Well, folks, I'm signing off here. Next stop: Incheon International Airport. I may blog from there if I have the chance.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Saturday, May 18, 2013
dishes & utensils put away?
final garbage run?
shower rod & curtain back in place?*
kitchen gas line turned off? sink & drain washed?
electric fan in utility closet (w/orange plastic bag)?
hot water heater OFF?
all lights off?
laundry rack back in living room by sliding door?
blankets & pillowcases given a final washing?
floor given a final once-over?
bathroom (toilet, sink, floor) cleaned?
last laundry done?
note written (+cash)?
*Yeah, that one's kind of embarrassing. The bathtub's shower curtain, which is very long, kept billowing when I showered, and it would sometimes billow so fiercely that the curtain would smack my body and stick to it. This was obnoxious and uncomfortable; my shower curtain at home doesn't behave that way, perhaps because it's made of heavier material.
At one point, the curtain got underfoot and, in stepping downward, I accidentally tugged the entire curtain and rod off with a clang. Happily, this improved my showering experience immediately, even though it meant the bathroom floor would be soaked. (I began using an electric fan to quick-dry the floor, just as I used to do in my old place at Sookmyung University.) Anyway, for this entire month, I've kept the shower curtain and rod off, so now the time has come to put them back in place.
Saturday was busy. It began with some YB-related work (still not done; I'll be finishing that tonight), continued with a visit to Sperwer's place (previously noted), then finished up with a flurry of errands and activities: getting a haircut, shopping for trinkets at Namdaemun, meeting Tom for dinner, shopping a bit more before returning to the apartment, throwing out a massive pile of sorted garbage that had accumulated by the front door (Koreans take sorting seriously)... and writing this blog post.
I got my hair cut at the same salon that did my hair when I first arrived in Korea. I asked the lady to cut the hair shorter this time, partly because the weather has been getting warmer, and partly because she'd cut it too long last time (I normally prefer short haircuts so that I can go six weeks between sessions; getting a haircut a mere month later indicates that my hair was still too long after that initial cut). A bubbly young woman was in the shop talking with the two older ladies; I got dragged into the conversation when it turned out that the girl wanted to get set up with a foreign guy. "I'm 43," I said cautiously. The ladies looked politely shocked: "You don't look it!" they squawked.*
Tom called in the middle of my haircut, and I told him I'd have to call him back. After my cut was finished, I returned Tom's call, and we arranged to meet that evening at Dos Tacos—the same Dos Tacos in Chongno where we had met before. I then took the subway over to Hwaehyeon (a.k.a. Hoehyeon) Station, which is right at Namdaemun Market. Exit 5 from the station took me up to street level, and the first thing to hit me was the overpoweringly delicious smell of some of the world's most awesome street food. Here's a shot of the line of food stalls that were set up right in the middle of the pedestrian zone, all serving fresh food grilled or otherwise cooked to order:
I was tempted to call Tom back, cancel dinner, and just eat my way through Namdaemun Market, gorging myself on stall after stall of food. But I was on a mission: I had to buy some trinkets for family, friends, and coworkers back home. It was cool and rainy; the various food and merchandise stands had deployed their umbrellas and tarps in an effort to keep their wares from being soaked. A constantly moving river of people coursed along the pedestrian zone on either side of the merchants in the middle of the street; I simply went with the flow, stopping now and then at outdoor carts and shops that caught my eye.
I'm a terrible gift-giver and an awful shopper; I have little to no sense as to what's appropriate for whom. In my world, with the friends I have, the best possible go-to gift is books. But books didn't seem like the best or wisest purchase; I was in Korea, so I needed to buy something Korean. At the same time, I knew that many of my coworkers and supervisors are already Korean, so it would be silly to buy things that were (1) already familiar to them, and (2) readily available for purchase at a nearby Virginia Koreatown. That second criterion made it nearly impossible for me to think of what I should buy.
My wanderings took me to the edge of the market, and I had a good look at the newly restored Namdaemun (Great South Gate), which had been torched by an enraged man back in 2008:
The great gate looked rather solemn in the rain, but I was glad to see it live instead of through another blogger's photos (article and pics). I'm also delighted that Korea has its National Treasure No. 1 back.
Starting to feel the cold and the wetness, I took a cab over to the Lotte Hotel. I wanted to sit at a lounge that looked inviting and relaxing, but when I settled into one of the plush chairs, a greeter accosted me and gave me a menu. I flipped through the menu, saw nothing priced under $20, and promptly left, lying that I'd just received a text message from a friend who had changed our meeting place. I apologized and bolted.
I took another cab to Jonggak Station, which sits about a block away from Dos Tacos. I spent a few minutes inside a doughnut shop, sipping an orange soda, feeling desperately hungry, and reviewing the assortment of gifts I had bought. A few minutes later, I stuffed everything back into my bag and braved the rain. Tom called again while I was walking the final yards to Dos Tacos; he had beaten me to the place. For a Saturday night on the weekend of the Buddha's birthday, the restaurant was surprisingly empty. Tom sat in a ground-floor booth, waiting for me. Our conversation quickly turned to end-of-the-trip assessments: "Do you think this trip was worth it? What do you think your chances are of getting work?" Etc., etc. I showed Tom the camera I had purchased at the Yongsan Electronics Market a few weeks back. He promptly took the following picture; I made sure to put on my best ogre face:
I took the camera back and snapped a pic of one of my favorite gringos:
Just before I took the above picture, Tom had been pulling goofy faces and gesticulating. He assumed a serious mien, however, the moment I hit the shutter. I laughed when I saw the above pic, and told Tom he looked awfully white, but at the same time strangely Korean: many Koreans, especially from the older generation, refuse to smile for pictures, preferring to adopt an expression that lies somewhere between lugubrious and funereal.
I was damn hungry, and I told Tom I planned to order an appetizer and a main course. He was right there with me, feeling celebratory because he had just finalized contract negotiations for a new domicile: a much larger apartment into which he plans to move within the next week or so. "It's closer to my university, and there's enough room for Thomson to run around," Tom said. It'll be a while before Thomson does any running: at almost three months old, the little dumpling can't even properly crawl, let alone hold his head upright for sustained periods.
The food at Dos Tacos was, surprisingly, even better than it had been last time. Because Tom refuses to eat vegetables (and is blessed with a freakish metabolism that allows him to survive their absence), our nachos appetizer came with veggies on the side. I piled them all on my plate, including the chunky salsa, and added a couple ounces of hot sauce to the mix. "I feel sorry for your asshole in the morning," Tom observed. I shrugged. I love eating spicy, even though I sweat at the drop of a hat. As I've noted before, the fact that I sweat has zero bearing on my ability to tolerate heat: I can eat up to ghost-chili-level hot and still have a good time.
Speaking of hot: our server was amazing—tall, slim, and bien proportionnée. She took Tom's bizarre aversion to vegetables in stride, and brought out our main courses when we had finished laying waste to the nachos. Once again, I ordered the beef chimichanga with extra avocado and refried beans. I noticed, this time around, that the beef had been done up carne asada-style, which was great.
Tom, who is cursed with the world's tiniest bladder, visited the restroom toward the end of our meal. When he came out, he told me that I needed to go in there to see the photos in the bathroom stalls. Initially skeptical, I went in and took a picture of this hilarious compilation of stall scenes:
Top row: a man in a hoodie, gamely urinating; a man collapsed and wrapped around a toilet bowl, licking the toilet seat; a young couple having frantic sex.
Bottom row: a dude taking a drag from... something; a uniformed man happily receiving a blowjob; and someone who, from the top, looks a lot like British actor/martial artist Jason Statham, taking a dump.
I didn't get to see what image was in the other stall; the smell drove me out of the restroom.
At last, dinner and our pleasant, end-of-trip conversation ended; I paid for the meal and waited for Tom outside while he, unbelievably, went to the bathroom yet again. While outside in the rain, I snapped the following shot of the entrance to Dos Tacos:
I regret not having taken a picture of our server, who really was pretty damn cute.
Tom and I walked toward the Insa-dong/Jongno 3-ga region, said our final farewells, then parted company at the major intersection for Insa-dong. It was well after 9PM, so I knew most of the shops in Insa-dong—the artistic district—would be closed, but I was determined to find more gifts. The shops that were open were all of the tourist-trap variety, but I entered them, anyway, looking for things to buy my brothers, buddies, and coworkers. I eventually found some overpriced items; I can only hope that the recipients will appreciate the gifts.
It was now close to 10PM. The weather remained cold and rainy, and I thought about just jumping into a cab to go home. Instead, I stifled that urge and elected to take a bus.
Sometime in the mid-2000s, Seoul experienced a radical makeover of its municipal bus system. I had already lived in Seoul a few years, so this changeover shattered my world: like other Seoulites, I had to start relearning the system from scratch. This proved awfully difficult, mainly because I knew I had an attitude problem about the change. My friends insisted that the revamped system was far better than the older one—more organized, more clearly marked. But I refused to give the new system a chance, and never bothered to memorize any bus routes. My bus usage went down as I began to rely more heavily on the subway and on taxis. Then I left Korea in 2008, never having learned the new system. This past month, though, I've experienced a change of heart, and have made an effort to grapple with the new bus routes which, in truth, are no longer that new.
It didn't prove to be too hard. While standing at a bus stop on the edge of Insa-dong, I found a chart that showed Bus 171 going right past Gireum Station, which is where my temporary apartment is. I waited patiently under the covered area at the top of a set of stairs leading to an underground passageway. Eventually, Bus 171 showed up; I asked the driver whether he was really going past Gireum Station; he nodded. I boarded, saw the route chart on the interior wall, figured out where I was and where I was going, and made a point of listening to the recorded voice that announced each stop. It wasn't hard to figure out, and I got off right where I wanted to, just past Gireum Station and only a couple hundred yards from the apartment building.
So now I'm home. This blog post has taken a few hours to write, and it's well after 1AM as I wrap things up. My flight out of Seoul isn't until 6:40PM tomorrow evening; I have all morning and some of the afternoon to finalize my trip prep and square away this apartment. I've got a bit of floor-cleaning to do, plus some dish-washing, a bout of laundry, and a thank-you note to write to the apartment's tenant, John McCrarey's daughter-in-law. I've also got to text Grandma tomorrow; I never did get to meet her. Come to think of it, there were quite a few people whom I had hoped to meet for the first time (Lee Farrand, the mad Aussie; Frédéric Ojardias, a friend of Holden Beck, and Robert Koehler, fellow Hoya and founder of the superblog The Marmot's Hole), as well as people I had hoped to meet again, including that culinary gastronaut Joe McPherson; my former supervisor at Sookmyung, Loki; and the inimitable, soon-to-be-published author Holden Beck. I was happy, meanwhile, to have made the acquaintance of longtime Hairy Chasms reader Scott at Daegu Haany University, and can only hope that DHU sees fit to employ me. At this point, I'd say that Daegu Haany is my best shot at employment; there are many universities I haven't heard from, but it may be safe to say that those schools are planning to "pull a Sungkyunkwan" and simply ignore my application because I won't be here to interview, and because they're too narrow-minded to consider interviewing me via Skype.
I told Tom earlier this evening that, over the past thirty days, I had traveled more in Korea than I had during eight years of residence in Seoul. I visited beautiful Yeosu, a quiet but up-and-coming city with a feather in its cap thanks to the 2012 Yeosu Expo; I went down to bright, clean, perky Ansan, a satellite of Seoul, and was impressed by Hanyang University's ERICA campus; I visited Yongin, a city that seemed to be a cool customer compared to Ansan—not as bright, not as peppy, but still quietly bustling and aware of its own venerability. I visited Gyeongsan City, next to Daegu, and enjoyed my time on the Daegu Haany University campus. I also had a taste of the horror that is Hansung University, right here in downtown Seoul, and knew right away that there was no way I could work there. I even had the chance to revisit Yeouido to meet Tom's acquaintance PB; that visit brought back memories from the mid-1990s, when I used to work in Yeouido for the SsangYong Paper Company.
All in all, this was a productive trip, I think. It wasn't ideally timed; if I try this same thing next year, I'll plan to come about two or three weeks later. I had been correct in my original assumption that university job ads start appearing around mid-April, but the real torrent of ads doesn't start until May, and it isn't until late May, or even early June, that unis start interviewing their short-listed candidates. Still, I fired off twelve applications and already have some results: rejections from Chonnam University in Yeosu and Hanyang University in Ansan, as well as a fumble-footed rejection from the Bank of Korea (which was too slow on the uptake; they shot themselves in the foot). I interviewed at Daegu Haany in Gyeongsan City and had a positive vibe. That leaves eight universities that haven't responded to my applications. Will they? Will they even bother? I don't know.
I suppose the most crushing result of all this effort would be to be rejected by everyone. But if that happens, well... I've learned some lessons from this trip, and there's always next year. Unless something awesome appears sooner on the horizon.
Forward Unto Dawn!
*Fat keeps you young-looking. Look at the Food Network's Alton Brown, who slimmed down so far that he now looks twenty years older (check out his neck wattles). Fat puffs you out and erases your wrinkles. Sure, you'll die of a heart attack, but at least you'll look amazingly young.
I said my goodbyes to Sperwer, the muscleman himself, today, stopping by his mountain fastness to pick up a carry-on suitcase that I predict I'll need after I'm done trinket-shopping later this afternoon. The bus ride over to Sperwer's had been an adventure: I thought I could take the 110B all the way to Pyeongchang-dong, but the 110B stopped and let everyone off about halfway there, at Bukhan Mountain Trailhead, which was apparently 110B's terminus. Another 110B, picking up where the first one let off, took me where I needed to go.
It was good to hang with Sperwer for a brief while. I almost never refer to him as "my buddy Sperwer" because that would imply equality: the man is fully twenty years my senior, so he's practically a father figure. He's done an amazing thing, too, whittling down his body to nothing but muscle. I can tell he wants me to get into bodybuilding as well; I told him, in parting, that I had no intention of showing off my booty in a bikini bottom. He said that bodybuilding is less about the competition and more about what you want to get out of it. I'll miss Sperwer's insights, his pearls of phronesis (practical wisdom). He wished me good luck with my job search, told me it'd be good to have me on the peninsula again, then tore off in his sleek, black Deathmobile to go pick up his daughter.
Larger than life, that man is.
Friday, May 17, 2013
I'm flying home on Sunday: Asiana Airlines OZ272 departs Incheon International at 6:40PM on May 19 and lands at Seattle-Tacoma Airport at 12:40PM on the same date. The problem: my flight to DC on Alaska Airlines departs at 2PM, and as Murphy's Law would have it, that flight's gate is all the way across the airport. It's going to be a real pain trying to sprint from Terminal S to Terminal C (map here). Before I can even sprint, though, I've got to deplane, go through passport control, and claim my bags. After that, I charge across the airport to Terminal C, check my bags, then go through the slow, slow line of airport security. What's the likelihood that I can do all that in an hour? I say "an hour" because my arrival time, 12:40PM, refers to wheels on the ground, not to when we actually hit the gate. From what I've seen in researching my flight, the plane won't be at the gate until as late as 12:59PM (see here, but information may change).
This is starting to look like a lost cause. I'm going to do what I can to make it to my flight on time, but I'm prepared to bite the bullet and purchase another ticket if need be. I can't simply switch flight times: this is an Orbitz.com e-ticket, which means no changes and no refunds.
Run, Fatboy, Run!
ADDENDUM: The probability that my Asiana flight will land about 20 minutes late in Seattle is almost 100%.
So I had my goodbye dinner with Dr. Charles and his wife Hyunjin this evening. I don't have any photos, alas, but maybe that's for the best. I met Charles in Itaewon at 6PM; his wife was already at the Brazilian rodizio Copacabana, wisely holding a table for us. As a point of comparison, I had been to only one other Brazilian steakhouse in Korea: Brasilia, back in 2008. Brasilia was pretty limited, as rodizios go: it served me only one type of steak the entire time. Tonight's culinary foray to Copacabana was a bit more like my experience at the high-end Chima in Tysons Corner, Virginia: different types of meat-on-swords were on offer, to varying degrees of doneness. Copacabana's selection of meats wasn't quite as expansive as Chima's, but the meat, an assortment of beef cuts, sausage, and chicken, was tender and juicy and perfectly cooked. The salad/hot-food bar was fairly basic (it is perhaps unfair to compare Copacabana to Chima; Chima is huge and glitzy, with a football-field-sized salad bar; it also averages about $70 per person, whereas tonight's meal was about half that), but what was there was excellent, including some lovely beef stroganoff that I happily piled on a mound of rice. Later in the meal, the sword guys came around with pineapple that had been lightly roasted after being coated with sugar and cinnamon; quite delicious.
Conversation focused, once again, on beer, which I'm now convinced has become Charles's second religion, close behind his Christianity. His loving descriptions of different types of beer, and of the evolution of beer culture in Korea (where, according to him, the scene has rapidly, radically improved), were fascinating to listen to, even though I, as a teetotaler, had no insights of my own to contribute. (I did mention, tangentially, that he might appreciate the new documentary "Somm," which is about people trying to pass the elite-level exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma. Charles, though not a wine fan, can easily relate to the sommelier's need for a discerning palate when tasting alcohol.) But we also talked about job-hunting woes, our difficulty with swallowing postmodern thinking, the awesomeness of Benedict Cumberbatch, and Charles's recent "lasagna throwdown" with a Franco-American couple (the husband, a French-speaking Alabamian, made a lasagna to challenge Charles's). That contest ended in "a gentlemen's draw," as Charles put it.
We spent nearly three hours at Copacabana, grazing on food from the salad bar and dining on delectable hunks of meat whenever the sword-wielders came our way. The dinner was very French, in a sense: the French like to traîner à table, i.e., linger at the table—quite unlike Koreans and Americans, both of whom seem to prefer to eat and scram. My French family easily spends two to three hours at dinner, just sitting and talking. It's a relaxed way to live, and probably healthy, too, in terms of cementing human relations. I can't imagine a group of Koreans acting the same way. Koreans do like to linger and chat, but not at the dinner table.
Afterward, we said our goodbyes, had a round of hugs, and went our separate ways. I have no idea when I'll see my friends next; perhaps it'll be in a few months, or perhaps a few years. Much depends on how my job search goes.
In honor of the Buddha's birthday, a repost from 2003, the year I began blogging:
The sun shone brightly over the monastery. Birds chirped and sang. A gentle breeze was blowing. You couldn't ask for a better, more beautiful day. The Korean Seon master surveyed the assembly of hundreds of monks and nuns in silence. Once or twice, he nodded, as if listening to some inner voice. The sea of bald heads and grey robes was perfectly still, waiting for the master to begin his dharma talk.
Suddenly, as if on fire, the Seon master sprang to his feet, clutched the microphone in a death grip, and bellowed, "I've got big balls! I've got big balls!"
The assembly regarded the Seon master in shock. A few moments passed. The Seon master, still standing, breathing heavily, wiped his sweaty upper lip with the back of his free hand and shouted, "And they're such big balls!"
A monk in the assembly stood up and cried, "Dirty big balls!"
A nun popped up, pointed a trembling finger at a monk she had a crush on, and squealed: "And he's got big balls!"
The accused monk, scandalized, stood and pointed back at her: "And she's got big balls!"
And the entire assembly, on fire with enlightenment, rose as one and shouted to the heavens, "But we've got the biggest! Balls! Of them all!"
The whole world seemed new. The master whispered silkily into the mike, "And my balls are always bouncing, to the left and to the right. It's my belief that my big balls should be held every night."
Silence reigned again. The dharma talk was over. The monks and nuns bowed in hapjang to the Seon master, and filed away to their respective posts. Pretty soon, the master was alone at the podium. Slowly, he stepped down and began his graceful, measured walk across the compound, all the while reciting the mantra:
Some balls are held for charity
And some for fancy dress
But when they're held for pleasure,
They're the balls that I like best.
*** *** ***
UPDATE: I went digging through Robert Buswell's The Zen Monastic Experience to look for an anecdote. Finally found it.
Ch'unsong sunim (1891-1978), a well-known disciple of Han Yongun (1879-1944), was one of the last masters to cultivate "unconstrained conduct" (muae haeng)-- practice not limited by the usual constraints of monastic discipline and decorum. Refusing to conform even in his old age, Ch'unsong continually wandered from monastery to monastery, disdaining even to observe the retreat periods kept by all the other monks. Tales of his audacious and often obscene conversations with laywomen-- all of which tended to center around pointed references to their vaginas-- are rife among the monks. In one of the more well-known stories, assassinated president Park Chung Hee's late wife, a devout Buddhist, is supposed to have invited Ch'unsong to deliver a lecture at her birthday celebration-- his reputation somehow unbeknownst to her. Ascending the dharma platform before all the distinguished guests, Ch'unsong sat still for thirty minutes, not uttering a single word. Not wishing to make a scene before the First Lady, no one said anything, but the audience was growing visibly agitated. Finally, once he saw that everyone's patience had run out, Ch'unsong bellowed, "Today is the day the First Lady's mother burst her vagina!" and walked out. Needless to say, he was not invited back.
Please don't get the wrong impression about Zen monasticism from this. If you pick up Buswell's book (which I highly recommend), be sure to read his concluding chapter, which is a reappraisal of Zen based on Buswell's "inside" knowledge of monastic life (he was a monk at the Korean temple Songgwang-sa for four or five years; he was originally a monk in a Thai order). Korean monastic Zen turns out to be quite scholastic, despite its antiscriptural reputation; it relies heavily on Theravada texts; and the "subitist" notion of enlightenment, to which monks may pay lip service, is belied by the actual meditative praxis, which can take decades to cultivate the proper mindset. Sudden enlightenment early in a Korean Zen monk's career is exceedingly rare.
Meanwhile, enjoy the spots of Zen wackiness when they appear, in books or in real life.
I saw this hilarious ad:
First line: Joru-jeung, balgi-bujeon
Translation: Premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction
Second line: Namseong susul
Translation: Male surgery
In quotes: "Dongshi-ae"
Translation: "At the same time"
The ad basically advances the myth of the simultaneous orgasm. I love it!
Sam Kinison's rule of sex is applicable: "Make her come twice before she even sees your dick."
Words to live by.
Tom, Charles, and I had originally planned to meet at Braai Republic, a South African barbecue joint that Charles had written about a while back. Tom has pussied out, however: he's got a sudden business dinner to go to, and since money is far more important to Tom than friendship, we'll let the bastard get on with it. So tonight, it'll just be Charles, Hyunjin, and me—at Copacabana, a Brazilian rodizio (motherfuckin' meat on motherfuckin' swords!) located in a restaurant-filled back alley of Itaewon.
My agenda today, now that my trip is winding down, is rather simple: finish up some material for YB, shop for some trinkets to bring home to friends and family, go out and eat with friends here. Simple. I haven't heard a thing from HUFS-Yongin, so I assume there'll be no Saturday interview. Saturday will thus be devoted to (1) visiting Sperwer's palatial estate and retrieving a small suitcase, and (2) trip prep.
I'm sending off one final application packet today, to Gacheon University. That'll make twelve applications. The Bank of Korea, always slow on the uptake, belatedly realized that I was in Korea after Tom told them I was here, then failed to get back to me until yesterday, when they belatedly realized that they'd be too late to interview me. So no proofing/editing job for Kevin. Not that I care; BOK has been awful this entire time. I sent them an email in which I said Too little, too late. Yes, I said exactly that. But cheerfully.
And that, folks, is how we wind down a trip to Korea. Was it good? Was it productive? We'll know more in June, when I find out whether other universities will "pull a Sungkyunkwan" and simply—rudely—ignore my applications.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
My trip to Daegu Haany University (DHU) went well, I think. My contact Scott gave me a very thorough set of directions for how to reach the university; I found it with no problem. Gyeongsan turned out to be a city that lies somewhere between peppy Ansan and sleepy Yongin in terms of vibrancy. DHU, I discovered, was a rather hilly campus, and the edifice in which DHU's English Zone lies, the Science Information Building, is a gorgeous modern structure, bright and sleek (see above photo). The approach up the steps was a bit misleading, though: when I got off the bus, crossed the street, and went up the SIB's first set of steps, I thought I'd be entering a lobby. Wrong! That floor was, instead, devoted to a Cafe del Mar coffee shop, an eyewear store, at least one other student shop (books and stationery), and an area that looked as though it could have been either a cafeteria or some sort of activities room. The building's first floor was actually one floor up. Inside the coffee shop, a slim Western gent with graying hair sat at a perimeter table with his laptop—obviously a fellow introvert with his nose buried in cyberspace. Neither of us acknowledged the other.
Having taken the KTX, I had arrived early: around 3:30. After establishing myself in the coffee shop, I was given a Wi-Fi password by one of the baristas, and then I blogged my previous post. I also texted Scott and reassured him that I could keep myself entertained until 5PM, which was our appointed interview time. Around 4:40PM, I struck camp and went upstairs (having found a set of steps!) to DHU's English Zone. A large, glassed-in faculty lounge caught my eye; I went in and told the office girls I was there for a 5PM interview. They bade me wait, and it wasn't long after that that I made the acquaintance of Professor Y, a quiet, dignified, and slyly humorous Korean gentleman who, as it turned out, was one of my three interviewers. Professor Y had been to DC before, and had lived in New York. He agreed that DC was a puny city (a sentiment shared by my New Yawk friends, who can't take DC seriously as a real city at all), and he asked me a bit about myself.
Professor Y stepped out for a bit, and Scott himself came in a few minutes later; it was my first time meeting this longtime blog reader face to face. He shook my hand; we made some small talk while Professor K, a Korean lady who radiated kindness and intelligence, came in and introduced herself to me. I saw that she was carrying my résumé—a good sign that she had done her homework. (It's been disappointing to discover that other faculty at other universities don't bother to read my material carefully. Why ask us applicants to go through the pain of putting together a pile of paperwork if it's going to be left unread? Know your interviewee!) Professor Y came back in, and the interview began.
Professor Y caught me off-guard with a question about comparative religion: what similar points did I see between Christianity and Buddhism? I joked that I hadn't expected such a question in this interview, but thought a bit and then evoked the famous sunyata/kenosis discussion between Buddhist scholar Abe Masao and process theologian John Cobb. I don't know whether my answer earned me any points toward eventual employment at DHU, but as far as I was concerned, Professor Y's question was an excellent way to make me feel more at ease. I knew I probably looked puffy, flushed, and sweaty to my interlocutors, so anything that lowered the tension was good.
There were questions about how I'd handle unmotivated students; I didn't field those as deftly as I should have, but I did try to give answers that were as honest as possible. Some questions revolved around my Korean ability and the potential dangers (and benefits) of using the students' native language in the classroom. We discussed faculty size, average class size (15-25 students), certain aspects of the employment contract, and what would be required for the visa should I be hired. We talked about my willingness to live and work outside of Seoul. Scott expressed a worry that, because I had dealt with more advanced students while at Sookmyung Women's University, I might need to recalibrate my expectations for a generally less-advanced student population at DHU. I said, in all frankness, that I would most likely maintain high expectations for all my students, but that I would be willing to readjust those expectations if it became obvious that the students were truly of low level.
All in all, I had a positive feeling from the interview; the exchange felt comfortable, and I liked all three of my questioners immediately. Alas, Scott let slip that he knew me through my blog; Professor K asked for my blog's address, so now she's a potential reader. Since this blog often delves into the horrifyingly scatological, I have to wonder what Professor K will think. Will she vote against hiring me after reading a few blog posts? God only knows.
Scott wrote later in the evening to say the interviewers' impression of me had been "favorable." But I am, as Scott noted, only the first of several interviewees for this DHU position, so nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, DHU's knight in shining armor might be next in line.
I had taken the #100 bus from the train station to the university; DHU is that route's terminus. I took the same bus back into town. When I got on the bus, I asked the bus driver what the name of the bus stop close to Gyeongsan Station was.* He looked at me irritably and said, "'Gyeongsan Station'!" I felt I needed to justify my question, since the bus stop in question didn't sit directly in front of the station, being about a block away... but I decided not to hold up the line of impatient students behind me. Chastened, I squeezed myself into a seat and had a sweaty ride back to the train station.
At the station, I got another "combo" ticket: regular train to East Daegu Station, then the KTX back into Seoul. Both first-class and second-class seats were taken; the only available tickets were for the jayu-seok, i.e., the non-assigned seating, way, way at the ass-end of the train. Call it steerage. Non-assigned seating is exactly that: if there's a seat, grab it. If there's nothing, you're standing for two hours.
I stood for about 90 minutes in the very back of the KTX, sweating quietly and stuffed like cattle into the wide "anteroom" space between the train's outer doors, separated by a sliding door from the train's main interior, where all the seats were. My companions in this space were almost all twenty-something kids, faces buried in their smartphones. I periodically mopped my brow while I stared hard at the cattle-car floor, determined not to make any eye contact. After an hour of clacking along at 300 kilometers per hour, the train ground to a halt at its first stop, opening its doors, disgorging a load of passengers, and letting more passengers on. Relieved by the blast of fresh air and determined to change my situation, I slipped into the main cabin and placed my shoulder bag on a high shelf. Air conditioning! Thank you, Jesus. For about forty minutes, I enjoyed this new state of affairs and then, about twenty minutes before we were to arrive in Seoul, a seat opened up right in front of me. Betcher ass I grabbed that sucker. It was a nice, comfortable twenty minutes to Seoul, and now I can truly say that I've experienced both the very best and the very worst of riding on the KTX.
Feeling irrationally celebratory, I lumbered over to a third-floor restaurant in Seoul Station** called Bulgogi Brothers. Their doshirak display (doshirak is a bit like Japanese bento boxes) had caught my eye earlier in the day, and I had told myself that, if I got back to Seoul in time (Bulgogi Brothers closes at 10PM), I'd eat there. So eat there I did. Professor Y had noted the stereotype that Americans like Korean bibimbap, and that's precisely what I ordered. It wasn't cheap, but it was pretty damn good.
Replete from my meal, I lumber-waddled out to the Line 4 train and took it for the short ride back to the apartment.
A long, long day. But, I hope, a productive one.
*Korean buses play recorded announcements that tell the riders (1) what the name of the current stop is, and (2) what the name of the next stop is. Knowing the name of a stop gives the rider a chance to anticipate when to get off the bus. Anticipation is crucial in a crowded bus: if you lose time fighting your way through a crowd, you might not make it off before the door closes.
**Holy shit—Seoul Station also has a Cold Stone!
I arrived for my 5PM interview super-early: it's 4PM as I type this, and I'm sitting in a coffee shop at Daegu Haany University's Science Information Building, where my interview will take place in an hour. The coffee shop has Wi-Fi... so I checked and saw a slew of emails, one of which was "bad" news: a rejection from Chonnam University in Yeosu. It was a very polite, professional rejection: I was one of seven candidates being considered early for employment, and according to my former interviewer, the choice among us seven was very difficult. My résumé was considered "impressive," for whatever that's worth.
I put "bad" in scare quotes because, as you know, I wasn't particularly keen to be hired by Chonnam. While on some level it hurts my ego to have been rejected by a low-priority school (a bit like being rejected by the ugly girl at the school dance), this is one rejection I'm sure to get over quickly. I'm smarting more from Hanyang's rejection... the more I think about it, the more I think that Hanyang's preference was for someone with a Master's degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Another of my emails, however, was potentially good news: Tom's buddy Angelo told me that his school is indeed hiring. As I recall, that school also offers a sweet deal.
Right... less than 50 minutes to go.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
I'm on the KTX because the regular train to Gyeongsan City has no open seats coming out of Seoul. I've been bumped into the first-class section of the KTX down to East Daegu Station. Once I'm at East Daegu, I'll transfer to a regular line to go one stop to Gyeongsan City. First-class seats are expensive—about W50,000, more expensive than my W42,000 KTX trip to Yeosu in second class.
Once again, I've got Wi-Fi service for an hour, then poof.
Daegu Haany University is located outside of Daegu proper in the city of Gyeongsan. I'll be heading there in the morning, taking the slow train to Gyeongsan Station to arrive in time for a 5PM interview. My contact down at DHU, Scott, has been a longtime reader of this blog. I've never met the man (I suppose I'll be doing just that tomorrow!), but it's incredible to me, the amount of effort and time he's put into bringing me south for this interview.
I'm hopeful that the DHU interview will go well. I have no idea what sort of competition I'm up against, so I don't know what my odds of being hired are. As Tom keeps pointing out, I went to fucking Georgetown! Ideally, that should be a point in my favor, but in practice, my Hoya credentials haven't been enough to impress even the hiring committee at Hanyang University in Ansan. As I said before, the hiring process is very, very subjective; who knows whether I'll come off as the next messiah or as a radioactive mutant?
DHU's package is, if Scott's reprint of a year-old job ad is true, not bad, all in all: 2-year contract, 15 hours/week of in-class work, 4 days/week of work, W29 million/year salary (not so hot*), 4 months/year paid vacation, off-campus housing assistance (find housing on your own), plus benefits (insurance, etc.).
I'll be leaving the apartment around 10:30AM, training over to Seoul Station, and taking a regular train to Gyeongsan Station—a ride of about four hours and ten minutes. Scott has told me about a bus from the train station that goes all the way to his building on campus; it costs W1100, which beats the hell out of the other alternative: a W10,000 taxi ride. I did that nonsense in Yongin; never again.
I'll try to snap some pics during my trip. I have no idea whether the regular train will be Wi-Fi-capable. At a guess, it won't. But you never know.
*At current rates, W29 million/year comes out to about $26,400/year. That's before taxes. Ouch. Assuming a 20% cut, the net pay is closer to $21,120—way less than what I'm making now in terms of net earnings. But there are some compensatory factors to consider: as friends have pointed out, the cost of living out in Gyeongsan is doubtless much cheaper than it is in Seoul. Also, you can see that the salary translates to a high hourly pay: if I work two 16-week semesters per year, that's about eight months out of the year right there. No more than that, if it's true that we get four months' vacation. So: 15 hours per week = 3 hours per day (this is valid for calculation purposes, despite the fact that I'd be teaching 4 days/week). 3 hours per day at 20 days per month = 60 hours per month. 60 hours per month times 8 months = 480 hours/year. A net salary of $21,120/year, divided by 480 hours (remember: vacations are paid), comes out to an amazing $44 per hour, which is about twice my current hourly gross pay. So the stark choice is this: (1) continue working at YB for no paid vacation at X rate of pay... or (2) work at DHU for 2X pay plus 16 weeks' vacation. Man... what a dilemma.
There's a sandwich stand not far from my apartment building. It sells mysterious items like bulgogi toast and New York hot dogs. Today, after my cell-phone kerfuffle and my grocery shopping, I stopped at the stand and ordered both of the above sandwiches. I asked the ajeossi to wrap them up for me, then I took them back to my lair. Here they are:
I have no idea what makes this a New York hot dog and not, say, a Chicago hot dog, but it seemed all Korean to me. See below for a presentation you just don't find in America:
What you can't see, above, is that, under the hot dog, there lies a layer of shredded cabbage and diced pickles. There may also have been a bit of flavorless "American" cheese. It was messy and a bit strange, but edible. Below, we've got the bulgogi toast. I was mystified as to what sort of meat would count as bulgogi on such a cheap sandwich, and I wasn't disappointed: it was pressed mystery meat, probably infused with artificial bulgogi flavoring. As the egg and meat and toast were frying, the guy piled on some shredded cabbage—the same sort of cabbage I'd eaten at the donggaseu place the other night—and added ketchup, mustard, and a small cluster of pickles to the whole. He pressed the whole thing flat before wrapping it up in tin foil. I was vaguely reminded of a panini.
The bulgogi toast cost W2000; the hot dog was W1800. W3800 total; not a bad deal, in all. For expats new to Korea, this is the sort of food that produces volumes of excited-puppy commentary about Korean versus American notions of sandwiches, and about Korean attitudes toward Western food in general. But after a few years, those bloggers just shut up and eat. Inexpensive fare, some flavor. Good, fast, cheap: pick two.
My brother David and his wife Patricia own a mixed-breed pup named Penny. Penny's been growing rapidly since they got her a couple months ago; she was recently spayed, which meant surgery on her nether regions. Dogs have a natural tendency to jam their faces in their nether regions, and I can imagine that a post-surgical Penny must be dying to gnaw at her stitches. What's the safe way to prevent that from happening? Why, the inflatable surgical doughnut, of course! Here are two pics of Patricia and David with Penny and her doughnut:
Digression: someone needs to explain to me this white-chick tendency to wear Jackie O. sunglasses when going out. Call me a crotchety old fart, but I think sunglasses make a woman look haughty and inaccessible, and lots of cute young ladies like wearing those Jackie O's. (Based on what I've seen in Seoul, it may not be just white chicks who are stuck in the Sixties.) Obviously, in Patricia's case, she is inaccessible because she's married, but what excuse do single muchachas gringas give for their conformist sense of style?
Oh, to see a white girl wearing Ray-Bans or aviators...
In other Penny-related news: David sent me a jittery, but hilarious, video from his "Pennycam"—a fixed and mounted CCTV camera in his house's laundry room, which is there to live-stream Penny's activity in the basement. The Pennycam records sound as well, and the clip David sent me shows Penny taking an impressive dump on the tiled basement floor. But the kicker is this: a massive, howling fart that Penny lets out before she dumps. At first, I was sure the sound had come out of Penny's throat: it was somewhere between a whine and a groan. But, no: David assures me it's the fart that presaged the fecal outflow. That was biblical.
Two miles on the apartment's treadmill: level 12 (maximum) incline, 60 calories burned (could've sworn I'd burned more), 37 minutes, 30 seconds of walking. Not visible because I took the pic when the treadmill had stopped: a walking speed of 3.2 miles per hour (5.2 kph).
Today's adventure: "reloading" my cell phone!
Earlier today, I received a text message saying that my prepaid phone was low on minutes and data, and that it needed a recharge (choong-jeon) or, more precisely, a reload. Tom, who had helped me buy this cheap little 1990s-era slider phone at the beginning of my month here, had told me that a "reload" would be simple enough: just stroll into an SK Telecom branch office, ask for a reload for X amount of money, and let the workers do the rest.
Not so fast.
I tried exactly that tack about an hour ago: there was an SK office located right at the bottom of my apartment building, so I went inside and spoke with the staffer about a reload. He asked me what my phone number was; I told him. He then took my phone, began the reload procedure, stopped, and said, "Where did you buy this phone?" "In Itaewon," I said. He smiled... or grimaced. It was hard to tell. "Your phone's not actually on the SK system," he said, "so a reload would be difficult." He then explained that there were several main telecoms—SK, LG, etc.—but that my phone was on some sort of third-party network. "You can call 114 information," he offered. (Many utility/emergency numbers in Korea are the mirror image of their American analogues: 119 for emergencies, for example, and 114 for information.) He thought again, then said, "Shall I call for you?" Relieved, I said that he could.
The man reached a 114 lady; they spoke about the reload procedure for a moment, then the man handed the phone over to me. The lady told me I needed to find a local 7-Eleven (convenience stores often have recharge facilities for T-Money cards and such); once I was there, I should call 114 again. I said "OK," but was secretly worried: 114 is a generic number. How could I be sure to get the same lady again? I hung up, thanked the SK staffer for his kind help, and asked him whether he knew of any nearby 7-Elevens. He shook his head sympathetically, grimacing again.
I left the SK office, racking my brains because I knew there was a 7-Eleven around somewhere close. Then it hit me: there was a 7-Eleven a couple doors up from the DC Mart where I do my grocery shopping! With that destination in mind, I turned on my heel and started toward it.
A bunch of little kids were sitting at stools and a long table that had been set up against the shop's front vitrine. None of the tykes, thankfully, stared; they were content to chatter amongst themselves. I walked into the store and dialed 114 again. Through some sort of telephonic magic, I got the same 114 lady. I told her I was in the local 7-Eleven; she asked me to pass her to the cashier. The cashier had just disappeared into the back freezer/storage section, so I bade the lady wait. He came back out not long after, a gray-haired man in his late fifties or early sixties. I explained my situation to him, told him the 114 lady wanted to speak with him, and passed him the phone. The conversation took several minutes, during which time the cashier hit certain keys on his cash register, somehow helping along the process of reloading my phone.
At one point, the cashier got confused by whatever the lady was saying, so he called out a younger staffer (his son, I think), who took over the conversation. The younger staffer fluidly punched some keys and asked me how much money I wanted to put on the phone; to be safe, I said W20,000, which would last me well beyond the end of my trip. He then explained that he was going to print out two receipts for me, for W10,000 each. On each receipt was a code that I would have to read out to the 114 lady. Presumably, this code would allow the phone to reload. I picked up the phone, and the lady guided me through the process, receipt by receipt. I called out the series of numbers I saw on the slips of paper, and finally heard those glorious words: "You're finished. The phone has been reloaded." I thanked the 114 lady and both 7-Eleven staffers, père et fils, for their help. "If one can help, one should help," said the father.
Two automatic text messages came right away, each confirming W10,000 worth of reload. I saw that my phone's current total was W22,614. In other words, before today's reload, I'd had only W2,614 left on the phone. I could have gotten cut off in the middle of an important conversation. Some intuition had nagged me, starting yesterday, about getting the phone reloaded. I'm glad I did it today.
Quite a thrill ride, that. I galumphed over to DC Mart, bought some grocery items, and walked back to the apartment. Tom called not long after, so I told him all about my troubles. "Sorry about that," he said. I laughed it off: "I'm always looking to practice my Korean."
So that's the phone-reloading adventure. I didn't learn any new lessons today, but today's escapade confirmed an old truth: nothing in Korea moves in a straight line. From the expat stories I've heard, this seems to be true of Asia in general. In my case, it took the help of four people to get that damn phone reloaded. Of course, it could also be that my American notion of a "straight line" differs from the Asian notion. An Asian in America might find herself stymied and outraged by some of the labyrinthine rigamarole that Americans go through without a second thought, never once musing that there might be more efficient ways to accomplish certain tasks (buying contact lenses comes to mind).
On the way back to the apartment, I stopped at a sandwich kiosk and bought two el-cheapo sandwiches. I'll blog about those momentarily.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I received an email in Korean from the HUFS office* that I had spoken with yesterday. I'm not sure I've completely understood what it says, but it seems to be saying that my request for an interview was relayed to the program director, and that the director wants a formal request to come in a "separate" email. Not quite sure what was being asked for, I replied that I had already sent HUFS my application packet, which contained a request for an interview, a week ago, on May 8. In that same email, I nonetheless promised to write the director directly again.
So that's what I've done. We'll see what comes of this. Will a quickly arranged Saturday interview be possible? Thursday is spoken for: I'm training down to Daegu to interview at Daegu Haany University; that's going to be an all-day affair. Friday is likewise spoken for: it's a national holiday. But Saturday, my "trip prep" day, is largely open. I could interview with HUFS on that day. And to be frank, I think it'd be nice to leave the peninsula with more than a mere two live interviews under my belt.
*Remember that lady whose name and title I had unwisely failed to note? She gave that info to me in her email. Problem solved.
A few days ago, Sungkyunkwan University put out a new job ad which, according to my buddy T (can't use his name in this post lest his name be Google-associated with his opinion), is merely a cut-and-paste of last semester's ad, with a different administrator's name tacked on to the bottom. So, for the third damn time, I've sent an application in to SKKU.
T and I had a long conversation about whether applying to SKKU would even be worthwhile. His opinion of the school has changed radically since he started teaching there five or six years ago. He feels the ambiance has suffered in part due to a change in management, and the culture at SKKU has become dominated by corporate drones from Samsung, a conglomerate that essentially underwrites the entire school, according to T. The guys now working in the office, all of whom are Samsung pod-people, have no imagination or creativity. "It's all a matter of checking the right boxes and not making any waves," said T.
In that spirit, T strongly advised me not to visit SKKU on Wednesday. He thought the visit would militate against me because, as he put it, "An applicant is just supposed to email his application. Actually visiting the school? Well, that doesn't compute, therefore it's bad." This was all very disappointing to hear, so I asked T for his honest opinion: would it be worth it for me to apply? His answer was vague. He felt it would be worthwhile insofar as I'd get plenty of vacation time, decent pay, and decent benefits, but given the soul-crushing corporatization of the place, T felt that life at SKKU was now reduced to: "I come in, I teach, I leave. When I go to meetings, I smile, I sit there, and then I leave. I tried to help the department out at first, but no one's imaginative enough to do anything. I'm going to stop teaching my current-affairs course; it's no longer worth it."
T talked about the cutting-down of many of the original perks and benefits that had made SKKU such a great place to work at. He also bemoaned new requirements, such as the recording of video of at least one class session to be marketed as part of a video package of "international" courses. These courses, taken as a whole, give SKKU the bragging rights to declare itself an international school, and thus boost its ratings relative to other Korean universities. It's all about standing.
To be fair, T didn't blame only the administration or its corporate backers: he said that some foreign teachers, especially at the Suwon campus, have been troublesome, too. One teacher got in the habit of cancelling several weeks of class, of not showing up, and of skipping out to go on vacation with his wife in Southeast Asia. SKKU tried to fire this teacher, who cleverly pointed out that SKKU had failed to give him the official four weeks' warning. He ended up teaching the rest of his term, and was even given a cash settlement before leaving. This created an atmosphere of distrust between the faculty and the administration—a distrust that crept north to the Seoul campus from the Suwon campus. Quite the soap opera.
So even though I just sent my application to SKKU, I'm not really sure how much I want to teach there anymore. Life in the English department now sounds awful, and T sounds like a changed man. What will I do if SKKU asks to interview me? I'll think carefully, I guess.
ADDENDUM: The likelihood of SKKU's tapping me for an interview is approximately zero. The hiring committee will take one look at my application and reject me for living in America, not even considering the possibility of interviewing me via Skype. This is stupid and unprofessional, but if SKKU's past behavior is any indication, it'll be par for the course.
I can understand why Japanese students groan when they come to Korea and eat "Japanese" food. I went to a Korean-Japanese resto earlier this evening and ordered a donggaseu jeongshik saeteu, sort of a donkatsu sampler set. Three kinds of donggaseu came out: pork, whitefish, and shrimp. Along with that was a pile of thinly shredded cabbage with a dab of dressing, a dipping bowl of tartar sauce, a dipping bowl of donggaseu brown sauce, a heaping tablespoon of minced ggakdugi (spicy, fermented, cubed white radish), some yellow danmuji (a.k.a. Japanese daikon), and a bowl of udong (Japanese udon).
Just how Japanese was this meal? I couldn't figure out what was Japanese about the ggakdugi, nor did I see what was Japanese about the tartar sauce, the shredded cabbage, or the Thousand Island dressing that topped the cabbage. Pretty much the only recognizably Japanese elements were the donggaseu itself, the udong/udon, and maybe the danmuji/daikon.
Perhaps one day, if enough Japanese come to live in Korea, there will be a movement to redress the Koreanization of Japanese food, just as there's been a movement to provide Koreans with "authentic" American food.
ADDENDUM: I completely forgot to mention the sprig of parsley. Very Japanese, that.
On the way home from Yongin today, I took the Line 3 up to Chungmuro Station, then transferred to Line 4 to take me the rest of the way to the apartment.
While on Line 4, a pair of uniformed elementary school boys got on the train and noticed me holding a very high handgrip. They whispered and giggled together for a while, trying to reach the grip and stealing glances at me, until the fatter one got a little bolder and started staring baldly at me. I looked right back into his eyes, leaned in close, and said distinctly in Korean, "You know you shouldn't stare."
In a ritual gesture of regret, one he probably had many occasions to practice at school, the boy hung his head, said, "Yes," then turned away and, with his friend, never looked at me again.
I rode for several more stops with a big Cheshire Cat's grin on my face. Knowing a foreign language is power.
Barely thirty minutes ago, I was walking home from dinner at a Japanese-Korean restaurant (a donggaseu-jip, named for Japanese donkatsu, i.e., deep-fried, panko-breaded pork, fish, chicken, and shrimp) along a very wide sidewalk. Up ahead, I saw a father hastily pulling up the elastic-waist pants of his little boy, who had been urinating into the bushes along the sidewalk's edge. So that's how that habit starts, I thought sourly. The boy, now dressed, charged away from his father... and straight at me. He stopped just short of me, dodging to my right without making any eye contact. Right there, I saw the boy's future: driving a car in America, nearly missing another motorist, and never making eye contact. Asian drivers, right? So that's how that habit starts.
The other thing I remarked is something that other foreigners have talked and written about: the Korean tendency, when on a wide, empty walkway, to walk on a collision course toward the only other walker there. The boy could have shot off in any direction; he chose instead to make a Ben Hur beeline straight for my balls. Ramming speed! Thank goodness he checked himself in time.
I can only assume the near-collision habit is cultural. It certainly affects how Koreans both walk and drive: life in Seoul is a dizzy circus of near-collisions. Americans, by contrast, make a point of giving each other as wide and respectful a berth as possible, perhaps as a cultural vestige of our much-mythologized Wild West days. Meanwhile, Koreans' notion of personal space is an extremely pared-down version of the American notion.
But back to kids. Kids can be funny and goofy. They can also be frustrating, morally bankrupt, and downright stupid. The kid staring at me in the subway should have known better. When I leaned in and corrected him, it was obvious he did know better, the little fucker. The other kid, Little Bo Pee, was too young to know better when he started his mad sprint away from his father, but he was already manifesting that unerring Korean instinct for collisions. So that's how that habit starts.
My first trip out this morning was to Yeouido (commonly, and painfully, mispronounced "yuh-WEE-doh" by foreigners), one of the richer business districts in Seoul. My appointment was with PB, a friend and contact of Tom's, who works for KMA (Korea Management Association), a large association that generally focuses on training businesspeople of all different levels, from CEOs down to lowly office proles, in various aspects of Korean-speaking and English-speaking business: conferencing, consulting, presentations, and different types of specialized training. The teaching faculty of KMA is mostly Korean; PB seems to be the primary foreign English teacher. He says he gets extremely high ratings from his students, although he claims not to like teaching.
PB is a Canuck who had spent years in Los Angeles; he's also a former student of philosopher Daniel Dennett. My host took me into a plush, tenth-floor classroom with an impressive view of Yeouido. He sold me hard on KMA and on my potential relationship with it. Working 40 hours a month, PB said, could net me $3000. The math is tempting: if I were to get a university job that netted about $30,000 a year, net, and if I added roughly $36,000 a year on top of that purely by working an unending suite of eight-hour Saturdays (which I do already, at my current job), I could pay off some major, major bills in only a couple years. I could even be debt-free by the time I'm 50. Wouldn't that be nice?
Despite how pleasant the talk was, and despite how impressive PB made KMA sound, the fundamental problem is that my affiliation with KMA hinges completely on whether I even get a job in Korea—Seoul, specifically. KMA does farm out work that's outside of Seoul, but I was left with the impression that most of the good gigs are in the big city.
Our talk lasted about 45 minutes. PB kindly walked me out of the building; he was recovering from a nasty bout of hay fever. I found that surprising, given that Seoul has exactly one tree. (Yes, I exaggerate. But verdure really is a rare and precious commodity here.) For myself, I never have hay fever in Seoul, but I get it in spades in northern Virginia.
Since PB's building was located right next to a Line 9 subway stop, I hopped on Line 9 and went all the way to the Express Bus Terminal, where I bought a W2,900 (about $2.60) ticket to Yongin. The bus was departing right away, which was fortunate because I didn't want to wait. The ride to Yongin, which took place in a largely empty bus, lasted only about forty-five minutes; once I got off at the terminal, I immediately hailed a cab for the final stretch to HUFS-Yongin (the so-called "Global Campus")—my second stop of the day.
Yongin itself wasn't nearly as pretty to look at as Ansan had been. Perhaps it was the cloudy weather, but I didn't really see the same perky signs of life in Yongin that I'd seen in that other satellite city. The shops and restaurants were scattered among quite a few industrial-looking sites that had the air of dumps; I saw, behind poorly constructed sheet-metal walls, piles of pipes, hardware, and other warehouse-related sundries. Some residences looked like shanties, hastily constructed and of dubious protection in a hurricane. Yongin had something approaching an urban center, but it looked somewhat small and huddled, a not-very-reassuring contrast with Seoul.
The cab ride was an astonishing W14,000. I hadn't realized that HUFS-Yongin was so far away from Yongin proper. Lesson learned: next time, I'd need to master the bus system so as to avoid paying so much. It was funny, actually, to analyze how capitalism functioned: W14,000 for a 10- or 12-minute taxi ride just out of the city, versus W2,900 for a 45-minute ride from Seoul to Yongin. I began to wonder how much a bus ticket to Yeosu would have cost, compared to the W42,000 I paid to take the luxurious KTX down south.
While in the cab, I tried calling HUFS-Yongin to get directions to the College of English Interpretation and Translation. The number I had turned out to be a useless menu of "Press 1 for... Press 2 for..."—so I hung up and held tight. When we reached the main gate, I asked the cabbie whether he knew where the CEIT was; he had no clue, but he suggested that we ask a cluster of students. He rolled down the front passenger window and called out to a gaggle of girls, asking them for the CEIT's location. Two girls answered as a pair, each finishing the other's sentences whenever one of them stopped, confused. Ultimately, their directions pointed us in the right direction, and we were both relieved to see signs for a building devoted to interpretation and translation. The cabbie dropped me off.
The building sat on a hill. Of course. Goddammit. I had to climb a long set of steps to reach the hilltop; I idly wondered what this walk must be like in the winter, when the path would be covered in snow. I wouldn't mind tobogganing downhill like a 300-pound penguin, but the prospect of walking down a slippery slope gave me the chills. The bigger they are... you know the rest.
I entered the CEIT lobby, noting that, a bit like Hansung University, the place looked somewhat run-down. But the students looked and sounded a lot livelier; there wasn't the same miasma of depression. I checked a large chart at the front entrance to find the room I wanted: 226. I started walking upstairs... then realized that the next floor up was the third floor. This always happens with buildings on hills: what counts as a ground floor gets all screwed up. So I went back to the ground floor—the second floor—and scouted around for the office I wanted. Couldn't find it. So I stepped into a glassed-in room called "The English Zone" (I think every Korean university is required to have one of these; the name just sounds nifty to Korean ears), and spoke with two female student staffers about how to find Room 226. One of them kindly walked out and led me where I needed to go.
Room 226 also turned out to be full of women. Most of them looked up from whatever they were doing, fresh-faced and confused by my sudden, looming (and probably sweaty) presence. I scanned the room for the person who looked most in authority, then pasted on a smile and began my spiel: I came just to say hi; I'm here only until Sunday; would love to interview before I leave; etc. I asked where the program director, a Westerner, was; one girl looked him up on a chart and said he was teaching several classes in a row; he wouldn't be available until after 5PM. It was roughly 1:30PM. I told the ladies that I wouldn't be waiting that long, turned once again to the most authoritative-looking lady (whose name and capacity I very unwisely never learned), and asked her to give my information to Mr. Westerner for me. I handed her a slip of paper with my name, email, and two phone numbers on it. For her part, she promised that the note would reach the program director, and that he would definitely call.
Again: bingo. Just what I wanted to hear. Of course, nothing has been promised, and I have a feeling that an interview with HUFS-Yongin before I leave is pretty much impossible. But if a conversation with Mr. Westerner the Program Director leads to the promise of a Skype interview later on, then that's something.
The girls in the office were thoroughly impressed with my Korean ability. Perhaps they were just easily wowed, but I did overhear one whisper, "Hangukmal daegae* jal hashinae"—"He speaks Korean really well!" I'm hoping that I created a psychological ripple: when the top lady in the office hands Mr. Westerner that slip of paper with my contact information on it, she'll identify me as "that big, fat foreigner who spoke Korean really well." Mention of my skill, of my linguistic aretê, might just bias circumstances in my favor. We'll see.
From the HUFS campus, I took another expensive cab back to the Yongin bus terminal, got a Seoul-bound ticket for a bus that was leaving in five minutes (lucky again: I didn't have to wait), and chugged back to Seoul.
In all, I enjoyed my trip over to HUFS. It wasn't as dramatic as the trip to Hanyang University had been, but I hope against hope that, in the end, it'll prove more productive.
*I never know how exactly to romanize this adverb, mainly because I don't know how it's spelled in Korean! All I know is that it sure sounds like "daegae."
Hanyang has said no. But I called it: the "no" came via email, as is consistent with Korean psychology. Couldn't bear to give me the rejection over the phone, could they.
Dear Kevin Kim
This is [Dr. Yi] from Hanyang University ERICA.
First of all, we do appreciate your interest in Hanyang University ERICA.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to conduct interview with you before you leave.
You may try again for the next time.
Trying to be a good sport, I just wrote Dr. Yi back:
Thank you for your kind email. It's unfortunate to hear that I didn't make the short list this time, but I appreciate your having taken the time to speak with me for a few moments yesterday. Ansan and the ERICA campus are both very beautiful places, and the PEC seems like a wonderful place to work, with faculty members who get along very well with each other. Perhaps I will try to apply again next semester.
And, whoa—Dr. Yi just replied! (But with a frustrating lack of a vocative comma...)
I will look forward to your 2nd trial!
Have a safe trip.
It's too bad, really; I genuinely liked the Hanyang ERICA campus, the foreign faculty I'd met, and the package that Hanyang was offering. I'll remain forever curious about what bumped me off the short list, but the hiring process is a big, tangled, subjective mystery, so perhaps it's better just to soldier onward.
Somehow, I don't feel all that awful. My contact at Daegu Haany University (DHU) just wrote to ask whether I'd be available for an interview on Thursday at 5PM. I gave him a tentative yes, because there's a very small chance that I might be going back to HUFS-Yongin to interview on Thursday as well. One way or another, I'll be interviewing with someone this Thursday, and since DHU is offering a pretty decent package (E1 visa, 15 hrs/wk of classes, 4 days/wk of work, W29 mil/yr salary, 16 wks vacation, benefits), I would be happy to take it if HUFS either says "no" or ignores me. (This assumes, of course, that DHU really wants me!)
So I'm still optimistic.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I'm off to Yeouido to speak with a friend of Tom's about the prospect of extra work (should I land a day job in the first place). After that, I'm taking the bus down to Yongin to visit and terrify the faculty at HUFS-Yongin.
Here goes nothing.
This coming Friday, May 17, is what Indians call Vesak, i.e., the Buddha's birthday.* Because it's a religiously plural country, Korea venerates both Jesus and the Buddha. This veneration is codified in the form of national holidays: Christmas and Vesak. So this Friday, I can't expect to hit any campuses to harass the faculty or cadge an interview. Everything has to happen by Thursday afternoon. On Friday, I suppose I'll just go to Chongno, drink in the festivities, and buy some little trinkets to bring back for family, friends, and coworkers.
*This goes by a couple different names in Korea: (1) Seokga-tanshin-il (석가 탄신일, 釋迦誕身日, Shakyamuni's birthday), (2) Bucheonim(ae) Oshin-nal (The Day of the Buddha's Coming).
I'm back from my reconnaissance mission to both Hansung University and Hanyang University, and I've gained a few important insights.
First insight: I'm glad I decided to do this. It was the right thing to do, and I look forward to visiting HUFS-Yongin tomorrow. I'll elaborate on this point—the rightness—a bit later. First, let's talk about the trip to Hansung.
Hansung University is located very close to where I live: about two subway stops down, then almost a mile's walk from the subway station. As sweaty as I tend to get, and given that we're now on the cusp of Korean summer, there was no way in hell that I was going to walk a mile in my slacks and tie, only to appear before the Hansung faculty and staff completely drenched and stinking like the damned. So I cabbed it. The cabbie said he couldn't take me into the campus; he dropped me at the front gate.
The campus neighborhood I was in was a close cousin of the neighborhood my apartment is in: somewhat old, shabby, musty, and run-down, as is true of much of the Gangbuk ("river-north," i.e., north of the Han river) region. Not very lively. I asked a lanky student where the Jilli-gwan (진리관, "Hall of Truth") was; he gave me directions that, thankfully, I could follow easily enough: through the passage between two buildings, then turn left after the lawn and keep going. The walk through the passageway was, fortunately, downhill; as I rumbled along, I took in the fact that Hansung's campus was small and cramped, tucked away next to a middle school and a high school. There really weren't that many main buildings, from what I could see. The ambience seemed a bit subdued; the students I saw, in pairs and clusters, talked quietly. As I approached the Jilli-gwan, I was relieved to see a boisterous group of guys playing soccer. The ball bounced my way; I picked it up and threw it back to the student who came racing over to me.
And then I was inside the Jilli-gwan. I had called ahead to the office to ask which building I needed to visit; this time around, no one asked me why I was calling and what the purpose of my visit was; the staff could have stopped me cold, like a disinvited vampire, had they thought to ask.* The office I wanted to hit was on the third floor; to my dismay, there was no elevator. Don't get me wrong: I'm not so fat that I can't walk up a few flights of stairs like a normal person. But I do generate a lot of internal heat when I make that sort of effort, and that translates to sweat. So, worried about the sweat I would soon be exuding, I took it slow, stopping in the stairwell on every floor and staring out the window, taking in the breeze and allowing my body heat to be whipped away by convection. I did what I could to minimize my sweatiness, then stepped onto the third floor.
My first impression of the third floor of the Jilli-gwan was that it was gloomy. This didn't bode well. My next impression, following hard upon the first, was that the place was old and grimy. I saw one classroom full of flat-screen monitors that looked halfway hi-tech, but otherwise the third floor was a throng of rickety plastic-and-chrome chairs, battered desks, and overly humid classrooms (I stepped into an empty classroom in an effort to cool down further; this didn't work, given how warm the room was). The lack of light, activity, and air conditioning gave an overall impression of tight budgets and near-poverty. I began to wonder what sort of strain I would put on Hansung's budget were I to work for the uni at the salary it was offering.
I found Room 306, knocked quietly, and opened the door. The office I entered was divided into cubicles and staffed by students. Like timid gophers, four guys and one girl slowly poked their heads out from their work stations to greet their visitor. The only light in the office was the sunlight forcing its way through the large, frosted (or was it frost-taped?) glass window. No profs were in sight. I spoke in Korean with the tallest dude, who stood up and asked me what my visit was about. I said I was there just to say hello; I told him I had sent my application documents over several days ago, and I explained my situation: time was short, an interview soon would be better than an interview later, etc. Another guy, probably because he saw me mopping my brow, quietly offered me a cup of cold water; the lone girl giggled. The conversation switched awkwardly back and forth between English and Korean; the guy told me he wasn't sure whether Skype interviews would be possible, which was disappointing. I told him jokingly that I hoped he would remember my face, and I gave him my name, email address, and US and Korean cell-phone numbers. Then, with nothing else left to do (I wasn't about to demand to see the department head), I bowed myself out.
I came away from that encounter with a general feeling of foreboding. As I texted my buddies Tom and Charles later: "Bad vibe." I think it's safe to say that Hansung and I aren't made for each other, and if Hansung rejects my application, it'll be no big deal.
I grabbed a cab back to the closest Line 4 subway station (Hansung University Front, Handae-ap), then began the long, long trek to Ansan, where I next planned to sneak-attack the ERICA** campus of Hanyang University. Hanyang is a fairly young school, but it's positively swimming in money—hence the two campuses. The subway ride down to Ansan would be over an hour, giving me plenty of time to think. I decided that, since I knew which building on Hanyang's campus I needed to hit, I would once again take a cab, but this time I'd take it right to my target. However, if I grabbed the cab from the subway station that was right in front of campus, I feared the cabbie would get pissed off about the super-short ride, so I decided to get off one stop earlier than Handae-ap Station: a longer cab ride, but one that would be justified from the cabbie's point of view.
I got off at Sangnoksu Station, and immediately felt a good vibe. I couldn't explain that feeling; maybe it was just the bright sun and the pleasant breeze, but something felt more positive about being down in Ansan. The subway station itself was elevated, so it was a comfortable downstairs walk to ground level. At ground level, I saw the station had some cheerful-looking food stands, which also seemed to bode well. I walked out, turned, and went partway under an overpass, there to catch a cab. One rolled up rather promptly; I got inside, noticed the plush leather seats and the blasting air conditioning (hell, yeah!), and told the driver where I was headed.
Ansan has its share of looming concrete apartment buildings; in my opinion, these structures are a blight on the landscape, as geometric and unwelcoming as a virus in a human body, but given Korea's population density, the country has little choice but to house its citizens by stacking them. I saw all the same types of shops and restaurants one would normally see in Seoul, but it was obvious that, as was true in Yeosu, the pace of life was different here. Ansan was Seoul without the big-city neurosis. I asked the driver whether he knew the building I was trying to find: the Shilyong Yeongeo Gyoyuk-gwan (Practical English Education Center); he didn't know it.
We pulled up to the main entrance and rolled down the window to talk with a 60-something campus guard on a moped. The guard told me to get out of the car, so I paid the driver, who shrugged and went on his way.
"You're looking for what building?" asked the guard. Another tall traffic guard stood some ways away, using his whistle to direct traffic onto and off the campus grounds.
"The Practical English Education Center," I said.
"What building?" barked the tall traffic guard, interested in our exchange.
"The Practical English Education Center," I called. The traffic guard thought a bit, then tried to say something, but the incoming cars grabbed his attention and he had to break off.
Meanwhile, the guard on the moped thought a bit, started giving me directions to a particular building, then stopped: "Wait—you didn't say you were going to the Research Center, right?" I nodded: I hadn't said that.*** He radioed for someone to come help him while he pondered a bit, and he told me to wait where I was. I said I was going to take a look at the huge campus map right there at the front entrance, and he waved me over to it, lost in his own thoughts.
On the map, I found my destination right away: Building Number 4. The guard walked over and saw where I was looking; "Number 4," I said. "Ah! That's the place I was telling you to go to at first!" said the guard, relieved. "Just walk along this sidewalk, break left, and it's just behind that big building over there."
That sounded easy enough. I bowed to the guard and thanked him for his efforts on my behalf, then lumbered along the path he'd indicated.
The Practical English Education Center was right where the map and the guard said it would be. I tried a side door: locked. I walked around to what I assumed was the building's front door, and it was wide open. A breeze wafted through the lobby, which was shady and pleasant. I gave myself a few moments to cool down, surveying the lobby for an elevator. There was none, same as at Hansungdae. Once again, I took my time walking up the stairs, enjoying the breeze and the PEEC's much brighter, more cheerful interior.
Room 403 was right next to the stairwell, and also right next to Room 402. On Room 403's door was a sign in both English and Korean that said, "Keep this door closed at all times." That seemed rather forbidding, but after hesitating a moment, I knocked and let myself in. A mousy Korean girl sat at a terminal; I began to give her the same spiel I'd given to the Hansung-dae student staffers. A moment later, however, a bright-eyed Western woman in her late 40s or early 50s walked in and greeted me in Korean: "Annyeonghasaeyo!" I smiled and bowed cheerfully to her, returning her greeting in Korean, but she immediately reverted to English. Her name was Lydia (not her real name; henceforth nothing but pseudonyms); she politely listened to the short version of my story, then told me I should speak with one of the directors, a guy named Andy. Lydia bade me wait while she attempted to get Andy on the phone to tell him I was there; she couldn't reach him. Another teacher, an Englishman named Martin, sauntered over and offered to help Lydia by texting Andy. I was wowed by this: two teachers were now helping me to get in touch with their director! In the end, neither teacher could get hold of Andy, so they apologized and asked me to wait. I spoke briefly with Martin, who called himself the least senior member of the foreign faculty because he had been there for only a semester and a half. He had worked at a rinky-dink school before making the switch to Hanyang, which he described as "a definite step up." Hanyang's campus, quite unlike Hansung's tiny, run-down, depressing, soccer-field-sized patch of ground, was modern, sprawling, well-groomed, perky, and technologized. I took a liking to the campus immediately, and felt an overwhelming desire to just run around randomly and explore.
I was again told to wait for Andy to appear from wherever he had disappeared to. I saw some interesting novels on one bookshelf, and I pulled them down for perusal: Jurassic Park, Seabiscuit, and Into Thin Air. I had only just begun flipping through Jurassic Park when the office door opened and the Big Boss stepped in: Dr. Yi. A slight woman of indeterminate age (I'd guess she was in her forties), Dr. Yi quietly approached the round table where I was sitting. I stood up in recognition of her authority, removing my hands from my pockets; Lydia (a UK-born Aussie, as it turns out) introduced me to the department's director. When I said who I was, she interrupted: "Yes, I remember your application." That was reassuring.
For a second time, I explained why I had come while Dr. Yi listened patiently. I also mentioned that I was only in Korea until this coming Sunday. "Really?" she said. I reminded her that I had said as much in the email that accompanied my application. Her lack of memory of this crucial point wasn't so reassuring: it indicated to me that she hadn't really bothered to read my email (and possibly my application materials) thoroughly. After she'd heard my story, which I told partly in English and partly in Korean (she complimented my Korean, which was having a good hair day), she said that Hanyang had already narrowed the applications down to a "short list" of ten or so. "So whether we interview you depends on whether you're on the short list." Alas, she couldn't seem to remember whether I had made that cut. Either that, or she was, for some reason, unwilling to reveal my status. "How about I call you tomorrow?" she offered. I said that would be fine. "If you're on the short list," Dr. Yi added, "We'll try to interview you before you leave."
Bingo. That's what I was fishing for.
I left the building soon after that conversation. Lydia said she was sorry I hadn't had the chance to speak with Andy, but cheerfully noted that it was probably better that I had spoken with Dr. Yi, who is the overall department director. I can only hope I made a decent impression. On my way off campus, I took the following pictures. One shows the PEEC building; another shows a closeup of the name of the building; the third pic shows a nice view of the campus from the main entrance road:
As I walked out the main entrance, that same tall traffic guard saw me. "Find what you were looking for?" he barked. "Yes; thank you," I smiled. He nodded grimly, then went back to directing traffic.
Let's go back to the beginning, then, and talk about what insights I gained from this little outing. As I said earlier, I'm glad I did this. My reconnoiter of Hansung University, and my interaction with its torpid, lackadaisical staff, left a bad taste in my mouth. The Hansung job looks good on paper, but actually working in such an environment would quickly become depressing. Hanyang U., by contrast, was bright, open, clean, and dynamic—overall, a much happier, livelier campus. Upshot: the trip to doleful Hansung wasn't a waste. I learned a great deal about the school and the students—none of it good.
Another reason why I'm glad I took this trip was my discovery that Dr. Yi hadn't read my email very carefully. Had I not come, had I not said anything, she would have blithely assumed that she could safely ignore my application. In coming to Hanyangdae, I did exactly what I'd set out to accomplish: I made the faculty take me seriously by foisting my large, imposing presence on them. It's interesting to think about whether I was actually on Dr. Yi's short list of applicants. Was I? I have a sneaking suspicion that I wasn't, but that, because of this visit, the director will be reconsidering having cut me. That's Korean psychology, you see: it's always hard for Koreans to say "no" to someone's face, because the Korean impulse is toward the promotion of harmonious group feeling. Upsetting gigantic Kevin isn't conducive to promoting harmonious group feeling. So the way I see it, Dr. Yi has the following options: (1) call me and tell me I'm slated for an interview later this week, or (2) email me to say I didn't make the cut. She had asked me whether I had Net access, so I assume she's giving herself an "out" in case it turns out she does have to reject my application. Email is the coward's way out (ask any girlfriend who's ever been dumped by her guy via email), but it minimizes the social trauma, like a quick surgical amputation.
I thought, at first, about titling this post "batting .500," mainly because I hadn't had the chance to talk with Hansung's faculty. But the more I reflect on my day, the more I think today's mission was a total success: I discovered that Hansung is a school I wouldn't want to work at anyway, and I was delighted to discover Hanyang University's ERICA campus, which radiates competence and professionalism. Sheol versus Paradise. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that Hanyang will be notifying me that I'm on the short list and am slated for an interview later this week.
*That's basically what happened with Seoul National University last week: the lady on the other end told me I didn't need to come to the SNU office, and that Skype interviews were possible. So that was that for SNU.
**ERICA stands for "Education Research and Industry Cluster at Ansan."
***One of the most hilariously confusing aspects of adapting to East Asian culture is learning how East Asians handle yes/no questions. If a Korean poses a yes/no question in the negative to you, you have to respond "yes" to confirm the truth-value of the negative question. Example: X says, "You didn't do your homework?" In Korea, Y should say, by way of confirmation, "Yes, I didn't." This is, when you think about it, a much more logical way to communicate than what we do in America. In America, the exchange would go: "You didn't do your homework?" "No, I didn't." From a logical standpoint, that "No" makes no damn sense. No wonder Mr. Spock has—and some Koreans have—such trouble dealing with anglophone humans.