Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bundang it all

A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Park, the school's director, called the faculty together to make a huge announcement. A few days later, he met with the students' parents to relay the news to them: the owners are planning to buy land, put up a big new building, and move the school to the southern suburb of Bundang ("Boon-dahng"), all by the start of the spring semester next year.
 Beautiful downtown Bundang.

I've been waiting until my feelings sort themselves out before I blog about it, but my feelings refuse to sort. It's like herding cats on amphetamines. (I mean the cats, not I, are on amphetamines, although maybe you need to be on uppers to herd those hopped-up cats... ah, forget it, this simile has been extended past all reason, like the 100-Years War, the Oscar telecast, and... ah, jeez, it's just getting longer, like a roll of toilet paper being played with by a rambunctious toddler who... ah, hell, never mind.)

Anyway, here come the hyperkitties:

I tend to be inert in my living arrangements; in fact, I despise being ert. I lived in Ithaca for 41 years and in St. Augustine for 13, and have been in Korea for 3 1/2 thus far. I am so used to my neighborhood. I'm right near E-Mart and Costco, I walk to school, and I'm a minute's stroll from my beloved Yangjae Cheon (stream), which runs for ten solid miles, from Gwacheon City to the Han River in the middle of Seoul, without a single car.

On the other hand, it's not really a neighborhood at all, in the sense that you could walk down the street and stop to look in shop windows or chat. The only street that even has a sidewalk is the one between the two big stores; everywhere else, you're counting on the drivers to not run you over. (Hint: Korea has the highest pedestrian death rate in the world.) It's not a very posh area; there are a lot of little mom-n-pop sit-on-the-floor restaurants and some folks wheeling handcarts around to pick up cardboard for cash.

Bundang,where the school actually started three years ago, is ten miles south of here. Unlike anything in Seoul, it's a planned community, laid out specifically to be an upscale exurb. (I suppose it's a suburb, actually, but I'm trying out new Words With Friends words here.) It has a ton of restaurants and stores, as well as a multiplex cinema, and the teachers' apartments are liable to be a lot nicer and bigger than we have now. Paradoxically, it's a lot more urban than where we are now, which is in the city. Bundang has a cheon, too, but I don't know if any of the paths are rubberized for runners or how far from it I'd be living.

But it will take longer to get to absolutely anything in the city, including all of the hashes that comprise 99 percent of my social life. Depending on exactly where the apartments are, I'd guess it will take between 15 and 40 minutes longer each way to go anyplace. And I'm told the apartments will be far enough from the school to require a shuttle bus to get to work.

We’ve been offered the option to stay in our current apartments and commute, but an hour each way from home to work, five days a week? Thanks just the same, as the patient with the DNR order said, but I’ll pass.

As for the school itself, it’ll be a whole ‘nother animal, going from 7-12 to K-12, from 120 students to 300—and eventually 600—and, if we get our first choice, just on the other side of the hill from, and competing with, the huge and prestigious Korea International School. It will mean a lot of new colleagues and a shiny new culture, the nature of which none of us can yet see.

That’s assuming it all happens, and I have to say it seems terrifically ambitious to think that it will all manifest in 11 months, without a signed contract for the land or final blueprint for the building. But Mr. Park is a good businessman, and this country didn’t get the fastest-growing economy in history by thinking small.

My attitude is que sera, sera—which Koreans never say. That may be why I don’t have the fastest-growing economy in history.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I love this.

One thing hashing's done for me is to help me be a little more chill. (That is what you hep young cats 'n' chicks say now, right? Chill? Chillax? Anybody?)

I've always been a worrier, someone whose monkey-mind won't stop flinging... ah, wait. ...someone whose wheels are always spinning. I remember being awake half the night waiting for Santa (I was 17) and not sleeping a moment the night before my first wedding. I figure by the fourth or fifth one I'll be cool with it.

Anyway, nothing ever goes as planned at the hash. Trail marks get parked on; I fall behind (frequently); I have trouble getting over a barrier and have to find a way around; somebody's late; I fall on my head. You know, the usual. This week is my 69th run, which is a big landmark, but the bar I'd told everyone we'd end at is closed. But between the welcoming nature of the hashers, a certain willingness to take a small nip of the golden lager, and the general devil-may-care (but I don't) atmosphere... it's all okay.
The photo isn't slightly out of focus, but I was.
Also, what the hell is that fuzz doing on my chin?

Between that and the [oh my God is he going on again about how much Buddhist philosophy has helped him shoot me now] I really have gotten better at not letting the inevitable annoyances get to me so much. Kyung's daughter moved out and Kyung left to live with friends in the States? I'm cool. The Korean class I've been waiting months to take filled up on the first registration day while I was at work? No sweat. I keep losing gloves and earmuffs? No big.

But the smallest challenges are turning into the biggest ones. I get really peeved at school when teachers leave their lights on when nobody's in the room or don't refill the bottles I brought so we could take fewer trips to refill the coffee maker, or kids come into my classroom at lunch and leave the door open, and goldangit to heck, you are not "laying" down for a nap and the past test of "sink" is not "SUNK"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Me? Nah, I'm chill.

Now get off my lawn.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Superb owl

...okay, I couldn't think of a snappy title for this post, so I imagined its topic as it would show up on a Korean hoodie, such as this one I saw in a store window:
You will step fourward one step to victory. I believe the thing that your happy day. 
And we will be able to put a wonderful life in the hand.
You will step fourward one step to victory. I believe the thing that your happy day. 
And we will be able to put a wonderful life in the hand.

Korean shirts' "English" text is legendary. It may be full of typos, it may make no sense at all, it may be unintentionally ironic (as in the text "H*A*S*H 4077th.", worn by a girl young enough she certainly never heard of M*A*S*H or knew it was set in the Korean War... and may not have been aware there was a Korean War.)
But I digress, and I haven't even started yet. This post is about the big football game that just happened.

In three and a half years in Korea, I'd never taken a day off except for illness. But my Giants upset their way all the way to the Superb Owl, a mere 48 years after I stood in line-- okay, first in line-- for Y.A. Tittle to sign my program at the Corner Book Store, God rest its soul, in Ithaca, New York. 

Yelverton Abraham Tittle.

I hadn't seen any of the Owls since I came here, but I wasn't going to miss this one.

So yesterday, I left home at 7:00 a.m. and caught the bus to the train to the train to Itaewon. I'd posted on the Harriers page on Facebook that I'd love it if anybody could join me at the Rocky Mountain Tavern, the Canadian-owned and -themed restaurant where many of our winter runs end up. To my delight, Choopa, Scared, and WTF made it and we settled in for some slobberknockin' football and camaraderie. (Oh... in proofreading, I notice that the "slobberknockin'" is meant to modify just the football, not the camaraderie. No slobber was knocked during our conversation.)

The game started at 8:30 our time and I'm not going to go into what happened; you either already know it well or don't care-- or both. But my guys beat New England-- again-- in the last minute. Tom Brady is to Elmer as Eli Manning is to Bugs. And there was much rejoicing. Poor Tom had to go home to his solid-platinum house and his wife Gisele Bundchen.

The RMT was perfectly populated, with just enough people to feel like a crowd but no sense of being packed in. (Virtually every bar in Itaewon was showing the game and the GI's at the Yongsan US Army base could watch it there.) The bar inexplicably wasn't serving brunch, as they always do on the weekends, so I missed out on the mushroom omelet and settled a delicious breakfast of coffee and Ore-Ida fries.

I was the only one in the bar in a team shirt, a cheap knockoff Lawrence Taylor jersey I'd bought Saturday, but just about everyone, including my friends because of me, was rooting for the Giants. So it was all very pleasant. It wasn't quite the same as sharing the Giants-Patsies Owl with my buddy Brian, the equally devoted Giants fan, four years ago, but it'll do very nicely.

In four hours, I had about five beers, which is at least three more than I usually have when I teach on Monday mornings. And then I went home for a nap, lamentably smoky and hoarse from the bar, slightly addled, and happy.

Did I mention that the Giants won? Even though Y.A. Tittle did not appear.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Doctor, Regis, the Girls, and The Boys

My favorite all-time (snerk) TV show is Doctor Who. The Doctor travels through all of space and time in his TARDIS and, wouldn't you know it, sometimes bits of both time and space get squeezed together in, as the Wizard of Oz put it, "an arduous and technically unexplainable manner".

I feel rather like that now: Letterman last night had on Bill Murray in a New York Giants' uniform. (I've been a fan of the Giants for literally 50 years.) He had on my old Millionaire chum (from 2000), Regis Philbin. And he had Girls' Generation, one of the hottest of the K-pop groups that rule Korea and much of Asia. (I heard Girls' Generation blasting from a couple of storefronts in Taipei, as well.)

(If you don't know K-pop, it's all in this clip: dance in perfect but robotic unison, insipid lyrics, high energy and legs, legs, legs.) You should watch it.

In the context of my life, it's, as the Doctor said, "Pieces of Space and Time that should never have touched... pressed together."

I think I like it.

Feed the kitty

After his plumbing repairs (and lung repairs, and eye repairs), Tug seems to be all better. I credit his stress-free lifestyle. (If he only knew about the numberless cats just on the other side of that wall trying to stay alive somehow through this icebox of a Korean winter...)

But he needs special urinary-tract-aid food that can only be bought at vets' offices, and we ran out. So after school today I walked to the new subway stop, took the train to nearby Yangjae Station and walked to a nearby vet's where I had bought his scratching post-- only to find the office wasn't there anymore. So I turned and walked straight into the awful north wind for the mile or so to Gangnam Station. (In this country, nothing good blows in from the north.) I figured to find at least one vet on the way.

And, my friends, it was cold. Holy toeloopin' Moses in the Ice Capades, it was cold. You know when you get a horrible pain-- brain freeze from a lime margarita, labor pains if you're a woman, a basketball in the castanets if you're a guy, somebody pulling your lower lip over your head-- and there just are no words that will convey how it feels? Yeah? That's how cold it was, walking straight into the wind and slip-slidin' away on the ice and snow underfoot.

When I finally got to Gangnam Station and hadn't found a vet, I gave in and decided to take the subway over to Tug's actual vet, even though that would mean another nearly-a-mile walk into the wind when I got there. But thankfully, there was another vet within a block of Seollung Station, and they had a puppy the size of my fist that went crazy for a touch and a kind word, and they had the right cat food.

So it just took two of my six waking post-school hours, four bucks for the fares, 20 bucks for three pounds of cat food, and nearly losing my nose and several cheeks to frostbite, but Tug's got his don't-clog-the-pipes food. He didn't show any signs of appreciating my effort.

If the little booger's not careful, I'm going to hollow him out and make a muff.