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4 posts categorized "Chloe Mckenzie"

Rock n Roll is Good for the Seoul ;)

Here in South Korea, k-pop pretty much dominates the music scene. It’s mainly what is playing in restaurants and stores (although I have heard some random Pitbull and/or Beyonce thrown in there as well—a Korean coworker told me if it is pop-y and English, it is automatically cool). Korean pop culture in general seems to revolve around being almost sickeningly sweet and cutesy—think of little stuffed pink bunny rabbits with giant eyes turned into song, and you’ve got k-pop. All the male k-pop stars wear make-up; it is not seen as effeminate, because Korean women want their men to be “pretty”. Appearances are very important for both genders, and this shows through the super-stylized, choreographed dance routines, and computerized, barely-human voices. K-pop is fun and dance-y; cute, yet strictly regimented—and this, to me, recalls the overall vibe of South Korea.

Before I arrived here, I liked listening to k-pop sometimes, along with other electronic-y/modern music (the Glass Animals, Oh Wonder, Lana Del Rey…) and this music genre really fits in quite well, I think, to the climate and overall feel of South Korea. Now that I am living here, though, I find my old music has lost some of its appeal—since arriving, I’ve been favoring Stevie Ray Vaughn and Led Zeppelin, Supertramp and Guns N' Roses…which is really about as far away from the vibe of South Korea as you can get. There is just something so deliciously discordant about wandering the streets of Seoul, listening to classic rock from the 60s. Looking back, I realize I’ve always chosen music that is in strict opposition to my immediate surroundings. Stuck in the Midwestern suburbs? Better put on some esoteric, wavy electronica, just to make it weird, am I right? So, am I an iconoclast? Am I simply desperate to be a unique, special snowflake? …I mean, very possibly, but I think it has much more to do with wanting to bring something to life. Listening to a disingenuous genre of music reminds me that the space and time I happen to be occupying is never all that there is, and it offers me a connection, however tenuous, to another space/time--access to a bygone era, if you will. And if I can inhabit 2 separate, discordant spaces at once, I feel larger. I can feel myself expanding to create room for other worlds, and I am greedy for them; I want them all at once. One place is never enough; I want to contain multitudes. For this purpose, travel is the most useful thing: every place I inhabit offers me not only itself, but its opposite as well.

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Me and my beary special friend <3 <3 Rock on, Seoul! (I'm not cool...) 

 

Registered Alien

I think maybe my apartment is haunted. I have lived here for 3 weeks, but I have not seen another living soul in my building during that time. I hear their voices sometimes—speaking words I do not understand, stomping up steps, children babbling together in what seems to me like a confused cacophony of gibberish syllables. Sometimes I hear a baby wailing from somewhere down below. A man yells things I don’t know out his window on Saturday nights. They are only voices to me, and I have never seen their faces, but then again, that means they have never seen mine. Maybe it’s me who is haunting their lives, and not the other way around; that would explain the stares I get on the streets. I pass people and they do a double-take. If I meet their eyes and smile, they stare unabashedly back, mouths open, or else they look away hurriedly. The other day, I sh*t you not, a woman saw me, made eye contact, looked away quickly, nudged her friend and whispered something, then they both proceeded to look back at me giggling. It feels vaguely eerie to be such an anomaly; like I have 3 eyes or some weird skin condition, a feeling compounded by the fact that I do not speak the language here. I feel like a grotesquely overgrown baby, stumbling through their stores and streets, attempting to communicate through an odd mixture of last-minute google translate terms and sign language. People ask me questions at the check-out; I smile and say “de (yes)” and hope it makes sense. I know maybe 7 words of Korean total, and though I am trying to learn more, it all seems to fly out of my head once I am standing in front of an expectant sales girl who has just spoken for a good 30 seconds straight and is now awaiting my response. It gives me a newfound respect for people who cannot speak English in the U.S., and for minorities—it is isolating to constantly feel like the odd one out, and immensely frustrating to not be able to communicate, not least because I feel so much stupider than everyone else. I wish I could wear a shirt that says “I’m smarter in English, I swear!”  

Though it is frustrating and isolating, it is also fascinating to see what it is like on the other side. I have been the native speaker attempting to understand and communicate with a foreign customer, and though of course I know that they are not actually intellectually slow, in some vague, unformed, prehistoric area of the brain, it is there: the judgement, the frustration—and sometimes the conscious thought of “they are definitely not stupid in their native language” takes just a few, searing seconds too long to slip through the cracks and slide into the thinking portion of the brain, and by then, it is sometimes too late; the damage has been done, and I know from personal experience that this damage takes even more effort and self-reflection to mitigate and move past. It is here, in the space between feeling and thinking, that prejudice takes root and sometimes flourishes, and it is an ugly, insidious feeling. This I have known—but now I know it a bit more completely. I can feel it from the other side now. I know what it is to be mistaken for unintelligent, or to feel so inadequate, simply because of a difference in language. And I think that this new knowledge has incalculable value for anyone who wishes to see our world a bit more clearly, a bit more completely. Sometimes it is not enough to consciously know that a certain impulse is incorrect; we must also feel it in our bones. The understanding must become a part of us if we want to have a true and permanent compassion for other humans, and not just those who, because of pure circumstance, share our language and culture. I sincerely wish everyone in America could have this same understanding, that this situation in which foreigners appear slow or very fundamentally different is just one circumstance among many possible circumstances, and absolutely should not be taken for reality.

In summation: I will never take for granted the ability to speak with other grown up humans again; people here think it’s weird that I’m white. Here are some pics of Chuncheon, the city I’m in:  15349657_10211418617130360_1795628416191499967_n-2 15338808_10211418618210387_795950064634112183_n 15400448_10211418617530370_767341725055958089_n



Leaving!

So I am currently on my way to South Korea, and I feel barely here. I feel like a ghost, like I don't even really exist--here, in this space, in this time, I feel like I am already a memory. I felt the same before I left for Australia as well--I think it has to do with not being able to picture myself anywhere at all; I have no clue what my life will be in just a few hours, future me does not exist to present me. I kind of love this vibe though--the whole "nothing is real, is this even happening" feeling is freeing and also simply interesting to experience.

It is very gratifying, though, that this is finally happening,  because it is a lot of work moving to a new country--the CIEE TEFL course, the visa application, (the lost passport that I mailed to the consulate but never arrived), the interviews, not to mention the application to CIEE. There are so many hoops to jump through, and at times the actual end goal gets lost amid the bureaucratic minutia. But...this is happening, this is real! I feel vindicated, like I accomplished something. The more miles I travel away, the bigger it feels, so that the airplane  leaving the runway becomes almost metaphorical in its ability to defy gravity, to rail against the laws of nature and go soaring through the sky. In this moment I feel like a speck against the enormous blue, I feel like I have found a secret pocket and slipped out of time, and I'm just waiting for the universe to notice its carelessness and call me back... IMG_1557

Donald, I hardly knew ye

In light of my impending move to South Korea (T minus 11 days!), this election, for me, has been a very odd one. I have to say, at first I was speechless, shocked, flabbergasted. I simply could not believe that so many of my fellow Americans would look past all of the many (many) awful, racist, xenophobic, bigoted, sexist things that President Trump has said. When I listen to him speak, I am enraged, and so I could not comprehend why so many others were so willing to look the other way—or worse, seemed to agree. I am trying to understand this, because right now I am disappointed and ashamed of my country. One thing that has emerged loud and clear from the Trump supporters in this country is this sentiment: “Trump is not politically correct. He says what he means. We know where we stand.” And I want to unpack this sentiment, so that I can understand what these people are really saying. First, we all know that America is a profoundly racist nation; we always have been, and although we have tried to sweep it under the rug and pretend it is not there, we have never been able to completely eradicate it. And we have seen, in recent years, a greater urgency in the efforts to reveal and emolliate the institutional racism in this country, and we have seen considerable backlash from these efforts—white people (not all, but enough) are made deeply uncomfortable when confronted with these nasty truths about our country. We have had to face problems that we have previously been led to believe were not there anymore. This requires an uncomfortable self-assessment, and considerable effort to change if we admit that there is indeed a problem. So, it is not all that difficult to see how “I like Trump because he is not politically correct” becomes “I like Trump because he removes the onus of responsibility from my shoulders and places it on someone else”. Political analysts said that there was an unexpected amount of rural white voter turnout—it is not a stretch to imagine that these rural white voters turned out in a sad kind of self-preservation—a sort of plea for the status quo. Similarly, there was considerable talk about a culture gap. Voters over 65 turned out in support of Trump—these are the people who are not happy about marriage equality, they are not happy about abortion and reproductive rights, and they probably have a difficult time, consciously or unconsciously, voting a female into the White House. Again, this vote for Trump’s “honesty” seems to be, in reality, a vote for his backwardness, a vote for the "good ol' days of yore"--you know, back when gas cost 50 cents, you could beat your kids with impunity, and white males ruled everything.

A different aspect of the Trump presidency that can be understood from this vaunting of Trump’s “honesty” is the idea that Americans are so disgusted with politics en masse that they simply wanted to blow up the entire system, and the way they did so was by voting for Trump. The story goes that President Trump has no political experience, has no support from even his own political party, and since the system is flawed, and Trump is not of the system, that somehow makes him uniquely able to lead our country. Look, I understand that the system is flawed—broken, even—but to elect a bombastic narcissist in order to blow up the system seems to me a lot like a murder-suicide. If honesty without regard for content is the only standard to which we hold the president, then that is a very low standard, and it reflects very poorly on the American voter. A vote for Trump may indeed be a rebellion against the system, but so is the temper tantrum of a child; Trump’s economic policies simply do not pan out in the opinion of most of the world’s top economists, and his social and foreign policies are nothing short of terrifying.

Now, this election is particularly interesting to me in the context of my impending move out of the United States; I confess, when I first saw the signs that Trump was going to win this election, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh, thank god I’m leaving soon anyway!” But it’s not that simple, is it, because, first of all, the election results still affect me as an American citizen, and second of all, any country I may subsequently move to (including South Korea, where I will be moving in less than 2 weeks) will have its own political scandals and upheavals, its own inherently flawed system--it's not like I'm moving to a pristine nation with no corruption. It is interesting that I felt this relief, though, because I think that this sentiment of really wanting to move away from America reveals just how deeply our national ties run. Even though I knew I was imminently leaving the country, the results of this election still impacted me on a not only political level, but on a deeply emotional level. The fact that so very many of us want to leave our own mess, even though we would necessarily be running into someone else's, reveals that we never truly can leave—we carry America with us wherever we go. And because of this--because of my emotional ties to American politics--the politics of any nation I might choose to live in will never be as real, as visceral, as emotionally meaningful to me as “my” country’s politics. My moving to Korea does not make my innate American-ness go away, and I wonder what it really means to be a citizen when I would not exist without my country, when I can never extricate my core self from the concept of “American”, when a Trump presidency affects not only the policies and economies surrounding me, but who I am and how I think.

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