Chapter Three


Pretty, isn't it? This is the view from the bridge I cross every day on my way to work.

(As a preamble, the following is from a little newsletter I was going to send out before I got connected to the internet two days ago, and because I’m swamped I thought it would be more expedient to just cut and paste)

Anticipating blogging notes. (btw, this post doesn't cover ANY of it!)

Being disconnected has been a little disconcerting, so I finally decided I’d have to write down my thoughts somehow/someway and send them to y’all.

Above is a photo of the dog-eared index card I’ve been carrying around with me, to jot down and remind me what to write about once I get (if I ever get) internet.  The other side is full, too!  It got to be a little over-whelming, looking at it all, so when the card got full, I figured it couldn’t wait — and I’ll probably end up just re-posting this little report to the blog once I’m back on-line.

A job prospect
Things were getting pretty desperate, what with being black-listed from public school jobs and from a fourth of the recruiters in Korea.  I networked as hard as I could, and the few people I know were awesome, trying to find me work:  A Korean volunteer with TRACK was posting my name for privates at his apartment building and going to peddle me to his Seoul National University (the Ivy League of Korea) alumni university business activity group.  Art, the rueda guy, tried to get me privates through his dancing friends, and through a friend’s church connections.  Miwha tried to find me privates through her daughter’s friends.  Korean War Baby tried to get me work with his temp agency, to no avail because I wasn’t white, and introduced me to his conversation class, which also didn’t work out because of the timing.  Jane kept sending me contacts which were awesome, but the timing never worked out.  I spent many hours every other day combing the help wanted ads, sending out several applications each time, but rarely heard back from the hogwans and the part-time recruiters were timid about taking a chance on someone with no business English experience (which is really not that much different from regular English) teaching for them.  And then the part-time jobs I tried for turned out to be ludicrous exercises. The high salaries of these part-time jobs turned out to not be so great, after all, since the prime time hours were limited.  It turned out that these were only viable as supplement to a full-time job, and those that make their living with these part-time jobs are established enough to have many privates filling in the off hours.  And not being WHITE just made be a low commodity in any and all hiring sectors.

Fortunately, I had previously joined a group of F-class English teachers.  This is the visa status which connects you to ethnic Koreans. (or if you are ethnic Korean like me, but not a Korean citizen)   Most of the members of this group are married to Koreans, and I am a minority (as always, in all things everywhere) being an actual ethnic Korean non-citizen, (grrr… I actually WAS a Korean citizen until I tried to live here, at which point they make you RENOUNCE your citizenship) but I joined it anyway.  Anyway, it paid off in spades, with two very real jobs to choose from.  Some of the group are a little pedantic, as you’d expect some would play up when they suddenly find themselves experts at their native language, and that one can profit by that, and some of the group are no better than the worst foreigners just passing through.  But most are very cool and have to wrestle with some very unique issues bridging cultures and being mixed-race couples with mixed-race children in an extremely xenophobic country.  Of particular interest to me are the small handful of white women who’ve married Korean men, who have to also deal with traditional expectations of sexist roles here.  Of course, the thing that distinguishes all of their spouses is that their Korean spouses are particularly open-minded.  There’s a wealth of information and support there, especially on the teaching front, and I don’t mind so much being (perhaps) the only Korean there.

I’m terrible at networking, but it was as easy as, “that job you posted, is it available?”  “Sure, gimmie a call.”  It’s actually a good system.  Less headache and expense for the institutions hiring, and they get employees who are personally vested in the people here and they generally have more experience.  Unfortunately, the Korean schools prefer the F2’s, who are mostly all white.  Of COURSE.

So I went on a reconnaissance trip to check out the school and town, (population 14, 700 ish) liked what I saw, and was bowled over by the scenic beauty and the friendliness of everyone. A few days later, with Willie as company, we returned to sign the contract and look at apartments.

Breaking up
The only thing that made me sad was having to say goodbye to Mrs. Kim.  I mean, on New Year’s she brought me ddeok (rice cake) soup and she was always putting herself through the ordeal of coming down to feed me and have an awkward conversation where we were unable to communicate more than, “It’s delicious.  Thank you.”  Jane was out of town on tour and I had no idea how to explain the complexities of my situation to her, so Joyce came to the rescue and translated a letter to Mrs. Kim for me.

On a side note, I have found the people I have the most affinity with living in Korea is not adoptees, but gyopos. (ethnic Koreans raised abroad)  Like them, we adoptees are instantly pegged as Koreans and are expected to behave like Koreans and tow the Confucian line.  But like us, gyopos really don’t fully understand what they’re supposed to do:  even if they’ve heard about it in the past from their ethnic Korean parents.  Theory and practice are two different things.  Prior to coming here, I thought I was a gyopo because I am ethnic Korean raised abroad.  (thus the url of my blog) but upon later reflection, most adoptees don’t consider themselves gyopos, because the second generation or more gyopos still have a little knowledge about Korean culture and get to see – and live with – Korean faces.  Both of these/our/uri populations are marginalized for our wrong behavior;  for our mistakes made out of ignorance and experience culture shock living in Korea.  The adoptees have to learn from a deficit situation, whereas the gyopos have heard/ learned Korean culture in an academic sense and in a very real sense when it comes to feeling the full weight of Confucian familial pressure.

Something about being forced to stay here longer than a visit changes the lens in which I view this culture.  I see it less as the country that rejected me and more as this difficult nut to crack.  The more I learn about this place, the more I can relate to the pressures my gyopo friends are under.  With my gyopo friend I never get that, “Oh.  Korea’s just like that.  You’ll get used to it.” kind of attitude like I get from other adoptees who live here.  I get not only sympathy because we’re both experiencing similar experiences, but also real empathy because they truly understand the gravity and seriousness of each recrimination.

For example, the inability for me to date here.  I’m divorced = I don’t value family honor.  I’m adopted = I wasn’t raised with good Korean values.  I’m a foreigner = I’ve been polluted with egoism, individualism, and rudeness.  I can’t speak Korean = I can’t possibly say anything meaningful.  All these combined make me untouchable.  Unless I want to settle for whoredom with foreigners.  Who, btw, also would reject me for not being Korean enough.  I also can’t date other adoptees.  Because most of them are half my age and only half as far on this journey, self-absorbed as youth are, in pain or denial, and often anesthetizing themselves with drink or hedonism.  I don’t blame them one bit.  More, I wish I could do the same.  But I’ve responsibilities and there’s no one there to be irresponsible with.

But I digress:  The letter must have been translated perfectly, because Mrs. Kim and her adorable husband (they both remind me of weebles!) instantly understood and didn’t resent me or my situation at all, and instantly went into action to facilitate the move.  The real estate agent, too, who I had wrongly mistrusted at first, took it upon himself to help me out as much as possible.  I really hated the idea of leaving them all, as they all really cared about me.

Another side note:  one time Mrs. Kim brought me some chicken noodle soup.  The noodles were fat like linguini, and the broth was strained of all the chicken, so it was clear and golden;  slightly thickened by the starch from the noodles.  It was very garlicky and had leeks for some added color and flavor.  It was, hands down, THE BEST chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

The tulli-shaped farm house outside my veranda window
The tulli-shaped farm house outside my veranda window

New Digs
I’d predicated my employment on my residence.  I’d told them that where I lived was extremely important, and that I absolutely could not stand to live in a high-rise apartment ever again.  The place they found for me was a four-story, four apartments per floor building, with the same high security, bank vault doors.  Not to mention, the bedroom was smaller than a shoe-box.  (Willie – once furnished, I now believe my room is actually smaller than yours was!  My bed is smaller, for instance, but still takes up the bulk of the room. They claimed it was the only one available, even though I said I would be willing to live with a family or in an old run-down place or ANYWHERE please God, but not another isolated bank vault.  Too bad for me.  The former teacher told me it was b.s. that they couldn’t find anywhere else and they were just being lazy, but I was forced to accept it.  Something about the contract language saying single teachers can only have one room…so I’ll probably move again next year, if I can save up key money (the HUGE deposit required for a lease in Korea) or maybe not, since I want to fly home for a visit too…

Saying Goodbye
It was hard to say goodbye to Willie.  I kept getting his leave date wrong and said goodbye to him multiple times.  Joyce will leave soon too.  It dawned on me that part of this whole living as an ex-pat thing means saying goodbye to people often to people you come to care about.  I told Jane, “I bet you’ve had to say goodbye to many, many people.”  She told me she has, and that some adoptees who stay solve the problem by just not letting themselves get close to anyone.  I wonder at what point a person puts aside the idea of the inevitability of their own departure and just accepts this place and tries to benefit from the huge personal investment spent learning to adjust?  Can anyone really want to stay here?

Jane does.   She likes blending in.  She likes not being the target of stalkers with yellow fever who want to murder her.  Me, I miss being exotic.  I hate blending in.  I also didn’t grow up in Minnesota, with its huge population of Korean adoptees and the weird way in which questioning race and identity are accepted yet censored.  Here, I am forced to censor myself so I don’t exacerbate my rejection.  There, someone is always interested in me — even if it is unwanted attention, I never feel invisible.  But coming to live in the country is changing that.

Moving Out
Because my life-line (Jane) was out of the country, and my new colleagues in CheongPyeong seemed unable to arrange anything for me, I went on-line to hire movers.  I had to hire movers, as my job was starting in a day and I had no time to be able to pack my belongings.

As it was, I just turned up the floor heating and was sleeping on the dirty floors (no time to purchase mops and towels, etc.) of the empty and new apartment and that’s how I spent my first week on the job:  clothes and belongings in Seoul, floor to sleep on in CheongPyeong, (I did eventually clean the whole thing by hand) so I did a lot of traveling back and forth every other day, packing as many necessities as I could carry, trying to come up with lesson plans during the commute, and getting very little rest.  I found a match-making agency for English speaking movers on-line, but only one of the six companies returned my call.  It seems I didn’t own enough stuff to make it worth their while, or maybe they didn’t want to travel that far.  At any rate, I went to Craig’s list and found Brandon movers.

Love-starved me began to fantasize about a fling with the mover as a perfect leaving Seoul scenario.  I was surprised to find out Brandon was really both personable AND attractive.  But, as luck would have it, Brandon’s back hurt and he had a friend in tow to help him.  “Brandon wants to be in movies.  Brandon thinks he is a MOVIE star, but actually, Brandon is a MOVING star!” his friend joked.  Again.  And again and again.  It seemed to be the only thing he could say in English.  Brandon took it all in stride.

Mrs. Kim came down to make sure that Brandon didn’t try to take the stove, as only the natural gas technician was allowed to unhook the appliance, and also I’d promised her I’d leave the appliances and closet hardware and shelving I’d bought.  She and Brandon talked for awhile, and he told me that she was “all emotional” about my leaving.  I sometimes wonder if maybe Mrs. Kim, or someone she knows, gave up a baby and that’s why she had such tenderness for ibyung me.

On the long ride to CheongPyeong, Brandon and I got to talk a bit, since his friend couldn’t also fit in the tiny Daewoo truck cab and was riding in the back.  Brandon had lived in the U.S. for ten years, and that’s why his English was so good.  He’d tried teaching English here, because it paid so well, but he said he couldn’t stand it because the students were such spoiled brats.   So between modeling and acting jobs, one foreign teacher he knew asked him to help her move.  He did such a good job, she told him how to set up his own business so he could connect with foreigners, and that’s how he makes his living today.

It did my heart a world of good to find a Korean who also thought Korean children were spoiled, and he went on to tell me about a recent incident in the news where a 21 year old boy, whose mother yelled at him for spending three days straight playing video games retaliated by murdering her.  He also cited some incidents in the past where 30 somethings who were living at home and not working  had murdered their parents for refusing to give them the allowance they felt entitled to.

After they were finished unpacking I waved goodbye to probably the last male I can speak with for God only knows how long.

Moving In
I had to complain because the apartment was empty of appliances for a long time – most of the first week and, damn it, I had already scheduled the internet and cable t.v. to be installed and there was no t.v., which was supposed to come with the apartment.  So the owner told us the appliances would be there that evening.  And when they weren’t there that evening, I had to call DongJa, the angel who works in the school office, to complain again. (not that it even mattered, as the cable guy was a no-show, and this happened about three times for various – cough – saving face reasons)

Later that evening, the maintenance man, dressed in a suit, (and really pissed off) comes knocking at the door with the refrigerator that he’d recklessly bumped up the stairs.  (there’s a nice dent to prove it) Then the t.v.  Then he grunted for me to help him with the washing machine and swore because he cut himself on a staple.  (he’d had the whole previous week to do this leisurely)  Anyway, sweating like a pig in his suit he started ranting about the temperature.  I’d had it up high because I had no bed and no blankets and also it was different from my last two thermostats, so I didn’t know how to work it.  He started yelling about how 20 degrees celsius was all that was needed and that anything more was unnatural.  (why couldn’t he go to Baekyoung teacher’s offices and tell THEM that?)  And then he started going on and on about 20 and he TOOK OUT A PEN and WROTE 20 ON THE WALL!!!  The brand new wall.

I screamed, “oh my God, what are you doing writing on the wall?” and I went and got a damp cloth to wipe it off – only Korean wall paper isn’t coated, and THE PAPER started rubbing off.  I just muttered to myself shaking my head about the wall as I tried to push the fibers back into something resembling paper and the guy left.  I told this story to my co-teacher the next day, incredulous, and she was totally nonplussed by the fact of someone writing on a brand new wall.  THIS is kind of the hallmark of living in Korea, these things that violate all your sensibilities about civilization that are greeted with a, “yeah, so?” response…Complaining is so NOT Korean.  But Weeping is like the national past time…

Because the previous teacher was already married and had his own furnishings, the school was required to provide me with some basics.  So I jumped on the chance to convince them to let me have a say in the choices, because even though Korean design can be minimalist, beautiful, and elegant, (for a huge boutique price) the bulk of Korean furniture is cheap, shitty, and butt ugly.  (Think low quality Ikea with brown wood-grained contact paper slapped onto it.  Think tables with plastic tubes as legs.  I rest my case)  I’d thought I’d really scored with this victory, but actually it was a total bitch, because the apartment is so tiny, and the bedroom is almost a perfect square, making it even more challenging to fit out.  I had to hand draw a floor plan to scale and carefully make sure each item would fit.  And I’m glad I did, or it would have been a disaster.  I am now, however, able to size up things in millimeters with my eye.
The amazing thing about Korea is their delivery service.  Typically it’s lightening fast.  Emergency obscure item  in one day?  You’re in the boonies three hours from civilization?  No problem.  Anyway, so I spend the next week selecting merchandise and being house-bound, with nothing to do, each night as I waited for the next delivery to arrive, wishing to God I had internet…

the view from my bedroom window

The countryside
I’m actually writing you while riding on the bus, on my way to Chuncheon to visit the former teacher and his wife and look for a t.v. stand at the home-plus where his wife works.  I wish I could buy a car and travel more, as it’s impossible to take photos from the bus with the slow reflexes of pocket digital cameras.  I’ just passed an eiffel tower and some really gorgeous gravesites.  Again, Korean mountains remind me of Appalachia, with all its ridges, furrows, and hollows.  I can’t wait for spring. This place is going to blow me away in spring.  The scenery just keeps getting more and more beautiful.  I have to find a way to save money somehow, so I can both get transportation and find some way to get the kids here to visit me!

The apartment
So this is my new home for now.

As you can see, it’s brand-spanking new and again, having all the modern conveniences the officetel had.  (except the remote control for the air conditioner, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it)  It’s actually in better shape than the officetel was, because it’s so brand new, but instead of everything being pure white, it’s got a dark trim and floor palette.  The floors are plastic and impressed with a faux grain, so every little spec and hair doesn’t show as badly.  Here in Korea,  there is always a shoe closet and the entry is before the raised heated floor begins.

The refrigerator isn’t much bigger than one of those dorm refrigerators plus a vegetable drawer, and then the small freezer.  Good thing I decided to eat dinners at school, since there’s no room to store much food.

The little table was made in Vietnam.  With its four stools instead of chairs, I can also use them as side tables and step stools.

So this is my sofa-bed.  It’s Japanese and actually a hinged futon.  Once folded out, it exactly takes up the free space in the center of the room.  And the ottoman to the left exactly holds a bottom quilt and a top quilt.   Prior to its arrival, I went and purchased the second quilt because my first one was stranded in Seoul at the Itaewon apartment and the floor was getting too hard to sleep on and perform well during the day. It’s purchase is another whole story on its own.

TRYING to live with the wall-paper…..

And this, this is the world’s longest desk.   It’s about 5 feet long and has that great shelf underneath, which also makes a nice footrest.  I hate the looks of the typical Korean cheap desk, which is basically a slab of a top resting as a bridge between an end shelf or cabinet and a book case turned the wrong way.  Hate them.  And the desks are always too short.  So this gives me lots of shelf space and keeps my walls free of clutter.  I just need a t.v. stand that will hold the dvd player & movies, and then a little vanity to hide all my vain items.   I hate not having a place for everything.  It’s really critical in a space this small, too.
This is the wardrobe.  …I’m a little disappointed, because I thought the curtain was flat white from the internet store.  But instead it has the usual Asian love of shiny flora on it.  Behind the curtain are three clothes bars and two rows of plastic drawers.  The stacks of floor furniture and craft items will all be shelved in the “garage”  (the veranda) as soon as the shelving gets delivered, which had to wait for my first paycheck, as it’s not on the official school district list of supplied furniture.

Then there’s the bathroom.  I no longer have Korea’s largest bathroom, nor do I have an enclosed shower like in the officetel.  No.  This is the typical bathroom here, so the shower is a hose attached to the sink, and I have to remember to put the toilet seat up so it doesn’t get wet.  So that’s not so bad.  But I do forget to turn the dial from shower back to sink, so when I go to brush my teeth or wash my face I often get an unintended cold shower.  I don’t know how many of these it will take before I learn, but I have a feeling I’ll never quite get this down as second nature.

The medicine cabinet is:  plastic.  It has the typical stainless blade hanging over the t.p. roll.  I’d always thought this was for tearing off the paper, but when I mentioned worrying about the paper getting wet, Willie wondered why, since that’s what the blade was for.  So, actually, it’s like a bike fender for your paper…There’s not enough space for toiletries, so I also need to get some kind of storage for that, as well as a coat tree for the hallway.

Enough about the apartment, when there’s so many more interesting things to talk about.  So now, I’m going to go grab a bite to eat, come back, and tackle that list of things I wanted to write about, so there will be a couple dozen small posts all in a row…

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2 thoughts on “Chapter Three

  1. When I come to visit you, will I be sleeping at the house of horrors next door :0 starring in my own orphan murder movie?? Man, that yard is so white trash. Clean up your yard grandpa!!

  2. ha ha! White trash — you crack me up!

    I’m pretty sure it’s abandoned. Maybe someone might use it as a garden shed, since there are signs of gardening. I’m hoping the plants growing will make me not notice the rubbish so much.

    My stint helping at the organic farm two (time flies) summers ago was interesting in that the owner and I had a conversation about how I was a natural gardener because I liked order, and that good gardeners were both obsessive about order and also very thoughtful people. Korean gardens don’t seem to exhibit the former. I wonder if their owners are the latter?

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