The week began in promising style, with the majority of my assimilation into Korean society being completed. I was given my Alien Registration Card (an ID card for non-Koreans, which kind of parallels the Korean ID card), and managed to open a bank account at the campus branch of Shinhan. The assimilation then ground to a halt as, after a few phone calls to the Shinhan head office, I was flatly denied an international ATM card and credit card due to “foreigner fraud”. Presumably Koreans are easier to track down if they fail to pay back what they borrow, but given how much my building superintendent was complaining about people not paying their utility bills I lean more towards the opinion that this (illegal, according to the Korean government) activity is down to good old-fashioned institutional racism. My old nemesis, we meet again.
Back in the world of inquiry-based learning, having made it a point to pay my utility bill on the day I got it, my lectures took a turn for the more interesting as I began to figure out how much content I could reasonably expect to cover and the value of worked examples. I paid a visit to the library, and found the (English-language) fiction section rather heavy on the classics (as might be expected from a university) – with little time for browsing, I heaved a copy of C. S. Lewis’ collected works out of the door (in order to finally get round to reading The Screwtape Letters) and went to investigate the gym (quite quiet, and mainly full of students walking on the treadmills at a placid 4 k.p.h.).
At the weekend, I was greeted in Yongin by the smell of one of Amy’s frankly excellent soups and sneaked several bowlfuls during the course of the evening. My pancakes in the morning didn’t turn out as well as expected, though – I’d tried to modify a vegan recipe as we only had cow milk, and it went predictably awry (though the vegan ones I made later on made up for this mishap). The plan for the day was to gather a few munchables and head out to downtown Seoul to meet our urban exploration guru, who’d promised a rather unique experience. In this, he didn’t disappoint – we gained entry to an abandoned hotel (closed due to the entire city block being torn down and replaced), still full of most of the trappings that come with your mid-range Korean accommodation establishment. Apparently it had been too frightening to explore alone (one of the drawbacks of watching The Shining at an impressionable age) and so we tagged along for some investigation and photography (this has been more thoroughly blogged at daehanmindecline.com). The place looked like it had almost been abandoned overnight – bottles behind the bars were still half-full, there were unfinished drinks in the room salons, toilets had been sanitised and the rooms were ready for guests. We finished our tour with fruit and wine on the eleventh-floor restaurant and then left the place for the steeplejacks.
On Sunday we repaired to one of our preferred board game cafes in Hongdae, and spent a few hours vying for supremacy over Middle-Earth in a rather corpse-heavy game of Risk, Lord of the Rings-style. The battle could have gone on for days before someone eventually got an unassailable upper hand, so we called it quits and went home to face another week of our respective jobs. I arrived back in the office to find that a computer had been delivered, but that both the power and network cables had been misplaced, so, despite cannibalising my printer for the power, had another week without the distractions of immediate internet access (possibly a good thing from a getting-work-done point of view). I had my mandatory health check (including a chest x-ray – the unlucky dormitory students have to have one every month), my first student rebellion against work (with ten minutes of the lecture left I attempted teach a side topic, to universal moaning) and the near-daily experience of student reactions to the campus feral cat population (some are so afraid of the cats that they can’t walk by them; other feed them whatever snack they have handy e.g. Starbucks frappuccino).
The weekend saw Seoul Veggie Club’s long-awaited potluck dinner at a member’s fantastic apartment in Itaewon (I may have raved about the apartment last time I was there). The table was piled high with animal-product-free goodness (including a down-to-earth pie from me and chocolate cake from Amy), and I once again ate more than is probably healthy in one sitting. Amy and I completed a major shop as well, picking up a unreasonably aesthetic Mac Mini for her and the peripherals to turn it into one mean desk-occupying machine.
The next week of work went by extremely fast – despite finally getting internet access, I was preparing lectures significantly more efficiently having moved on to more familiar topics and gained some experience as to what kinds of things to include. I set my first assessment (an assessed worksheet) to wry laughs as the students realised that I’d personalised each paper to prevent blatant copying (collaboration and copying is expected, but at least each student will have to do her own sums), and had a large weight lifted from my shoulders on Wednesday as I received my first salary for the first time in well over eighteen months.
Friday came, and with it my inauguration into Shin Sa Hwe (approximately: New Teachers’ Club), the Department of Education men’s association. This was set up sometime in the 1970s, when feminism (at Ewha, at least) was at its height and the male members of staff (traditionally the big cheeses) felt rather downtrodden. It meets once a quarter for dinner and drinks, and as a male member of staff the dues are taken directly from my salary. I was expecting something suitably high-brow, and the sushi restaurant we went to was certainly that. The staff prepared several vegetarian courses specifically for me, we were treated to a short presentation about Prof. Kim’s recent trip to Easter Island (the same guy who recently went to the North and South Poles), and I got to meet some of the elusive faculty. After dinner, the party moved on to a bar and I bowed out to meet Amy and Dan at a different bar (that played generally excellent music) a few blocks away.
Having done a lot of shopping for Amy last weekend, she wanted to return the favour and we went to Dongdaemun (a market area for clothing and fabrics) to search out some curtains to replace my dingy and uninspiring ones. The fabric market caters to every taste and requirement you might have, and there are hectares and hectares of floor space crammed with booths specialising in just a few things. I found some reasonably-priced fabric (from someone who turned out to be an Ewha alumnus), ordered my dimensions and arranged to have it made into curtains for a mere few thousand won extra. We ventured into the “fashion” arcade across the street, only to be assailed by endless rows of eye-wateringly psychedelic golf shirts and blouses and quickly retreated to a safer establishment. I tried a few shirts in the “Dandy Club”, but my Western frame was sadly incompatibly with even the largest ones – we headed back to Sinchon for some nachos, cable television and Carcassonne (I found a copy in my local department store and quickly snapped it up).
Sunday proved to be nicer weather-wise, so we caught the subway out to Seoul Forest, a park just east of the city centre (I’d been expecting an actual thick forest, with hindsight perhaps a little over-hopeful in Seoul). We’d intended to go straight in, but got sidetracked by a flea market outside – small stalls lined the road selling items scrounged from places we couldn’t even begin to imagine. Aside from ancient valve-driven electronics and old army gear (including ammo crates – hopefully without the ammo), there were the usual obsolete games consoles (which means Playstations over here), bizarre ornaments and a “luxury” stuffed squirrel. We finally tore ourselves away and hired some bikes to zip around the place with, investigating the newly-built marsh ecosystem area and doing some deer-watching. In a final victory for recycling, I found a second-hand furniture shop on my way home and managed to lug a table and chair back with me (admittedly in two trips) to get me a step closer to having a fully-equipped apartment.