Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tiki Tiki boom boom

(Tug says, "As a matter of fact, I am the boss of you.")

The three cat women (not Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Merriwether) finally came yesterday to visit their erstwhile charges, and as expected, since I haven't had any guests since I got the boys, Tiki (the scaredy cat) freaked. He went ripping madly around like a furry pinball, running along the walls like an atom in a cyclotron, ripping down the plastic sheeting at eye level (my eye level, not his) on my window, caroming off the stovetop and ensconcing himself behind the microwave on top of the fridge. It was very much like my favorite scene in Tom Sawyer, in which Tom feeds a spoonful of his medicine to the cat, which goes ripping around like... well, like Tiki... and sails, yowling triumphantly, out the window.

Once I extricated the Teekster, he was okay. He allowed himself to be petted without struggle, though he did hide his head in the crook of the lady's elbow, muttering "I'm not here. I'm not here." Tug, of course, was considerably cooler. I had wondered what the ladies and I could possibly talk about, especially as only one of the three speaks English, but they stayed an hour and mostly the head cat lady just kept nuzzling Tiki and murmuring, "Koya, koya" (kitty, kitty). They connected the dotes and decided that Tiki and Tugeu (as they call him) have a good life with me.


I've gotten a reputation among the LIKE teachers as the social director. (Yeah, I know; I'm about as social as Ted Katcynski.) In not quite five months, I've arranged for some people to watch the election returns at my apartment and I passed on email about the Christmas buffet. Be that as it may, I did send out invites for dinner downtown last evening, not knowing if we'd end up with two people or ten. Turns out Ray, Joanna (new girl at the Samduk school) and I went out for coffee, bought movie tickets for Yes Man (yeah, I saw it already; shut up), bumped into Kristen (newish teacher at Manchon), had pizza together, and went to the movies, three of us to Yes Man and Kristen to Twilight. Then Ray and Joanna went back to the dorm, I went to Kyobo books and bumped into both Kristen (again) and a guy from Sayre, Pennsylvania, right near Ithaca, who saw my "Ithaca is Gorges" sweatshirt... and I found the British paperback of the last Harry Potter book. For me, all this is a dizzying social whirl. Social director, my flat... never mind.


I guess enough time has gone by for me to not be too embarrassed to tell you something totally insane I did on my first night here. George and Glory had picked me up at the airport, brought me to the apartment, driven me on dark, winding streets to E-Mart (where there was a crazy Korean pushing a shopping cart every foot and a half and an army of employees screaming "Come buy my battered octopus or I'll kill you" in Korean) and bought me an odd assortment of stuff... soy milk but no cereal, bread but no butter, and so on. Then they dropped me back at the apartment and left. So.

Here I was, pacing alone in this strange apartment at 11 p.m. (10 a.m. on my body clock), having, in the previous two days, driven from St. Augustine to Atlanta (for my work visa) and back, gotten back home at 10 p.m., gone to bed at midnight, gotten up at 4 a.m. to make my flight in Jax, and made a 26-hour trip. I was half past exhausted and wired like a terrier on speed, and had the brilliant idea to walk back to E-Mart and complement my compliment of food. I thought I kinda sorta knew the way back there. (This was a spectacularly stupid decision, as I can't find the bathroom in a new place without a GPS.)

I walked a block, saw a cab, made the split-second decision to take it, and madly tried to scribble down "Go three blocks, turn past the school..." I bought some more stuff, realized that I couldn't get another cab back because I had no address to give the cabbie, and guessed my way back. I walked for 15 minutes along my best guess of a route, turned down a hilly street I thought might just be the right one (it wasn't), and turned back and walked most of the way back to E-Mart to try again. All this was while I was simultaneously half asleep and fully wired, of course. This time, miraculously, I found the apartment, a bit past midnight. (The first time, I had turned around one block too soon.) Well, actually I found my neighbor's gate, which looks just like mine, but I made it. What in the name of Syngman Rhee would I have done if I hadn't found the place? Wandered the streets all night? Checked into a hotel and called George in the morning? The mind boggles.

I toppled twitching into bed at 1 a.m., woke up at 4 a.m., fresh as a dead daisy, hung over with jet lag and exhaustipation, and went to work for the first time and got my photo taken, looking like Eeyore on a bad day. (This is the photo that hangs in the school lobby now, of course.)

And now you know.


Luke and I have had two Saturday-morning Korean lessons so far. They've gone pretty well, as I already knew 95 percent of what we've covered (vowels one week, consonants the next). I have learned to say "Seu-tee-beu yay-yo." (My name is Steve.)

The coming weekend is the biggest holiday on the Korean calendar, Lunar New Year. We have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off work, though Heeduk's asked me to come in for a little while on Saturday. The regular Korean class won't be held, though I'm attending their special cultural class, where we'll learn Korean drumming. I've seen the sheet music; it reads "BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM". The teacher says we'll be learning "drumming like Nanta".

Nanta is astonishing. Between Christmas and New Year, the school gave Ray, Luke, and me tickets to Nanta's show at the Daegu Opera House. It's a huge Korean tradition, mixing slapstick, juggling, magic, more slapstick, and drums drums drums. And kitchen knives kitchen knives kitchen knives. And a lot of flying vegetables. We had fantastic tickets, third row center, so close I was scared they'd pluck me from the audience for their mock Korean wedding. It was a pretty astounding show. They have five troupes at all times, playing all over East Asia, and I found out later I'd heard of it before; it was a hit off-Broadway under the name "Cookin'".

So after next Saturday, when I'm all trained, come see me in New York, okay?


Finally, finally, after ten days of a cold and two weeks of the flu, I think I'm all better today. I'll be testing my energy level soon, as the 37-year GWB presidency will end in 37 hours (as I write this), and I wouldn't miss the inauguration for the world. I'll be up till maybe 3 a.m. Wednesday to watch it, and it will be worth every minute. I'll probably be pretty wired at 3 a.m. Sadly, E-Mart closes at midnight, so I'll be on my own.

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