Monday, March 12, 2007


One Week in Seoul

March 4 @ 2 p.m.
I entered my new apartment in Seoul this morning with plans to contact customer service to initiate the installation of internet service and then begin search for an affordable DVD player after unpacking. However, upon my arrival, those items were pushed much, much further down my to-do list.
A very quick scan of my apartment revealed no refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, television set, washing machine or water purifier to filter Seoul's undesirable drinking liquids into something suitable for intake. These things had been provided for me at my previous institutes, but upon viewing my new place of residence I heard the foreboding tapping of piano keys in my head, accompanied by the ominous voice of Robert Stack.
He narrates the following: "That was the moment when he began to suspect that his new job and the move that accompanied it were all part of an insidious scheme to exploit his foreignness and watch him scramble in search of edible food for his home. The perpetrators of this heinous crime … are still at large."
The famed actor of stage and screen who died of old age years ago but probably still appears 45 years old in his grave is right. I can hear the Korean architects of this scheme chortling when I close my eyes: "Ha! Watch the foreigner live off of fast food for awhile as he searches for electronics to buy! I bet you'd trade those six extra inches for a basic grasp of our language, wouldn't you, White Devil?! Muahahahaha!"
I will have my vengeance.
March 4 @ 6 p.m.:
In the late afternoon I visited one of the foreign administrators in the central office to ask if we'd have help acquiring our furnishings. He made a few phone calls to some other foreigners better situated to this environment who were in meetings or had mysterious appointments off campus. He then told me to wait at the apartment for awhile and call back if I heard no word.
Clearly, this conspiracy has infiltrated my fellow foreigners who had once sworn to help us. There was nothing I could do but return to my apartment and finish unpacking. At about 5 p.m. a Korean man arrived to place a seat atop the commode which had conspicuously had none previously. He then looked around the apartment momentarily, before tersely announcing, "Microwave, washing machine and water to drink will be here tomorrow," then leaving just as abruptly.
The mind games continue, as my adversaries now believe that throwing me the slightest hope of a bone will keep me in this cruel game they have devised.
Someday, I will have my vengeance.
March 4 @ 8 p.m.:
Tired of measuring the dimensions of my bedroom (it's 8 feet wide by 15 feet across, approximately) and searching for silverware that also seems to be missing, I set out in the rain to search for electronics stores to scout. The mouthpiece of my tormentors didn't mention anything about a microwave or a toaster oven, so I must prepare for the possibility that I must procure them myself.
Should I purchase these items, I'm sure some of my Korean friends will tell me I should have waited for them to help me so that I could have gotten a better deal. However, waiting for them to help me Tuesday doesn't get my bread toasted on Monday.
I discovered LG and Samsung department stores side by side. I was merely on a mission of reconnaissance, so there was no need to initiate the awkward conversations with the Korean salespeople that my adversaries would obviously relish. The solution I devised was to only examine items in passing and never stop actually moving. Therefore, they were never able to catch me and say whatever Korean words translate into "May I help you?"
However, I was nearly baited into examining the flash drives, electronic language dictionaries and blank CDs sold at these outlets. A failure to prioritize at this stage would only let my invisible foes prevail, and I will not do it!
Instead, I bought a single-serving carton of milk and ate a bowl of cereal with a table spoon.
I swear that someday I will have vengeance.
March 5 @ 5 p.m.
I returned from my first day at the office to find a Korean man inside my apartment attempting to install the oven. I found a stack of boxes including a toaster oven, microwave, blender, vacuum cleaner and juicer. Also, the washing machine has been installed in the next room.
Relieved, I decide to leave the apartment and find some groceries. I return to find there is no water purifier and oven is still unattached and unusable.
I have mixed feelings, but at least I can keep cereal at my own apartment now. I would have toast, but the nearest grocery store I can find has no bread.
Vengeance shall be mine.

March 6 @ noon
My attempts to have internet installed at my apartment have been met with frustration and degradation. The teaching coordinator told me it would be taken care of if I talked to the secretary, and the secretary told me to talk to one of the two assistant pastors, neither of which is in his office. I have attempted to call the internet company and make arrangements myself, only to receive an automated message programmed by someone who obviously didn't speak English very good.
The messages "Connection is delayed, please wait for awhile," "It is a lot of inquiring call now," Now is on another inquired call," and "One moment, please" repeat, over and over again and at random.
My tormentors went the extra mile this time, as they have apparently made dark alliances with the internet company.
However, today the water purifier and the oven are connected.
However, these shall not assuage my vengeance, and it shall be sweet.
March 6 @ 5 p.m.
I searched a nearby shopping district upon hearing that I might find a high quality gymnasium in that area. I didn't succeed in finding it, but instead I found a McDonalds, and thought a little bit of American-style sodium intake would help me feel better about my situation.
I knew as I walking back to my apartment that this was a decision that would haunt me for days to come. My adversaries have not only infiltrated every corridor of my institute, they now are predicting my moves ahead of time and poisoning my chicken nuggets!
I will have my vengeance … if I can ever leave the bathroom again.
March 7 @ 4 p.m.
I called my supervisor to tell her that I wasn't up for working today. In one of the few genuinely helpful acts I've encountered so far in Seoul, she offered to take me to the Adventist hospital adjacent to our institute and communicate with them for me.
When I started the day with abdominal pain and distinct fear of eating, I assumed that today would be similar to those times in high school/college when I had the flu: I would go to the doctor's office for about an hour, he'd say "Get some rest, take these pills three times a day, drink lots of water, etc. etc." (It's a little known fact that while "etc." is the Latin phrase meaning "and so on," the double use "etc. etc." is also a Latin phrase, but one used primarily by doctors, which means "This medical advice I'm giving is so formulaic I can't believe I'm getting paid so much to give it.")
Upon receiving the doctor's advice, I would then return home and spend the rest of the day napping, watching movies, eating breakfast foods and reading The Hobbit or something else I didn't have time to read during a typical work week.
However, I had clearly misjudged both my illness and the current state of Korean medicine: which is highly thorough if not terribly convenient. My doctor told me that I was dehydrated and chose to attach me to IV for four-and-a-half hours.
And so, in the basement of this hospital, I lay in a bed two inches too short for me, surrounded by five middle-aged Koreans receiving the same treatment. I was able to sleep for one hour, and successfully occupied the rest of time pondering the deep questions of life, such as: "If I move my arm this way will blood come out?" "Where is the bathroom here?" "If I move my elbow this way will blood come out?" and "How long has it been since I went to the bathroom?"
Finally, when the water in the bad and stopped dripping, the nurse removed the tape from my arm (this process was clearly designed for those more hairless than I) and sent me on my way to the pharmacy. There, to accompany my medication, I received a bit of dietary advice: "Don't drink cold water, don't drink milk, and don't eat solid food."
I will have my vengeance against the pharmacy.
March 9 @ noon
After two days out sick, today I went into work and completed an actual work day at the textbook office; albeit the half-day we have on Fridays (it's a start).
I have all my appliances and I can eat dairy products again. However, I am no closer to my goal of internet access than I was when I started, and my apartment is still a crypt devoid of televised entertainment.
However, Monday begins a new week, a full week of work that I can spend helping to design our new textbooks so that Koreans across the country will learn to speak English just as I do.
In that way, I will have my vengeance.

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