Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Annyeounghaseyo. As I write this, it’s 5 a.m. on Tuesday, 4 p.m. on Labor Day at home, and quarter past squelge on my body clock. I fell asleep at 10 p.m., sitting up in front of some incomprehensible Korean soap opera, stumbled to bed, and woke up at 3:30.

There’s so much to say, about my arrival, the city, the culture, the school… fortunately, nobody else is nearly as interested in all this as I am, so whatever I leave out will be okay.
The flight to Seoul was interminable, but there were compensations: we skimmed along the uttermost north coast of Alaska, over curiously unsnowy brown mountains, and a little later over the endless snowclad mountains of Siberia. (You know, I’ve been writing for many decades, and I’ve never written “snowclad” before. I don’t think I’ll do it again.) But it was coming in over Korea that I loved: peaks just carpeted with lush, thick greenery, most with one little road winding and switching back over them, and clusters of buildings running along the valleys.
Seoul is big.

After a layover at Incheon airport, I boarded one more plane. The flight to Daegu seemed very short and peaceful, and when I got in, I was greeted by a Korean couple and their ten-year-old son. George, as he said to call him, has limited English proficiency. He looks rather like an Indian scout in an old movie: high cheekbones, long lank black hair. His wife, Glory, speaks much better English, and his boy tried gamely to make English conversation in the back seat of the van.
First they checked me into my apartment. I live up a very narrow, very steep flight of stairs (in the picture-- I love multimedia!) I have a little entry hall that is part of the kitchen, which has a nice fridge, an old microwave, an ancient two-burner gas stove (to which the gas hasn’t yet been turned on), and a sink I could bathe a lab/chow mix in. (Those are my windows in the other picture; I'm over some shop that's defunct and hasn't been funct in a long time.)

I’m sitting now in the living room, where I spend most of my time because the tv is company, and because it has the only comfortable chairs in the apartment. I get 40 channels of mostly Korean shows, which run to overacted soap opera, massively overacted comedy, ludicrously overacted commercials (which I can’t always decipher enough to know what they’re advertising) and shows in which people are alternately kicking each other and falling into bed. (Thus far I haven’t seen the two activities combined.) There are three or so stations that carry nonstop American shows and movies with Korean subtitles, but they run almost entirely to CSI, Law and Order, martial arts, and horror. Oh! And Oprah, if that isn't redundant.

I have a kind of platform bed, a single, which is firm and fairly comfortable, a wardrobe, and best of all, a launshowrestroom. It’s tiled like a locker room shower, about seven by seven feet. It has a toilet, a sink, a Samsung washing machine that I can use but don’t dare adjust, because all the settings are Korean and I don’t want to accidentally hit “puree”, and a handheld shower attachment. There’s no bracket to fix the attachment to, so you have to lather with one hand, manipulate the shower head with the other, and try to not soak the washing machine, the toilet, the toilet paper, the mirror…

Anyway, after I dropped my stuff in my apartment, George and Glory took me to E-Mart, the Korean version of, say, Super Target. However, unlike Target, E-Mart has attendants dressed as… well, the illegitimate daughters of cheerleaders and go-go dancers (all miniskirts and legwarmers), and others dressed in centuries-old Korean dress, and greeters who bow from the waist. It has two-foot wide live crabs in tanks, and long inclined moving walkways linking its three floors, and about a bazillion shoppers. At 11 p.m. on Sunday night.

I wasn’t quite with the program, and before I knew it, we were checking out with my supplies: bread but no spread; vegetable milk (like soy milk but thin, purple-grayish, and nasty) that came with two attached little bottles of liquid yogurt, but no cereal; mandarin orange juice, and Harry Chapin’s proverbial 30,000 pounds of bananas.

Michael O’Donoghue once wrote an article in the National Lampoon on how to write good fiction. He said that, if you ever didn’t know how to end something, you could always write,“Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck.” Or if you wanted to be classy, you could write it in French.


Soudainement, tout le monde a ete’ ecrase’ par un camion.

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