Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fourth Anniversary

Today is my fourth anniversary: I've lived in Asia for four years now.

2001 was a rather turbulent year for me. I had been working for Shasta, a swimming pool company, since late 1999, but felt that my job and career as an accountant had completely stagnated. I had reverted to Islam in June of the previous year, and while I felt comfortable living my new life as a Muslim I found it somewhat difficult (at the time) to find a Muslim woman to marry. So I turned to the Internet, and began a correspondence with a Moroccan woman living in Switzerland. I thought we had a chance to develop a serious relationship, and so I began to divest myself from my life in America - I wrapped up my affairs and traveled to Geneva in June...

Only to be rejected by her almost as soon as we met at the airport. I spent two weeks there, my first trip to Europe. We did spend some time together, testing to see if the relationship could be re-started, but I left Europe with bitterness (at having been spurned after all the emotional and financial capital had been invested) and relief (talking to a friend after I returned to the US, I told her that being with this woman would ultimately give me an ulcer; my friend said, "Are you kidding? She'd have given you a heart attack!"). And so I returned to the U.S., only to find that I was unemployed. I stayed with a relative for a while, but she kicked me out after not being able to pay rent (I had gone completely broke). For three days, I found myself homeless, rejected by family and friends, but welcomed in by Muslim brothers who were otherwise complete strangers. (May Allah (swt) bless these men for the kindness they showed me in my darkest hours.) Eventually my relative asked me to return, in part (ironically) because her dog missed me and would wait at the door every evening for me to come home. (May Allah (swt) bless "Pete" too.)

And while I couldn't find a permanent, full-time job, I was able to go back to Shasta for a few months as a part-time employee. I paid my relative her rent, and began looking for other work. The thought crossed my mind that I had a brand new passport; was there any work I might find overseas that would allow me to travel? Eventually, I came across an Internet advertisement for a job teaching English in Korea. On a lark, I submitted my resume, and an employment agency contacted me very quickly, saying they'd be more than happy to help me find a job. Thus began a dance between the agency, myself, and three schools who were interested in hiring me (the third school ultimately did). The funny thing was that I was very much torn as to the whole idea of moving to Korea. I knew virtually nothing about the country, and I wasn't quite sure if I really wanted to leave the U.S. One week I would say, "I'm definitely moving to Korea," and the next week it would be, "There's absolutely no way I'm going to Korea." It wasn't until I talked to my dad over the phone, when I asked him what I should do, that I made my final decision. "Go!" he said, and I did, and it was the best decision.

So I packed everything up one final time…and then waited. September 11th happened. (I was originally supposed to leave on the 14th, I believe.) Of course, I had to rearrange all my travel plans and get a new ticket. After a 14-hour flight from LAX, I finally got to Incheon International Airport late at night on September 22, 2001, where some woman (an employee of the agency) quickly got me off my Asiana flight and onto another plane bound for Busan (I was the last passenger to board; the plane for Busan had been waiting for me).

So I lived for a year in Korea, falling in love with that country and still missing it even today. Since then, I’ve lived in Singapore, where I started another life here with my wife. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few other countries out here: Malaysia a few times, Japan for a day (to get my Korean work visa), and a few hours at the Bangkok International Airport – if you want to count that.  There are lots of places I’d love to visit around here in time: China, Japan (again, but much more thoroughly), Cambodia (to see Angkor Wat), Vietnam, Brunei (to visit one of my wife’s relatives, who frequently asks us to come over) and, of course, Korea once more.

It’s been a wild ride. Lots of fun, happiness, pain, and sorrow. Real life, just like anywhere else. My dad was ultimately right. Coming to Asia was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’m glad I’m here.

Monday, September 12, 2005


This blog's emphasis is primarily on my life here in Singapore; however, before I moved to the "tiny red dot" I lived for a year in Busan, South Korea, teaching conversational English. This essay was what I went over in class on my last day of work at Pagoda Academy, in September 2002.

As I read this today, I see a few things that I might have rewritten, now having the benefit of hindsight and a greater understanding of Asian culture. Perhaps I will write down those additional comments in the future, insha'allah (but not tonight). In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts regarding life in Korea:

Having lived here for one year, I thought I would write about those things that I’ve come to like and dislike about Korea. Following the American style of giving the bad news first, here are my some of my “dislikes,” in no particular order:

  • Filthy streets – While there’s very little graffiti on the walls (unlike America and Europe), Korea has some of the filthiest streets I’ve ever seen. You’d think the city governments could invest in some trashcans for the sidewalks. The good news is that an army of street sweepers appears every morning to clean things up.
  • Spitting, Smoking, Drinking – Speaking of filthy streets, it would be really nice if you didn’t have to watch where you step because of all the globs of spit on the sidewalks. Of course, the amount of spit wouldn’t be so bad if the men didn’t smoke so much. (The Korean government is going to regret encouraging the men to smoke – when they’re soldiers – as they die from cancer and emphysema.) And is there anything more disgusting than all the vomit on the sidewalks from people who drink to excess?
  • Motorcycles and cars on the sidewalk – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to “clothesline” the motorcyclists who drive on the sidewalks. I may break my arm, but it would make me very happy to break someone’s neck because he wouldn’t drive on the road where he belonged.
  • Too many apartment complexes – In the past year, in the neighborhood where I live, real estate developers have built at least twenty apartment buildings. If there was a demand for these units, I’d understand, but many buildings (including my own) seem to have large numbers of vacant apartments.
  • Too little parking – Regardless of whether it’s apartments or businesses, there is just too little parking for cars. City governments should do a better job in requiring developers to include adequate parking for all new projects.
  • Streets should become one-way – In the residential neighborhoods, there are numerous one-lane streets. This in itself is not a problem. The problem is when cars come from opposite ends of the street and find each other blocking their way. (Of course, from the pedestrian’s perspective, it’s amusing to watch them solve this dilemma.) This problem would go away if the cities would make the one-lane streets one way.
  • Dangerous drivers – As I’ve said many times before, Koreans are either the best drivers in the world or the luckiest. I just can’t decide which. I’ve cheated death a couple of times because of some narrow escapes from dangerous drivers. The Korean police need to start enforcing traffic laws much more strictly!
  • Talent of married women is going to waste – Korean businesses are letting the talent of married women go to waste when they don’t hire them in favor of younger, inexperienced (but more beautiful) women.
  • The Korean woman’s whine – If there is any sound more obnoxious in the world, I have yet to hear it. Would someone please shut her up when she starts to whine again?

    To be fair, here are some of my “likes,” again, in no particular order:
  • Flowers – There may not be much grass in the cities, but I do like the large number of flowers here, especially in the planters on the sides of the streets and on the street medians.
  • Competitive spirit – Koreans have a wonderful competitive spirit, and that’s helped to respark my own desire to start a business and join in the fun. Occasionally, there is too much competition (as in the over development of apartment buildings), but on the whole, I think Korea has benefited (and will continue to benefit) from its competitiveness.
  • Buddhist temples – Serene surroundings, beautiful artwork, religious devotion. Is there any better place to get away from it all, if only for a few hours?
  • City parks – My only complaint is that there aren’t enough of them. Cities need more open spaces, for both the children and the adults to play and run around in. Green grass is soothing for both your eyes and your toes. 
  • Open-air markets – I love how people sell anything and everything everywhere: on the sidewalks, in open-air stalls, on the pedestrian bridges that cross over streets. I wish I could find more of this in America.
  • Korean food – Spicy, with fresh, nutritious ingredients. Pass the gimchi.
  • Well-dressed people – Both men and women dress very well. It makes Americans look like a bunch of slobs.
  • Minimal crime – I’m always amazed when I see Korean women walking alone on the streets at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. You’d never see that in America!
  • Beautiful countryside – I really love looking at the Korean countryside: the mountains, the forests and rivers, the rice paddies. Korea is very beautiful.
  • Willingness for self-improvement – While Americans place a high value on education, I think Koreans may actually surpass this. Whether it’s classes in computers or conversational English, Koreans spend an incredible amount of time in learning. For that, I congratulate them.