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Letters from Korea
JMC's Life at Home Country #1
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19th-May-2006 11:23 am - A Teenager No Longer
May 11th was my 20th birthday. It neatly coincided with Ipselenti, the biggest spring festival event of the university, resulting in all but one of my classmates being too busy and occupied to remember. And I didn't even go to the festival, since I had to work that evening. A co-worker of mine bought me a can of soda, though, heh.

But that's besides the point. I've had more dismal birthdays, really, and it doesn't bother me anymore. I think once you are past a certain age, you no longer really have those lavish birthday parties involving your friends and family. That was more for children, and such. Everyone is older, busier, etc.

It made me reflect on a lot of things, turning 20. For one, I know I'm not a teenager anymore. I used to feel so young. Well, I still feel young, heh, but... there's a difference. When I was eighteen, nineteen, I felt that I was on level terms with those 16- and 17-year-olds. Perhaps not absolutely level (I thought myself a good deal more mature, heh), but it made me think that I was still a part of that "Teenager" group.

Now I know I'm not. The number in front changed, from 1 to 2, and that's a big step.

20 is also a significant age under the Korean civil law. Now I am fully an adult, with all rights and responsibilities of one. By turning 20, I now have the right to sign contracts on my own, be entitled to my own property rights, have my own power of attorney and the power to delegate it, etc. (Voting, drinking, smoking, etc, are at age 19. Driving and employment at 18. Laws are confusing)

I also have all the responsibilities now. My parents will not be able to shield me, and neither will anyone else. It's a bit scary, when you think about it. You're out there on your own now, against this world. Of course, no one should have to stand alone against it.

Some other random thought. Four years ago (has it been that long? I was about to type two, and then realized that I was 16 at the time), out of curiosity and boredom, I got a horoscope reading. The lady who did that cheerfully told me that due to some enigmatic placement of the Saturn at the time of my birth, I should basically forget about having a love life until I was about age 20 or so.

And you know, maybe it was self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe it was some cosmic accident... but she turned out to be right.

I would write more, but I'm beginning to lose my concentration. Which is quite worrying, just how short my attention span has gotten nowadays. So I'll conclude this here, with completely random thoughts of the day, which are as follows:

- NCIS season finale was great. A shock, though!
- CSI: Miami... the writers are lazy. Everything was so predictable. I'm curious to see who the "mole" is, but really, it's a cheap trick on the writer's part to arouse the viewers' curiosity
- Jenn has a very strange taste in men. I'm still setting her up with a certain friend, though.
- I don't like it when girls fish for compliments. But then again, I fall for it every time.
- Excitement and fear can be combined into one incomprehensible mush of emotion
- I'm going to be devastated this semester with my marks... oh no...

That's all for now!
6th-May-2006 01:37 am - A Story of a Pilot
Below is an excerpt from the Korean newspaper, The Joongang Daily:

Pilot killed in air show at Suwon
Plane crashes on runway, crowd of thousands unhurt

May 06, 2006 ㅡ A last-ditch maneuver by the pilot of an Air Force plane that crashed onto far edge of the runway of the Suwon Air Base may have saved lives at an air show performance to celebrate Children's Day, an official said.

The incident killed the pilot, Kim Do-hyun, 33, an Air Force captain, but nobody else was harmed. An estimated crowd of thousands, many of them children, watched it happen.

"It looks like the pilot could have escaped but held on to the flight controls until the end as he judged that the plane might crash into the stands," Major Bae Duk-hwan, of the Air Force, said yesterday. "If the pilot had let go of the flight control stick, nobody would have known where the plane would crash."

Two A-37B planes of the Air Force's Black Eagle aerobatic performance team were about to engage in an aerial maneuver called the "Knife Edge," where the planes swoop in a descent from opposite sides, then cross, before ascending again. The plane flown by Captain Kim failed to climb after the crossing.
The plane struck the far southern side of the runway, 1.8 kilometers (1,968 yards) away from the stands.

What this article doesn't mention, and what I gathered from other newspaper articles, are as follows. Captain Kim left behind a wife and two children, aged 4 and 3. According to a reporter who'd interviewed him before this incident, joining the "Black Eagle" air-show team had been his life-long dream, ever since graduating in 4th place from the Korean Air Force Academy.

I didn't even know what to think when I read this article. He could easily have escaped. But had he done so, who knows where the plane might have landed? Do you remember that airplane show gone bad in Europe, about last year? When a Sukhoi plane crashed into the crowd and killed and injured scores of spectators? Maybe that very incident went through the pilot's mind, when he held on to the controls until the moment of his death, knowing that the thousands of spectators below, most of them children, could not be hurt.

Air Force press releases indicate that he'll be buried in the National Cemetery with full military honours. As he should be. Perhaps his death was not in combat fighting an enemy. Sure, he was doing it to amuse people, to provide entertainment. And I've heard some people saying this, that he didn't die in combat.

But he died saving lives. And that's what good soldiers do.

It's an achievement, a great achievement to be sure, but I cannot erase the feeling that the championship could have been ours.

In the debate competition that drew forty teams from Korea and abroad, my team went on to the Grand Final. There, we lost to a team we'd beat before in the preliminaries, in a closely contested 4-3 decision. It really could have gone either way.

Still, I'm grateful for this result. We won 8 rounds, and lost only one. That's something.

Besides, the greatest gain from this championship wasn't the prize money, nor was it the modest amount of personal glory. It was the raising of profile for debating in Korea University. It was the morale boost of the entire team. It was the friendship I cultivated with them. It was that opportunity to become closer than ever with my teammates.

Team morale is sky-high, riding the crest of the wave, as it were. We even got some press coverage, in a major Korean daily with a wide readership. My name was mentioned, heh, although the reporter did put some words into my mouth. This is a chance that we've never had, and probably won't have again in the near future, to promote debate within the university.

A series of meetings have been scheduled. I've never seen team members this enthusiastic. They're eager, devoted, and fired up all of a sudden. This is the time to solidify our team. This is the time to bring us all together.

I'm happier about the group's morale and the collective achievement, I think, than my own prize money and glory.
Blah to the highest extent.

Yes, that's me right now. I'm in the middle of my midterm exams, and I am dead certain that I'm going to do poorly in one of them. Or possibly more. I'm trying my best to think positive, but the truth that I have to face is that I've been way too lazy with things, and now I'm unprepared.

This teaches me a lesson, I suppose. Academic life first. Extracurricular, personal, and professional (hey, I do have a job) life later. That's how it should be.

On a note on that personal life though. I'm trying to mount an ambitious plan to visit the US this coming June. Only things aren't working out too well. See, everything's fine, I even have local contacts who'll be able to help me when I get there, and the itinerary looks okay. But after drawing up the preliminary budget. . .

And I thought hotels in Dublin were expensive. Whew. The thing is, I'd really love to go on this trip, more than any other trip I've gone on all my life. Will this happen? Will we be able to make this happen? Where there's a will, there's a way. . . but sometimes prayers go unanswered for a reason.

Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket this week.
13th-Apr-2006 10:03 pm - Employed!
I got a job!

It's not glorious, but it's a start. I'll be teaching debate at a high school, once a week, for three hours. The pay is decent--it'll certainly meet my needs with some left over for savings. I don't spend much money to begin with, so I figure that if I spend the way I currently do and save the rest I earn, I should have a plenty of money. It'll help towards paying the outrageous tuition fee.

I'm just so excited. This is the first time I held a regular job, a "normal" job. Before, it was all work-from-home, or just a one-time thing. Not a lot of responsibility and not a lot of pay. What's more, I'm going to be a teacher. Gee. And I'm still a student myself! A lot of university students tutor others, on a one-on-one, or at most a small group basis. Me? I'm going to be teaching a whole class.

It makes me both nervous and excited. Nervous--well, what if the kids hate me? What if I'm boring? What if I get no respect whatsoever and kids laugh at me behind my back, as I myself often did when I was in high school? Excited--need I say anything? Of course I'm excited.

My first day is next Monday, and I'm really looking forward to it. And hey, if the job is fun, and I get paid for it, isn't it the perfect combination?

Except for the part where the job is an hour away. Grr. But I'll get used to it. It's only once a week, after all.
6th-Apr-2006 08:15 pm - It's All Made Up
"I didn't read The Da Vinci Code, on purpose," told me the girl sitting across the table from me, at a café near the campus. She had no interest, she told me, in reading what she knows is false. Furthermore, she expressed concern that those who are weak in their faith might waver from hearing such falsehoods, insinuating--I think--that the book should not be read by good Christians (Roman Catholics included).

It made me think of the issue on several levels. I'm not going to try to either prove or disprove either side, even though I have my opinions on the subject. What I do wonder, though, is this: does it really even matter?

Many of the most inspirational, motivating, and stirring tales you will ever hear will be fictional. Some of them you will know are fiction, and some of them will masquerade as true stories (http://www.snopes.com is good for verifying such claims). I am profoundly moved by the film, Dead Poets' Society. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front, as well as Timothy Findley's The Wars, have taught me the horrors of war and convinced me that it is the worst of human choices. The ironies in The Princess Bride delighted me beyond anything, Sabriel gave me an insight into the rite of growing up, and The Alchemist truly inspired me to the point where I think I am a better person because of it. Jane Eyre helped me get a glimpse of the depth of human love, Les Miserables showed me what human suffering means. I cannot even begin to count the stories and movies I simply enjoyed, the way one enjoys a rollercoaster ride. Virtually every episode of the show NCIS. Many episodes of CSI. Watch Apocalypse Now (or better yet, read The Heart of Darkness), or even Bruce Almighty, and you'll get a plenty of fun. Episodes of Friends were also greatly enjoyable.

What do the works in this long list all have in common?

They're all made up. None of them are true, and none of them even claims to be true. The worst they'll do is "Based on a True Story," implying that the masterful mind of the writer was at hard work to spice up the rest. And you know what? I enjoy them anyway. So they are not true--so what? As a reader, I am willing to suspend disbelief. I am willing to let myself be absorbed into the tale, simply enjoying it, delighting in it, and contemplating the questions the author throws at me.

Does it even matter whether they're true or not?

I read The Da Vinci Code in one night, when a good friend of mine lent me the hard cover edition she owned and asked that I give it back to her soon. (The book ended up sitting on my desk for a month before she did get it back, but that's another story) Did I take it at face value? No. Did I actually think that this was the truth? Absolutely not. Did I learn something nevertheless? Definitely. And ultimately, did I have a good time? Yes, oh definitely yes.

And in my opinion, that's what matters in the end.

The fixation with the "truth" is quite pointless. If you took every motivating/enjoyable/et story you heard, and treated them all as truth or fiction... You'd probably appreciate them anyway. So what if the claims in the Da Vinci Code are false? What if it is baseless? Really, if your "faith" can be shaken by such a frivolous force, perhaps you are going to the wrong church.

It is inherently human to delight in stories. From the dawn of civilization, people have told stories to each other. And I am not going to deprive myself of that pleasure because I somehow am afraid of hearing falsehoods.

And neither should you.
31st-Mar-2006 11:48 pm - Newfound Hopes & Renewed Resolves
Since my rather depressed post yesterday, a few things have changed.

After writing up that post at the school computer lab, I went down to an empty seminar room for the final practice/meeting of the team before I send them off to the tournament (which, by the way, will begin in earnest tomorrow). I started with rather less enthusiasm than usual, but then I realized something.

The three debaters who are competing are as dedicated as they come. I could see how they paid attention, how they really applied themselves to this, giving it their best. Sure, they aren't necessarily the best English speakers, and it's something of a fault. But it is a fault more than compensated for by the sheer effort they put in. I would much rather have one debater who tries hard despite the lack of fluency, rather than ten fluent debaters who laze around and just not debate. Yes, a few "members," in whom I had high hopes because of their impressively high levels of English proficiency, have proven themselves quite unenthusiastic.

But what do I care about them? I could see that I was making a difference, if not in their lives, than at least in their weekend. Yes. I realized that I was making a difference. . . And I found that it was neither thankless nor worthless a pursuit.

The turning point of the evening, really, was after I taught them how to prepare for a debate in the given 30 minute timeframe. They asked me to give me a lot of past motions so they could practice with them in their free time today. That one remark, that one show of enthusiasm and dedication, made everything worth it.

I came home at midnight, but I think I did so in a much better mood.

As a final word, it would be wrong for me to claim that these young debaters were the only ones who rescued me from the rather depressing abyss. It's the people around me, people who support me when I need it the most. I don't list people I thank, because I invariably miss someone. . . but my special thanks do go out to you. You know who you are :-)

Thank you, everyone. With newfound hopes and renewed resolves, I shall keep going. I see that I am making a difference. A small difference, but difference nonetheless. And you know what, ultimately, that's what I'm happy with.
30th-Mar-2006 05:21 pm - Why Do I Even Bother?
For over a year now, I've dedicated myself to the cause of debating, both at Korea University, and in Korea. I'm known in that small community of people, and even somewhat respected. I have accepted the poisoned chalice of being the founder and leader of Korea University's debate society. I've gone to almost every competition, gave it all I could, did my best. . . I was always the most avid in training, always the enthusiastic, "Let's do one more practice round" type of a person.

Founding a new club is not an easy task, and it was a lot of work for me. I can't count the hours I spent labouring on the new web site, making presentations for the new members, the time I spent in trying to recruit new members from the incoming freshman class. . . How many nights I stayed at school past 10 p.m., coming home by a late subway train? How much time have I invested in debating, trying to do what small part I could in helping it grow in Korea?

Yeah, I know. Others have put in much more and I know that. I'm but a small factor in the big picture. If I were to "retire" from debating altogether, I would be missed, but the entire community won't have a breakdown.

The Korea University debate club will fall apart if I step down. It used to be one motivating force that kept me going, helping me work late, devising training programs, helping new debaters individually, setting up times, going through all the paperwork with the university. . .

And now I wonder, why do I even bother?

Why do I even bother when my work goes generally unacknowledged? Why do I even bother when kids are willing to cancel their tournament participation plans so they can go on this class trip, where all they'll do is basically get drunk and "have fun"?

But then again, what do I expect from teenagers?

Here's the incident that really got me thinking in this direction. We are sending one team to the Korean nationals, the three freshmen who form a team. Now they work hard--I have no complaints about them. The problem? They have nobody to have practice rounds with because nobody else is interested. Last night I sat down with them, just the four of us, and did my best to help them prepare. I imagine I'll be doing much the same tonight. With just the three of them.

Sure, a lot of people say they're interested in debating, always and invariably followed by a "but." But I have a presentation to prepare for. But I have this essay I have to write. But I have to go to this other club I'm a member of. But I have this personal commitment. But this but that but bullshit.

Yeah, and I spend this much time on debate because I'm a lazy, under-achieving bum with nothing better to do.

Debate is nobody's first priority and maybe I should just accept that. I long to show them just how fun and fulfilling it can be. I want to show them the greater world; I want our members to represent our school at the Korean Nationals, at the Asians, at the Worlds.

And yet who is willing to invest time and energy and money to this cause? Not many, apparently. You can drag a horse to the stream but you cannot force it to drink. And you know what, I cannot even make them think they're at all thirsty.

I don't know what comes after this competition. Maybe I'll just somehow renew my motivation and keep going. Or maybe I'll let the club deteriorate, and get to the much-neglected schoolwork.

25th-Mar-2006 03:01 pm - Blah
It's bad enough that I missed three days of school in a row. I thought I would use the weekend to get caught up, but the way this is going, I doubt that'll happen. I'm just feeling really sick, head constantly heavy, nose clogged, etc. Symptoms of common cold.

This sucks. Anyone know how you can improve your immune system while eating what you want?
14th-Mar-2006 04:24 pm - Updates
All right, so I've been seriously lazy with the updates on this journal. As I happen to have about two hours to kill right now, though, I suppose I might as well write something here for once. The fact is that my class ended an hour earlier than it was supposed to, so it's now 4:30. . . and I have nothing to do until the debate team meeting at 6:30.

The debate competition went well. The round I was writing about last time was actually an extremely close one, and an extremely good one. I took more time to deliberate that round alone then I did for two "ordinary" rounds. Thankfully, though, the losing team took it well, realized why they lost, and understood that it was by a close margin. I actually decided on the closest margin I was allowed to under the rules. So that was good. The best debate I saw at the tournament, really.

Since then, school started, and I got my class schedule worked out so that I get Mondays off. This is great, heh. I'm also taking two law courses, which is something I've just always wanted to do. I think I really am a law person. This morning at the legal philosophy class. . . I have to admit that it was hard for me to just follow. And I'm usually the person who's ahead of everyone else--as arrogant as I realize this sounds. Today I could barely keep up with everyone. Still, time passed very fast in that class. I found it all so fascinating, and it felt like I was having a surgical operation of my knowledge--what I had was being neatly organized and streamlined, and I was adding new things. I have never felt the kind of academic excitement since the time. . . well, the time when I took Law 12 in high school. Hah, maybe I am destined to work in the legal profession. Yes, being a lawyer will take work, hard work at that, and sometimes it makes me hesitate. But it's moments like this that make me wonder that perhaps I can do it after all.

Today is supposed to be "White Day," which is like an evil twin of Valentine's Day. I personally don't care. I just see as many lovely couples as any other day and get just about as bitter. If I were in a different place, or if a certain someone were in a different place, then it'd be different. But for now there's little I can do except look away and think about other things. *sigh*

Before I sound too bitter, though, maybe I should talk about more exciting things. Namely debating. It's become quite a big part of my life now, and I'm very involved with it. It's fun. A good kind of busy. If I could do it professionally, I would--and I know for a fact that there are others who think the same. There are a few who actually succeeded, coaching debate professionally, although the number is low. Especially in Korea, where literally only a handful of professors are qualified to and do teach debate at colleges.

Today I'm going to get the freshmen to organize themselves into teams. I'll also have to pick two most capable debaters to be my teammates. This is going to be very hard, because the registration deadline is the 17th--that is three days from now. And the members barely know each other at this point. Oh well. I guess they'll just have to try their luck.

At least it's a good dilemma. Last year, there were so few people who wanted to debate that forming teams meant just going with one of the few people who wanted to go. Not many to choose from, really. Well, maybe it'll be the same this year, too. We do have many members, but many of them are still apprehensive about going to a competition. They don't think they're "ready," and want to "learn" first.

That's frustrating, because the best way--possibly the only way--you really learn to debate is to go to those competitions.

Anyway, I think I'll close it here for the time being. I'll update this more often in the future, I promise! Best regards to all my loyal readers :-)
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