The Seoul Train bravoing my life...

정철주니어 어학원


I have spent an ungodly amount of time in this classroom. The majority of my 30 classes each week, for the past 46 weeks, have been conducted within these walls. The room itself is Spartanly furnished with the bare teaching necessities. It has a view. A view of the apartment building we are backed up against. The room is located on the third floor of a five story building in Sangdo Dong, Southern Seoul. The fourth floor is a gym and the fifth floor is an indoor golf driving range. The first floor is the local super market. "Supermarket" sounds so much cooler in Korean. They shorten it to "super" but then change the pronunciation. "super" - "er"+ "uh" = 수파. As if that makes sense. I cant just say "sup" + "uh" because then you would naturally think they say "supper" over here when they were on their way to buy their cucumbers and cabbages. Nope, keep the "soup" sound and add the "uh". 수파. I love that word.
I frequent this market often. I would say it averages out to thrice, weekly. Recently I have sought out their services to provide me with my low budget lunch. I have again, recently, (two months ago) become more conscientious about my spending. This abrupt shift relates to my resolve to study in Korea after my teaching sentence (contract) is up. Once again, my saving style- like other newly adopted "great ideas"- follows the purge/binge routine. So for lunch I can purchase two packets of 비빔면 for 880원 or $.88. Damn cheap lunch, no? Even though taste is decidedly less important in the sacrifice of saving, my lunch choice of instant cook soba-like, barley noodles with spicy 고추 like sauce is not too bad. Not bad at all.

But then I go and get the occasional morning latte and rock the budget with a 5050원 purchase. $5.05.

Here is Miles Teacher on "Market Day" in our language institute. As the photo was snapped I was surreptitiously giving away our monetary reserves. You see, the students had- for months- been accumulating points for various classroom activities. For instance, showing up with your homework completed: 1 point. Correctly spelling words on daily vocabulary tests: 1 point for each correct word. And so on. Then on "Market Day" these points could be exchanged for laminated, miniature copies of US currency. The students would then enter the "market" and "purchase" from a wide selection of cheap toys, stickers, cards, dolls, etc. and, the more popular than I thought, teacher-cooked Dokboki.
I had two roles. First, and foremost, I was to regulate transactions between the student and the market. I would wait for the students to approach me with hastily crafted English sentences and then I would respond in turn. You see, before the students could 'purchase' a desired item they had to ask the price in English. Here the system broke down. The students were to young or maybe apathetic to care about the difference in bills- 1 not being the same as 20 and so forth. They would whip out a question and shove a bill in my face. Waiting for the answer never crossed their mind. Negotiating, for that matter, never did either. So I used the "prices" listed on the items as a suggestive price. This market was not so strictly regulated.

My second obligation was to act as market teller and exchange big bills for smaller denominations. This means I was walking around with millions of market dollars! What can I say, our reserves were at the mercy of my students. I just wanted them to have a good time. At the end of the day my boss summed it up with the comment, "Wow. That was the first time we have ever sold out all of the items in our market..."

Tony, Joe and Jim. Joe, the unlikely lad with hand in mouth, is the miscreant who caused me to age prematurely. He is escorted into class every Thursday by his mother (escorted because- due to his youthful age of just now 4- he would never be able to make it there on his own). He enters the room, standing just inside the closed door, always suspicious of what he must think is the "oddest Korean man I have ever seen." He will then take his bag off and slam it on the table and then terrorize the room at full clip. Knocking things over, dumping trays, dropping phones, throwing remotes... Things are better now. We have instituted a meritocracy for my kindergarten and young elementary classes. You would not believe its effectiveness. Night and Day. That story deserves its own post.

John (right) and his buddy. His buddy is not a student at our Hakwon. No, he just comes to hangout. John is a diligent worker. He is always eating. Always eating spicy dry ramen. "Ahhhh!! Teacher! So hot! SOO HOT!" Crunch crunch, "Ahhhh!" as sweat pours down from his temples. What a cute kid. His shirt though is what seals the deal. I almost offered him money for it. He doesn't remember where his mom bought it. Absolutely brilliant.

Class #6. Always uncontrolable yet respectful. It's hard to explain.

Battle at COEX, Round 1


I work during the week and forget about work during the weekends. I am currently working the sort of job that allows, and, one might contend requires, this sort of mentality. Preparation time for my classes is built into my daily schedule. I am required to be at work from noon until 7:45pm, and from noon until 2:20pm I have nothing asked of me except "to prepare." (I have no personal computer and PC Bangs get expensive so this blog is a consequence of "preparation time.") I drive this point home because it means that there is no outside preparation required. Damian enjoyed the teaching experience here in Seoul but he always said that he would totally forget about work until Monday morning. I do the same; it is more or less a psychological, protective mechanism. Block out the reoccurring bad so its only a new bad each time and not worse with each stinging badness. That is a little overboard but I must admit there are times it feels like that.
So, the weekends are for relaxation and what not. The past how-ever-long its been I have spent the majority of my weekend time with my girlfriend. This weekend in particular we went to COEX mall on subway line #2 near Kangnam in the Southeastern district of Seoul. I had been here once before, but just to meet friends and see a movie. I did not experience the entirety of this underground mall. This place is massive. I would venture to guess that it is nearly the size of the Mall of America in Minneapolis/St. Paul but it is all on one plane, underground. And it only has one entrance I believe so a lot of walking is involved to get in and out of this place. There are multiple food courts, gazillions of stores, coffee shops, ice cream parlours, a movie theater and whatever else is in a capitalist gluttony such as this, oh and, of course, there is an arcade.
I'm not so keen on the shopping side of things, while Jay very much is. I was always on the look out for diversions that would entertain myself. The arcade was just this sort of place. We played nearly half the games in the place, moving from one to the next, that is until I saw the soccer game console. It was like a barrier of sports games backed up to each other. You could sit down and play the game but if someone sat down on the other side and wanted to play soccer too they could either play by themselves, leaving you to the pleasure of your game, or they could chose to square off against you.
I put in my money and began playing. This was the first time I have ever played this particular Korean soccer arcade game so I was having a little difficulty getting the damn Brazilian players to do what I thought they should be doing. Instructions were in Korean and I, of course, did not think to read the instructions prior to use- and it was only after the game had commenced that I began to peruse the Korean script and ask my girlfriend about the buttons. She was taking pictures and was not the least bit interested in this soccer game so I was very much on my own. I would try to pass and the my defender would rip a shot into the stands; I would try to finish a cross and my player would turn and pass the ball to their midfielder, and so it went.
Enter a challenger from the opposite side of the console. I am surprised and attempt to lean over to see who would be so bold; I barely catch a glimpse of a young Korean guy with his girlfriend. I promptly sit back down and prepare. Brazil vs. Korea.
Here is a photo of me seconds prior to the kickoff whistle. Its a "Oh, no you just didn't!!!" sort of photograph. I think I am so good. "What pompous fool thinks he can take this soccer fiend down," I think to myself. "Boy is he in for it! On to victory!"

"Challenge me!? You must be crazy."

I play real soccer once a weekend at the least. I do a little training during the week- not to be better on the next weekend but to prevent myself from injuring my aging body- so its not like these weekend games are my only outlet for exercise. But they are my only outlet for other things like frustration and a competition. Its not that I build up a massive amount of frustration during the week. I am, for the most part, a pretty laid back guy. Everybody gets stressed though and my share of it usually dissipates rapidly and without consequence. But on the soccer field I find myself doing a lot of yelling, some could be construed as "constructive criticism" while the rest of it is very much so, non-constructive. But, competition. I am very competitive and I have played soccer a long time. Games get intense and I like winning these games. Anyway, what the hell am I saying. I am getting to the point: I didn't have a "real" soccer game so my normal dose of competitiveness and frustration went into this console game.
It is important to note that when a person like me plays a video game, that is a person who missed his video game education almost entirely, I don't really think of it as a video game. It is more like I am projecting myself into what I see. And as I have no serious experience with video games and their controls, there exists this unbridgeable gap between what is happening in the video game and what is happening in my head. It is like all of these signals are firing in my head, "pass the ball to the outside", "make that diagonal run through the defense", "track back and help on defense", "shoot the ball now", "pass the ball to the open player", etc. Now all of these signals are sent to my hands who read the memos and look at each other and say, "what the hell does he expect us to do about this!? As if we have any idea what this joystick and what that greasy, multicolored pad of buttons does! Jeez..."

Hunched over, absorbed in battle, my palms rapidly slam against console.

Brazil vs. Korea

(Before Brazil suffered a humiliating, inexplicable defeat...)

I think I still have a chance. Boy, do I feel silly now.

Oohp. He's better than I thought.

I was too humbled and distraught to pose for a post game photograph. Instead, I had posted a picture taken of Jay after the video game resolved itself. She was, after all, the photographer. But, she did not approve of that picture and told me to chose another or else. So, I found another photo.

The COEX Battle Photographer.

Public Transportation and Ajumas


Seoul Green bus 08 pulling up to the stop outside my school.

I ride subways and buses all the time here in Korea.
During the workweek its an average of about three buses and as many subways a day. This is a matter of necessity. I do not have a car. I have thought of buying a cheap automobile but owning and driving a car in Seoul seems to be a monumental headache. Traffic is horrendous; the city layout is expansive and complicated. Parking takes nearly as long as the trip itself. Then there is the ever present possibility of accidents and pedestrian maimings, teacher-budget-gouging gas prices and the ambiguous question of foreigner driver's license legality to boot. Public transportation is much more user friendly, especially for the distances I travel. Half the time I am going from southern central Seoul, across the Han River and into the Northwesternly area in the evening and then returning every morning for work. The other half I remain south of the Han river but still it still involves a good deal of distance commuting.
Riding a bicycle is no longer an option. I remember the days of living in Seattle, riding my Bianchi road-bike like a banshee, being treated as an equal road traveler among automobiles. Bike lanes and helmets and locks and messenger bags and clip in cleats that don't always clip out. I don't even entertain the fantasy of this option here in Korea. I would be dead within the week I'm sure- just trying to get to and from work. If I ever tried to bike to Sinchon I'm sure I would never make it.

Passengers exiting a Seoul subway car.

There are many options for the frequent public transportation user. You can let the rides be relaxing and brainless; the world of Seoul washing over your unobservant eyes. You can read or look at homemade note cards. Devour gimbap. Devote all your attention to phone calls. No matter what you do, you don't have to preoccupy yourself with the basic task of getting somewhere. There is no accompanying anxiety with the public transportation trip itself.
I will admit this before I release my observation. I never used public transportation in America. I don't know what it is like. Quite possibly there are some similarities.
Most frequently the following occurs in the morning. I'm riding the subway or bus in an atmosphere of relative silence. Maybe the radio is quietly entertaining the driver. Maybe the driver is honking at imbeciles who have failed to negotiate a rotary correctly, inhibiting his timely passage. There are your basic phone conversations. But then, every now and then, there is a burst of ferociousness from an Ajuma receiving a telephone call. I am not embellishing this time. It is always an aged Korean woman, an Ajuma, who does the shrieking. Listening to these unintelligible rants during early morning commutes is brutal and disquieting. There is the blinding sunlight, which leaves me with my eyes closed, leaving my ears alone to take the blows. A mental image appears from this deathly, piercing sound. I pity the target of the rage, no matter what this person has done I pity them. Through my sun blasted squint I can only envision the violent ripping of this person apart with the wild discursive rant. I have tried to imagine to what degree these middle age women have been wronged but I cant put it together. I have made women yet at me before but not like that. No, not like that.
I don't know what they are saying either. But whatever it is they aren't shy or ashamed about it. This a full volume discursive public disemboweling of a digitally connected enemy, who probably was and ultimately will remain an acquaintance.
My mornings will never be the same no matter where I live or what I do.

This is a picture of one of the subway seats on Seoul's line #2. They began replacing these seats with less comfortable and more bland looking seats. The new seats would also be less flammable. There was an incident last winter where some wank set a subway car on fire; the removal of padded seats like these seems to be the consequence. I snapped this photo to document comfort. They had begun removing and replacing the seats car by car. Yes, I realize this is the handicapped seat. And, no I never sat there.

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