Saturday, February 08, 2014


So I was in Seoul Wednesday, Thursday, and much of Friday. I had been asked by KMA to teach an Advanced Presentation course on Thursday and Friday, so I elected to train up on Wednesday (my supervisor kindly spotted me the money to make the trip and to stay at the same yeogwan again). This gave me a chance to visit KMA a day early and look over the teaching material; I was going into this cold, and I had never taught a presentation course before. Luckily, the material proved to be solid, which was a relief, because I hate having to fake my way through a lesson when I don't believe in the product I'm pushing.

My students were three adult men; two were coworkers from a German-run company, and one was from the Incheon International Airport Corporation. They were all great students, but they were also tired as hell, and at some points it was a struggle to keep them awake. I gave frequent breaks, and the students would take advantage of those breaks to catch up on some much-needed sleep:

The course I taught was divided into two 8-hour sessions. That sounds like a marathon, but the days actually went by a lot faster than I thought possible. I had also worried that I would finish the material far too early, but my supervisor assured me that that wouldn't be the case. He was right: I ended up having to rush because we were taking too long to get through some of the course modules. In the end, I finished on time and a few minutes early, but that was mainly because one of the three students had to leave at 3PM instead of at 6PM; his absence allowed me to move a bit faster.

KMA very kindly gave me an W8000 stipend for lunch in the form of meal tickets (shik-gweon). On Thursday, I did lunch with my supervisor; on Friday, I ate with my students. Both times, we went to a nearby noodle place where I ordered the golbaengi bibim-guksu, i.e., thin pasta with crispy julienned vegetables in spicy chili sauce—with snails. (I've written about golbaengi before: see here and here, for example.)

After class came to an end, I passed out certificates of completion to the students. They filled out course-evaluation forms while I stood outside and fretted over whether I would be able to make my 7:10PM train. I asked my supervisor's coworker what the fastest subway route from National Assembly Station to Seoul Station would be; he told me to transfer from Line 9 to Line 1 at Noryangjin Station. After saying my goodbyes at KMA, I hastily lumber-waddled out the front door and over to Line 9, National Assembly Station. In checking the Seoul subway map on my phone, I noticed that there were two Noryangjin Stations, and they didn't appear connected. As it turned out, transferring from Line 9 to Line 1 meant leaving the Line 9 Noryangjin, going up to street level and walking about a hundred meters, then going into Line 1's Noryangjin: instead of being fused into one gigantic underground transfer station (such as can be found at Samgakji or Jongno 3-ga or Seoul Station), Noryangjin is actually two stations that sit so close together that they're effectively a single station. That said, you still have to use your traffic card to punch out of Line 9, then use your card again to punch in to Line 1.

And that's where the problems started.

I tried to pass through the Line 1 turnstile after touching my card to the turnstile's sensor, but the damn turnstile wouldn't let me through. It flashed an error message and refused to turn. I tried two or three other turnstiles before giving up in frustration. I knew it would be useless to wait for a subway staffer to come over and offer help, so I turned around and sought a taxi to get me the rest of the way to Seoul station. Luckily, I found one right away.

The ride was long—partly because it was rush hour, the worst time of day to take a taxi, but also partly because it seemed as if the driver were taking the long way to Seoul Station. We crawled along in heavy traffic; when we could move fast, the ajeossi drove a twisting, turning route that seemed to make no sense to me. I pondered how to frame the rude question that threatened to boil up into my consciousness and leap past my lips. Finally, I remarked:

"I never knew Seoul Station was so far away."

The ajeossi wasn't stupid; he caught my accusatory subtext right away and launched into a lengthy justification of his actions, to wit: people taking a taxi to Seoul Station should find their taxi on the other end of Noryangjin Station; at the place where I had flagged the taxi, a taxi driver would have no choice but to twist and turn, since no U-turns are possible. But instead of ejecting me from the cab, this ajeossi saw my heavy bags (those were his words: "mugeo-un gabang") and felt he had to give me a ride. Furthermore, this was a high-traffic time—rush hour. I listened to this explanation, then asked the ajeossi how much longer he thought it would take to get to Seoul Station; I had a 7PM train that I needed to catch. He surmised that it would be another ten minutes. He turned out to be right, and I paid a heavy price for that slow, circuitous ride: W12,000. That was mighty inconvenient, but the taxi didn't piss me off nearly as much as the goddamn malfunctioning turnstile at Noryangjin Station. I kicked myself: I should have gone my own way, which would have been slightly longer, but would have avoided any turnstile problems.*

Fortunately, I reached the bullet train with plenty of time to spare. I was in the cattle car, i.e., unassigned seating, so I grabbed an empty seat and settled in for the two-hour ride to East Daegu Station. Smooth sailing all the way home. I was glad: I had imagined arriving at the bullet train much later and being forced to stand for two hours, as I had done once before.

On Thursday night, I met my other boss—the one from the "golden goose" ed-pub company. Despite my problems working with his harridan underling, he still wants to work with me, so it seems there's still a chance I might snag a lucrative full-time job later this year (right now, I do only part-time freelance work). I had wanted to meet some other friends while I was in Seoul, but my lack of funds and lack of time prevented any other appointments. Maybe next time.

Now I'm back in Hayang, and I've still got a frighteningly busy February ahead of me. Lots of effort, but no immediate payoff: KMA doesn't pay until March, alas, so I won't see any fundage from this teaching gig for another whole month (I had mistakenly thought the wait would be no longer than two weeks). The "golden goose" ed-pub company doesn't pay until the textbooks I'm working on get finalized and published, so again, I can't expect to see any pay for a long time. The hazards of side jobs. I just have to keep faith that at some point this will all come to fruition.

*My way would have taken me to a transfer station at Line 4, and I would have taken Line 4 directly up to Seoul Station. I wouldn't have had to exit the station and reenter. Now, I'm left to wonder whether my traffic card will even work the next time I'm up in Seoul.


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