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A Few Odds and Ends

Frogs

I’ve discovered, uncomfortably, that various large bullfrogs (perhaps it’s the same one) like to take up residence in my sneakers. A few times I’ve jammed my foot into them only to come up against an obstruction in the toe of the shoe. After a few times of inadvertently squashing the Kermits (not harmfully), I started to look into the shoes before putting them on. Several times I found frogs hiding in the inner recessess. I always go outside and shake them out and send them on their way, but they always come back. Now, I fold down the tongues and stuff the dirty socks into the heel. That’s kept them out, so now they’ve taken to hiding in Nai’s shoes. I haven’t told him yet that they’re doing that. He hasn’t worn this particular pair of shoes in quite some time, so I’m waiting for the day he puts his feet into them and makes a surprising discovery! I can be a stinker, sometimes.

This is kind of what the frogs look like.

frog2

Perhaps I should buy them their own pair of customized shoes.

frog shoes

 

LoTRO

Yessss! I’ve discovered that I CAN play Lord of The Rings Online from The Farm. The connection is very spotty and I lose it quite often while I’m playing, but at times I can play for several hours without a glitch. The slow connection means that there can be quite a time lag, with the action on the screen being very choppy, and at times unplayable. But, still, it exceeds my best hopes and better still is that there isn’t that big of a download; most of the graphics are already on the main game that I downloaded a month or so ago. Addiction, thy name is LoTRO.

Frogmorton in the Shire at night from a nearby ridge.

Frogmorton in the Shire at night from a nearby ridge.

The far northern region of Forochel with the Aurora Borealis glowing brightly.

The far northern region of Forochel with the Aurora Borealis glowing brightly.

The forbidding Barad Gularan in the Angmar region.

The forbidding Barad Gularan in the Angmar region.

Rain on Friday

This is supposed to be the dry season, but a few Fridays ago, I got severely drenched from a long downpour as I rode the motorbike into Vientiane to work. It looked like it might rain before I left The Farm, so I packed an extra pair of socks and underwear, just in case. I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t have gotten wetter if I had jumped fully clothed into a swimming pool. I always keep a set of “teacher clothes” at my desk, so, after changing, I left the wet blue jeans, shirt and sneakers in the motorbike basket. The very heavy rain continued for a couple of hours, as much of a downpour as anything we had during the wet season. It hasn’t rained since then.

LoTRO Ecstasy

I’ve written before that I’m, more or less, an addict of the Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO) role-playing game (See the Blogroll on the right). When I worked in Korea, I played, if work didn’t interfere, up to 3 or 4 hours a day (longer in the cold winter months), and I at least logged in just about every day. I really immersed myself in the 6 characters that I created. I was living life in Middle Earth as, variously, a couple of elves, a couple of men, a hobbit and a dwarf. The graphics in the game are incredible, the best I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t in a hurry to try to get to the highest possible level because the immersion factor and the attention to the details of Tolkien’s books are superb, in my opinion. In other words, it wasn’t the destination, but the journey that was important.

Hobbiton

Looking at part of Hobbiton, The Shire.

Michel Delving

Another part of The Shire. Michel Delving, I believe.

I knew, however, that when I moved to Laos, a country with poor Internet conditions, I would probably have to give up the game. The download speeds would be slow and connection would be spotty. For the most part I was right. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that there are places where the download speeds might be fast enough to play the game. I thought that I’d give it a try.

My first big concern was downloading the game files to my laptop. My old computer, with the game already on it, had been stolen about a month after I got here, so I had to get the files to my new laptop. The game is huge, and a complete download is 13.5 gigabytes. With a slow connection that was going to take a LOT of time. Perhaps, I thought, I could go into Thailand, where speeds are faster, and download it there. Then I discovered that the school’s wi-fi connection allowed speeds of up to 1 Mb/s (megabyte per second) when there weren’t too many other teachers around that were using the connection. That would be early on Saturday mornings and during the weekdays. I tried it, and after a few weeks I got the complete download this past Tuesday!

The other concern was being able to actually play it. It’s very graphics intensive, so I still needed those quick download speeds. Now, I’m not about to sit at my desk, in full view of all the other teachers, and play LoTRO in my spare time, so I needed to find another place to play. I wondered if the various cafes and restaurants that offer free wi-fi would have good connections.

I went to a coffee shop near the school and, after getting the wi-fi password, I logged into the game. I was quite nervous–is the connection fast enough, will other stumbling blocks show up? After a few minutes, voila, I was in. All my characters were still there with all their upgrades I had earned along with the house I had purchased with in-game (not real) money. Yes, you can buy a house in the game to store all the trophies and loot you’ve found, and you can decorate the inside and outside with a variety of Middle-Earth furniture and lawn decorations.

My house in Middle Earth

My house in Middle Earth

View from house

Looking out at the view from my house.

I am in Seventh Heaven! I won’t be able to play every day, and I’ll only be able to play for a couple of hours on those days that I can play. For starters, that’s good enough for me.

Eventually, though, I know I’ll want to increase my playing time. The Internet that I’m able to get at The Farm sucks, in a word. I’m barely able to read email and check the weather. But, Nai’s brother, Pui, works for one of the providers that install the Internet into homes. I talked to him several months ago about the feasibility of installing it at The Farm. He said it could be done, but it would cost around $450. That was too expensive, in my opinion, but now that expense seems smaller in light of the fact that I can play LoTRO again. I’m going to talk to him again the next time I see him and ask about monthly fees, download speeds and download limits. If everything is even just minimally optimal, I’m going to have it installed.

At any rate, for now, I’m ecstatic! Are there any LoTRO players among my loyal readers? Let me know with a comment, please.

By the way, the game is free to play (F2P). There are options to pay real money (not that much) for some nice enhancements, but if you’re not inclined to do that, you can still get an amazing game experience without paying a dime. I’m sure that if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll be quite impressed, and even if you’re not a fan, you may still be bowled over.

Rivendell

A view of part of Rivendell

The Farm’s Population Increases

We’ve had some new additions to The Farm’s extended family recently. Six new puppies have arrived to make our lives a bit more enjoyable. They’re only a few weeks old, so their mischievous phase is still ahead. Here’s one of the youngsters; the other five rascals were running around somewhere, so I’ll get their snapshots later. Nai’s dog, Lucky, is none to pleased with the imps, and he nips at them if they invade his personal space too much. Most of the pups will be given away, but I suppose that one or two might be kept around.

puppy

New puppy at The Farm with his new chew toy.

puppy

New member of the extended family at The Farm.

Sorry about the paucity of posts in the past few months. No excuses. I’ll try to get up to speed in the next few weeks.

In an Ideal Communist Country . . .

I read the English version of the Vientiane Times about once or twice a week. On one of the inside pages is a section devoted to what is being written in other Laos newspapers, translated into English. One of the papers is the Pathet Lao Daily, which I assume is an organ of the Communist Party here.

About 10 days ago, the Times quoted the Pathet Lao Daily ranting about the music that was played at gatherings during the recent New Year celebrations. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the article, but the Daily wrote, more or less, that a large percentage of the music being played at parties was Thai, when the rule is that people must play at least 70% Lao music.

I think I might have laughed out loud when I read this. The article went on to explain that people weren’t being patriotic enough in their choice of music. I don’t think patriotism should be the issue. Perhaps Lao music sucks compared to Thai music. (It does.) The ruling class might be quivering in their boots that choice of music might spell doom for the regime. Kind of hearkens back to when Elvis Presley was reviled for his hip-shakin’ style. Do you oldsters remember? I do. More later.

Death on the Mekong Update

Here’s an update on the death I reported in my previous post.

The death was reported last Thursdy evening, and the search for the body continued for several days. Meanwhile, at the house of the deceased, dozens of mourners visited over the weekend. I went there on a few evenings to join the 20 or so people who gathered at any one time of the day. The mood was anything but somber. Folks were drinking Beer Lao, of course, talking and laughing, playing cards and generally having a good time. It must have resembled an Irish wake, but there was still no body.

Dawn came grey and pale on Monday, the sun shrouded by a thin overcast. I was up about 6:30, drinking coffee and plotting revenge against the early-crowing roosters. There was a flurry of activity as first one of Nai’s sister’s husbands and then another scrambled for their motorbikes and raced away. My first thought was that the body had been found and indeed it had.

The two husbands, one of Nai’s brothers and many of the workmen had been searching for the body the past several days, and finally, that morning they’d been successful. Nai and I hurried off on his motorbike and joined the throng of people at the work site, which is only about three kilometers from Nai’s house. The body hadn’t drifted downstream after all, but had remained where it had fallen. The Mekong is very muddy around this area because of the dredging operations, so the search had taken some time.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that the man had walked to one of the smaller dredge boats across a narrow pontoon bridge consisting of a large plastic or metal pipe. No body else saw him go out there. He must have slipped and fallen at some point, struck his head against the pipe or boat, and gotten knocked unconscious as he sank beneath the water. By the time his absence was noticed, it was too late.

The body, unnaturally white and grotesquely bloated, had been placed on the shore. As I watched, a couple of the men wrapped it in a clear plastic tarp, wrapped it again in a blanket and tied the bundle with strips of white cloth. Plastic bags filled with the dead man’s possessions were placed next to the bundle, and some of the men lined the corpse with unlit incense sticks. A few other men poured several bottles of water over the mound, I suppose as an act of purification.

Then there was a wait of about an hour, so all the relatives and friends, far from being downcast, sat around and talked and smiled and laughed. Curious people of all stripes, including a lot of school kids in their uniforms, came and left. Finally, a brown wooden box, the same color as the soil along the river, was brought to the site. The corpse was placed into it and the top was nailed shut. Then half a dozen men carried it about 100 meters to a large pyre composed of dried brown driftwood and old, dusty truck tires. The driftwood nearly perfectly matched the color of the casket. The box was placed on the ground and the top was removed. Mourners, many in tears, gathered around the body as the man’s possessions were stuffed into the casket. Some people placed money inside. Nai pointed out the dead man’s father. He was grey-haired, about 60, and his handsome, wrinkled face was covered in tears. I was about ready to burst out myself.

The cover was then nailed shut again, and the box was placed on top of the wood. All the mourners picked up an orange flower from a pile that seemed to appear out of nowhere, and we tossed them onto the pyre. One of the younger guys doused the wood and tires with gasoline, someone touched a flaming piece of wood to several areas on the pyre and the whole thing burst into flames, black smoke billowing into the sky. Dredging operations several hundred yards up and down stream from us continued unabated. We watched for awhile, then hopped on the motorbike and departed the area. Back at Nai’s house, I could still see the smoke, dark against the pale sky.

Because it would have been completely tasteless of me to run around taking photos of the people and the wrapped body, I only snapped off one shot, and this only after I saw others taking pictures with their cellphones. Here’s a view of the cremation and the watchers. It was all pretty sad, but, curiously, not morbid or overly mournful. This had not been a ritual. The Buddhist rites had been carried out at a nearby temple a few days earlier while I was still in Vientiane. This was, it seemed to me, a process to dispose of the body in a respectful manner.

cremation

The body is cremated

While I was living in Korea, I talked to Nai almost daily. It seems that at least once, sometimes twice a month there was a death, either of a cousin or of an acquaintance in the neighborhood. Most of the deaths were of older folks, but occasionally one of the younger ones died. The people around here seem to live with dying on a continual basis. I think the Buddhist principle of the impermanence of everything helps see them through these trying affairs. Let’s hope that there are no more deaths in the extended family for a long while.

In Laos

I’m heading back out to my friend Nai’s farm, which is about 10 kilometers outside Vientiane. I’ve been in Laos for about a week now. I was at The Farm for a few days, and then I came into Vientiane to look for a job.

I became a “farmer” at Nai’s place. One day I helped to twist the stems and leaves off of red and green cherry tomatoes. Thousands and thousands of cherry tomatoes. I helped out for about three hours on a hot afternoon, sitting under the shade of a tree, twisting and pulling and culling. There were several family members and neighbors pitching in also. It was boring work, but satisfying. Nai’s sister took all the tomatoes to the morning market in Vientiane, where they were bought in quantity by restaurant owners. Nai told me that they use them in making papaya salad, a staple dish that’s generally served at every meal.

The next day was Green Onion Day. Again, uncountable numbers of green onions. Nai and other family members went into the fields early in the morning and harvested the crop, then hauled it to the house on two-wheeled pushcarts. I was alerted that they had arrived by the aromatic smell of green onions floating on the breeze throughout the family compound. It’s quite a wonderful odor. They spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon pulling the debris and outer skin from each onion. I was going to join in, but this chore required some expertise, so I sat this one out.

The last three days I’ve been in Vientiane, and I’m pretty sure that I got a job working at one of the local colleges. I’ll find out this coming Tuesday. The director is going to phone me and let me know what he might have open for me. I won’t say any more about the job until I officially get it.

So, I’ll be out of Internet and email contact until the middle of next week. I’m taking a bus to the Friendship Bridge around noon today, which is the border-crossing point over the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand. Then, I’m going to give Nai a call and have him pick me up on his motorbike. The Farm isn’t too far away from the bridge. I talked to Nai earlier this morning to let him know my plans. He was harvesting more green onions.

Lumphini Park Becomes Lumphini Camp

Joggers and other users of Bangkok’s Lumphini Park were complaining that their use of the area was being hindered by the protesters camped there. That obstruction is probably going to change, but it’s going to get worse. The leaders of the protest decided to close all the other protest sites, unblock the roads and move all activities to the park.

I walked to the park late Sunday morning and got in the middle of the thousands of people setting up camp, listening to speeches, waiting in food lines and lazing in the shade to escape the hot sun. Compared to the park yesterday, this is a huge change. My guess is that nobody will be able to use the park for activities like jogging, bicycle riding, or outdoor aerobics classes.

Saturday, I strolled to more remote areas of the park, and there were still some pockets of quiet and serenity in the lush landscape of tropical trees and flowers.

Flowers in Lumphini Park

Just a few of the hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs in Lumphini Park

Chinese Pavilion at Lumphini

This is the Chinese Pavilion in Lumphini. It was an oasis amid the chaotic areas.

Chinese Pavilion, Lumphini Park

Here’s a better view of the Chinese Pavilion.

Even in some of the tent encampments the scene was peaceful, almost serene.

Tents along a stream at Lumphini Park

A tent area along one of the many watercourses in the park.

That peacefulness is gone, I suspect. Throughout the park, hundreds of new tents have been erected with the arrival of protesters from the other sites. I wish everyone well, but I’m afraid they’re not making any friends with the other users of the park.

Protesters at Lumpini Park, Bangkok.

Just a small part of the many protesters at Lumpini Park, listening to speeches.

The mood, though, remains festive, almost like Mardi Gras, with people wearing smiles along with costumes and accessories that proclaim their involvement. Here are a few of them.

Protesters at Lumphini Park.

Protesters at Lumphini Park.

Flag waver at Lumphini Park protest.

Flag waver at Lumphini Park protest.

Protesters at Lumphini Park

More people enjoying the day, sitting in the shade.

Protesters at Lumphini Park

I don’t know what the pink flags signify. Perhaps they’re one of the royal colors.

Coffee cup tuk-tuk.

Care for a BIG cup of coffee? Here, volunteers are dispensing coffee to protesters.

Foreign expats are involved, also. A German resident of Bangkok and his wife are outfitted appropriately.

German man and wife at Bangkok protests.

Ready to entertain the multitudes, a German resident and his wife join the protesters.

I entered the area again on Sunday night, and the number of people had dramatically increased from that morning. Thousands more protesters had arrived from the now-closed sites, and walking around near the stage was almost impossible. I was squashed from both sides in a slow moving line that was going nowhere in particular. At the first opportunity, I bailed out into an open area. Taking photos was equally difficult. The one below shows the main stage, but it doesn’t quite give the impression of the large crowd.

Night photo of crowd of protesters at Lumphini Park.

Part of the large crowd of protesters at Lumphini Park. I felt a small triumph that I was able to free myself from the crush of people to take this shot.

I was able to work my way to another exit from the park, just down the road from the subway station. I walked back to the main intersection of Silom and Rama IV roads. As you can see, traffic is back to normal. No more casual strolling down the middle of the street.

Intersection of Silom and Rama IV roads.

The intersection of Silom and Rama IV roads. This is where the main stage of the Lumphini protest was located. Now it’s in the park itself.

That was my brush with the protest areas in Bangkok. It seemed a different kind of protest from the ones in which people were killed in the violence. I hope we don’t see news headlines like that again.

Bangkok Under Protest

I was tired after arriving in Bangkok, so I stayed near the Silom City Hotel and ate at the small food street nearby, Silom Soi 20. There are several items I need to buy in Bangkok, items I didn’t feel like hauling with me, like some new running shoes, new shirts and t-shirts and other odds and ends. I’ll be here until March 3rd, so I started my shopping errands yesterday, Friday the 28th.

But first, my biggest goal was to find some of the protest sites where the anti-government opposition was holding court, threatening to shut down Bangkok. I don’t think they ever really shut it down, but several of the busiest avenues in Bangkok were turned into walking streets, closed to the usual heavy traffic of cars, buses, tuk-tuks and motorbikes.

I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, I’d read about the tragic deaths that had recently occurred, but I’d also read that the demonstrations were mainly peaceful. I had to go to Hualamphong train station to buy a ticket to Nongkhai, where I’ll be heading on March 3rd on the overnight sleeper. So, I decided to walk the few kilometers to the subway near Lumphini Park, one of the biggest protest areas, and take the short ride to Hualamphong in air-conditioned comfort.

I had no idea how big the protest area would be, so I walked along expecting the sidewalks to be jammed with people and the road to be impassable with a permanent traffic jam. In actuality, you don’t really notice the protest site until you get close to Lumphini Park, near the subway station. Silom Road is closed to traffic for about half a kilometer before the park, so it’s easy to avoid the normally crowded sidewalks, jammed with vendors, by walking down the middle of Silom, an unusual experience on this heavily traveled road. You can also walk above the crowd on the overhead walkway, which is what I first did. Here are a few photos from the walkway.

No traffic on Silom Road

An unusual sight–no traffic on Silom Road, blocked by protesters.

A quiet Silom Road

This is a view down the other direction of Silom. The tire barricade and the black netting mark the entrance to the protest site.

Food vendors on Silom Road

Food vendors are set up all along the road, taking advantage of the large crowds.

Silom Road vendors

More vendors along closed-to-traffic Silom Road.

The atmosphere of the protest was more that of a street fair than a demonstration against the current government. In addition to the usual assortment of vendors on the sidewalks, lining Silom on both sides were food stalls and vendors selling everything imaginable, from belts and baubles and beads to t-shirts proclaiming the protest. Huge speakers were piping in the music and speeches from the main stage near Lumphini and the protesters, tired, but undaunted, seemed to be enjoying themselves, as were the gawking tourists, including me.

“Would I be allowed to take photos?” I wondered. Yeah, it was OK. So, I walked into the area and into Lumpini and took these photos. I always asked first before taking a shot, and everyone was quite agreeable and friendly about it, and I always followed up with a thank you. I was turned down only once.

I really liked the spirit of the people; their friendliness was apparent in their smiles and their determination apparent in their staying power of doing this for weeks on end. Whether their political aims are correct or not is for history and the Thai people to decide. No matter, I enjoyed being among them.

This is the first photo I took on entering the area. The middle guy was agreeable, so I took the shot. No problems, so I became more confident about being among the people. I wonder if the protest banner makers could use a native English-speaking proofreader.

Protests near Lumphini Park

Three protesters with dog. I asked the guy in the middle if it was OK to take a photo and he smilingly agreed. The other two seemed not to notice.

I saw this fellow from far off waving his flag, and I knew immediately that I had to catch him in his moment of pride. This is along one of the side streets leading to the main stage area.

Thailand flag waver.

Flag waver along a street leading into the main stage area.

Lots of vendors here. I should buy a protest shirt. Maybe I’ll go back and get one later.

T-shirt vendor.

T-shirt vendor along a side street. Lots of colorful protest shirts are for sale.

Near the flag waver I saw this older gentleman, with his cool toothless smile. I think he asked me to take his photo before I could ask for his permission to do so.

Toothless man smiling.

An enthusiast near where I saw the flag waver. This guy is really into it, with his toothless, but infectious, grin.

Here are a few of the hundreds of tents where the protesters are living. This is near the entrance to Lumphini Park, which is jammed with tents, shower stalls and cooking areas. I took a few more photos earlier today, which I’ll try to get processed and posted by tomorrow.

Tent city near Lumphini Park

Tent city near Lumphini Park. The park itself is crammed with hundreds of tents.

There are tents set up inside larger tents. Here some folks are enjoying a gab session, staying out of the afternoon heat. I asked the guy on the left about taking a photo and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, but he immediately went into “serious” mode when I took the shot. After I finished, he smiled again.

People talking

Enjoying a gab session away from the heat of the early afternoon.

I walked around the park a bit more and decided it was time to get out of the heat and go to the subway station. But, I saw this older lady sitting under an awning. I don’t know if she was just resting there or whether she was selling the “V for Vendetta” masks. I liked her smile.

V for Vendetta mask

“V for Vendetta” character mask. I think this lady was selling them.

Just one more shot before the subway entrance. I caught these two guys near an “I (heart) Thailand” sign near the main stage.

Two men resting

A couple of guys taking a break at one of the “I (heart) Thailand” signs near the main stage.

It was time to get out of the heat. It’s been around 95 degrees fahrenheit (35 C) in Bangkok the last few days and I was sweating. I went to the entrance to the subway station and took the escalator down. Wow! There was a sweet, cool breeze coming up from the underground area. Was it ever a sensuous feeling! I thought that maybe I should go up and down the escalators several times to repeat the cooling breeze, but there’s a security checkpoint at the bottom. I figured that sooner or later the cop on duty would get wise to me.

I got my ticket at Hualamphong and then took the wonderfully air-conditioned subway to the protest site near the National Stadium. I took a few more photos there, but I’ll save them for my next post.

You might wonder why people fall in love with a particular city. Is it the restaurants and the food, the music venues, the sightseeing opportunities or the overall culture? I really love Bangkok and I have for years. It’s my favorite city of the ones I’ve visited. Yesterday, though, I think I discovered why I love it so much. Sure, it has great food, beautiful Buddhist temples and tons of culture. Yestereday, for me, it was the people. Good luck to all of them, on both sides of the political divide. I hope they get this settled peacefully and soon. Please, no more violence, no more deaths.

Farewell to Yeosu

I’m leaving Yeosu and Korea. I’ve sent out dozens of applications for jobs around the country, but it seems that Korea is so insanely paranoid about hiring older teachers that I’ve received only a couple of interview offers out of the nearly 100 applications I’ve sent, and more than one promise of a contract or interview has been broken; so much for obligations on the part of certain Korean educators. If you ever come here to teach, don’t depend on the Koreans to fulfill their obligations or promises. Even though you think their words are written in stone, everything can and just might fall apart.

I had an interview from a school in Vietnam last night, and the interviewer told me, upon hearing  my gripe about the ageist Korean system, that there was no such limit in Vietnam and that older teachers were well respected there. Some countries, it seems, have more common sense than Korea. (And, by the way, I think I did pretty well on the interview, so I hope to have some posts from Vietnam in the next few months.) So be it; I’m leaving, and good riddance to me, I suppose, and to Korea from my life.

Despite the age problem, it’s been an interesting experience here in Yeosu (the city, not the university), so here is my farewell to this beautiful location on the south coast of the Republic of Korea.

Farewell to Yeosu

Yeosu, it’s time to say goodbye. I’ll be leaving you tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed my five-year sojourn in your beautiful and, by Korean standards, pocket-sized nook nestled between the mountains and the ocean, but I’ve got to move on.

I won’t forget the food, especially the raw-fish restaurants, pricey, but delicious, and the cozy little mom-and-pop diners specializing in crab, eel, squid and octopus dishes. The aroma of beef and pork grilled over glowing charcoal in small, crowded barbecue joints will linger with me wherever I go, and the spicy heat of your renowned Dolsan gat kimchi, green mustard-plant leaves smothered in deep red chili pepper sauce, will always bring sharp memories.

Korean Seafood Stew–Photo by Ron Anderson

 

I’ll miss the warm, friendly people, the ajummas and ajossies, those weather-worn old ladies and men, backs permanently hunched from doing years of stoop labor in the fields. Their occasionally dour and taciturn faces, etched by sun and wind with crevasses and fissures, are nearly always ready to return a friendly smile or a hello with one of their own. Ahn-young-hahshim-nika, “Hello,” I say, and their return smiles imply that they are surprised, but delighted, that I speak their language, even though they don’t know that that is about all I can say even after five years here.

I’ll always remember the fascinating architecture, especially the structures that house your churches. Unforgettable is the one that has an exterior shaped as a bishop’s miter and another that resembles the prow of a boat. Most remarkable, though, is one of the oddest sights in Yeosu, or in all of Korea, for that matter, the “White Whale” church, a testament to the Biblical Jonah and to the local fishing culture. It’s Moby Dick, land-locked and immortalized in concrete and plaster.

The White Whale Church-Photo by Ron Anderson

Then there was the Expo, that glorious World Exposition of 2012. Though it was only a Minor World Expo, unlike the Major Expo of Shanghai in 2010, I’ll never forget it. The excitement that accompanied it woke up your sleepy summer harbor and brought you great pride. Exotic wayfarers embraced you. Middle-Easterners in indigo and maroon turbans, Africans in yellow, green and red dress, and Latin Americans with brilliant white smiles thrilled and delighted you.

Gone for more than a year and a half are the hordes of visitors, the busy pavilions of the exhibiting countries, and the fantastic displays of light, all of it now mere scattered fragments of memory, whisps of a dream. The acres of the grounds stand empty except for small, forlorn clusters of leaves of the past autumn and black plastic bags dancing in the dark corners to the music of the winter winds whistling through the rafters.

Yeosu Expo 2012-Photo by Ron Anderson

Yes, Yeosu, I’ll miss your aromas, tastes, sights and sounds. I won’t forget your friendly, welcoming inhabitants. I’ll cherish the memories wherever I go. Farewell, Yeosu. Ahnyounghi-kahsay-yo. Goodbye.

That’s my paean to Yeosu. I leave tomorrow for Bangkok, Vientiane, Haiphong, ???. Who knows? The future lies before me. Whatever it holds, I’m gonna post it here. Stay tuned, because I have a lot more coming later.

Lunar New Year, Numbers

Lunar New Year

It’s going to be a short work week here due to the upcoming Lunar New Year, the big Chinese holiday that is also celebrated in Korea, Viet Nam and a few other Asian countries. The three-day holiday is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year, so it’s a mini-vacation of four days, though my classes are from nine to noon everyday; that gives me an extra half day off on Wednesday. The weather forecast is predicting quite a nice week, with temperatures mostly in the fifties and approaching sixty degrees on Saturday. Time to get out and do some walking around.

Numbers

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy sending out job applications to various institutions here in South Korea and in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries. So far, no luck. My age is the biggest barrier to getting a position. Many countries, apparently, have visa laws that restrict foreigners over a certain age from working in those countries.  Korea has no such law. In Korea, the number four is considered bad luck, but 65 must be even worse. It’s as if the hiring committees see that number and their minds become extremely boggled. They can’t get beyond the number to look at my credentials and experience. That number is the only thing that matters.

Early on in the process, I was offered a face-to-face interview by one university (which shall remain nameless). I went to the interview, did good on it and was offered a contract, which I accepted. I was thoroughly relieved to get a job that easily. The night before the contracts were to be mailed out for signatures, I received an email from the university stating that they were withdrawing the contract offer. It seems that the administration staff had just noticed that my age exceeded their maximum age for hiring new teachers. They’d had my documents for two or three weeks and they just noticed my age? Unbelievable! They must have needed to find an elementary school student to do the math for them.

I had another offer a few weeks ago to do an interview via Skype. I wrote back to the university and gave them my preferred times to do the interview. I never received a confirmation email, so I wrote them an email asking for confirmation. They didn’t respond. I sent another email and they finally wrote back telling me that their “personnel committee” didn’t think that I should get an interview, so they cancelled me. Hmmm, I wonder why they didn’t want me to do the interview. Couldn’t be age related, could it?

So, it’s been thoroughly frustrating trying to find another position, so far. But, all I can do is keep sending out the applications and hope that somewhere a university or academy is interested in quality, rather than in a single number. But, that’s the reality in Korea. If you’re young and handsome, you’ve got a job, even though you have absolutely no experience in teaching English and no degree related to the field. If you hit that “magic” age, though, it doesn’t matter what your credentials are. They usually don’t even get looked at. I’ve talked to foreign teachers who have worked in the hiring process. They told me that the Korean managers first look at the photos and the age, toss out the ones they don’t like and then, and only then, do they look at credentials. So, in many cases, if you’re not young, white and good-looking, you’re probably out of luck.

At times I feel that I’m beating my head against a brick wall and I get discouraged, which I shouldn’t do. I’ll keep cranking out the applications, though, and hope for the best.

Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone, again.