In January of 2014, I was on vacation in tiny Hayang, between semesters during my time at the Catholic University of Daegu. I had just come off an awful, stressful ending to the previous semester thanks to some Chinese students whom I had failed, and whom I had been told I couldn't fail because of school policy. Winter vacation was quiet and relatively boring; I didn't have the money to go anywhere, so I pretty much stayed put. Spring semester began in March and ended in June; I had a few good students but, as with the previous semester, most of the kids were zombies, and this was one of the most depressing aspects of working down south. The Sewol ferry disaster occurred in April; there was a brief period of national soul-searching. My own students didn't talk much about the loss of hundreds of kids only slightly younger than they.
Summer vacation brought the nasty Daegu heat; I got hired by Dongguk, but only barely. Then it turned out that both Catholic University and my landlord wanted my ass out of the school-funded apartment building several weeks before my contract stipulated that was to happen. Grumbling, I moved up north to Seoul, initially staying with relatives before finding my current yeogwan/hovel. My brother Sean visited me in early August. Once I began teaching at Dongguk, I chafed at the suffocating bureaucracy but thrilled to the fact that my new students were so much better than my previous ones. This lightened my spiritual burden substantially. I had already been working intermittently for KMA; when that picked up again, I got a bit of extra income. My third job, at the Golden Goose, also kicked in and began providing me with a more or less steady income—an extra million won a month (about $909 at the current exchange rate). So I'm finally on my way toward saving up for a real apartment next year.
Overall, then, my employment and financial picture improved considerably over the summer; the hot months represented a sort of inflection point in my life, and things are now, at long last, trending upward. I've created a budget that will take me all the way through 2019, which is the year I turn 50. By that time, if things continue as they are now, I'll be nearly debt-free—just a few thousand dollars to go. If I can figure out a way to make more money in the interim, I can end up debt-free before I turn 50, and that would be amazing. By the end of the first week in January, I ought to be W3,000,000 richer: my Golden Goose boss wants to pay out W2 million either this week or next, and KMA has me doing a million-won gig this coming Monday and Tuesday. Most of that money will be socked away in my apartment fund.*
So although 2014 was a horrible year on the international scene, it wasn't too terrible for me. I kept up with my walking, lost a few kilos, and brought my resting heart rate down from the dangerous 90s to the more reasonable 70s. As long as things remain on an even keel, I ought to be able to follow the roadmap I've laid out in my budget, and will eventually reach a point where I can start saving up piles of money for things like travel. I look forward to whatever 2015 might bring, so long as things like heart attacks, serious bodily injury, or deadly disease aren't on the menu.
*Korean apartments often require a large "key money" (jeonsae) deposit. Depending on how much key money you plunk down, your monthly rent will be smaller or larger. I visited an apartment building whose landlord said I could move into an apartment for W10 million in key money, plus a rent of W600,000, not including utilities. That's not bad for the geographic center of Seoul, and what's more, the key-money deposit gets returned when I leave the apartment. A bonus: the apartment is right next to campus, which makes it a prime spot. It's not the ideal place that I had envisioned for myself (I'd rather be in an officetel), but it's also not bad... and it's a hell of a lot bigger than the cramped shoebox I live in now.