Before New Years Eve 2008, I'd been accustomed to making a blog entry that would serve as a summary of events of the closing year. This reminiscing on times past in the closing year would always occur an hour (at most) prior to the official start of the New Year. Having to stay at the workplace until 11:20 p.m. and having plans to mingle and be amongst fellow human beings has rendered that tradition a broken one. Instead, I am reminiscing on the past year today.
In January, I was still gainfully unemployed with intentions of returning to Japan--after nothing too promising had come from my Middle Eastern pursuits. With some Japanese English-teaching companies expressing some interest in my résumé--and even more having a copy of my résumé--some degree of progress was achieved. Then, I was offered employment in the first email--which included provided transportation and an apartment for which I wouldn't need to squander about 25% of my income--from a company recruiting English teachers to occupy its academy. Coolity. This academy is in Korea = oh. Never had I intended on living in Korea...nor had it ever been a country that was high on my "Countries to Visit" list. Nevertheless it was a way out of what was dormant state #23984273 of my life at the time.
February was a month of correspondence and what was a somewhat clandestine departure from the U.S.A.; only a few friends had been made aware of where I was to go next in my life. I underwent many fretful times due to the more more stringent prerequisites for obtaining a visa to be one of the fine purveyors of the English language in Korea, one of which included obtaining a criminal record. The company had been planning on me arriving somewhere near the 26th of February, and one must allow a maximum of ten days after proper documentation is provided to actually have the visa in his or her passport. Those plans to have me in Korea by the 26th were dashed to the ground not only by the seeming impossibility of obtaining a criminal record within my state within any time under two weeks but also by the fact that it would take an additional two weeks for me to retrieve my passport with the visa in it from the Korean embassy in my state. To the surprise of two who were to be my coworkers and me, we were to be flown to L.A. to obtain our visas. This required that we were to stay in L.A. for two days and one night, which was fine with me, as I was glad to have finally been progressing in something. While we had the luxury of gratuitously staying in a Korean-style hotel in L.A. for both days, we also had to bear the hefty sum required to be transported from LAX to the Korean embassy (the embassy being approximately 30 minutes from the airport). Tschüss @ 70 dollars.
Our visas were provided within three hours, so we had about a day and 11 hours at our disposal. It just happened to be my birthday that day (my 19th birthday, mind you), and we ended up meandering in Korean Town. At a temperature of 80 degrees, we weren't the most comfortable after having arrived in L.A. from 15-degree (Fahrenheit) weather, but the rest of the time there was amazing...what a relief from arctic cold. After having napped for a bit, the three of us went out...only to be disenchanted by what lack of things we could do with our rather limited wherewithal. So, South Park in the hotel room, the divulgence of a phobia against redheads, and beer it was. The next day, we all experienced conception-altering Hollywood before our farewell to Korean Town (and L.A.) for our midnight flight to Korea.
March: A month of snow, the first two of what were to be many fastballs pitched at us, and intrigued minds ready to continue in their English development. Arriving at approximately 6:30 a.m., we were greeted by the awesome recruiter who had been ensuring our smooth-as-possible arrival here in Korea: Hiro. Before being chaffeured for an hour-and-a-half in our own private van, Brian (one of the to-be English teachers that was on this L.A. adventure with one of my now-coworkers and me) was to teach at another, rather distant, branch. He was also to live in that area. My coworker and I were introduced to our apartments first, and I was relatively enthralled with my apartment because I hadn't had my own place since nine months prior in Tokyo. Keypadded door...video-answering door security system...the view outside my window. Heating and air-conditioning unit, which I found out later was actually just an air-conditioning unit...which just made my apartment room even colder. Anyway, these were the three things with which I was quite impressed. We then saw Brian's apartment (bigger than ours), and we had Korean breakfast in a little family-owned Korean restaurant; Dunkin Donuts followed. At some point that day, if I remember correctly, fastball number two came: We were to begin teaching the next day. Say what, you say? Yes. We were super-trained by our foreign boss who happened to be quite cool, if I may say so...and we were also introduced to some of the coworkers who had already been in Korea for some time longer than we had been. Korean division of labor had the one coworker with whom I had come over here and me separated, but we still communicated outside of work. The rest of March consisted of me becoming accustomed to more and more of Korea, making acquaintances and friends, teaching, impractical squandering of my allowance, and the rekindling of my relationshp with my Blogger account after two years.
I cannot recall much of April, but I do remember having attended a company trip to a mountain. It was a fun time, even if there were times at which I had thought that I would fall and die. I sported a great, pink flower in my hair, which just so happened to be a fitting accessory to the pink polo that I was wearing. Two coworkers had been lost, so they missed much of the mountain climbing and soju imbibition that transpired at the top of the mountain (surprisingly we didn't have to eulogize any of our coworkers on our way down the mountain). It was made known by one of my coworkers that I know how to write in Iraqi (which wasn't even Arabic, but Persian...but who's noticing?). All together again at last, we all partook in eating chicken that was layered with a sort of lacquer. It had been highly recommended that each of us take a pill that purportedly "protected us from the toxicity". This is all I really remember from the month of April--other than our first payday--but I'm sure that there were many Friday nights in Itaewon...and alcoholic consumption outside of the Family Mart under the officetel in which I live.
I remember close to nothing about May, but I think it was when I went to one of Seoul's zoos and various other places with one of my Korean coworkers who had been wanting to take me out for quite some time. I was still happy with how blessed I was for actually liking my job, those with whom I worked, and even some of those into whose minds I was instilling the Magical Language of Opportunity and Door-Opening.
I might have bought my first digital camera since the untimely demise of my first one in Tokyo, in May. I do know for certain that this was the month in which my best friend from high school married another former band member. I was unable to participate in the wedding because I hadn't already been working for this company for three months, a prerequisite for taking any of the
June and July invoke memories of mostly festive times, spliced with new teachers, frustrations, fabrications, and a fight that resulted in collateral damage. We had two new teachers: One was to work upstairs with the middle school students, and one was to work downstairs with the elementary school students. Again, the division of labor is quite apparent at my company. While two new people were introduced to the company, one of my Korean coworkers had been deemed a bad apple by The Powers that Be...resulting in her being snipped. Fortunately, she had a birthday before all of this, in which many coworkers and I participated. Delicious food, plenteous sake (for me; alcohol in general for the rest), making the acquaintance of a Korean male escort who had been "seeing" one of my coworkers, an anal penholder, a first time at hookah, some lamentations, much photographing, and some time spent at Woodstock in Gangnam all made that night/morning a fun one.
One of my coworkers had two parties--one for his transferral to another branch, and another for his return to America. Both of these were celebrated in, where else, Itaewon. The first one was celebrated in a lounge, which was followed by idling in one of the other bars, in which we played pool and did a bit of dancing. The second was a more festive one: more people attended, though a rainy night in Itaewon it was. I arrived late because of some frustrations with an Iranian travel agency (explained below), and some had already left for the all-too-predictable Homo Hill. From the bar, those who remained left for a club called BricX, which is somewhat nicely designed on the inside, though another basement, back-alley club. Pole-dancing, more alcohol, pole-dancing competition, and the joining of others who had previously gone to dip into the crowd in Homo Hill, made the time there a fun one.
The night wasn't over, for a noraebang session was to follow. Some made it there; others, including myself, were not so lucky. A drunk Korean man (redundancy) felt as if he had been slighted because one of my coworkers had apparently been having tactile relations with his "girl". After much effort at an intervention, a push and a blow to my coworkers face by what turned out to be a pusillanimous little thing (one does not strike a person and then recoil timidly apologizing the second afterward), things were settled and each went his separate way. ---- We were cut short in our adventure to the noraebang by the same guy, but this time the Slighted One made a return and started asphyxiating me. Flabbergasted (and let's not forget, literally breathless), I had no reaction. Thankfully, my coworkers were just a few paces in front of me, and one of them saved what likely could have been my life. After having thrown the Slighted One to the ground, and after having inflicted some blows, the two were separated. I spewed some anger-saturated words at the Floored One, which included an apparently failed attempt to hurt his pride and tell him that he was not Korean.
What a fun-filled weekend whose fun plummeted to the ground. Sure, those happen, but it was just one out of many weekends to be had here in Korea. Incorrect. Two weeks later, a coworker and I go to meet some friends there. Shortly afterward, I'm accosted by one of the boys who work there. He holds a picture of two people leaving the club, asking if I was one of the men in the picture. After responding affirmatively, I'm asked to leave the club. I turn this into a dispute, especially because of the horribly prefabricated account that I had touched one of the club's waitresses (whom he said was his sister, but we later found out that she wasn't actually his sister) in a bathroom. I was not drunk (or even so much tipsy) two weekends ago, so I remember exactly what it was that I had done that night...and that certainly was not among the things that I had done. Just to add to the fail at his prefabricated account, I informed him that I am a homosexual, which he said that he knew. Having been so confident that his pretext was just that--a pretext, I told him to have the girl tell this to the police, whom I also had him call. I sat down with my friends for a while, despite the fact that the little harpy was trying to interject with his demands that I leave. The police came and asked if we could go outside with the problematic bartender. There were exchanges of words, and of course there were two sides to the story. Nothing was settled, but it was decided that I (and from what I had thought, the coworker in the picture with me) was banned from the peon by one of its little peons. Moreover, my information from my registration was taken down by an officer. Two men tried to facilitate things for both parties involved; one of them was a disutility while the other was wholly bilingual but made the point that it was the peon who "owned" the club that night (in the absence of the club's true owner). The waitress who had "made this claim" was never contacted, and she had apparently quit for that night. I suppose that this was her way of going out in glory...in honor.
As the cherry on top, there was a fight that caused collateral damage at a bar called The Loft. I successfully separated the two groups at first, but I gave up after the shards of glass went a-flying and the flailing with broken pitchers in-hand had started. Some bystanders were hurt, and my flip-flop sandals had a shard of glass stuck in it, which pierced that groove in which the toe meets the toenail. The fight was rather bloody and destructive, and after this is when I had decided that I must retire from Itaewon. It was during Chuseok holiday, which is the big national holiday here in Korea.
Ending the month of July on a positive note, there was the Boryeong Mud Festival at Daecheon beach. This occurred at the beginning of July, but this seemed to be the most suitable place to mention it, to steer this entry at least somewhat out of the negativity. It was my first time having been to a beach in years, and it was an amazing time. I'm thankful to my coworker for having reserved my spot. Everything from the 8:30 a.m. bus ride to the journey back was fun: the mud festival itself, being enveloped in the mud, knowing that the layer of mud was actually healthy for my skin, the salinity of the ocean water, the vastness of the ocean (which left the mind to imagine venturing beyond the safety boundaries, the seashells that were collected, the dug holes, nighttime at the beach, the beauteous, studly ones from the braggadocio to the more modest, the relieving feeling of being kilometers away from all-too-urban Seoul, the feeling of the saltwater dried on one's skin and in one's hair, and the people with whom I shared these memories. Returning to Seoul was unavoidable, but I remember thinking that everything in general was just much better after that trip, even if my second digital camera in Seoul (10MP Sony touch-panel) was ruined on the trip; I even called my grandmother, and would have 'come out' to my mother if she had actually picked up the phone when I had called...the moment passed, though, for it was only slightly more transient than that high on which I had been for a few days.
Gosh, I wish that my memory card could have been salvaged.
I also made my first attempt to travel to Iran, but it failed after I had failed to progress in effectively communicating with the Iranian travel agency to obtain my visa. Three months was not a sufficient amount of time to have alloted for planning a trip to Iran. After having failed to go to Iran, I was rather disheartened and felt rather discouraged for a while.
Much of August consisted of me avoiding clubbing scenes and Itaewon and buying a pet turtle. I managed to save more, and there were a few rooftop wine parties of three during August, if I remember correctly. Also in August, I bought my first dSLR, which I'm most fortunate to have intact. It was on a rainy day, and such a purchase for some reason called for a Vietnamese meal. I also was introduced by a coworker to a few friends of his and a casino in which one may fatten him- or herself with copious amounts of alcohol and palatable dishes...whilst gambling one's money away. After that, we went to Itaewon, but that was only because I was more insouciant to where I was going due to the amount of wine consumed. An unfortunate collision eventually occurred with one of my previous infiltrators, made unfortunate by the fact that I had to deal with externalized histrionics. After having had to deal with this, I decided that Itaewon--now including Homo Hill--was an area to circumvent at most costs (especially after dusk). No more homo histrionics...no concern for bogus strike #2 with the 경찰 under more false pretenses.
September doesn't really bring back any memories in particular. Oh, there was a shift in the little hierarchy that my company has constructed: A coworker and I were moved downstairs, which left Keith as the sole foreign teacher left upstairs. It was something about which the three of us weren't happy. Again, September was boring. So I'll wake you up when September ends...which is now.
October: The month that marks what one may characterize as a recession in my social life...at least that among those with whom I work. I bought an iPod Touch that I have seldom used at the beginning of the month. Also during this month, there was a call for mingling and teamwork via a company trip for which I was the apparent photographer. Ever since, I started wondering about people: the things I've been told, observations, reflections and piecing these all together have put my trust in people in question. The rest of the month passed, and the more distant I became, the less I invested. Halloween went uncelebrated this year by me, but that wasn't the first Halloween...and I bought candy for the students in one of my classes, anyway.
I forgot to mention Chris's birthday party. Chris, a cousin of my coworker's, had a party in Wangsimni, and it was incredible. Though there was tension between two of the attendees, it still turned out to be a fantastic time. I was introduced to beer pong, and I received a free drink. Many memories were captured on my Canon, and I'm still grateful for having been invited to the party.
November consisted of two hospital visits, two birthday parties, the sad death of my turtle, several excursions around Korea, and a Thanksgiving dinner. The first hospital visit was to a friend, Michael, whom I have mentioned in two of my previous blog entries. I stayed an entire day, and I cherished every minute of it. I'm terribly glad that I paid this visit alone because it was nice to be manumitted from tension, even if just for a while. I also archived this refreshing, visit in one of my November blog entries. Between that and the next hospital visit was an impromptu birthday party at a 삼겹살 restaurant. Having had plenteous adipose and the complementary alcohol, we helped make a coworker's birthday a fun one...until he needed to return home to regurgitate. After this birthday dinner, some of us proceeded to Woodstock for more alcohol, a dartboard, and the human jukeboxes. All of this was to prepare us for our hospital visit the next day. Being an obligatory check-up on our fitness as foreigners in Korea, the three of us who didn't flake out had to undergo many of the tests that we had undergone upon first arriving here. The difference is that we didn't micturate ethanol--thus compromising any results--in our first tests...well, we also didn't have our throats checked during our first tests. Fortunately, our attendance was rewarded with a company-paid lunch at Bennigan's, a little of which I ate because of the blood extracted from this obvious temple that is my body.
My friend Theresa and a coworker of mine shared a birthday party on a Saturday. I was somewhat skeptical about attending at first, but I'm glad that I did attend. It consisted of a studly fire twirler, bowls of alcohol (one would deem me a mere drunkard from the number of times I've mentioned alcohol in this post), dancing in Apgujeong, plenteous photos, a first-time offer to do E (which I of course declined), taxi rides across town, smoky bars, birthday cakes, more imbibition, lustful pangs for certain girls-of-interest (i.e. me, obviously ^ ^), and in-taxi competition for a woman who had decided to accompany us. Oh what fun it is to party.
A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I treated two coworkers of mine to a Vietnamese lunch. I am quite glad that we were able to spend that time together. Unfortunately this had to happen as one of them was to be leaving in roughly one month. I'm no ingrate, though.
Thanksgiving Day was lamentable: I had to work, as expected, but I also had to listen to others exchange their fulfilled and plans for the day. The utter lack of an oven (and many of the culinary essentials) and food redolent of a typical Thanksgiving Day just amplified said suckitude. However, I was blessed enough to have been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner on the Saturday after Thanksgiving proper by my friend and coworker, Keith. We even went to Costco on Saturday and bought everything that was to be consumed at the dinner. The dinner was prepared and subsequently consumed in a spacious apartment, and everything that was prepared was delicious. As I had said in my blog entry about the Thanksgiving dinner, I celebrated Thanksgiving in 2008 thanks to this awesome invite.
December was a month of consumption. The power of EMart, CostCo, and Kim's Club is compelling. Among one of my several purchases this month was this bundle of cutecute:
A solar-powered head bobber is basically what it is. However, it is a cute solar-powered head bobber. It served as my sole "pet" of sorts for a while, until I graduated to buying a real pet...with real entrails...physiological processes and everything.
This was also a month of social mingling, bon(s) voyages, and new faces to the company. A coworker whom I think of as a friend had a grand farewell party (along with the handful of Korean teachers who have made their sanity a priority, and its grandness was made obvious by the large turnout. From a pre-party White Elephant activity, to 삼겹살, to several rounds of beer pong, to a late-night at the noraebang...all photographed by me, Keith, and one of the new coworkers who happened to have been the newest foreign face to the company by just a couple of days. His departure was quite saddening, a feeling which I had made known numerous times to him prior to the night's conclusion. He wasn't to leave until days later, but I figured that I'd not be seeing him during any of those days. There was a meaningful notebook that I was going to give to him as a farewell gift, but I was dissuaded from doing so. He, like another foreign teacher and the Korean teachers, did receive a Seasons Greetings cards. After his party, though, social mingling wasn't over for me. I was invited by Keith to a buffet dinner at the top of a department store here in Seoul. Delectable dishes, ever-coming wine, new acquaintances that have become friends, and a particularly kind waiter. Following the closing of the buffet, we went to a bar to have a few more rounds of beer (for me, the wine that I had brought with me), and then we ventured into a noraebang and bellowed out Queen, K-Ci & Jo-Jo, Whitney Houston (I wonder who would have had the gumption to sing that 8-) ), &c. We found ourselves bound for Itaewon in a taxi (being with Keith and Meghan made it O.K. with me) to one of the many beer stations that was still serving to those willing to consume it.
Christmas Day is a holiday in Korea, so the Korean kids had a reprieve from studying...in the academy. Instead, the parents took their young ones to the bookstore to invest in books for their children's future--particularly in English. Christmas is also a day for couples to be out and superciliously about the city. I found Holly's Coffee, and it has ever since been a haven for spending time with my coworkers and watching TV shows on the internet on our respective laptops and deluding myself into thinking that I get things accomplished whilst away from my apartment.
Perhaps my Christmas wasn't filled with silver bells, carols, and presents, but my Christmas present to myself came after Christmas Day proper:
Remember when I alluded to having a real pet? There she is...my beautiful little bunny! She has yet to be named because I am on a quest to find the closest-fitting, beautiful name for her (I don't want anything too cliché like 'Snow', but 'Lilac', 'Lily', and Indigo are the current runners-up). I had seen this cage of rabbits at Kim's Club several weeks prior, but a cashierwoman at the register informed me in Korean that I couldn't buy one of them. Due to the language barrier that's thicker than the DMZ, I left without answers as to why I was unable to buy a bunny. (Apparently, there is a separate "pet" section, and all transactions regarding pets are to be handled in the "information" section). This bunny was a great way to close the year of 2008 and start the year of 2009.
Here we are...coming upon the last stop in 2008: New Year's Eve. It was very much expected that we would still have to drill more and more English into the brains of our students, but this was a day on which working until 10 p.m. was the most regretful. These shifts running into the night might be the most regretful for those who had to remain until 11:15 (e.g. me) or later (a Korean coworker of mine who had to stay until everyone had left the building). I was to meet some friends and coworkers in Hongdae, and after the ten-minute wait for a taxi, sharing a taxi with a Korean coworker from middle school, and not contacting a coworker with whom I was to go to Hongdae until 11:45, I knew that the countdown was not meant to be. Therefore, at midnight, I watched a display of fireworks from my window. Yes, it was cold outside, but to have missed something that brings the masses together and lightens hearts is somewhat disheartening. That was quickly remedied by the rest of the night that came after midnight, though. A misunderstanding was even resolved and good relations have been restored! ^ ^
This is the end of the line, so please make sure you have your eyesight after reading this lengthy entry before you part from the blog. Thank you for riding through 2008 with me, and my blog hopes to see you again...even before the 2009 train that will take us into the second decade of the millennium. Last but not least, once again, Happy New Year!