The Seoul Train bravoing my life...



Damian is to my right. The hill is getting steeper and a partially opened door opens completely. A beautiful, scantily-clad woman steps out and extends her arm and an invitation in soft Korean. I duck and skip to the side, shaking my head.
We pick up the pace in silence and round the corner heading farther up the hill to a used English bookstore.



The following could have happened anywhere. But it didn't, it happened in Seoul.

Its beyond butt cold outside and this particular Sunday afternoon is moving faster than we can keep up with. We are on our way to Korean language lessons near Sookmyung station off line #4 as we duck into Cheolsan station to begin the subway stint. We converse while riding the puke green line west to east across southern Seoul. We disembark at the Isu transfer station and head for our connection.
A young petite black gentleman approaches the two of us while we wait. He engages us in conversation by announcing that we are the most foreigners he has ever seen in this subway station. I recognize him immediately even though I have never seen him before.

Two days before I had the most intensive interview session of my short working life. After three offers and a pending deadline I decided on a position at a Sangdo Haguan. The application process was extremely competitive and the couple conducting the interview was up-front about everything. I was informed that I was the final interviewee and that, up until meeting me, they had nearly decided on another gentleman. The same gentleman I would meet by coincidence in the subway station.
It is shortly after 9pm, I am holding a paper cup of cooling espresso and sitting in the 3rd floor office of the aforementioned Haguan. I have just blustered my way through an unanticipated request to display my teaching skills. The boss-couple seem energized with satisfaction while myself and their daughter, the audience of my spontaneity, are showing hints of exhaustion. She falls back asleep on the couch and I try to remember when the interview began.
"Let me speak frankly," my boss continues. The other applicant is apparently in a tough position. As it goes, he returned from his winter break to find his Haguan shut-down. He is in dire straight, without a promised pay check and a place to stay.
I verbalize my thoughts.
I state, "I would understand completely if you were to offer this individual the position." I briefly pause and continue. "I would hate to be in his position." My statement is followed by a hasty verbal joust in Korean between the man and woman.
Eventually, Mr. offers me the job but wants me to make a decision immediately. He has promised to call the other applicant by 9pm this evening with his employment offer. Why the haste? The applicant is staying in a nearby hotel and does not have much money.
Their English is not entirely lucid and it takes a minute to sink in. The couple tightens their gaze. A slight panic slips over me, the weight of the entire next year bearing down unexpectedly all at once. For the first time this evening I stutter.
I explain that I will need more time. Siting the length of the commitment, I relate how I would like to give the offer time enough to mull itself over. The couple banters on in this still unfamiliar language.
They have decided to call the applicant to disclose all, and to potentially offer him a part-time job and a temporary place to stay.
I can vaguely here the applicant over the phone. He is willing to accept the part-time position if necessary. They then insist that he stay in their home until they find him an apartment. They matter-of-factly state their intent to pick him up at the motel shortly.
It turns out he has already payed for the nights rent. The conversation is resolved and the pick-up time is moved until the next afternoon.
I am dropped off at the subway station. I have agreed to notify them by 7am the next morning. I shake hands, politely close the car door and start down the escalator; I am overwhelmed with the lingering decision, I board the subway and realize I have forgot the contract-draft in the car.

This man's voice is vaguely familiar but his appearance is the give a way. He is short and petite and African-American just like the couple had described. It was a near dead give away as I had, up until this point, not seen a black man in Seoul.
I am already mulling over the irony of this chance meeting even before it is confirmed. The usual set of questions pass between the three of us. I cut to the chase and mention that I had just signed a contract the day before. His eyes are quick to the realization. He jumps on the comment and asks where the job is.
He reacts, "You're that son of a bitch!" Various deviations were repeated with myriad intonations, innumerable times over. All were in jest and emphasized irony rather than antagonism; nevertheless, the adjectives put me on the defensive.

The three way conversation quickly deteriorates into a monologue with an audience. He boasts an IQ of 150, intent to attend Harvard Law, and military service in Iraq for 6 months as an Army Ranger. We have now boarded the subway train, the doors have closed and Isu station disappears.
Enter a short, thick Korean man with a cane. He physically inserts himself into our conversation stepping between myself and my new acquaintance. He looks directly at the latter and forcefully rattles off an imperative in Korean. He simultaneously places a finger over his own mouth as if to motion for a quite tone of voice.
Our friend stares at the Korean man as he walks between us. I stare at our new friend. Damian glances between the two of us. I turn to ask Damian what has been said. Our friend replies, "You're too loud. You should not speak as loudly."
I laugh off the awkwardness, certain that old age would be excuse enough for the action. I ask our friend how long he has been studying Korean. He responds by saying it was easy to learn. Our conversation continues but our friend keeps an eye on the old man.
Half a minute later the man releases his grasp from the loop support and steps between Damian and me, gesturing with the same hand that holds the cane, repeating the same demand but louder and much closer to our friends face.
I am now in utter disbelief. We are not speaking loudly. The short old man, who must be in his 50s, is speaking to our friend as if Damian and I were not there.
I start to say, "What the fuck is...", when our friend leans in even closer to the instigator and slowly pronounces a phrase in Korean.
The man returns to his previous post, shifting his cane to his left hand and grasping the overhead loop with his right. He spouts off several sentences while gesturing toward the subway door.
I look back at our American friend. He told the man to "Get the fuck away."

The conversation has died. The only thing I can say several times is, "This is ridiculous" or "That's fucked up, man."
Our friend mentions his stop is next. We begin to say our goodbyes. I tell him I look forward to working with him.
About as quickly as the doors open, the man is in front of our friend bumping him in the chest as he exits through the door. Neither Damian nor I anticipated this. We take several steps toward the door.
On the platform the Korean elder is once again within kissing distance of our new acquaintance. I cant decide if I should get off the subway or not.
I ask, "Are you going to be alright, man."
He responds, "Yeah, sure. Don't worry about it."

The doors slap shut and the subway pulls away in slow motion. Our heads rotate to the right, keeping the two in our gaze as long as possible.
My nerves are twitching as if it was me who was about to fight. I turn to Damian and ask, "Have you ever seen such blatant racism?"

The other 50 Korean subway passengers have not reacted to the scene. They appear stoic as always.
Maybe for them this was nothing out of the ordinary.

Memorable Bear Story


Andrew Barlow

For me, wisdom came not at the top of the graduate-school mountain nor buried in the Sunday-school sandpile. For me, wisdom arrived during a visit to the home of our trusted friend the polar bear. Actually, I suppose "trusted friend' is something of a misnomer, because last year I had my arms brutally ripped from my torso by a fifteen-hundred-pound Norwegian polar bear. How and why this happened is an interesting story. For now, though, let's take a look at some fun lessons about our good friend Ursus maritimus, the polar bear. Here's what I learned:
  • Share everything. You might be thinking, Really? Even with polar bears? Yes, share especially with polar bears. Actually, the word "share" does not exist in the polar bear's vocabulary, which consists of only about three hundred words. Give everything you have to a polar bear and do not expect him to share it. It did not occur to the polar bear who took my arms from me to share them in any way afterward.
  • Polar bears are meticulous about personal cleanliness. A typical polar bear will feast for about twenty to thirty minutes, then leave to wash off in the ocean or an available pool of water. The polar bear who feasted on my arms did exactly this, leaving to scrub up in a nearby lake. Good hygiene is fundamental.
  • In nearly all instances where a human has been attacked by a polar bear, the animal has been undernourished or was provoked. In my case, the bear was plump but deranged. Consequently, my attacker bear was spared the execution that typically follows an assault. My proposal, that my polar bear have his arms ripped off by a larger polar bear was rejected by the authorities. No lesson here, I guess.
  • The town of Churchill, Manitoba, is know as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World." According to legend, when a bear ambled into the Royal Canadian Legion hall in Churchill , in 1894, the club steward shouted, "You're not a member! Get out!," and the bear did. This story is almost certainly fictitious. During the first ten minutes that a polar bear was removing my arms from my body, I repeatedly shouted, "Stop!," "Get away from me!," and "Please! Oh, my God, this polar bear is going to rip my arms off!" but the animal was unfazed. The lesson in this is that you can't believe everything you hear.
  • Beware of blame-shifting. The authorities speculated that the nasty scene may have begun when I grabbed onto the polar bear's fur. At first, I thought, Gee, maybe that's right? I must have done something to get him so sore. But now I reject this suggestion. Why would I grab his fur?
  • Things change. As a child, I used to delight in early-morning "polar-bear swims" at my summer camp. Now I don't even feel like swimming anymore, because I have no arms.
  • Summing up:
    1. Do not run from a polar bear.
    2. Do not fight back.
    3. Just stand there. Whatever you do, it will teach you a lesson.
  • Never judge a book by its cover. Polar bears hate this.
  • When a male polar bear and a human are face to face, there occurs a brief kind of magic: an intense, visceral connection between man and beast whose poignancy and import cannot be expressed in mere words. Then he rips your arms off.

Blame It On The Tetons


"Lets just go out and get dinner tonight, alright?"
Yet, somewhere along the way sooner is bumped aside by later and we find the early morning hours and a hangover waiting to escort us home.
The good times just might be killing me.

It is all too easy to blame this lifestyle on the culture.
Pass by any restaurant during lunch time and just beyond the Gimbap window roller there will unfailingly be hoards of empty green bottles littering the shin high tables.
And they don’t empty themselves. Leaving these restaurants are middle aged men, clad in ties and suits, returning to their place of employment. The Chaebols must save clerical work for the afternoons!
And Soju is not a luxury item. Corner side LG25s sell these potent emerald bottles for a little less than a buck each making them price competitive with bottled water.
And evidence of late night toasting sessions consistently stain Seoul's broad pedestrian walkways.

But, culture is a pitiful man's excuse. Especially for those who boast any semblance of free will.
It is not the first time fun has hurt and it wont be the last.


Whoa. Posted by Hello


And who is this tantalizing vixen? Meet Cassie (t-bird, c-train, tommy the tank). She's teaching English in Fukuoka, Japan but will soon be strapping on her party gear to join the craziness in Seoul.  Posted by Hello

This damn bed must go


I just can't fathom another night spent on this bed. I awoke this morning to find that the Bed Bugs had, once again, had their way with me. To be honest, I'm not sure that the culprits are actually "Bed Bugs." It may be that these "Bed Bugs" are much more familiar with childish, hackneyed phases than with Korean mattresses. Semantics aside, whatever mattress mite that resides in our quaint and otherwise pleasant Haandong apartment is getting the fucking boot.
My roommate and I recently discussed various methods of mattress disposal. The conversation went something like this:

Boston: "So, I was thinking of having my friend at the Haguan translate a message for the security guard downstairs..."
Seattle: "And how is that going to get rid of this thing?"
Boston: "Well, you can't just dump it out behind some building as if we were in Northfield- You have to pay to get a truck to take it away. It would be appropriate to inquire with the security guard."
Seattle: "You know, there are easier ways."
Boston: Half-chuckling, with a glint of apprehension in his eyes, "Right, since there is a massive parking lot 13 floors below our balcony? You are insane."
Seattle: Caught up in humor of the balcony exit fantasy, I chuckle while mimicking various mattress trajectories with my hand and forearm, "We'd be lucky if it just went Fffump! and nicely floated down to that grassy sliver in front of the lot near the building- you know where I'm talking about?"
Boston: Now also wrapped up in the amusing banter, "The more likely result would be a, Fffump! WHHumpP! as it first floated out away from the building and then violently back towards it somewhere around the 9th floor!"
Seattle: Absolutely overcome with the image, "I could just see some guy exiting his apartment only to get blind-sided with a mite infested mattress!"
An adequate pause, freckled with intermittent chuckles, ensues as both return to reality.
Seattle: "You know, I could lug one of the mattresses over to the out-door climbing wall, no? I mean, I can't order that crash pad until the end of the month and..."

And it is not just the mites-of-doom that have pushed this issue to the brink of action. A night from the not-to-distant past saw dinner turn into a Soju tasting session gone horribly wrong. It is fair to say that the bed took an unreasonable share of the abuse.
So, what will replace this poor excuse for a bed? Since we are all gung-ho about the Korean experience and not so gung-ho about sleeping in the same bed, we have decided that traditional matts are the way to go.


The apartment Posted by Hello


Miles is also currently teaching English. He recently arrived from Seattle. Posted by Hello


Hailing from Boston, Damian, 22, is an English teacher at a private institute in Seoul. Posted by Hello



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