Sunday, September 23, 2007

that's news to me

A trip to Lotte Mart went strange when I paid by check card, signed the electronic scanner, and hit "enter" (hwagin) on the screen as I usually do: the signature didn't take. The cashier told me to try again, but said, "Please don't hit the enter key." I replied, "But that's what I usually do." She said, "Well, stop (geu-man)."

Yes, Sergeant!

Today has to be the worst day to be shopping. Lotte Mart was bursting with all the last-minute shoppers buying gift sets and other sundries before heading out to their hometowns for the Chuseok holiday. I was in no hurry, having resolved yet again to avoid my relatives, though I do plan on sending my K'eun Ajoshi (Mom's eldest cousin; technically K'eun Apba, but on the phone he always refers to himself as "Ajoshi") the W1.5 million won I've owed him since, oh, about 2003. It's a damn good thing the man doesn't charge interest.

The story behind the money is this: when I came to Korea in 2002, I was living in Suji, a "new city" (shin-doshi) outside of Seoul, with the family of my mother's youngest cousin (50-some years old). I was commuting to Korea University (for Korean classes) by bus every weekday, which was hellish because it was a 2.5-hour ride into town, meaning 5 hours a day on the road. I eventually moved into town, settling into Jangui-dong, not far from KU, for the better part of a year before landing that job at EC in Kangnam in 2004. I was given housing by EC, which meant moving down around Nakseongdae Station near Seoul National University. When I left EC, it was about three months before I landed my current job at Smoo; I spent two of those months back in Jangui-dong before Smoo picked me up.

The problem was this: being deep in debt (mostly school loans, but some credit card debt as well) and not earning that much, I fell behind on the W300,000/month rent I was supposed to pay Ajoshi-- seven months behind. Also, during my stay, the washing machine I was using broke down. I'm not sure whether this was my fault; I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary, but it was undeniable that the machine had crapped out on my watch. The machine also cost W300,000. Tallying up what I owed, I realized the figure was a whopping 2.4 million won. In the ensuing years, I've paid back only W900,000 of this amount, leaving W1.5 million to go. I'm happy to say that I'm finally at a point where I can rid myself of this debt forever.

So my Chuseok gift to Ajoshi will be the squaring-away of this debt. Poof-- all done. And that will be the last of my non-scholastic debt. I've been debt-free in terms of credit card debt since the beginning of this year, and only three major debts have been hanging over my head since then: (1) Ajoshi's rent, (2) my Sallie Mae student loan (undergrad and grad), and (3) a SunTrust student loan taken out in 1999 back when I was only a part-time grad student with no access to Catholic U's scholarship.*

With Ajoshi's debt out of the way, I want to concentrate on ridding myself of the Sun Trust loan, which was originally $15,000 but which has ballooned to slightly over $20,000 thanks to interest. The biggest and baddest debt, the one from Sallie Mae, will take a great deal of time and effort to resolve. I expect to be quite old by the time I'm totally debt-free.

Wasn't I talking about problems in the checkout line today?

*I applied for and received a full scholarship when I started full-time studies at CUA; my huge debt comes from making the mistake of also accepting Sallie Mae loans and using those loans to pay rent instead of actually working. I have been literally paying for that mistake ever since. Wisdom, for me, has come at a high price.


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