Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Live from America...

It is very surreal to be here. I nearly cried when I saw the Washington monument... ok... I cried like a little baby. But only because no one was sitting next to me on that flight.

I keep seeing white people and thinking, "Hey, a foreigner! Do I know them?" It's disturbing, so I'm avoiding crowds for the time being. Or at least focusing on the people I do know.

Small talk with strangers was a nice novelty for a little bit, now it's just exhausting being so pleasant and chatty with everyone. And I keep trying to speak Korean to cashiers and people who move my bags by accident and then apologize. And I haven't been crowded on a sidewalk (or even a road where I've been driving) ONCE.

My family is awesome, and it's wonderful to be around them. I keep forgetting to take as many pictures as I wanted to take. I got to see a bunch of friends and eat some great food and I still have two more days! But coherency is escaping me at the moment, so I will just say that I'm glad I'm home and look forward to returning to my other home in a few days.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Immigration in Korea

Wow.

My experience this morning was nowhere near as smooth (or as pleasant) as William's.

I made an appointment online yesterday for the opening time of the office (9 am) as I had to teach at 10:45 and the office is about 30 minutes from my house/school by public transit. When I arrived at 8:55, no one was at the reservation desk. So I took a number (5 at this point, it was still early) and waited near the reservations desk. The office "opened," but still no one at the reservations desk. At around 9:10, the woman who had already helped a couple people and appeared to be the only person in the entire place actually working at this point, called up number 5 (I did watch for the reservations guy to show--he did... around 9:30... half hour after my "appointment" that would have been cancelled had I not shown up for it by 9:10...).

I handed over the documents Elisha told me to bring, including the completed application.

They asked me for a document I didn't have (the criminal background check--which had been the biggest hassle of all my document gathering woes to actually get from abroad). I explained that the EPIK office had it and prepared to ring Elisha if necessary.

Not.

However, they looked at the letter that Samson had written explaining that my contract with the hagwon runs 8.23.07-8.22.08 and asked for Samson's phone number.

"Why do you need the number?" I don't want to bother Samson with this process anymore than I already had. I'm freaking finished my contract with them on Friday--what I do after that is NOT THEIR PROBLEM.

The lady thinks about the English for a minute. "We need to inform him that you quit."

"He knows. That's what the letter says." I point to the release letter in front of her.

"But we need to call him."

"Ok, just a minute." I don't have Samson's cell. I offered them the school number (as the school was open for intensive classes at this point), but they wanted his cell. Fine, I called Gwen. But she was teaching. I make them just accept the school number.

"Ok," she says (finally--I've been in the office 30 minutes at this point while she's looked at the same 7 documents about 30-40 times each), "You need to go pay 140,000 won at the counter."

"140,000? I thought it was 30,000 for the visa and 50,000 for the multiple-entry."

"And 60,000 to change work places."

"Really? Do you take cards?" I only had 120,000 in my wallet. I also suspect that the extra fee isn't one I actually needed to pay, but whatever.

"No."

"Is there a cash machine nearby?"

The woman rolls her eyes and sighs. "Across the street."

I RUN as fast as I can to get the last bit out of my account to pay for my now EXTREMELY OVERPRICED extension.

The woman also handed me back a document telling me she didn't need it (the letter from EPIK sponsoring my new visa), and then asked for it back and called the Foreign Language High School to "inform" them I was at immigration. And when she hands me back the card, it is extended until August 22, 2009. Not even the full year of my contract (which runs 9.01.08-8.31.09).

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

I wonder if I'd brought a Korean person with me, would she have treated me less like an idiot? I understood most of what she discussed with her supervisor in Korean. She asked the same question about each document about five times over. Either it was like her second day on the job or she is seriously the least competent person EVER.

But it's done. I can go to America (and get back into Korea) and legally teach at the Foreign Language High School starting September 1. One more major item crossed off the impossible-seeming checklist. Only about 10 more hurdles to jump before Friday. I'm on it...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dating a bartender; Bullo-Dong Tomb and the ghost of Min Gi

Although not the most auspicious of beginnings for relationships, I did meet Min Gi at the bar where he works evenings. I thought he was a 23-year-old bartender who, although cute, was clearly inappropriate and therefore un-dateable. You see bartenders have always been in my book of "no-nos" for dateable professions, along with motocross racers and bouncers for strip clubs because my weak little heart just can't usually take the drama associated with these professions.

However, much to my surprise, he turned out to be 34 with a daytime computer business he and his friend started a few years ago which is not doing so well now, hence working for his long time friends, the owners of the bar where I met him. We talked about our shared passion for the outdoors, arranged to go hiking, and have been dating ever since. I'm pretty busy myself, so I hadn't thought a lot about the whole "dating a bartender thing," again. Until Wednesday.

Min Gi and I had plans to see a movie because Wednesday is his night off from the bar. So I called him on my lunch break to confirm.

"Are you coming over tonight?"

Long pause.

"Is something wrong?"

"Um... Well... I want to come over, but..."

"Do you have other plans?"

"No, no. It's just my nose."

"Your what?"

"Something happened at the bar last night. And I don't want you to worry about me." Which immediately sends me into panic mode, naturally.

"What happened?"

"Well, I really want to see you. But there was a fight last night at the bar. And my nose looks terrible. So I paused because I want to see you, but I don't want you to worry about me."

"Ok, now you have to come over because I'm already worried." Then I ask the question I'm afraid to ask because I don't want to know if the answer is yes. "Were you in a fight?"

"No, not me. Two guys. I tried to stop them. One hit me."

He did come over that night. His nose doesn't look nearly as bad as he thought it did, and I got the whole story about the fight and his attempt to break it up which was rewarded with a punch hard enough to shatter his glasses and cut up his nose. He was pretty rattled about the whole thing (understandably), as was I. This is the first time I've been selfishly thrilled that he's quitting the bar job for reasons other than getting to spend more time with him. Now I'm a little scared.

***

This is a three day weekend because of the Korean Independence Day, so Friday Min Gi and I headed to a little historic site near my house. I first read about the Bullo-Dong Tomb, a small historic site just north of the Daegu airport, on Jane's blog. I've been really busy and stressed with all the preparations for moving, a new job, the trip to America, and intensive classes at the hagwon, but I needed a little nature trip getaway. Although I do want to start training more for a 10K and getting better at hiking regularly, I figured now is not the time to add stuff to my already fairly active repertoire, so I wanted a lighter hike for the sweltering heat of the Daegu summer.

Bullo-Dong Tomb


Bullo-Dong Tomb turned out to be perfect for my needs. And we hit it just between the crazy rainstorms that have been happening all weekend, so I was able to play around with my camera and take a bunch of pictures (I've been kind of lax in that department since Sarah went home).

It was beautiful!


There were lots of different kinds of flowers. I like playing with focus fields.


Butterflies having sex. Yes I am a 변태 (byeon tae--means roughly "pervert").


Min Gi plays tour guide. Bandaged nose and all.


We found an abandoned, solitary chair in the middle of this Edenic playground. It was eerie and out of place, so Min Gi started telling me that it must have been put there by a ghost. And then he made up a whole cute story about how I could be walking with the ghost of Min Gi instead of the real Min Gi and I would never know it. It would have been scary (maybe), but it was just too silly.

The ghost's chair.


So I may be dating a guy who on occasion gets punched in the face as part of his job description, but he makes me laugh a lot and has been exceptionally helpful throughout this transition time to my new job. Maybe it's worth it to stretch our boundaries and arbitrary "rules" about love a little for someone so kind and generous.

But, I swear, the next guy who touches him is getting round-house kicked in the head when I see him.

Friday, August 8, 2008

To use a cliche most apt...

This week has been an emotional roller coaster. There is no other way to describe it--unless I compare it to the way one might feel if she were having the best s*x of her life on a flimsy raft in the ocean, surrounded by hungry great white sharks. On her period. With a hurricane on the way, but the promise of a meal personally prepared by Emeril should she make it alive to shore.

Sorry for the bizarre imagery--I'm really tired.

After posting my somewhat depressed blog on Monday about how I don't want to blog anymore (I'm so ridiculous when I'm down--sorry guys), I got a call from the friend of a friend who works for the Daegu public schools that I can bring my documents down and that they had my contract ready to sign. Finally. Pursing the job at the Daegu Foreign Language High School has been a bureaucratic nightmare, sucking away precious hours of my life for the last three months.

Then she gave me the news that was the best sex and promise of a good meal in that chaotic metaphor I attempted a few moments ago--they are allowing me to go home, ticket gratis as per contractual obligations, for the week between contracts (I was supposed to stay in country and do some orientation activities, technically unpaid... *sigh*). Suffice it to say that after I overcame the shock of it, I was ready to bear the woman's surrogate babies should she need a spare womb. I was that grateful. And happy. I AM GOING HOME!!! FUCKING AWESOME!!!

I called my parents to tell them. They were ecstatic, as I was. And then they dropped the big c-word that was the fear for the last two weeks, since Mom told me Dad was being tested. Then we spent the next hour on the phone discussing how early it was caught and how he has no external symptoms and how it's really nothing to worry about at this point. All those things you say.

Sometimes I wonder about the precious balance of the universe. Had I heard that word (I'm not going to type it here) the day before, when the earliest it looked like I could go back to DC was January if I took the job (a job I really wanted) and things were all very up-in-the-air about my contract even though it starts in about three weeks, I would have been despondent. Lost. Hopeless.

Since these two things dropped in my lap, I've had a series of emotional aftershocks that accompany the "get all the other stuff done so that you can do the big things" mode I've been in--booking tickets despite NWA's charging my credit card twice so that it went over the limit and wouldn't (for a time) let me book the tickets, arranging the last few documents I need for a VISA, letting my good pal and now co-worker William run around securing better apartments for us before he heads home for a few weeks, saying goodbye to close friends I might never see again (this does NOT get easier the second time around, just in case you were wondering), telling Sa Beom Nim about my plans for next year, celebrating the good news of my job and getting to go home with Min Gi. All this while working intensive schedule at work. No wonder I'm about to collapse from exhaustion.

And tomorrow I have yet another day of minutiae ahead of me as I go take tests to prove to the Korean government that I don't have AIDS or take drugs, look at the apartments William's realtor lined up, get a new handphone because this one belongs to Gwen, and plan the four days (that's right--it's only four full days) I have in America. But Min Gi has agreed to be my chauffeur and translator for the day, as he is free to do so. I didn't want to ask him (I did so because William said the realtor was afraid of me not being able to speak Korean--*sigh*), but I'm really glad I did. I kind of need the emotional support even more than the practical assistance (although the latter is exceptionally useful).

So am I feeling better than I was? Maybe. There is that promise of a good meal at the shore (and maybe even a sailboat to take me there), but right now I'm still in a precarious situation.

I must be at least a little better as I once again feel like writing.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On my mind.

I just got back from a weekend trip to Busan with Min Gi that was relaxing and enjoyable. But I feel... unsettled. And for once it has absolutely nothing to do with my budding relationship. (Despite the slow pace of this relationship, or perhaps because of it, I feel more secure with him than I ever felt with others after about two and a half months.)

I've got a lot of things on my mind these days. Even as I'm the happiest I've been in Korea, surrounded by friends so good they are close to family (you know the kind of people you can call on randomly for any reason), I am feeling some sharp pangs of homesickness.

Some things are happening back home that I can't talk about here because people read it who will feel guilty if I'm honest about my fears and uncertainties right now. And with the job situation being still in limbo, I feel lost in the middle between two countries right now. A lot of people very close to me are leaving this month (or already left this weekend) and I feel distressed about this situation, too. Like when the last round of people I'd grown close to left the country. I'm beginning to understand why Gwen kind of gave up on making new ones, really.

I've talked to some people about it, but not as much as I need to. And I do need to write about it, but lately the blogging thing hasn't been helping me that much. I've enjoyed it for a bit, but maybe I need to take a break from writing here for a few months.

Then again, one of the defining characteristics of depression is losing pleasure in things you once enjoyed. Heh. Either way, as if you hadn't noticed already, I'm guessing blogging will be sporadic again. Sorry.

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