the bridge

I moved into my new place here in Anyang on May 3, relatively easily making the transition from vagrancy to normalcy in matters professional, much pleased to have finally unpacked my bags for the next year of my life, committed to the job.  But that’s not the only reason I am “out here.”  And I ask, What now?  Routine?  Ritual?  What’s the difference? 

Routine—while carrying with it a sense of comfort—carries the element of work or obligation that doesn’t require much introspection.  On the other hand, ritual has the connotation of spirituality.  While I am doing fine with the routine at the new job, it is taking me a little more time to find the ritual in my workday, non-work-hours.  After five weeks of sleeping on couches and strange beds and living out of my bags, I have to now complete construction of the transition span and once again find the essential parts of my daily ritual.

Upon my arrival in Seoul, I was made to feel comfortable by Jenie—much more than I ever expected.  And for that I thank her.  During the days, I would sit and write either at her place or down in Itaewon; while sitting for a few hours next to an empty coffee cup at a café, I actually penned some lyrics for Punchy Pusan Pablo to adapt to music.  Also, I did a little wandering, going on walks or bike rides along the Han River, taking the time to try and foresee the routine and ritual I would be adapting once I moved into my new apartment down in Anyang.

The Han River bisects Seoul and is crisscrossed by fifteen or sixteen bridges.  Aside from a few minor decorative touches, these bridges are not of the artisan type; they are, rather, utilitarian roads elevated on cement beams rising from the water.  Yes, the definition of a modern bridge.  And they were built with one purpose in mind: to get millions of people across the river efficiently.  But, as I hear, what they lack in daytime splendor, they make up for in nighttime radiance, lit up with colored lights.  So, in Seoul, it is better to cross or walk along the river in darkness.  It is something I shall investigate, camera in hand.

On April 19, I moved from Jenie’s to Anyang.  But, my apartment was not to be ready for two weeks.  Hotel Isabel, a “love motel.”  These places, clustered in certain areas of towns all over the country, were not built with two week stays in mind.  One night, a couple hours, one hour.  Some may recall my rendition of the first week here in Korea, where hooker’s heels clicked in the hall early in the morning and hookers—or simply women eager to please their men—screamed in brief, feigned pleasure.  But, the Isabel was of higher standards, maybe more expensive (I certainly didn’t pay for any of it) and not as many nocturnal moanings of said hookers or accommodating girlfriends or loving wives.  So, with no drawers and only a few hangers to place my stuff, I continued to live out of my bags in a “love motel,” in the throes of exorbitant comfort—a sixty inch television, a Jacuzzi, for example; all of this in line with the standards of this competitive industry of “love motels” but far from conducive to routine that would help me find my ritual.

Work began, finally, on the 26th, five days of training/observation at work finally finished.  I will be sure to post some pictures of my classroom and a few of the students and teachers around the “campus.”  It is a strange place, as far as hagwons go, with 26 to 28 foreign teachers and only a handful of Korean “counselors” to field discipline problems and the phone calls from concerned and/or overbearing mothers.  Most academies in Korea consist of partner teaching where foreigners and Koreans work together to bridge the gap between conversation and grammar.  But, at Yongdo, the idea is full immersion, the foreigners being the only ones to teach all aspects of writing, speaking and grammar.  A challenge, to be sure.  I will have to fully evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches at a later date.  As for now, I like having my own classroom, the small number of classes I have (three groups MWF for two hours each, two groups TTh for three hours each), and the routine that this provides.  The next challenge upcoming is dealing with report cards and comments on a monthly basis.

The apartment I finally moved into is on the first floor of a four storey building.  It is, over all, smaller, cleaner and quieter than the Gegeum pad.  But to say it is bereft of its share of noises would be untrue.  It is, after all, an urban setting, albeit much more suburban.  And these noises are to be expected.  The bell at the nearby school, the people coming and going from the surrounding apartments, the fruit and vegetable salesman driving around in their trucks with recorded messages blaring the approach of wonderful produce.  One would think they are selling religion or political propaganda.  But, no.  Just tomatoes.

In this country, there is no shortage of mountains to climb and temples to be seen.  And, if you have seen any of my pictures, you would be sure to note that these are among my favorite things to do here.  Whenever there is a need for perspective and introspection, there is always a mountain to hike and a temple to be found.  There are a few young fellas at work who like to hike.  I went with Jed (from Buffalo, not to be confused with Jed from Chicago/Denver/ Houston) to a small temple on a rainy mid-week day off and earlier this week with Jed, Randal (from Toronto) and Ryan (a Canuck from all over) for a rare mid-week morning hike and some sun before work. 

All around my apartment are the things that, in one year, may or may not be part of my next transition.  Same for the people I meet.  A couple weeks ago, I met up with my buddy Josh from the YBM Gegeum-Busan days, he on his way to China after leaving his own contract early.  He’s a long-haired fellow (who has appeared in past photo albums on this site) from the northeastern US who is only a few months younger than I.  He has this wanderlust that I, too, possess.  The difference being that he has actually seen many corners of the world.  But, our twenties were much different. 

I don’t know if I will ever see Josh again.  He raised an interesting point as we sat and drank coffee near Insadong: people are “out here” (anywhere but home) for one of two reasons: boredom or running away from something.  I find this to be true.  In addition, the people I have met “out here” are of varying transitions.  The youngsters are typically fresh out of university and taking the time to see the world as they cross from one era in their lives to another, gaining perspective before settling on the stable banks of employment and/or domesticity; others are biding their time, saving their money to repay student loans and/or travel the world.  Yet others are here to traverse the cavernous boredom between one half-life and another.  I am a hybrid.

It is important to keep people like Josh near (if not in miles, than in the occasional spirit of a story or character—via email—found in this bar or that alleyway or some remote region) not simply because they give ideas for (and listen to plans for) traveling and adventure, but also because of the perspective they can give on the fairly unique situation we “out here” put ourselves in.  And, I have found, in my first nine and a half months here, that a routine/ritual has dulled the reality that I am, in fact still living the vagabond life.  To challenge the comfort of routine is to challenge perspective.  And that, to me, is everything.

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