28 June 2008

Still Catching Up

Note: I apologize for not keeping up. So much has happened so fast that I haven't been able to get it all down. Also note that I am not apologizing to you, who likely may not care too much about the contents of this blog. I am apologizing to myself, forgiving myself as it were. This blog is by me for me. Therefore I am not responsible for omissions, errors, embellishments, or lewdness. Journals lack the benefit of reflection which marks the better memoirs.

Listening To: "Life on Mars?" by Bowie.
Weather: Warm Pouring. (Someone told me when it started raining this morning that it will quit in September. Maybe.)
Mood: Elated with random periods of bawling.

At long last we have pictures to peruse at: http://picasaweb.google.com/cyanocitta/KoreaPicsJune282008

My First Day

I woke up early on Thursday morning, my first day here. After a second shower I got suited up and took off walking. My plan was to go find the school (they had made me a map. It is worthwhile to note that there really are no street names in Korea. The largest intersections are marked by signs pointing down the largest streets toward other large intersections, and that is about it. Directions are given by landmark. I was told to walk downhill toward the sea and turn left at the Dunkin Donut. It is also worthy to note that Koreans don’t even agree on directions, landmarks, reference points, or the seemingly even the parameters of physical space…more on this later). I found the school easily. It is located on a high hill surrounded by trees. There is a huge highrise complex on the rest of the hill but the view from the school is spectacular. I have also seen, walking along the small wooded area on the road up, at least three birds I have never before lay eyes on.

I went back down to the main road and walked further down “toward the sea” (which by the way is still miles hence). Long story short, I got lost. When I got to the main junction I noticed a subway entrance. I went down and looked around and came back up a different exit. When I came back up nothing looked the same. I had not really been paying attention to reference points prior to walking down there and now that I was back up I might as well have come up on the moon. I kept telling myself not to panic, but then I went through possible backup plans and realized I didn’t have any. I had no way to ask for directions, no phone number to call to ask an English speaker for directions, and no map. I have always enjoyed being lost I told myself. So I buttoned down my lip and started walking up the six major roads that converged at the junction. The first two were unrecognizeable, but on the third I recognized a small lumberyard. I had found my road.

Remembering that lumberyard, so seemingly out of place in a street full of bimbap shops and hair salons, it makes me think about how rural this huge city feels. Each neighborhood is a self-contained unit. This lumberyard took up the shape and and had the size of one business on the packed storefront street. It had neatly stacked stocks with a small sunny lane down the middle. Off to one side near the street was a tiny office. A yellow dog was contentedly licking something off the asphault of the lane. A folding gate covered the opening. On the road going up the hill I noticed what looked like a small packing crate, roughly 6x8 and maybe six feet tall. When I came back at 9:30 to go to work the front of it was folded open and a man was sitting inside operating a tiny cobbler shop. There was a line. Old women sit cross-legged under small colorful umbrellas on the street corners selling radishes and squash, peaches and green beans. The small markets that operate on nearly every street have huge piles of melons and cabbages. Onions, garlic, and a huge variety of the ubiquitous leaf wraps (everything from grape to oak, sesame to bibb lettuce, all used to make delicious little bundles when eating the staple BBQ beef called galbi). These women usually have an inventory that hardly looks worth the trouble to cart into town, but they do it, pulling huge, bicycle-wheeled carts by hand through the early morning mist. There are street vendors selling all manner of hardware, clothing, housewares, etc. When I left school last night a man was set up across the street with a selection of what looked like vintage sewing machines (the old black foot-pedal kind converted to electric. He was operating a shop out of the back of his small lorry, and had a machine disassembled on a piece of cardboard in the shade. Three old ladies stood around him bent at the waist, handing down what appeared to be either deep reprobation or earnest encouragement. Nearby a blanket was spread out with handmade athletic wear. The sign said 1000 won ($1 USD). There was nobody there to take the money.

Money. This is probably the most astounding thing about the entire operation. Last night I took a cab over to my new apartment. When me and Brian and his girlfriend got into the cab the cabby started the meter at the 1800 won minimum. Ten minutes later, when we got to our destination, it said 2000 won. The same ride in Springfield would have cost at least three times as much. I bought a pack of Dunhill lights here for 2000 won yesterday. Last night I took Brian and his GF out to a really nice pork BBQ for 24000, this including three bottles of soju and two huge courses of meat. Everything here is basically one half to one third of what it would be back home. Exceptions include Budweiser (sold only by the can for 2000 won) and clothing (shoes are especially dear).

[I wrote this post yesterday in the Dinkin Donut aforementioned. I have posted it today due to technical challenges]

It is now the evening of my fourth day here in Korea. I have come to the conclusion that I am not going to be able to write down every last thing that happens. Although I would like to. Do the best I can.

I got a cat today. Her name is Zoulie. The teacher I replaced gave her to me. He is coming back to Korea in a few months but her said that I could have her as long as I want. See pics. I got a scooter. It is a 125 and the speedo goes up to 120. I know for a fast it will do sixty. I am going to have a blast on that thing. Had a wild night last night and another tonight. I am going to tell you about that tomorrow....