Sunday, December 28, 2008

yes I said yes I will Yes

... as Joyce wrote in the last line of Ulysses.

Last evening after work I went to see Yes Man, the new Jim Carrey movie. I've never been a big fan of Carrey, because like the early Robin Williams he's never seemed to be able to turn it off. I always have found him very funny for about five minutes, then I want to lie down. But this movie looked a bit more restrained, and it is. It's also aroused great interest here because Carl, Carrey's character, learns Korean. (Say that five times fast.)

Just getting to the movie was an adventure. The ticket, of course, is all in Korean; the sign had the movie listed in theater three, so I hopped into a crowded elevator as the doors closed and tried to hit the "3" button, but there wasn't one, and I had to ride to the 14th floor. On the way back down, a woman with excellent English explained that the elevator didn't go to the lower floors so I'd have to take the escalator. So I did, only to find little shops, no theater. I went back down to the first floor and asked someone who had very little English where the right theater was and he said it was on the fifth floor. I rode the elevator up, bought some popcorn and Coke, and couldn't find the screening room, just seats, a concession stand, and a clothing store. I asked the concession attendant where to go and she told me the ninth floor. I went up the stairs to nine and found a lot of people sitting in the lobby watching trailers on a monitor, in front of two doors marked "1" and "2". The doors to "2" opened and I went in, caught the end credits of something, and the attendant looked at my ticket and said "up". I went back out to the lobby (in front of all those people staring at the crazy American) and saw stairs up to the second floor of the ninth floor. (Yeah, doesn't make a lot of sense to me, either.)

But my point, and I do have one (to quote Ellen deGeneres) has to do with the movie. It's certainly no classic; it's not hilarious and it is a fairly predictable romantic comedy. (It's not as much like Liar Liar as the commercials make it seem.) But I genuinely enjoyed it, I developed a healthy crush on Zooey Deschanel, and it really spoke to me. I've said "no" so many times to different things, scary things, exciting things, everything. I remember repeatedly turning down a chance to go to the lake with friends of the family when I was eight or so; I told my mom, "I'm shy.") Shy of life.

In the movie, Carrey goes to a seminar and decides to say "yes" to every single opportunity he's presented with: do a bungee jump, learn Korean, take flying lessons, fall in love.

I said yes to being here, dangling off the edge of Asia. This is the most amazing reversal of form in my life.

I said yes to free tickets to a drum concert by a famous Korean percussion group and four of us teachers are going tonight (assuming we can figure out where the theater is).

I said "yes" to adopting the cats. (They're fine, by the way.)

Luke and I had considered going out for a drink when I got out of the movie, but I'd said probably not, don't wanna spend the money. After the movie, I had to say yes, and we had a good time, though 24,000 Won for a bottle of Australian blueberry-vodka mixer and a big plate of fries seemed a bit steep. (I guess they charged me for the full appetizer, even then I told them to hold the squid. [I am not kidding.])

I said yes to hiking up Palgongsan (repeatedly) and yes to coaching Anna in running a 5K and yes to the Christmas buffet, hoping to meet a lot of strangers. I didn't meet any, but it was worth it.

Oh, and no to doing the Sky Jump off Woobang Tower.

yes I said yes I will Yes. Mostly.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

God bless us, every one

My Christmas in Korea started off with two strikes against me. Three, really, but that messes up my metaphor. (My alliteration is magnificent, however.) About 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, my heating oil ran out. As it was (and is) below freezing, this is not so good. But people were still at the school, and I called, and they called, and the tank was filled again within a half hour. Then my electric heater, which sits two feet from the computer when I'm at the computer and two feet from the bed when I'm in bed, died. Then this morning, stumbling around fresh out of bed, I hit the coffee carafe on the cabinet and smashed it.

(The day before, the mother of a girl we'd helped with her college prep and the admission process-- my contribution was to edit [well, practically rewrite] her essays- was so happy that her daughter was accepted at both Caltech and Penn that she dropped by with a big thank-you gift to the school, and Heeduk gave me 300,000 Won from it. That's about 210 bucks and it paid for the heating oil.)

I'd planned to go with friends to see "Australia" at the IMAX downtown, then to Hami Mami's for the big Christmas buffet, but Heeduk emailed me on Christmas morning, asking me to come to work for three hours, for which he'd pay me 100,000 Won. I didn't want to, but I had a heater and a carafe to buy, so I made my apologies about missing the movie and went. (It turned out that I ended up watching kids take the SAT practice test for half the time, so in a fit of temporary Yuletide insanity, I told Heeduk he might just as well just pay me half. He took me up on it, which frankly surprised me a bit. In retrospect, that's really only about twelve bucks an hour, which isn't enough for going in at the last minute on Christmas. Ah, well, maybe he'll think well of me... or maybe he's going "Sucker!")

The buffet (with my friends Raymond, Luke, and Sandi) was terribly disappointing for awhile; it was poorly run and chaotic, they'd run out of turkey and were an hour late getting more shipped in from the other Hami Mami's near Camp Walker: it was a huge, tense mess. The only good thing was hearing so much English spoken; I may have seen more Americans there than I have cumulatively seen in nearly four months here.

Finally, though, the new turkeys were brought in from the bullpen, I saw them being carried in and told my friends and they didn't have to wait in the line that snaked all the way up the stairs, I had some coffee and dessert, and I felt much more mellow. (Oh! And last night I was sad that there are no Christmas cookies-- pine trees, angels, bells-- in Korea, and today one of the Korean teachers, not knowing of my feelings, brought some in that she had made! But I digress. And digest.)

When we went back to the dorm just past dark, Sandi insisted on lending me some cd's to transfer to MP3 and some books, I found the excellent little lending library the teachers had set up at the dorm, and I began to feel a lot better. The cold, cold air felt so good that I didn't put on my gloves or hat, and then, walking to the bus stop, I came upon the Bell Park and its decorations: rows of trees wound about with white lights, with hundreds of cobalt blue lights hanging like a canopy between them, making a kind of lovely bower; reindeer made of white lights; Santa's sleigh, highlighted with lights, with young couples and families lined up to take pictures of themselves sitting on the sleigh. And then I offered to take a young couple's picture with their camera. And the air was cold and crisp and clear and fresh. And a star (Venus, actually) hung in the East.

And then it was Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Peace on Earth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This post is rated XX

In the last 90 years, only one young son of a President has lived in the White House: JFK, Jr. Since then, we've had ten First Daughters in a row: Lynda Bird and Luci Baines Johnson, Tricia and Julie Nixon, Amy Carter, Chelsea Clinton, Barbara and Jenna Bush, and Sasha and Malia Obama.

I guess adopting Tug and Tiki eliminates me from the 2012 race, then...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Song Watermelon

In two weeks on Facebook, I've accumulated 78 "friends", most of whom are ex-students of mine who asked me to add them. (A select few of them are actually friends, including former students, to whom I gave the blog address.) (Hi, guys!)

Somebody local sent a friend request: a girl named "Song Watermelon". It may be her real family name, but I don't think "Watermelon" is common here. She sent a message: "i dont care that meet old people."

Thanks, Melon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fighting the blahs (blah blah blah)

It's the Sunday night before Christmas and I'm battling the blahs, the blues, and the bleeeeughs. Nothing big; it's just that the newness has worn off. Funny: six months ago, Korea seemed so exotic, such a huge adventure, and now it's just where I live. It doesn't seem a whole lot more exotic that a drive to Wal-Mart back home.

I realize that the corollary is that the blog hasn't been too fascinating lately. Maybe I need to break my face again...

It's okay; it's just life. The weather's turned cold and nasty and I work six days a week, so I'm stuck inside most of the time. Also, today is officially my last anniversary as a married man, and it's almost Christmas and I don't even have a chimney. Ray's gone to Seoul for Christmas with his son's family and Anna's tied up with her mom and sister. Anybody know "The Only Living Boy in New York" by Simon and Garfunkel?

Today was actually pretty nice. I met Kristen and James, the new teachers (a young couple who met at McGill U) and we had a nice lunch at Italy and Italy and I showed them around downtown, just as Ray did for me on my first weekend here. It's nice to pay it forward, as they say.

I've had the cats for four weeks and Tiki let me pick him up for the first time yesterday. You probably have guessed he's named after my favorite football player... I just discovered he's got a chinstrap! He has a thin orange line right across the white under his chin. Tug wants up in my lap a lot while I'm at the computer, which is really nice, except he pushes my hands with his head while I type and he gave me a little love nip on my throat today. Don't like that so much. (And the expression is vampire BAT, not vampire CAT.)

I'm actually doing fine; my lows are higher than my every day used to be. And today's the solstice, too, the day with the most darkness. There will be a little more light every day from now on.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Get thee behind me, uh... me

Forgot to blog this: several weeks ago, I was in my running gear, doing a warmup walk, when a middle-aged Korean lady, walking in the opposite direction, came abreast of me, immediately knelt on the sidewalk, made the sign of the cross five times, and got up and walked on. I have no idea what that was about.

Maybe she's a friend of Sister Suzan at St. Joe...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tiki time!

Big deal chez moi today... I've had the cats for three weeks, and Tug is usually affectionate. Sometimes if I approach him and he's near the couch, he oozes under it, but usually he likes being petted and picked up. Tiki, though, has been much shyer. It's been really frustrating to have him with one paw out for a handout and the other flipping me the bird. (It's a metaphor, kids; a cat doesn't even have a middle finger.)

But Tiki let me pet him today! This is a big deal; just like Mary Richards, we're gonna make it after all.

(Yeah, pretty weak blog entry, but nice double tie-in with the picture, don't you think?)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Come Saturday morning

It's 10:20 on Saturday morning, and I'm slumped like a zombie on Prozac in front of the computer, desperately sucking down coffee and trying to revive enough to do something more useful than cruising Facebook. (Not to knock it, though; I keep finding friends and remembering that life is a web of relationships, not a few tenuous strands to just a few people.) That would be more poetic if I were awake. Still, a simile and a metaphor in the first paragraph: not bad.

I end up going to bed around 2 every night, even though I'm not drinking. So no hangover; there's that, at least. I did find the Daegu Friendship Club on Facebook, so maybe I'll meet some more Anglos locally. Also, I got a link to a blog by one of my former students, which is very nearly as delightful as mine (j/k, omg, lmao!) -- (btw, I HATE it when people use Internet initialisms in practically every sentence, and I don't believe you're l'ing your a off; you're probably barely smiling. And it's spelled "heeheehee", morons!)

Grumpy, much? I need more coffee. brb.

I've constructed quite a series of lifelines; I don't know another English speaker within a mile of my apartment, and I could get lonely, but I have Skype and Facebook and Windows Messenger and the Web, and I'm doing fine. The furboys might as well not exist till noon or so; they sleep silently under the couch, and if I didn't have a catbox to clean, I'd forget they were here. But all these communications apps help me remember that I'm only alone in a geographical sense.

I did have some good news this morning; Heeduk contacted me via Messenger to say that two students with whom I worked (for hours) on their college application essays have been accepted, Dohoon to Seoul University, one of the world's elite schools in genetics (his specialty), and Jungmin to both Caltech and Penn! I had very little to do with their success, but Heeduk's impressed. And he's bringing cake today!

And now I'm relatively cheerful, so I'll stop writing and get a life. lol!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Antic furniture and instant noodies

A couple of months ago, I posted about the mangled and nonsensical English that abounds in Korea, which I call Eanglish. Oftentimes it's on store signs and such, but more often you find it on t-shirts. Everybody wears clothing with English (more or less) on it. (I'm literally the only person I've ever seen here with a t-shirt in Korean writing: letters spelling "Ee-tay-ka"- Ithaca- which was a present from a good friend from Eetayka. What's funny is that the Americans can't read it and the Koreans don't know what it means.)

Anyway, submitted for your approval:

Online, I found a t-shirt that (in Korean) says "Do you know what your t-shirt says?"

A little shop near the school advertises vintage clothing and "antic furniture". That's false advertising; the furniture doesn't even move.

The luxurious Dong-A department store's grocery section has an aisle marked CANNES GOODS, but there's no film festival memorabilia. And, sadly, the INSTANT NOODIES turn out to just be ramen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Please don't tell your friends

If you enjoy my blog, please do the opposite of what everybody else on earth tells you to do if you like their stuff: don't tell your friends! My friends here haven't volunteered to appear on the 'net and the only way it's okay, as far as I'm concerned, is if this blog is basically a blanket email to my friends, not a general post to the world.
Throwing some stuff against the wall:

At the urging of my friend Ray L. (big, friendly, warm, Christian, Hispanic guy- he will hereafter in this blog be called Ray, as opposed to Ray C., the small, older, progressive guy just transferred to the Manchon school to work with us and who will be called Raymond- got it?), I joined Facebook today. I quickly got in touch with a bunch of friends (16 in the first four hours). I'm tired of living my whole life locking myself in my room and wondering where everybody is. I'm coming out (not like that) to build and rebuild as many friendships as I can.

(If you're already on Facebook, find me!)

I strongly recommend Facebook, btw. And Skype. Also Krispy Kremes. But I digress.

The school has set up tickets for a concert by a famous Korean drum ensemble for a few days after Christmas. So if you want to Skype me, do it soon, while I can still hear.

Most Koreans take no notice of me as a foreigner, even though I live way to the east of downtown and all the other teachers and I rarely see other Westerners. But one day last week, a guy across the street from the bus stop saw me and shouted, "Hello! Show me the money!" And the little kids love to go, "Hello! Hello!"

I walked past a little family restaurant last week and saw two teenage girls working at the counter. No customers were ordering, but some were eating nearby. One of girls was leaning over the sink for dishes and vigorously brushing her teeth. (She was foaming like a cartoon mad dog.) Dunno what to say about that.

They have second- and third-floor shops downtown with neon "DVD" signs out front that I'd assumed were sales and rental places, but they're actually something new and clever: private theaters. You go up, rent one of a video-store-quality selection of movies, and get a private room, with couches and chairs and a giant screen tv to watch it on. I'm looking forward to it, as there's only been one movie I wanted to see since I got here (Quantum of Soulless) and I wished afterward I hadn't seen it.

Ray and I went to a little restaurant downtown called Italy and Italy. It was really nice; the seats are little two-person comfy couches, you pick your own pasta or pizza by checking off items on a slip, and the food is really good. It's also only a block from Hami Mami's, so all of the four food groups (pizza, pasta, French toast, and coffee) are right there.

Speaking of restaurants, on Friday night the school hosted a staff get-together at a little traditional Korean restaurant nearby. You take off your shoes at the door, pretend you're twenty years younger and hunker down on a pillow and stick your legs under Pippin Took's table, and watch as the staff brings fifteen tiny bowls of various mostly unidentifiable stuff to be shared and rice and soup for each individual. Then they heat up the grill on your table, wipe it down with fat, and throw pig (sort of in between ham and bacon, I guess) and onions and such on it. It was nice, aside from the pig smoke in my face.

I also had my first-ever shot of whiskey. (Yeah, I know. But I'm a beer and wine-- but not mixed together-- guy.) It was good. George brought his friends Johnny, Jack, and Jim with him (family names Walker, Daniel, and Beam), and I said hi to Johnny. Evidently George spent a long evening with all three friends; at work on Saturday he looked like he'd been dragged behind Ben Hur's chariot. If he had a cat, on Saturday morning he'd have been muttering for it to stop stomping around.

Which reminds me: Tug is turning into a furry purry housecat. (Dang, I wish he had learned to play; I could call him a furry purry flurry.) Last evening he jumped into my lap for the first time, gave my hand one of those little love nips (I hate that!) and licked my chin. I may train him to be more thorough with that so I can save on razor cartridges. Tiki is still super shy, but he has come out from under the couch a few times when I'm at the computer. Of course, if I sigh or shift my weight he's under the couch again in a nanosecond, but it's a start.

In conclusion, the Koreans and I don't see eye to eye on the whole bathroom thing. I can deal with the lack of euphemisms: they don't have restrooms, bathrooms, comfort stations, water closets, or loos; the signs all say "toilet". Fine. But.

In a lot of public bathrooms, the doors are open, or the urinals are in clear view of people passing by if anyone should open the door at an inopportune moment.

Many bathrooms have a bar of soap and a hand towel by the sink.

Some toilets make you buy toilet paper from a dispenser.

The cleaning ladies will walk in at any moment, without knocking, and start work, no matter who's in there or what his current activity.

Some of the older facilities offer you a kind of porcelain trough to crouch over. No railing, even. When I was ten, I wanted to be the Mets' first baseman. At twenty, I wanted to be J.R.R. Tolkien. Now my life's ambition is to never ever ever use one of those things, however long I'm in Korea. As we get older, we adjust our goals.

I choose my facilities by a process of elimination.

Sorry about that line; couldn't help it.
(If Larry King can make up a whole newspaper column of nothing but unconnected, irrelevant little snippets, I can blog the same way. I'd like to live to be 150, too.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanksgiving's the picture from our 78-course Thanksgiving dinner at the Novotel:
Luke (Manchon LIKE), Sandi (Samduk LIKE), Cliff (S), Me (M), Alex (S), Anna (M), Robert (S), Ray C. (S), Ray L. (M).

It was a good day.

(Hey, I just figured out that if you click on a picture in the blog, you see an enlargement. It might be worth your time... some of us rarely get out pictures taken without a complementary profile shot and a little black sign held under our chins...)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cats, calves, and Christmas

(At least the cats emerge once in awhile; the tree never comes up from the subway.)

The preponderance of my nerves has officially been wracked by the cats. It's been ten days now, and I've been mulling over my options, as the boys were clearly not settling in and their yowling and crying was driving me crazier and waking me at night. Tiki (the orange guy) is still so scared that he almost never comes out from under the couch unless I'm gone or asleep. Tug is less shy and has let me pick him up, but never purred or seemed affectionate and spent a lot of time with his brother subdavenportally.

The mullables were fourfold: keep the cats and tough it out, trade Tiki for the boys' other brother, as suggested by the cat ladies, return Tiki and keep Tug, or return them both. (A reminder: back on the streets is a bad, bad place for cats in Korea.)

But then Tuesday night we had a bit of a breakthrough: I had found some Jinny brand cat treats from Thailand ("Great Taste for Great Happiness!") at Home Plus; I held Tug on my lap and scattered the treats on the computer desk and he went nuts for them. When I put him down he kept jumping up on the desk and walking across my keyboard (completely ignoring the mouse!) to look for more. Then he purred, loudly and beautifully, and kept leaning his head back into my hand and closing his eyes in bliss. Also, eventually Tiki came out from under and within a foot of where I sat on the floor to get his Jinny fix. (Tug's also a furry little stoner; I found catnip, too.)

So I'm keeping them. We'll work it out.

Meanwhile, I've enthusiastically taken up running again, now that I've found a good venue. For the last couple of days, my calves have been so tight I walk like Grandpa Amos (ask your own grandpa for an explanation of the analogy, kids), but still it feels good. My new bestest possession, an iPod Shuffle, goes with me, and Pink and David Bowie and Bon Jovi really do make the miles (or in my case, the yards) fly by.

On Saturday, running down by the river, I inadvertently became a scofflaw on my second continent, as I ran across the wood-planked footbridge over the river only to find a booth with a collector at the other end; the guy was holding his hand out and saying something gruffly, but, not having any money on me, I had to ignore him, choose to be deafened by the iPod, and just keep running. Can't hear ya, Mac: they're paving Paradise and putting up a parking lot. (They are, too, in Daegu, every minute of every day.)

I also stumbled upon the end of a marathon; at least I think it was a marathon, as the electronic clock was reading two hours, thirty-nine minutes; it may have been a 10K for people as fast as I.

It's getting Yulesque here; it reminds me of the Christmases of my childhood (Yules of Yore?), when the retail festivities were more restrained, before Wal-Mart started putting up the plastic trees as they took down the Valentine's Day stuff. There are decorations in the underground shopping areas and the department stores, and displays of artificial trees and their trimmings for sale in all the stores. The school has put up an artificial tree with dozens of little slips for the students to hang on it for the teachers. Unfortunately, they all write their greetings in Korean, but I'm hoping they're saying something nice.

Puss on Earth, everyone.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yes, it's like this

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

-William Butler Yeats came over me today, searching for deodorant in the tiny dark shops (separated by shoulder-width aisles) peddling Williams Lectric-Shave and Aqua Velva in the black-market alleyways, as the neon and Christmas tree lights of downtown came on and the air grew chilly, that I could say something I haven't said enough in my life: I'm happy.

More and more often, over a cup of coffee and a book at Hami Mami's, or running in the little park on the hill above the swan boats, or waiting for the 508 bus with the sun in my eyes and the wind in my face... I get a moment of grace, and I am blessed and can bless.