Hi everyone! I kind of stopped writing for a little while. I felt like having a break after writing about that vacation. I’m glad everyone liked it. I also kind of stopped replying to laudatory comments, because the idea of writing some variation of “Glad you like it (I implicitly acknowledge that I’m a good writer)” repeatedly made me feel strange. I like the booklet idea. And if the booklet has a title, I’ll be able to refer to it in italics, which will allow me to imagine that I’ve finally achieved my goal of creating something that must be referred to in italics. Only serious accomplishments get to be referred to in italics: books, movies, symphonies, ships, species (the accomplishment is discovering it). Most people go their entire lives without achieving anything in italics. Hell, even children don’t get italics. Since I’m not a shipbuilder, I think I’ll aim for a book to secure my sloped reputation. But unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be satisfied with a booklet that’s just circulated among the family. More people have to know about it and italicize it. Maybe if it were a zine. For the time being, though, it’d serve as a pretty nice stopgap.
Since I last wrote, even less than usual has been happening. Just after getting back I had a flash in the pan of four final days of class from the previous semester, which apparently wasn’t over after all, and since then I and the rest of the school have just been biding time until the next semester starts. That happens this Friday. I guess the other teachers have been preparing things and answering phone calls and other important stuff (though I happen to know that at least some of them spend lots of time reading about fashion and celebrity gossip). But Amanda and I have had no such tasks assigned to us. If common sense prevailed, we’d be allowed to stay at home or even go out on a second little vacation somewhere around Korea. But our contracts trump common sense, so instead what we do is come in to work every day, for the same hours, but with nothing to do. This epiphenomenon of most Korean teaching contracts is widespread enough that a word has been established for it: deskwarming. Many people chafe under this sort of obligation. Most get supremely bored; I know Sean has been, since he told me so over Facebook while he was deskwarming at his school. Generally the deskwarming period is a time to get really well acquainted with Facebook, learning what every one of your friends is doing. And I have noticed that I’ve been on so much that Facebook has started showing me more and more irrelevant things because it thinks I’m an addict with an insatiable craving for pointless information about people I don’t really know. But I have a secret weapon against the tedium: an absolute time-suck of a task, my font designing. The font I’m working on now, Walleye, has been over two years in the making, and I’ve decided I should never ever do a font family with so many features again. The next one I make will be a simple cursive font, and maybe I’ll get fancy with a few alternates, but that’s it. Not even a bold or italic weight. In any case, fontwork eats up hours and hours of time, so it’s absolutely form-fitted to deskwarming. I’ve been totally content these last two weeks, and while other people are saying things like, “I’m actually looking forward to teaching so I can finally be doing something during the day again,” I’d be fine if the semester didn’t start for another month.
I chose fontwork over writing because I’ve tried writing in the English room before and I just can’t do it. Something about the feng shui or the being on the clock. But I have been writing at home, since it’s Imaginary Week in my journal, my annual week of writing fiction instead of whatever actually happened to me that day. I’m halfway through the week now; North Korea has attacked the South and I’m trying to get to Busan to flee the country (the Seoul airport was blown up), but I’ve been hampered by crippling traffic jams and a gas shortage, and now a guy I hitched a ride with has gotten nervous and abandoned me in the middle of nowhere. Soon, a North Korean plane will get shot down near me and surviving Northern soldiers will find me, but I haven’t decided what happens then. I’ve also got some plots for stories brewing in my head, and I suspect that soon they’ll start spouting out onto paper, though I do say that sort of thing a lot, and anyone who’s been paying attention would be wise to be suspicious when I say it. Still, I’m determined this time.
But what I really planned on blogging about today was how I’ve decided that it’s about time I got my lifestyle in step with the stuff I say. Specifically, I’ve decided I’m going to start living with as little consumption of resources as possible. For a while, I’ve felt awfully hypocritical on this front, as I would talk about the environment all the time and yet walk down to the bakery and get some kind of excessively plastic-bagged treat full of factory sugar and other stuff. So I started forming an alternative plan. I didn’t realize it at first, but I later noticed that I was basically taking a leaf directly out of Colin Beavan’s book No Impact Man. Here are the new things that I’ve decided to do.
First, I’ll no longer accept plastic bags. Korea aches to give you plastic bags with every single transaction, often several inside of each other. No more of those.
Next, I’ll do all my shopping at the street market. I don’t know if the people who sell at the market are actually farming the food themselves, or where they get it. In some cases they’re clearly selling foreign produce, like the fruit seller who has bananas even this time of year. But presumably I’m cutting out at least some kind of middleman, and at the same time strengthening small-town economies against the juggernaut of huge companies, which are all the rage in Korea. No more profits to Paris Baguette or 7-Eleven. Also, most of the stuff at the market doesn’t come in plastic bags. They have practically everything I eat on a regular basis, though for some things I’ll still have to go to the stores.
I’ll keep my heating to a minimum. Relatedly, I’ll take really fast showers. I can’t cut out too much hygiene stuff, though, because apparently people at my school think I smell.
And I’ll quit using so much electricity, which means I’ll remember to unplug everything when I’m done with it, turn off the lights I’m not using, and quit using the computer so much.
The weird part is, once I made all these decisions and started putting them into practice, I realized I was doing most of the stuff already. I have drastically lowered the number of plastic bags I get, but other than that, well, I never kept lights on when I’m not using them, and I kept the heating low anyhow, and I tended to avoid shopping at the convenience stores because they always make me feel a little dirty. It makes me rethink some of the stuff I’ve said earlier about Korea being unaware or uncaring of its environment. The people themselves, sure, a lot of them seem to personally not think much or at all about the environment. But the culture as a whole seems to sort of intrinsically conserve. Almost all the meals are based around natively grown foods, and there’s not much processing or frying in oil to be found, at least outside of the big chain places. In fact, the native food issue is apparently such a big thing to them that on ingredients lists they show not just the name of the ingredient but also where it came from—with “국내산” (gungnaesan, domestic) being by far the most common origin to find. Often they’ll put it right there on the sign above a food—”Domestic rice, 13,000 won”. Probably the average Korean buys domestic products more out of national pride, of which Koreans have plenty, than out of concern for the environment, but it works out the same either way. Hot water is easily controlled; you can turn your water heater on or off at the same console where your thermostat is, whereas in the States you’re expected to just leave it on all the time, and I have no idea how I’d even go about turning off a water heater there. (Though, I think the console in my apartment just controls whether or not I get flow from some sort of master water heater for the building that’s always on.) The heating system is undeniably wasteful, but in some cases it’s circumvented with area heating that just focuses on a place where there’s a person who would like to be warmer, and leaves the rest of the room cold. Most appliances seem to have efficiency stickers, which never get removed due to Koreans’ tendency to never remove stickers from anything, even (sometimes) the plastic that’s put on phone screens to prevent scratches before they’re sold, years after the phone is bought and the plastic has gotten completely gummed up and milky from use.
So the upshot is that I haven’t actually had to change all that much to get pretty close to zero impact, and all the changes I made were just the obvious ones. In the US, after doing the obvious stuff you’d find lurking underneath it a substratum of little subtle ways that your life is bad for the environment just by virtue of being a US life with US people and assumptions and food from US stores. I guess the lifestyle here is a natural outgrowth of the fact that for so long people here had so little that it was impossible to live without conserving it. The force of industrialization has worked hard to reverse that impulse, but it hasn’t been very successful. I’d say it’s sort of the opposite of the US. In the US, most people are basically consumers, and green on the outside. In Korea, most people are basically conservers, and some of them indulge in stupid consumption because it’s recently become possible and it seems to be fun.
Still, I think I now consume even less than the typical Korean out here. It’s not necessary for me to live like this. My water bill is usually under $5 a month, but I’m still trying to save on water. I try to use it as if I only had a small tank to draw from. Once the weather warms up, I want to try cooking over open fires outside. It’s good practice. After I leave here (I just passed the halfway mark this weekend, by the way), I’ll be traveling in the most minimalist way I know how, and if I start living that life while I’m here, I’ll already be good at it and won’t have to figure all this out on the fly. If, instead of going to a restaurant, I’m capable of taking a fish (such as I can get at the market), cleaning it, and roasting it on a homemade fire, I’ll be able to feed myself for free in a lot of places. If I can deal with sleeping in the cold, it won’t bother me to be in a tent on a roof in Munich or in the foothills of the Rockies. And once I take these skills on the road I’ll hone them even more—I’m really looking forward to learning how to be a nomad from Mongolian nomadic herders. Eventually, it’ll just be natural to me to live so lightly that the only signs of me are flattened grass. Which is when I’ll have achieved what I want. Because that’s what that way of life is—just natural.