Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Working with Realtors

So now I know that I am not spending all my free time at the market, but I’m still not quite sure exactly where I have been spending it. Mostly be I believe that the free time was spent trying not to go back to the apartment, and then further looking for my own place. Once the word came in that the apartment at the dorm was not going to happen the Boy met me at the school for lunch and apartment hunting in the neighborhood around the school where I would like to be living.
Rather a surprise to me there was a surprise Friday afternoon lunch going on and so I ended up asking if the Boy could come since we already had planned to have lunch together. Alas it was Korean style floor sitting to eat soup, which is really not the easiest thing to do, and we both felt a touch uncomfortable in the very crowded restaurant. Fortunately lunch ended quickly and the two of us were on the way to find an apartment. We knew that in order to do this we had to find a real-estate agent that was in the area in which I wanted to move.
This was discovered when wondering around one day near the university the Boy and I walked into a real-estate agent office and he offered us lots of apartments in the area near the university, but nothing outside the area causing us to surmise that this was the way it was. It was for the most part an accurate guess. So we walked away from the school, towards the neighborhood that I was interested in living in, and started looking for an open realtor.
Apparently, however, realtors don’t really find it necessary to work at all, so as we walked and walked and walked we found several offices, but all were closed. Mind you, we were walking on a dreary damp Friday with a nice clingy misty ran. I was getting frustrated and irritable when we stumbled up yet another realtor. This one had a number on the door and a note saying back in a few minutes. So, I tried to call the realtor and with my limited Korean skills make it clear that I wanted to rent an apartment. He promptly hung up on me, and then for good measure took the battery out of his self phone in case I tried to call back, which of course I did.
So, I was annoyed but not dissuaded as I intended to find an apartment on this Friday. I was not about to give up on it. So, I stopped a passing Korean gentleman riding his bike, typed in the land number (ha, try to unplug your battery now!) and handed him my phone. Again, trying to make clear in my limited pigeon Korean that I wanted to rent an apartment. The nice bewildered biker called up, explained that there were some crazy waygooks hijacking passersbys outside the realtors office, and asked what time he would be in. He told us that the realtor should be back around two, and I checked the time noting that it was about fifty past one, so settled in to wait while the Boy wandered off to look for a different realtor.
Around 2:00 I was annoyed and started trying to call the realtor again but with no luck, however the Boy in his scouting had managed to find a phone number for a different real-estate agent tacked to a phone poll. We called and I gave the phone to the Boy who explained in almost perfect Korean that where we were and what we were looking for. The agent said he would meet us at the nearest big landmark, so we walked up the street to wait for him. In a few minutes my phone was ringing again, and the real-estate agent, a cheery, young, round faced Korean gentlemen was quite surprised to see the two soaked through waygooks that started towards his car. Apparently the Boy had pulled off a coup de Korean and the agent did not realize we were not Korean.
We hopped into his nice, dry, car and were off to see the first apartment he could show us. It was a nice two room place, with a very small kitchen, but it was pretty. Unfortunately it was also pretty expensive. Here is the aspect of renting in Korea that I both like and fear, the junsay. The junsay is what is also called the key deposit or the down payment for an apartment. The rent, if you have to pay one, is directly proportional to the amount of junsay you put down on an apartment. Unlike the first and last months rent that one might pay out to secure a place in the states, the down payment on a Korean apartment is usually invested by the landlords and they take the interest from the money as part of the rent. So, an apartment where you pay around 100 dollars a month for rent might have a junsay of 8,000 dollars. Of course, you do get the money back in the end, sans interest, but for the most part it is a good system. Aside from the fact that you need to have the money for said key deposit.
I did have the money, but not so much that I could afford the deposit on the first place and the rent, which was really high considering the junsay, at around $460 a month, so we asked to see another place. He looked in his book, walked us down to the car and we were off again. The second place shown was also a two room, although this one was occupied. The tenant was apparently moving out that month, and had been asked if it would be okay to show the apartment while still living there, but I don’t think he was expecting to be caught in his sweat pants by a couple of wet waygooks. The second place was also nice, with a big spacious front room and a small bedroom. However it again had a junsay and rent that was higher then what I wanted. The realtor explained that we could bring the monthly rent down by paying a higher junsay, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. I was looking for a place with a junsay around 2 million (2 grand) and a rent around 300 a month, as that is the amount the school was willing to pay for a monthly housing fee. So we thanked the agent and were back off into the rain.

Markets and New Jobs

Much though the principal tried to land me a newer, somewhat larger apartment, in the end it was not going to come to pass. I found out after the second week of school that I might as well look for my own apartment, because the one at the dorm was simply not going to materialize for a couple of months. While I’m sure I could live like this for a couple of months, I don’t really want to so it was off to apartment hunt in Korea. Ah, but yes, in the middle of all this I had actually begun my new classes.

At present my working hours are 9:00 am to 12:30 p.m. and while long and grueling as these hours may be I am finding it difficult to think of what to do with myself with all that free time. Of course, Korea is a land that seems to have acquired some sort of special black hole designed to do nothing but take time and make it disappear so effectively that you cannot even recall what it is you were doing so you can write about it in your silly little e-journal. As it is, I have absolutely no idea what I have been doing in my spare time aside from taking cabs back and forth between here and the dorm.
Being back in Daegu provides a number of opportunities, but alas one of my favorite pastimes, shopping at Seomon market for fabric is currently on hold because the textile part of the market caught on fire. How it happens is still a little sketchy but essentially there was a fire on the first floor in a bedding shop. The shops in the market are more like kiaosks that are just set up at random all over the place. They are packed in very close together so that there is less then a two foot wide isle between stalls that run up and down closing in and taking up all the space. It can make shopping a little claustrophobic and occasionally it is.

The building where this particular bedding store was housed a number of different textile related shops. On the first floor was bedding, clothing, house wares and other things. The second floor contained undergarments, more bedding and various odd end clothing, socks, and etc. The third floor was my second home in Daegu. Wall to wall fabric shops with fabric from all over the world at reasonable prices all ready for me to come and buy it and make it into clothing. I knew many of the retailers in the stall if not by name then by site and there were many that knew me as a good repeat customer. Unfortunately, the fire that started on the first floor of the market was only mostly put out. As anyone who has ever experience a burning mattress might know, you can never really be sure if you got it all out unless you completely douse it, and I don’t think it was done properly. Neither do many of the retailers. The fire stewed for three days before finally become a huge blaze that took out the building and took three days to put out completely.

When the Boy and I did go to the market to find out what building exactly had burned down, because I was very hopeful it would not be the fabric market, we instead ran into a large collection of people standing and staring alas at the building that had gone up in flames. Among the crowd I saw a few familiar faces, but was suddenly pulled out of the crowd by a woman named Ji-hey who was a favorite retailer. She liked me because I spoke English and gave her and excuse to practice. Plus she is learning Chinese, she wants to be an ambassador someday. I was glad to see that she was safe and well.

Unfortunately she was out of business and looked like she was about to burst into tears. She owned four different shops in the building that had burned down and had no insurance at all for any of them. She explained that the large gathering of people were various retailers and buyers who were protesting against the police and fire department and demanding that they be given space in the parking garage to start up business again until a new building could be constructed.

We hung out for a bit, but didn’t really feel like either the Boy or I belonged so the two of us moved on, although I would have happily protested with the retailers. I understand just how important the textile market is for business in Daegu. Daegu, of course is considered the fashion capitol of Korea. Many women and men come to go to the fashion designed schools here, they have textile expos several times a year, not to mention runway shows and other kinds of presentations. On top of that there are any number of little clothing retailers and boutiques that get all their fabric from the market for the high end clothing they make. So needless to say, the loss of that particular building has effected a number of lives.

Fortunately for everyone the city has relented and agreed to let the retailers have two floors of the parking garage. This is good because it means that the retailers will be able to sell, but bad because the buyers will have no place to park. While there is some parking I’ve been to the market when it is busy. Often enough to know that there is usually a line to get into the parking garage, so the loss of two floors will make life a little difficult for everyone, and traffic on that end of town particularly hairy. However, it is the best way to go so I am hopeful that it will work out best for everyone involved.

The upcoming apartment renting adventure soon, stay tuned...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Coming to Terms with Being

Fuck money. Fuck careers. Fuck women. I think that I if anything I have had to learn the hard way that learning to say fuck it is an incredibly important, zen experience that one must come to in order to officially stop being a child and grudgingly realize that being an adult just as silly as it sounded twenty years ago. Fuck youth and innocence as well, because the real truth is being true to who you are, and that cannot be so easily fucked away. 

For those who may have wondered I am still alive, and still living in Korea, for better or for worse. I made a decision almost two years ago now to take a high paying job near Seoul. The decision had several riders: It will be good for my career. It is the kind of position I can devote myself. I can see doing it for more then five years. I’ll finally get the respect I deserve for all that hard work I do. I’ll make lots of money. I’ll be living in Seoul. Everyone loves Seoul. I’ll still be in Korea so it will be fine.

I went home for two months after a silly interview and waited to get the good paying job that I was trying to talk myself into. In the meantime I had someone writing me everyday hinting that they would like to pick me up as an independent program writer. All things come to pass, I got the job, and the independent writing gig to help set up programs or the school.

The money was fantastic. I was utterly and horrifically depressed. I was not so stupid as to be suicidal, but I was so depressed as to drink lots and lots to feel better. I spent all the extra money taking off on weekends to go see friends on the other end of the country. The money that I wasn’t spending on traveling I spent on booze. I stopped painting. I stopped writing. I stopped checking websites and the internet. I had essentially dropped out of my life and into a wonderful career job where I made good money.

I did not realize in the beginning just how fucked I was. Sure the forty to seventy hour weeks seemed a bit familiar. Sure drinking was something I used to do only on the weekends. Sure I missed my paints and brushes and looking at naked women, but I was making good money. I was respected at my job.

What I did not realize between the haze of alcohol, sleepless nights, lowered libido, and group meetings, was that I was miserably unhappy. This wonderful career job, good paycheck, and excellent networking position I had managed to land was among one of the stupidest decisions I had ever made. Life was fucking me over and I had not realized it. Perhaps worse, I was conning myself into believing that the money and the prestige made it all worth it, made it somehow okay. Who needs to be happy at work when you can afford happiness? Life was a bowl of won that I had in excess, isn’t it grand.

I had my epiphany sometime in March last year that I was in fact miserably unhappy and that no amount of living like this would make life better. It was two months before I had to make a decision to sign a new contract with the school. I considered the money and the prestige and the wonderful career I was giving up. I finally decided to leave.

Ah, but it’s not so simple. There is this fundamental programming that is hardwired into people who grew up outside of best case scenarios that is part survival and part power hungry need to be on top. The thought that money means happiness is never far from the deranged mind of those survivors. Knowing power means having power, those once weak victims think. Gaining power and wealth will make me happy and a better person. It is very difficult to turn around and let those things go.

I got conned by power. I got conned by money and I said yes to another year after I had convinced myself know. Mornings were spent on the shuttle bus from the company apartments to the island hell on the phone to the US bitching about my supreme hate for my job. And yet I went to work everyday, and play the game, and lied through my teeth about my interests in projects when in reality I wanted the paycheck and to be able to say that I worked for the English Gestapo in Seoul and isn’t that interesting.

Finally I decided to quit the job and get while the getting was good. But being stuck up and conceited and power hungry I would not quite for a job where I would receive less then I was making, or less power then I currently had. I found one too, in the city I wanted to be live in, near people I knew and liked. I quit my job for the prospect of new money and power, and in the end got fucked anyway. They didn’t want me, and I was floundering and two weeks from being unemployed and a flight home. I was freaking out, and feeling fucked, but for all the wrong reasons.

Before leaving Korea for a short vacation I signed a contract with a school that could not afford a great salary, where the conditions were abysmal, where the hours would be long, the pay slim, and the accommodations piss poor. I took it anyway, and what I have found since then, is that I am actually, for the first time in a year, quite happy.

In order to get this happy I had to say fuck it to a lot of long held beliefs and ideologies. I had to accept that fact that I am happier when I’m not making great money. I’m happy when I enjoy my work regardless, I’m happy when I’m loved by people who love me. I’m happy when I am not being fucked over by life, but when I just no longer care about life and all the ridiculous high and mighty ideals that I feel I should live up to.

In short, the motto of the day is fuck it, because at the end of the day, being who I am without restriction is so much better then being a person people want me to be. So fuck all the wonderful things that come from selling the soul, making a life, and all the other supreme bullshit that drives. It’s not a don’t worry be happy philosophy so much as a realization that happiness will never be all those things I dreamt about as a poor lonely girl growing up in squalor and stupidity. Happiness for me is embracing what I love and saying fuck to the rest.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The New Apartment

I was without an internet connection for several days, so I'm picking up this particular saga where it was left off...

The boy and I hopped the limo bus across town to Seoul Station to catch the train to Daegu, and even managed to change our ticket times so we could get a train a little sooner. It was so nice to finally take the train to Daegu and know that I would not be coming back to Seoul for awhile. That was happy. We stopped and ate dinner before hitting the cushy first class ride (hey, if you are going to have a last ride, have it in style) and then were off.
During all the fuss much talking occurred, but once we managed to make the train I immediately crashed in preparation for New Year’s Eve as I already had plans for the night and wanted to at least be able to ring in the New Year’s before I lost consciousness. While I did have a school apartment, I decided to spend that night in the regular hotel anyway (this being the second home run by the friendly family that always gave us the same room). I dropped off all my bags, grabbed a shower, and headed for the proverbial hills, or at least the quiet little bar where people were waiting. I hopped into a cab but the driver decided to take some route unbeknownst to me and managed to run smack into a Korean New Year’s parade. It was nine minutes to midnight; I wasn’t quite sure where I was and I really wanted to be at the pub when the clock struck.
While the parade was interesting I was more engaged with getting down the street. Perhaps on a normal night this would have been no problem, but at this particular time on New Year’s Eve everyone in Daegu was headed toward the big bell downtown for the bell-ringing ceremony. Imagine streets so crowded with people that you actually had to wait for the light to change to manage to cross to the other side for the unending line of bodies.
Wait I did as I made my way (a little more confident now) toward where I was going. I hit the bar one minute from midnight—just in time to count down, sit with some friends, and hash out stories of my winter vacation. I didn’t make it long, called it a night around 1:30, and went back to the hotel to sleep. Of course, I didn’t think I would be able to get a cab in any amount of time so I started walking toward the main street to look for a ride. As I was walking, I began to walk by a girl who seemed vaguely familiar and I realized it was Keesan, the secretary at the first school I worked at in Korea. We spoke, exchanged numbers (I’d lost hers in a freak phonebook-deleting accident) and then I found a cab and crashed for the night.
When I woke up the next morning, I stuffed things back into bags and Sam and I went to the University Campus to check out the room, which I only vaguely remembered after my little vacation. I remembered it being small, crowded, and lacking a kitchen. Alas, I had remembered correctly. I had been moved into the girl’s dormitory, which seemed like it could be pleasant enough. Goodness knows it would give me lots of opportunities to make friends with girls—who theoretically were learning English as a requirement—who might like having a foreign friend. But no, alas; the girls barely make eye contact, and when I quietly asked either for help or tried to strike up a conversation they shuffled off, very much like any skittish student; a bit disappointing really.
The other annoying feature of the dorm was the door, which needed to be unlocked both coming and going from the building by a special key card. Without the key card you couldn't get in or out of the building. I found this unnecessarily annoying but what was to be done? I did my best to grin, bear it and wait for the first proffered room to become available.
At the end of the day though the lack of space and cooking facilities was going to doom this little venture of the moment. For no readily apparent reason they had put a fridge in the room that took up what little was left of the space. You could open the fridge from the bed, turn on the TV from the bed, touch the desk from the bed—you basically could pretty much do everything from the bed. I generally like to have to move a little to get to different places. I mean, who wants to feel like they are tied up in bed all day? So, I tried to placate myself, but was getting more impatient to find out about the possibility of having a place in the bigger accommodations. I was asked to wait until Wednesday when the principal would be talking to the housing director. In the meantime,  the school bought me an electric water boiling pot, some coffee mugs, and a spoon.