Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Train

The nights here are long. I‘ve tried to shorten these nights, to stuff them in my back pocket and make them mine. But back pockets are made by machines and no machine made pocket can hold the night.
I'm finally through a tunnel, and I wonder to myself if I could make the blackness of night as short as that tunnel.


Two people in the next seat try to make love without being noticed. I'm tired, I want to sleep, I cannot however block out the sound of deeply drawn breath or the lapping of tongue on flesh.

I think I will tell them to move to the bathroom. There is more privacy there, and it is more fitting. Move to a place of bodily function. This is most proper. A place of bodily function for a bodily function. Yes, I think to myself as I try and reclaim sleep which has slipped from my grasp for a moment. I shall tell them to go.

I awake and they are no longer in the seat next to me. Sex, the smell, is in the air. I notice a ripple in the passengers. Perhaps they smell it too. Animal, musky, it invades dreams.

I turn in a different direction and contemplate my existence. I've been told it is difficult to question one's existence during sex. One night, I decided to ask.

Once the act had begun I asked "Do you believe you exist?"

Look of confusion.

"How can you ask questions at a time like this?"

I wondered about that for awhile.

The act concludes.


II


"Next stop..." invades my dreams. I sit up. Straighten my hair. Look out the window. I cannot see the world past my reflection.

This is fitting I think. That the world outside is obscured by my image. That when I try to see out, I see myself; this is important. I place my hand to this mirror. The window is cold. The sun is preparing to rise. I can feel it. I cup my hands against the glass to make a dark hole through which I can see the world. This is also fitting, I think to myself.


The sun rises, orange ball in the west. My direction is twisted, my mind does not see the truth. My eye does not process direction. The sun rises in the west. I decide the only thing for it is to return to sleep. I close my eyes.

*******



I look at where I am now. Traveling no longer. I am with her. Her. I contemplate this woman. She has invited me, so I have come. Now, I wonder at my purpose. It does not ease her soul to see me. It does not ease my soul to see her.

We dance about each other. Avoiding one another as we talk. Avoiding one another as we converse.
"How are you?" she asks.

"I'm fine," I say.

She thrusts, "What have you been doing?"

I parry the blow "Not much." A stand still. We move back and examine another again. We begin to circle. It's an old dance we play it well.

"How is your mother?" A sharp blow if she were to hit. I dodge, grab her arm, shake the wrist, try to loose the sword. "I assume she is well ."

 "And the rest of your family?" She asks as she twists from my grasp and pushes me away.

"I do not know." I pause for a moment in confusion, almost do not see her next move in time.

"So are you seeing anyone?"

I feel a scratch against my cheek I almost raise my hand to see if my own blood is flowing there.

Am I seeing anyone? I pause. My hand is stayed. It was a deciding move in the dance. I think of answers. I wonder do I exist. It is difficult to question ones existence during sex.

"Are you hungry?" I respond. Yes, I think to myself, if I were to touch my cheek I would come away with blood on my fingers.

The dance ends.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Hunt for Sleep Continues

After leaving the mattress Mafioso with his incredibly hard beds....Hyun and I moved on to continue to hunt for the wily mattress......
Fortunately, like most things in Korea, there were several shops that sold beds all grouped together, and the next shop on the list to be tried was the neighbor of the shop we were exiting. We walked into the new store and as soon as I walked in the door I saw what I wanted. I had a vague idea of what I was looking for, in no small part thanks to  Mel P and her fabulous Obelisk officetel. On the few occasions that I had spent the night there she had pulled out these wonderful floor mattresses made of some kind of texture fitting material that was very nice to sleep on. I knew that if I was going to be buying my own bed I wanted something that would be along those lines, comfortable, and soft, but still very bed-like. It is a bit difficult to describe. As we walked into the second bed shop though, I could see what I wanted and I knew that it was it, now it was just a matter of getting the bed.

I wish I could put into words how wonderfully comfortable and squishy the bed is, while still being a bed that is good for the back and other sore parts. Having had my fair share of problems with Korean beds, it seemed odd to find a bed that could be so insanely comfortable in Korea. I was thrilled that it was not only findable but conveniently located very near my apartment which meant that it would be easy to get it home and get all kinds of settled in.

Hyun seemed rather amused that I wanted the first bed I saw walking in the door and while we did end up walking around the shop and looking at several of the other beds in the end I had already made up my mind on the one I wanted. I decided on getting a bed frame, figured might as well, and spent some time flipping through catalogs to find a frame that suited me. In the end I got the bed I wanted for about what I wanted to spend so it all worked out well. Hyun worked it out with the owner to make sure the bed would be delivered to my new apartment and the date was set for Friday. The week was looking up. Hyun asked if there was anything else I needed and I mentioned that I’d like to get a fridge and tv, and so we went to another used wholesale part of the market and found both in less then ten minutes and had them delivered in about five more. Hyun and I made arrangements for me to drop by the bar later and pick out a microwave and a stove, since I also needed to acquire these.

Everything was looking up. the Boy came over and we went and found a tape measure so I could go and look at some other things that I might want in the way of furniture and make sure it was the size I specifically wanted. I went back to my furniture guy and added a bookshelf and a desk chair to my order and changed the date of delivery for Friday. I figured, hey if the bed is coming why not everything, it will be easier. So on Friday afternoon I was looking at a very busy day of getting stuff delivered.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Shhh, we're hunting sleeping accomidations

Now with an apartment that would soon have furniture....

I believe that during a bout of apartment finding celebration on Friday I had mentioned to the happy bar owner of my bar away from home, the Commune, Hyunshik for those of you who follow all the names, that I needed help getting a bed. Hyun happily volunteered to take me bed shopping the following week, and on Tuesday I had an appointment to go in search of a bed for my place. So after finishing my grueling workday on Tuesday I walked over to the Commune to meet Hyun who was driving over to pick me up at 1:00. He arrived in his car, which he related to a piece of things better left unsaid, and we were back off to Chilsung market.

He managed to find a parking space without too much trouble on the street, and we went across the rode and into a bed store to look for beds. Actually to say that he found a space would be a misstatement. For while we were certainly using street side parking there was a Korean gentlemen there handing out time tickets  who would later collect money for the amount of time spent parking on the street. While there is little to determine if this was in fact an actual timed parking space, or just an engineering guy who liked to give people pieces of paper and take money, none can say can be sure which is really true.

At the store the shop keeper came to greet us. He was an older gentlemen who very much resembled a gangster at the heights of gangstering. The older Korean gangster fellow asked what we were about, and I wasn’t much following the conversation as I was looking at the selection. Suddenly Hyun was pulling me along, into a back alley (somehow located inside the store) up some stairs and to a secret bed warehouse where I was implored to jump on beds to test them out. I looked at one, asked how much it was, and had a seat. I asked if they had something even remotely more comfortable then this one.

I don’t know why it is, but there is this thing with uncomfortable beds in Korea. If I wanted to sleep on the floor I wouldn’t bother with bed shopping. For some readily unapparent reasons beds here are made to resemble the floor sleeping experience without the comfort of actually sleeping on the floor. I told Hyun that I didn’t actually mind spending a fair amount of money for a bed as long as it was comfortable.

So, Hyun asked if there was anything else and I was pointed to the end of the row to a bed that, I was told, was the most expensive in the store. I went over and happily flopped down, nearly dislocating my shoulder, causing my spine to jump through the back of my neck, and possibly chipping a tooth when my jaw knocked together. To say that the most expensive bed was less comfortable would be an understatement. It was more like a slab of rock, covered in cement, and finished with granite for good measure, in case anyone thought that the maker of the bed was not serious about comfort.

I was a little surprised, a little annoyed, and a little angry figuring I probably would get some rather nice bruises from having stumbled so carelessly onto the most expensive bed in the store. I asked “What gives?” thinking certainly not the bed, to which Hyun kindly asked the mattress Mafioso why in the world this bed was so hard. The explanation, apparently, was that the more expensive a bed was the harder it would be. So I thought about it for a second and asked Hyun “Tell him to show me the cheapest mattress he’s got!” Alas, for bed store number one, however, we had struck out, so it was down the stairs, and out onto the street to try and find another shop with a bed so cheap that I would be comfortable sleeping in it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Entering Eden

Now that I have managed to land myself an apartment in Eden I had some other minor things that needed to be done, like, oh, furnishing the place.

So with that happy news in my head I wandered down the street knowing that Chilsung market, the largest furniture market in Daegu, was not that far away. It is about four blocks all together from here to there, and I arrived in no time and started poking away and looking at furniture. Since then I have decided that buying furniture for an empty apartment is similar to shopping for groceries on an empty stomach, often unwise but very difficult to avoid. I started poking into shops and asking for prices, and just generally looking around. I saw some things I wanted and many I didn’t.

I found prices to high, and some too low, and some that were just outrages. The first thing I found that I really wanted as a little wooden folding table. The table was white, made of wood and had the world’s cleverest design for a folding table. I can’t really describe it or I would, but it really was cute. It also had a little matching folding bench, and I was quite taken with it. I asked the seller how much it was and he looked at me, looked at the table and quoted me the price of about 70 dollars. I asked if it was a set, and he said, no, that’s just the table. I was a little annoyed. I may be a waygook, but I did not just fall off the plane and land in Daegu.

So I walked out and further down the street and was seduced rather unexpectedly into a store that had the prettiest red velvet chair that I still want, and still refuse to pay that much money for. But it is lovely. It was lovely enough to keep me wandering around in the store for a bit and checking prices on various things when I had an idea. I asked the seller if he had any folding tables. He said no, but grabbed my arm and pulled me to the back of the store and started flipping through a catalog. There on some page or other was the very the Boye table that I had spied just a few moments earlier. I asked how much it as. He quoted me a price that was about twenty dollars lower then the previous Realtor, and this included the chairs.

I explained to him that I had just been to a store where someone else had tried to sell me the the Boye for quite a bit more and he seemed none too surprised. I decided I liked this seller. He was a young, generally friendly Korean chap, and spoke not a word of English. He was actually a little surprised, and potentially terrified when I first walked into the shop, but when I started asking about things in Korean he relaxed visibly. I knew just enough Korean to do what I wanted in this particular situation, so all would be okay I figured. Since I liked him, I decided to get my furniture there. Fortunately his selected also ranged from everything to everything else, so I picked up the folding table set, a desk, and a couple of ottoman’s (better for sitting, more economical, and  more space worthy then more chairs) and called it a night.

After making up the big order I sat down with him for a bit and then went through the process of explaining that I needed it all delivered, to where, and when. This was accomplished with the use of the handy dandy card with my address, a calendar, my phone number, and a small deposit so he would know that it was really okay. I went very happily on my way home to the dorm and did something which I immediately forgot about, because now I realized I needed to get a bed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Garden of Eden

As you may recall, I now have my own apartment...let the adventure continue...

It meant I would have to go shopping, and while I have my moments, I’m not that much of a shopper at the end of the day, but I figured I could take a stab at it for this. On the Monday following the purchase of the apartment I was off to the Realtor again to pick up keys and have him drive me over to the place again, which the kind gent did, even though he was not expecting me in the least.

I was happy to walk into the apartment again, and this time actually paid attention to things I had missed on the first viewing. The Realtor showed me how to turn on the heat and hot water, and where the bathroom was again, and then handed me the keys, bowed politely and walked out. I was, for the first time, alone in my new apartment. I took a look around. It was, as I recalled, a big rectangle. It did come with some furniture, a small tv table that was done in very dark walnut and a shoe cabinet done in the the Boye color.

The apartment itself is white with a faded faux marble yellow linoleum floor, like so many faux floors in Korea. When you open the door you can see the frosted glass doors that lead to what is usually the laundry deck area. I opened the doors, recalling them from the last time. What I did not realize was that the large set of clear windows opposite the frosted doors were also sliding glass doors. These doors opened out into a small garden.

A garden. I have to be the only waygook living in an apartment in Korea who has an honest to god garden. The garden comes with three two nice trees, some ferns, a few bushes here and there….it is actually quite cute and I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do with it, but I was mighty pleased to realize that I have it, and will endeavor to think of something as the months move towards warmer, garden like weather. I’m thinking of putting a small table and some chairs out there, but we will just have to see.

In the meantime, after finding the amazing garden, I was back checking out the big empty square room and thinking that I needed to figure out what kind of furniture exactly I wanted to put it in. I knew that I would need a bed, no question there, I was thinking a desk would be nice, and then some bookshelves. Since I actually get to furnish the place myself I wanted to do the opposite of every apartment I’ve lived in here. I did not want to have a bunch of unnecessary furniture I did not need.

For some reason Koreans seem to believe that all westerns need to have an excessive abundance of space eating furniture in their places. Over-sized desks, chairs, sofas, tables, etc, etc. It actually can be a bit tedious to have all this unnecessary stuff in an already sort of small place. So, I wanted to keep it simple, but make it home. I trip to the market was required. So I locked the door, checked to make sure I had the card that the Realtor had so handily written my address on, and then started towards the market. Before leaving I turned to check the name of the apartment building.

Apartments in Korea tend to have names. I never did learn the name of my first apartment although I always figured it was Zany, but that was only the name of the bar on the first floor under my apartment. The name of the apartment was never really very clear. I knew from pizza ordering experience that the apartment I was living in when at the Village was called Bo-sung apartment. Not to be confused with Boo-sung apartment which was across the street. Ah, the endless fighting with cabs to make that one clear. I walked out of my new little apartment house, turned and looked back to read the name that is posted so neatly above the door in both English and Korean. I am now officially living in Eden

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Final Negotiation

This was not my phone ringing but the realtor’s. The landlord of the apartment had a problem. He talked for a few minutes then explained to Ms. Chae there was a problem. She said “Oh” nodding her head back and then looked at me and smiled. I asked as politely as I could what was wrong, and she answered oh nothing.

I took a deep breath. Mind you it had been a long day, I was wet, and tired, and a little disheveled from the all the fun, and really wanted to not ever have to return to the dorm. So I took a second deep breath, smiled and said “He said munjay. Munjay is problem in Korean. What is the problem?” Ms. Chae, I think, did not realize that I might have discerned any of the conversation and she smiled back and said “Oh, it is nothing.” But I pressed the point.

She finally relented and admitted there was a problem. For the amount of junsay I was going to pay on the apartment the monthly rent would have to be higher, but surely that would not be too much of a problem?

I understand that those of you who know me well enough would not consider me to be much of a push over once I’ve got my mind set on something. However there are occasions when I will be very happy to listen to someone else and let them be in control. Not surprisingly, this was not one of the moments. I took the third deep breath of the afternoon and just laid it out. “Ms. Chae,” I began, “how much is the first apartment again?” She asked and I listened to the answer in Korean. Before she could translate, because at this point I understood well enough (as I always seem to do in matters of money), “Ms. Chae, I said again, I know you do not really like the first apartment, but I did. I liked it much better then the second apartment. I know it is only one room. I know the second place is in a more modern building. But I liked the first apartment. It doesn’t hurt that the junsay and the rent are exactly what I want to pay. Please tell him that I want to take the first apartment, and not the second.”

She seemed to take it for what it was worth and translated for him and then they had a bit of discussion in Korean part of which I followed, most of which I didn’t. But finally it was all resolved and I would take the first place. At this point the Boy had returned with a small wad of cash, mostly a deposit to secure the place, not the whole key deposit. I told him about the change and he said okay, and then I realized I might actually need more cash then what he had acquired and sent him hunting again while I finished the Korean version of let’s make a deal.

It all ended amicably enough. The small fight in Korean had apparently been about the rent and Ms. Chae had managed to get the realtor to knock 10,000 won off the monthly cost, which meant my monthly rent would be $290 thousand won. The key deposit was precisely what I wanted to pay so that was not an issue. The only thing to finish up was the realtor’s finder fee, and the deposit. I finally managed to figure out that a deposit of only $100 was needed to secure the apartment, but the first day I wanted to move in furniture I would need to pay $190, this combined sum constituting the first months rent. After some struggle I finally managed to convenience them to take all the money that day so I could get keys and start moving as soon as possible. Finally the key deposit was to be paid the first day I wanted to actually sleep in the new apartment, and that date was set tentatively to the 27th of January. I was happy, and contented, and for the first time in a long time, not dreading going back to the dorm. Mostly because I would soon be leaving it.

Now I had an apartment. Yay me! The upside was unlike every other place I’ve lived in Korea this was a completely unfurnished space that I could furnish. The realization though, is that unlike every place I have ever lived this is the first place I would really furnish from scratch. And it was a place that I did not have to furnish with furniture that was handed down, collected off street corners, built out of pizza boxes, or crafted out of beer cans. This was a place where everything from bed to fridge and beyond would be scoped out by me and me alone. There was a part to this that was strangely exhilarating, and a part that was over whelming horrific. The cost was a concern, but the excitement of being able to furnish my own place soon overrode pretty much everything.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Apartments on the Horizon

We last attended our wayward apartment hunters as they exected the thrashing throws of one agenst car, now let's catch up with them in the latest installment of ....

Fearless Korean Apartment Hunters.....bwah, ha...ahem....where was I, oh yes....

We walked away and were standing outside a subways stop so descended for a bit as the Boy started pouring over ads in a local paper, and I called Ms. Chae, my sort of contact teacher at the University and asked if she could possibly help us by finding the number of some real-estate agents. Okay, I’ll be honest, I might have been a bit overdramatic in my phone call to Ms. Chae lamenting both the weather and the foul luck with finding open realtors in a sad pathetic phone call where my voice was sufficiently warbly enough that one might have thought I was about to burst into tears. I was wet and cold, and horribly frustrated, as was the Boy, and while I was not on the verge of tears I was certainly at the end of my wits. Ms. Chae offered to come drive to my rescue and help to continue the hunt, but I tried to asked her not to waste her Friday afternoon on such silliness. If she could just please help with the finding of an agent.

She said she would and I went back to sitting and sulking by the Boy hoping that magically an apartment would just fall out of the sky. A few minutes later my phone rang again and it was Ms. Chae and she was coming to get us. At the the Boye time the Boy had managed to call a realtor and we were on our way out of the subway station to meet the realtor. Ms. Chae showed up, the realtor did not. Ms. Chae packed us into her car, and I gave up in frustration and we began to head back towards the dorm. And then the phone rang.

The ringing phone was in fact the realtor that had actually appeared out of the mist earlier that day. I knew it was a Korean and at this point, level of frustration, dampness, and irritability I asked Ms. Chae if she could take the call and find out what it was all about. Not realizing at this point that it was in fact the realtor from earlier that day. She talked for a few minutes and asked if we had seen a realtor and had we seen some apartments, to which I answered yes, and then she informed that the realtor had a few more openings to show us if we had time.

I looked at the Boy and he gave his best “why not” shrug so  Ms. Chae made arrangements for us to meet the realtor. We pulled off the road, having been driving this whole time with the intent of going to the door, and waited for the smallish car caring a realtor to arrive, which it did in about five minutes. We drove around the corner and down the street from where we had parked to the first place he had to show us on this second trip.

We walked into the rather oddly shaped little building with some trees out front and up the short stair to the apartment 101. He opened the door to show a large big rectangle of a room with a little white porch. I looked in and for some reason was just smitten with the place. It is indeed a large rectangular place, with a sun porch off to directly opposite the door. There was a smallish kitchen towards the back a small utility closet. It had a cozy little bathroom, with a sink/shower combo, and was tiled in pink with flowers, and had a white sink. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I didn’t really poke around it that much, but I was fairly happy with it.

Ms. Chae didn’t like it so much, and the realtor had a second place to show us, so we ended up leaving and heading of to the second place which was just around the corner a bit and up the street. This was a third floor apartment that of the four we had seen that day was probably the most modern. It technically had two rooms, though the first room was actually the kitchen which one walked directly into upon entering the apartment. The second room was a very small bedroom off to the left. The apartment had a laundry closet and a larger bathroom, but still with the shower sink combo. The bath was blue. It was also very dirty as it had not yet been cleaned since the previous tenant had vacated. I didn’t like it at all. I looked out the single bedroom window onto a dirty ally and I didn’t like it. The realtor, trying to sell the place further mentioned that it got plenty of light at night.

I don’t know what it is that promotes this belief that it is better to sleep in the light then the dark. One of the annoying features of the girl’s dorm was the fact that no matter what time of day or night it was there was always a pre dawn, afternoon sunset light in the room. Nothing made the light go away, and I was getting horrible sleep because of it. I was not happy about the constant light. While I appreciated that the realtor was trying to sell the room, he was going about it all the wrong way for me. Ms. Chae however was smitten, and while the realtor was not a very aggressive pushy Korean gent he was having enough of an affect, and the day had dragged on so long, that I relented and said, fine, I’d take this apartment (which I secretly loathed) and we were off to the office to sign papers.

A second downside of apartment number two was the cost. The junsay was still a bit higher then I wanted to pay and the monthly was 360, which was 60 more then the middle school would be able to cover. I was not happy, but I kept thinking, at least I have an apartment and will be out of the dorm. We drove to the realtor’s office which was just around the corner from the apartment, and sat. I handed the Boy my bank card so he could go collect various amounts of funds while I looked over papers and got them translated. Then the phone rang.