Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Archive for the ‘korea’ Category

My love and hate affair with fencing

Posted by E on August 13, 2012

Fencing Olympics controversy

In light of the recent events involving South Korean fencer Lam Shin being robbed of the oportunity to fence the gold-silver medal match at the London 2012 Olympics, my thoughts once again return to fencing. How could I not think of it, seeing this 25-year old girl sobbing on the piste, reliving every moment of hard work and passion that led her to this moment of travesty?

Can the skills of sword-fighting survive as an art and a sport alone, without the bastardization of modern competitions? Can fencing move beyond a long history of dirty backroom deals and bought bouts?

I don’t know, and I’m not optimistic about it. But every time I realize how out of shape I am and how much I’d like to pick up a foil again, the traumas of my varsity years at the University of Ottawa come back to me. The unjust coaches who slept with athletes, the overt favouritism, the occasional fencing scandal that broke out (in magazines such as Sports Illustrated) involving money exchanging hands and bouts being sold off….and yet in my hearts of hearts, I must confess that I miss it – the sensation of that metal against my hand, the sound (the music) when blade meets blade, a cacophony of excitement, a dash of fear, and more than your fair share of exhuberance.

I have to thank fencing for letting me explore my demons. I first picked up a foil the year after I’d come out of hiding after providing information against a group of dangerous white supremacist extremists, information that was used to dismantle their organization. I lived in hiding for over a year all across Canada and by the time I managed to get myself into university as a mature student, I was full of anger and resentment at having discovered that our own government – through its intelligence body, CSIS – had co-founded and bankrolled the very group that had recruited me and other teenagers.

Fencing helped channel my anger into purpose. It drove me to pursue excellence. It empowered me to finally believe, for the first time, that I could be a normal human being. A normal nineteen-year old, whatever “normal” meant. Sure, I didn’t have parents cheering from the sidelines at competitions or coaches who rubbed my shoulders between bouts, but on that piste, across from average college girls, I felt like I was finally on par with the rest of the world – and consequently, that I could have a future once again.

And then I came crashing into the injustices of the sport, the daily murdering of the spirit that favoritism can deliver, and the overarching elitism that lays entrenched in the foundations of the sport.

With no money and no coaches willing to give me free lessons (all the while other girls were being invited to coaches’ houses for lunches, dinners and free training), my fencing days were numbered – sure I could have continued,but the track I was on involved a rapid trajectory to the top, and I refused to accept recreational goals.

And yet I miss it. With age comes perspective, and I realize that competitive fencing made me miserable and angry. Sure I won bouts, but at what cost? These days, with my goals changed and wisdom stemming out of experience, I long for that sensation of being in control of my body, of a blade that is an extention of both my arm and my will. And yet I am afraid that the sport has been utterly corrupted by the competitive slant that has overtaken it over the last hundred years. Whereas once upon a time fencing was practically a requirement, it slowly receded into the arms of the noble classes and the elites who have since turned it into an ugly and corrupt enterprise.

I don’t know what else to say, other than I miss it, I’m afraid of it, I long for it.

I long for the days when fencing will be less about the Olympics and more about the sheer love of bettering oneself. But in the end, unlike soccer or volleyball or swimming, which can be played simply for the fun of it, when it comes to fencing I don’t really think that it is possible.

But oh, how I’d like it to be.

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Posted in fencing, korea, longing, media, news, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Have you done a midnight run from Korea and lived to tell the tale?

Posted by E on July 1, 2008

…If so, I need your comments. I’ve had overwhelming queries following my last year’s entry on the topic. A LOT of foreign teachers in Korea are in this boat. However, I haven’t done the run myself (as close as I ever came to it, I did abstain and I am glad I did, but it was rough), and therefore, as much as I know about it and sympathise with your situation, I still need to give others in this position the right advice.
So please, if you have done it and are back home safe and sound, do add your experience – I welcome and truly appreciate it. If you’ve been lurking on the net bitching about how you escaped Korea, this is an invitation to finally write about it. How did your midnight run go? Anything to watch out for? Any unexpected situations? Any issues at customs re. the multiple-visa issue, or leaving with another 6 months left on your visa?
If you click the link below, it’ll take you to the original blog that stirred the whole thing up. The comments and links to it have been growing ever since. Please don’t forget to add your imput!

How to do a Midnight Run without getting caught

from one dweggi waygook to another 🙂 lol….

Posted in korea, teacher | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another Pedophile Teacher in Korea – why am I not surprised? More details on his Myspace&ESLcafe posts

Posted by E on October 15, 2007

interpol-pic.jpg
Remember last week’s swirly pedophile photo posted by Interpol in a last-ditch attempt to catch a pervert who has been abusing kids as young as 6 years old in south-east Asia? Well, it is now believed that the guy in question is a Canadian ESL teacher working in Korea – and now on the run in Thailand. His name is Christopher Paul Neil and he is…you guessed it….a former seminary student (you know how it goes with priests and kids).
Read-this-article on the latest news in the investigation – and scroll down to the end of this blog where I give you some info on his Myspace page and other web presences.

Of course, reading this news just made me nod my head and shrug, since I’ve been convinced since my 1999-2000 teaching stint in Korea that it is a cesspool for all sorts of expat rejects and societal oddballs. If you read my previous post Expats, Writers, Degenerates and other Rarities, you may recall me talking about my loser teacher compatriots.

“During the time I was employed at my school in Seoul, out of seven foreign teachers, four were regular drug abusers who liked to chase their pot down with hard liquor. When Steve and Andy, two New York-based teachers, took their week-long holiday together in Vietnam and Thailand, they returned with a sizeable amount of marijuana and hashish. As they got high in their apartment, they laughed and shared how they managed to pull off such a feat – part of the stash had been smuggled in Steve’s rectum.”

I also remember another creep I’d met while working temporarily at another school in Inchon, an hour outside Seoul. During that month I observed that one of our fellow teachers, a middle-aged Canadian man with a predisposition toward shakiness, had a really hard time making eye contact or conversation with the other foreign teachers. In fact, the only thing he was content with was interacting with the children. He barely wanted to have anything to do with any adults around him.

Where else in the world, other than South Korea, can you go without a penny in your pocket or a resume that has been verified? The schools are so desperate for Caucasian (preferably Aryan-looking blond & blue-eyed types) instructors that they will currier down a flight ticket, pick you up at the airport, set you up in your own apartment and even give you an advance out of your first month’s paycheck.
And sojourned in Korea, cushy in your 20-hour a week job, you now find yourself in a central Asian hub – where flights to Beijing, Bangkok and Phnom Penh are only a couple of hundred dollars. The perfect long weekend awaits anyone whose intention is to slip quickly in and out of a country that boasts of cheap sex and easily-found narcotics.

In case you’re sitting there scratching your head, wondering “Where else did I hear about pedophiles working as ESL teachers in Korea?”, let me refresh your memory: remember that weirdo John Carr individual who boasted of having killed Jon Benet – if only in fantasy? Yep. He lived in Seoul too.

So…yeah. There’s no shortage of losers who find it easiest of all to be around kids, having their cake and eating it too – in South Korea.

On the guy’s Myspace page, click here to see it, along with all sorts of crappy, sappy poetry, he openly admits to being a bum who’s been “kicking around Asia, teaching mainly and finding other forms of mischief.”

Being a former avid reader of Dave’s ESLcafe forums in former years, I tracked down all of his posts over the last couple of years under the handle “Peter Jackson”. Check them out here. In one of them, he writes of having even taught kindergarden kids (the same age as the little boys he raped in Thailand and Cambodia):

Oh, I loved my kindergarten kids, but that was mostly because I saw them 5 days a week, 4 hours a day for nearly 12 months. I saw them grow in so many ways and could not help feeling lots of pride when they graduated.

I bet. In a post dated May 18, 2007, he writes under the title Encrypt:

I’ve never heard of porn been a problem in Korea. On my first trip there in 2000 I remember reading the customs declaration form while on the plane. I was SO nervous for the remaining hours on the plane because I happened to have a couple Penthouse magazines in my bag. I ended up tossing them in the bin at the airport washroom, only to find out that no one would have found them anyway.

In terms of computers, if you’re worried about any “content” there are several ways to encrypt your drive. A friend has highly recommended Truecrypt, which you can download.

If you want to get rid of old files so no one will see, then simply deleting them will not work. You’ll have to get a program like Jetico’s BC Wipe and “delete with wiping”.

He was presently teaching at Kwangju Foreign School . This is what I managed to get from the school’s website before they erased the info:

Grade 7/8-English, Social Studies : Mr. Neil
B.A. History; Seminary of Christ the King; British Columbia , Canada
Canada Teaching Certificate
E-mail Address : cpasianeil@hotmail.com

Happy sleuthing, everyone! As for me, I think I want to write about something else now, or have a shower or something. Ugh.

Posted in children, ESL, expat, interpol, korea, life, news, rant, teacher | 23 Comments »

How to do a Midnight Run without Getting Caught

Posted by E on August 6, 2007

packed-bags

I want to preface this entry by saying that I’m genuinely sorry that your situation has brought you to my blog.

First of all, I will assume that you gave this job a fair shot and you have done a fair amount of soul-searching before you came to this conclusion and googled “midnight run”.
But here we are. You clearly want to get the hell out of Korea and your hogwon – your apartment is lousy and all your fellow expat teachers are unsociable drunks; you don’t have hot water and the old ajuma next door shits in a bucket; your class is made up of screaming imbeciles and you would rather throw yourself off the Lotte World bridge than endure another game of Bingo. Your director is a penny-pinching, whip-weiling sadistic fuhrer-type who wants to work you until you drop dead, while your teacher-partner only knows how to apply ten coats of make up a day and say “Hello, how are you?”.

elisa with students

Me at my second school in Seoul – I loved this job but hated the first one. Proof that you CAN make it in Korea if you stick it out!

Little children run after you on the road and scream non-stop “Teacher, how are you?” and “Meegook dweggi” (pig-foreigner). You’ve burned your esophagus on soju during your first welcome dinner night and frankly, you think soju is seriously overrated. The smell of kimchi in the morning makes you vomit uncontrollably in the alleyway by the whore-parlors while walking on your way to your air-condition-less school.
You hate the stares, the double shifts and the huge gobs of spit littering the sidewalk.
You want to get the fuck out of here. But how the hell to do it??

Ok, let me first say that before you take this radical step, you should try to get yourself a “release letter” from your hogwon. Yes, some people CAN get out of their hogwon hell and do it legally. It happened to me.

I ran into difficulties in my first month in Ichon. The supposedly-20 hours only job was turning into 30, and I was supposed to accompany kids on school trips for which I would not ever get paid. Never mind that I wasn’t supposed to teach infants but middle-schoolers and adults. However, I did eventually manage to get myself out of the contract. But it wasn’t pretty.

I got angry. I cried. I came across like a total freak who had no maternal instincts whatsoever. I hated children, I told them in a straight face, and never realized that until now.
They asked me if I would stay even if I were to teach older kids. But by then I knew I didn’t want to stay in this shady academy, and I had found a reputable school in Seoul who really wanted me (plus they gave me my own apartment and more money, so I was determined not to let my first month in Korea be ruined by one shitty hogwan).

I told them I couldn’t stand kids at all. But I really, really loved Korea and I would do anything to stay. I just couldn’t help that I had no maternal bone in me.
We got into a shouting match. I shouted back. I basically told them that I wouldn’t stay there, no matter what, and since I had my air ticket back already, I could leave anytime. But if they gave me my Release papers I would work the month for free, and the other school would give them a finder’s fee.

Finally, they agreed. So it turns out that for my first month I worked for free, but I spent the next twelve months working for a fantastic director at a different Seoul ESL academy. And I am really, really glad I stayed. Not because I grew to love Korea that much more (like all places and experiences outside your comfort zone, it has its ups and downs), but because it was an experience that pushed me to the limits. Looking back now, more than a decade after I left, there is much more that I miss about my life in Seoul than I ever thought possible (and no, not just the kimchi bokumbop!)

my classAnd so, in the end, I am really, REALLY glad I stuck it out. Korea is the kind of place that tests your character – and you discover what kind of person you are made of.

Being honest CAN work – as long as you are not intimidated by the reality of a confrontation. But OK, say you KNOW that your director isn’t a rational human being, and bribing him with working a month for free (to reimburse him for the airfare) won’t work.
What are your options?

a) stay, grin and bear it for an unterminable year
b) get on the first bus/train/donkey cart to the biggest city and just walk around; it won’t be long until you see an ESL academy where you can walk in the door and ask if they will hire you on the spot. Half the time they will, or will refer you to a school who will. Alternatively, try to find recruiters who can introduce you to schools for a small fee, and remember, there are always schools who will take an illegal teacher – but be prepared to be paid a little less. But they will take care of you and your lodgings.
c) Just hang out in Seoul or Pusan and live off private lessons – only if you have enough cash to rent a room for a month, until you make arrangements
d) Do the infamous Midnight Run! After all, that’s why you’re here!

So without further ado, here are Elisa’s 10 Steps to a Succesful Midnight Run:

1. Cut your losses. Be certain of your decision, since embarking on it means there is no going back. You will not be able to reenter Korea for at least a year, at least until your E2 visa expires.

2. Do not tell ANYONE. Other than your grandma or best buddy who will be meeting you at the airport back home, TRUST NO ONE. Even people who confide in roomates have been burned! That nice Australian chap who you go drinking with after class and shares in all your moaning and bitching about your school, accomodations, brats, etc. may indeed turn around and stab you in the back for extra kudos and a better schedule.
And by the way, if you DO decide to tell your folks back home that you are coming back early, I strongly encourage you to email them, or call them when you are SURE that your roomate(s) are out or not within earshot. I’m serious.

3. Ship some of your belongings home before you take off. Some of you who live alone may think – “Why bother? I don’t have a roomate so nobody will see my packed suitcases waiting by the door until my flight next week!

You’re dead wrong.
Hogwon directors and their minions have been known to make unexpected visits to teachers’ apartments whenever it strikes their fancy. Seeing all your stuff packed up will definitely ensure that you don’t get that nice month-end paycheck you’ve been waiting for before you fly this coop. So don’t be stupid.
Hide your suitcase if you can, and if you can’t, pack at the last minute or ship some of your stuff home early. Hey, it’s just a lot of souvenirs and cheap knock-offs for the folks, right?

Elisa with SouthKorea class4. Realize that someday, you may actually regret not having stuck it out, and that Korea wasn’t actually that bad. Then go to the bank and withdraw all the money you have – you may need to make several visits. Do NOT tell the bank that you are cancelling your account! Remember that your school initially set up your account, so they could be notified of the closure! Just tell them that you need the money and then pretend you don’t understand the question. It’s not their business to question what you’re doing with it! If possible, make sure you leave about a hundred bucks in there so the account doesn’t close entirely. You can always try taking it from an ATM back home – it worked for me.

5. Give yourself plenty of time before you are expected back at work. In other words, don’t do it on a weekday! The more time you have, the less likely anybody will notice you’re missing until it’s too late and you are sipping on a cocktail on your flight back home. This is especially important if you live in a small town and have to wait at a bus or train station before connecting to Seoul. You never know if someone there might know you or your school director!
Be prepared to have a story ready! Your grandma died, you’re visiting home for a week (this would only work if you’re running on a major holiday like Chusok), or just taking a weekend trip to Seoul/Bangkok/wherever.

6. Make up a family emergency if you have to – but be prepared to act convincingly or you will forfeit that paycheck or worse! Make sure you know exactly when you need to leave – you can get your ticket online and pick it up at the airport. I don’t recommend having it mailed to you. Too risky that someone might see it.

7. I am assuming you weren’t a total moron and you let your director keep your passport “for safe-keeping”, in which case you’re shit out of luck unless you can convince them of a great emergency, or just that you want to visit Beijing on a 4-day trip (It’s a nice city, I recommend it).

8. If you need to buy yourself some time, play sick. Really sick. Make sure you get the day off, and that nobody sees you (including the other teachers and doorman downstairs) leaving. This is really, really risky and you might get caught, especially if that doorman decides to call your hogwon wondering what you are doing with all those suitcases. That’s why it’s important to have shipped most of your stuff back home and just carry a backpack and/or duffel bag – you’d look like you’re just going out of town for the weekend.

9.  As you’re leaving through customs, tell them you are going back home to visit. Under no circumstances you are to tell anyone that you are doing a run. If they really want your ID card back, give it to them. Breathe, don’t choke on your adrenaline, and just get through those doors!

10. TRUST NO ONE. Yes, I’ve said that before, but it’s important enough to reiterate it again!

Ok kids, please write back and tell me how it all went! And remember, although you’ll feel like Jason Bourne in a spy movie, it’s not really all that bad! If you keep your plans to yourself and keep a cool head on your shoulders, nothing will go wrong. Good luck, bon voyage, and see you when you get home!

Best part of living in Korea - getting to travel through Asia for cheap!

Best part of living in Korea – getting to travel cheaply throughout Asia! 

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Posted in ESL, expat, freedom, korea, teacher, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 99 Comments »

The Red String, and how we are all connected

Posted by E on July 4, 2007

in-the-park4.jpg

An ancient Chinese proverb talks of “an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet. The thread may tangle or stretch but it will never break.”

I believe that everyone you meet, you meet for a reason, and every experience presented to you is a challenge to be learned from. This is not a religious belief but a personal, albeit somewhat spiritual opinion I hold.

I also believe that a parent is not one who carries a child for nine months, but someone who carries a child in their heart for a lifetime. Someone who is there for the smiles and the tears, the temper tantrums, the loss of baby teeth, the first day of school.

Adoptive children and their parents are brought together because they were meant to be together. Because they are on a spiritual level, if not genetically, parent and child. They are connected, not through blood, but through love.

Lately I’ve received some venomous mail from birth mothers who were using the same boring rhetoric about how adoptive parents  are acting “entitled” and “arrogant” about taking “other people’s children” and separating them from their birth families. (Basically suggesting that adoptive parents are legally kidnapping babies from their mothers via a subterranean, demonic ring of evil adoption lawyers).

I was astonished at their accusations. I wanted to say back to them: “Nobody held a gun to your head. You signed the papers. You may have been a teenager, felt pressured, etc, but YOU GAVE UP this child. (Maybe due to social stigma, poverty, depression, or simply not being ready to have a kid). BUT when you did that, the child became SOMEONE ELSE’S CHILD.”

I don’t understand how anybody can deny being responsible for giving a child away.  So you didn’t feel that you could be a parent to the baby. Fine. So you went and gave up all rights to him/her. I understand that there were tremenduous emotions involved in that decision, but WHERE ON EARTH do these people come from, to act as if these kids were kidnapped from them at gunpoint???

I wish there was some degree of respect for the people who actually TOOK that parentless child and raised him/her. They didn’t rob a mother of her child. That child didn’t HAVE a mother! Birth parenthood ended when the papers were signed. 

Dismissing a child’s adoptive mother and father (their REAL parents legally, and the only family they have known) as nothing more than arrogant, “entitled” jerks who want nothing better to do than satisfy their sadistic urges to kidnap and mentally torture a child by forcing them to “conform”, is insulting not only to them, but to that child.

Do these birth mothers REALLY think that they are helping their relationships with those adopted children (if and when they’d happen to meet again) or their psychological well-being by expressing such open-faced hostility toward their mom and dad?

Regret, jealousy and rage for having missed the most important milestones in the life of the person you gave birth to ought not to negate or deny the love that this child received from someone else: his or her parents. I would be thankful that someone loved them.

I’m certain that not all birth mothers feel like this – in fact, perhaps only a small fraction have such strong feelings. So before everyone in the adoptee camp freaks out, please remember that this post is about that small margin.

The relationship of parent and child goes so far beyond the nine gestational months spent in a womb. It’s about love, magic, and a connection that is much more than blood type. A red string ties each mother with her baby, even if the child is born thousands of miles away.

Posted in adoption, children, china, commentary, culture, family, ignorance, infertility, korea, love, parents, pregnancy, red string, surrogate, thoughts | 19 Comments »

Expats, Writers, Degenerates and other Rarities

Posted by E on April 18, 2007

with-korean-students.jpgKorea, 2001

Sitting here a full six months after publishing my first book, I can’t help but reflect on my progression into a pool of mental stagnation.

From the euphoric high of finally holding in my hands a complete book and brimming with excitement over the next project – “Now that this is done, look how easy it can be! Let’s do it again! Now!”, to being torn at having to choose between different projects, and finally burning out inside my ideas while barely touching the keyboard. And so lately I have been revisiting much of my time as an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. Life was chaotic, full of stresses and joys that entwined into a symbiotic landscape inside my head, and out of that emerged the most fierce independence I have ever experienced.

I hardly put a pen to paper then, and the temporary act of relinquishing my masochistic need to create, that painful expulsion of memory into creative form, was blissful. I could feel “normal”, no longer propelled to stand apart from others, imbibed with my own secret stories. There was nothing to me but my suitcase and my resume. There was power in this hollowness of spirit. Albeit for a short while in the context of my life, I was free of the compulsion to create anything.

Within that hollowness there were many other life forms, all drawn to the East because, paradoxically for a place where so many natives are fiercely inhibited, it was the land of the unrestrained. I met teachers there who were drunks, expelled from their jobs back in the US and Canada, most who had no certifications whatsoever save for an online degree in TESOL that can be purchased with $400. Korean private language academies were so desperate for teachers they took anyone whose passport photograph conveyed as Caucasian and under 40. A sad but true fact. I was given return flight tickets, a very generous salary, and my own bachelor apartment.

That was the time for people of my generation to escape their student loans, minimal wage jobs and lack of respect – by taking the first offer from an Asian school who afforded you the title of honorable teacher. And yet while there, while seeking solidarity from others, I found myself in a minority of expats – I did not drink, smoke nor use occasional drugs, and well, just about everyone did just about everything. The attraction for male teachers was hooking up with pretty Korean girls. There were lots of them to fit the demand, very skinny and superficial girls who were drawn toward “Meegook” American boyfriends and preferably more than a couple.

And then there were the teachers who had other intentions, who were there simply for the children. I could see it by the void in their eyes and by their sheer inability to converse with other adults; these were people who would never hold a job back home. Eventually they would be fired in Korea, and drift along, from school to school, working without a legal visa, until they simply disappeared.

The appeal for social rejects and pedophiles to just disappear from their home towns, to be handed a flight ticket and a free apartment in a foreign country where children are so much more accessible, can be irresistible to that type of individual. It’s just too easy.

Although I may get some flack for this, I do believe there are more degenerate expat teachers with transparent “degrees” than there are genuine ones.

Asia is a haven for transient backpackers looking for quick cash and young grads who have a hard time finding employment after graduation. Standards for hiring are abysmally low – you only have to look presentable in a photo and speak English with no accent – not that the latter criteria is easily enforceable: I worked for an entire year with a French Canadian guy who could barely be understood by the foreign teachers. But he was nice-looking with blue eyes and was interviewed over the phone by a director with almost no English conversational ability.

During the time I was employed at my school in Seoul, out of seven foreign teachers, four were regular drug abusers who liked to chase their pot down with hard liquor. When Steve and Andy, two New York-based teachers, took their week-long holiday together in Vietnam and Thailand, they returned with a sizeable amount of marijuana and hashish. As they got high in their apartment, they laughed and shared how they managed to pull off such a feat – part of the stash had been smuggled in Steve’s rectum.

Aside from the “good” times, there were many things I disliked about my stint in Korea, but there was nothing I hated more, more than the crowding and shoving on the subways, more than the spitting and the open stares from ugly men, and that was the expats.

But as I sit here reflecting on my year and a half in South Korea, I am reminded of another type I met abroad. There were not many of them around, but the few who did come were wonderful, inspiring individuals who genuinely wanted to make the most of their experience. They loved the children and were warm with all the students, young and old, who entered their classrooms.

me in Koreaat a Korean festival in Inchon

I came across people like that at expat community groups who met in pubs and restaurants across Seoul. There were lots of gay people there too, and one of the groups I’d joined was Seoul Sisters, a network made up of lesbian Korean adoptees who had returned to explore the land of their birth, and Western women who were either teachers like myself or stationed at the US army base.

I met creative people who were artists, writers, photographers and far beyond such definitions, and had transformed their lives and experiences into art. Such individuals humbled me; they had the strength to be themselves entirely, to drop the interchangeable masks that most people hold up in front of their genuine selves.

During the times I was desperate and wanted to do the “midnight run” back home, I would go on the internet and read the personal accounts of others who were in my place. Isolated in Korea, sometimes the only places we could interact was through the internet. Some isolated teachers had their own blogs or contributed to message boards such as Dave’s ESL café, where just about every ESL-teaching expat eventually makes a stopover. Even after returning back to Canada, I continued to read the accounts of likeminded spirits, people who were not deterred, either by site monitors or the pressure of other teachers and bosses, from speaking truthfully about their experiences.

One individual in particular made potentially the biggest contribution to the Korea ESL experience, by keeping up a significant blog and writing a book titled Island of Fantasy that became published through Lulu, the same press I used for my own material. His experiences paralleled my own to such degree that I often felt as though in some way I knew him. Indeed, I could easily have ran into him since we were in Korea at the same time and frequented some of the same places.

Shawn Matthews was a brilliant writer, full of humour and sarcastic wit to satisfy even the most jaded of readers. When I finished reading his book I must admit to feeling somewhat jealous – he had beaten me to the punch line, he’d written the book I intended to write. He was around my age, and there he went, putting out a memoir that took words and experiences right out of my mouth.

Over the last year I thought of his book as I put together the final draft of my own manuscript. Although what I was writing was on an altogether different subject, I derived some inspiration from his adventures, and was very satisfied with myself after I finally published my own book.

So this brings me back to a few months ago, when I was trying hard to tear myself away from the writer’s block that had enclosed my new project. Suddenly, it occurred to me to look back on Shawn’s blog for some satirical inspiration. But as I looked it up on the net, I quickly discovered that it had disappeared. The blog was gone! What had happened to it?

I googled Shawn’s name and to my shock, found out that Shawn had killed himself a month before. This person I had not met but had become synonymous with my own Korean experience, with my own desire to be a successful writer, had taken his life by leaping off the roof of his apartment building in Beijing, China. He had been teaching in China over the last year and apparently over the later months became constantly jeered and harassed over the internet by other teachers who disliked his opinions. They had gone so far as actually call him a pedophile on some chat boards, which could impact his teaching career. This turn of events, coupled with his state of depression over a girlfriend and perhaps other personal matters, made him snap. So on May 23, 2006, this young man could not take it anymore and committed suicide.

My effort to process his death was surreal. It was a tragedy that so much potential be lost, be thrown away like that. And as I found myself crying for someone who had been so alike myself, I was suddenly given the lesson of worth. On a deeper, more significant level, this realization snapped inside my body like an chord, resonating louder, reverberating though my being. I was outside my own self, looking at this other person who was beautiful and talented and did not value his own life enough to preserve its magic. A young man who had everything going for him – his youth, his health, and a brilliant mind. All gone in an instant.
For the first time in my entire life, the message finally sank in. In the past I had come so close to being where Shawn was, to throwing away all the good I had but did not see it right in front of me.

And the other thing I did not see until recently: the very act of not writing, of not fulfilling my potential, as an act of defiance against my spirit. As a lashing out against my own sense of self-worth. For every day I do not create, I tear another page out of the manuscript of my own fulfillment.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s words never had more weight than today – When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.

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