Socialising in a predominantly foreign community has opened up the gates to a variety of cultural celebrations. Each event is embraced as one’s own, and it successfully quietens any loathsome homesickness. This weekend, it was time to celebrate the Holi Hai festival. The Hindu festival of colours has rapidly become very popular worldwide, probably due to the playful nature of throwing paint over each other and dancing, (what’s not to love?!).
Luckily, spring suddenly showed her ravishing face, encouraging participants to strip off their winter layers in order to frolick on Haeundae beach. Indian dance music was booming from the speaker system on the seafront by 10am encouraging people to commence their revelry. Each participator was provided with a packet of paint powder, a Hindu hat, a can of coke, unlimited access to face paint and two delicious samosas for a measley 10,000won fee. The beach was brimming with early morning drinkers and the mini marts alcohol supplies quickly diminished.
By midday, with the sun beating down on the revellers, the extravaganza began. The anticipation increased alongside the countdown. Suddenly, the salty sea air was mingled with a rainbow of paint as strangers immersed each other in a sensational spectrum of colour. The cavorting continued until the late afternoon, by which point participants were driven to nearby restaurants in order to quell their ravenous hunger.
Last week an article appeared on the Daily Mail’s website explaining how a new phone app had been created in South Korea to try and prevent the excessive number of student suicides that the country suffers from. The article was skeletal in its description of exactly how this application would operate, but it still managed to strike a chord.
Korea’s suicide rate ranks third highest, which truly questions the quality of life in this hypercompetitive society. The nation is obsessed with obtaining a higher education both for themselves and for their offspring. Students study for long, tedious hours throughout their education in the lead up to the test that decides their fate. The College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), which are held in November, determine whether the student has accomplished their lifelong goal and achieved a place in a top institution or if they have failed. This is when many school kids crack under the pressure and the suicide rate takes a dramatic increase. In 2014, an outstanding 118 students took their own lives.
Unfortunately, the government’s meek attempts to curb this catastrophe appear to be unsuccessful. A high school student that I teach told me that she starts her day at 7am and doesn’t finish studying (this includes school and hagwon), until midnight on most weekdays. Her weekends are also littered with academies, tutoring and homework. When I asked her what she does in her free time, she told me that she sleeps. Immediately, I thought of my own childhood where free time was spent playing with friends and homework was an afterthought. These are times that I look back on with happiness, and I wonder what Korean’s feel when they remember their own youth. It’s not just high school students who are subject to this rigorous education system. All the way to elementary school the students will complain of sleep deprivation and their gruelling timetable.
As a hagwon* employee, I am contributing to this atrocious education system. My involvement incriminates me, as I am using the system to my advantage. However, as I watch the students file into my academy and sit gossiping with their friends, it appears that English hagwon might be a moment of respite in an arduous day. I can rest easy at night knowing that during my class these students, who are otherwise burdened by education, can actually enjoy learning and allow themselves to be children. I like to think of my classroom as an escape; the children arrive early and stay late not to study but to talk, laugh and relax. Therefore, shouldn’t the government be allowing children to experience more joy, in order to step away from suicide, rather than an app to catch them when they are inevitably pushed too far?
*A hagwon is a private institution that happens after school.
When I lived in the UK, I would generally go to a gig a couple of times a month. Every night there would be an ample supply of bands and artists to choose from in various venues around the city. Often, if I found myself with nothing to do, I’d pick up the local freebie magazine and see who was playing that evening. Impromptu nights out to bands that I’d never even heard of tend to be where my favourite memories were forged.
However, Korea has failed to fulfil my lavish appetite for live music. So, by the time I flew across the East Sea I was craving for a fix. Luckily, Tokyo is the kind of city that can cater to a variety of desires and mine was not too hard to quench.
I managed to find a gig in the middle of the trip that was a decent price. The allure of the band was was intensified as I had never even heard them before. I was delighted when the Canadian four piece sauntered on stage, channelling a composed, cool aura.
Jane Penny’s vocals are sultry and seductive as she works her way through an impressive set list. Her voice is mellifluous, as it flows around the room intoxicating the crowd with its honey sweetness. The music is reminiscent of a previous era and it transports you back to a hedonistic moment of pleasure in the late 70s.
The lyrics are meagre and scraped thinly over the songs. However, each instrument assimilates beautifully, and the euphonious conclusion makes you forget all about the raw lyrics. Instead, the music entraps you in the moment.