Monday, December 28, 2009

In Which My Feet and Heart Go Numb

It was a cold morning. The kind of cold that just steals the heat from your bones. I was standing on the street wrapped up in my scarf and the coat I made just for this winter. It was only eight thirty in the morning but in my soon-to-be-old neighborhood parking starts to get out of hand around seven. I was hoping that being there at eight thirty would be okay enough to ensure there would be a parking space for the moving van. As per instruction I was trying to make sure there would be a place to park.

At around eight forty-five an ajjuma tried to park on the sidewalk in front of my building. I waved her on by. She scowled at me from over the collar of her warm fur coat in her heated car. I had stopped being able to feel my toes about five minutes earlier. I danced around to stay warm. Pulled the scarf up higher, to cover my nose, cover my eyes. A minute later a young Korean girl tried to park on my feet. I waved her off and shook my head no. She continued to try to run me over and I stood in front of her car and waved her off, no again. She finally started to push forward until her car was against me knees. We stared at each other. Finally she drove off in a huff and illegally parked down an alley just opposite of where I was standing. As she slammed her car door at me she pulled on her jacket and gave me the finger. A few minutes later it was a business man in his SUV, as he tried to run over me like I was not standing there my phone rang. Finally the moving company, lost, of course.

Since I was acting as human traffic shield I knew that I couldn’t actually move to go get them without letting go of all the body-numbing car fighting I had been doing for the last half hour. Fortunately it was at this moment that a bunch of construction workers who had been eating breakfast in the restaurant across the street decided to emerge. I waved one over with what I hoped was a cute but helpless smile, and handed him my phone, while kicking the tires of SUV guy and explaining that he couldn’t park where he wanted to park because I had a moving van coming.

The construction guy ran down the street with my phone. SUV guy tired to run over my feet again, finally the moving van came down the street and SUV realized he was going to have to move. He moved in such a way that he had to move six more times before the van could finally get around him to park in front of my house. And thus the moving began.

The three Korean guys came up the stairs with boxes and asked where to start. I pointed at things and said basically all they need to know.

Cho-gi, okay.”

Cho-gi, sa-reg-i.”

Or, this goes, this is trash. I did this over and over and over again in each of the rooms of my apartment and watched as the moving guys started to pack up the end result of the many years of my life. I watched. It was all I could do. I felt helpless as I watched myself being packed up and slipped into boxes. I wasn’t sure what to say or how. Just trash/not trash. Trash/not trash. The pictures, the love letters, the unnecessary refuse of life, disappeared again, but I fought so hard to hold onto some of it. And in the end some of it made it into boxes; more than I have ever let make it into boxes in the past. I kept sorting, happy that the moving guys would be doing trash and clean up. I brought some extra bags and moved sundries into it that would go over to the Irish. Little things here and there, the various stuff that was not trash. I asked to leave while the guys worked and was told it was okay, so I dashed across town with stuff, taking a bit of break as they worked. Breathing, thinking, not thinking. I held my dog for a little while and then went back to the apartment. At this point my landlord started to call to make arrangements. I headed back over to my old place for round two of the move. Breathing. Thinking. My dog grunted in disapproval as I left for the second time that day.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Slowest Moving Miracle

Moving is never fun. International moving is no real exception here. I remember how I moved to Korea so terribly many years ago. I packed a suitcase full of my stuff. Kissed my apartment goodbye, and got on a plane. Seriously, I left pretty much everything else to be dealt with by someone else because dealing with the move was about all I was capable of doing. That worked out like one would expect with some built-in resentments, untied ends, and lost things.

I’ve never been good at things. Or at least the material things. I like collecting them I’m just not very good at keeping them. I used to have things from my past, my childhood. I collected and collected and brought things with me and I can tell you none of the things that made it with me to college made it out of college with me.

Just as many of the things that made that first trip to Korea are not making the final trip home. There are the pictures, the love letters, the photos, the random knick-knacks, the books, jewelry, toys, hearts, and minds, and all these things have gone somewhere else. I just don’t have them anymore. I have new things, more things, always collecting and compressing in on me and I never seem to get rid of them all, even though I try.

As I am trying ever more to deal with possession I have come to realize that it is perhaps it is not the best way to handle life with a trash can. In this move I decided to get an international mover instead of a suitcase, and actually deal with my stuff. Granted the sheer fact of doing that made dealing with all the stuff that much more difficult.

Arrangements were made sometime in October for someone to come and move my apartment. The person I managed to work all this out with spoke English, met the roommate, made a list and explained thow much things would probably cost. I was mostly contented. I set up the move to take place the day before I officially had to be out of my apartment. I made arrangements with my housekeeper to have the apartment cleaned the next day for my landlord. The manager of my move assured me she would keep the costs down and make everything easy. That the movers would take out the trash and do all the packing. Indeed, legally I couldn’t actually touch anything as it would go into the boxes. Having made the arrangements and knowing what to expect, I decided that I would not think about it until it actually happened. Which as with all things happened a lot sooner than later.

The day of the move I woke up on a couch.

The dog was sleeping at my feet snoring loudly. My friend the Irish, who has offered to take me in, was in his room snoring loudly. He and the dog had it timed out perfectly so that when one went quiet the other would fill in making for a perfect and continuous buzzsaw of loud snoring noise. I tossed a pillow at the dog who complained. Sadly I was pretty sure the Irish had locked his door, probably to prevent any pillows from being tossed in his direction.

A day before I had gathered up the possessions that I was keeping on me til I leave Korea. With that I also collected the mass of things the Irish was buying from me for his place, which included a treadmill and some other sundries. He met me at my place around eleven and with the help of the housekeeper a pile of all his things was made for delivery to his apartment. To get the things to the Irish’s place across town I enlisted the help of my bar owner. He called up a bongo truck company to come and move stuff. He met me with the bongo truck around four, and walked in, looked at my apartment, and kinda freaked.

“Hyun, it’s not everything, just this pile, here.”

“Man, you have lots of stuff. What are you going to do with all of it?”

“Most of it will probably get thrown away. The rest I’m moving on Friday.”

“Oh, so yeah, this guy will move the stuff. I told him fifty dollars; is that okay?”


And with that we began to move things down to the bongo. The bongo truck is basically just a flat bed pickup truck. Most of the things went down easily enough, with the boys moving and me directing what needed to go downstairs from upstairs. Since I didn’t want them complaining about my being a slow girl this seemed best. After the third trip down Hyun, the bar owner said, “Look, for fifty, don’t take two trips, move everything you need today, okay.” This meant adding some things that were slated to be moved via cab being thrown into the mix, including the bag o booze and my suitcases. For the most part moving these things was not that bad. It was the treadmill that was the real kicker. I listened as the three of the boys grunted together to get the thing down the stairs. When we got to the other side of town I moved things up the stairs including the dog, and then listened as they moved the treadmill up the second set of stairs. This ended with three grown men hunched over sweating bullets in the middle of December, all of them coatless at this point, and gasping.

I handed out water.

“Look, whatever you do, don’t ever buy one of those things again, it’s motherfucking heavy,” says Hyun.

“Having moved it I honestly never want to see it again,” says the Irish, proud owner of a new treadmill.

The Korean truck driver said nothing, but eventually agreed to drink some water. Once we had made sure everything was out of the truck I paid the man eighty and thanked him for his help. I agreed to see Hyun later in a bar type setting, and bought the Irish dinner.

In the bar type setting Hyun laid into me about the amount of stuff I was just tossing away. Eventually he convinced me that I should try to sell a bunch of the furniture to a recycler. I agreed to try it an made arrangements to meet him on the day of the official move. The Irish and I drowned our various moving pains together in a bottle of wine which made sleeping on the couch easier.

On the day of the move, when I awoke to the twin snoring engines; however, sleep had been fretful and all I could think of was the amount of stuff I had and did not want. I wondered about the wisdom of an international move. I thought about throwing it all away. I sucked it up, got dressed in warm clothes and took off for my old apartment at eight in the morning. The movers were coming at nine am and I had been charged with one task and one task only; make sure there is a place to park. With that in mind I stood on the cold street on a -7C day, and waited.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fine Dining

"Where do you want to eat?" I ask the Irish as we wander downtown in the middle of the week. Given that I have become used to a rather restricted diet I know the choices are more than a little limited, but I want to be accommodating when I can.

"You can't eat everywhere, so you pick a place." Responds the Irish. True, but I still get annoyed.

"Your day was longer, your choice."

"To be honest I want pasta."

"Uh, huh." I can't eat pasta.

"What about that pizzeria you've seen, we could check that out."

"That's true, I did want to check that out; let's go there. Besides we've been walking for the last hour and I had a heavy workout and no lunch. I slice of pizza should be all right." So we head toward the pizzeria. This particular place had caught my attention a few months ago when it opened. The reason for that being that it sported what looked to be a rather impressive stone oven, for honest-to-goodness wood firing, making what should be rather delicious pizza.

We headed in; the atmosphere was warm. While looking over the menu pizza and pasta was ordered, and I asked for a glass of red. Of course since I can't do anything easy I tried to determine if they served dry wine or sweet wine at the restaurant. I've discovered, much to my dismay, that for no good reason there is a surfeit of nasty sweet red wine in this country and it seems to be very popular. Most of the time, in most of the places I eat and order wine, I know I will get a nice dry red. However if I am going into a Korean fusion (which is pretty much anyplace that is a popular Korean restaurant that does Western food) the wine is questionable. However after much confusion among the waiters I finally just order and decide to take my changes. Surprisingly the wine is good, the pizza is amazing, and the Irish and I manage to get a fair bit of work done on the research we are doing together this semester. The pizza is a thin crust that I can eat, and the pasta, an olio with pepper, was lovely even though I only head a fork or two and left most to the Irish.

It is at this point, when we are languishing together in our happy sated-ness that we take some time to scope out the general decor and discuss the potential of this restaurant in the future.

"That pizza was really fantastic," says the Irish.

"Yeah, and the pasta was amazing."

"I think with some playing I could probably make that with a whole-wheat noodle so you could eat it."

"Worth a shot."

"This restaurant isn't bad. The oven really makes a difference."

"Yeah, shame about the name though."


"The name." It is at this stage that I point to the wall behind the Irish which is embellished with a large clip art style decoration of a fire burning, and underneath of it proof that our job as English Language teachers is not quite yet done.

I point out some further wall art that demonstrates a either a lack of inspiration, understanding, or interest by whoever designed the restaurant.

"Yes, well," says the Irish "it is original."


"We shall just have to recommend the Your Text Here as widely as possible."


We walk smiling and amused into the chilly evening, with the smell of pizza rising in steamy waves from our coats as we walk down the streets toward our homes.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Half Baked

Coming up on the last few days of classes, and the last day for at least one class. Sadly the first class to have an official last day was also my favorite class. For those of you who are students, yes, your teachers have favorite classes. And yes, we do treat them differently. They are the bright-eyed students who want to work, who want to learn, and who make teaching a pleasure. We all have them. When I’m very lucky all of my classes are favorite classes, trust me it’s been known to happen. On, special rare occasions though, when I’m short on super-favorite classes, I might get lucky enough to have my favorite class of the week also coincide with being my last class of the week. The timing of this class has nothing to do with its status of favorite, as the students are actually a pleasure to work with. And they are my favorite.

So for this extra-special last class with the best group of students I’ve had this semester, and by far and away my favorite of the favorites, I figured I’d get them some popcorn. A few weeks ago I had a horrible craving for popcorn right in the middle of my favorite class, so I’d gone to the quickie mart, made a bag of microwave popcorn and spread the joy with the class. The favorite class. They were all happy, and I was happy that I could fix my popcorn urge without eating a whole bag.

Knowing that the class would like popcorn, and realizing it was the last time, it was really now or never. I was busy and a student in the class actually wanted to talk to me about something, so I handed one of the boys 2,000W and asked him to go and get some popcorn while the break was on. He smiled, said yes, and walked out with back up in the name of his two best friends.

A hung out in the room and kept helping students. A few minutes later I smell the familiar smell of popcorn coming down the hall and turn to the door excited for my own snack as well as to see the joy on the faces of the students before we start the second session.

And in walk the boys with a bag of microwave popcorn. They hand me the bag. The bag looks like a shriveled sort of raisin. It has not really expanded. It’s warm to the touch, but obviously still full of butter and popcorn kernels. They look at me. I look at them. I look at the bag. I look back at them.

“Yeah, teacher, it’s not working.”

I just kind of look at them.

“It’s microwave popcorn guys.”

“Yeah, he’s stupid he doesn’t know.”

“He’s not stupid, but seriously, boys, what gives?”

The boy who was the money handler just kind of sits down in despair so I run down the hall, to the mart, pop the bag in the microwave for three minutes and contemplate the fact that three 20 year old college boys don’t know how to make microwave popcorn.

I get back to the room a little incredulous. They guys look at me impressed that I was able to fix the broken bag of popcorn. I hand it out and try to quietly ask the money handler what happened.

“First time, I don’t know.”

And I realized, that it might just be possible, that some 20 year old Korean boys, and probably a lot more than I suspected, had never before made microwave popcorn. I smiled, passed it out, and felt a twinge of oddness, homesickness, and oldness, that could not be cured by crunchy butter and salt.