Archive for June, 2008

Maybe's big box o' books

As I mentioned some time ago, I spent £75 back in February (the 29th, actually) sending a parcel of books to Peter in Korea. Of course, when I met him a couple of weeks ago I asked him whether he’d had it yet. The answer was, No. As it was getting on for four months since I’d sent it, I started getting a bit worried – the ParcelForce website said it should take around two months.

I posted about it on Dave’s ESL Café, wondering if anyone had any advice. The best advice that came back was, Give it a couple more months, thing have turned up after six months. People also posted that things just go missing quite often. I also sent a message via an on-line form to ParcelForce; their reply was, You sent it Internation Economy, you cheapskate, we don’t track that. I’m paraphrasing.

A day or two after that (was it yesterday?) Peter e-mailed to say it had arrived along with a package of his own. He suggested the postal service was just waiting for more than one parcel to arrive before they bothered delivering. I wonder if someone had read my post …

So on Saturday, along with roleplaying, I have the additional excitement of finding out what I sent myself.

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A(nother) part o' me

On Tuesday I was told to pack my things before I came to work on Wednesday so that someone from the hagwon could take my things to a new apartment. And that’s what happened.

I was expecting the new place to have air condintioning. It didn’t. It’s a little smaller than the other place – which is a good thing: it feels more comfortable. It’s two or three buildings down the road, away from the school. Like the other place it has shops on the ground floor and ‘officetel’ studio flats on the six other aboveground floors. My previous place was at the back of the building and received some traffic noise at night, presumably from vehicles coming to stock the shops. It also looked down on the occasional late-night ruckus. The new place is at the front of the building and it just has traffic going past all night.

The lack of air conditioning in this apartment is ridiculous, and I think Jon, the head foreign teacher who showed me there last night was a bit embarrassed about that. Clearly this place is cheaper than the other – and that’s the main reason for them wanting me to move again.

An example of it’s relative cheapness is the shower head in the bathroom. It’s the same connected-to-the-faucet type of shower, but the little bracket for holding it is facing you on the wall next to the mirror at face height. You have to either crouch next to the wall or hold the shower head to shower. Annoying, and in typical Korean fashion, the hose is long enough for the bracket to be located in a much more sensible place on the wall on the right. Also, the basin slowly drains when you fill it. And the gas burners seem to be missing the flat, round bit that sits on top, and don’t work.

Overall, not a great place to live – but I’m not alone: almost all the English teachers hereabouts seem to live in these buildings looking over the main road. I went to Lotte Mart last night and when I came back I shared the elevator with a very pleasant North American girl with a bicycle. I asked her if she was an English teacher (yes), she asked if I was new (also yes – kind of). She got out one floor up so the conversation didn’t go much further.

I’ve been promised an AC unit in the next couple of weeks. I can’t help thinking I’ll end up getting it just as the weather starts cooling down. Did I mention my hagwon lost 100 hundred students last month? The future’s bright, the future’s Korean.

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Von BekVon Bek was one of the half a dozen or so books I took with me to Korea last time. And this time, too. I held off reading it originally because for some mysterious reason I had an idea that it would rather dry and earnest and less than entertaining. I could have been less wrong, but not much.

This volume is the first of a 14 book series collecting tales of the Eternal Warrior – as far as I can gather, these various stories constitute the bulk of Moorcock’s body of work, but they possess thematic consonances. The Tale of the Eternal Champion, Volume 1 is made up of The Warhound and the World’s Pain, The City in the Autumn Stars and ‘The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius’. The first is a short novel from 1981, the second a rather longer novel from 1986, and the third a short story from 1965.

The Warhound and the World’s Pain is the story of Graf Ulrich von Bek and his quest to find the cure to the world’ pain in the 1630s. The City in the Autumn Stars concerns the Graf’s descendent, Ritter Manfred von Bek, and his convoluted journey across Europe away from his persecutors and towards an ambiguous destiny at the end of the 18th century. ‘The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius’, having been written much earlier is a very different piece of work – it’s a strange alternate reality story narrated by Minos von Bek, Metatemporal Investigator. This latter story doesn’t really sit well with the other two tales (as Moorcock’s introduction implies).

The two novels (about 98% of the whole book) are impressively well-written and very entertaining. Each is written as a first person narrative, the respective von Beks dictating or setting down later in life the strange adventures of their early manhood. The writing has just enough hints of an old-fashioned style to seem reasonably authentic, but without going overboard. Each von Bek is an experienced, world-weary, educated man with a somewhat sardonic view of the world. Each never quite takes seriously the supernatural, mystical nature of the events he witnesses. Each has done his fair share of killing, but each is fundamentally a good man.

In the first story, Ulrich von Bek finds himself in a mysterious castle and is there tasked by Lucifer to find the Holy Grail. The Devil portrayed here is not a monster – far from it. Lucifer is a fallen angel looking to rectify his past mistakes, to restore himself and all damned souls to Heaven (or so he says). Von Bek, reluctantly, knowing that Lucifer is the Father of Lies, takes on the Quest. What follows is a long journey weaving in and out of the real world and the Mittelmarch, a fantastical realm somewhere between Earth and Heaven or Hell. Von Bek is assailed by denizens of Hell who think that Satan is, frankly, losing it.

The first novel is straightforward in that we know from near the beginning what Ulrich von Bek’s purpose is. In the second, Manfred von Bek begins his tale fleeing from the bloodthirsty nouveau regime in post-Revolutionary France. He travels east towards Mirenburg (a fictional city somewhere beyond Prague) meeting a number of charismatic individuals – including the Duchess of Crete, with whom he falls completely in love. The narrative builds with a series of hints and revelations, twists and turns towards a mystical Concordance.

The slow build-up of the second novel mitigates against it a little, and much of the book is taken up with von Bek and his friend’s scheme to make money out of a flying ship they never intend to build. As you get towards the end, though, the story becomes layered with alchemical, religious and mythological imagery. There are plenty of magical goings-on, but the truth, within the story, of the supernatural ambitions of just about everybody except von Bek is skillfully made ambiguous.

The short story that concludes this volume was an anticlimax – it struck me as something of a piece of juvenilia. Minos von Bek is investigating a death. Specifically the death of a man called Djugashvili (Stalin) in the garden of Bismarck. The latter’s assistant, Hitler, seems to be involved with a singer (Eva Braun) who works in the bar of Kurt Weill (which is also patronised by Einstein). The story also features murderous plants and a giant four-legged, gun-toting robot, and is set in the ruins of Berlin. It’s not as good as the two novels.

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Seoul perambulation

I took the subway into central Seoul yesterday. Probably due to a combination of a loss of familiarity with the subway map and my slight colour-blindness I stayed on a train overlong, thinking I was going towards Insadong, but instead the train went south over the river near what I’m pretty sure is the parliament building. The weather was very good yesterday, the air much clearer than usual, the sky bearing patches of blue between various cloud formations; it would have been good weather to take photos but I didn’t have my camera with me. It was a bit too warm for comfort.

Once I finally left the subway at City Hall I walked to the Starbucks that’s between there and the Cheonggyecheon for my customary grande latte and croque monsieur. After that I spent a good couple of hours walking round, reacquainting myself with the area. It was Sunday, so there weren’t too many people around – although there was some sort of rally at the head of the Cheonggyecheon and at City Hall, probably something to do with American beef (so ironic from a British perspective).

I attempted to walk from City Hall to Namdaemun to see what state the gate there was in (it was burnt down in January by some madman). I took a wrong turning somewhere and ended up approaching from the direction of Seoul Station. The gate was completely enclosed by boards displaying almost life-sized pictures of the gate as it used to be. Above, you could see some scaffolding and roof over the structure.

From there I went to Myeongdong – Seoul’s equvalent of Oxford Street, a maze of alleys and up-market shops more confusing than Soho. It was much more crowded than everywhere else I’d wandered through. Eventually I started to make my way home, with a final detour to the Libro Books at one of the Euljiro subway stations.

Overall, the day wasn’t terribly productive, but it was nice to see some of the heart of Seoul again.

As opposed to my home base in Nowon, right on the edge of the city. The part of Nowon where I work and live is about 15-20 minutes’ walk from Nowon Station and has a cluster of shops and restaurants around a main road junction. Beyond this small commercial area there appear to be nothing but 10-15 storey apartment blocks. Clearly visible when you’re looking down the right street, even through the pollution and damp air, are the mountains bordering the city. They’re not all that tall, but these ones possess impressive rock faces (where most are completely tree-covered).

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‘Be afraid, don’t be afraid’.

Source: ‘Sonne’, Rammstein.

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Hot and cold

During my previous year in Korea I had about half a dozen colds – which is at least twice as many as I usually have in 12 months. And now I’ve got my first of what I’m sure will be many colds this time around. It’s come on fairly quickly – the night before last I had that slit-throat feeling whilst in bed; yesterday wasn’t too bad, but today I’m sore and snotty and Barry White-voiced.

I spoke to my hagwon’s president, Sharon, on Wednesday asking about if I could get an advance on my salary, when I would get a bank account and when I’d have the medical test. I think the answer to the first two points was 1 July … which is a few days after payday. Right. And as for the latter query, she didn’t know. But as long as I get it done within 30 days (or maybe 90 – the answer was vague) it’ll be OK.

I currently have about 35,000 won – about £17 – and I’m at Lotte Mart to do some shopping.

Coda: Rich and poor

Friday wasn’t the most pleasurable day. By the end of the day I was tired out by my cold and my teaching duties. The one positive note was that I got a form from Sunny Teacher to open a bank account. Hopefully, this’ll be processed in the coming week and I’ll get paid along with everyone else. Payday is the 28th, but I don’t expect any money to reach my account until several days later; at least, that’s how it was my previous hagwon.

I went to Peter’s yesterday for the first session of the Burning Wheel game – just the two of us. My health took some of the edge off the proceedings – I was blowing my nose every few minutes. The game has interesting takes on combat and negotiations – you have to plan what you’re going to do and say in sets of three actions and hope that your plans successfully counter what your opponent has planned.

On my way home Peter very kindly lent me some money so I won’t have to subsist on ramyeon and water for the next week.

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Master of puppies

On Sunday I went to see Peter. We agreed to meet at a Dunkin’ Donuts by his local subway station at three o’clock. On the way there I successfully topped up my T-Money Card (it’s like an Oyster Card) and went on the Seoul subway for the first time this year. I actually got there well in advance, bought myself a coffee and a doughnut and did some writing. At about 2:30 I left to use the toilets in the subway station, waited outside for a bit, then went back into the doughnut shop for another coffee. By twenty past three there was no sign of Peter, so I logged on to a passing wireless network and e-mailed him. He showed up shortly afterwards saying he’d fallen asleep. D’oh.

Peter had moved home about a month before I left Korea last year, and I had a vague idea of which way his place (the upper half of a two storey house) was, but I don’t think I’d have found it on my own. Last time I’d been there, his flat was a little sparse – he’d just moved out of a tiny apartment, so he didn’t have that much stuff. This time it felt much more like a home. A previously empty room was now a living room, with a couple of consoles and his massive Mac. And this time he also had a wife – Mi Young (who found me my job. I remembered to say thank you – just as I was leaving).

Peter had hosted our gaming group last time, and had run two of the games. Earlier this year he’d e-mailed me a little about the group he was then playing with. Unfortunately, this group had since ceased meeting because of some dramatic interpersonal disharmony. But we both want to play, so hopefully a new group will rise from the ashes of the old. The game he had been playing was called The Burning Wheel (it’s a d6-based game – and I just happen to have brought some of my favourite d6s with me to Korea) and I started (slowly) making a character for this system.

After an exhausting and somewhat lonely week it was really good to see Peter again and with his marriage and his upcoming PhD course it looks like his life is on the move (to good places – Boston, for one). If the roleplaying gets off the ground, when Peter leaves in August GM and hosting duties may just fall to me. Hmm.

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