Monday, August 31, 2009

Ancora imparo

It was one year ago this evening that I arrived in Korea. At this hour, actually, I was about to board the plane from Incheon to Daegu. Now here I am on what would have been my final night teaching the euthanasia... sorry... youth in Asia... and, were I most people, I'd be boarding a plane back to the States in a day or two.

Well, I'm not most people, though if I don't lose some weight I could be a couple of people. Today was our first day with students at St. Paul Prep and I still need to put the finishing touches on tomorrow's opening lessons. This job is so far above the LIKE job that it's a different kettle of tofu entirely, and I'm excited. September 1 as a starting date is good enough for Hogwart's, and it's good enough for me.

What have I done in a year? I've walked perhaps a thousand miles, taught a lot of kids the difference between crab soup and crap soup, seen an international track meet and a dozen ballgames, visited the most sacred Buddhist temple in the southeastern part of the country many times and the most famous beach in Korea once, loved two cats and lost one.

I've learned to trust myself, miss my friends, and release a lot of the anger, worry, and attachments that have always been my personal albatrosses. I know I'm a better person than I was when I took off from JAX a year and a day ago; I know I'm not where I need to be yet, as I badly let down someone I've come to care for. Life goes on, and, as Michelangelo said when he was thirty years older than I am now, "Ancara imparo": I am still learning.

The F word

East Asians have a superstition about the number four. (In Chinese, the words for "four" and "death" are homophones.) You can reach the various floors of St. Paul Preparatory Academy by pressing the elevator buttons 2, 3, and F.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Smoke on the what now?

(above: Seoul Olympic Stadium, next to the Jamsil Baseball Stadium)

The weekend's just about to end, but I've made sure it's a busy one. During the week I confined myself to the school, the apartment, and the stores in the neighborhood, but in the last 52 hours I've made up for it.

On Friday after work (the last day of prep before the little darlings arrive tomorrow morning), ten of our twelve teachers went out to dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant near the school. It was a good time, though there wasn't too much I could eat; I filled up on scrambled egg rolls. That's scrambled eggs rolled up into cylinders, not egg rolls that have been scrambled.

Afterward, most of us went out for too many beers. Tony said that the Beer Factory right nearby was expensive, so we took the bus to Yangjae Station and drank there. If I get a vote next time, I'm not taking two bus rides, one of them packed gluteus to humerus, wasting a half hour, and spending two bucks per person for the privilege, to save a buck on a pitcher of beer. Still, faculty bonding is a good thing. As the country song says, "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."

After spending some time at school Saturday, I set off on foot for the bookstore at Kyobo Tower in Gangnam, an upscale shopping area allegedly within long walking distance, but without a good map I ended up walking to Yongjae again and catching the subways to the ballgame. Jamsil Stadium is next to the 1988 Olympic Stadium, was the baseball venue in '88, and makes the ballpark in Daegu look like a shack with a AMC Gremlin up on blocks in the front yard. This is a major-league park; the Lions' is AA, maybe.

The seats were sold out, but as it's the last weekend of the season, I paid a scalper. The visitors were the first-place Kia Tigers, and they brought a lot of people with them; probably only 35 to 40 percent of the crowd was rooting for Our Beloved Doosan Bears. You may recall a post I made not long ago about how Koreans have no sense of others' space; this was more than confirmed as the young guy on my left was continually sticking his Thunder Stick in my face. (Wait... that sounds bad.) Anyway, he like 29,000 of the 30,000 in attendance, was bashing those inflated plastic tubes together, which in his case involved waving one of them in front of my eyes at all times.

After a couple of innings, I moved down to the seat in front of me, in the front row down by the foul pole, and things went much better, even better when I left in the sixth inning with OBDB being mauled and their pickanick baskets stolen by those mean Tigers. I'm not such a fan as to want to catch the subway with 20,000 other people.

On the way back, I got off the subway in Gangnam, but I couldn't tell where the Kyobo Tower was at night, so I came home. Just to top the day off, though, I decided that I needed an office chair, which I did, as I spend too much time at this here computer to sit in a flimsy uncomfortable kitchen chair. So I went to Costco and then spent an interminable time stumbling, sweating, swaying, and saying "frickin' ratzfrazamazz" as I horsed the enormous, heavy, cumbersome box o' chair home. I nearly died when I found out I'd walked two blocks along a dead end and had to go back up. You would have laughed had you seen it, "Ha ha," you would have said. Thank goodness, right after that I found a shopping cart someone had left out on the street; that saved me a few blocks of living death. My arms are still sore, though.

Today, it was back to school for final prep, then I went to the most notorious foreigners' hangout between Tokyo and Baghdad, Itaewon.

And here's what I alluded to in the post I made earlier today: the downside of living where I do is that it's a huge undertaking to go anywhere. To get to Itaewon, which is, I would guess, five miles away as the dragon flies, I had to:

Walk to the bus and wait for it: 10 minutes
Take the bus to Yangjae Station: 10 minutes
Walk down into the subway and wait for the train: 10 minutes
Take the Line Two train nine stops to Yaksu: 20 minutes (Over the river was nice.)
Walk to the other subway line and wait for the train: 10 minutes
Take the Line Six train three stops to Itaewon: 10 minutes
Fight the crowds up the stairs to ground level: 5 minutes the subway here is pretty grungy, compared to Daegu's, which is quite new; it's kind of like New York's compared to D.C.'s or Montreal's. (Apparently, it's a similar ordeal, where I live, to go anywhere and see anything. It was to get to the stadium, and the nearest subway stop will always be a forty-minute walk away.)

So... one of my new friends had suggested I not go to Itaewon alone at night, and I can see why; it's frequented by US soldiers, who are resented by the locals due to their... umm... extracurricular activities. The neighborhood is packed cheek-by-jowl with hundreds of little businesses: dive bars, restaurants, vendors with booths selling all kinds of bangles, baseball caps, and something or other else that starts with "b", tiny shops selling hip-hop clothing, Middle Eastern groceries, made-to-order-shirt stores... and people from all over the world, ten times as many nationalities in five minutes as I've seen in a year: Africans, Turks, Pakistanis, Americans, Chinese. I think I may have even heard a smattering of Canadian. And...

...I found my goal, What the Book. What the Book delivers books anywhere in Korea with no delivery charge, mostly ordered from the States and then sent on, but they have one physical location, and I found it. It's in a basement, with a few hundred new titles and, they claim, 18,000 used books... all. in. English. Unless you're in Korea, you can have no idea what heaven it was to be surrounded by English speakers and English language books! Oh, it was wonderful, like a mini vacation. It felt so very good. I bought Mad Libs for class use, Lonely Planet Seoul, a book on Korean culture and etiquette, and Stephen King's book on writing, On Writing (ol' Steve is a font of creativity.) But mostly it was just so good to be there, so much so that it was worth the trip.

But it would be nice to be able to just go places without needing provisions, a compass, iron rations, and a Sherpa.

...and now it's bedtime, then showtime, and I start earning my money.

(Yes, this is 20,000 Kia Tigers fans singing the guitar lead-in to Smoke on the Water. I told you before: everybody here crazy.)

Boys in the 'hood

(above: my classroom; below: a restroom door at school; think you'd see this logo at a high school in the States?)

Tug and I have been on the edge of Seoul (the school's in the city but the apartment's not) for six days now, and it's a best of times, not-so-best of times situation. The neighborhood is great, but it's a major, major endeavor to go anywhere to say, buy a book, see a movie, or see any sights.

I'll talk about the drawbacks in my next post; for now, here's the good stuff, which on a day-to-day basis far outweighs the bad. Though my apartment's quite small, now that things are tucked away, if they get me that wardrobe they've been promising (I'm still living out of suitcases) it will be pretty homey. Tug's starting to settle in: he's beginning to sleep somewhere other than under the bed; in fact, I woke up this morning with him curled up next to me, for the first time ever.

I have a window over my bed and a sliding door to a tiny balcony, both of them facing west, over a nice little park with basketball and tennis courts, a flower walk, and a lot of lively little kids on bikes and skates. It gets quiet by 10 p.m. or so, though.

Past the park? Mountains at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock. (No, they're there all the time; I mean that as geographical orientation.)

A few blocks to my left is LG's research-and-development campus, with a 30-story building that faces my street, so it's easy to orient myself from anywhere in the area. Costco, E-Mart, and an upscale collection of shops in two ten-story buildings are near there, about six blocks from home.

On this misty, moisty Sunday morning I just discovered something wonderful: a few blocks to my right is a path that runs for miles along a stream, with banks of wild vegetation on either side topped in many spots by rows of greenhouses. I saw a great blue heron and two egrets this morning. (So much for the old song lyric, "But when it's raining, have no egrets.") Most of the path is rubberized material, so it's one of the best places for running (which I did, in a cool gentle rain) I've seen. It leads into Citizen's Forest Park, which is full of trees, grass, and winding trails, near my school.

Speaking of the school, it's a three-minute walk from my apartment to the main street, and another three minutes to school. I get an hour for lunch each day and will be able to come home to eat if I want.

The school itself practically looks like something from Star Trek: Next Gen. The faculty signs in and out with security cards, the students with a thumb scanner, and all the facilities are spanking-new, which may be unfortunate, as we are one of the few schools in the country that doesn't use corporal punishment.

I got the room I wanted, at the end of the hallway, a kind of trapezoid with windows on the south and east-northeast. (I'm not sure, though; it could be somewhere between east-northeast and east-east-northeast; it's hard to say.)

Orientation for the kids is tomorrow; then come the regular school days, which on the face of it will be enjoyable and have a very easy schedule. I've never done a block schedule before, so I may have to work at filling 90 minutes, but get this: On "A" days I have English 7, English 9, 90 minutes of planning time (150 minutes, really, as it segues with lunch), and American lit honors. On "B" days, I have 90 minutes' planning, Creative Writing, 90 (150) minutes' planning, and an alternating schedule of clubs (in my case, newspaper), study hall, and an informal speech class, which I'm syllabizing (syllabusizing?) for the whole school.

Best of all, we're taking a three-day school trip to Jeju Island, which is known as Korea's Hawaii, at the end of September, as long as fears over H1N1, which have already caused some schools to close for a few days, don't make the administration cancel it. I like my coworkers, too, which is a big thing, of course. So all in all, it's a pretty darn good situation.

(below: the view from my balcony; not what you anticipate when you hear the phrase "second-most populous metro area in the world")

(The management of SJCintheROK is Seoully responsible for its content.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Here be photos

I've been in Seoul for three days, and very interesting days at that. I know I should be blogging, but it's 10 p.m. and one thing I haven't been doing enough of is sleeping, so, in the words of the bard, "Screw it." Here are some photos, though. First is the faculty work room at St. Paul Preparatory Academy, my new employer; everybody's prepping for classes next week, except me; I'm annoying everybody who's prepping.
This is in the reception area.

This is the front desk.

My apartment is on the second floor, right; the balcony overlooks a park and it's great, though it's so narrow I can only face my kitchen chair parallel to the front of the building.
I have Internet and cable now, the stove works, and the hot water; this morning I had the best hot shower in 14 years. (I don't count the health club, as I disqualify any showers involving the presence of naked men other than myself.)
...aaaaaand, I'm tired. Good night. I'll write a lot more soon; for now, just know that I feel as if I've hit the jackpot. Two blocks from my apartment is LG's research and development campus, and as the big sign on the 30-story building reminds me, Life's Good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm a Seoul man

...yeah, endless stupid puns are available on the name of this city. Actually, it really isn't "soul"; that's a Westernism. It's "saw-ool". But what fun is that?

This will be quick, sort of a placeholder, till I'm awake, have more to say, and have the Internet at the apartment.

The trip would have been fine, three hours door to door through endless forested mountains on a beautiful day, but the middle-aged Korean driver of the van was plotting the whole way to throw both Tug and me out the door at full speed because Tug wouldn't stop yowling. You have no idea what "nervewracking" means till you've had a three-hour ride with a crying cat and a homicidally upset driver who doesn't speak English, and most Koreans hate cats already. I expect Tug to yowl some more overnight.

The school is ultramodern, brand new except for the just past summer school. It's on three floors, albeit with a small space on each. My classroom has a big flat-screen tv hooked to the computer. I also have a computer workstation in the faculty room... no more lugging my laptop back and forth every day! And the classes, my goodness gracious gosh: English 7, composition, American lit honors, speech... and (yes!) creative writing! Too bad I have to build them all from scratch in the next six days.

Apartment is TINY. It might do when I get organized, but it's half or less the size of the one I woke up in today. It would also be nice if they had remembered to give me a closet, for Buddha's sake... supposedly I'll be given some kind of wardrobe tomorrow. I also have no furniture but the bed, two kitchen chairs, and one tiny table. I feel horribly cut off with no Internet and no television... yet. (I'm typing this in a coffee shop; I should be sleeping or screaming at Tug to shut up that yowling.)

It's a ten-minute or less walk to work and only five blocks to both Costco and E-Mart. I have a teeny balcony facing a nice little park, which has basketball and tennis courts, a paved path, a flower walk, and an outdoor workout setup. It's a very quiet and I would say upscale neighborhood. If I can adjust to the postage-stamp-sized apartment, I'll say I'm in a very good spot.

And now I want to go to bed. I'll talk at you soon.

Well, we're movin' on up...

From the Writers' Group: Cliff, me, Emma, Justin.
The LIKE gang: Molly, me, Luke, Joanna, Jesse.

It's moving day!

My ride is supposedly coming at 10, and I should be in Seoul by 2. Theoretically, of course. I set my alarm for the disgustingly early hour of 6 a.m., which actually is about when I've consistently been getting up anyway. I woke up, however at the surreally disgustingly early hour of 4 on the dot. It's still not light out and I'm sucking down coffee prior to packing the last items and :: gulp:: cleaning and decathairing the apartment.

I've had a busy round of goodbyes: Joelle, who's now in Cambodia, at breakfast on Friday, followed by my last day at school; Raymond at lunch and the whole LIKE gang, nine of us, at dinner on Saturday, people from the Writers' Group for a spirited Eat Poop You Cat game (with a very welcome drop-in goodbye visit from my LIKE friends) on Sunday.

Being a teacher over here is kind of like going to college, compacted into one year: you arrive all wide-eyed and marveling, you make friends, soon you're the grizzled (quite literally, in my case) veteran, and before you know it, it's time to say goodbye. In a month, Joelle will be in Egypt, Cliff in the Phillipines, Emma in New Zealand, Luke in Idaho, and I, more than likely, lost in a subway system whose map looks like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

And now, as W.C. Fields said, "Once in every man's life he has to take the bull by the tail and face the situation." Time to move. Ladies and gentlemen, meet my new employer, St. Paul Preparatory Academy (henceforth known as "SPPA" or "St. Paul").

But first: Daegu, my third home, or fourth, if you count Ann Arbor for my year at the U of M. (Do you?)

I never would have believed 358 days ago that I would look at this huge, sprawling, industrialized, polluted place with fondness. But I do. I'll miss the clean subways, the Samsung Lions, and Donghwasa Temple at Palgonsan. The municipal government has put many millions of dollars (which is quazillions of Won) into beautifying this place with landscaping, parks, and trees by the thousands, all in preparation for their coming-out party, the world track championships in 2011, which they've been promoting since before I got here. They want to turn Daegu (which I had never heard of 400 days ago) into an important world city, Cleveland into Chicago, perhaps.

More important to me, of course, is the experiences I've had and the people I'll miss, whom I won't name here for fear of leaving somebody out... except for Tiki. I have a sense of deepest sadness over my funny, playful, frightened buddy, the only cat I've ever known who would play fetch, nip me on the chin while I tried to sleep... or pop out a screen and jump down 15 feet to run from a stranger. It's not okay and it won't ever be okay that he's lost and suffering or dead. Just typing this, I'm crying (a few strong, manly tears) for the first time since he left. Don't tell anyone.

But now it's time to move on up to the second-most populous metro area in the world, new adventures, new vistas, new opportunities to be bewildered. There's last-minute stuff to be thrown into boxes, counters to wipe down and a floor to sweep, and a Rum Tum Tugger to stuff into a carrier.

Time to make the donuts. Sadly, that's just a metaphor.

See you from Seoul!

Monday, August 17, 2009


("Missing cat. Light orange, altered, very frightened. Please call (053) 754-0584 if you see him. Reward: 100,000 Won.")

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fri Sun Sat the name of a Korean clothing company. It's been an active Fri and Sun and Sat.

(No Tiki; he escaped fifteen days ago and I haven't found any evidence of him whatsoever in the last ten days and nights. I'm still trying; the next-- and last-- step is to put up posters in Korean around the neighborhood. In the meantime, I can't just sit around home all day and fret, so...)

On Friday morning and into the early afternoon, we teachers from the Manchon school judged the big semi-annual debate competition. That's all I have to say about that.

After that, Joanna, Luke, Jesse and I went to lunch (on Heeduk's dime... sorry, Heeduk's 100 Won) and had wonderful pizzas at Papa John's, where the pizza is way better than anywhere else in town or at Papa John's in the States, since (as far as I know) that's all delivery. Joanna, Jesse, and I were going to go to hike Palgongsan... Jesse and I had been trying for three weeks to get there... but they were both exhausted and the day was brutally hot and humid, so we didn't.

Instead, I walked the half hour to the theater in the Chimsam neighborhood to find out when Up would be showing in English (Western movies are always in English with Korean subtitles, except the animated films, which are generally but not always dubbed in Korean; I had already gone there myself to see it only to wait two hours and then find out that that particular show was in Korean.) The posters and displays were still up, but Up was out. That is, it stopped running the day before.

The theater's a couple of blocks from the yagu jang (ballpark), so at least I grabbed a couple of tickets for my friend Cliff and me for today's game.

That evening, my coworkers and I settled for Johnny Depp in Public Enemies, which I didn't much like. I have gotten to enjoy going to movies again, though, as I did in days of yore. (Yore is somewhere in between the Good Old Days and the Dark Ages.)

I was determined to get back to Palgongsan (Mountain) and Donghwasa (Temple) one more time before I left town, so yesterday I went by myself. I finally got smart and wore a t-shirt, changed into a running shirt that lets the sweat wick through for the (arduous) hike, and changed into a fresh t when I was done. I hadn't been there in summer before, and it's like a different world; there's water cascading down the mountain, the birds are out in force, and the lower stretches are packed with wall-to-wall tents... not backpacking tents, either, Quidditch-World-Cup-sized tents, with families sitting out grilling food, and with a brand-new water cascade, which as you can see, was delighting a lot of local kids. (Stay tuned for the "Hello!" at the end.) Daegu has put millions of dollars into beautifying itself in trying to become an international city; this facility is just one example.

The trail up the mountain, however, was pretty quiet. It was a hot day, but not humid, and in the woods on the slope it was actually pretty pleasant. As usual, on the way down I detoured to Donghwasa. I have such mixed feelings about the ideas and presentation of Buddhism; as a philosophy, a lot of it appeals to me a great deal and I rarely take off the bead bracelet I bought on a previous Donghwasa trip, which has become a talisman that keeps me calm and centered. My Protestant soul, however, finds a lot of the iconography unsettling. I have learned a lot, however, and you can put "Buddhist" on my personal list of hyphenate religious influences. On Facebook, I call myself an "eclectic freelance monotheist", and I guess that will do.

When I got back to town, I was exhausted, but didn't have time to go home and rest before I was due to meet Rob, Cassie, and Molly (new or newish teachers) for dinner. So I went and slumped at a coffee shop for an hour and thought about Tiki, Buddha, and as James Taylor wrote, women and glasses of beer. Then we all went out for a nice dinner and then we (okay, I, mostly) showed Molly, who's been here for three days, around.

I worked this morning and this evening I went to the ballgame with Cliff. It was a great time, just about the most exciting game I've ever been to. There were five home runs, an interference call in a rundown that cost a run, a dropped liner in right that cost three runs... the Kia Tigers were up 10-1 in the third inning, only to have the Lions bring it back to 10-8 with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth but fall short. Cliff is good company for a game; he had never been to one in Korea.

...and that was the end of my career as a Samsung Lions fan; a week from right now, I'll be living in Seoul, where there are four teams. I have just been traded to the Doosan Bears.

...but I may be back in Daegu a lot more than I'd expected; Heeduk asked me today if I'd come back and tutor kids and shoot videos during my breaks at the new school, and I said in principal I'd be open to it. Of course, I will have a cat to arrange matters for... or, if I can just get a miracle this week, two.

Come home, Tiki, before it's too late.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not yet

The boys in a happier time.

...still no Tiki. It's 9:30 on a Tuesday night, ten days and twelve hours before I leave Daegu for Seoul. Something's shifted in me about finding Tiki; when I first felt it, I felt terribly guilty, thinking that maybe I had taught myself not to care. But that's not it; I want him back as much as ever. Rather, my desperation seems to be gone. I am going to let him come back rather than trying to force it. I'll go out as much as ever, maybe moreso, as I don't have to work this Saturday. But I'll be open to his return; I won't try to will him to do so, thus transmitting my desperation. Maybe I'll sleep better too.

And so it's time to talk about other things. Let's see...

Heeduk's asked me to continue working the morning shift through my last week at LIKE, which is next week, even though the school as a whole is going off the summer schedule and back to evening hours. I'm actually relieved, as I've benefited from the early hours (except for waking up ludicrously early and worrying about Tiki) and in just one more week I'll be doing the early morning thing at St. Paul Prep.


Chris, who used to work at Manchon and has come back to help in the summer session, and I got into a discussion today about Koreans and their lack of English skills, and Anglos and the converse. His point of view is that we're in Korea, so it's our job to learn servicable Korean (fair enough) and mine is that, since all high school and college-age Koreans have taken English classes for years, they could try to help us out more often if we're having trouble, just as I helped a French tourist family rent a car in St. Augustine despite having gone over 30 years since my last French class.

Chris suggested that to start getting a better feel for the language and culture, I watch Korean family tv shows, which tend to be somewhere between soaps and sitcoms. (Each show does, I mean.) So I watched one just now. I didn't catch a word, but apparently Korean moms like to teach their teenage sons a lesson by hiring guys to move them onto busy subway platforms while they sleep. Who knew? (Actually, Hu Nu is a student of mine.) (Not really, but I do have a student named Yu Min [pronounced "you mean"].)


There's a letter in Korean that is the equivalent of "S", except when it's in front of the "I" letter, when it becomes kind of an "SH". Korean students should never say "Sit down."


I've been meaning to post something about this for many months: the most annoying thing about Koreans day-to-day is that they refuse to acknowledge that other people exist. What I mean is that in a crowded place they often fail to notice that they may be impeding someone else. The most egregious example was when I was on the elevator at E-Mart with a middle-aged couple that had a little two-wheeled cart. When the elevator stopped, I nodded to them to disembark first, they took two steps off the elevator and stopped to sort out their groceries, completely blocking the way so that I couldn't get off the lift. Another time, Ray and I were striding manfully along one day and a little guy, whom Ray literally outweighed by a good 150 pounds, crossed his path, a foot in front of him, without looking; if Ray hadn't stopped on a dime, he would have knocked the old guy's brain into Mandarin Chinese. The kids in school have no concept of single-file in the hallway; I feel like a humpback in a sea of swarming halibut every time the bell rings. And so on...


Since an optical computer mouse has no tail, why isn't it a hamster?


Come home, Tiki. Soon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spiraling down

This is not how I wanted the end of my tenure in Daegu to go. I had all these plans to see people and do things I haven't gotten around to doing. Instead, I can't pull myself out of the funk over Tiki. It doesn't help that I wake very early every day (sometimes awakened by Tug) and can't go back to sleep. The night I saw him, I couldn't get him, and the "cat detective" the ladies brought down from Seoul blamed me for driving him off. He's probably right.

Unless Tiki comes back (increasingly unlikely, as he hasn't eaten any food I've put out for the last three days), my best intentions have only resulted in misery for him. He was better off before I got him; he was living on the street, but he was fed regularly and he was with his two brothers. He is the most timid cat I've ever known, but he won me over by being so affectionate, funny, and playful. He's certainly the only cat I ever had who's played fetch. If he doesn't come back, it will never be all right.

Meanwhile, Tug has no life at all, alone almost all day with nothing to do. He demands attention about two minutes a day and otherwise lies around.

And I find myself just kind of spiraling down to the end of my stay; I'm moving in twelve days, I'm tied up emotionally and temporally with Tiki (I try not to be away a lot in the evening because that's when he'll be moving around), and the weather is often so gray and humid, that I don't feel much like doing anything. Obviously, I'm not as detached and enlightened as I'd believed.

Meanwhile, I've found out that my next apartment is not a largish place in an Officetel (modern office/apartment building) with all the other teachers, but a one-bedroom studio off on its own. But that pales in importance compared to Tiki, who is lost for good if he doesn't let himself be caught in the next twelve days.

This is the summer of my discontent.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Tiki has been missing for five days and is somewhere nearby, certainly terrified, maybe hurt or worse. The women who caught Tug and Tiki as strays, had them neutered, and gave them to me came to visit on Saturday and Tiki went berserk, scratching and biting me to get away. (He is the most timid cat I've ever had-- he spent two weeks under the couch when I got the boys-- and nobody ever comes to the apartment.) He hopped into the window, pulled the sliding window aside trying to get away, accidentally popped out the screen, and jumped down 15 feet into my landlord's walled, jungly yard and disappeared. He showed up crying under my window that night but I had no key to the gate and by the time I got over the brick wall (via a stool and the hood of a parked van) he had gone.

The landlord gave me a key and every day I've tried to get a nap and then I've sat out very late, calling softly. I've set a humane trap; caught a feral guy (who may have hurt Tiki or driven him off) one day, otherwise nothing. I've put out food and water; it's gone mostly untouched, though on two occasions somebody or something has eaten some. I' ve been following the advice of the cat ladies, who've been relaying the advice of the "cat detective" in Seoul, whose profession is finding lost cats. On his advice, I've refrained from printing up reward posters because they say that would only make people look for him and terrify him further.

Nobody involved speaks any English except Hyeonjong, one of the cat ladies, who lives across the city from me.

Now the cat detective is coming here to look for Tiki. I'm hoping for a miracle.

This is a horrible, horrible country for stray cats. A lot of Koreans despise cats. I've never seen an outside cat here that wasn't scrawny, injured, and/or terrified of people. I got Tug and Tiki in the first place not for the companionship, but as a humanitarian act. But of course they became my family. Now it's not a million poor anonymous animals living short, miserable lives; it's my boy, if a miracle doesn't happen soon.

And I'm moving to Seoul in 16 days.