I thought I'd have two errands to do today: (1) visit campus and do my change of address, and (2) visit the local furniture store and negotiate with the owner re: delivering furniture versus just taking the display samples from the store. The second errand is no longer necessary thanks to the intrepid Joe Walther, who is also offering to give me a chair along with a large computer desk, gratis. That saves me W200,000, and all I have left to buy, before I move, is a pair of smallish bookshelves. I can put the money I save here toward the larger expenses that await me when I move to Ilsan: a bed, a mattress, and a decent-sized fridge/freezer.
So I've got just the one errand to perform: go to campus and update my address. There's isn't even a need to do that today: I've got the rest of February.
Later this evening, I want to start boxing up my possessions. Last night, I successfully scavenged another seven boxes, so I now have my fifteen. I met my yeogwan ajumma on the stairs as I was hauling those boxes up to my room; she saw the boxes and immediately asked, "You're moving, aren't you?" I had wanted to talk with her and her husband formally about this, but since she was asking right at that moment, I thought, What the hell, and said yes: I was moving. "Because it's too cold in your room?" she asked, genuinely distressed. I told her there was no problem (I'd bought a space heater, after all); I was moving because I have to teach classes at our Ilsan campus. I also asked her to confirm that I wouldn't need to pay another month's rent because my January rent covers me through February 17; she said that was true. I reminded her that she had charged me only W350,000 for the first month (I had looked through my bank records a few days earlier and had already mapped out how this part of the conversation would go), and I gallantly offered to pay her the remaining W50,000. She chuckled and said that would be fine. Who says no to an extra fifty bucks, right? The ajumma scolded me for bringing in my boxes: "We've got lots of boxes in storage!" she said. "All you had to do was ask!" I told her that what I had done was okay with me (scavenging in the night was actually kind of entertaining, but that notion would have been hard to explain with my limited Korean); she nodded tiredly and sent me on my way.
One errand, then, to be done in a few minutes: visit campus, make address updates. One task, to be done later tonight: start boxing up my possessions. And one wedding to attend down in Gangnam this afternoon: that of a former coworker of mine. While I'm on campus, I'll need to purchase the classic white envelope and stuff it with the standard W100,000 wedding gift. (At least, W100,000 is what we po' people give. The rich probably give more.)
Hovering in the background is the fact that I need to walk 21,000 steps by midnight if I'm finally to beat my November step record. I did pretty well this month, step-wise; just one... more... little... push... and I'm over the top.
Saturday, January 31, 2015
I thought I'd have two errands to do today: (1) visit campus and do my change of address, and (2) visit the local furniture store and negotiate with the owner re: delivering furniture versus just taking the display samples from the store. The second errand is no longer necessary thanks to the intrepid Joe Walther, who is also offering to give me a chair along with a large computer desk, gratis. That saves me W200,000, and all I have left to buy, before I move, is a pair of smallish bookshelves. I can put the money I save here toward the larger expenses that await me when I move to Ilsan: a bed, a mattress, and a decent-sized fridge/freezer.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Last night, long after midnight and well into the witching hour, I walked about 5,000 steps as I prowled the local neighborhood sidewalks and alleyways in a surreal, streetlit search for empty cardboard boxes. Because this is the Eulji district, i.e., the hardware district, I thought such boxes would be plentiful—tossed negligently onto trash piles.* My goal was (and is) to acquire fifteen boxes, all about the size of an American apple box. Last night, I managed to snag seven: some bigger than an apple box, some smaller. I'm not a fan of large boxes for moving: such boxes mean fewer trips up and down the stairs, but they can also become hellishly heavy and correspondingly weak at the seams, putting them in danger of bursting open while they're being carried. So: bigger boxes = light, bulky items only.
I walked all over the Eulji district today, looking to buy furniture for the move. Might as well take advantage of the fact that I live in Hardware and Furniture Central, right? Other items, like my bed and a decent fridge, can be bought once I'm settled in Goyang. My comparison shopping for a decent kitchen table proved fruitful: I went from tables going for a ridiculous W450,000 to tables being sold for W200,000 to a large but useful metal folding table going for only W40,000, sold by a guy with a Daegu accent. (I had trouble understanding him; he had trouble understanding me.) I've bought that table and have put it on hold; I'll collect it from the guy on move-out day.
Tomorrow, Saturday, I'll be going to campus to update my mailing address. The office ladies told me that I could enter the update myself into our database. After that, I'll visit a local furniture store that I visited today; I need to negotiate with the gentleman there regarding a chair and some bookshelves. He was willing to sell me a desk, an office chair, and two bookshelves for what I thought was a pretty reasonable price, but later on he texted that I wouldn't be able to take the floor models on display: he'd have to order the furniture, and it would arrive by next Friday—a day too late for my purposes. So I need to go back and see him, face-to-face, to try and persuade him to part with the floor samples, possibly for a slightly cheaper price. In the meantime, my friend and former Sookmyung colleague-across-campus Joe Walther has told me he has a large desk that I can have for free—the best price of all—so I no longer need to buy a desk from the furniture guy. Which rocks.
Saturday evening, I'm attending the wedding of a former Daegu Catholic U. coworker of mine, so I'll need to pony up W100,000 for a white-envelope gift. Ah, the money... how it loves to leave me.
Made an interesting discovery today when I visited the Seoul branch of Daegu Bank (also located on Eulji Street, but not where Google Maps said it would be; I assume the branch must have moved and that Google hasn't yet updated the location): I can wire-transfer up to W6 million via ATM. This is a hell of difference from Shinhan Bank, which limits ATM wire transfers to a maximum of W600,000 per day. But this is good to know, as I've been using my DGB account as my "Do Not Touch" account for the funds I've been saving up. I can simply keep using that accont for big money transfers in the future.
I still need to take care of change-of-address issues with Shinhan Bank and Immigration. You may recall that I had to pay a fine, last year, for not having informed Immigration of my move to the Chungmuro area. I won't be making that mistake again.
It's going to be a busy Saturday. And a busy week coming up.
*In fact, I saw tons of empty boxes this afternoon, but I know they'll be mostly gone by nightfall—collected by the old ajeossis who gather up such boxes for money, or picked up by the trash service.
My friend John McCrarey recently wrote about our dinner on base this past Wednesday evening. I've been lucky to have friends, over the years, who have been able to sign me on base at the Yongsan Garrison: my buddy Tom used to have an AmCham (American Chamber of Commerce) pass; later on, my US Army friend Charlie (who currently tweets as @KimcheeGI) was able to sign me on. Now it's John, and as much as I praise the delights of staying away from American culture in favor of experiencing Korean culture more deeply, John knows I get the American-food jones just like every other expat. His invitation to eat at Oasis, the Tex-Mex/BBQ buffet on base at the Dragon Hill Lodge, was just too tempting to refuse.
I showed up a few minutes late for our meeting; John was standing outside the gate, keeping himself warm with a cigarette. We signed in and strolled over to the Dragon Hill Lodge, and I once again got that weird, surreal feeling I always get when I'm on base, as if I've stepped across a teleportation threshold only to find myself back in the United States. We descended the steps to Oasis... and discovered it was closed for "improvements." I had a good chuckle. John was frustrated: he had checked online and seen nothing about any repairs or renovation. True, I'd been hoping to stuff myself silly on bad-for-you Tex-Mex and barbecue, but I was fine with hitting a different restaurant, of which there were several. We eventually chose Greenstreet (in my mind, I'm always calling it "Greensleeves," after the song), and I ordered the Reuben, which is my go-to sandwich if I'm not ordering a burger.
Now, I've talked about Reubens on this blog before (my review of Suji's kimchi Reuben is here); while I'm no expert on them, I'd say I'm on the cusp of becoming a bit of a Reuben connoisseur. At the very least, I've had enough Reubens to know what I like, and the Greenstreet Reuben gets my unequivocal thumbs-up. Despite the fact that the preparers of the sandwich made the classic mistake of leaving the bottom bread soaked, the Reuben was positively stuffed with meat, and the cheese, sauerkraut, and sauce all harmonized to produce a pleasantly rib-sticking meal. Because I intended to walk home that night, I found the sandwich to be just filling enough without leaving me bloated and unable to walk without shitting my pants. (I know: restaurant reviews aren't supposed to mention shit. Well, too bad.) I had toyed with the idea of ordering the Greenstreet buffet instead, but I knew that I'd probably overeat. (Had I overeaten at Oasis, I'd have simply taken a cab home, then spent the rest of the night on the toilet.)
John and I talked about some personal matters, which I won't relate here. After dinner, I also had fun chatting in Korean with the cute young lady acting as hostess at the front of the restaurant. She was modest about her English ability, and she asked me what the best way to learn English was. "Constant practice," I said. She made a fist and said, "I'll study hard!"—to which I responded with the Konglish "Fighting!" John heard this and intervened: "No fighting!" I think John was faintly amused at my having chatted up both our server and the hostess; he later told me that I hadn't taken the conversation with the hostess far enough. I ruefully noted that I should have asked her, "What time does your shift end?" instead of the question I did pose to her, which was, "What time does the kitchen close?" Ah, well. She was a cutie, though. (And the Greenstreet kitchen closes at 9:30PM, FYI.)
We left the Dragon Hill Lodge and walked back to the gate. There, we signed out (John had to have his fingertip scanned at both sign-in and sign-out; that's a new procedure to me). We had stopped at the base "shoppette" before leaving, so John was lugging two cases' worth of diet cola in his backpack. I had elected to walk home; it occurred to me that walking up Namsan would have been ten times more difficult had I been carrying John's heavy backpack.
John felt bad about our not having hit Oasis, but it wasn't tragic to me. Next time I'm on base, we'll definitely slaughter some pigs and cows and tacos. But the Reuben I had this time around proved quite memorable, so all was not lost.
Over at the excellent Gusts of Popular Feeling, Matt reviews the recently released Korean drama "Ode to My Father" (Korean title: Gukjae Shijang, i.e., "International Market"). He follows this up with more extensive research and commentary on the historical events referenced in the film. Both of his posts are well worth your while.
At Liminality, meanwhile, my buddy Charles offers his own perspective on the same film—parts of which worked for him, parts of which didn't.
Both Matt and Charles mention the problem of melodrama in Korean TV and cinema, which is one of the main reasons why I avoid most Korean TV and cinema. You may recall that I also complained about the weepiness of the movie "Interstellar," in which director Christopher Nolan seemed determined to shake off his image as a "cerebral" filmmaker in favor of being perceived as someone capable of genuine pathos.
That said, melodrama is much more of a problem in Korea than it is in the English-speaking West: the screaming, the crying, those unbearably interminable soliloquies—strangely contrasting with the near-total lack of passionate kissing. Korean melodrama usually plays like one long, blaring symphony of sexual frustration: whenever I watch two Korean characters fighting on TV or in a movie, I almost always end up thinking Things would be so much better if they just fucked. It's what Han Solo was really trying to say to Princess Leia:
LEIA: You're imagining things.
HAN: Am I? Then why're you following me? Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye fuck?
LEIA: I'd just as soon fuck a Wookie.
HAN: I can arrange that! You could use a good fuck!
So say we all.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
I looked at some alternatives and saw nothing better than the deal I'm getting from Top Real Estate in the Ilsan/Goyang-si area: W3 million deposit, W500,000 a month rent, six-month contract. Top was extremely accommodating, seeing as they had originally wanted W10 million down. And most landlords get antsy about six-month contracts, although I don't see why: they can get another person into that same domicile almost as soon as I leave it. My landlord, as it turns out, is a nice old lady who lives on the fifth floor of my building and uses girlish emoticons when she sends text messages. (^^ tee-hee!)
So I'm in Ilsan; I've signed the papers for my new studio and have already wired over my W300,000 "trust" deposit to show that I'm committed to this deal. The remaining W2.7 million will be sent tomorrow; they told me that I had until move-in day, February 5, to make the transfer, but I prefer to get this done quickly. Tomorrow, I'll be visiting my campus and giving the office ladies my new residential address; I've already emailed them about my personal situation, so someone in that office is aware that I'm moving, and they'd better not fuck with my teaching schedule, which is currently all Ilsan all the time. Tonight, I'll be scrounging around the local markets, like a homeless guy, collecting cardboard boxes to use for my move. Hell, I might even start packing tonight.
My W3 million treasure hoard is currently in my Daegu Bank account; that's where I've been storing my "Do Not Touch" money. There's a DGB branch within walking distance from where I currently live, so after I'm done at the campus, I'll stroll over to that branch and, I hope, transfer the W2.7 million with no hitches. I've borrowed W1.5 million from a coworker to take care of other business, such as buying furniture, paying the yongdal moving service, etc. I still need to tell my yeogwan "landlords" of my plans to move next week. Won't they be surprised. I'll pay my coworker back at the end of February, right before the semester starts, as that's when the Golden Goose will be paying me. (We've switched to a "once every two months" system to minimize inconvenience.)
Ah, yes: I emailed KMA yesterday to confirm my February 7 lesson; as I suspected, it's been canceled for lack of student registrants. But my supervisor there informed me that another teaching date has been added to my 2015 calendar, so there's hope for more potential income.
Events are in motion. Life is exciting. A week from now, I'll be up north, not too far from Gimpo and, happily, walking distance from the campus at which I'll be teaching.
I've got a new to-do list, now that I'm going to be moving north to Ilsan in about a week.
1. Rework budget to reflect the new financial reality.
2. Sign contract for the new place.
3. Find out whether there's a branch of Daegu Bank in Ilsan so I can transfer funds easily.
4. Find boxes.
5. Box stuff up in preparation for move.
6. Register change of address at school, at Immigration, and at the bank.
7. Buy used bed frame, used desk, used table and chairs and clothing rack in Seoul.
8. Buy new mattress, blankets, and sheets in Ilsan.
9. Settle accounts with yeogwan ajeossi and ajumma.
10. Give the yeogwan room a final cleaning.
11. Find a yongdal moving service that can take all my crap up to Ilsan for fairly cheap.
12. Buy a Wi-Fi hub to free up my computer and phone inside my new residence.
I'm losing three million won to this damn security deposit, but I'll be getting it back in July or August when I move out and head down to Daechi-dong. I also won't be able to save quite as much as I'd saved before, but that's not a huge issue: at most, my new budget will be 2-3 months behind my current budget. Not tragic: I'm still on track to be debt-free by age 49, barring disaster, disease, and/or love and marriage.
One inconvenience: I teach at KMA on February 7, and I'm moving to Ilsan on February 5. That doesn't give me much time to settle in before I suddenly have a shitload of work. But no matter: it's better to be busy than to be bored. (And there's always the chance that KMA will cancel my February gig if there aren't enough students to attend it. I always knew this might be a possibility, and am ready to adjust my budget to reflect the changing reality.)
After the 7th, though, things ought to smooth out and I'll be back in vacation mode for another week or two before I have to buckle down and prep for the coming semester. I'll spend a lot of that time exploring the Ilsan/Goyang region; I saw mountains in the distance when I went to Ilsan earlier this week, and those look rather promising.
Luckily, I live next to several markets where the vendors leave plenty of empty cardboard boxes lying about at night, so I should have no trouble at all scrounging up boxes for the upcoming move. Cleaning the yeogwan will basically mean leaving the place less filthy than when I arrived. This might mean cleaning under the bed, which is going to be a frightening experience. Finding used furniture shouldn't be an issue; I live next door to the Euljiro district, which is the most awesome district in the world for all home furnishings, from floor tile to porcelain toilets to pipes to kitchen/cooking supplies to lamps to furniture to hardware. This district is essentially one giant, sprawling Home Depot. If I can't find what I need here, it can't be found. And I know exactly where the used-furniture guys are located.
My new place isn't furnished, which is why I'll need to buy a bed, table, desk, and so on. It does, however, have a kitchenette that isn't much different from the one I worked with in Hayang. Meager, but better than nothing. There's also a washing machine, thank Jeebus, which means I won't have to rely on the stinky communal machine that I currently use. When my clothes hang-dry after a session in that machine, they end up smelling slightly fetid. Double-plus ungood. I'm going to avoid using the ondol and will stick to my electric space heater: in Korea, especially in the winter, gas is hellishly expensive, but electricity isn't. So I'll just keep my thermostat set on "onsu" (hot water) instead of on "ondol" (heated floor). Warm showers are fine; warm floors are not.
I'm a little blown away by the suddenness and rapidity of this life-transition, but I think it'll be worth it in the end. One final semester at Dongguk, then I move back down to the southeast part of Seoul—into new, palatial digs—and really start to earn some cash.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
I took a ton of pictures—some good, some bad—on the night of January 17 while I was out and about in Yeosu. I strolled from my yeogwan across the Dolsan Bridge and tromped up Dolsan itself—the very small but very famous local mountain whose summit is crowned with a monument that sits in what has to be one of the tackiest parks I've ever seen in Korea. It's eternally Christmas up there: all the plants have been covered in electric Christmas lights, and there are sculptures and weird tableaux whose meaning completely escapes me. While I was at the top, I bought some cotton candy from one of the several friendly cotton-candy vendors; my swirl cost me only W3,000 and was larger than my head. I polished it off in no time, of course. The summit was crowded with tourists; in that way, it was a lot like Namsan in Seoul.
Also at the top of the mountain was a building that houses several restaurants, a restroom, a shop or two, and a cable-car rig. I couldn't understand the need for a cable car: the mountain was easily scalable in just a couple minutes—too low, too short, to merit a cable car.
The series of pics below begins with a couple fuzzy snaps of my yeogwan before moving on to some scenes of Dolsan Bridge, Dolsan itself, the path up the mountain, the monument and tacky park, and eventually a couple shots of some of the sashimi restaurants, one of which served me my dinner (hwaedeop-bap). The sashimi itself was great, but the side dishes at that restaurant left much to be desired.
What should really stand out to you, Dear Reader, is that Yeosu isn't some quiet little beach town, which is what I'd originally thought it was. It's actually quite built-up, and is apparently a popular vacation destination. There was a lot that I didn't have the chance to explore; I plan on going back, though, because Yeosu seems to have a lot to offer.
(Hover your cursor over the images for the captions.)
I have pictures from my walk along Route 17, through Yeosu's downtown, and all the way up to Chonnam National University campus, but I'll save those for another post.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The thought that I should move to Ilsan for the semester didn't become truly serious until yesterday—the first day I decided to venture out to Dongguk's Ilsan campus to see just how easy or hard the commute would be. We were told via email that the commute would be about 90 minutes, and that's about right, especially when you factor in the subway-to-bus transfer and the walk to campus after you get off the local bus.
I'm at the Ilsan campus right now, typing this entry. The building is bright, open, and deadly quiet, except for two cleaning ajummas who are talking down the hallway. Yesterday's visit was mainly to reconnoiter the campus—figure out where my classrooms were, what the Wi-Fi codes are, etc.; today's visit was to follow up on the idea of moving out here. So I took some pictures of studio-apartment buildings close to the campus, including pictures of the large real-estate-office banner ads hanging off the telephone poles, then made a list that I hoped was a match for the real-estate phone numbers and their seemingly associated properties. I assumed that, if an ad was close to Property X, it must be associated with Realtor X. This turned out to be false.
I sent text messages to two realtors. One responded quickly by phone, saying he could meet me in five minutes. The other never replied. I met the first gentleman out in front of the building I was in (the Jonghap Gangeui-dong, if you must know—sort of an all-purpose building with plenty of classrooms and lecture halls, which houses the classrooms I'll be using starting in March), and he immediately drove me back to his real-estate office. I waited in his SUV for a few minutes, then we drove about a fifteen-minute walk away from campus to a set of buildings I hadn't photographed. I imagine that each real-estate office has its own "turf," so this guy's turf wasn't near the campus itself. That was a bit disappointing, but the studio-apartment buildings that he took me to were less than a mile away. If I do move into one of these places, my situation won't be so different from when I lived in Hayang.
As we drove, we talked price. At first, it sounded as though I wouldn't be able to afford the places he was showing me: he wanted 10 million won down for the security deposit (bojeung-geum) and about W500,000 a month for the rent. I told him frankly that I couldn't do that—I've saved up only three million. He said he could probably make do with three million, and I would definitely get it all back at the end of the rental period.
The two places we visited were in buildings that stood across from each other. The first studio was on the third floor, and I was relieved to see the building had an elevator: this would make move-in a hell of a lot easier. The studio was surprisingly large, and was roughly divided into two rooms with no door between them, but the rent for this one was W550,000, which was pushing my envelope: I was prepared to go no higher than W600,000, knowing that I'd be paying utilities (electricity, gas) on top of the monthly rent. W550,000 was getting dangerously close to that ceiling.
The second place was several pyeong smaller (a single pyeong is about 3.95 square yards, or almost six feet by six feet), but I liked its simple, open design. This place was an even W500,000 a month, and it was on the first floor, which meant that, once again, there'd be little problem with move-in. The realtor told me I'd have to choose between these two, and that there were no empty apartments in the buildings I had originally wanted to see.
All in all, I'm mostly sold on this smaller place. It'll serve me well for a few months, then I'll move down to Daechi-dong and get free housing in a spacious 26-pyeong apartment. There are a couple problems, however, mostly related to furnishing. The studio comes with a kitchenette and washing machine, which is nice, but there's no bed, no desk, and no nightstand. I talked with my buddy Tom about this, and he said it should be no problem to find cheap, used furniture locally. This has been my experience elsewhere, and I did see some gagu-jeom (furniture stores) while I was on the bus and heading toward the campus.
So I'm mostly sold on the idea of moving to Ilsan. I'll still need to visit my office at the Seoul campus every now and again, if for no other reason than to do all the admin-related bullshit that Dongguk is infamous for. (I'm sure there's a permission form for wiping one's ass—and in which direction to do it.) But those visits ought to be rare: the Ilsan campus has most of what I need, including copying services. Local restaurants appear cheap, and in theory, the huge hospital across the street has its own bargain-basement cafeteria if times get financially tough.
I'll need to rework my budgetary numbers. I'll probably also need to borrow cash from someone for a month or two, since my coffers are going to be utterly drained by this damn security deposit. And I'm going to talk things over with some other people before I finalize my decision to move. I told the realtor that I'd get back to him on Thursday; this will give me the time to speak with some folks I trust. But assuming I go through with this, I'll be out of my yeogwan and back into a studio apartment by the beginning of February. That'll give me plenty of time to settle in and get used to the new neighborhood before the semester begins.
Monday, January 26, 2015
There's very likely going to be a change of plan. This mostly affects my designs on the boxing gym up the street, but it's a big change all the same: I might pack up in the next couple of weeks and move out to Ilsan for the semester.
I visited Dongguk's Ilsan campus today. It's little more than a humble cluster of structures, dominated by the Dongguk University Hospital. I found the building where I'll be teaching my classes; it was very large and very clean—dare I say, surgically clean. The classrooms themselves appear to be capacious and echo-y; I walked around inside one of them to get a feel for the environment and wondered just how large my classes would be. After visiting two different departmental offices in the building, I finally found people who could give me some Wi-Fi passwords, but these staffers only had the passwords for the building's first and second floors: apparently, there's no all-campus Wi-Fi at Dongguk's Ilsan branch: each academic department has passwords for the Wi-Fi within its purview.
I walked around the campus's immediate neighborhood and saw right away that there were plenty of studio apartments there. Moving into one of them might be more expensive, rent-wise, than what I'm paying now, but I'd be willing to take the hit for just a few months before moving definitively over to the Golden Goose in the summer. This would alter my budget, but only slightly, and only by a few months. The benefit of such a move is that I'd be a two-minute walk from the building I'll be teaching in. The commute down south to Daechi-dong to work at the Golden Goose will be a pain in the ass, in terms of time, but I'll be working there only once or twice a week, and because the Ilsan campus is at the extreme end of Line 3 (Madu Station), I'll be able to get a seat on the train whether going north or going south.
So a move may be in my very near future. I'm still weighing the pros and cons, but I'm going to head back to Ilsan tomorrow specifically to check further on the housing situation. If housing is a bit cheaper out there, in Seoul's periphery, then all the better.
I'm up at 6AM on Monday to head out to our university's campus at Ilsan, as that's where I'll be teaching this coming semester. All my classes will be there; I've got long, five-hour days ahead of me on Mondays and Wednesdays, and short days that end at 11AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This semester, I'll largely be a nonentity at the Seoul campus.
I need to see whether getting to campus will indeed take 90 minutes, as our office said it would. While on campus, I need to find out the password to access the local Wi-Fi. And finally, I need to find out where I can eat on campus for fairly cheap.
Once I get back from campus, I might head out to Yongsan and buy myself a Wi-Fi hub for use in my current residence. I also need to get my old Mac's hard drive converted into an external drive, but I won't get that done until next month, when I have more money.
Lastly, I might wander up the street to that boxing gym to check out prices, hours of operation, equipment, and fitness programs. If the gym opens early in the morning, I might even start doing early boxing workouts in February.
So: full Monday.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
I finally had the honor of meeting my buddy Tom's father yesterday evening. Tom's dad was in Korea for a few days, and Tom thought it'd be a good idea to host a large dinner, inviting several of his friends, including yours truly. The dinner was to take place at Zelen, the Itaewon-based Bulgarian restaurant that I've been to twice before. Like the previous time, when I went with my friend Charles, I ordered the marvelous risotto-stuffed squid. Tom's lovely wife and his son were also there, along with four or five Filipino friends of the Missus, plus two friends/business associates of Tom, one of whom was a Korean man whose name sounded strangely like "Aesop." We were a rather large dinner party.
Later that evening, after I had left Zelen and was walking home from Itaewon (a 20K-step walk, I'll note), I texted Tom about his pop: "Your dad's an impressive man—smart, cultured, and humble. Were you adopted?" In all seriousness, Tom's father proved to have a great sense of humor and a delightful curiosity about the larger world. He modestly brought up the issue of his landlocked Missourian roots at several points in the conversation, and he politely declined the offer to try some of my calamari. "Ah, yes," I gibed, "In Missouri, it's all hooves—no tentacles." "We're lucky to get shrimp," Tom's dad volleyed back.
So here are a few pics from last night's dinner. The first one is of Tom's lovely wife and their bouncing baby boy; the second one is of Tom and the fruit of his loins; the final pic shows Tom's father and the Korean friend whose name sounded like "Aesop."
The long walk home from Itaewon took me down past the 8th Army base entrance and Samgakji Station, then up into Huam-dong, the district that sits on the southwest flank of Namsan. I got stopped by a surprisingly tall policeman not far from the Hilton Hotel; the man asked to see my "shinmunjeung," and I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, so I told him I didn't have any shinmunjeung.
"Eopseumyeon andwaeyo," he replied flatly. Roughly: "You can't not have it." or "It's not permissible for you not to have it."
Eventually, as we talked further, I realized he was asking for my alien-registration card (ARC), which is normally called a waegugin-deungnok-jeung. To me, shinmunjeung sounded like a "newspaper"-something-or-other; why the fuck didn't he just use the common term for the foreigner's ID card? I handed over my ARC; the policeman checked it out and explained that the cops were looking for someone just walking about randomly in the night; it was getting cold out, so they were concerned about finding this person, whose absence had apparently been reported by concerned parties (relatives? friends?). The policeman said he'd stopped me because he'd initially thought I was Korean—a first. Most Koreans look at me and immediately assume I'm white, because that's the nature of the typical Korean's reality-distorting cognitive filter. This policeman was no dummy, so he gets points for that. He also gets points for speaking to me in nothing but Korean instead of assuming I could understand only English. (Then again, speaking Korean to a foreigner could have been a dominance/intimidation tactic—a way to keep me off-balance.)
"Isang-eopseumnida," he said formally after handing me back my ID card: no irregularities. He said something further, which I didn't understand, then saluted me and went back to his cramped, clown-car-sized vehicle. Given how tall the officer was, I felt a bit sorry for him, driving around in that tiny car all night. At the same time, I was irritated, as I replayed the encounter in my head, by the oppressively random nature of my being stopped and brusquely accosted on the street.
After that, it was a short walk past the Hilton to the bottom of the steep bus path that goes up the southwestern side of Namsan. I stopped in at the public restroom at the bottom of the path before I headed uphill; Tom had given me a book as a gift—The Kama Pootra, a joke book that describes different positions for pleasurable shitting. I cracked the book open and started reading it while I did my foul business inside the stall. When Tom first told me about this book, I noted to him that, although "Pootra" was meant as a humorous riff off "Sutra," the locution -putra actually does exist in Sanskrit: it means son, as in that Indo-Nepalese river known as the Brahmaputra, i.e., the son of Brahma. So "Kama Pootra," to an Indian, might sound like kamaputra, i.e., "son of Desire."
While walking along, I found myself disturbed by the fact that I didn't know what a shinmunjeung was, so I whipped out my phone, called up Google Translate, and typed shinmunjeung into it.
"Did you mean shinbunjeung?" Google Translate asked me. I realized, at that point, that I had misheard, and therefore misspelled, the word in question. I clicked the link for shinbunjeung and got this definition: "identification." So this had nothing to do with newspapers (shinmun) after all. Shinbun, it turns out, means something like "status" or "identity." You learn something new every day.
And that was the most exciting thing to happen to me during my walk home. The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see; he stopped at Dongguk University's campus to pick up some necessities, and he ended up back in his Chungmuro 5-ga neighborhood, where he soon fell into a deep, pleasant sleep, happily digesting his risotto-stuffed squid, glad to have finally met the father of one of his best friends.
Friday, January 23, 2015
In which I discuss why this coming August is so important to me.
While CB and I were eating lunch at Everest yesterday, I had a thought regarding curry dishes: I've violated Hindu principles by using heavy cream (a cow byproduct) instead of coconut milk in my chicken-and-shrimp curry dishes (see here and here), but I wonder whether it might be possible to switch out the heavy cream and use Korean duyu (soy milk) in its place. Duyu is a lot easier to find, in Korea, than coconut milk is, and the consistency—if you buy the more viscous brands, anyway—is just right for curry dishes. I doubt there'd be much of a taste difference, either: duyu, heavy cream, and coconut milk are all distinct, but very bland and fairly neutral—easily dominated by the flavor and punch of curry.
So! Do you think duyu is a plausible alternative to heavy cream and coconut milk? (I'm assuming that duyu behaves more or less like regular cow's milk when heated—i.e., it doesn't separate or curdle or do anything disgusting like that.)
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Filing taxes in Korea is something I've never done myself before. Our office recently bombarded us with a series of emails regarding our income, as well as what to do to file. Today, while I was at lunch, one of the office ladies called me and asked what I had done to prep for tax filing. I told her I hadn't done anything; she said to come to the office, but that I also needed to request an income and deductions/withholding statement from my previous university. She then offered to obtain that document herself, but said she'd need my old university's contact number. I couldn't find it (I must have deleted it), so when I finally got to my campus's main office, the office assistant looked the number up herself.
For the better part of an hour, two office assistants helped me out with the overly complicated filing procedure. The document from Daegu Catholic arrived while we were puzzling over one of several screens; because the document wasn't formatted in the same way that Dongguk's tax documents are, there was some confusion, which caused more delays.
Another snag occurred when one of the assistants asked me for an electronic "certificate" so she could access my Dongguk-related personal records on a different computer; she said the certificate ought to be on my thumb drive. I told her I didn't have a thumb drive, and that the certificate, an .exe file, had been installed on the computer at my work station.* She asked me to find the file, upload it to her thumb drive, and bring the drive back to her—all so that she could gain access to my records. I told her that it'd be a heck of a lot easier for her simply to come to my desk, where I could just log into the Dongguk intranet and we could finish the tax-processing there. Turning this into a power struggle, the assistant said she preferred the more zigzaggy way (i.e., Kevin goes to his desk, finds the certificate file, loads it onto the thumb drive, and brings it back to her at the office); I relented and asked her what the name of the file was; she said gong-in injeung-seo, but when I went back to my desk and tried to find a file by that name, nothing came up.
I went back to the assistant empty-handed and once again asked her to just come over to my desk. She refused and said, "Here, let me try something." Eventually, she dug up a copy of my certificate herself, which left me to wonder why the hell I had to physically bring her the certificate from my work station. But that's Korea for you: nothng here is linear. It also turned out that the certificate's file name was NOT gong-in injeung-seo: it was some weird, unpronounceable alphanumeric string, which was why I couldn't find it.
In the end, the office ladies did pretty much everything for me. I was annoyed during parts of the process, but the whole thing took about forty minutes, and now it's completely done. I asked whether I'd have to visit a local tax office or something and was told that I wouldn't: "done" meant done. So all in all, I suppose that wasn't as bad as it could have been, but I didn't envy the office assistants the chore of having to go through this administrative bullshit another forty-some times with the rest of our faculty.
So now I've got to file my US taxes. There are some helpful websites for expats out there (here's one), so I'll be looking into filing as soon as I can. I think it's absurd that my own country requires me to report income that I earn and largely use overseas. By rights, such income shouldn't be taxed at all. Alas, that's not the world we live in.
*The whole thumb-drive issue is based on the assumption that, if a teacher wants to log in to the university database remotely (i.e., from home or from some other non-campus-based computer), he'll need to install his electronic certificate on whatever computer he's using. For this reason, the certificate must be kept on a thumb drive and toted around physically. In my case, (1) I lost my thumb drive back when I was at my previous job; (2) I saw no need to tote around the certificate because I've got a Mac at home, and .exe files don't work on Macs without special software. The whole "certificate" thing is highly annoying; it's a result of Korean slackerhood when it comes to developing websites with modern encryption. Most Korean websites are still stuck in the Stone Age of Active X, which is total nonsense, not to mention that Active X is eminently hackable. Korea won't change its ways until it loses about a trillion dollars through a gaping security hole.
Today, I had lunch with a Dongguk colleague whom I'll call CB. CB has been a longtime reader of this blog (one of five people who can make that claim: most people either ignore this blog or read it only occasionally); he's a fellow Donggukian, a man of friendly and scholarly disposition, and a proud dad. He's also somewhat gun-shy about appearing on this blog, but I did manage to persuade him to reveal one of his hands in one of the photos you'll see below. I think CB's desire for secrecy stems from his black-ops background; the man is a trained killer, and he will end a life without the slightest hesitation, as he proved while we walked through the Dongdaemun district: at one point he reached down, yanked a cat out of hiding by the scruff of its neck, made sweet love to it until its yowling ceased, then beheaded the poor beast with one swipe of his mighty scrotum. Onlookers gasped, but CB seemed oblivious and unconcerned. "Just don't put any of that on camera," he said, giving me a cold, thousand-yard stare. My own balls screamed like little girls and retreated deep inside my body.
We settled into our seats at Everest, a second-floor eatery run by what I think is an Indo-Nepali staff. I first noticed the brass-colored plates, fork, and spoon. The fork-and-spoon utensil combination is common in Thailand; I didn't realize it would also be the standard in a South Asian-themed restaurant. Everything on the menu sounded appetizing, which was consonant with the restaurant's fragrant ambiance. Figurines of nagas, Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Ganesha lined the windowsills. Wood carvings and flags adorned the interior; the walls were painted in colors that evoked an Indian forest.
CB ordered Nepali tea, samosas, and chicken curry; I ordered almost the same thing, choosing chicken masala instead of curry. Below are the photos from our meal; my apologies for the blurriness. The final picture is an exterior shot of Everest, which I plan to return to because its prices were so reasonable (especially when compared to the prices and portion sizes of the Indo-Nepali restaurant in Hongdae that I'd visited with two of my former students a few months back; it was called Shanti, which means peace): the tea was W2,000; the buttered naan was W2,500; the samosas were W3,000; and the chicken was W8,000 or W9,000. What made me truly happy was that the portions weren't skimpy, as they had been at Shanti. And everything tasted marvelous. As I told CB, the only complaint I might have—and it's not really much of a complaint—is about the dipping sauce that accompanied the samosas: it was obviously a store-bought Chinese sweet-spicy sauce. Sure, it was good, but there was nothing Indian or Nepali about it. In fact, I'd argue that that sauce was exactly the type that you can buy at Walmart—more American than Asian. Still, I admitted to CB that the sauce went well with the samosas, so my complaint is minor at best.
Conversation was mostly school-related, but we covered some other topics as well. All joking about CB's black-ops background aside, the man is a gentleman and a scholar, and I wish him well as he takes care of his boy. The spring semester will be upon us both soon.
Below: pics. Hover your cursor over the images for captions.
Via a tweet from Robert Koehler of the Marmot's Hole, I saw this Kotaku article on how the new animated movie "Big Hero 6" (titled "Big Hero" in Korea) is upsetting Koreans who, upon seeing the movie's trailer, were chagrined to see Japanese rising-sun iconography popping up in several scenes.
To some extent, I sympathize: imagine being black in America and seeing the Confederate flag which, for almost all American blacks, represents racism, slavery, and oppression. And for much of the world, memories of Nazi depredations mean that the swastika, despite its more benevolent association with Indian religious traditions, is thought of as a symbol of evil. Flags can be legitimately offensive. Koreans, meanwhile, certainly have a right to feel great bitterness toward the Japanese for what they did to Korea and to other countries, and Japan's constant attempts at rewriting its own history to cast itself as a righteous victim, instead of as the victimizer, have done nothing to improve the collective Korean mood.
At the same time, though, the problem with finding oneself in the victim role is that one starts to see racism and oppression under every rock and behind every tree, and the fact of the matter is that Japan has, since World War II, conducted itself in a manner very unlike the imperialistic Japan of old. The country deserves some credit for that, even though it does have a long way to go before it matches Germany in its ability to face its own past maturely.
If you read the Kotaku article, you'll see examples of what are supposedly rising-sun images that Koreans see as evidence of an attempt to signify the dominance of Japanese culture. These examples are, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch, and I wouldn't be offended if you thought my Korean fellows were hallucinating. Besides: seeing as the story of "Big Hero 6" takes place in a future metropolis known as San Fransokyo, Koreans who are worried about the appearance of tiny Japanese tropes and motifs should be even more worried about the big picture. I wonder whether Koreans complained with equal vigor about 1989's "Back to the Future Part II," which also featured an America dominated by Japanese corporate culture.
A coworker of mine said that, for the Korean release of "Big Hero 6," many of the Japanese signs and symbols have been digitally blotted out. Where possible, Japanese words have been replaced with English—all this in an attempt to soothe the weak, oversensitive, easily bruised (read: pussified) Korean psyche. That's a real shame, and it's a sinister reflection of the kowtowing that's been going on in the West as Western news sources have reported on the Charlie Hebdo massacre and its aftermath. In the West, as cynics have noted, the bloody interior of the shot-up offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine are shown in colorful splendor while the image of Muhammad adorning the cover of the magazine issue that so offended Islamist sensibilities has been mosaicked out. To such cynics, the "Je suis Charlie" slogan rings hollow because these folks seem unable to grasp the essential point: if you're fighting for freedom of speech, you're going to have to show the offensive magazine cover.
Will offended Koreans rise up and behead the people who allow Japanese imagery to show on Korean TV and movie screens? Doubtful. But people in the Korean media will cower, bow, and scrape all the same—in this case because freedom of speech takes a far, far back seat to the power of money. And how stupid is that?
When it comes to Keanu Reeves's new actioner, "John Wick," I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that the script is lame; the story is predictable 1980s-era boilerplate; the dialogue is painfully corny; the implausibilities pile onto each other like randy rugby players; the music is often annoyingly intrusive; and Mr. Reeves once again finds himself surrounded by superior actors—Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and John Leguizamo to name three. Reeves won't be winning any Oscars for his latest outing, although he emotes more intensely in this movie than in any other Reeves vehicle I've watched: he gets a crying scene, and he gets a screaming scene. Michael Nyqvist (you may remember him as the antagonist in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol") is the scenery-chewing main bad guy here: a Russian mafia boss whose son beats Wick up and kills Wick's dog—a gift from Wick's wife who had died just a few days previous. So the plot is a simple one: John Wick, a former killer who enjoyed life as a normal nobody for a short while, finds himself back in the game and out for revenge. And that's really it: the movie makes no bones about its purpose, which is to tell you the story of a pissed-off professional killer.
The good news is that the gunplay and fight choreography might just be the movie's saving grace. When John Wick shoots someone, he almost never shoots that person only once: oh, no, Precious. If you're unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of John Wick's blazing firearms, you can expect to get at least two bullets in your chest and another two in your head. In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of the gunfight choreography in "John Wick" is that a head shot doesn't necessarily kill the bad guy, which means that Wick often has to shoot the bad guy in the head again to put him down.
Despite the interesting fight scenes, the film felt like a poor attempt at recapturing the intensity of "Jack Reacher" (reviewed here). Unfortunately, Reeves simply doesn't have the acting chops to pull off a smolder the way Tom Cruise can do it. I was taken aback to see, on Wikipedia, that critics—including the normally crotchety Peter Travers of Rolling Stone—have heaped praise on this movie, hailing Keanu Reeves's "return to form." I'll grant that I find Reeves to be an amazing physical actor (he did fantastic work in the Matrix films), and in a movie like this, the script is tailor-made to play to his assets: his character is a man of few words and relentless focus, which allows Reeves to pass off his natural woodenness as a sort of intensity. But was all of this enough to garner such wide critical praise? In my opinion: no.
So I hate to say it, but I can't really recommend "John Wick." It's got some delicious ass-kicking in it, but it's nothing I haven't seen Jack Bauer or Jack Reacher do before. There's another ass-kicking movie coming out in Korea soon: "The Equalizer," starring Denzel Washington. I'll be curious to see how that film stacks up against "John Wick." At a guess, it'll win easily. Because Denzel can act.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
I went straight to my campus office once I got back from Yeosu, and I'm in the middle of typing up and uploading the course syllabi for next semester. I also had to waste time buying a new set of contact lenses because I lost one of my lenses down the damn drain, this very morning, right before I left for Seoul. Inconvenient, but one of the great things about Korea is how unbelievably quick, cheap, and easy it is to get contacts. We have an eyewear shop on campus (most campuses have such shops), and it was a ten-minute process getting new lenses. The price: W70,000 for a year's supply (about $63), as opposed to $90 for an eye exam plus $160 for the lenses at Costco in America—supposedly the cheap option. My final detour, before settling down to work on syllabi, was to wire money to the States. That took a while, mainly because of the wait. So now I'm here, and I'm going to be in the office for a while, so it's going to be a long time before I upload any of my Yeosu pics. Sit tight. I might not have anything for you until tomorrow. Or the next day.
Sleeping in a few minutes, then up at 7:15AM. 9:30AM train outta Yeosu; back in Seoul by lunchtime, then spending all day in the office on campus to upload syllabi, gather my new textbooks for the upcoming semester, and take care of other school-related beeswax. Dongguk constantly bombards us with stuff to do; it's a wonder we can have any undisturbed vacation time at all. The emails from our office just never... stop... coming.*
*Case in point: we were recently emailed about doing extra work over two days in February, grading a couple hundred student writing samples as part of a placement-test evaluation. The pay for two days' work? A measly W300,000. I make three times that in a single day by working at KMA. No, thanks.
Let's do the math: the job calls for evaluating 200 student writing samples. At three minutes per sample (assuming that this sort of evaluation proceeds a bit more slowly than does TOEFL essay rating), with 200 samples spread over two days, that's 100 samples per day, or 300 minutes per day—a little over five hours per day, i.e., ten hours for two days' work. W300,000 for two days' work, divided by ten hours, equals W30,000 an hour, which is fairly standard hourly pay for the extra work that Dongguk farms out to us. While not terrible, such pay also isn't particularly tempting if you've got better options available to you.
It's Martin Luther King Day in the States. Dr. Vallicella linked to Dr. King's famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," an excerpt of which is below:
I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill-will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
Beyond the immediate question of black and white, I think Dr. King's wisdom is generalizable as a moral rule: for anything that is worth doing, morally speaking, the time is always now. As Dr. King himself writes:
We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Not a bad way to end the evening: I ended up not paying for a lovely dinner that came courtesy of my Golden Goose boss's sister-in-law. She owns a restaurant in the northern part of Yeosu called Gorae-shil (there are a lot of whale-themed restaurant and shop names in this town). It proved easy to find on Google Maps, and the taxi driver (not Mr. Bang: a different gentleman) was able to punch in the restaurant's address on his GPS and find the place with no difficulty at all. It was a quick, cheap ride. That's one thing I've noticed: before Seoul taxi fares went up to W3,000, small-town taxis tended to be more expensive. Here in Yeosu, at least for now, taxis start at W2,800 and tick upward at about the same rate as they do in Seoul.
Dinner was a good, rib-sticking nakji-bokkeum (dwarf octopus in spicy sauce, with rice and vegetables; see here). It would have cost me W20,000 (seafood prices, like computer prices, are bizarrely high in Korea, despite this being both a peninsula and a technological powerhouse), but when I brought out my wallet to pay for dinner, the owner grabbed my hands and forced me to put my wallet away.
"But I have to pay!" I insisted lamely.
"Why?" she shot back.
"Well... I'm not your relative!"
"Don't make me angry!" she huffed—a quintessential ajumma, that weird alloy of toughness and warmth. I let her win the argument. Didn't want to cause a scene, and really, who's going to say no to not spending twenty bucks?
A free meal was a pleasant surprise, and this was all courtesy of my boss, who both has relatives in Yeosu and owns property here. Yeosu offers a lot to explore: there are those beaches I never saw, as well as other national parks, islands connected to the mainland by bridges, college campuses, Buddhist temples, and local mountains. I'll be coming back here again sometime. I learned a lot about Yeosu this trip, but it's obvious I've only just scratched the surface. Yeosu is bigger and more complex than I'd reckoned in 2013.
Oh, yes, before I forget: I walked almost 25,000 steps today, from my yeogwan's neighborhood in Bongsan-dong all the way up to Cheonnam National University's main campus in Dundeok-dong. After three days of being a lazy pig (and getting visibly fatter), I found it refreshing to take a nice, long walk. The weather in Yeosu has been the opposite of what it's been in Seoul: my buddy Tom, trapped up north, texted that Seoul got 1-2 inches of snow, although it all seems to have melted now. Yeosu, meanwhile, has had temperatures near 50ºF (10ºC). Almost springlike.
I look at my current yeogwan room with a measure of envy. It's big and it's clean. It's modern. It's got blazingly fast Wi-Fi. It's everything my current rathole in Seoul isn't, and I really don't want to leave it. God, I can't wait to move out of where I am. Come August, it'll happen, and life will be much, much better.
I've received my teaching schedule from Dongguk University. Scheduling is a complex process for those who have to plot the schedules, and once they're fleshed out and personalized for 40-plus faculty members, it's then a matter of assigning each faculty member his or her own personal schedule. I, as a newcomer, was very low on the lottery totem pole for selecting a preferred schedule: #28 out of 40-some. The schedule I selected—and actually acquired—has me teaching from morning to early afternoon in the city of Ilsan, where Dongguk has another campus. (Our university has four campuses, including one in California.) So I'll need to visit the Ilsan campus, figure out where my building and its classrooms are located, and prep everything else that needs prepping, including textbooks, syllabi, and all the rest. That's a project that will take me through the end of January and into the beginning of February if I work at it slowly and steadily.
This time around, my free day is Friday, so that'll be my new Golden Goose day. Occasional Saturdays throughout the year will be devoted to KMA work, so I've got that income coming to me as well. Dongguk has me teaching 14 hours this semester; barring cancelations, this means I'll be receiving a wee bit of extra income—two hours per week of overtime, paid at Dongguk's rather stingy overtime rate. Still, it's not nothing: whatever pads my budget will be most welcome. And because I'll be teaching at the Ilsan campus, which is a 90-minute commute away, I won't be assigned ancillary duties like English Clinic and English Zone. Not that I hated English Clinic last semester: I actually liked it, and the students gave great reports of their experiences with me. (If only they'd been the ones to evaluate me, eh?) But the one thing I never liked about Clinic and Zone was the idea that this was unpaid work. I'm never a fan of not being paid for my efforts: I end up just feeling used.
The best thing about the new schedule is that it ends incredibly early on Tuesdays and Thursdays: I'm done at 11AM! Fancy that—finished by lunch! Although I'm not a morning person, I generally prefer to get any work over and done with earlier, rather than later, so that I can have the rest of the day to myself. In fact, I might consider the idea of asking my Golden Goose boss whether I can split my 8-hour day into two 4-hour days so that I can finish early on Fridays and have myself a proper weekend.
The worst thing about the new schedule is that I'll have to wake up at 6AM every morning, like most normal people. This runs against the grain of my nocturnal, vampiric tendencies, but I imagine I'll get used to it: I used to wake up at 6AM when I taught at Sookmyung Women's University, where our classes started at an ungodly 7:40AM every damn morning.
I'm hoping this is a better semester. The schedule itself looks to be a good one, even though it means I likely won't be seeing fellow faculty most of the time. I somehow doubt there's an extra office waiting for me at the Ilsan campus, which means I'm still going to have to visit my office at the Seoul campus to do any work. At a guess, I'm also going to have to do any student consultations right there at Ilsan, where I won't have recourse to anything except my laptop to access student data. I've moved everything over to Google Drive, fortunately, so that shouldn't be much of a problem. Given last semester's debacle, we can only go up from here, eh?
Monday: my last full day in Yeosu. Casting off for Seoul tomorrow morning.
I have a ton of photos from Saturday night's walk up the local mountain, Dolsan. If I have time this evening, I might slap some or all of those photos on the blog, but it's more likely that you, Dear Reader, will have to wait until I'm back from Seoul before that happens.
Today's agenda is at least fourfold:
1. Walk from my yeogwan to Cheonnam National University's main campus.
2. Walk from the main campus to the beach—any beach. (Beaches are actually harder to find here than I'd originally thought: Yeosu's coast is industrial and rather built-up, with very little open sand in sight.)
3. Walk across both bridges connecting Udu-ri (where Dolsan is located) to the mainland.
4. Eat dinner at Gorae-shil, the restaurant owned and run by the sister-in-law of my boss at the Golden Goose.
I tried texting my cabbie, Mr. Bang, about meeting up for dinner tonight, but there's been no response, so it appears I'll be eating alone, unless I hear from him later in the day.
So right now, I'm staring at an image of Yeosu on Google Maps, trying to plan out my walking route. I want to leave around lunchtime and be back in my neighborhood around 6PM or so for dinner. After all that walking, I ought to be plenty hungry by then.
And that's really it for my little vacation-within-a-vacation at Yeosu. I'm still charmed by this town—more of a small city, really—and its slow pace of life. I could do without the obnoxious southern accent, but a year in Daegu got me used to hearing and at least halfway understanding what the locals are saying.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Yeogwans are often known as "love motels" because they're cheap, tacky, and geared toward couples looking for a quickie. Koreans may evince a certain level of sexual conservatism and naïveté,* but given that this tiny plot of land holds over 50 million people, it should be obvious that there's plenty of sex going on, and a huge, sex-driven industry is there to support it.
When I arrived in Daegu on January 15, I had searched online for a decent place near the train station, and I found one: the Assa! Motel. This is a painful pun in a number of ways. First, "Assa!" (accent on the second syllable) is a shout of triumph, often heard in Net cafes when kids are playing video games and winning. I suppose it could be applied to sex, if one views sex in terms of conquest and/or victory. Second, the motel's name can be written as "A4," which is pronounced "ah-sah," where the "A" is said the French way and the "4" is rendered as a Sino-Korean number (1, 2, 3, 4 = il, ee, sam, sa). The online reviews for this love motel showed some impressive furnishings, but strangely, it was hard to locate the price listings. I eventually found them, and it was no surprise to see that the Assa! Motel charged W40,000 for weekdays and W45,000 for weekends. I was going to be in Daegu for only one night, so I'd didn't really want to pay that much.
Fortunately, the Assa! Motel proved to be located in a yeogwan-rich neighborhood. I went to Assa! first and asked the desk clerk to confirm the price. "W50,000," he said expressionlessly. Fuck that, I thought, and walked out. Right next door to Assa! were two smaller, weatherbeaten motels, both of which advertised their prices openly: an hourly rate for the hookups and a daily rate for those who were serious about using the motel as an actual motel instead of as a breeding-chamber. I dodged into the Sweet Motel and was delighted to hear a rate of W25,000 a night from the old lady running the desk—half the rate of Assa! I was given a room at the end of the hall on the second floor; it was shabby but serviceable, and definitely in better condition than the dilapidated yeogwan that I currently call home.
Know this about love motels: one of their tackiest features is the two-mode lighting. In one mode, the lighting is normal—standard ceiling lighting, for the most part. But yeogwans come equipped with a second type of illumination: we'll call it the fuck-lighting. This is a type of red mood lighting whose purpose is to get you horny. Switch off the normal lights, switch on the fuck-lighting, and the room is bathed in a warm red glow, guaranteeing that sex will be surreal and strawberry-flavored. My room's fuck-lighting was a hilariously bad visual pun-and-metaphor. Behold:
The red chili pepper is s symbol of sexuality in Korea. First, it resembles the man's penis, at least vaguely, and the Korean word for the pepper, gochu, is often used as a term of endearment by parents and grandparents referring to a little child's genitals. The gochu's sexual significance also extends to its spiciness: a chili pepper gets you hot.** Note that, on my yeogwan's wall, the gochu is pointing upward—possibly indicating arousal—and it's shaped like a flame, thus evoking flames of passion. The whole thing is a horrid, laughable jumble of competing metaphors, but that's what you get for W25,000 a night.
My current digs are much, much nicer. Of course, I'm paying W40,000 a night for them (about $36), but there's still fuck-lighting here. Maybe I should take a picture and show you the difference in ambiance. No, that's a bad idea: you might get all excited.
*For a sample of both sexual naïveté and conservatism, visit Mike Hurt's recent blog post at The Metropolitician. Mike has embedded a YouTube video showing Korean women's reactions to Nicki Minaj's recent hit "Anaconda." Now, any Western male, brought up to understand the language and symbolism of Freud, will know right away that "anaconda" is a phallus reference. The German word Schlang (snake) has entered English slang as "shlong," i.e., dick, and an anaconda is nothing if not a Schlang. The ladies featured in this video generally have a hard time understanding what "anaconda" might signify. They also have trouble understanding a fascination with the female posterior, and with doing things like slathering whipped cream all over one's ample breasts. It was both cute and sad for me to witness this level of innocence/cluelessness, and an indication of the great cultural gulf that lies between American and Korean notions of sexuality.
**In the interminable discussion about penis size between and among the races, Koreans say: the smaller the gochu, the spicier it is. Sorry, white men, but you're apparently bland.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Friday, January 16, 2015
I'm in Yeosu. Got here a little after 6PM thanks to the weirdest routing I've ever experienced on the Korean rail system. The problem started on the day I bought my tickets. I told the lady at Seoul Station that I wanted a KTX ticket to Daegu for a noon arrival so that I could meet my student and do lunch. I then wanted a train ticket—KTX or regular train—from Daegu down to Yeosu, departing around 3PM and arriving in Yeosu whenever. The lady looked at her schedule and said that there were no trains to Yeosu after 3PM that day—not KTX, and not regular. Confounded, I sighed and said I'd stay overnight in Daegu and take a morning train down to Yeosu the following day. The lady then routed me this way: East Daegu to Shin Tanjin, then Shin Tanjin to Yeosu. I had no idea where Shin Tanjin was (sounded as if it were somewhere in China), but I discovered that it was north of Daegu: from East Daegu Station, I had to hop on a local train headed to Seoul to arrive at Shin Tanjin, where I would then transfer to a southbound train going all the way down to land's end: Yeosu.
If you look on a map for Shin Tanjin Station (try it on Google Maps: 신탄진역), you'll see that it's not far from Daejeon, which basically means I backtracked northwest, halfway to Seoul, before turning around and heading almost due south to Yeosu. Unbelievable. I'd expect such shenanigans to occur with a French train-station employee (remind me to tell you, one day, about the time I asked a French employee at the international tickets desk for a ticket to Lausanne, Switzerland, and he hooked me up with a ticket for Lozanne, France); I've never had this sort of trouble from Koreans before; they're normally as efficient as the Swiss when it comes to trains and route-scheduling. I also still couldn't get over the idea that there were no Yeosu-bound trains at all after 3PM. That news left me flabbergasted.
So that's the real reason why it took me so damn long to reach Yeosu. I'm here now, though, which makes me as happy as the clams I'm going to be gorging myself on, starting tomorrow.
The cabbie whose car I hopped into at the station was extremely helpful; I told him, at first, to take me to the yeogwan I had stayed at last time, but he frowned at this and suggested a whole clutch of newer, better yeogwans down by the water (this is the ddang-ggeut, land's end, after all; being down by the water is what I came for). In 2013, I was away from the town's center because I needed to be close to Cheonnam University, where I was interviewing for a job. Now, I'm staying in a downtown yeogwan close to the shore, where the action is.
The cabbie gave me his business card and insisted that I register him on Kakao Talk, so I now have a personal driver if I need one. He obligingly took me to Shinhan Bank so I could transfer rent money to my "landlords" (they're yeogwan proprietors, not actual landlords), then he dropped me in a target-rich neighborhood to go find my yeogwan. Everything in the neighborhood was in the W40,000-W50,000/night range, according to him (about $36-$45); I ended up marching into the CF Motel, which turned out to be great: CF charges a flat W40,000 a night, with no markup for weekends. The room is simple but damn nice, with a huge TV that I'll never use, and free Wi-Fi, which I'm using right now.
My driver suggested a long walk to me: there's a park across the water called Dolsan Park. You have to cross over a long bridge—the Dolsan Bridge—to get there, which ought to be a windy, exciting experience. I remember crossing, in 2008, that huge bridge that takes you over the Columbia River from Washington State into Oregon (the Route 205 Jackson Memorial Bridge): that, too, was quite an experience, as the walking/biking path went right down the very center of the freeway, which can freak your shit out if you're not mentally ready to be surrounded by tons of screaming metal and rubber. Am hoping that crossing the Dolsan Bridge will prove just as stimulating.
Yeosu isn't quite the tiny hick town I took it for in 2013. It is, however, a coastal town—a beach town and all the rest. There are plenty of seafood markets and fishing-supply stores close to the water, and no shortage of seafood restaurants, a few of which I'm aiming to try during my short visit here. My other impressions of Yeosu from 2013 still hold true: it's a hell of a lot quieter and slower-paced than Seoul is, which is all for the good. But I'm no longer sure how empty the town might be in the summer; a lot of Seoulites know immediately what I'm talking about the moment I mention "Yeosu" to them, which makes me think it might actually be a fairly popular vacation destination. Then again, when I visited Cheonnam University in 2013, some of the faculty told me there was a lot of quiet beach and plenty of hiking trails for people who like to walk. So who knows? I'll find out more about Yeosu tomorrow.
Tonight, I'm just going to settle in, read and proof a friend's manuscript, and simply chill. We are now dropping into forget-your-troubles mode. I'm here for three whole days: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday; I leave for Seoul on Tuesday via the morning KTX. Back in the big, neurotic city by lunch, and life will just pick up from there.
Today, I take two local trains that will chug-chug slowly down to Yeosu. I leave Daegu at 11:30AM and won't arrive until dinnertime, partly because I have a layover, and partly because the local trains will be stopping at every stop along the way, unlike the KTX express train that I took to go from Seoul to Daegu.
I'll be in Yeosu until Tuesday morning, at which point I'll be taking the KTX all the way back up to Seoul—no stops in Daegu to try meeting with schedule-canceling students this time!
Poorly made war movies and horror movies often have one element of badness in common: the jump moment. This is a way of keeping the audience in suspense: we all know the moment is coming; we don't know exactly when it's going to occur, but what's certain is that we'll jump when the moment arrives. This psychological trick is about as sophisticated and mature as a jack-in-the-box, which is why good horror films and good war films tend to stay away from jump moments, e.g., the best friend who suddenly loses his face to a rifle shot, the mine that suddenly explodes when no one expects it to, the enemy who suddenly pops up after everyone thinks he's been killed.
So let me spoil the suspense for you right away and say that "American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring a beefed-up Bradley Cooper and lovely Sienna Miller, has almost no jump moments in it. Eastwood and the story writers actually use a suspense-building technique that was commonplace on the TV series "24": they put our hero in the middle of a deadly moral dilemma, turn the camera on him, and watch him sweat his way through it.* More than once in the film, US Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Cooper) has an Iraqi child in his sights, and he wonders whether, in the next ten seconds, he's going to have to blow the kid's head off if the kid fails to drop his weapon.
"Sniper" is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a soldier credited with over 160 confirmed kills, making him the deadliest sniper in US military history. As the film progresses, Kyle is nicknamed "The Legend," and the enemy even places a huge bounty on his head. Kyle has a counterpart among the enemy: a Syrian sniper known only as "Mustafa." Much of the film is devoted to the hunt for both Mustafa and "The Butcher," Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who favors power drills as an instrument of torture and interrogation. Like Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," "Sniper" follows Kyle as he bounces between several tours in Iraq and married life in the States.
While I was watching the film, and Bradley Cooper's understated performance in particular, I kept wondering how an equivalent war movie would have been handled in a Korean context. There were several moments in the film where Cooper's character could have gone full-on Korean—bellowing, raging, banging on glass windows, weeping uncontrollably after liquoring up. Fortunately, Cooper is a good enough actor to hint at what must have been going through Chris Kyle's mind without ever fully giving us the goods, and his performance is better for it. Flying spittle and tears would have added unnecessary melodrama to a situation that was already fraught with tension, fear, anger, and loss.
One reviewer said that Eastwood, with this film, managed to "out-Bigelow Kathryn Bigelow." He may have, at that, but the film still bears all the marks of an Eastwood movie: deliberate pacing, slow but smoldering buildups of tension, bursts of violence that are brutal without being overly bloody. Eastwood showcases his impressive ability to stage urban battles; the action remains clear to us even when there's a full-on sandstorm blowing through the city. There are moments in the movie when Eastwood could easily have fallen into cliché, especially the cliché of the messed-up, self-destructive vet, but he steps back from that cliff to give us a Chris Kyle who, upon his return to the States, chooses to put his time and energy into something constructive.
If you know Chris Kyle's story but haven't seen the film, you already have an idea how the affair is going to end. I won't spoil it for those of you with no idea. In all, I found "American Sniper" to be well worth seeing—a fitting tribute to American military stoicism and brotherhood, and a salute to one tough soul who went to hell and back.
*Amusingly, many cast members in "Sniper" actually had major and minor roles in "24." I saw several familiar faces.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
So I got to Daegu and am now blogging from my grungy, W25,000-a-night yeogwan, which luckily has a very fast Internet connection. Am going to step out for a late lunch; I have little to do in this city but wait for tomorrow, so I thought I'd entertain myself. Since my student canceled her meet-up with me, I now need to mail her her birthday gift, so I suppose I'll go looking for a post office. My yeogwan is about as downtown as you can get: it's only a few minutes' walk from the train station and close to a subway stop, so there ought to be a post office close by. After lunch and the post office, I'll trundle across town to Yulha Station, where there's a Lotte Cinema attached to the station proper. "American Sniper" has come to Korea, so I may as well watch that this evening, then catch a late dinner afterward. The Yulha neighborhood has no shortage of restaurants, so I won't starve. I also packed some clothes that were still a little damp from yesterday's late washing, so I'm letting those items hang dry right now. To sum up my mission objectives for today:
2. Post office
5. Let laundry dry
That, folks, is what a vacation schedule should look like. Tootles.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Just popping in very quickly to say "hi" and "bye," as I'll be on the road tomorrow. Prepping tonight and shoving off with the 10 o'clock Seoul train in the morning. Seeing a student in Daegu, staying overnight there, then hitting Yeosu the following day and staying at the beach until next Tuesday. My boss at the Golden Goose, who owns property in Yeosu, also has many in-laws there, one of whom apparently owns and runs a nice seafood restaurant to which he's going to give me the phone number. Much chowing to ensue, I'm sure. Many molluscs died to bring us this information.
UPDATE: My student just canceled on me: her nonagenarian grandma's sick. If I can't change my train ticket to a straight shot to Yeosu tomorrow morning, I'm going to be stuck spending the night in Daegu with no one to see.
Today might be one of the only days in my life on which I actually accomplished every item on my to-do list. Life coaches everywhere are having orgasms. Haircut? Done. Bank transfer? Done, and I finally signed up for online banking. Electric heater? Purchased—and running as I type this. Gift for my student? Bought, and I'll box and wrap it tomorrow evening. Train tickets? Done. Eat at California Pizza Kitchen? Eaten, baby! All this traveling and purchasing wiped out my account, alas, but I can make that up (in fact, the ability to recuperate lost finances rapidly might be a topic for another "frank" post later on). I even managed to get in a 16,405-step walk, which puts me right on track for this month: thus far, I'm averaging over 15K steps, which is definitely a new record.
When I get back from Yeosu, I'm going to see about joining a boxing gym. There's one up the street, it turns out—not too far from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, just a 25-minute walk from my place. It's called Boxing Diet, and I'm pretty sure it's primarily designed for fat kids (this is the same cultural role to which taekwondo, once this country's proud national sport, has now been relegated: TKD is like league soccer in America, i.e., just a way for parents to get their kids to do something other than watch TV or obsess over their smartphones). I don't know whether Boxing Diet teaches actual boxing, but if it gets me doing a ton of situps/crunches, pushups, pullups, jumprope, medicine ball, kettle bells, running, and who-knows-what else, that'll be a good thing. And if the "diet" component of Boxing Diet focuses on good eating, then maybe I'll learn something from that, too. (True, it could end up just being a bunch of gimmicky high-carb bullshit, but I'll keep an open mind for the moment.) If I start the boxing regime in late January and work out through February, I might be visibly thinner come March. It's time to break through this plateau that I've been on for so long.
I did, however, recently dip below the plateau: I was down from 119 to 116 kilograms until the CPK binge; I imagine that today's orgy of Western food—my only meal of the day—put me back up around 118 or even 120 kilograms (thanks to all the soda refills, which were surprisingly prompt and frequent). Before today, I'd been putting myself through the rigors of the kimbap diet, and had even lost a couple kilos. There's nothing quite like exercising and not eating to make a person lose weight. The body might want to drop into starvation mode, but by exercising, one is preventing the body from holding on to its coveted calories, forcing it to burn them. Besides, I was eating two rolls of kimbap a day, which comes out to about 700 calories. That's hardly a starvation diet. Christian Bale was averaging 150-200 calories a day, for four months, on his grueling "Machinist" diet.
The guy who sold me my new heater was a trip. I had come to him wanting to buy an oil-based electric radiator; he had one in stock, but after I told him about my living circumstances, he persuaded me to buy something smaller and cheaper: an electric heater that is little more than a glorified lantern, like something out of the movie "Dragonslayer." "It heats up faster than an oil heater, and it doesn't use nearly as much electricity. And the oil heater will make your power go out," he said. "Also, even though the oil heater uses a lot of electricity, it really doesn't produce that much heat." He also said the smaller heater would set me back W55,000, but at the last minute, just as I was about to ask him for a discount of W5,000, he made the discount himself and asked me for only W50,000. Then he told me, "If you have any problems with the heater, don't throw it away; just bring it back and I'll switch it with a new one." Nice guy. And the heater seems to be working perfectly ("It's made in Korea!" he'd said proudly), so I don't think he secretly fucked me.*
My experience at Shinhan Bank, however, went the opposite way: as pleasant as it had been to speak with the heater guy, it was decidedly unpleasant trying to sign up for online banking. This wasn't the fault of the Shinhan Bank staffer who helped me; she was an extremely friendly and efficient woman who has worked with me before, and if it hadn't been for her expertise, I would have been utterly lost. The process of applying and registering for online banking is labyrinthine, byzantine, serpentine, philistine— pick your "-ine" adjective. I had to create and use three different passwords just to set up online banking for my cell phone.
When the lady asked me whether I wanted to set up my computer as well, I quickly said "no," because she had already mentioned that I'd need the same electronic certificate as the one now installed on my phone. I knew, from bitter experience with both Dongguk University and Catholic University the year before, that the electronic certificate would be an .exe file, which can't run on a Macintosh without even more special software. Having already spent the better part of an hour just setting up my phone, I told the lady that I had no interest in setting up my computer for online banking. Besides, the only online function that matters to me is the ability to check my account balance remotely. If I can do that from my phone, that's fantastic.
The lady gave me a plastic card covered in numbers; apparently, this was if I wanted to do online bank transfers. The card's jumble of numerals was there for security purposes: before doing any transfers, the user has to answer a series of questions like "What is the first digit of the third pair of numbers on the third row of figures on your card?" That sounded absolutely insane to me; as I told my buddy Tom later, there's no way in hell that I'm going to do an online transfer via cell phone; I'll just stick to ATMs, where transferring is much easier and more straightforward, thanks.
My California Pizza Kitchen experience was all right; the restaurant's interior had that familiar CPK-ish feel to it, and the service was better than I expected: the appetizer came out first, and the main course came out several minutes later, giving me time to enjoy the appetizer—a small quesadilla, in this case—in peace. (Korean-run Western restaurants often plop the appetizers and main courses down in front of you at the same time, which means you have to rush to eat everything while it's still hot. The gesture often feels rude, as if the restaurant staff were telling you to leave early for the sake of turnover.)
The main course, a standard pizza, was quite good, though it seemed a wee bit smaller than I remembered from my many visits to CPK in America. The dessert, a "chocolate-mousse torte," was nothing to write home about: I could taste the refrigeration in the cake, which is never a good sign. Next time, I'll do dessert somewhere else. Before I left, I asked the lady how long this particular branch had been here; she said it had started up five years ago. I also asked how late the kitchen was open; she said you could order food until 10PM, which sounded fine by me. Finally, I asked her for a copy of the menu; my brother David used to work at CPK, and I wanted to show him what was on offer at the Korean branch so he could compare those items with the American version's menu. In all, it was a positive experience; now that I know this CPK branch exists, I'll very likely be back.
So that's where things stand. I got all my to-do's done, and there's only final prep left to go before I'm off to Yeosu on Thursday. Actually, no, that's not exactly right: I'm off to Daegu on Thursday, and will stay overnight there because there's no train to Yeosu from Daegu after 3PM. The lack of afternoon local trains felt a bit third-world to me, but be that as it may, I'm staying overnight in Daegu and taking the train to Yeosu the following morning. Because of the one-day delay, I've extended my stay at the beach until Tuesday.
Am looking forward to this, drained bank account or no.
*Oil-based radiators are cheap in the States, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-$60 for a decent midrange heater, and up to $150 for a top-tier, multifunction unit. In Korea, the exact same heaters cost almost three times as much. Back when I was living in Hayang, I went to the local Hi-Mart during the winter and saw oil radiators on sale for about W120,000 to W140,000. Crazy. So I just bought a tiny heater, in Korea, for the cost of a large American heater in the States.