Archive for July, 2008

On Tuesday I went back to the Sejongno Immigration Office near Insadong to collect my passport and Alien Registration Card.

Possibly as a result of not taking my medication assiduously in the previous day or two, possibly as a result of eating several tangerines, possibly as a of the small amount of additional stress going to the office entailed, and possibly as a result of a combination of all of these things my bowels played up a bit on the day, causing me some discomfort and to spend nearly twenty minutes on the toilet at Anguk Station.

Anyway, I arrived at the place at about the same time I had the previous week, but my wait this time was just a couple of minutes. I handed over my receipt, then was given my passport and ARC.

Back at the hagwon, I was finally able to provide the number from the card in order to open a bank account. I’m hoping that I’ll have that by tomorrow, Friday. Monday is my second payday.

Yesterday, we were given our schedules for the summer classes, which also start on Monday. The classes run from 9am to about 5pm, with a break of an hour and a half at lunchtime. I have six or seven classes per day. The teaching also continues on Saturday mornings, which is annoying, but generally not a problem – except for the first week when it clashes with Peter’s wedding. I have no intention of teaching my last class that day, and I’m going to tell our head teacher so today.

In other news, it’s been raining a fair bit here (it is monsoon season, after all). The rain this year seems to be a lot more persistent than it was last year when the rainy season was distinctly disappointing.

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Turn of the CardsHaving now read Turn of the Cards I have only one more volume of the Wild Cards series that I actually own left to read – and that book, Card Sharks, is the first in a ‘new cycle’. I still have several more left to buy; and that might happen fairly soon, as it looks like I’m going to be paid in full in the next few days.

Turn of the Cards follows Mark Meadows as he returns to Earth from his trials on Takis (see Double Solitaire). Although he’s wanted on drugs charges (he uses drugs to transform himself into one of several alter egos), the American Government, in the form of the DEA, is unreasonably obsessed with hunting him down. Two DEA agents, a seconded ace, and a mysterious freelancer track him across the Eurasian landmass starting in Amsterdam and leading finally to Vietnam.

The opening part of the book is pretty decent, with a number of near misses between Mark and his ‘friends’, and the people on his tail. The middle section appears to be the author’s attempt to recreate the Vietnam war genre. It’s also fairly tedious, dealing with the training of a ‘New Joker Brigade’ by the Vietnamese army. The conclusion picks up a bit, with a big fight between the various factions and Mark discovering, quite by accident (or possibly by someone else’s design) a brand new alter ego.

Another not-terribly-special installment of the Wild Cards series, but an OK read, spiced up a little by Victor Milán’s use of obscure words.

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Yesterday I went to Immigration with my various documents. I was also supposed to be waiting in for someone from the cable company. Bit of a conflict there. I went to the hagwon at 11 o’clock to give my key to someone in order for them to let the cable guy in. But the hagwon was closed – later Jon (the head foreign teacher) told me there’s usually someone here from ten.

It was past midday by the time I got to the Sejong Jongno Immigration office near Insadong. I took ticket number 297. The officials were dealing with numbers in the low one hundreds.

At about 2:45 my number was finally up. I handed over my stuff and was told I needed to buy a stamp from the booth at the end of the room. I did; it was 10,000 won. I’ve no idea why you can’t just give a fee to the official on the desk. I was told to come back next Tuesday to pick up my passport (and presumably my Alien Registration Card). The queue for pick-ups seemed much shorter and quicker-moving.

I was due in work at three. I got the subway to Sanggye Station and thought about getting a bus or taxi, but ended up just walking the half-mile back to Eunhaeng Sageori. Where, instead of going straight to English Castle Academy, I went to McDonalds – because I was hungry, and I knew I’d be starving by the end of the day if I didn’t have something soon.

At work, my lateness didn’t seem to the cause of any particular consternation. I told Jon I’d been at Immigration for three hours. The cable guy had been to my apartment, looked at the cabling outside and declared it to be working. When I tried my internet later, after a few attempts to connect, it did, but only for a couple of minutes, and thereafter not at all – better than I’d expected.

On my way out of work, Jon stopped me and said, ‘So, Sean, talk to me.’ My instinctive reaction was one of oh-shit-what-have-I-done. But he wanted to know – as I don’t volunteer my opinions – how I felt about work and all the shennanigans related to settling in. He told me I seemed to be doing very well in class – which bemused me (as compliments always do) and even surprised me a little.

He also said that the hagwon’s president, Sharon, in recent times has become uncommunicative and unhelpful – which is certainly my experience. Then, as he started talking to another teacher, I heard that the academy has lost more students. I have to wonder whether the place is doomed and Sharon knows this.

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The view from Nowon

There isn’t a huge amount to report at the moment. Or rather, there are a number of relatively minor things.

This week I intend to go to Immigration and apply for my Alien Registration Card. Having asked one of the senior teachers about it and shown them a checklist of documents sent from my recruiter, I found an envelope on my desk containing some copies of Korean documents. Then, after asking about it on Dave’s ESL Café and mentioning it to Peter, I found out that I can get an application form at the office (or download it – a link was provided) and I don’t need an appointment. Apparently, it should be a fairly quick, painless process – although I’ll have to wait a week or two to get my card.

I still don’t have a working internet connection. An engineer came to my apartment last week, but whatever he did – checking cables, changing the modem – has, if anything, reduced the connectivity. Last night I sat at the top of the stairwell in my building and managed to log on to someone’s wireless network. I sat there for about half an hour playing Mahjong Titans and dowloading porn.

Which, now that I think about it, leads me on to the major news story in the Life of Sean: I found and downloaded a program called Vistalizator. I was wary about installing it at first, but people on the Technology Forum on Dave’s had had good experiences with it. In Windows Vista only the Ultimate Edition allows you to dowload language packs and change the whole operating system’s language. Vistalizator allows you to do this on other editions. Long story short, then, my computer now speaks English. Result!

My Hungarian colleague, Bo – Botond – joined Peter and me for roleplaying on Saturday. Which was nice. Afterwards, I joined him and his wife and a friend of hers for some food in Bangbae or Seocho. So-yeong suggested a walk in the environs of the traditional performing arts centre, but it was raining too heavily.

Yesterday – Sunday – I didn’t do a huge amount. I went into central Seoul and caught up on my book reviews. Later I went and saw Hancock, which I thought was a pretty decent film – an interesting take on the superhero genre. Back at Eunhaeng Sageori (‘Bank “Intersection”‘ – where I live) I went to a restaurant called Felice Spaghetti (or, in Romanised Korean, Pelliche Seupageti) and had a seafood spaghetti dish.

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Infinity Welcomes Careful DriversApparently, Grant Naylor is a gestalt entity comprised of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, writers of the now legendary British sitcom, Red Dwarf. This book dates from 1989, shortly after the first season aired in 1988.

The first couple of chapters, apparently, have nothing to do with the JMC mining ship Red Dwarf and its gormless vending machine technicians Dave Lister and Arnold J Rimmer – and you wonder just how dissimilar the novel is going to be. Lister soon arrive on-page driving a stolen taxi on Saturn’s moon Mimas trying gather enough money to return to earth. (He’d been on a Monopoly-based pub crawl in London, and had got so drunk the next thing he remembered was waking up on Mimas with someone else’s passport.) He picks up a fare (who turns out to be Rimmer) wearing a laughably thin disguise who says he wants to go to a restaurant but actually heads for an android brothel (where the customers customize their partners by selecting bodyparts from different androids).

We see the whole story of how Lister joins up with the Jupiter Mining Corporation, his romance with Kristine Kochanski, and the disaster that kills everyone onboard Red Dwarf – except Lister, who’s in stasis, and the cat, Frankenstein, who’s escaped to the cargo hold.

All the extra details from the characters’ lives make this required reading for any fan of the TV series. The differences mainly serve to fill in the background, but there is one interesting discrepancy – the captain of Red Dwarf here is a woman.

The writing is nothing special – descriptions tend to be overwritten – and to be honest, it’s not as funny as the TV show – and a lot of the best jokes are ones you remember from TV. But, of course, Red Dwarf the TV series was fantastic – and a hard act to recreate in novel form. But, still, I thought it was reasonably entertaining, with a few good laughs and a slightly deeper portrayal of the characters and their universe.

The book ends with Lister, Rimmer and the Cat trapped in a Better Than Life game – a section of the book that is quite different from the series two episode ‘Better than Life’. I think I need to get hold of the sequel – also called Better than Life – and continue reading.

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The Forever WarI first heard of this novel in a History module I did in my first year at university – Science Fiction and Society, it was called (or something similar). According to my lecturer, Joe Haldeman was a Vietnam veteran and this book reflects his war experiences.

The story begins in 1997, with the main character, William Mandella (born in the mid-seventies, when the ook was written), having been conscripted into an élite army unit of highly intelligent, physically fit, graduates. The purpose of he unit is to combat aliens called Taurans who have attacked human colonists.

Humans are just beginning to explore the universe beyond the solar system and these élite soldiers are sent out in craft travelling at near light speed. In fact, at these velocities, time dilation effects kick in, so a campaign that, to Mandella, appears to take eight months, actually takes nine years. Once back on earth in 2006, he’s sent on another mission, farther away. That takes about twenty years. The next one takes a couple of centuries.

Over the many years of the war, Mandella witnesses huge technological advances in warfare (although at the end, the humans and Taurans end up fighting with darts, bows and arrows, swords and spears), even greater changes in human society, and the continuing mono-manaical determination of the military machine to pursue its ends regardless of the cost, be it financial or human.

The Forever War is clearly a very important work of hard sf. The human side of the narrative is less well-done – there is a love story there, but you don’t really realise it until well into the novel. The copy I have appears to be the first UK paperback edition (for some reason, it doesn’t have the title on the spine – or maybe it’s just faded to nothing), and it has a few big typos in it – a couple of sentences are clearly lacking several words, for example.

Overall, an interesting read, a little dry and fairly obvious in the way it develops, but not bad.

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White Teeth

Published in 2000, this is about the closest I come to reading contemporary mainstream fiction. But on the basis of this novel, I probably ought to read more.

White Teeth is, I suppose, a saga about two or three families living in Willesden Green (‘This train terminates at – Willlllesden Grreeen‘ – ah, the happy voice on the Jubiliee Line) – Samad and Archie, World War Two veterans, their wives Alsana, to whom Samad has been betrothed since before she was born, and Clara, daughter of a Jamaican Jehova’s Witness; and their children, Irie and twins Magid and Millat. (The third family is the Chalfens, but they don’t really figure in the story until halfway through.) It takes place generally over the last quarter of the 20th Century, with flashbacks to earlier periods.

And, most notably of all, it’s simply a good read from beginning to almost the end (the final scene is a confluence of various disparate plot threads, and is rather too unlikely, abrupt and ultimately anti-climactic). It’s often amusing, and occasionally outright funny, the many characters are drawn warmly and honestly, and it adds up to an interesting picture of modern multi-cultural Britain and the strains that puts of people and families.

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Late on Saturday morning I was woken by persistent knocking at my door. It was the cable/internet guy with the building security guy. The former had come to install my cable and internet. He did so. The internet worked as soon as he connected it to my computer. I tried listening to Radio 4, but the sound wasn’t working, so I restarted it – which caused it to spend an hour installing updates. When I finally got back into windows, the internet worked for about ten minutes. And since then I haven’t been able to connect for more than a minute or so without it ceasing to work. So I still don’t have the internet.

The cable TV package is crap – for my purposes, anyway. I’ll have to buy an additional pack if I want to watch CNN, and a different one for Discovery. I’ve been spending some time the past few days watching American crime drama – Monk, Law and Order and so on. Not too bad, not terribly inspiring, but it makes me feel less lonely.

Saturday also saw the wedding of the two senior teachers at my hagwon – one Canadian, one Korean. Neither had been at work most of the previous week, and I don’t expect them back for another week or two.

In the afternoon, I went to the local Starbucks and did some writing. My new short story is coming along quite well – although at the moment I’m a little stuck. Then I went back home and put on my suit. The trousers and shirt hadn’t been worn for some time and smelled kind of musty. The jacket really needs dry cleaning and the underarms have a mild stale sweat odour. I used plenty of body spray – on myself and on the clothes.

I headed to my Hungarian colleague Bo’s place. Now that July is here, it seems that the monsoon season has started in earnest. Which is to say that, while it still doesn’t rain very often, it’s even hotter and more humid. I sweated buckets.

Bo and I went down to Sinsa (sahf o’ the river) and met some of our other colleagues and Bo’s wife, So-yeong. At the venue, the Riverside Hotel, there were fewer people than I’d seen at the other weddings I’d been to in Korea; excepting us from the hagwon, the only guests on Jon’s side (as far as I could tell) were his parents.

I hung around chatting with Bo and So-yeong. At one point I had my photo taken with the bride, Sunny, and a couple of our other colleagues. In contrast to the other weddings I’d attended, the hall for the ceremony and meal were one and the same. I sat on a chair facing directly away from the stage, so I had to twist round to watch (and peer either side of the massive pillar in front of me).

One of the Americans at the hagwon, David, read limited translations of the Korean announcements/commentary: ‘Jon and Sunny will now bow to the groom’s parents’, ‘Jon will now sing’ etc. I remember him saying a couple of weeks ago that he’d had a sound clip on his computer that occasionally said, ‘I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave,’ (HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey – in case you didn’t know, you ignorant fool). That was pretty much the voice he used for his voiceovers – while trying restrain his amusement/embarrassment.

After all that was over, Bo, So-yeong and I headed north again towards our dwellings. So-yeong suggested we stop at Hyehwa for a drink – so we did. After wandering around the area for a little while (which was all new to me), we stopped at a large empty tea house. I can’t remember what tea I’d got, but I didn’t like it (too fruity) and Bo and I swapped. We stayed there talking for some time … then went home.

On Sunday I had an annoyingly early start. Peter and I were meeting at Seokgye station to travel across town to see Get Smart at the CGV cinema in Sindorim Technomart. We were amused at the design choices. On the inside the Technomart was all fake classical columns and statuary – very Las Vegas. From the outside, the building looks like Optimus Prime’s head, with two golden claws sticking up from the ground in front.

The film itself was reasonable. Very amusing in places, embarrassing in others (the dance with the obese Russian girl). It didn’t quite hang together, and there seemed to be references to stuff that I didn’t get.

Then it was back to his for roleplaying. I’d invited Bo to join us, as he’d expressed an interest when I’d mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. I e-mailed him Peter’s phone number from a laptop on display in the Technomart. But he didn’t make it. And we only have three weeks left before Peter becomes unavailable for four years.

At the hagwon, yesterday we had, and today we will have tests – so no teaching, no preparation required. Look like things are back to normal tomorrow (although a normal Wednesday consists of one class and a load of paperwork that appears to be all done). On the 28th, our summer intensive classes begin, and apparently we have to be in work at nine. AM. Shite.

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Color me blind

As Arkwright would say, it’s been a funny sort of a day, all in all. I was told last week that today, Wednesday – our paperwork day – I should come to the hagwon for 8:20. I did so, but – irrational fears coming true – no one was there to meet me. I waited ten minutes then went home to sit on my new old sofa being depressed.

At around five to nine there was a rather tentative knock at the door. It was the man from the hagwon come to take me to the hospital. I spent an hour or more follwing him around the Eul Ji Medical Center to take a variety of tests. The EMC (which is a real hospital, as opposed to the clinic I’d been to in Ansan for my bowel stuff, and which all the Koreans kept calling a hospital) has, in its large reception area on the ground floor, a small branch of Shinhan Bank; on the B1 level it has a Mini Stop convenience store.

First off was a dental check. I’m aware that I have a few self-inflicted cavities (from brushing too hard; the dentist who told me this in St Helens filled them, but some soon came out. I haven’t been to the dentist in nearly three years now – it’s one of my objectives for this stint in Korea), but the check seemed OK.

Next up for inspection were my eyes. My sight was tested in each eye down to 10 on the chart of ever-decreasing characters. I was also given the kind of colour-blindness test I remember from primary school. In fact, I was given it three times – presumably on the hope of the clinicians that I would get less colour-blind with practice. The women testing me had little pieces of paper that clearly had the answers to the ‘What’s this number?’ questions. And I did get better as my brain started to distinguished between identical shades of different colours. The latter discs of blobs each had an upper and lower track to trace with your finger. I could just about get the bottom tracks, I think, but, as far as ‘eye’ could tell, there were no upper tracks.

Next up was hearing. I was put in a booth with a pair of headphones and a button to press when I heard a sound. I think my hearing is pretty sound (ha ha), but I could tell from this test that I’m insensitive to soft low tones in my left ear.

After that, I think, I had a chest scan of some sort. The door to the room was left wide open, and I saw a couple of people have scans before me, leaning up against a square panel that was part of a big grey machine. The doctor invited me to look at the image as it was rendered onscreen and told me I was fine.

Next on the itinerary was blood and urine. Which I gather from ESL Café are required for testing for HIV and drugs (but not cannabis, not any more – too many people were failing, apparently) – and possibly other things. After last year, I’m an old hand at blood tests. Somehow the prick of the fantastically sharp needle sliding into my vein always feels worse than I think it will but better than I fear. I was given both a paper cup and a little specimen jar to inundate, then the Korean guy showed me to the nearest toilet – once he figured out where it was. I waited a good few minutes for the only cubicle to become free. Fortunately, the restroom was very quiet – in terms of traffic – so I didn’t suffer from nerves too badly. As soon as I came out my guide took both jar and cup from me (he’d earlier taken my laptop bag, and as I followed him round I watched it slap against his backside in exactly the way that I try not to let it do). If he wanted to carry a cup of my piss I wasn’t going to stop him.

It was after that that I started worrying about whether my medication would have any deleterious effect on the results. (Amusing aside: last night I left work early as there wasn’t anything for me to do. I had some toast at home then went and bought myself a hot chicken pizza. When I returned to my apartment I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to eat before my test. Jon had told me not to eat after midnight; it wasn’t that late yet, but I decided to err on the side of caution and put my hot chicken pizza straight in the fridge.)

Finally, I was taken to the family clinic to have my height, weight and blood pressure taken.

Then we left. No – down in the car park, the Korean (I probably ought to learn his name) drove the school minibus forward a few feet so I could get in (because of the pillar on the passenger side), backed it in again and returned to the hospital on some mysterious task. He came back about ten minutes later – and then we left.

When I got home, I had half my chilled hot chicken pizza, showered, blah blah blah.

At school I was left with very little to do – all my paperwork being pretty much done (although there may be more that I don’t know about). I chatted a little with my white colleagues, we had food.

At one point one of the Korean teachers (amusing aside the second: when I was with Bo last week we talked about the Korean teachers’ names – he’s also quite new, and neither of us know many of them. He identified one of the teachers by her large breasts, and said that he’d asked one of his students who his home-room (ie, Korean) teacher was – the boy had made a large breast gesture. I wasn’t and I’m not entirely sure who this might be. Just as Koreans in general all tend to dress the same, Korean women all tend to have the same size breasts (it’s better than having one bigger than the other – ba-dum-tsssh!) – which is to say, quite nicely-sized, not too big. (Amusing aside III: while hanging out with some foreigners last year, a New Zealander girl had complained about not being able to find bra. She said, I have the biggest boobs in Korea. My tall, overweight, also New Zealander, male colleague, Kerry, said in response, Ahem-hem-hem.) However, I have my suspicion as to who this might be: a pleasant (but not nearly so pretty as your typical K-girl) teacher who’s given me a few looks and smiles. (If I was less emotionally inept, I might know what that means.) ), at one point one of the Korean teachers (who may or may not have large breasts, who may or may not have some sort of liking for me) came and asked for my key so my heating could be fixed. I was sitting and she was standing right in front of me. I knew it was wrong, but the first thing I did was glance at her breasts.

Anyway, now I can use my stupid shower and not have to find new ways of stopping the water draining from my retarded bathroom sink.

And somehow, this evening I feel a hell of a lot less depressed than I did this morning.

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Depressive Monday

Yesterday Bo told me that he and his wife had watched the final of Euro 2008 live in the early hours of the morning. Which left me with no easy place to watch the game. I could have tried a bar, but I certainly wasn’t up for that. And right now I have no idea who won (but I expect it was Germany).

I had a message from Paul suggesting we meet today, to which I replied in the affirmative. Then I had to send him a negative because apparently someone was coming to my apartment to see to things. But then it looks like that actually happened last night.

The Korean chap from the school who’s ferried me back and forth a few times between one place of accommodation and another took me back to my apartment last night and opened up the nearby (I mean a few doors away) flat of our head foreign teacher, Jon (who has apparently now moved to his married quarters). I showed the Korean bloke my non-working gas burners; he moved a small switch above the knobs which seems to control the gas flow (in addition to the knobs themselves; of course: I need two controls for the same thing – why didn’t I think of that?). One of the burners works now; the other one is still fucked.

The head Korean teacher, and Jon’s nearly-wife, called the Korean guy and spoke to me. She wanted to know if I wanted to move (again) to Jon’s place or just move some things from Jon’s to mine. The broken heating control pisses me off but, at least I have alternative means to boil water. I tried to tell her about the heating control, but she didn’t understand and kept going on about the air conditioner. I persevered and she got a bit short with me. Finally I handed the phone back to the Korean man and he explained. When I received the phone once more she said it was the building owner’s responsibility to fix it. Relieved that she at least understood now what the problem was, I said I’d stay in this apartment.

The Korean and I moved a load of stuff from Jon’s erstwhile place to my current place: TV, toaster, sofa, armchair, small table and two chairs. He also encouraged me to take the leftovers from Jon’s fridge and cupboards.

Some time today apparently someone is to provide an internet connection – and probably cable TV at the same time. I’m sitting in my flat writing this and I have no idea if I’m supposed to wait in until 3pm or if I’ll be asked for my key whilst at work – or if it’ll happen after work.

It seems like life at the moment is one frustration after another. Already I hate Korea all over again.

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