I graduated from university, and I didn't have any money, so I
had to take whatever job I could get. I got a gig as an ESL conversation
teacher. It was easy, but it paid lousy and took up a lot of time.
No time, no money. Everything was shitty. So I decided to go Korea.
JP, Bothe, and Shyla took me to the airport. I was drunk, nervous,
and feeling stupid. Shyla was drunk too. She tucked her jeans
into her boots and ate disgusting French toast that Bothe bought
at Burger King. I said good-bye at security, then trotted off
to Seoul. After a bit of confusion, I managed to find my way to
the right waiting room and fell asleep. When I woke up, I could
hear a little bird singing. I guess he flew into the airport and
couldn't get out. I put my glasses on, but I couldn't see him.
I went to the washroom, changed my shirt, splashed some cold water
on my face, and looked at myse! lf in the mirror. Then a plane
came and took me to Seattle. Then another plane took me to Seoul.
I arrived in Seoul five hours later than expected. My agent, a
grumpy lesbian named Jiyeon, was pissed off. We got on a shuttle
bus headed downtown, and she complained the whole way about how
much she hates TV on buses, Americans, greasy food, etc. Vegetarians
also annoy her. I offered to give up vegetarianism if she liked.
She told me not to bother. Jiyeon dropped me off at a sex hotel
in Kangnam, very close to where I would be working. I called HJ,
and she was at my hotel in less than an hour. She looked fantastic:
smart leather jacket, curled hair, heels, etc. She smelled good
too. I started to get excited. HJ took me out into the crazy,
crowded city, where I ate pizza fried rice, then we went to a
bar to drink soju, then we went back to my hotel to drink more
Being with HJ makes me feel like a KGB spy, or a gun smuggler.
There's always a hint of mystery mixed with paranoia. 'I'm doing
something I could get arrested for' Her parents could burst in
at any minute... Her entire family would reject her... Her life
would be ruined... Cops would torture me with bamboo poles.
HJ left early the next morning, worried about what she would tell
her parents. I laid back in bed and decided that my first 12 hours
in Seoul had been pretty good.
First day teaching: I fucked up my first class because my watch
was set an hour fast. My students hung around for an hour wondering
where the hell their new teacher was. Nobody bothered to try and
find me. Nobody said anything. I felt dumb, but I don't think
it was too big a deal.
Like I said, my job is easy. Check it out: I get paid $2,500 a
month (plus accommodation) to work six hours a day, five days
a week, but the school only runs twenty classes a month, so the
last two weeks of the month usually have a three or four day weekend.
Classes are only fifty minutes long, so I get a ten minute break
for every hour I work. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I only teach
three classes, which means that I get an additional three one-hour
breaks, all paid.
First day in my new place: It's a nice, studio-type deal with
air-conditioning, a big screen TV, microwave, dishwasher, etc.
The only thing that sucks is that the heat is only turned on twice
a day, which isn't enough. I had to spend my fist two nights sleeping
in a sweater, toque, socks, and winter jacket--and I was still
cold. There's a bar on the ground floor of my building, a sauna
next door, and a 7-11 across the street. The doorman is always
in a bad mood. The front doors open automatically. All he has
to do is sit there with his arms crossed and frown at anybody
who walks in.
I live in a very busy, metropolitan part of Seoul (Kangnam). Seoul's
version of Wall Street (Tehran) is only three blocks away. There's
lots of shopping, restaurants, pubs, clubs, etc. The action never
New Year's Eve. HJ and I went down to Jongro (an historic area
of downtown Seoul) for the big New Years celebration, which usually
attracts around 100,000 people. It was the most dense, electric
crowd I have ever been squeezed into in my entire life. Everywhere
I looked, people were firing red and green roman candles into
the air with little or no concern for public safety. The streets
were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people dancing, drinking,
singing, eating, selling, buying, fighting, and screaming. A constant
stream of red and green roman candles exploded in the air overhead.
Everywhere you looked, there were staggering drunks, kids, and
people selling weird shit like pigs' heads, boiled caterpillars,
and jellied acorns.
The evening's central attraction was a big bell in a Pagoda at
the middle of Jongro square. The mayor and a few other persons
of note gathered on a platform to ring the bell at! midnight.
Very big deal. As we moved closer to the bell, the crowd began
to intensify. By 11:00, it was an SNFU mosh pit. Imagine being
crammed into a hoola-hoop with four other people. Now imagine
that you are in the middle of a crowd of 20,000 other hoola-hoops,
and each hoop has five people crammed into it. Most of the people
are in a good mood, but there's also a lot of screaming, crying,
and nervous laughter. Everyone, everyone, is Korean except you,
and everybody knows it.
Two people were trampled to death in this exact same crowd last
year. HJ told me that some people wear adult diapers because,
if you gotta go, there's no chance you'd be able to make it to
a bathroom in time. People just shit their pants and wait until
the crowd disperses so they can clean up.
The crowd began to stampede toward the subway shortly after the
bell was rung. I stepped on several purses and jackets as we mo!
ved along, and I'm pretty sure I kicked a camcorder as well. I
would have been trampled to death if I had tried to pick anything
We ducked into a bar for drinks and smokes. HJ ordered a huge
bowl of this milky, sour booze called Dong Dong Jook. We held
hands and watched each other get drunk. She talked a lot about
how fucked she'd be if her parents found out about me. Her New
Years resolution was to become the perfect liar. A guy gave me
a free bottle of wine on my way out the door.
We laid around in bed and talked about stuff until four in the
afternoon, then went back out into the world to buy a heater.
There was a drunk guy sitting across from me on the subway. He
stared straight at me for a minute, then he started mouthing of
in Korean. Here's the translation: "This young man looks
like a gentleman, but inside, he is a devil. The Japanese are
very bad, but these ones are much worse!" He thought I was
an American. HJ spent the rest of the subway ride teaching me
how to say "I would like to cut off George Bush's head and
bury it in the desert" in Korean.
There are over 30,000 American soldiers stationed in Seoul, and
they cause a lot of trouble. You could spot them a mile away:
hulking figure, crew cut, and vacant stare. The Koreans resent
them. Two years ago, a pair of soldiers got drunk, stole a tank,
and ran over two Korean girls. They were tried by an all-American
court, and got off scott-free. In his State of the Union Address
last year, George Bush named North Korea along with Iran and Iraq
in a list of "renegade states" that make up an "Axis
of Evil". South Korea has been separated from the North for
more fifty years, and most South Koreans think that the North
Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is a complete maniac, but nobody likes
the idea of their Northern relatives being shat on by Uncle Sam.
I bought a heater, a chair, and food at a huge Wal-Mart-style
store, then headed home to make a spaghetti dinner. The heater
didn't work, so I punched it. It started working, then it broke
again. Then HJ dumped me. I wasn't too surprised. She's worried
about her parents. She has to get married before she's past "marrying
age", which is just around the corner, so she doesn't have
much time to fool around with tourists, like me. I told her I'd
be okay, but I felt miserable after she left.
I spent my third week in Seoul hosting a quiz show for kids
at an English exhibition at COEX. Jung Chul had a huge pavilion.
Big cash. Hundreds of kids. I had a headset microphone and an
assistant in a mini-skirt.
STEVE: "Okay! Listen carefully! Who is smart?! How many
legs does a COW have?! How many legs does a COW have?! Who Knows?!
Who knows?! THAT'S RIGHT!! You get a prize!! A COW has FOUR legs!!
A COW has FOUR legs!! People have TWO legs, but a COW has FOUR
legs!! Very Good!!" Kids lined up to get my autograph afterward.
I spent most of my quiz show cash with HJ the following weekend.
We went for a cruise down the Han River, rode around in cabs,
and drank at the Hyatt. A career as a television personality looms
large in an ambiguous, possible future.
I've been here for almost a month now, and I'm beginning to settle
into a routine, but I miss my friends, cat and favorite foods.
There have been lots of good times. We went to an amusement park,
Seoul, Tower, and a crazy dog show with break-dancers, rappers,
and dog piss all over the floor. My first month in Seoul has been
laid back, but I'm going to get more serious soon. Big plans.
I'll write more later.