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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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