Hello again, Dear Reader! I am in high spirits today. Not because I have any good news to report, but simply because I learned long ago to toss care to the winds. Read on for a sort of train-of-thought writing therapy session as I attempt to make plans for what remains of my future.
As Matthew Broderick says in the often-overlooked classic film The Freshman, “There’s a kind of freedom in being completely screwed.” Sadly, this quote comes up in my life a lot more than it should, but it is liberating when it does. Another reoccurring theme in my life is the suspenseful question, “What now?”
If you have been following this blog (and really, why the hell would you?) then you know that I recently lost my cushy university gig here in Korea. University jobs here are highly coveted as the workload is usually light with very little administrative oversight and a ton of vacation time (on average, three to four months paid). Unfortunately, this means the hiring process is highly competitive, and yours truly, once a mighty contender, has been overshadowed by the influx of PhDs into the foreign market. Many people are realizing what we expats have known for decades now: that living in the USA isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Korea is a top choice for new expats due to the relatively high salary and comfortable lifestyle.
Add to that that my former position, although cushy, is way out here in the sticks. I live in a rural town in the mountains of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. It is scenic, quiet, and very, very boring. Still, with the addition of a KTX express train line last year, I am only an hour and a half south of Seoul. And by bus, I am two hours north of Busan, which some would describe as Seoul with a beach town vibe. However, it has recently been brought to my attention that teaching at a rural university in the middle of nowhere is actually a blemish on one’s CV as Koreans regard professors who take such positions to be “less than.” I suppose the logic is, if we were any good at our jobs, we’d have been working at one of the SKY Schools in Seoul (SKY Schools are the Korean Ivy League, consisting of Seoul University, Korea University, and Yeonsei University).
We have just passed the Seollal Holiday (and a happy Year of the Water Tiger to you!), which also marks the end of the university hiring process. The music has stopped, and I am without a chair. So… What now?
The way I see it, I have two options. The first is to swallow my pride and apply for a job at a hagwon, or private academy. Hagwons are shit jobs and no one who has spent the past five years being spoiled by a cushy university gig would ever take such a shocking step backwards career-wise. However, the hagwon I would apply to caters to adult students, which is a plus. I love children, I just can’t teach them. I have no cat-wrangling skills, and I do not like being the voice of authority (i.e., I don’t like yelling at children). They can smell a sucker the minute I walk into the class. Plus, I enjoy the banter that adult students can often provide. Now, the hagwon position only offers fifteen paid vacation days a year (a lot less than a university gig, but still more than most American jobs), and the salary would be slightly less (around $400 less each month), but housing is provided, and I would be back in Seoul, the heart of the Korean social life. I do miss that. And they say when choosing a place to live, location is key. The ugliest part of it would be that most of these jobs are occupied by children — that is, fresh-out-of college kids who are flexing their global wings for the first time. At my age, I would stick out like a sore thumb, and that would be awkward. Also, these jobs are nine-to-five drudges, Monday through Friday. In short, it’s an actual job, a job usually tended to by twenty-somethings, and it is a major step backwards for me career-wise. Taking such a job after five years of university teaching will be an even bigger blemish on my CV than teaching at a cow-town college. BUT I would be able to avoid returning to the USA and I would be living in my familiar stomping grounds of Seoul, where I have an excellent support network. And despite the hours, the job is relatively easy: I just sit in a room with a small group of professional adults, usually one to five at a time, for fifty-minute increments, six times a day, and carry on a conversation with them on the topic du jour. No lesson planning, no exams, no grading, no student appeals.
My other option is to take this cue from the Almighty Universe (“God,” if you prefer) and abandon Korea once and for all. Let’s face it, Korea has dominated my life since I first left the USA back in 2007. There was a brief reprieve from 2012 to 2016 when I relocated to Oman for a bit, and then returned to the USA to teach at a university in my home state of Pennsylvania. One year of living back in the USA and I was screaming to get the f**k out again. Honestly, I cannot understand why anyone who is not excessively wealthy would choose to live in the USA if they had any other option. I could list all of the reasons why living in the USA on a salary less than $80,000 a year is such a shitty existence, but you may already know these reasons, and this is not the point of this writing exercise, so I will move on.
So, returning to the USA permanently is out of the question for me. I would, however, go back to visit for a few weeks before moving on to my next international adventure. I miss my friends and family back home, although we do keep in frequent touch via the miracle of the interwebs. Living overseas must have been so much more difficult in the days before this technological marvel. I can honestly say at the risk of offending friends and family back home, I have not been homesick a single day since first leaving the U.S. Still, Korea is played out to the point of being exhaustive.
Now, I could check out the international job boards for other countries. I hear good things about such exotic places as Vietnam, Thailand, Bahrain, and Ecuador. I have already been to Vietnam and Thailand, and I have lived in the Middle East so Bahrain would not be much of a stretch. I do refuse to work in some countries just on principle. These countries are (in no particular order): Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Israel, and the United States. I won’t work in Saudi Arabia because their government is a thuggish bunch of savages. The people are lovely, as is the case with everywhere in the world. It’s not the people that block world peace, it’s the governments. I refuse to work in China due to their human rights abuses, oppressive government, and the Yulin Dog Torture Festival they hold each year. You can sign a petition to try and stop them here, but the Chinese don’t listen. I won’t work in North Korea for obvious reasons, human rights abuses being the top of the list. And I won’t work in Israel due to their Zionist government and abuse of Palestinians, and I won’t work in the USA because they are run by an oppressive oligarchy, and also human rights abuses and support of Israel.
DISCLAIMER: Standing against Israel does not make one antisemitic, no matter how much the Israeli government and organizations like AIPAC may try to push that line. I do not dislike Jewish people. I do not subscribe to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. I just do not like the policies and practices of the Israeli government. A lot of Jewish people agree with me on this. As I said earlier, the peoples of the world are lovely. It’s the governments (and the corporations that often control them) that are the problem.
So, I will not live in the USA. I will go back to visit and to stash the bulk of my belongings with a very good and trusted friend who now has an attic-full of my travel flotsam stashed away at his house for safe-keeping. And this, at long last, brings us to my second option:
Ayahuasca in Peru! I would fly from Korea back to my home city of Pittsburgh and begin a farewell tour. I’d spend roughly three weeks visiting friends and family to say my goodbyes as there is a chance that I would not be coming back from this final trip to South America. Still, it is something that I have always wanted to do. It is the one remaining boogum on my Bucket List. There are many ayahuasca retreats to choose from in Peru, and they run the gamut pricewise, anywhere from $1,000 to $6,500. But I have an inside track with a friend I met whilst abroad, a fella who has made frequent trips to South America and who can provide a very attractive ‘in’ to the Ayahuasca culture.
For those of you not familiar with ayahuasca (DMT), it is a ritual. A true ayahuasca experience should last at least a week, and you should prepare with a cleansing fast, subsisting on fresh vegetables and water for at least a week prior. Once you have selected your resort and booked your experience, they provide you with a tea brewed from Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis (the leaves and roots of two local plants). It is nasty. The first night, you drink down your cup of tea and your body begins purging toxins from every orifice. It is unpleasant. The second night, you repeat this cleansing process. By the third night, the hallucinogenic properties may begin to kick in. By the seventh night, you are interacting with entities from other frequencies. It is truly a mind-and-soul altering experience, and you may learn terrific Truths from Teachers of higher consciousnesses.
Or so I am told. I have two friends who have done the ayahuasca retreats, and I am sad to say that it broke their brains. Ayahuasca is not for the faint-hearted or mentally damaged. And I recognize this risk as far as my own mental state is concerned. However, there are also several promising reports regarding the incredibly beneficial effects ayahuasca has had on every sort of mental affliction, mostly depression and PTSD. A simple Google search will bring up a plethora of studies.
This path to Peru is the dangerous path, and it will require a tremendous leap of faith on my part. I will be throwing my entire life up to the winds of chance. As I said, there is a very real possibility that I will not be returning from this final trip to talk with the Almighty Universe (“God,” if you prefer). What will it do to my mind? Will my heart give out? Will I gain access to worlds beyond this sad little ball of corruption we call “reality”? Will I master a higher level of consciousness and attain the ability to affect real positive change for this world? Will I wander off into the jungle and be eaten by jaguars? “God” only knows. Yet should I choose this path, and if I maintain enough of my cognitive functions to keep writing on this blog, I will keep you abreast of the entire adventure.
As I think about my choices, I get sick to my stomach, but I am also reminded of my W.B. Yeats, who wrote:
Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild, with a Faery hand-in-hand, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
And I am comforted. If you have read many of my previous posts to this blog, then you know I am no stranger to “Faeries.” I consider them friends. As Dr. Jacques Vallée wrote in his excellent books, Passport to Magonia and The Invisible College, (two among many, many other such treatises by many other writers), these entities have always been with us. They are behind the paranormal phenomenon we as a species have witnessed since our inception. Those lights in the skies and other ‘supernatural’ spectacles are just our limited consciousnesses filling in the blanks of a world we cannot yet perceive, but of which we are beginning to catch a glimpse. As the U.S. government finally begins to tip its hand on the subject of “UAPs,” the veneer is beginning to crack. I would like to be on the frontlines of the coming revelation, an ambassador to the Fae, the Gentry, and the Other-Worldly Entities. And so: Ayahuasca.
And this is where I sit today, as I sit here typing this in my apartment in the mountains of Mid-Nowhere, Korea, listening to the cold winter winds howl outside as I ponder the eternal question: What now? Accept a mundane yet safe life with a backwards step in my career, staying in Korea for yet another year? Or throw caution to the wind and risk life, limb, and sanity to pursue that ever-daunting Will O’ the Wisp that has called to me since I was a child? And let’s face it: Mentally, I am still that child. I may very well be developmentally challenged. But at my physical age, I doubt that this is about to change, unless the ayahuasca has something to say about it.
So, what should I do? I have a song by R.E.M. stuck in my head: “Don’t go back to Rockville and waste another year.” Except in my head, the lyrics appear as Don’t go back to ROKville, whereas ‘ROK’ is the Republic of Korea. Yet do I have the courage to take such a leap of faith? And if I do, should I take it? I await a sign from “God.”
Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home. (Grateful Dead, “Brokedown Palace”)