Friday, 10 December 2010

My Korea -or- Why Am I in Korea?

I'm sometimes posed with the question, Why did I come to Korea? This question is not to be confused with why am I working abroad, but very specifically what made me choose this particularly country; why didn't I go to, say, Japan or Taiwan? Why Korea?

The answer is actually quite simple. Around 16 or so years ago I took up the martial art Taekwon-Do. My brother and I were actually searching for a kung-fu school—we were very much into kung-fu movies growing up. Quite accidentally we saw a flyer advertising Taekwon-Do and promoting it “as seen in Best of the Best.” We had seen the film and was impressed by the techniques we saw. Although it wasn't kung-fu, it was significantly different enough from Karate. We knew we were not interested in Karate. My brother and I attended a class and the rest, as far as me becoming a serious martial artist, is history.

In the version of Taekwon-Do that I do there are things called “teul,” translated into English as patterns. They are movements arranged into a sequences of attacks and defences against imaginary opponents. The purpose of teul is to teach you combinations of movements, certain ways of manoeuvring, fighting strategies, and so on. Each teul has a name with a special meaning somehow related to Korean culture and history. Some are named after historic figures like Korean kings, philosophers, scholars, freedom fighters; others are named after philosophical or ideological ideas that are part of Korean culture. It was inevitable, as I learned the teul and the people and things they represent, not to become enchanted by Korea.

Then one day my sister-in-law told me about the possibility of going to Korea. There were different options. One could go through a church organization as a teacher-missionary. Or you could go through an educational institute as a teacher—usually an English teacher. As soon as I had finished my master's degree I was on the plane to Korea.

[Image Source]
It was nothing as I had imagined it. My imaginings were based on the Korean folk heroes I learned about in Taekwon-Do, media-based conceptions about the Far East, and readings of Oriental philosophy. After a year and a half in Korea, and with a black belt in another Korean martial art (Hapkido), I returned back to South Africa. Even while I sat on the aeroplane I knew that I was not yet finished with Korea. About a year later I returned to Korea once more and I am here still.

In all, I have been in Korea for about four years now. The honeymoon phase is long over and I've been thoroughly disillusioned. I have an enigmatic love-hate relationship with this country. And while I think that my time here is slowly drawing to a close, I also know that as of yet, I am still not finished with it. Eventually, when I do depart, I know that I will always have strong ties with Korea. My Korea.

No comments: