Friday, September 19, 2008

Keeping up with the Jonahs

Curtis is a young guy from Ontario, very friendly and laid-back, who’s been teaching at our school and whose email address was given to me by the school’s recruiter. He gave me useful information before and after I signed my contract, and I told him I’d buy him a beer if I ended up in Daegu.

This is his last week here—he’s going to be traveling in Thailand next—and it was time for me to pony up with the beer. On Wednesday night, he finished teaching at midnight, I finished the thirty-seventh rewrite of Heeduk’s cousins college application essay, and we took a cab downtown and went to the dorm. The “dorm”, which the Kims own, is what the teachers call the building where most of our staff lives.

Now here’s an important digression, so pay attention; there may be a test.

A week ago, Mrs. Kim told me that the school was going to lose the lease on my apartment in February, but they had another recently-vacated apartment available, and she wanted to give me the first crack at it, since I’m older than the other teachers. So George took me there. Although it has a nice second floor patio with a clothesline and it’s bigger than my current digs, I didn’t much like it. It’s rather old and grungy, all of the windows are covered in clear plastic sheeting (I realize that this no doubt contributed to my negative feelings, and the plastic can be removed), the washing machine is on the patio, and so would be fun to use when the wind chill is ten degrees Fahrenheit, it’s a long and winding road—so to speak—to the school and the shopping areas, and it just didn’t feel right.
I figured that staying in my apartment until February and then moving to the dorm, which was very likely to be my next habitation, would be fine. I have privacy and solitude now, and then I’d have camaraderie and the bustle of being in the middle of downtown. So I reluctantly turned the offer down.

We now return you to Wednesday, already in progress.

…then I saw the dorm. It reminds me of Ann Arbor, Michigan, circa 1970: small, old, dark, claustrophobic. Curtis shares a two-room, and his roommate, whose room is separated from Curtis’s only by a curtain (at the moment an open curtain), was cuddled up in bed with his girlfriend. They were clothed and just relaxing, but it was still disconcerting to have a young couple sit up in bed to shake my hand.Curt and I stepped down the hall to see Alex, the new guy, who’s been in Korea for a few days. Alex’s room is more typical: a single, small, dark room, with a bed, desk, dresser, and tv jammed in like the Brady Bunch in a phone booth. It’s smaller and older than my dorm room at UM was, it has no windows, and it’s as cheerful as the inside of a whale. I guess he’s keeping up with the Jonahs.

I don‘t want to live in the dorm! If I end up having to go there, I hope they give me two weeks’ notice so I have time to arrange my own murder.

I also realize that at this point I’m more cut out to come home at night, watch a little tv, and go to bed than I am to be asked almost every night to go out drinking. There’s no place in the dorm to just sit and talk with the other teachers, so they tend to go out. It’s also easier on the wallet to watch tv or surf the net—which I will do as soon as I can get hooked up! Alex got connected his second day here because he’s in a building with multitudinous net connections already; I have to wait till the gummint gives me my alien card and returns my passport, which is supposed to be September 30. By then, I’ll have been here a month with no Internet, no cell phone, no bank account. Not a single luxury.

Anyway, on Wednesday night, Curt, Alex and I walked to a bar, had a beer and some friendly small talk, and I took my leave. After paying for the beers, I didn’t have cab fare, and the buses and subways shut down at 11. (It was 1:30.) So I walked.

I didn’t mind walking home—it’s about three miles, I’m intentionally walking a lot anyway, and it was a nice evening—but by the time I got within a half-mile of home, I was staggering like a drunk with exhaustion. I haven’t been up and active at 2:30 a.m. in a long time. I just wanted to lie down on the sidewalk and rest. Getting up my steep stairs was a challenge, but if I’d had to go down them in such a state, I probably would have tumbled down them and caused further dain bramage.

Filled with revulsion at the idea of living like a penniless college student (I have my dignity, after all—I’m a penniless middle-aged man), on Thursday I asked George if the apartment he’d shown me was still available. I figured it would be; I didn’t know of any new arrivals besides Alex, and it had only been a week. But he said a new teacher would be moving in that same night.

So now I may be screwed. I can’t stand the thought of living in the dorm. In retrospect, it was stupid to make my decision without seeing the dorm first, and Mrs. Kim was really nice to give me the option, but that’s not much consolation. I talked to Heeduk on Thursday, and he said he’d see if they could talk my current landlord into extending the lease. I don’t have high hopes, however. We’ll see.

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