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Monday, August 31, 2015

Back in The Saddle Again

Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again

Painting by Jack Sorenson

Another precious summer gives way to the inevitable sirens of autumn. Korea's hottest and most humid days are behind us now. With a latitude similar to that from Boston to Washington, D.C. in the U.S., Korea's days now grow shorter and cooler.

For me, this means returning to Korea and "saddling up" once again to teach some of Korea's aspiring college students. Learning English, however, isn't the only thing on their plates. They face the challenges of high unemployment (over 30%) when they graduate, unrelenting social pressures to get one of the relatively few high status positions in one of the country's conglomerates, and cultural problems that include disconcertingly high per capita alcohol consumption and off-the-chart suicide rates.

Riding' the range once more
Totin' my old 44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again

As usual, the larger context features the ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. This summer's version resembles the battle of the bands with each side literally turning up the volume of propaganda they blast across the DMZ via massive speakers. 

Powerful South Korean speaker systems
broadcast propaganda up to 12 miles, annoying the heck
out of North Korean officials
The North somehow felt it necessary to add a few more land mines to what is already the world's deadliest corridor--land mines which tore the legs off several South Korean soldiers. Somehow this mess apparently translated to a willingness on both sides to discuss cross-border family reunions--a process which was discontinued several years ago. We'll see.

Friends and family back home often see my return to Korea as something ominous given the aforementioned ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. In turn, I wonder how they neglect to see our own country's gun violence as even more disturbing than the antics between the Koreas.

Always entertaining is the banter on social media here amongst members of Korea's English teaching community. Some complain that they are treated like second-class citizens by their Korean administrators. Others denigrade the Korean education system and swear this will be the last semester they teach here. The silent majority of expats seems to appreciate their role and quietly go on with their mission of making a difference in the lives of their students. Having lived here a lifetime ago, I tend to find the vitriol both familiar and mildly annoying. I think I'll don my cowboy hat, hop back in the saddle, and simply go my way into the Korean sunset.
Rockin' to and fro
Back in the saddle again
I go my way

*Back in the Saddle Again, lyrics by Gene Autry