Transitions

I’ve mentioned this briefly in a lot of posts over the last six months, but here it is again for good measure: I’m leaving South Korea.

After seven years of living in this beautiful country that has become my second home, I’m packing a few boxes to ship back to the US and selling / giving away everything else in my apartment.  I’ll be leaving the country with one backpack, four crossed fingers, and a thousand memories.

Seven years.  Typing these words leaves a lump in my throat.  I’ve developed some of the closest relationships in my life here, and although the world is getting smaller and my friends are only a Skype call away, it’s not quite the same as hopping on the subway or walking down the street to meet someone for a beer spontaneously.  In the past few months, I’ve felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life because when you part from the people you love, you tend to tell them how much you love them. There’s a Korean word, 정 (jeong), that describes how I feel about Korea – it’s indefinable even in Korean and has no matching English word – but encompasses feelings of love, attachment, affection, community, and giving.  Korea sometimes feels like a big family, and I appreciate that more than I can say.

I’m nervous about going home… I’m expecting the reverse culture shock of coming back to the US to be much more difficult than the original culture shock of moving to Korea, especially given the current political climate! That being said, I have a LOT to be excited about – seeing family and old friends, forging a new and more meaningful career path, probably moving to a new city.  I’ll be traveling for six months (in Africa, Spain, and the UK) before I arrive in the US and definitely looking forward to grand adventures!  My future is uncertain, though: Will I be able to find a job?  Where will I end up?  Will I have to have roommates again in order to be able to afford living in the US?

Also uncertain is the future of this blog.  I don’t use my phone to do anything blog-related for privacy reasons, and as I’ll be backpacking, I’m not taking a laptop or iPad with me.  I don’t know how often I’ll have access to internet cafés or if the ones I come across will be places I feel comfortable posting in.  I will try to post / check into Twitter when I can in the next six months, but it’s likely that posts will be few and far between.

So before I embark on this journey, I’d like to say: I feel so incredibly lucky to be a part of this blogging community.  Writing this blog has given me an outlet to uncage a creativity I didn’t even know I had, and I’m grateful for that every day.  The ways in which sex bloggers support and encourage each other inspires me and fills me with joy.

I’ll be coming through Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, and Bristol this summer; if you happen to live in one of those places or know a trustworthy person who does and will provide a sleeping space on their floor in exchange for some good storytelling, please shoot me a message on Twitter or an email (@teachershavesex / teachershavesex@gmail.com) and let me know!  As you can imagine, traveling for six months is going to be pretty expensive, and even hostel dorm rooms add up!

I’ll be posting one more Sinful Sunday and one more non-fiction story before I take off; for now I just want to say thank you so much for reading (and for posting the hundreds of gorgeous photos and pieces of writing many of you do that put ideas in my head!).  May your 2017 transitions be positive and peaceful ones, and I hope all of you will experience your own grand journeys this year, even if they happen in your own home.

xx

Jo

dsc09412

 

Salmon

Today was an emotionally difficult one.  I woke up like so many others this morning with a heaviness in my heart and gut that’s not likely to disappear for a while.

A lot of folks have written long-form pieces on the misogyny, white supremacy, xenophobia, and entitlement that have fueled the Drumpf campaign; that’s not what I want to write about here because so many people are speaking about it more eloquently than I can.

But I can speak to this: with a vice president coming into office who has done everything possible to roll back Roe vs. Wade in his state, reduce women’s access to contraception and reproductive health, and who has tried to criminalize miscarriage – now in a national position of power with no one to check that power – our reproductive rights are genuinely in a precarious position.

In Indiana, minors must have parental permission to get a prescription for birth control.  Sex education isn’t required and if it is taught, abstinence must be stressed.  Teaching about contraception is NOT required.  There are no anti-discrimination laws or anti-bullying laws in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and there’s no statewide hate crime law.*  Much has been said about Indiana’s draconian measures to restrict abortion and its attempt to encourage discrimination against same-sex couples; this is the man who will be tasked with helping to choose our next secretaries of health and human services and education.  Who will be partially responsible for nominating the next Supreme Court justice.

Furthermore, knowledge itself is dangerous to Drumpf.  The more educated people are, the less likely they were to vote for him.  As an educator, I’m nervous not only about the future of teachers’ unions and science and history textbooks, but about an administrative attack on higher education and knowledge as a whole.

There are many who joke about leaving the US for greener pastures; I certainly sympathize with that sentiment.  I’m swimming upstream, though.  After seven years of living as a resident alien in another country, I’m coming home.  I was already planning on this well before the election, but after yesterday, my feeling that now is the right time is much stronger.  I can’t make my voice heard from South Korea.  I cannot march, I cannot organize, I cannot be an advocate or active ally for young people and communities who lack access to resources.  There are trying times ahead, and it’s time to jump in with both feet.

#wewontgoback

*This information comes from Sex, Etc., which I highly recommend you check out for state-by-state information on laws concerned with birth control, abortion, and sex education.

 

In Back

Seven years ago, I walked with some trepidation into a tiny shop on the third floor of a commercial building; it was up a narrow staircase, and I had to ring a buzzer at a heavy door with a tiny window to get in.  I only knew this place was there because other foreigners told me so: “Look for the interlocked male and female symbols,” they said.  Walking past masks, fake blood, face paint, props, and various other costume pieces, I saw what I came for: sex toys.  Well, sort of.  Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust and had Japanese writing on it; it all looked very old, as though it had been smuggled in via Soviet Russia.  There weren’t very many products – a fake pussy here, a crop there, a couple of PVC dildos.  Pornography is illegal in Korea; adult toy stores are highly frowned upon and hidden away, and I think they can only be open as novelty stores.  Anything considered “obscene” by the Korean government can be confiscated by customs; the Korean version of Amazon does sell a limited number of items, but only on its Korean-language page. and shoppers must submit a phone number for age verification.
A bit like these guys…
But back to this store.  The older man with greying hair behind the counter lowered his glasses and looked me up and down before asking, “Vibrator?”  I nodded and walked toward the counter.  From behind the glass, he brought out a huge rabbit and told me the price: 100,000 won.  Nope, I said – too expensive.  I was just looking for a cheap way to get off quickly.  He then brought out, in sealed plastic wrapping in a tiny box one egg vibe, bright yellow and transparent.  20,000 won, he said.  Sold.  I know this is outrageously expensive for a cheap plastic egg vibrator – but seeing as how Korea is lacking in feminist sex-positive sex shops, I took what I could get, and I got down. 

 

I had that vibrator my first two years in Korea; it never blew my mind, but it did the trick!  It was a traumatic time in my life, and that little vibrator meant waves of relief when I desperately needed it.  Every time I go home to the States now, I make several trips to my local superhero sex store and stock up, very, VERY thankful that I have all the vibrators at my disposal that I could possibly want (and that nothing has been confiscated by Korean customs).  And dammit, I want them all. 

 

I’m a fan of rumbly over buzzy; of patterns over continuous vibration; of silicone over… well, everything.  I use vibrators mostly when I want to get off hard and fast; if I’m in for a long wank or am highly aroused and lubricated, I prefer my hands and a dildo.  That being said – I bought my first vibrator on my eighteenth birthday (it was pink and had hearts all over it – triple ugh) and have never looked back.

I bought my mom a vibrator (maybe that’s what this post should have been about!) for her 55th birthday after she confided in me that my father wouldn’t touch her anymore… and she shed tears of joy when I said that every woman had the right to experience pleasure.  She called to say thank you the following week, and we never talked about it again – but I know it made an impact on her to know that her daughter had her back.  We should all have each other’s backs when it comes to the right to self-pleasure.  Maybe when I move back to the States, I should make it a point to mail all my friends in Korea vibrators for their birthdays – I’ll just write “novelty item” on the customs slip.  

La Patria

This photo was an accident, but it ended up being my favorite of the bunch.
I’ll be leaving Korea in February and returning to the States; I’m having a lot of mixed feelings about this major transition in my life, as I’ve been here for seven years.  I have a strong community and roots here, but I don’t feel like my work is having any impact on anyone, and that’s not why I became a teacher.  I’m homeward bound in less than a year; moving toward half of the people I love and away from the other half.  Toward my motherland (la matria?) where my blood and my heart lie, and away from so many people who have a huge place in my heart.  Talk about change. 

As an aside, I took this photo at 6:00 am next to a temple, and a monk saw me in my skivvies, sooooo… that happened.
See who else is changing…
Sinful Sunday

Dance, Dance

One of my former students invited me to a dance performance at her university last week; she’s a member of an auditioned dance troupe that performs choreographed songs once a semester.  I sat down next to her parents when I got there, excited to see them and catch up.  As I looked around the auditorium, I realized there weren’t other parents or family members there – the audience was completely comprised of other students.  And as the students started dancing, I understood why. 
When the lights dimmed, twelve young women came out onto the stage wearing denim cutoffs and midriff-baring white tank tops and started popping and dropping to a recent K-pop hit, and the audience went wild.*  My student’s mom laughed nervously next to me and gripped the arms of her chair.  And I have to admit, I was a bit uncomfortable.  I was uncomfortable that these students – that these young women – were moving so sexually on stage.  And then I was unnerved by my own discomfort; these students were really good dancers, obviously cared a lot about what they were doing, and put a lot of effort into it.  They danced with power and attitude, and they nailed it.
There is a longstanding and ongoing debate about societal expectation and oppression vs. personal empowerment and expression when it comes to women and sexuality; I have a lot of mixed feelings about expectations put on women to perform sexual roles for men and women taking control of their own bodies and lives through embracing and voicing their own desires.  I just started reading Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex; she has a lot to say about the subject, and there’s a review forthcoming.  For me, claiming my own desire is empowering – but it wasn’t until recently that I started being the sexual person I wanted to be and not the sexual person I thought other people wanted me to be, and most of that has to do with the ways in which women are socialized to please men and ignore their own needs and pleasure.  I’ve had a lifelong struggle with loving being that woman who talks about sex all the time versus wanting to be seen as a whole human being whose entire identity – whose entire value – isn’t wrapped up in her sexuality.    
Talking about sex and being sexual was a big part of becoming an adult for me. Watching my student dance, I thought about how my parents reacted (or, rather, didn’t react) to my very open candor about sexuality when I was a teenager.  I distinctly remember singing along to songs like “Freak Me” and “Anytime, Anyplace” with my friends in middle school and making sexual innuendos in all of our letters to each other.  Popping on the basketball court in a stepping group at thirteen.  Teaching other students in my school how to use a condom as part of an HIV 101 lesson.  Inviting my mom and uncle to come to Rocky Horror with me at seventeen and shouting out dozens of audience participation lines that I can only assume were horrifying for my mother to hear come out of my mouth.  My folks didn’t try to suppress my overtly sexual words and world; they let me be who I was.  They let me figure my shit out, and they were there to support me if and when I needed them to.  And I am forever grateful for that.  They also never talked to me about pleasure, desire, safety, consent, respect, or communication… and I desperately wish they had.  Or that someone had. 
Now that she’s an adult, I’m having conversations with this young woman about sex and relationships because she’s not having them with other adults in her life (talking about sex isn’t common in Korea, even among friends).  Being a part of her life means telling her things I wish someone had said to me while also letting her be who she is and supporting her.  I want her to think critically about the world she lives in while also experiencing joy and beauty and yes, pleasure.  If dancing brings her pleasure and fills her with joy, then I want her to dance the fuck out of those dances. 
*Videos produced by the multi-billion dollar K-pop industry have become much more sexualized in the past couple of years; this video is pretty tame, and perhaps it’s just shocking because of the move from aegyo(acting cute in order to be attractive)-based videos into videos that have more sexualized choreography and clothing.  There’s definitely something in my reaction to this that’s rooted in structural / institutionalized racism and cultural perceptions of the intersection of race and sexuality.  Speaking of – I’d love to comment here on the blatant cultural appropriation / token black guy in this video, but that’s covered by a LOT of other blogs.

Bloom

In South Korea, cherry blossoms mean spring has sprung; right now, everything is in bloom, and the country looks like a beautiful pink and white fluffy heaven.

(…and now, so does my crotch.)
My very favorite K-pop video of all time is also called Bloom; it was banned from Korean television for featuring masturbation!  
Here’s to growth, warmth, and blossoming.

‘Tis the Season…

…for some corrupt-ass shit.

The English department secretary at my school sent me the following email hours before I hopped on a plane to come home for Christmas:

Dear Jo,

You have special sport students in some of your classes. I’m writing to let you know how to grade for those students.
 I attached the excel sheet showing the list of sport students. 

They will get a pass according to the score and rank which they win at the sport contest. Therefore, (name of my university) wants you to give the designated letter grades by which I mean you should give them a pass.

Please contact me if you have questions.
I teach once-a-week, pass / fail conversation classes; the cutoff point for passing is 60%. Basically, if the students show up most of the time, participate, and pass the exams, they pass the class.  In the list of twenty or so students that was sent to me, only one actually passed my class.  There were others who only showed up for the exams just to fail them, some who came once in a while without a textbook and then sat in the back on their cell phones the whole time, and some who never showed up to a single class or exam.  

Our university’s policy is that when it comes to student athletes, their class scores for all of their classes are based on how well they do in their sport.  If they’re athletic rock stars — say, in tae kwon do or baseball — they never have to go to a single class and can still get an A in all of them.  

This is not unique to my university; it’s common practice in private universities all over Korea.  I know shit like this happens in the US as well, but it’s shocking to see it so out in the open.  Maybe it’s better that way… at least there’s no pretense.

I always wonder what our student athletes do after university… do they go on to national competitions?  Then what? Do they coach?  What if they get injured?  Changing careers is relatively easy in the US, but extremely rare in Korea.  Students don’t even change majors in Korea. So if athletes just stop learning the same skills and knowledge their peers are learning at age 15, what happens when they need it?

Loving Love Motels

Expats living in South Korea sometimes joke that while Korea feels like 2020 technologically, it kind of feels like the 1950s in terms of relationships.  Most young people in South Korea still live with their parents and continue to do so until they get married – with the exception of living on campus for some university students.  While the number of people living alone is on the rise, single households still account for only 24% of households in Korea – and that includes English teachers and the elderly.  So if you’re dating (and you better be because if you’re still single at thirty YOU’RE GOING TO DIE ALONE) and still living with mom and dad, where do you have sex?* 
At the Love Motel!!!
All over South Korea, in every city, in practically every neighborhood, you can find a love motel (or twenty): a motel which was built with the express purpose of bangin’.  The rooms come with throwaway toothbrushes, condoms, super soft core porn on the telly (basically just a lady’s face moaning; sometimes there are boobs), shared toiletries, and black ropes hanging between the alley and the parking lot so you can’t see people get out of their cars and walk inside.  Many love motels have different fees for overnight stay versus the use of a room for a few hours.  And they can get super backed up.  In the more popular and modern motels on a Saturday night, it’s not uncommon to see a waiting area in the front lobby full of young couples waiting for people to finish sexing so they can use a room. 
You’d think these places would be kinda gross or disheveled with all those people coming (ha!) and going, but they’re actually pretty rad!  Every love motel room I’ve been in came with clean sheets, towels, and robes.  They all had huge flat screen TVs, a queen or king-sized bed, a mini-fridge with free bottled water, an electric kettle with free coffee and tea, a computer with internet / free WiFi, and a toilet with a heated seat.  How much do these rooms run, you ask?  They sound kind of expensive!  NOPE!  In a small town, you can get a room with a queen-sized bed and a large Jacuzzi tub for 60,000 won – about $50.  I stayed in one last weekend with a king-sized bed, a skylight that covered most of the ceiling with a retractable cover, a gigantic round hot tub, and a Finnish sauna for 80,000 won.  For real. 

I kind of think people should skip the temples and palaces and just come to South Korea for a sex vacation.  And the food.  Delicious food and sex in a hot tub!  What more do you want on vacation?  South Korea: Come for the grilled meat and fresh seafood; stay for the love.

That’s a sauna next to the shower.  VIP room!

Green light special coming up…

Like that mirror above the bathtub?  There are lots of mirrors in love motels!




*Mom and dad, of course, would answer: You don’t.  You don’t have sex until marriage.  Did you know that roughly 1/3 of Koreans practice Christianity – evangelical Christianity?

Hoe Sik

Image result for yuja sojuThere is a tradition common to most (all?) Korean companies of going out for a “work dinner” with the other members of your staff and getting completely obliterated; it’s called 회식 (pronounced hway sheek).  While eating dinner, the office staff goes through several bottles of beer and soju, toasting over and over — and everyone is expected to participate.  Sometimes the evening happens in rounds — dinner, drinks (as if you didn’t already drink enough with dinner), noraebang (singing room).   

While this happens most often in corporations, school staffs are not excused.  My first four years in Korea, I worked with Christian bosses who didn’t drink, so I was lucky in that I mostly escaped the 회식.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone out for some school dinners, but there were students there, so we never got too drunk (as mentioned before in this blog, drinking with students is not only acceptable here, but encouraged at times). 

A few weeks ago, I went out for my first proper 회식 in Korea.  We started with pork barbecue and flavored soju (I can’t believe it’s taken this long for soju companies to introduce flavored soju); a professor a lot of us had never met before paid for dinner and drinks for everyone — and there were about twenty people there.  Next, we moved on to a pub, where we all downed a few pints.  Afterward, we all moseyed over to a huge noraebang down the street — but not before stopping into a convenience store and stuffing our bags and pockets with more bottles of beer and soju.  The same professor who had paid for dinner paid for five hours up front for the singing room!  Five hours!  Who was this mysterious man?  It should be noted here that we arrived at the noraebang around midnight. 

By 2:30 am, several teachers had stumbled out into the night to catch a taxi home; some were drunkenly flirting with each other while looking through song books; a small group was still standing, singing every song together; and my boss was passed out on a bench at the back of the room, fast asleep after exhausting all available Bon Jovi songs.

I left without saying goodbye and walked through the refreshing summer night air to my bike parked a few blocks away.  As I was riding home, I started really listening to the lyrics of the song that was playing on my iPod (YES, YES, I know I shouldn’t be riding a bike while listening to music).  You know how sometimes you can hear a song several times but never really listen to it, but then at some point you DO listen, and you have an epiphany about how good the song is?  This happened to me while listening to — and I’m going to ask for your forgiveness here — a Taylor Swift song on the way home from my drunk evening out with coworkers.  I listened to all the words and thought, “Taylor Swift!  How do you know my life?!”  I rode my bike through empty back alleys for the next forty minutes listening to the same song over and over and feeling this special bond with Taylor Swift (or her lyricist, I guess) that comes from someone else totally getting it.  I rode my bike as fast as I could up and down tiny hills until I could sing that song at the top of my lungs.  It was a long night, but a lovely one, and completely worth the kind of hangover you can only get from hours of drinking flavored soju. 

On Becoming Friends with my Gynecologist

I have heard and read a lot of horror stories about visiting the gynecologist in Korea during my five years here.  Because of this, I’ve saved my visits for back home, even though it’s more expensive since I don’t have insurance in the US.  Most of my female friends and acquaintances in Korea have told me that there is a curtain placed between the doctor and patient so they can’t see each other and that the doctor will often do things without first getting the consent of the patient, like an ultrasound or a biopsy.  This would be totally unheard of in the US, where malpractice insurance costs an arm and a leg and there are entire classes taught in medical school regarding consent and liability.  In the US being able to see your doctor and ask her (or him) questions is comforting; perhaps in Korea, because sexuality isn’t really talked about, it might be embarrassing to be able to see your doctor’s face while she’s looking at your vulva.

I’ve also read stories about women being asked to recount their entire sexual histories aloud in a waiting room full of other patients, or doctors calling a woman’s boss to report her pap results.  Because individuality permeates US culture so thoroughly, complete privacy is expected in a medical setting, but the concept of privacy is much less important in communal cultures.  Visiting the doctor here often involves getting on a scale, having blood pressure checked, or even getting blood drawn in a public area.      

I found an English-speaking gynecologist through an expat website and was elated that her office was only a short bus ride away from my apartment!  What I experienced there was astonishingly different from what I’d read and heard.  There’s one doctor in the clinic; she’s retired, but still practicing privately.  I was called into her office and had a conversation with her beforehand, specifically telling her that I didn’t want an ultrasound or a sonogram – just a regular old pap smear and STI panel.  The receptionist took me into a changing room to put on a skirt with an elastic waist (no giant, awkward paper cover!  This might freak out people who are germaphobes, but it’s definitely more environmentally-friendly…) and then called me into another room where I sat on a chair that was much like a dentist chair but with a super short seat.  The back of the chair could be electronically raised or lowered.  Instead of heel stirrups, there were thigh stirrups and a flat place to put your feet underneath them. 

The doctor, who did not put a curtain between us, did a normal speculum / swab routine, but then she surprised me by telling me she was going to take a picture of my cervix.  “Oh!” I said… “Okay.”  Suddenly, a full-color picture of my cervix popped up on a monitor across the room, which was pretty rad.  However, I then felt a sudden, slight, sharp pain.  “What did you just do?” I asked.  She told me that she had applied an acidic solution to my cervix to check for HPV, which I thought was kind of neat at the time, until I researched it and found out that not only does it not really test for HPV, but the CDC recommends against having it done.     

Afterward, the doctor took out the speculum and she and the receptionist (who had been next to her the whole time taking notes!) lowered my feet onto the floor so I could go change.  I went back into the doctor’s office, and this is where it got good.  We talked for at least thirty minutes about which STIs she tests for on her STI panels, the prevalence of HPV in South Korea and how it’s changing, the HPV vaccine and how guidelines for who should receive it and when are changing, and the various types of abnormalities that can be seen during cervix photography.  Her medical English was incredible, but that’s not what impressed me.  What impressed me was that she treated sex and sexuality as a normal part of the human experience — basically, she was sex positive.  She treated me as an educated person who was fully capable of discussing my sexual health.  She even gave me her mobile number and invited me to drive around the coast with her so I could see parts of Korea that I normally don’t have access to while she practices her English!

It was a visit to the gynecologist that left me feeling confident and comfortable, which is a rare and beautiful thing.  She called me yesterday to report my test results (all good – yea!) and reminded me to come hang out with her.  And I actually want to.