Another month has nearly passed, and while I feel guilty for not writing more often, the truth is, my life has been a giant fluctuation between Busy and Lazy these past few weeks! I'll tell myself I'm too used to Korea, but truthfully, it's that I'll never get used to it, and maybe that's the problem. So, be patient with me while I use this blog to work through my accomplishments and failures!
Just when Mong the dog left my Daejeon studio on the Seoul train (yes, we overuse that expression here!), I was contacted by a girl in Busan about a cat. The girl: a New-Zealander who - surprise, surprise - teaches English here. Busan: the second largest city in Korea (only four million to Seoul's 12…) located in the southeast - all ports and charm. The cat: a kitten, rescued after she almost got run over by a bus downtown Busan. I decided to go that very Sunday on a whim. I contacted some Busanites I had met at the Strawberry Festival to meet up for a drink while I was there, and hopped on the KTX to cross the country.
(This sounds too easy. Oh, that's right. I barely slept the night before, then left my apartment early. I took the metro across Daejeon and hiked through the Station plaza. I waited in line, I ordered my ticket. I searched in my bag for my wallet, which I had so carefully made sure to re-stock with 10'000₩ notes, the largest they make here (worth about $10). The wallet I had left on the stairs instead of carefully putting back into my bag. Back and forth we go. But you didn't need to know this. Just reminding those of you who know me well that I don't suddenly decluztify because I'm far away, travelling.)
When I finally got to Busan mid-morning, I couldn't get a hold of the Festival friends, but was too happy to explore the city a bit. The metro was long and complicated, but I came out on the other side in sunny cobbled streets, sky-high palms and hotels, shaded patio cafés, all leading to beaches. The city is built up mountains that pour into the sea, in narrow valleys straddling rivers. The country's longest bridge, the Gwangan, stretches here; a beautiful suspension built just years ago. I wandered through a lantern-strewn Chinatown, and finally to Haeundae beach, to chill on the boardwalk and finally have lunch with Festival friends. It felt like a mini-vacation; I could have been in Barcelona or Nice!
Finally, I found my way to meet the Girl & Cat. The kitten turned out to be male, black & white (very charming markings!) and very young. He miewed from his shoebox as I walked, and rode - metros, trains, more metros, elevators. Little kids were enthralled, especially on the train back to Daejeon, where I only got a standing-room ticket and thus had to camp out by the doors and luggage. Little girls shyly stood around while the kitten fell asleep on my lap, sometimes chattering to me in Korean. Two hours of this.
Since then, 오징어 (Oh-jing-ahw) the cat, named Squid by the Girl, has become 최은성 (Choi-Eun-Sung), named for the goalie of our relatively-poor FC (soccer team, for those of you out of the loop!), Daejeon Citizen. (To the vet., he's Niko, close to Japanese for "cat", because I didn't have a name when I brought him in, and that subconsciously came to mind! Probably pissed off some Koreans… what's new.) To teach me a lesson in responsibility, Choi's become very aggressive, agile and playful, and has doubled in size. He owns the apartment now, and I do prefer him when he sleeps, or at least isn't using my hands as chew toys and my legs as scratching posts. I've also fallen in love with him and his company - he makes me laugh, and I'm already trying not to think of what will happen when I finally leave the country.
BUSY this month also included a trip to Jeju-do, which I will write about in a new entry, so as not to scare off any casual readers!
LAZY: (point form, as is fit for such a titled section)
Soccer - After naming my cat after their goalie and flying to an island under the pretense of seeing them, I decided to finally watch Daejeon Citizen's match against Seoul in person - only because I was lent a season's pass, and promised beer and company with a co-worker and his wife. We lost, which is normal I'm told, but there were quite a few incidents that called for stretchers to be brought onto the field. The Canadian in me gets excited at sports injuries. It's (up?) there with watching Springer. I also had a kid drip ice cream on my shoulder, but he didn't seem to care. The common stadium food is not hot dogs, but ramen noodles. Another experience to check off my list: I bought a team scarf, and will probably never go to another game.
News - Yes, it has been an eventful month in SoKo. The ex-president committed suicide by jumping off a cliff mid-scandal; memorials were erected, and yellow ribbons were tied along the sidewalks in my neighbourhood. We ex-pats observed this, and yet have little more news than you do in other hemispheres. The same thing goes for NoKo's nuclear testing and all the military jazz that has come with it. I have no TV, and we are kept at an arm's length by the locals. (Metaphorically: physically, we are constantly pushed, rammed and chastised by the locals.) These are interesting times, but I feel strangely detached, and I predict that my students won't give me much to go on as I would hope in class. Opinions on important matters are hidden enough to seem nonexistent here, while Koreans seem to care deeply about things I consider trivial (aesthetics, superstitions). Is this purely my cynicism from living in a culture that don't fully understand? It's my experience, frank and ignorant as it may be...
Hair - unconsciously Koreanizing my look, I stood in my bathroom one day and chopped off a substantial piece of bang, across my forehead. I've been pretty fearless about my look lately, since I'm criticized and muttered at in the streets for most things anyway, or I imagine so. I still love the cut, and see myself at six years old each time I look in the mirror. *grins* But I do catch my reflection sometimes in oversized t-shirts plastered with giant English nonsense words, and short, bright skirts with high-heels, and I wonder how I let this country get to me in this way.
Temp-check wakeups - having had my school shut down for the past week and a half, here comes the ultimate in laziness - my inability to use vast amounts of free time wisely. Last Monday, we all went to work ready to take on all-new classes: the new term was beginning. Minutes into prep, our head of Korean staff stops us, and tells us that all Company branches will be shut down for a week and a half. Many Company teachers are being quarantined in Seoul for Swine 'Flu. Immediately shrugging off a possible pay cut this month, we looked at each other and started discussing travel plans. After all, we're only allowed five days of official vacation in our twelve-month contracts, so we're all itching to see more of Asia. Soon, we are informed that we will have to report twice a day for temperature checks, at 10am and 5pm. No leaving the city for us, which was probably the idea, anyway. You would be impressed, though, at an EFL teacher's ability to be sleeping during both of those daily appointments. An elaborate system of cell-phone alarms was implemented. And so, I wasted many free days - and relished each one.
I'm working hard to calm my guilt when not performing at least three tasks at once. It's a very 21st-century disposition, and technology being what it is, leads to hours of doing a million things at once, and accomplishing nothing. Focus and concentration are lacking in my free time, and I need to either work on that, or accept it. Hmmmm
You may include my "point form" as another failure in today's entry. Choi is sucking on my left hand (he was too young to leave his mother and now has issues I think) and so I'll leave you abruptly, and promise you tales from the Korean Straight very soon!
p.s. if you aren't sick of my ramblings on Korean life yet, check out Girl's blog, at http://theorigamiheart.blogspot.com/