly, such a simple thing to do and so nice for passengers. The cars themselves are also much wider, let alone cleaner, than in Moscow.

2. In the metro, as the train approaches, people do not rush closer to the glass doors preparing to get in. But as soon as the doors open, people at the station and those getting out of the car *imo very rudely* ignore one another and simply push their respective ways in and out. Moreover, if you are inside the car and need to get off at the next station, it’s your problem how you’re going to manage that. People won’t make way for you. It’s not common practice to ask people in front of you if they’re going to get off (like it is in Moscow). Fight your way through to the doors all by yourself, you and your elbows, I’m afraid, you’ll have to. The doors, by the way,  can be quite entertaining. There’s also music announcing the approaching train, and melodies in different cities are different.

IMG_3035

3. In many cases public restrooms are not to be found inside cafes or restaurants but for the whole of a building, which could, naturally, house several various places on its floors. You’ll have to ask staff – and hope they will explain it in English.

4. There was something that completely blew my mind, and please don’t make the trite comment that Russians shouldn’t be afraid of cold weather. Girls in Korea in the chilly, sometimes windy weather of the second half of October were not noticed to be wearing tights while strolling around in super mini skirts and shorts. Similar thing was noted in November (!) in Japan. My granny would tell them all off right there in the street when she spotted one.

5. Square shaped leather bags of a rucksack style are popular for both girls and boys. I won’t mention couple clothing, as it was already mentioned here.

6. In your local neighbourhoods, just off the noisy, busy main street, there would be a man in a van. He would be slowly driving around the area in his van full of vegetables. He would have a megaphone. He would offer cabbages, potatoes and what not in a monotonous mullah-like voice, stopping here and there. I’d never seen anything like it, or felt like wishing to buy a sack of carrots in a street.

IMG_2571

IMG_3023

7. Koreans don’t care (or don’t show they care or notice) you are different. Let’s face it, I am plenty different by my looks. Maybe it is Seoul but in fact I never felt “alien”, or weird, or stared at, let alone treated badly (with a few minor exceptions, which might actually prove the general trend and were more funny than unpleasant)).

8. I spent a lot of time commuting around the city on the subway, so that’s where I made a great deal of my notes, watching people. Koreans on the subway sometimes seemed pretty much like Russians by behavior to me – pushing, not saying sorry for stepping on your feet, or for anything, for that matter. And yet they somehow didn’t leave a strong impression of being rude. They might not have looked or made a recognizable impression of being friendly either… but they did get nice. =) Like once two old ladies invited me to take a seat near them (those reserved for the elderly). It was a sudden and pleasant gesture, even if I refused.

9. As I’ve already mentioned it above, it struck me to see the life of small businesses out there in the street. Tailor shops, car repairs, toy makers, sellers of all possible useful and useless things, old ladies’ eating places – in tiny, not necessarily clean rooms, with doors wide open, these were always tempting me to sneak a look inside. The city life is out. That’s such a different Seoul than that of Gangnam, and the feel it has is warm and welcoming.

IMG_3504

IMG_5002

IMG_2627

IMG_2586

10. What feels so unmistakenly mine in Korea is the combination of green mountains, pine trees of their sprawling shape, and Asian architecture forms and colours. The simplicity of wood and stone and gravel wrapped up in the green of those pines blew my mind, no less. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a few times I actually caught myself holding my breath. The nature aesthetics of Korea brought peace to my mind even when I was not feeling exactly peaceful.

IMG_3295

IMG_2738

IMG_2711

11. Korean girls use lipstick (a lot) and apply it in a special style which is called “gradient lips”.

12. Despite expectations, I didn’t notice Koreans to be emotionally reserved. On the contrary, I saw people (younger ones, to be fair and precise) expressing their feelings affectionately in public.

13. People do not interact with strangers either verbally or with eye contact. It was so unusual for me especially, since I was constantly staring at everything around me, including people. I wonder if that behaviour came across as impolite or embarrassing.

14. Koreans love hats. And cats.

IMG_2806

15. It’s fine or a cultural habit (norm?) to brush teeth in public places (restrooms, naturally). I’d never seen anything like it.

16. Sooo many Koreans wear trainers! I realize it’s the trendy thing to do now but I found it almost obsessive. In this way, I can’t help drawing another comparison with young people here in Moscow – so many of them look the same, from season to season, in similar outfits “inspired” by all similar glossy mag pictures. It was far more exciting to watch people in Tokyo =)

 

 

That’s about all for now. I wish I could sum it all up in a beautiful paragraph. Is it really possible to piece together these fragments of culture and impressions they made on me? I won’t even start doing that. The bits and pieces of scattered observations are part of my Korea, the first country I got to look at from within and took to pieces so scrupulously.

*****

My time in Korea would’ve been completely different had it not been for the amazing people there who took care of me in so many ways. I owe my discoveries to the time I spent and conversations I had with Josette LeBlanc and her husband, Anne Hendler, Michael Griffin, Michael Chesnut, Nina Iscovitz, Ran Kim, David Harbinson, dozens of students and teachers I had the pleasure and luck to meet. You all made a big, big difference, bigger than you realize for sure. More on that maybe in future posts. Thank you!

And thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Impulsive blogging. Questions from a bus.

Thoughts jotted down impulsively during a sudden high emotional peak on a mini-bus some 8 hours ago somewhere in southern part of continental Thailand. Barely edited, possibly harsh (to some). I apologise for this and my one-sided judgement based on exasperation and hot humid air. I’m self-concious to publish it, again, that’s what this trip is doing to me, much to my satisfaction. I relish these moments and so I want them here in the space which is mine.

 

*****

What is it that drives you out of your native towns, fatherlands, motherlands and places you were born and maybe raised in responsibly by your parents?

What is it that pushes you hard in your back and urges you take a plane, or yet another plane?

Where does wanderlust come from and why does it rub off on you but leaves the people you leave behind unaffected?

Does it make you different, your experience?

What makes you stay and nestle in a place at some point?

 

*****

I’m wondering because I’m speeding on this damned tourist mini-bus packed full with Russians I am trying my best to ignore.
Through the jungle. And I want to get off this bus right now and walk my own way. Alone would be more than ok. I want to talk to people in those sad-looking, dilapidated buildings of all bright, cheerful colours of the rainbow with tiled verandas.

Look out of the window! Why won’t you look out of the window right now and take it all in…

 

Something is calling me to wander. I want to see raw culture, nature I choose to see, the green of kinds I’ve never seen, beaches I’ve never trodden, streets bustling with life I don’t know about. Something is calling me out of the shell and the prospect of letting myself get locked in is horrifying.

 

*****

How do I cure the burning pain in my chest of feeling disconnected with those who should be “my people”? With the gap growing only bigger, deeper, and harder, harder to bear.

“You belong there where you were born” – is a Russian saying underpinning, in my view, our very culture and one that I consider to be so unfair and unconsoling.

 

*****

I have questions. About things I see and things I won’t see anytime soon. About feelings I am experiencing and why am I feeling so raw. About languages I hear and why do I hear mullah voice in the jungle, where from and to do children in white robes and Muslim caps go at 8 pm, playing, goofing around and being children on a muddy road 500 meters to the ocean.
I have questions and some of them can be answered by Google, others by exploration and open character.
I have questions that have grown from within and are burning my mind and provoking my reason to take action frowned upon by others, to say the least.

 

I’m not restless. I think I’m just craving more than I’m already getting. I feel an acute need to, through experience, find meaning, balance, and My Place.

 

*****

IMG_4395

 

These questions and musings from a bus end abruptly here with this picture from a beach.

The questions in the post are not rhetorical and I’d appreciate any perspectives shared on those problematic issues that I was concerned with earlier today.

Thanks for reading.

Tagged , , , ,

In Asia. Part I, Korean. Episode 1, Fragmentary.

IMG_2647

The small white window you're now looking at in that house is mine.
The bird's hole in the wall is right there next to it.

Here I am, sitting in my apartment in Seoul, quite unexpectedly with my pet bird flapping its wings feverishly IN the wall above my bed. It’s been a week already, and this is crazy, as in how crazy fast the time’s passing, how crazy cool my time here has been, how  comfortable and home I’m feeling here. But maybe I need to start from the start.

This October I’m staying in South Korea. Seoul for the most part, but also visiting friends and ELT people I know in other places around the country. Such is the plan and what will emerge of it we’ll have to see. I’m not promising regular blogging (as I’ll surely end up breaking the promise) but writing a lot during this month, in this or that form, is one of my major objectives/ cravings/ aspirations, etc. That said, I want to make it clear upcoming posts might turn out to be a weird mishmash: ELT, travelling, culture, questions, observations, pictures, people, classrooms and such. Markedly personal and at times somewhat professional. That’s my current feeling, and here’s the first entry from Korea.

 

***** written in Dubai (lol) *****

This should have been written earlier and for a different space but I think this way it is maybe even better.

It’s October 1st 0:15 Moscow time. I’m sitting perched up in a lame version of a lotus pose on a seat identical to thousands of similar seats located at the many gates of Dubai international airport. Like quite a few fellow passengers trapped in this airport for the night hours, I’ve taken my sneakers off. Like fewer of them, I’m looking around instead of dozing off.
I’m not much of a traveller in the sense the word carries for me. But from the number of times I’ve done flying around I’ve gathered that this layover time waiting for your connection in an airport of a totally random country you’ve not put on your travel list this time is just the time when I personally feel being part of this world (I know this is a lenthy sentence). Any airport in Moscow is owned by Russians and bears this unmistakable feel of everything Russian. European airports I’ve seen are all alike and are … Well, European. There’s no face that would distinguish such airport for me.
In any case and in odd wording, my idea is that connection time gives a chance to meet the variety of the globe population without necessarily going to all those parts represented. I’m not talking skin colours, languages and looks. I mean, not just them.

I was chatting with my mom in DME some 8 hours ago preparing to leave my home for 70 days. Several times she said something that I couldn’t help but breathe through with (!!) judgement and a bit of a suppressed scorn. Then I soon recovered my spirits because I can understand where she was coming from, what her reasoning had been influenced by. This whole touristy business interferes with opportunities to see a more genuine and real view of the world.
People do live in places other than where we do. They have meals in those places, go shopping, complain about work, chat about the same problems, have relationships, live.
It is not, or should not be, about “ours” as opposed to “theirs”.

(and then I dozed off…))))

 

*****

It is not, or should not be, about “ours” as opposed to “theirs”.

I thought about it again sitting in Mike Griffin’s workshop Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses at KOTESOL last Friday. The audience in the room was comprised, as I later found out, 90% of Americans.  Participation was very active, and even frighteningly active to my taste, since my workshop came next and it was going to be so NOT about Koreans, or Americans, or Americans in Korea. I couldn’t help noticing the we and they slipping off the tongues, even if the context and implications meant no harm or gave out no opposition as an intended bad thing. Maybe that’s only human and natural to think in we vs they terms, especially when you’re an expat living and teaching in a foreign country. I have no such experience and I’m neither judging nor offering any form of analysis right now. Just an observation, which will be many on my blog from this post on.

There’s a lot and too much of we vs they talk back in Moscow.

 

I’m not sure if there’s anything to discuss here in this first entry from Korea. I feel like I haven’t even started telling you about this week of my life in Asia yet.

I’ll continue then, tomorrow. Ideally, some exciting ELT-related things are going to be blogged about here very soon, alongside with the maybe less exciting personal observations of the place I’ve planted myself in for 70 days, a move I have zero regrets about. =)

 

Thanks for reading.