Friday, February 29, 2008
The great Korean working man comes to hook me up on Saturday and, unreasonably, they expect you to stay home for an entire 1 HOUR window of time!!! SBC could take a lesson from this, although I suppose it is presumptuous of me to say this before I actually see the guy at my house.
As I write this I sit in the bar waiting for the Weekly Social Event to convene. I was bored at home, so came up early. The waitress won’t serve me til someone else shows up. No matter how much you drink? In Korea you’re only a drunk if you do it alone.
If I weren’t such a solo drinker I’d love this country.
Had an ugly moment when my FedEx tracking revealed my ‘library’ of books had been sent back from Incheon to Memphis. But by the time I was out of my training the Wayguk ‘handler’ had already received a call from FedEx and I think everything is sorted out. Apparently an estimated valuation over $100.00 automatically invokes tariffs in Korea, unless your package is in a protected category like used clothing or books.
Yeah, books, the very thing I had shipped, a fact that was advertised on the top of the bill of handling. My guess is that the guy who received this in Incheon could read US numbers and not read US language. Thus he rejected it for valuation.
The good news is that it seems likely that the books are on their way back to me, and I will check this out as soon as I get up to training today.
The Drinking Expedition was interesting, but probably not safe to post here. Anyone who wants to get weakly "Mean Emails" may do so by emailing me at email@example.com and the bile will follow.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Monday from 1:30 to 3:00 I have International Management
Tuesday from 7 to 9 I have Academic Writing (this is sweet because it is not conversation and will translate better to the States. Probably homework to grade, but so what?)
Wendesday from 9:00 to 10:30 I have International Management
Thursday is my big day from 10:00 to 11:30 I have Computer Science; From 3:00 to 4:30 International Students from Japan; From 7:00 to 9:00 I have Academic Writing
Friday from 1:00 to 2:30 I have International Students from Japan
No early Monday, no late Friday, probably only one class with kiddies (to be added) and one class that isn't just conversation.
That's really about all I could have asked for at this point.
Well I already have!
Unfortunately, it was with my faculty evalutor.
And he's big!
Actually, today was all about settling in.
A bit of clever thinking and a bit of experimenting and I have figured out how to make the Ondol floors work in this apartment. This is a welcome thing, since last night was quite cold. Got up and headed up the hill to BPU and a meeting with my intake dude. Some paperwork, met a guy named Zeke, a guy named John and a guy who loudly announced that he was Republican and interspersed good advice with blowhardiness.
Got a call from my mentor and we arranged lunch. He is Canadian, married to a Russian woman. Highly entertaining and, blessedly, possessed of a car. He passed along a lot of wisdom I already had, but also some valuable stuff and since he had the car he toured me around the city and we picked up many things that would have been far too awkward for me to get to all at once on foot or bus. He drove like a Korean and said it was the only way to drive. He also pointed out the intense tinting on his windows and said a white driver pretty much had to have it, because if a Korean driver saw a white head behind a wheel they a) assumed you couldn’t drive and, b) drove even more aggressively.
Although the latter sounded impossible to me, I accepted it because the other parts made sense.
Then it was off to the PC Bang to chat to the OAF and home to organize alla the stuffs I had purchased. This was good to get done before training starts tomorrow. I did forget to bring my FedEx tracking number, so I don’t know where my “library” is on its way to Korea.
I now sit in a computer lab, awatiting my training. It seems that Woo Song may have me in mind to do some recruiting on account of my winning personality, rugged good looks, and we.. actually.. technology skills....
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The stove has the place up to a toasty 60 degrees (NOT in the bedroom or bathroom, which are still frigid) and the spicy Udong Noodles have had a similar effect on my stomach. It’s about to be 8 here, which was my ‘break the time-shift goal’ and I expect to be asleep soon. The upstairs neighbors have come home, and while I can hear them, it is nothing major (yet!). Tomorrow I have to drop by the office, and then on Thursday our orientation begins. Monday is classes. Not much time. I still need to figure out how to get a bank account and cell-phone. I guess I’ll email my mentor tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I booked through Delta, but the flight is Korean Airlines so the food is good and the service appropriately subservient. It was somewhere around my second trip to the bathroom that I realized that I wouldn’t be seeing anyone for a very long time. This hits hardest with the OAF of course and I’m a bit bewildered about what I am supposed to do after work Miss her, I suppose. Just some mundane and predictable moments of doubt before I go back to concentrating on the things I am going to do, rather than the things I will miss. A 12 hour plane-flight is an excellent opportunity for navel-gazing, and I’m sure I will get over it once I’m on the ground and trying to get to the hotel. I did exchange my money at SFO, so at least I won’t have to go through that at Incheon. I will, however, have a sore butt, since it is already griping about the 8 hours or so we have traveled.
The window-shades are drawn in the cabin, but there are enough obnoxious Indian kids so that some are in a constant state of flux. It’s daytime out there and will be when I land. Something like 17 or 18 hours of daylight. I’m in some kind of science fiction story gone wrong.
The flight is, duh, mainly Koreans. I saw about three other Wayguk and a sprinkling of Indians. In some way I expected more Wayguk, because this would be the time we are coming over, but we’re really just spit in the wind, I guess.
Read an amusing article in the Wall Street Journal about the search for “space-safe” Kimchi. The Soviets are taking a Korean Cosmonaut on their next trip (Actually, I’ve worked with BKF on some news translations on this) and like all Koreans he doesn’t want to be without Kimchi. But Kimchi also contains live cultures, and there is concern that radiation might turn it into something inedible, threatening, or hideously mutated.
Kind of like Kimchi in the first place.
In any case, science has done this fine work and the Korean Cosmonaut will go into space with tins of Kimchi.
Also, in the airport bar I read an article about some trouble in recruiting instructors for Hagwons. It’s at http://koreabeat.com/?p=747 and it seems to indicate that if the OAF does come over here she will not have trouble finding a placement.
Now I’m watching the Skymap on my little screen and getting depressed that we aren’t moving faster. We seem to be stuck above some kind of major Ocean. I feel like the freaking Ancient Mariner, except with all the water I can drink, video, and a computer. So, not so much, really.. Still, we waited on the tarmac for at least 45 minutes due to my bad airplanema (Like Karma, but not in a car) and I’m therefore not sure when we are due.
The hotel should have wireless intarwebs, and I’ll post from it if I can.
And just like that I’m several bad sitcoms and most of one weird movie on, and sitting in the Incheon airport. I forgot how easy it was to go through this place. I was concerned that my prescriptions might be a problem, but then I saw the enormous cattle-chute of “nothing to declare” and the one guy frantically snatching everyone’s declaration forms and I realized I probably could have smuggled as many bricks of dope through as I wanted to. I don’t think I even saw a drug-dog in the whole airport. I did see a buttload (that’s a term expatriates use commonly) of hogwan people waiting to pick up newbies, so I guess they just weren’t on the SFO plane and a lot of planes land there this time of night.
Outside, it is snowing and beautiful. Incheon airport its pretty cool looking to begin with and the snow swirling under the high lamplights makes it seem very noirish.
The shuttle came to pick me up and I was reminded of one of my least favorite things about Korea – the smell old men get when they’ve been chowing down on Kimchi and smoking cigarettes. This was the man who took my bags and gave me a ride to the hotel. Which was nice enough. Korea has more than its share of inexpensive accommodation, although that is largely unbeknownst to the world. The TV, oddly, had 98 channels of static, but there was a wireless net to pick up and so I should be set for browsing. The bathroom is an odd combo of Korean and Western, but everything flushes and why not have two drains in the floor?
I wandered out to pick up some “sandwiches” and something to drink. I think I need to learn how to say “excuse me” and how to understand prices when they are spoken. Tomorrow it is off to Daejeon and my first look at BPU.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Then off the airport hotel, drinks with the OAF and a teary goodbye this morning ("squish, squish!"). Security lines were minimal and I breezed through, although the TSAs were amused at my backpack of devices. They thought it was amusing I was bringing all those lenses, the video camera, the camera, the computer, and the LCD projector, but didn't have a phone or any keys. Who knows why that is amusing...
It is entirely symbolic of the foresight that I bring to every aspect of my life that I purchased a new battery for the laptop, since the old one just completely coded in the middle of this post. ;-)
I've had my first "What the fuck are you doing, fatboy?" moment and now I sort of cycle between being sad and wondering what awesome shit I'll come across in Daejeon. One night in a hotel in Incheon and then down to my new digs. I managed to squeeze a blanket and sheet into my luggage, so at least I will have something on the first night - apparently this is not provided (though a mat better be or I'll..... I'll, be tired and sore).
Once I'm settled (which is to say, sure I'm staying) I'll start looking for a job for the OAF. And pestering the rest of you about when you're taking your first vacation to lovely Korea. Remember our national motto, "welcome to Korea, please to extrude intestines now."
We're working on it...
Sunday, February 24, 2008
On the plane to visit MSM I took a look at the safety pamphlet and just about hooted up the five 'quick' beers I'd had in the Monkey Bar.
The first three panels demonstrate the care one needs to use in preparing an infant for a water-landing (like anyone is gonna survive that, but whatever).
The good news is that the baby is entertained (possibly dancing), the bad news is that there is more to do to ensure safety...
This is more complicated than changing a diaper and the baby, particularly in panel 5, seems to be looking a bit less thrilled by the procedure.
In truth, the baby's suspicion seems to be justified by panel 6:
In which junior hits the water and "goes to the light."
Hypothermia, it's a bitch for the little ones.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Then you climb above the clouds, look out towards the amber and sere sunset which you plane is futilely chasing, and Houston is blessedly forgotten.
When I arrive Big City is pissing down rain and I have a lot to do in the days I have left here….Overcoming the big beer spill of ought-eight, for one thing. An entire beer.. dead center on my bed. siiiiiiiiigh
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The trip out began uneventfully, if slowly. Coffee and chat with the parents, getting BAX onto an IM client so we can chat when I’m in the (blood-hemorrhage) soup. A quick trip to Brownsville which has what must be close to the world’s smallest “international” airport. It has recently acquired another gate, which puts it up to 2.5 gates in total. My guess is they are never used at the same time.
The airport has a lovely bar, but it is outside of the “secured” area, and the secured area also lacks bathrooms. Probably because it is too expensive to build two bathrooms that have carpeted walls – I’m not sure I’d ever seen that before and I’m really not sure if it is hygienic. So I had two quick beers, went to the bathroom, and then through a pretty lax security check. It was the first place in some time that didn’t open my computer to ensure it wasn’t some brilliant kind of bomb.
Also, since my flight was on my original itinerary, I was not “selected by the computer” for the cheap feel out session in the glass booth. The second time I was selected this way (on my ill-fated trip in) was because my flight had been cancelled and therefore I was catching a flight out the next day. The TSA told me this and I wondered how clever a terrorist-mastermind he thought I must be – After all I had gone to all the trouble of making it rain in Houston and having Continental schedule their pilots incorrectly. I must be a kind of super-genius! Alas, I had forgotten my plan and bomb, so here I am, leaving Brownsville again.
Leaving the parents was the closest I have come to realizing what Korea will be like. Sure, I only see them once or twice a year, but I can be there in 5 hours, on the spur of the moment, anytime I want. That’s straight out the window in aa week or so…
It’s also worth noting that within two minutes of BAX getting his IM client, the BAG was gabbing wildly with him, including this classic line about the BAG and I:
“Since Heroic Narrator (that’s me folks) and I have poked each other’s eyes out and don’t see each others flaws, I think we’ll get along just fine.”
Well, I knew it had to be something!
Clownsville has a wireless network, but it blocks blogger, forums, and Internet Messaging. How odd.
Whatever. The plane in from Houston has landed, so I imagine we will be loading as soon as the honeyed peanuts can be restocked..
Monday, February 18, 2008
I was up at 4 (as in AM) and out by 4:15. It’s a quick shot to Big City Airport at that time of the morning and I was in the parking-lot shuttle bus before the fact it was cold enough to see my own breath made me shiver. Tragically, everything in the airport was closed. I suppose, at 5 am, it was naïve to hope for the bar to be open ;-) but I could have used a bagel. The flight to Phoenix was unremarkable. I was seated next to a 300 lb man in a grease-spotted t-shirt who, when he put his luggage in the overhead bin, handed me his snot-nosed child who immediately began caterwauling. Yet, as soon as the plane took off, the kid lapsed in and out of sleep. Later in the day I was to look back on this bit of my travel time with considerable nostalgia.
In Phoenix, the trouble started. For some reason US Airways was running late on every single plane in its fleet. To catch up they were moving flights from gate to gate and we left nearly two hours late. This meant that in Houston I missed my connecting flight to Brownsville. I was able to fire off an email to My Sainted Mother (MSM) that I was probably going to miss that flight and she mentioned that I might also have trouble in Houston due to squally weather. Call MSM Cassandra.
In Houston I changed my flight from Brownsville (the next flight was full) to Harlingen and spent the next 25 minutes running around trying to get my luggage (see, that stinky luggage?) re-routed to Harlingen. In the end, the luggage woman could only promise that she would try to get it there.
Then came the 2 hour delay on the ground. Pushed ahead in 15 minute increments, of course, so you couldn’t really leave the gate. I did make two emergency beer runs, but that was in extremis. No explanation for this other than planes weren’t leaving other airports on time. Perhaps this had to do with the weather at those airports, but if it did, no one at Continental was saying so. Finally, we get out on the tarmac and the pilot says “we are now in line waiting to get in line for takeoff.” 20 minutes later, “we are now in a position to hear from air traffic control and… ooops, they’re telling me all departures have been put on hold due to the weather.”
Then came the 2-3 hour wait on the tarmac with the reliable “we estimate 30 minutes more” lie repeated every, well, about 30 minutes. On the positive side, we did get one cup of free water from the Sky-Waitress who spent the rest of her time hiding behind the foreward bulkhead and occasionally, hobbit-style, peering nervously around it to assess how likely a revolt was. At about the third of these “30 minute” announcements, the pilot dropped a little bomb. He only had 59 minutes left in which he could fly. The geniuses at Continental had scheduled a pilot who was running out of FAA time. Here is where my other pre-flight decision paid dividends (if by dividends you mean a big stinking aggravation). I didn’t have a phone, so I could not call MSM and tell her about the cancellation. As we sat on the tarmac, already cancelled, but not moving towards the terminal, this was a problem in my brain.
When we finally got back to the terminal, two other flights seemed to have undergone the same process – waiting and then once the weather cleared up, being scrubbed due to too-fine pilot scheduling. This meant three planes worth of people in line to talk to representatives who were quickly running out of seats the next day. I heard the man just in front of me snatch the last two early-morning flights to Brownsville, and I got the last ticket on the mid-afternoon plane to Harlingen. There were at least 20 people (from my plane) behind me and I have no idea when they will ever fly out of Houston or will live the picaresque life Tom Hanks lived in The Terminal.
The representative on the left (the one I got) was not telling people who spoke Spanish, or those who looked scruffy (which included me) that there was any kind of deal available on accommodation. Not only that, but all of the representatives were claiming that the cancellation was “out of their control.” This was ludicrous, since the planes had been hours late to leave, and when we pulled off of the runway we were less than 10th in line to leave, planes were already leaving regularly, and the pilot had already admitted that it was his schedule that was forcing us to return to the terminal. This claim meant that all Continental was offering was “deals” on local hotels. A rather shoddy thing to do, considering they had actually pulled planes from the flight-deck.
Back in the terminal the sole luggage woman was overwhelmed. Fortunately there was a machine which could scan luggage tags and give passengers information on where luggage was and where it was headed. When anyone used it, it blandly revealed that “information on the bag is not available.”
Rather than go through all that, I headed on the little tram to the in-airport Marriott. $160, but worth it to not have to go through the hassle of finding off-airport lodging. I was aggravated to discover that, given that hefty room charge, the swine wanted an additional 10 bucks for internet access and ruled I ruled that out for god knows what reason - I have been spending money like Ritchie-Rich on speed, but no intarwebs for me.
Everything was closed, but room service brought me four beers (after a 45 minute wait, which seemed excessive) and I drank them. I had planned to grab something from the “vending” machines noted on the floor-map and planned to get some crackers and peanut butter, or something like that. My plans of munching were flattened when I discovered that all they vended were various flavors of Pepsi. Odd, for a hotel which caters to an international airport and which closes down at midnight on weekends. I immediately began to feel starved. This goes to demonstrate the power of the stupid mind, since I had a mini-pizza for dinner and it was really not biologically possible that I could be hungry.
I watched a thoroughly idiotic movie called “Beerfest” which was so excessively retarded that it put me in a good mood and I went to sleep at about 1 or 1:30. Woke up at 10 and was amused to discover that the coffee setup had only caffeinated coffee and no sweeteners or pasty-white alterants. Now that’s how coffee is supposed to be here in the US! (Dear MAF, take note). I now sit here watching political TV while it perks away.
Political TV, tragically, has devolved into the local community show, and ESPN showing NASCAR and cheerleader championships. This is a clear sign it is time to move to the airport bar!
FINAL QUESTIONS: Who ever thought that “The Wiz” was a good idea? The yellow linoleum road? Michael Jackson doing his best blackface impersonation? Costumes out of a High-School Sci-Fi production? I am boggled.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Better, they sent back feedback saying that the client liked my editing. That is the money issue and I hope this leads to plenty of work in the future. They've paid me just under $400 in two weeks and if that pace kept up my plan to be the Total-Saver* in Korea would hop up in intensity.
*"Total-Saver" is a ripoff of the amazingly screwed up by entertaining "Total Spender" whose drug-addled overseas experiences/experiments are completely worth checking out.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I was the company man, and no claims about the essential goodness of the company (and these claims are suspect at best – Community Colleges could be replaced by better High School education, vocational training, prisons that rehabilitate, contraception, and cattle prods for the lazy. Also? Tax pot so profoundly that you have to be successful to smoke the shit) could alter that.
How could it have come to this?
The short answer is, of course, that I had become a success. I was well-paid, reasonably respected, and except for that 8-month stretch under the boss from hell, was quite good at my job. Swamp Valley College has grown each term since the boss from hell left, and that is partly due to my work.
But still. A company man?
So I got both my degrees and will set off to Korea.
How is going to Korea any different? Shit, they'll expect me to wear a tie with my suit! Still...
There will certainly be spectacular mistakes to make and awesome failures to achieve. But they will be new ones! New ones!
But I have a romantic notion of instruction as a good thing, if properly done. So that’s one thing.
Second, there is the prospect of trading grades for sex (I say this to get the BAG’s freakout meter into the red zone).
Third, it is someplace far, far away from here. It is noisy, crowded, rude and impenetrable. I will have no friends, few responsibilities, and much time. Oddly, I run away to a Confucian (intimacy) culture in order to avoid entanglements. Maybe, more accurately, to ensure that entanglements are personal, with meaning, and not dictated by a paycheck.
It will be a chance to scholar-up (hey.. if rednecks can ‘cowboy up’), stop eating in a school cafeteria that deep-fries it’s diet-soda, and relax whilst making money.
And little of this at a cost to any tatters of my soul that haven’t been shredded from me in the last 7 years.
That’s a win, baby!
As I look back at the time I wasted in the last couple of years I remember the immortal words of Robert Graves as he left the rat race:
“Goodbye to all that.”
NEXT - Post II: Bravery and Cowardice, Praxis and Persistence..
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Saturday, February 02, 2008
1) Artist's rendering of the new Gwanghwamun area at night
2) The downtown Sejong-no and Gwanghwamun area. The redesign will turn the downtown boulevard into a pedestrian-friendly leisure space incorporating the neighborhood's history and culture.
This is supposedly how it will look by June of 2009. Most likely, at that time I will still be in Korea. And this looks pretty cool.
I will certainly hop in and out of Seoul to take pictures of the construction as it occurs.
But the one below is substantially cooler. It is allegedly what the Yongsan International Business District will look like by 2016. And it looks pretty cool, but far too "modernistic" to be Seoul.
1) No smog
2) No bicycle riders on sidewalks
3) No apparent hideous traffic jams.
Still.. it is amazing to look a this kind of city planning, and such an ambitious timetable, and compare it to the horrid designs we come up with in the US and the epic amount of time it takes us to complete them.
How we coming on that Twin-Towers replacement?
But if Seoul does look like that?
It will be pretty cool to look at from across the Han.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Amusingly, they sent me the original Korean version as a .doc file, so I can read it.
But they send the translation as a virtually un-openable .hwp file. Hangul Word Processor (or HWP) is a proprietary word processing application published by the South Korean company Haansoft Corporation. It is used extensively in South Korea, especially by the government. And also by exactly three other people in the entire world. This is completely emblematic of how inward-looking Koreans can be.....
Really, they thought I was one of the three people in the outside-Korea world who could open such a file?
I'm flattered and boggled.
Oh well, the graft should be easy (when I get the .doc file) so I am happy it has begun.
Prior, I had my fingerprints taken in one of the approved electronic scanning outlets near my house. These are sent to State Capirol and then the DOJ sends back a report on criminality. In my case, a clear one.
Then, I have to get this thing notarized.. which is really just me walking over to a notary and signing a thing saying.. "oh.. this is the piece of paper I received from the DOJ). This part of the thing is idiotic.. you could game it with the willingness to lie to the notary public and a computer and a printer. Thank GOD no one in the US has that lethal combination of technology.
If you do this.. the notary places a single stamp that leaves some ink on both pieces of paper to indicate that
Then, you have to go to to the City Hall of the area in which your notary was licensed, and get a a "verification of the notary." Whaaa?
And after that you get your lovely apostille.
Which I now have. I did hie myself hence all over the Big City and that is my desperation.
But this process is now required and anyone from my state, currently in Korea, would have to fly back here to do it or start the process about 6 months ahead of time. So one might guess that Korean Uni's aren't getting the kind of retention rate they have had in the past.
Which is why I am now getting calls from Korean Unis who disdained my application (hey, I'm fat and old, which are problems in Korea). Who knows what the woman who called me tonight thought? If people haven't been able to navigate all this crap up to this point? How was I gonna do it in the few weeks remaining?
Anyway.. it's funny.
I seem in at Woosong.. and even if not, I will enter in leisurely fashion somewhere.
I love the stench of desperation in the morning.