Racing off to Japan this morning; writing myself a note about what I need to do when I get back. I pretty much treat myself as a would-be amnesiac (i.e., with all my lists).
Copyedited manuscript: done. Inch by inch.
Began blogging and Facebook at the same time. Both to keep up with Carmen. Just found an old friend, John Seel, in FB. So, I’m a fan now.
Andy and I spent about 90 minutes yesterday talking to the school principal, the English teacher (who was wonderful but never spoke English), the girls’ 6th grade homeroom teacher and the 2 candidates for Isaac’s 1st grade teacher. Although he is technically in second grade here, they feel that the more active, less literate culture of first grade will make things easier; also second grade has 4 high needs kids and they are calculating teacher time/energy. Their big dilemma: there is a returnee Korean girl who doesn’t speak much Korean and they are debating whether it is best to put Isaac and her in the same class or to split them. Our hunch (which we were honest about): likely best for Isaac to be together, and better for the girl (who will be here longer) to make her way in Korean company. Their worry: if they are together the other kids will find it intimidating to approach the English speaking duo. The English teacher will take all the kids during their respective classes’ Korean language time. We let her know that we have no need for Isaac to be tutored in Korean, but that if she could take up the (enormously difficult) activity of having him read the little books we brought with (from his first grade teacher) that would be awesome. At home, this is how it tends to go: line 1, Isaac is upright; line 2, Isaac has reclined and begun to yawn (they seem real); line 3, Isaac has reclined; line 4, Isaac has moved to the floor; line 5, I, for one, am wondering, “How effective can this be?” Funny when I went to describe to the teacher how difficult it is I really appreciated the Korean word for hard which is literally “strength goes into it” (i.e., a sort of compound verb) because it captures the nature of things better than the English in this case. They are very sure that there will be a big group of kids lined up to help Isaac learn how to read English; when I heard this I immediately said that I was sure that 4th or 5th grade Korean kids could easily parse his little books; to which, they smiled and said that the earlier grade kids could as well!! The girls’ teacher has that veteran-air and Andy and I both agreed that she can handle 6th graders, easy. They all asked just the right questions — very reassuring for Andy: the kids’ personality (Simone at the dinner table last night wanted the review of exactly how we had answered, to which Carmen chirped in with an imaginary narrative of what we might have said which was pretty much spot on!), health concerns, things they might particularly hate (a query from one of Isaac’s potential teachers) (our answer: being forced to do something; we communicated what a lovely boy Isaac is but that he is not moved by what the crowd does — no surprise that when we told him last night that no kids in his class would be wearing tie sneakers (a problem here because Isaac can’t tie his shoes and shoes come on and off so much) he said, “well, can’t I just be different?” to which Andy answered, “You’re going to be different enough already”). Andy and I were both delighted to learn that the teen set at the school is tomboyish and that the girls need to wear loose informal pants because of gym days twice a week, and Yoga the other days. This was big (nearly shocking) news to our tight jean set. So we’ll go buy some. But who knows? I have a funny feeling that the girls might come home and say that the teachers have no idea about the kids there…They sure do often think that we have no idea! A small school like this one looked so labor intensive to me. Dazzling — and our little meeting was still going at 6:30! Simone was not thrilled to learn that the new student ceremony next Saturday asks that everyone dress up in something that reveals their dreams; Simone has never liked costumes (I’m sort of with her on that one). Carmen and Isaac are ready to come as painters and I might join them. Just asked Andy for his impressions: He was surprised that all the teachers and the principal were there to meet with us at such length. Also, the school has taken even our kids’ transportation into consideration (Haejoang has helped behind the scenes on this one) and they will find an older teen to help take them home on some days when we can’t get there on time (rereading this — Oh my goodness how unhappy the girls are at this prospect: we heard no end of complaints, including from Isaac). Isaac ends some days at 2, others at 3, and he will join a first/second grade after-school program also. Let’s see. The school is cold. But warm otherwise. I feel so excited for the kids; like a first grader myself. Nervous too.
Let’s see (Mom) other kid stuff: one evening Isaac came to me to announce a discovery. I could really tell he had been mulling this one over for a while: (that now that he thinks about it) in Urbana everyone is connected to everyone else. And he went on to explain ‘degrees of separation’ — that even if we don’t know them directly, they would know someone we know. And, he’s right. Again — they aren’t reading this these days but still — the girls would wince to read this but I do think it is wonderful that living in a large metropolis afforded this “discovery” of his! The kids have really been enjoying their time with Eun-Jung, the former student of my former student (!), who knows just how to make them happy: shopping, movies, TV programs (in Korean), cooking plans+++ I am deeply indebted to her. The girls are amazed at her careful planning, detailed schedules for each meeting. I’m amazed that she wears spike heels nearly every time she comes; given the grade and quality of the hill she has to walk up to get here this is simply incredible. Yesterday, she was leaving with Isaac for Hapkido (the girls had run ahead) and she bowed to us as she always does, and Isaac bowed too (it was so instinctive and cute and they were holding hands). Again, we are lucky.
If the museums are right, and if they are peppered with hot chocolate and a good lunch, the kids are pretty tolerant. I think what they like least is anything too modern. They were happiest at the Palace Museum in Kyongbokgun (which these days is dazzling because of the clear skies and gorgeous mountain scenery); I think kids like to hear about royalty and Isaac (Oh oh praising him again) generated a whole theory of democracy, explaining to me that the difference is that Obama is from a “regular family,” and, yes, that “anyone can become president.” But meanwhile the room full of nothing but jars for royal placentas and the gorgeous GM cars that the list king was driven in etc. etc. all excited them. They even liked the exhibit about court music (Anne P. are you reading — and we talked about YOU there). And what really took us to the museum was the exhibit on the Seungnaemun (formerly Namdaemun or the South Gate) which was recently burned down by a disgruntled man displaced from his home by redevelopment — of course for Isaac that the #1 national treasure (I didn’t fully disclose that although it is indeed #1 the numbering system does not mean that it was designated the most important) was destroyed is very dramatic, and its current rebuilding noteworthy. In the elegant café there I ran into Ham Sejung who I had met there the day before (the kids thought that was quite a coincidence. The gift shop there is beautiful and I recommend it to folks over Insadong for quick (and expensive) shopping of the more traditional Korean fare. I bought the most beautiful lacquer tray for Noboru and Rika. Then we went off to a gallery (the same one we visited very soon after our arrival) next to a restaurant that had appealed to the kids last time (but we hadn’t gone). This time the gallery was housing Yu Sok-nam’s hundreds of wooden sculptures of (homeless) dogs on the streets of Seoul. We have a small sculpture of hers of a mother/daughter (in a lantern) in our entry way in Urbana and Haejoang has a small lovely little sculpture of hers here in a windowsill and I was pretty sure that the kids would hence feel “at home” amongst these works. And they did. I am not a dog fan but I love her work. She did one series of dogs and flowers (something to do with 108 Buddhist sins?) and they were (the flowers that is) beautiful. All this was followed by shopping with Eun-Jung (I went on my own way) at the Nambuk Terminal; the girls are becoming veterans who can run the shopping comparison between the Namdaemun Market, and South of the river, Koex and the Nambuk Terminal underground strips. They bought spring jackets (stylish), shirts etc. And Eun-jung found the key to Isaac’s heart: the play mobile store in the Kyobo building in Kangnam. Saved. He built a little card board house floor his new “soldier” (I never quite know what they are). (Later I found out it was a prisoner and jail master and little mice for the cell. Lovely).
[Need to pack for Japan; will write the rest from there].
I’ll save Japan for another entry but here I am in Osaka at the wooden table that pretty much is Noboru’s dining room attached to a small kitchen and it is so much home for me — I think I have spent thousands of hours here, hanging, talking, working…This is the famous table that Mrs. Murakami used to recline under after a long day and a good meal and where once Andy (who was jet-lagged) joined her under the table (Noboru tells the story to show just how relaxed his household is and how friendly his mom was) — we have it on photo! Back from skiing the kids are exhausted. NHK news in the background is reporting that Japanese universities are in trouble because of the market (and the falling population).
I went to two movies in a single week. All smiles. The first with Jin-young — blanking on the title (not wireless here) — a documentary about an elderly farming couple and a cow. The film documents the final 18 months of the cow’s life, the cow that the farmer relied on for his stubborn hand-farming. Frankly, it was dull fare, although the scenery was beautiful and the elderly man/cow cuts were somewhat poetic. The film ends with text about the suffering of “our elders to afford our lives now” — which struck me as particularly sappy and romantic. The film’s saving grace was the wife who is a bit cynical about her husband’s stubborn ways and defiant commitment to the cow and her constant reprieve, “my fate…” The second movie was with Sejung who works for Soo-Jung at Rainbow Youth (more on that in a sec): Daytime Drinking, a travel pic about a guy who finds himself in Kangwon Province and ends up at the very same seaside that we visited after we went skiing. It was interesting for capturing a sort of light-hearted helplessness of young people with few prospects.
I had fascinating morning learning about Sejung Ham’s Rainbow Youth work: she has created numerous programs to teach teachers and kids about what it means to live with North Korean refugees/immigrants. I left with a pile of little books and a DVD for teachers. It was fascinating to hear how she decided to explain to South Koreans the challenges for North Korean kids who find themselves in the South (for example, that not only are they typically put back a year but they find themselves in math classes in which they can’t understand a single problem because North Korean math does not use roman numerals, instead writing all programs in Korean (i.e., no numbers appear). She also showed me a number of books for the North Korean kids which are efforts to de-code the many illegible aspects of Korean society. It was fascinating to learn which aspects require translation: that in the South kids are legally required to attend school, that in the South not every school is necessarily doing the same thing, that most kids go to after schools…Hers is a veritable diagnosis of the cultural divides. She is about to head to the U.S. to study educational philosophy and it was interesting to learn that she felt that it was her ed philosophy background that facilitated her ability to imagine and execute these “cross-cultural” educational programs. She has applied to Urbana too… I hope she finds her way there because I think her experience in creating these first-generation programs and then guiding their enactment is pretty incredible. (I suggested that she write an article before she heads to the U.S.). That same day (my day, and did I ever use it) I ventured to Taek-Lim (who I met in Seoul in 1984 — we read Geertz together; who was I to have been helping anyone with that text at that point, but whatever…)’s Oral History Institute that she founded in the last couple of years. It was great to see her “space” and to learn about her work these years; one of the university’s library/information/archival programs is relying on her program to train their students and they send them to her! That day I also met my oil painting teacher at the South Gate Market where we lined up the equipment — much more than I imagined. Simone will join me so we had to think about what we both needed and what we could share. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous. She was very nice and I think we’ll get along well. That day I went hither/thither all over Seoul and ended up with Sejung again for Daytime Drinking where we ran into the girls who had taken care of Carmen and Simone 2 years ago when I needed to be in a meeting (that was their first trip to a Korean amusement park); the funny thing was that I had asked one of the boyfriends the way to the theatre (it was down a long alley and it seemed an unlikely place to me) and he recognized me and had been tempted to say, “Are you headed to Daytime Drinking.” They left the theatre heading for a bar (! I have to admit I could have never gone drinking after that salubrious (is that the right word?) film) and we headed to a little Chinese (steamed) dumpling shop (so yummy, just like the ones I loved in Shanghai) run by a Chinese couple that started the shop knowing NO Korean; eventually some of the guests put up signs in Korean explaining the fare and now they speak a bit. Although there have been Chinese in Korea throughout the century (and they have been active in the Chinese restaurant sector), this sort of recent immigrant shop struck me as very new (the alley to the theatre and shop is at Ankuk, heading to the library that stands on the former site of the Kyonggi High School that so many famous people and academics attended — it has now moved south the river where much of Seoul’s wealth and high fashion+++ is amassed). I had another afternoon to myself which I spent with Soo-Jung, first heading to a three-generation-show of her classmate-film director of my favorite Korean movies, Memories of Murder and The Host (this spring his new film “Mother [in English]” comes out — I can’t wait (Just read a wonderful book about him, a directors’ series published in 2008). The show (mostly his Dad’s design work) was unremarkable but from there we headed to a little coffee grinding shop in Soo-Jung’s neighborhood (we’ve been living on that coffee since) and to a fancy department store where Soo-Jung was determined to buy Isaac a simpler chocolate cake (her more elegant present of a variety of fancy cakes the other day had caused a raucous because they all vied for the simplest chocolate cake) and we settled on classic chocolate cup cakes with blue frosting (perfection for the kids). It seemed so amazing to be ambling about Seoul in a leisurely way with Soo-Jung who had taken the afternoon off from her weighty work responsibilities as the assistant director of Rainbow Youth (which houses both the North Korean immigrant youth section and a section for other immigrant youth) (their office has as amazing view of the Kyungbok Palace which of course –when I mentioned it — they said they hardly have time to notice it).
We had my old friend Pae-gu (a farmer who I met in 1987) and his family over for dinner. Only they arrived late at 8:30 (we had settled on 7:00) having eaten dinner. Thank goodness for his teen boys who were willing to eat the home-made pizzas just the same. His older boy was great with English and we had lots of fun at dinner because he was teasing his younger brother about his girlfriend who had just given him home-made chocolate for Valentine’s Day (In both Japan and Korea, it is girls who give boys presents on Valentine’s Day — go figure) (evidentially home-made chocolate is all the rage, typically by following instructions on the internet). Pae-gu’s wife joined later and we talked a bit about the U.S. and Korean agriculture (she remains active in farmers’ movements). The boys were a wonderful tonic for Isaac: they pulled Isaac all around the apartment (he was tied to his Hapkido belt) and they did all sorts of stuff on the balconies. He had so much fun but at some point he took a little fit (he had just rammed into a table), went to our room and threw up; poor kid, he ended up having a hard night and a slow Sunday where he ate nothing and looked so waif-like; Andy ventured out with the girls for another Seoul peak where they ran into scores of weekend middle aged hikers (all in perfect gear) and found themselves (even though they had headed pretty far to what we figured would be the outskirts of Seoul) surrounded by a sea of apartment buildings. They reported that I would not have liked some of the ladders so just as well (plus I would have hated seeing Isaac on some of those ladders).
The Korean ethnography group met for the first time: 7 of us doing field work in Korea. And we filmed it with my new camera (Q-ho manned the camera). We did 30 minutes apiece (having sent short documents beforehand) and it was lots of fun. Erica (UC Irvine) on Peruvians in Korea (and the church), Josie (U of I) on college film clubs, John (U of I) on gays and internet, Hae Yeon (U WI) on Filipina migrant laborers, brides and sex workers, Seo Yeong on time/space/labor at Seoul’s 24 hour Tongdaemun Market, and Euy Ryung (UNC) on multicultural discourse/NGOs. In March we will be joined by a 7th member from Rutgers studying Vietnamese in a provincial area. Since I am so used to the weekly advisee meeting, I loved the gathering. And I was delighted to learn later that some of them headed out to dinner together. It is so much fun to be able to learn about all these exciting dissertations in the making. Who knows if we will collectively decide to edit the films into something, but I’ll leave that for much later. I wasn’t too psyched about being filmed myself but we all got used to it. I felt very spoiled to have everyone come to me, but Haejoang’s place is perfect for such a meeting.
Isaac and I also had a nice visit with Chung-Kang and her 2 kids: how she is managing the kids, the final touches of her dissertation, job searching, and kid #3 in May, who knows. But she is always calm and even made us a lovely lunch. Isaac while there enjoyed the littler kids toys and company and after drawing a picture, asked for an envelope, and a while later announced to Chung-Kang that there was a letter at the door. He had her for a minute. It was cute.
Ok, winding down. I wanted to end on one encounter and I will keep the details vague. I had a very sad conversation with a woman in her early 40s. On the brink of a divorce and a government worker, she described her hopelessness: insecure about her job, she fears, she said, for her very existence; who, she mused, will care for her, feed her? What made this even sadder was that earlier in our encounter she explained that she shares nothing private with anyone other than someone connected by blood — those are the only people, she went on, who can truly share her suffering because it flows into their very bloodstream. It is commonsense to describe Koreans’ keen sense of blood-relatedness (resistance to adoption beyond the patrilineage, heightened interest in genetic determinism (prejudice against those from families with genetic proclivities to illness or disability) etc.), but I had never heard anyone voice anything quite like this and it struck me as semi-tragic. Because, nonetheless, at the end of the day she worried for her future and didn’t even mention family. Also, remarkably she had described herself as an unlikely Korean. Haejoang often talks and writes about South Korea’s weak “support system” that leaves people insecure about their futures and goes far to explain South Korea’s familism (the sense that one can only rely on family) and class reproduction anxiety (which fuels South Korea’s aggressive globalization). This woman seemed a text-book case. I was pretty shaken by the whole encounter. She also said that she often goes to sleep hoping she might not wake up in the morning. No sooner had I heard all this then it seemed that everywhere I turned massive job insecurity was making its way into the fabric of family lives. One friend mentioned thinking about liquidating their assets and heading to the countryside for a quiet life of some farming and internet-based activity. Ahh. We are all feeling the economy. Together.