Tuesday, 9 September 2003

Ah, my first journal entry in quite some time. I have returned to Korea, to seek employement as a teacher. I arrived last week, but didn't really have anything interesting or notable to write about until today. When I have the time, I may go back and write about things that happened during my previous visit here. Unfortunately though, I didn't bring my photos, and without them my memory of those events isn't so fresh...

Today, however, is another matter. This morning I was not able to sleep much. I went to bed at a fairly reasonable 1 am, and slept for maybe an hour and a half. I got up at about 7:00, and decided to do some hiking. Daegu is surrounded on all sides by numerous little mountains, making it quite easy to hike to one's heart's content. I headed up to my usual spot, about a five minute walk from Glenn's apartment. It seemed like a good morning for hiking, though a bit humid. It had rained heavily the night before, a downpour the likes of which I'm not sure I've ever seen in the states, with frequent rumbling of the loudest thunder I've ever heard, without a doubt. All those tall apartment buildings in Daegu must make really great lightning attractors... From all that rain, the trails on the mountain were naturally very muddy.

The intensity of the humidity seemed to increase with each step I took up the mountain. In short order I was bathing in my own sweat. I noticed some large and interesting spider webs as I hiked up. Then I noticed the large and interesting spiders themselves; gargantuan arachnids unlike anything you'll find in your basement. Including their black and yellow ringed legs, these suckers were about three inches long. I've no idea if they are poisonous, and I really have no desire to find out...

About half way up the mountain, there is a clearing where residents of Daegu can exercise; someone has placed a variety of exercise eqipment here, as well as a pair of badminton courts. As often as not, you will find Korean ajumonis lying inverted on the sit-up benches. Today was no exception. [Ajumoni means "aunt", but the word is applied liberally and respectfully by Koreans to older women in general.] Just past this clearing, I greeted a couple sitting on a log bench with the standard "Annyeong haseyo." The male of the pair attempted conversation with me, something about what I was doing in Korea, but I didn't know the verb he was using, so I simply smiled and told him that I speak only a little Korean. They both smiled in return, and I resumed my trek.

Shortly after this point, the humidity was so bad that sweat was practically running off the end of my nose and chin in streams. The grass was much longer than it had been last time I was here, and the trail was nearly overgrown with it. In places it was nearly as tall as me. I was distinctly reminded of any number of Southeast Asian war movies, trudging through the jungle, and at one point I was even viciously attacked by a butterfly the size of my hand, and accosted by a similarly enormous bee. Apparently this sort of atmosphere is conducive to the thriving of insect life. Finally I made it to the top, and was enveloped by a cloud, making it impossible to see. As I was leaving the summit, a Korean girl was arriving simultaneously and greeted me as she approached the helicopter pad which completely covers the summit. "An bomnida," I said to her, which means litterally, "not see." She responded with a little giggle (probably laughing at my Korean) and agreed that the visibility was poor. She was the female of the pair I had met previously by the clearing, a cute girl with typically crooked teeth, and dyed red hair. Her male counterpart had arrived ahead of her and was talking to an ajumoni who'd been streching up there for some time before I arrived.

Most of the return trip was uneventful. Near the bottom I was reminded that dirt + water = slippery mud, and that my hiking boots unfortunately have soles which have poor traction when wet. I slipped on a wet root, and wrapped myself around a tree. Fortunately, I got away from it with only a bruise on my left elbow and right ankle. No serious injuries. I came off the mountain in an unexpected place, and had to use Dong-A deparment store, one of the few discernable landmarks visible in the distance through the forest of concrete apartment buildings, to resituate myself. Then a short walk home to clean myself up.

This afternoon I was to have a job interview with a hagwon on the other side of the city. After eating lunch and getting a haircut, I climbed into a taxi and headed off to the interview. I had some trouble finding the school, which did not have much in the way of signage to identify it. I called the school's owner from a phone booth which turned out to be just outside the school, and he intercepted me there and brought me up into the school. It was a nice school and the people seemed really cool, but there were only three teachers, and the one native English teacher was returning home to Texas, which would have left me as the only native speaker. Having no teaching experience, it would be much better for me if I had other native-speaking English teachers available to use as a resource. The owner and his wife (who was also one of the remaining two teachers) didn't really speak English that well, in my estimation, and there were a few other things about the school that made it a poor choice for me. I was offered the job, but declined. Next week, after the holiday, my search will intensify, going door-to-door at hagwons in the neighborhood. There are litterally dozens of them, so that should be quite an adventure.

The taxi drive back to Glenn's ended up taking two hours. I got in the taxi, and asked the driver to take me to Dong-A department store, a well-known landmark very close to Glenn's apartment. On the way, the driver took me into down town, which seemed a little odd to me; but after all, I don't really know my way around the city, so I assumed the taxi driver knew what he was doing. Still, I was a little concerned, since it normally takes over half an hour to get from Glenn's to downtown, and it had taken at least that long to get to that point. He pulled up next to some department store which was not Dong-A, and announced that we had arrived. I reminded him that I had asked to go to Dong-A department store, and he smacked his head indicating that he had forgotten which one I said. I intended to ask for a discount, since he'd taken me to the wrong store, in the wrong part of the city. But then he drove around a couple of corners, and indicated that we were at Dong-A department store. Which we were. It turns out there are three of them in Daegu. If you don't specify which one you want to go to, the cabbies assume you mean the one down town. This is apparently fairly well known, just not by me. So with that cleared up, I finally ended my cab ride two hours and $15 later at Dong-A department store in Jisan-dong. When I returned home, I had some e-mail from Glenn's friend James about another job, as well as several more from other recruiters, which I'll have to pursue next week. Wednesday begins Korea's Thanksgiving holiday, during which the hagwons will all be closed. By this time, my lack of sleep had caught up with me, and I was exhausted. I took a nap at about 5:30pm, and was awoken (as intended) by Glenn returning from work. Glenn had been unable to reach me to discuss dinner, so he had brought home some food. I ended up getting some cheap sweet and sour pork from a restaurant just up the street. Glenn rented Gangs of New York, which we watched, and which I was subsequently not sorry I hadn't wasted $9 to see in the theaters back home when it was out. It was a long and mostly boring movie, though it did get better in the second half. My verdict: stay home, save your money, and watch reruns of The Family Guy on Cartoon Network instead.

Glenn and I stayed up for a while, chatting about the movie, teaching English, and studying Korean a bit. Then, off to bed to rest up for the next day's adventures, whatever those might be...