Tuesday, May 14, 2013

two more trips

My first trip out this morning was to Yeouido (commonly, and painfully, mispronounced "yuh-WEE-doh" by foreigners), one of the richer business districts in Seoul. My appointment was with PB, a friend and contact of Tom's, who works for KMA (Korea Management Association), a large association that generally focuses on training businesspeople of all different levels, from CEOs down to lowly office proles, in various aspects of Korean-speaking and English-speaking business: conferencing, consulting, presentations, and different types of specialized training. The teaching faculty of KMA is mostly Korean; PB seems to be the primary foreign English teacher. He says he gets extremely high ratings from his students, although he claims not to like teaching.

PB is a Canuck who had spent years in Los Angeles; he's also a former student of philosopher Daniel Dennett. My host took me into a plush, tenth-floor classroom with an impressive view of Yeouido. He sold me hard on KMA and on my potential relationship with it. Working 40 hours a month, PB said, could net me $3000. The math is tempting: if I were to get a university job that netted about $30,000 a year, net, and if I added roughly $36,000 a year on top of that purely by working an unending suite of eight-hour Saturdays (which I do already, at my current job), I could pay off some major, major bills in only a couple years. I could even be debt-free by the time I'm 50. Wouldn't that be nice?

Despite how pleasant the talk was, and despite how impressive PB made KMA sound, the fundamental problem is that my affiliation with KMA hinges completely on whether I even get a job in Korea—Seoul, specifically. KMA does farm out work that's outside of Seoul, but I was left with the impression that most of the good gigs are in the big city.

Our talk lasted about 45 minutes. PB kindly walked me out of the building; he was recovering from a nasty bout of hay fever. I found that surprising, given that Seoul has exactly one tree. (Yes, I exaggerate. But verdure really is a rare and precious commodity here.) For myself, I never have hay fever in Seoul, but I get it in spades in northern Virginia.

Since PB's building was located right next to a Line 9 subway stop, I hopped on Line 9 and went all the way to the Express Bus Terminal, where I bought a W2,900 (about $2.60) ticket to Yongin. The bus was departing right away, which was fortunate because I didn't want to wait. The ride to Yongin, which took place in a largely empty bus, lasted only about forty-five minutes; once I got off at the terminal, I immediately hailed a cab for the final stretch to HUFS-Yongin (the so-called "Global Campus")—my second stop of the day.

Yongin itself wasn't nearly as pretty to look at as Ansan had been. Perhaps it was the cloudy weather, but I didn't really see the same perky signs of life in Yongin that I'd seen in that other satellite city. The shops and restaurants were scattered among quite a few industrial-looking sites that had the air of dumps; I saw, behind poorly constructed sheet-metal walls, piles of pipes, hardware, and other warehouse-related sundries. Some residences looked like shanties, hastily constructed and of dubious protection in a hurricane. Yongin had something approaching an urban center, but it looked somewhat small and huddled, a not-very-reassuring contrast with Seoul.

The cab ride was an astonishing W14,000. I hadn't realized that HUFS-Yongin was so far away from Yongin proper. Lesson learned: next time, I'd need to master the bus system so as to avoid paying so much. It was funny, actually, to analyze how capitalism functioned: W14,000 for a 10- or 12-minute taxi ride just out of the city, versus W2,900 for a 45-minute ride from Seoul to Yongin. I began to wonder how much a bus ticket to Yeosu would have cost, compared to the W42,000 I paid to take the luxurious KTX down south.

While in the cab, I tried calling HUFS-Yongin to get directions to the College of English Interpretation and Translation. The number I had turned out to be a useless menu of "Press 1 for... Press 2 for..."—so I hung up and held tight. When we reached the main gate, I asked the cabbie whether he knew where the CEIT was; he had no clue, but he suggested that we ask a cluster of students. He rolled down the front passenger window and called out to a gaggle of girls, asking them for the CEIT's location. Two girls answered as a pair, each finishing the other's sentences whenever one of them stopped, confused. Ultimately, their directions pointed us in the right direction, and we were both relieved to see signs for a building devoted to interpretation and translation. The cabbie dropped me off.

The building sat on a hill. Of course. Goddammit. I had to climb a long set of steps to reach the hilltop; I idly wondered what this walk must be like in the winter, when the path would be covered in snow. I wouldn't mind tobogganing downhill like a 300-pound penguin, but the prospect of walking down a slippery slope gave me the chills. The bigger they are... you know the rest.

I entered the CEIT lobby, noting that, a bit like Hansung University, the place looked somewhat run-down. But the students looked and sounded a lot livelier; there wasn't the same miasma of depression. I checked a large chart at the front entrance to find the room I wanted: 226. I started walking upstairs... then realized that the next floor up was the third floor. This always happens with buildings on hills: what counts as a ground floor gets all screwed up. So I went back to the ground floor—the second floor—and scouted around for the office I wanted. Couldn't find it. So I stepped into a glassed-in room called "The English Zone" (I think every Korean university is required to have one of these; the name just sounds nifty to Korean ears), and spoke with two female student staffers about how to find Room 226. One of them kindly walked out and led me where I needed to go.

Room 226 also turned out to be full of women. Most of them looked up from whatever they were doing, fresh-faced and confused by my sudden, looming (and probably sweaty) presence. I scanned the room for the person who looked most in authority, then pasted on a smile and began my spiel: I came just to say hi; I'm here only until Sunday; would love to interview before I leave; etc. I asked where the program director, a Westerner, was; one girl looked him up on a chart and said he was teaching several classes in a row; he wouldn't be available until after 5PM. It was roughly 1:30PM. I told the ladies that I wouldn't be waiting that long, turned once again to the most authoritative-looking lady (whose name and capacity I very unwisely never learned), and asked her to give my information to Mr. Westerner for me. I handed her a slip of paper with my name, email, and two phone numbers on it. For her part, she promised that the note would reach the program director, and that he would definitely call.

Again: bingo. Just what I wanted to hear. Of course, nothing has been promised, and I have a feeling that an interview with HUFS-Yongin before I leave is pretty much impossible. But if a conversation with Mr. Westerner the Program Director leads to the promise of a Skype interview later on, then that's something.

The girls in the office were thoroughly impressed with my Korean ability. Perhaps they were just easily wowed, but I did overhear one whisper, "Hangukmal daegae* jal hashinae"—"He speaks Korean really well!" I'm hoping that I created a psychological ripple: when the top lady in the office hands Mr. Westerner that slip of paper with my contact information on it, she'll identify me as "that big, fat foreigner who spoke Korean really well." Mention of my skill, of my linguistic aretĂȘ, might just bias circumstances in my favor. We'll see.

From the HUFS campus, I took another expensive cab back to the Yongin bus terminal, got a Seoul-bound ticket for a bus that was leaving in five minutes (lucky again: I didn't have to wait), and chugged back to Seoul.

In all, I enjoyed my trip over to HUFS. It wasn't as dramatic as the trip to Hanyang University had been, but I hope against hope that, in the end, it'll prove more productive.

*I never know how exactly to romanize this adverb, mainly because I don't know how it's spelled in Korean! All I know is that it sure sounds like "daegae."


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