Tuesday, March 01, 2005

the agony and the ecstasy

Saturday was a mess as I juggled packing with proofreading. Somehow, I got the proofreading finished around 8PM and spent the rest of the day boxing things up. I called my Adjoshi and got the immediate OK to move back into the Jangui-dong residence.

Sunday was also a mess, but it had its interesting moments. I called a moving service, and they tried to charge me W100,000 for the move, which is fucking ridiculous. I got them down to W50,000, not because I'm a good haggler but because that's still an expensive price for a move, and we both knew it. Three EC co-workers walked by while I was cleaning the place up; they marveled at how much shit I have. Yeah, I do have a lot, but it's mostly books and, thanks to my mother, clothing. Plus, the computer adds bulk, and the fact that I couldn't throw any of the computer boxes away made my room even smaller.

The mover arrived around 3PM, a youngish dude who did very little to help me. I'd already moved my crap out to the street; I then had to move it all onto the truck. He did little more than stand on the flatbed and organize the boxes-- a direct consequence, I think, of my not paying him W100,000. Still, he was friendly enough, and we struck up a decent conversation as we drove from Bongch'eon-dong to Jangui-dong.

It turned out that Sunday was, according to the mover, isa-nal, or "moving day," a good day to move because the evil spirits weren't about. I had seen plenty of moving trucks on my street and was wondering why they were all there; this explained it. What's more, the day was bright, cold, and beautiful. An almost perfect Kevin-style day (more wind would have been ideal).

My control-freak K'eun Adjoshi was at the Jangui-dong residence, waiting for my arrival. He helped a bit with getting my possessions down off the truck, then he and the driver had to leave (going their separate ways, of course). I was left to move all my stuff inside-- but Adjoshi commanded me first to clean the nine-months'-dusty floor, which took a butt-long time. I got my possessions indoors before it was dark, then set about cleaning the fridge and the skankified bathroom, whose floor, sink, and toilet were nasty as hell from disuse. Luckily, I'd thought ahead and bought some Drano; the floor drain was as clogged as I remembered it.

I also killed a nasty-looking spider that had set up shop underneath my old computer table. The spider was shaped exactly like a black widow-- teardrop-shaped abdomen, spindly legs, the works-- but it wasn't black. All the same, it was mean as hell. The evidence of this was everywhere: dry carcasses ranging from flies to centipedes littered the floor under the web-- a huge pile of them, lumped together in a mass about the width of a small dinner plate. I wish I'd taken a picture of that for you.

The spider was also damn tough. Here, I risk offending my Buddhist readers, but let me detail just how tough the spider was.

I discovered the web first. It's a lucky thing for me that the spider didn't drop onto my hand as I was brushing away the web. The spider plopped audibly onto the floor; that's how large it was. I reached for my trusty bottle of Windex and blasted the spider four times. It immediately crumpled into a ball. "You're not fooling anybody, bitch," I said aloud to it. Within seconds, the spider began wiggling its legs, and aside from looking a bit drunk, was back to lurching across the floor. I blasted it again. And again. Each time, it would crumple, bide its time, and then move. I must have repeated this sequence at least six times; the spider was getting progessively drunker, but wasn't dying. This astounded me, because I'm used to dealing with insects that croak after only a couple shots of Windex.

Finally I had enough: I smashed the spider with the Windex bottle, throwing a soaked paper towel over it and bringing the bottle down on the towel three or four times. Yup. That spider was as dead as Stephen Hawking's penis. I lifted the paper towel and saw a mass of mucus-colored guts from which sprouted eight spindly, broken, slightly twitching legs.

I had no intention of unpacking everything that evening; my final day of work was Monday and I didn't need to prepare a week's worth of clothing, nor did I need to slap my books on the bookshelf. In fact, since I'm probably going to leave this place again within a month (yes, I'll be moving again), there was little reason to unpack much else, except for the computer... which is still packed as of this writing.

I was proud of myself for having figured out the Steaming Trick. Before going to bed (I'm back to sleeping on the floor after seven months of bedded glory), I knew I had to iron my clothes, which had all been wrinkled after being stuffed into suitcases for the move. With shirts and pants, it's no big deal to re-iron everything. But sports jackets are another matter, and I needed to get my dark blue sports jacket ready for Monday.

The Steaming Trick is this: when ironing a suit jacket, you don't actually have to make contact with the jacket's surface as long as your iron has a steamer function. My iron works best when (a) there's plenty of water in the reservoir, and (b) the iron is tilted slightly to one side or another. For whatever reason, this produces a near-constant head of steam. Hold the iron extremely close to your sports jacket, and let the steam do the rest. Steaming really does remove the wrinkles.

On Monday, I woke up a mess, barely able to move.

My lifestyle is largely sedentary, which means I often forget I have biceps and forearms. On Monday morning, my biceps and forearms were screaming like they'd been kicked in the balls. I searched around the room, desperate for my little tube of Ben Gay, but never found the pain reliever. The morning, not to mention the rest of my day at EC, was spent in low-grade agony. Even now, my left arm can barely lift anything.

[NB: But thanks, P, for the four Tylenol. That dulled the ache for a while.]

Somehow, I got through my final day without moaning in pain or falling asleep in front of my students, many of whom were trying their best to say their sad goodbyes in English. I don't think I nodded off on anyone, but there were some close calls. The paradox of wanting to sleep while being kept awake by pain needs to be lived to be appreciated.

A few students were very kind, giving me nice little gifts. I was touched by their warmth, and inwardly saddened by their hangdog expressions. I truly did enjoy teaching them.

I debated whether to attend the little company get-together afterward. In the end, I decided to go, having been convinced by co-workers that it would be the right thing to do. I elected to stay only thirty minutes, but I think I ended up staying about an hour. We met in our building's basement, which has a lively bar/restaurant. Within the space of thirty minutes, several pitchers of beer were avidly consumed while I sipped my Coke (there were a few teetotalers among us; I wasn't alone in my prudery). Boss Imelda was there, along with some of the front desk staff. We ate a variety of appetizers and samplers-- nachos, golbaengi spaghetti, chicken wings, and ddeokbokkgi among them. The whole thing was being funded by an apparent budget surplus, so it was no skin off my balls. Imelda gave me a gift, and again got all teary-eyed when I said my good-byes. I tried to shake everyone's hand on my way out, but might have missed a couple people. If you're one of those people and you're reading this, I apologize.

Of course, it's not really good-bye. I garnered plenty of emails and phone numbers from students and co-workers alike, and I've got to visit EC once more to deal with Immigration issues.

The EC inspection of my apartment met with a couple hitches: I was accused of having broken some items I didn't break. Upon my polite insistence that said items were already broken when I got there last year, I was eventually told that everything was fine. If EC's looking to deduct something from my final pay, they'll have to look elsewhere. It won't surprise me if some mystery fee gets tacked onto my final payment of W600,000 on March 25th. I expect my March 10 payment (approx W1.3 million) to arrive in my bank account, on time and in full. Ask me again on March 25th whether EC deals honestly with ex-employees.

The founder, K, took time out to greet me and give me an EC watch as a parting gift. It's the same gift he's given to other departing teachers. Original, that. I was surprised to be called up to his office, since K usually says his good-byes to teachers who've finished their contracts. K warned me to be careful as I continue to shop for schools: "No one will give you an offer like EC's," he said without a trace of irony. His point, I think, was that many places advertise amazing hourly rates, but then refuse to deliver the hours to you. Given EC's treatment of me and of its Korean teachers, though, I suspect K's been smoking something. Yeah, EC gives you hours, but it doesn't follow up with commensurate pay.

I took some pictures of EC teachers and staff; there's even a picture of Imelda clutching my arm as we pose together (emphasis on "pose"). Even more pictures were taken by other staffers; I'm hoping they'll be emailed to me, so I can blog them.

That's the update. I'm dead tired, and my arms are still killing me. CDI wrote me once again to say they want me to join their training session later this month... given the money they're offering, I might just say yes. The job isn't on a split shift, but it promises to be harsh. However, the prospect of actually paying down my outstanding debt in a relatively short period of time is too tempting to ignore. And now that I'm back at my old place, I'm remembering why I didn't like it: it's roomy, to be sure, but it's also moldy and stinky and drafty as hell. CDI is offering W5 million for an apartment key deposit; if I can snag that, I hope to move somewhere modern, even if it's not quite as big as my current 8-p'yeong digs.

If I sign on with CDI, I should take a monastic vow not to whine, complain, and moan about how hard the work is. As a buddy of mine noted immediately after I told him about EC's grueling schedule: "That's not so bad." He's a father of two and working a full-time job, so he knows what he's talking about. I suppose I should just "eat bitter," like the Chinese do. If I can finagle full weekends out of CDI (they normally require you to teach at least one weekend day), I can stand just about anything.


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