Tuesday, October 14, 2008

arriving in korea - how did i miss writing about this before?

okay so i finally made it through my chuseok adventures. now i just have to retell the last month and a half. if i had not lazily neglected to keep a written journal when my electronic one was inaccessible, then perhaps i would have not forgotten many of the anecdotes that now escape me. nevertheless, i will do the best i can, and try to start from the beginning...

the trip into korea was as long as any of my trips across the pacific (i had made 6 previous ones, not including those to hawai'i - both ways to kyoto, japan in '04, seoul, korea in '06, tokyo japan in '07). surprisingly, this time, despite leaving for likely longer than a year, seemed less ominous than the others. perhaps it was because i was returning to a place i had been before. perhaps it was because i was going to a place that already contained countless good friends waiting for me. perhaps it was because this wasn't my first time going away with no feasible expectations. i really did have no idea what was in store for me. it had been an unnerving process trying to determine the best job and location for me to live and work from so far away, as you would know if you've read my previous posts from this last summer. but, in fact, this time i was leaving home with a good deal more preparation than most of my other adventures. i had a job waiting for me, for one. and a place to sleep. those two facts already put me in better standing than many of the times ive boarded a plane.

so it was with a pretty unperturbed mind (but a heavily perturbed ass) that i got off the plane in seoul. i didnt expect anyone to be waiting for me. but i knew which bus i had to get on. i had already fared the 인천국제공항 (incheon international airport) which is about an hour away from seoul. this time, with my gaze unbroken and with a wave of my hand, i confidently (and quite satisfyingly) shooed away the malicious taxi drivers attempting to prey on an ignorant foreigner (i fell distressingly victim to them 2 years ago - read about it in my previous post), and made a b-line for the ticket booth. after i got my ticket, i decided to call my friend from hawai'i, priscilla, who works in 수원 (suwon) - my new home and final destination for the day. as i went back inside and started heading for the jumble of payphones i ran right into her! total surprise! apparently in my haste and determination to send the taxi drivers packing, i had walked right around her without either of us noticing, despite the sign she was holding with my name on it. (she told me that since i was coming in to korea, i ought to have a sign) last time coming to korea, i had made the mistake of assuming someone was coming, and this time of assuming someone was not.

unfortunately, priscilla proved to be the only good thing waiting for me in korea that night. by the time we got into suwon, it was about 1:30am. at the station, mrs. kwon, my boss's wife, picked us up and took me to the larger campus where priscilla worked (and not where i would be) to sign some paperwork which basically removed my employers from a great deal of liabilities - nothing too serious, but still, i felt too tired to be able to concentrate fully on what i was agreeing too and it made me uneasy. after that mrs. kwon drove us to the academy's branch at suwon station - the place where i would be teaching. my first impression of the place was that it was decidedly cramped and rather pathetically small. it was around this time (2am) that i discovered i was expected to begin teaching that morning at 7:30am - in less than 6 hours. then we went to my 'new' apartment which turned out to be located in probably the least desirable location possible: the building was right on the corner of two streets heavily populated by noisy pedestrians, uncomfortably near to a 'red light' district, and my pad was on the first floor, the nearest to the entrance with my only window open directly to the street just outside. the interior was virtually bare, smelled of mildew, and look pretty bleak in the dead of night.

i must admit that at this point my heart fell. i had taken everything pretty well up until then, but i had been counting on a living space at least a little better than this. after all, mr kwon, the boss, had needed a teacher right away, and i had agreed despite the short deadline on the condition that i would be given a larger apartment than the typical 'office-tel', as they call them here. at this point mrs kwon conveniently forgot nearly all of the english she had been using up until then, as i began explaining to her that this was unacceptable and not what we had agreed upon. eventually i gave up trying to communicate with her. i was exhausted; fatigued from the plane and the unpleasant running around we did afterwards; and not at all looking forward to the prospect of trying to figure out how to teach a class in just a few hours. priscilla kindly allowed me to come stay at her place that night - i really needed to get away from that apartment, at least right then. a year was starting to feel like a long time. by the time we got to her apartment, it was very late, and, having not eaten or drunk anything for hours, i broke out into a cold sweat and began feeling nauseous. i managed to eat a few bites of convenience store rice ball and, despite my dejection, swallow also a few of priscilla's kind words of support. it had been a quiet less celebrated reception than two years ago when i had partied all night with my friend 'long J' after getting off the bus in seoul, but the worst would prove to be over.

i woke after a few precious hours of rest, took a remarkably refreshing shower, and made my way to the academy where i'd be working. upon arriving, mrs kwon introduced me to the other foreign teacher there from canada named jason. jason ended up making all the difference working at 'gukje' (literly 'international' - the nickname for the academy). he was very kind and patiently answered all my questions about the company, classes, mr kwon, etc - something he has continued to kindly comply with throughout the last 6 weeks. i discovered that the english textbooks were the same ones i used in japan the previous summer. class size and make up (3-8, mostly university students, young company employees, some high school, some adults) were also basically the same as in tokyo. so i passed the morning classes without much effort, graciously allowed myself to be treated to lunch by jason, stumbled to my new apartment and passed out for the next 5 hours.

after that, there's not much to say about my arrival. since ive done quite a bit of english education and tutoring before, it was not difficult to adjust to the classroom style at gukje. daylight shone a kinder face on my apartment - after living in a tent for nearly 3 weeks and in considerably worse apartments for much longer, coping with the present living situation was not too hard either, following the initial disappointment, of course. adjusting my sleeping schedule, and to the split-shift teaching schedule at work, however, took a good deal longer.

the most difficult part of the first month was in being too disconnected from everyone. i didnt get a cell phone or an internet connection in my apartment until last week. this made it very hard to contact my friends living in seoul and anyone else who wished to talk to me, such as my parents and girlfriend. i was limited to computer use at my academy between classes and payphones (a very dissatisfying form of phone communication - you're hunting for change while trying to hear someone over the noise from the street, and 50% of the time you get disconnected prematurely). nevertheless, i was still able to meet some dear friends during that first month: sunyoung, wonchul, miri, myungki, minji, youngmin, and more. seeing their faces gave me much of the sustenance i needed to go on. in fact, it wasnt until i saw the first familiar face (sunyoung's) that i finally realized the home i was coming to. here in korea, i had not only so many dear friends overjoyed to see me again, but also their own families, with whom i had stayed during my last visit two years before, also anxious to see me and ready to lend me assistance whenever i needed it. then i knew that the only way i could feel lonely in korea was if i chose to isolate myself on purpose.

even so, the familiar face of loneliness has been ever-presently looming nearby. it was still difficult to get in touch with people. i felt ashamed when someone would ask why i hadn't called them sooner. even now, there are still people i am just now getting around to calling and meeting. probably this will be the case for another month or so. when you have many people waiting to hear from you or see you, it's impossible to contact them and meet with them all at once. meeting people one-on-one is my preferred way. and dealing with all the challenges associated with my living and working situation right now makes it difficult for me to find the motivation to seek out company all the time. i feel like i need to take care of myself too, not just rely on others to cheer me up. cheering myself up really gives me the most satisfaction! that's they way ive learned to deal with my feelings. and i feel so beautiful when i am able to discover i have the ability to inspire myself and encourage myself! yet, when i tell my friend that i had a rough weekend because i was gloomy and trying to cheer myself up and they say 'why didnt you call me?!', i have no satisfactory answer. and i wonder if perhaps it is my mistake to rely on my own abilities to care for myself - there are definitely times when i fail at that too... these and other differences in personality or social interaction are a constant challenge for me to understand and cope with while living and interacting with koreans. but trying to do just that - make sense of the kaleidoscope of messes and confusion that results from meshing my way of life with that of someone else very different from me - is what has given me some of the most amazing and unexpected friendships i could never have looked for on my own. i have come to strongly believe on fundamental connections between humans; sometimes they are based on actual similarities in perspective or choices, and sometimes they are based merely on the mutual desire to look out for each other despite the apparent lack of cohesiveness. i have friendships here based on both; and indeed both are required, especially here, where the disagreements are many - but also where the determination to support one another is inspiringly passionate.

well now you have the story of my arrival. i have to take a smoke and a nap now. i promise to write more again soon. and pictures, yes, i know, pictures. soon. patience.

No comments:

Post a Comment