Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Barbie Declares Barbie Broken.

There’s a point at which that one has to drop all their defenses and just fucking own up to the fact that they’re not okay. I almost did that on New Year’s. I’m fully doing it right now. I’m not okay. I will be okay, but I’m currently not okay. Not even a little bit.

There is a reason that I occasionally refer to Korea as LaLa Land. Canada Land is this far off place that I intermittently refer to as The Real World. In my mind, it’s a place that was supposed to remain frozen in time. Prior to my departure, I carefully distributed “Nothing of Note is to Happen until October 2008” flyers. Sadly, I didn’t do this nearly thoroughly enough. As it turns out, sometimes three and a half months is a long time. Sometimes, some things do change.

My residency in La La Land gives me the option of whether or not I want to deal with those things that are changing back home. Since my arrival in Korea three and a half months ago, some things back home have…. apparently… changed. The memos, people! Why didn’t you all get the fucking memo? Christ.

A life long friend of mine found out that she was pregnant about a month after I left. In case you hadn’t noticed by now that the sun rises in the east, I am grossly self centred. Hence, my initial reaction to this was: “Dude! I’m going to miss the whole thing!” I later dealt with this by getting inappropriately drunk in Daegu and making what should probably be considered as regrettable decisions. I mean, I still have a kidney infection to show for it! Months later! Damn you, bacteria. Damn you.

Perspective is a funny thing. I would have been just fucking dandy if my life-long friend getting pregnant was going to the biggest change to happen back home while I was in Korea. But, again: the memos! They weren’t evenly distributed! The memo distribution system is broken!

I found out Sunday morning that another friend of mine has passed away.

Passed. A. Fucking. Way.

Are you kidding me? That only happens to other people! Like, people I know sometimes know other people who died. I don’t know people who die. This has sort of been a rule of mine for, well, life. And frankly, it’s worked out fantastically for me. Not having to deal with death has been wonderful!

I don’t mean to minimize the deaths within the family that have occurred during my lifetime; I was just too young to have the privilege to have built any serious rapport with my uncle, aunt or grandmother. So, while their deaths were deeply moving events that touched many of those who are close to me, they were relatively easy for me to deal with; as far as these things can be, that is. I also don’t mean to minimize past deaths of a couple acquaintances, whom happened to be very close to friends of mine. I was certainly affected by both of those events. It’s just that I didn’t truly appreciate what it’s like to lose a friend whom you have some sort of history or rapport with until it happened to me.

And now it’s happened to me.

I’m not going to eulogize or act as if I was any closer to the deceased than is reality. While it’s come to my attention throughout the years that many people do this, that’s just not how I roll. That’s not my grieving style. Or something. Frankly, I’m not sure what my grieving style is.

I first received news after returning to Busan from a 12-hour Daegu party night. It was 10:30 in the morning. I napped. I tried to get really into a tennis match when I woke up later. It was the Australian Open Final. Novak bloody Djokovic, my second favourite player (behind the mighty Nadal, of course), was on the brink of his first Grand Slam title. And I didn’t care. I tried to care. I really did. This is generally the sort of thing that has me sitting directly in front of the television screen and fist-pumping over amazing points. Those of you haven’t been exposed to Tennis Fan Barbie maybe grossly confused to learn that she occasionally embraces her inner jock in this manner, but it totally happens! I followed up the match with some coffee with a friend. I had to get out of the apartment. I felt tears and didn’t want them to flow. The next day was my first day of the work week. I decided that there was no time like Monday night to go drinking until 4am. Prior to meeting a couple of my Busan friends, both of whom have somehow avoided a tacky Barbie nickname, I purchased nail polish from 4 different stores. Within 15 minutes. I don’t even like painting my nails.

And now it’s Tuesday. Okay, it's actually Wednesday at this point. Whatever. I went out drinking. Again. With the same friends, plus two. Among other things, they put up with my whipping out the obituary over drinks. Who does that? Apparently I do. I received an email at work today with the obituary attached. I printed it off, put it in my purse, and glanced at it over drinks at the bar. Who does that? I’m not really sure what else to do with it at this point. Do I leave it in my purse? Throw it out? Put it with my other important papers at my apartment? Somehow, it’s easiest to just leave it in my purse.

Given my lack of experience when it comes to dealing with death, I’m unsure as to where exactly I’m supposed to go from here. Do I reevaluate? Didn’t I just fucking do that at New Year’s? Do I reevaluate again? I chatted with the friend who passed away just one week ago, and we both concluded that what I was currently doing was awesome. I am living my life to the fullest, more or less. I should probably take better care of my health and not lean on the bottle for support so much. Aside from that, I’m not sure which way to lean.

I will find a way. Somewhere, there is Direction just waiting for me to find it. Right? Of course.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Big White Barbie Doesn't Do Sick; Only Denial

I followed up another weekend trip to Daegu with another visit to the hospital. For once, these two things were unrelated. Well, this particular trip to Daegu was not the root cause of the hospital visit. I hadn’t felt like my usual fantastic self for at least a couple of weeks, what with the nagging chest pains and all, but decided that rest was for quitters and went to Daegu anyways. No! I wasn’t sick! Everything was A-OK! Yes, I’m a little bit of thick. “25 Wise Choices for a Healthier Lifestyle” is not a title that I’m likely to author; possibly because that would be a terrible title, and I refuse to associate myself with anything less than awesome. Self Help books tend to have awful titles and be significantly less than awesome. More on how I hate Self Help books another day.

This past weekend’s excuse for going to Daegu was a birthday party for a friend of mine. She was actually more of a friend’s friend, but I happen to consider every other whitey in Korea my new best friend for life. Hence, my not attending would have been grossly inappropriate. I had decided that I would make an appearance sometime after dinner and then disappear sometime after 3am. Unless “taking a nap at 9am on somebody’s couch” can pass for “sometime after 3am”, I deviated from The Plan.

The Plan had been to make Friday a relatively early night so that I’d be fresh for the ice skating plans which had been arranged for Saturday, after which I was to return to Busan for dinner and a trip to the hospital. I had accepted that I needed to go to the hospital; I just didn’t consider it to be an urgent matter. Surely that surging pain on the upper left side would take care of itself after a few beers, right? So, as per usual, The Plan and I did not see eye to eye. Something had to give. I never lose, so The Plan had to go.

I was woken up around 11am by a new Daegu friend, who was calling to see if I was interested in grabbing some lunch. I most certainly would have been up for lunch if I hadn’t already made plans to go ice skating at that time. I am always up for lunch! I’m rarely up for ice skating. I certainly wasn’t up for ice skating when The Hoover called me at 11:30am to see if I was still coming. So, I ignored the vibrations of my cell and continued my pathetic slumber. The Hoover had suggested the night before that I might end up being too hung over to join. While she was probably right, I wasn’t in the mood to be That Drunk this weekend. So, when the clock struck 12 I rolled over, glared at it for a moment, and then rolled off the couch. Then I moved three feet over to a chair and sent The Hoover a text to indicate that I was So! Totally! Up! For! Skating! A hobo-shower later and this slumber eventually made its way into a cab downtown to meet The Hoover.

Ice skating! It was going to happen! And it totally did! Somehow it slipped my mind until I was standing on the ice that I had really never bothered to learn how to skate during my youth. I stood there gingerly for a moment before remembering that I will always have my remarkable athletic talents to fall back on. These “remarkable athletic talents” which I refer to are also known by fans of hockey and figure skating as “the boards”.

Somehow my folly ice skating venture became coffee, which in turn became dinner. By the time I returned to the core of Daegu it was almost 7:30pm. My options at this point were to catch the train home and just see a bloody doctor already, or wait until 9:30 to have coffee with SGTF then see how the rest of the night played out. Given that the former would have been the wise choice, I decided that continuing to ignore my ailing chest pains would be the best course of action. Going to the hospital is for sick people! I wasn’t sick!

When I finally left Daegu at 6am Sunday morning, I wished that I had accepted something was wrong and simply gone to the hospital a week earlier. Even then, I still wasn’t quite ready to find out what was eating me. Upon returning to my apartment in Busan I did the next best thing to going to the hospital: I slept. All day. It was fantastic. And how was that nagging chest pain after a solid 8 hour nap? Still there, now working its way around to the back. Fantastic!

Multiple posts on my multiple hospital visits this week will follow, whenever it is that I’m not too tired to write them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Big White Barbie, The Boss Man, and the Heating Incident

The Boss Man decided that a highly effective means of boosting employee morale would be to announce that all staff meals are to be eaten in the only room in the building without a functioning heater. We had abandoned this classroom in early November for this very reason.

My school, also known as “Barbie Hagwon”, stretches between two buildings. The first building is where the office and abandoned classroom are. The second building houses the remaining classrooms and a common room, all of which have semi-functioning heaters. Now, moving us to the common room would have made a good deal of sense. To me. And only me, apparently. Despite there being no more than 2-3 classes going on simultaneously after 6pm, The Boss Man decided that instead of using one of other 4 classrooms or the common room, that it’s about damn time we start using that other classroom again! You know, the one with the broken heater! While I understand his desire to not let an entire freezing room go to waste, I don’t quite follow how this led him to conclude that there is no time like the present to start spending more time in there. I was thinking that it might be a nice spot to start keeping my drinks. But no! The heater will fix itself! Right?

Due to the monumental stupidity of this idea, I decided that I would start going to the kimbap restaurant down the street for dinner. Unfortunately, this will only fly Monday and Wednesday when I have a two hour break between my evening classes. I advised the secretary to tell The Boss Man that I would no longer be coming in to work 45 minutes before class on the other days. Given that I spend the first half hour of that eating my lunch, scratching my ass, and posing as the Requisite White Face, it now makes more sense to pass on the take-out and just eat my meal in the restaurant before work. It’s been my observation that restaurants tend to have heated rooms. The secretary giggled and advised me that he was working on the heating issue. Colour me unconvinced.

The first Monday that we were ordered to eat in The Cold Room I went down the street to eat as planned. Upon my return, I found that the office smelled suspiciously like kimchi. I asked one of my coworkers how eating in The Cold Room went; this was my passive-aggressive way of asking why they weren’t eating in The Cold Room. It’s been my finding that this is far more effective than the more direct approach that I’m accustomed to. My coworker advised me that they had started their meal in The Cold Room, but in the midst of enjoying a delicious meal of whatever-they-were-eating, the heater apparently fell off the wall and nearly took one of them out on the way down. Imagine my surprise! I did my best to conceal that I was dying laughing on the inside and ensured that nobody had been knocked out or lit on fire. My coworker assured me that everybody was just dandy and that the heating issue had since been resolved.

Colour me unconvinced.

Big White Barbie: 2
The Boss Man: -1

Unfortunately, even though I was entirely correct that eating in The Cold Room was an absolutely ridiculous plan, it's The Boss Man's hagwon. Hence, he gets the final say on these matters, so the ridiculous plan will continue to be implemented. Until the building goes up in flames or somebody is fatally wounded, that is. His inability to admit he was mistaken and come up with a better plan has resulted in him being deducted a point on the Big White Barbie Scoreboard.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Barbie Doesn't Actually Do Busan


To add to my growing collection of atrocious habits, I’ve more or less stopped spending my weekends in Busan. In addition to drinking excessively, spending impulsively, and regularly referring to myself in the third person, I seem to have developed a serious Daegu problem. I can’t actually recall the last week that didn’t somehow involve my ending up there. I believe that it was early December. It’s getting to the point that a couple members of my diminishing pool of friends in Busan have actually asked to join me in Daegu for the weekend; as if really awesome things actually go down there or something. If only it were that simple.

Prior to my days as Big White Barbie, I lived a rather meager existence in a rather meager small town. It was your typical Southern Ontario hockey town (it probably still is, but as far as I’m concerned nothing actually happens or exists when I’m not a part of it). For every beer-league hockey player trying to grope you at the bar, there was a glorious mullet eyeing you up on the city bus. The only demographic more represented than white trash were the elderly. Every other corner sported an old age home. Right around the corner from that one could usually find a group home of some sort. The most exciting thing that happened to the city in my lifetime was probably the flood of 2004; that or hosting the Memorial Cup in 1996. In other words, Barbie’s hometown is pretty fucking vanilla.

I am positively Small Town. One of my friends in Busan scoffs at me when I say this, rolls her eyes and says: “Upper Canadians”. Apparently a population of 75 000 can only be classified as a small town in Canada if you live in Southern Ontario. Well, excuse me. I can’t help it if the rest of Canada is broken. On the flip side, Busan is a very large city. Variety is plentiful here; just about anything I could want to eat or buy can be found. Should I wish to make more foreign friends, Busan boasts several different areas where I can easily find other Talking Monkeys. Several. Different. Areas. There lies the problem. You mean that I have to go to different areas of town?! And that some parts of town are dead on certain nights of the week? And… and… there are actually people that refuse to leave their part of town, because they happen to think that Haeundae/ Kyungsung University/ Pusan National University/ Seomyeon is such a Big Deal that it’s the only part of Busan worth spending any time in? Lame. Count me out.

Enter Daegu.

Boasting a population of nearly 2.5 million, Daegu is not by any stretch of the imagination a small town. Yet, unlike Busan, Daegu actually has one well defined central commercial core. As a result of this, the foreigner community in Daegu is far more tightly knit than Busan’s. The second time that I went to Daegu I recognized numerous people that I had met the last time I was there. I can socialize in Busan for weeks and not have this happen, should I so desire. While it’s occasionally beneficial to duck people, it’s not something that I’m really accustomed to doing. Being Small Town Girl and all, I’m used to running into every undesirable personality that I’ve ever come across, each and every time I leave the house. There is comfort in familiarity; even if that familiarity is occasionally unsavory.

Essentially, my Daegu Problem began with the comfort I found from the small-town feel that I get from Daegu. Combine this with the fact that I’ve now established a really good group of female friends there, and The Daegu Problem doesn’t appear to have an end in sight.

Until the Summer, that is. And by Summer, I mean Spring. Busan has 23423 beaches. As soon as it's hot enough to dress inappropriately and jump in, I'm there. At that point I’m going to have to get used to the idea of my friends sleeping on my floor. It’s the least I can do after months of crashing with them in Daegu. I might even be nice and get them a floor mat thingy! Maybe. Hospitality has never been one of my strong points, years of employment in customer service be damned.

So, until the weather gets hot, the title of my blog is a total farce. Aside from my moniker, of course. So long as I'm in Korea, I will always be Big White Barbie.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Barbie Receives January Hours; Has a Conniption

Every month I receive a new class schedule from The Boss Man. More often than not it looks eerily similar to the last. Until this month, that is. Public schools in Korea are closed for holidays until after the Lunar New Year in February. Yet, enrollment at my hagwon is down slightly from the past two months. The other “native English speaker” at my school is no longer working for us. The result? My hours for the month of January are total balls.

I have previously boasted about how awesome it is to get paid full-time for a part-time gig. I used to spend 25-30 hours per week at my school, thanks largely to my classes falling back-to-back-to-back rather than slipping between numerous breaks. This month, The Boss Man decided that it would be awesome to give me two breaks on Mondays and Wednesdays, with two hours falling between my second to last and last classes on each of these days. Rather than spending 5-7 hours per day at work, I now have to spend 8-9 hours. Except on Fridays, where I get off an hour earlier in exchange for showing up to teach yet another room of 5 year old Munchkins. Needless to say, I am less than thrilled with this arrangement. 8-9 hour work days? Are you fucking kidding me? Who works these kinds of hours?! Shut up, Canada. This is exactly why we broke up. If I wanted a real job with real hours I wouldn’t have degraded myself to the level of Talking Monkey and come to Korea in the first place.

Fortunately, other people associated with my hagwon are far more screwed than I am. Because it’s perfectly natural and healthy to find comfort in knowing that other people’s lives suck considerably more than yours! The other “native English speaker” at my school is, as it was initially explained to me, “no longer with us”. After about five minutes of digging I determined that she was actually fired, apparently as a result of low enrollment. One of these days I may point out that “she is no longer with us” is a grossly inappropriate way of delivering this news. Regardless, she was probably fired at least in part for being confrontational and taking a week off to go to Seoul in December. The reality of Korea is that she’s not White, so it’s much harder for her to pull that stuff off; especially when she’s only part time, and not the only “native English speaker”. That and this was just one of several jobs that she was floating. Probably illegally. A pity that she’s gone, as I was planning on using that as collateral should The Boss man ever try to pull anything shifty my way. The Boss Man has his reasons for not being amused at the thought of his Big White Barbie going to the Ministry of Labour. Now, one of those reasons is gone. Sniff.

While this had nothing to do with her firing, her credentials as a “native English speaker” are highly doubtful to anybody that actually has an ear for the language. In other words, I’m the only one in the building that could possibly have picked up on this. Apparently I’m the only one in several buildings that noticed, or she wouldn’t have been floating three different jobs. Let’s just say that there is no where in the English speaking world that one develops an accent like hers. When I first met her, she informed me that she was from Oregon, just outside of Portland. I immediately wanted to call bullshit on this, but thought better of it. It was my first week and it was probably not best to stir the pot with the only other “native English speaker” in the building. I have it stuck in my head that she speaks English with a faint Russian accent, but the truth is that I haven’t a clue what the origins of her accent are. I just know that it sure as fuck isn’t the USA. Or Canada. Or anywhere else that English is the predominant language.

As if Native English Speaker getting fired wasn’t enough to make me feel better about my craptacular hours this month, it turns out that all of the teachers whom haven’t been fire yet are totally screwed too! Isn’t that fantastic? They’re even more fucked than I am! My Korean co-teachers, who already work 5 times harder than I do, have to pick up the slack that is left from Native English Teacher’s departure. I generally teach far more classes than they do. This month, they’re teaching the same number of classes. So while I sit around on break and between classes, marveling at the ease of being a Talking Monkey for Hire, they are busy prepping, calling parents, and grading. Despite my being a total dick at the moment and taking comfort in their misery, I do feel badly for them. I sincerely hope that The Boss Man hires another teacher for next month so that my poor coworkers and friends don’t get burnt out.

The long and the short of this is that my January is going to be total balls. I have to get up earlier, stay at the school longer, and even pull the occasional Saturday. The good news is that the Lunar New Year is right around the corner, at which point I will have a full 5 days off to act like a complete moron again. I didn’t do that nearly enough during my first winter vacation! Big White Barbie Spends Winter Vacation on an Embarrassing Drunken Rampage: The Sequel. Then, I will be able to recover from my Lunar New Year holiday hang over with later start times and shorter working hours, as my hagwon will be back on it’s regular timetable. Ah. Relief.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Before Big White Barbie There Was… Well, Not Much

Big White Barbie is Bad Decision Bear. My 2007 is most aptly summed up as the Year of Regrettable Decisions. My first ill advised attempt to turn my year around was to quit The Job From Hell in April without bothering to secure further employment. Naturally this was followed up with another 3 craptacular jobs between May and September. At some point I actually attempted dating a guy who had no idea who Anne Frank was. How does that even happen? I tried to rectify this by later sleeping with a second guy whose sole purpose of being in Korea is seemingly to nail as many women as possible. Welcome to my reality. Numerous so-called friendships that really should never have been in the first place completely fell apart. I contracted shingles in March, because apparently I’m 75 years old. Friendships that I believed were true were abruptly ended without explanation. I completely lost the plot.

A review of The Year of Regrettable Decisions reveals only one good choice that stands out. After years of dreaming followed by months of planning my escape, I hopped on a plane to South Korea with 300 bucks in my pocket and not a penny further to my name. Somehow in the midst of a year littered with stupidity I managed to pull of the most ridiculous, yet awesome stunt of my life.

In a world where every other foreigner you meet has an equally awesome story to tell, it’s very easy to lose sight of the courage and head strong ambition that we all required to get us here in the fist place. Or a sense of desperation and the flare for insanity, I suppose. We’re all motivated by different things. Some of us have massive debts back home which our not-so-fancy degrees have done little to help us pay off. Others just want to travel and experience a new culture. Some are in flux and hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time! Others still weren’t happy at home and are trying to run far far away from the one thing that they can’t escape in this life: themselves. Most of the people whom I’ve encountered here have come for a combination of reasons, some of which I have failed to even touch upon here. As for me, the day that I learned I could each overseas once I had a university degree was the day that I decided I would eventually do something like this. I chose Korea as my location because I was dirt poor and have mounds of debt weighing me down in Canada Land. I decided to come when I did because I felt that I had absolutely nothing left to lose. There was simply no time like the present to try to turn my life around and become The Big Deal that I’ve always imagined myself to be.

I naively expected that I could come to Korea and instantaneously become The Awesome Force that my Ideal Self happens to be. Sadly, it never quite works out that way. The Atlantic Ocean isn’t quite the vacuum of negativity, insecurity, and unfortunate memories that I had hoped. Much to my disappointment, I arrived in Korea every bit the tragically flawed, quirky character that I was when I left home. I still drank like a sieve. I spent impulsively. I chased men whom had as much respect for me as I had for myself. I befriended anybody who would smile my way. I pitifully pandered for acceptance at every given opportunity. The result is that rather than become closer to my Ideal Self, I’ve morphed into some sort of exaggerated, cartoon version of myself. While this undoubtedly makes me wildly entertaining to others, it does little for self improvement.

I rarely make serious New Year’s resolutions. For one thing, if I happen to remember my resolution in the first place, I rarely follow through with it. For another, I find it rather meaningless to make a promise to myself for no better reason than it being a particular date on the calendar. This year I will make an exception and not only make a resolution, but share it with those you unfortunate enough to have waded through my tripe long enough to make it to this point in the post. Somewhere between my Ideal Self and the cartoon that is Big White Barbie there is a realistic, attainable compromise. To reach this, I’ll face my biggest challenge yet. Not just anybody will hop on a plane to Nowhere with a few hundred bucks in hand; fewer of us still will ever know what it is to truly love oneself. I’ve demonstrated to myself that I’m clearly capable of the former. In a world where so many of us are swimming in a sea of self loathing, learning to love myself will undoubtedly do little to cure the insomnia. Yet, I'm willing to give anything a try. That's how I roll. Wish me luck and I'll buy the next round.