Thursday, August 21, 2008

Whelp, I made it!

So far, so good. I was exhausted last night when I made it in—in Colorado, the time was five-thirty a.m. Wednesday morning, exactly 26 hours after I’d woken to be driven to the Denver airport. The twelve hours over the Pacific (and the Canadian Rockies, but I was in the middle aisle, damnit! Would have loved to have peered out the window at that) passed surprisingly quickly, despite several stints of ridiculous leg cramps, and my inability to sleep longer than an hour at a time. It was the flight from Japan to Busan that was torture—the last thing one wants after a trans-Pacific flight is to hop onto another plane for two hours, or three, rather, because we spent a full hour taxiing from the loading dock to the airstrip. By this point, I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I couldn’t sleep, either, because each time I nodded off, I nodded a little too hard to the left or right and jerked myself awake. I sat next to two little Korean girls who had just spent a month visiting the national parks in America’s West coast and Midwest, one from whom—true to my imperious American nature—I discreetly stole the window seat. But the Korean flight attendant was my not-so-silent accomplice in this, and the little girl was far too polite and acquiescing to have had any qualms about taking the aisle. Like I said: imperious.

Meeting me at the airport was Angele, Anna, and Mr. Kim. Angele is the woman I was put into contact with through my recruiter in order to get a feel for the Changwon Reading Town, and she is absolutely fabulous. Reminded me a bit of Nicole Schnee, an old high school friend, and after observing her teach, reminded me a lot of Nicole Schnee. Anyway, we drove the half hour through and away from Busan, and despite the darkness, I could see the outlines of mountains on all sides, which was comforting, and promising. Before long we pulled alongside a building on a narrow street squeezed tight with similar-looking buildings, and this was it, they told me: my apartment, my home for the next year. They had bought me a couple bags of food to get me started, and so we dragged these and my 100+ pounds of luggage up two flights of stairs to my front door, which is quite possibly the most fantastic front door I’ve ever seen, and we stepped in and removed our shoes—very important to remove one’s shoes—and I was so pleasantly surprised: wood floors, big bedroom, good sized living room and kitchen, a screened-in porch, and—surprise, surprise—a second room with a desk, the “office,” I’m calling it. The bathroom has no tub or shower stall, just a hose and nozzle attached to the wall, and a drain in the middle of the floor. TV in the living room, and a loveseat and small table and chair. Across the street in plain view is a little sand-based playground. The washing machine was missing—Mr. Kim said it had been moved downstairs—but he would have it moved up sometime soon.

I forgot my exhaustion and spent the next couple hours unpacking, and then the next seven—which I had relegated for catatonia—tossing and turning and waking every hour. Apprehension perhaps, excitement mostly, jet lag possibly. At 6:20 the next morning, I decided to just get up. Made some instant coffee, which didn’t taste like coffee, or have a bit of caffeine, I think. Once again, jet lag, possibly. I wanted to go run, but was afraid if I was going too quickly from street to street, I might forget them and get lost, plus I desperately wanted to take the camera, and more desperately wanted a cup of caffeine, and figured that after all I’d heard about the ubiquity of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds in Korea, I was bound to find something. So I set out for a walk—North, South, East, West? Where’s Pike’s Peak when you need it?—and after traipsing up my street, ran into a main-drag-of-a-road, with a little brick-laden, tree-lined path running parallel. This, I decided, was where I would be doing most of my running.

Walked along here for awhile, smiling at everyone, receiving empty—sometimes accusing—stares in return. High rise buildings all to my left, some with vibrant and wildly mismatched signs; almost nothing in English. I was surprised about this at first, and then thought about it a bit, and then felt like an asshole. What had I expected? Was I not in South Korea? The biggest English sign I saw was orange and read “Beer Hunting.” I immediately pictured the Deer Hunter game advertised in the states, and then I thought about Dad, and then I thought: ahhh, liquor store, and how appropriately advertised. They know their market.

Finally spotted a Dunkin’ Donuts, and as I approached the door, clutching my won bills, I realized I didn’t know how to say “coffee” in Korean. Or much else of anything, besides “hello” and “whiskey,” and it was clearly too early for that, and I wasn’t sure if I could count won, and most of all, I became acutely aware of my foreignness, and the supposed incompetence that so often accompanies that foreignness. So I kept walking. Right on past. No coffee.

I realize this is becoming an “and then I did this, and then I went here, and then I saw that” narrative, but bear with me; my mother loves it.

Came back to my place and ate, and finally made it our for a run, and as soon as I got back, decided to try this shower deal. The water heater must be turned on specifically for the shower, approximately two minutes before showering, but I couldn’t remember which buttons to press. They looked to be labeled very well, but—of course—in Korean. I pressed a couple, and then tested the water. Icy. Tried again, and still cold. Last button, and then just stripped and went for it, and the nozzle burst at me frigidly, but luckily, I had pressed the right button that time, and it warmed up. By the time I had the entire bathroom soaked, the last of the conditioner was rinsed from my hair. I bent over, staring at my knees, and squeezed the water out of my hair, when I heard a knock at the door. I froze. Another knock. Kr. Kim wasn’t supposed to pick me up for another two hours. I grabbed my pink towel and wrapped it around myself, and tiptoed just outside the bathroom door, and then Mr. Kim was yelling my name through the small kitchen window. There was nothing I could do now but answer the door, and that I did, praying that I wasn’t breaking some sacred Korean law of propriety. Mr. Kim looked thoroughly embarrassed. The washing machine was ready, he said.

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