Category: Change

The New, Temporary Home

By , January 28, 2013 10:41 am

We moved this past weekend into another apartment across town.  This place is quite smaller than our previous apartment – only two bedrooms and only one bathroom. It’s not near as nice as our previous home, either. We had wood floors there and only cheap vinyl here, thin aluminum doors and windows and (feels like) zero insulation. We also have no parking here, which means we have to jostle with neighbors, most of whom are businesses, for a space. We’re on the 2nd floor of a two story building and there are many like it along the street. The first floor of all of them, however, is businesses – restaurants, hair shops, cram schools, and hof houses – the traditional Korean beer house. Our neighborhood is relatively filthy.  I forgot how nasty Koreans can be outside their homes as our last neighborhood was very clean and tidy. Here trash is strewn about the playground and cleaned up only once a week while piles of trash get heaped up in corners and the narrow spaces between buildings and is never cleaned up.  When we lived on the far west side of town the neighborhood was just as filthy, but two years in a decent area was enough to make me forget and this week I’m disgusted  all over again by Koreans’ lack of respect for their community and environment.

This is an older neighborhood. Some of the housing predates the use TV, and certainly all of it predates the use of internet. Cables: TV, internet and phone, are strung haphazardly everywhere and anywhere.  It’s a testament to the work ethic of “hurry get it done” that pervades the culture here. Koreans call it “bally bally” culture, bally being the Korean word for hurry. And while that’s a nice thing quite often, as they’ll apologize profusely if fixing you car takes longer than it should but when aesthetics is at stake it takes not just a back seat but rather walks behind the car and doesn’t even get to ride. God help the people who have a fire but can’t get out the windows and onto a fire department ladder because of the plethora of cables blocking them.

cables

the monstrosity of cables attached to a pole outside our building.

cables

Slung every which way, over, under and around – whatever it takes to bally bally get it done.

The little green car in the photo above is parked at a Chinese restaurant – the only one with any parking allocated out front. The rest of the street is store front like the van is parked at in the lower right. Rules forbid parking in front of store entrances while the shop is open, however, there are no rules forbidding parking in front of home entrances as I usually have to nearly climb over cars to get out to walk the dogs. Parking is ever a problem in this land as there are no requirements for a business to provide parking when they build. It’s not uncommon to see a large office building or even a factory that employs 1000s of workers have space for just the smallest fraction of their staff allocated for parking.  Even a public building such as a post office on a busy street will have no parking. Consequently, Koreans park whereever they can get away with it, regardless of what traffic they screw up.  Typically, the road we live on could accommodate parking on both sides with room for traffic to in the middle – except when assholes like this SUV  driver decide he’s going to park however he likes.

parking

No regard for traffic – just park it, Get it done. Bally bally.

One nice thing about the apartment is the roof. Living in the high rise the last two years, we couldn’t use a grill to cook with. With only a covered veranda, we had to have picnic lunches at the park to have a home cooked steak or burger . I won’t be here long enough to enjoy the roof grilling, but that doesn’t mean the dogs won’t have a place to play in nice weather.  In the picture below, they waited impatiently upstairs on the roof while furniture was moved in on moving day.

dogs

The dogs, Sparky (L) and SaTang, wonder why they are banished to the rooftop

 

I’ve got just over two weeks here in this place, and that’s just about all I can stand.  I was spoiled living in the high rise with plenty of parking and clean streets and sidewalks. Any longer here and I’ll probably get into some serious parking and/or trash arguments with the buttheads who live around here.

Anyway, It’s January 28 and in just over 2 weeks I’m headed home.  I’ve got  my high speed rail ticket to Seoul, my plane ticket to LAX, my rental car reservation to Phoenix, most of my stuff shipped home (some of which has already arrived), a big wad o’ cash transferred to my bank in Texas and my Korean pension money set to be transferred as well.  The only thing left to do is get a health certificate for SaTang who will accompany me home.  Sparky gets to (has to?) stay here with MyeongHee.  I’ve probably got one more box to ship home, but that’s just the things that won’t fit in the suitcase like extra shoes, bike helmet and accessories and things like that.  That will be shipped express and will get home just after I do.

I’ve got a big going-away party scheduled for February 8th, but am already booked several nights with dinners and drinks with my closest friends. The big party will be for the wide circle of friends I’ve met through business, work and running a popular website for the foreigners here.  I’ll miss the friends I’ve made here.

Nothing to do now but wait for the 13th.

 

 

3 Weeks Here, 2 weeks there.

By , December 31, 2012 11:22 am

Three more weeks in this apartment and then we move across town to  another apartment. We’re in a high-rise now, but will be moving to what Koreans call a “villa style” home.  Still haven’t seen it, but will only be there two weeks, so it’s fine.  But a villa style is any low 1,2 or 3 story building with outside stairs to the higher levels.

We spent yesterday cleaning and purging a lot of the junk of years together. With DongHyun in the Army, his room got cleaned out the most. He still had a lot of junk from high school and even middle school including trading cards, video games, and assorted junk. We all had lots of old cell phone crap, too – chargers, cables, etc – that seems to accumulate.  I think we’ve got it down to a manageable amount of stuff to move.  I might have one more box to ship, but will try and fit it all in luggage I travel with.

So far, the plan is that MyeongHee is not coming. Initially it was after 14 months when DongHyun finished his stint in the army they’d both come.  He wants to study in the but as an adult, he’ll need his own visa and his mother being married to me won’t matter.  But lately, she’s been talking about maybe 2 or 3 years later.  Then it became a vacation visit thing – she’ll visit the US one year, I’ll visit Korea the next.  Probably not going to work out, but she’s just not interested in leaving Korea.  Maybe things will change, but I’ve just resolved to let it go. I can’t push her to leave, nor can she push me to stay.  So, we’ll stay married and live a half a world away from each other. Fun times.

Almost Christmas

By , December 19, 2012 10:43 am

Our tree is up, but so far no presents beneath it. Nothing unusual for this house, or many others in Korea. Presents are just not a big deal. Still wrestling with whether to buy a gift for MyeongHee or not.  I bought both her and DongHyun a gift last year, but neither bought anything for me.  Not a big deal as I don’t need anything and, in fact, have been conducting The Great Purge and relieving the household of all things I won’t take with me or have shipped home.  No need to add another item to pack.  And she doesn’t need anything, either.  I might get all Christmassy yet – I have a week – so we’ll see.

Earlier this week, MyeongHee put a deposit down on another apartment. I haven’t seen it yet, but she tells me it’s ok. Not great, but ok.  I’ll only live there for 2 weeks or 3 weeks, so I’m not real concerned. If she’s happy, then it’s fine.  The latest news is that her mother will move in with her. She just turned 76 this week and while she’s relatively healthy, she’s lonely in her little house on the coast and MyeongHee says she would be lonely herself. So, for 90% of the time, they’ll live together and 10% she’ll be tending her small plot of crops in the country.  Seems like a good idea.

In other news, my writings have somehow started getting some attention.  I sold a few copies of Internal Strife this fall. I keep hoping the right reader will pick it up, generate enough buzz and interest in other folks and it will turn into a Hollywood blockbuster. And then I usually wake up and get a cup of coffee, the cost of which is  about the same as the profit I’ve made from the book’s sales – a whopping $5 per month this quarter.   It makes me want to go back and finish my second book but I’m having too much fun writing applications for smart phones, which ultimately will be far more profitable for me if I can get a full time job doing so when I return to the USA.

Last chance, by the way, for anyone interested in a personal tour guide of South Korea. I understand there’s a bit more interest in the place these days with “Gangnam Style” song and video making it into the top of the music charts in American and England and other places.  January will be cold, but I’ll have time to escort you to the more interesting places in the country – both of them. A couple of my part time jobs have completed with the end of the year this week and not sure I’ll replace them.  I may just coast into the trip home with a few hours of teaching per week.

 

 

A Major Hiccup

By , November 18, 2012 10:31 am

Damn. Just when it looked as if everything was settled and in place, a large hiccup in travel arrangements has reared its ugly face.

I bought my plane ticket off of Travelocity website back in September. Plenty of time to get ready, get cheap prices and a seat before they fill up. With airlines cutting back on flights due to poor economies, one must plan in advance. Good thing I still have time, as now I have make some changes.

The ticket I bought was for a flight from Seoul, South Korea to Los Angeles CA and a second leg to Pheonix, AZ. The first leg from Seoul looks fine. I checked the airline’s website, Asiana Airlines, for taking pets. Provided there is not crazy weather then, bringing SaTang won’t be a problem. However, the second leg from LAX is on US Airways. Just checking their regulations I find that they no longer accept pets in cargo and that pets in cabin must be under 4kg (8.5lbs). SaTang is close to 7kg. I’m waiting on a response back from their customer relations folks, but I hope to get some answer rather than simply “no.” Maybe a refund, or offer to change airlines to Phoenix…anything. I bought the entire ticket as a “US Airways” flight with a “partner” airlines being Asiana in fine print. I’m hoping that partner relationship that allows pets on the first leg will get them to change their mind about the second leg and figure out a way to get my dog home with me.

If they can’t get past some silly rules, I might have to change airlines at a large cost or worse, drive a rent car at large cost to Phoenix to meet Mark.

We’ll see how this turns out.

And now three

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By , November 12, 2012 11:06 am

Three months to go.

Can you tell I’m counting? I can’t wait to get back to the USA. Time seems to have slowed to a crawl. But it always seems to do that when anticipation is high.

I have three months to work and changes just keep happening. While I had a good job at S-Oil, it was short lived. It was teaching English executives and it started off at 9 hours per week in August and has since dropped to 5 hours and their busy schedules means I might get 3. I had hoped to finish out my time here with all adult classes, but I had to get more hours somewhere. So, I took a part time job at a private English academy. I only work 4 hours a day, twice a week, but that will amount to close to $1k a month. This school is ok. It’s very free-wheeling and I can do whatever I want – I’m typically the only teacher in the place so I’m left to my own devices. Certainly low stress, if not great money.
But, add in the other part time jobs and I am making decent money. My schedule is crazy, though. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I work from 7:30am to 9pm. Wednesday is only 2 hours in the afternoon and Monday and Friday are my two academy classes. Free lance teaching is great pay, but filling a schedule means accepting whatever times one can get. Finding places that want to teach during the holes in my schedule is the hard part.

I sold my scooter last weekend. I wanted to get that done while the weather was still nice. Another month or two and only hardcore riders would be out there on motorcycles. But my biggest challenge at this point is how to get all my things back home. I’m probably going to ship a lot of stuff this month. Send it slow-boat and pay as little as I can. If I send my summer clothes and some cool/cold clothes I should be able to pack the remainder in a suitcase come February. I came in 2007 with a large suitcase and a really large duffel bag. I hope to forgo the duffel as I’ll have my dog, SaTang with me.

It’s started to get cold here this week. The leaves are turning rapidly and the place is looking very much like fall is finally here. Wish we’d have gotten out and gotten pictures but when we had time to do that it wasn’t very colorful. My previous fall pictures will have to suffice.

Anyway, that’s all the news for now. Hope everyone is well.

I’ve Got a Date

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By , September 10, 2012 9:18 am

Yes, a date.  I’ve been saying I’m home to the USA next year and decided I’d just go ahead and buy a ticket. No turning back – unless I want to forfeit the cash on the non-refundable ticket.

I leave on Wednesday, February 13th.  I’m not flying to DFW, however.  I’m flying into Phoenix, AZ and I’ll spend a couple of days with my friend and former roommate Mark. He lives in Prescott and has offered to drive me to Dallas later. But first a little decompression and visiting and maybe some sightseeing. Prescott is not far from the Grand Canyon, so I hope we’ll get a chance to drive up and see that.

Expect me in Dallas sometime later that week, but no schedule has been determined beyond landing in Phoenix.

 

This is Me

By , July 12, 2012 12:38 am

me

Yes, this is me.  52 years old. And in better shape than I’ve been in for probably 20 years.  I bought a few new pairs of pants when I was home in February because my old ones were all too big. They sagged on my butt.  Well, the new ones all sag now, too.  I have no idea how much I weigh – we don’t have a scale and I don’t go anywhere that does – but I’ve lost more weight and have even (almost) lost the “love handles” I’ve carried for  years.  Several people have commented recently on how slim, trim and fit I look.

I think I have as many grey hairs as I did in the late 90s when I worked in a stressful job selling software. Sure, I have stress now, but it’s more likely along the lines of “where will I buy some western food since tonight I’m tired of Korean food?” rather than “To whom and where will I sell enough software to make my quota and keep my high paying job?” And if that’s the kind of stress I have, then I guess I don’t have much to fret over.

I really do want to move back to the USA next year, but I’m going to miss the lifestyle I have here: I work far less than a 40 hour week, I make decent money, I have lots of time to exercise and work on things I like to, City Hall and the Police Agency know me professionally, I have a few hundred friends here and  run into many of them when I go to any of the couple dozen places that serve western food or drinks. There certainly is a list of things I could rattle off that I’m not thrilled with in Korea, but you’ve probably heard them all already.

So, I’ll just leave it at that.  I’m happy.  Happy birthday to me.

The Deal

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By , March 22, 2012 12:09 pm

Newly armed with a repertoire of Android smart phone apps and a popular website of semi-slick programming, I’ve been marketing myself as a software developer.  My resume says nothing about teaching. My latest job merely says Ulsanonline.com, and that’s no exaggeration as I routinely spend 10-15 hours per week working on it in some capacity, whether it’s programming, maintenance news gathering or marketing.  And since I posted my resume on the job boards, I’ve begun to get responses. I get about two emails a week from recruiters with potential jobs. Not all are good fits for my skills, but it’s only been a month.  One will turn up.

As I mentioned when I was home, the plan is to come home in 2013 and find a techno-job somewhere in the US.  Dallas would be nice, but anywhere in the continental US would be far closer in distance and timezone than I am now.   But coming back to America earlier is an option – under certain circumstances.  What circumstances?

Here’s the deal:  because I have an existing social infrastructure in Dallas, moving there would be far less costly than another city. I could find a place to live while staying with a friend or relative. I could possibly even find a roommate among my friends there. Moving to another city would be an immediate outlay in hotel costs with almost no possibility of finding a roommate (I don’t do random roommates well).  So, I either have to save enough cash to make the move to a new city, or move to Dallas and gradually build (figuratively, not literally) a home.  MyeongHee will still stay here in Korea another year, but if the right job comes along I’m outta here.

That certainly puts a little umph in my get-along.

Here’s a Job, there’s a job

By , March 3, 2012 3:17 pm

I lost my job last week.

I had been working at an “After School” in a regular school teaching English.  That’s a school run by a private company that holds classes in the school after the regular classes are finished. Koreans do that. They send their kids to school, and then they send their kids to another bunch of classes. Why they do that is a) either the regular   school sucks and kids need more learning or b) education is very competitive, even for 1st graders and parents aren’t satisfied being anything less than best in the class.  You decide.  I digress.

As I said, I’d been working in an After School program and I lost my job. The private company did a horrible job of managing their money. To fix that, they had to sell new books to the parents more often to make up the shortfall. Rather than wait until the students understood one book before moving to the next level, it was sell a new book and reap the profits. Nevermind that the kids didn’t understand the last book and the new book assumes they learned it already.  So, as you might imagine, when the contract was up for renewal, that company lost out and another “After School” company was brought it.   I wasn’t a big fan of that approach, but I made good money and only worked about 20 hours per week.  Call it the “Golden Handcuffs.”  I didn’t like the job, didn’t like that I could not get my students to utter more than a word or two, much less a full sentence and didn’t like that I felt personally ineffective at teaching. But I got paid well and had lots of time off.

Just before the contract winners were announced, several competitor companies contacted me to come work for them.  I waited, thinking the company I was already at would have schools to send me to.  They didn’t.  And when I went back to the competitors to see if they needed teachers still, I lost out. They’d already filled their needed slots. Oh no! No job! Whatever will I do.

That was on Thursday when the schools all signed new contracts. By Thursday evening, it was clear I had no job as my company lost more contracts than they had teachers for.

So, Friday morning I set out, determined to find a job.  I got a cup of coffee and sat down at my computer and opened up Facebook.  “Hey! That’s not looking for a job,” you say. “That’s loafing!”  Not here. There’s a rich environment of jobs available for native English speakers such as yours truly and the traffic on facebook is thick with them.  Just in Ulsan we have two facebook groups dedicated to jobs, whether it be part time, full time or just substitute.  A few emails and phone calls and I’m off and running.

By 9:30am I had an interview set up for the early afternoon.  By 11, I had another company job asking for a resume.  Both of those came to fruition and by mid afternoon I had two part-time gigs.  At 8:00pm another company called looking for a part time teacher. I took that one, too.  I went from 0 jobs to 3 in one day.  I’ll be working 16 hours a week (oh, poor me!  the hardship! the agony!) and making more than I was before at 20 hours a week.  It’s going to suck when I come back to America and have to work a full 40 hour week.

And that’s the way things go here. There are just too many jobs and not enough people to fill them. Not always, of course. This week is slightly different since school began yesterday. The Korean school calendar goes from March 2 until February with a summer and winter vacation thrown in.  This week all the schools are gearing up for the new year, so there are a lot of jobs on the table. Still, a fresh job is usually less than a week away in even the biggest of vacation periods.

Throughout the years, you may have read about my life in Korea as sometimes good, sometimes not so good. But this is one thing that makes it really good – I have never worried about finding a job here.  Given the global economy, that’s a rare thing to day.

 

A Software Developer Again

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By , July 29, 2011 2:11 pm

It’s been a while since I wrote any significant computer code but I finally have an application finished to show off. Long time friend and business partner Fin Madden talked me into developing an app for his new job in Egypt – he’ll be an athletic director for an international school in Cairo. He had been searching for an mobile technology application that would let him manage his students, classes and grades in his new job and was unable to find anything suitable.  Knowing all the programming I had done on UlsanOnline.com, he asked for my help.

Check our  UlsanOnline, where  I pimped it off to my fellow teachers in Ulsan. You can also go directly to the android site and see it. Buy it if you like – I’ll gladly take your money – but it’s a teacher specific tool.

At first I didn’t know diddly about about writing mobile phone apps. I could barely spell Android. But after a little research and some programming I’ve finished with it and placed it on Google’s Android Market for sale. Fin did all the artwork on the app and I did all the programming. He’s paid me a nice fee up front and then we’ll split the profits 60/40 of whatever we sell. At $3.99 per copy, we aren’t likely to get rich but we might make a little beer money and gain a little fortune for ourselves. We’re already famous in Ulsan for the website we do – it’s the most popular English site in the city – but now we hope to get a little more traction with the teaching community.

I”m kind of proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in less than two months. It’s given me the incentive to try and get back into technology when I return home to the USA. In the meantime, I might develop another app or two. Our Ulsan website has a lot of reviews in English of restaurants that otyherwise would be hard to find for those who don’t speak Korean, so I might have a map-based too that shows nearby places to eat with links to the reviews we’ve done. We also have all the bus routes in English on the website and that might becaomse a mobile app as well.

Anyway, enough geekiness. Summer has finally arrived and it’s hot. Nothing like Texas, but hot is still hot.

This weekend I’m going to the Shipbuilding festival on the coast. A small group of friends and I have entered into a contest to build a boat out of recycled material. The prize is $5000 so we’re hoping we can take a little cash back. If not, we’re very likely to have fun trying.

These days, there’s just no time

By , July 8, 2011 8:22 pm

I haven’t written much these days. Not because I haven’t much to say, but because I haven’t time to say it.  I started working 3 jobs this month: a short gig at the university for a couple of hours each day, I spend the afternoon at the any one of several elementary schools and then I spend 3 nights a week at adult conversation classes. Two nights a week I have private lessons.  And if that wasn’t enough, I’m learning Android and Java and writing a program for a smart phone or tablet.

The teaching jobs keep me pretty busy and I make pretty good money doing it. The programming, although won’t pay much (a friend has asked for a custom application for his new teaching position and he’ll pay me $500 for the software) I hope to parlay into experience that will enable me to get back into the software world when I decide to come home. I’ve struggled with what job I might do when I do eventually come back to the USA and I’ve made my mind up that I’ll get back into technology. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on the website (and even making some decent money on that) that involves some programming and now with the smart phone, the Android app is taking quite a bit of knowledge and experience to make work. For those not technically savvy, Android is the “other” smart phone style and competes heavily with Apple’s iPhone and iPad line of products. The difference is that Android (a Google tool)  is open source, which means lots of phone and tablet manufacturers can use it and anyone can write applications for it.

Anyway, I’ve just been busy. Real busy. Working 10-11 hours a day and programming in between. Seems like a lot, but I haven’t been sleeping well anyway and so I spend lots of late night hours banging on the keyboard.  It’s actually a good thing, as being busy forces me to be efficient and use my time wisely. I had a little too much time before. The only thing I wish I had time for is riding the bike and for that I need daylight and sunshine, which has been in scarce supply anyway.

Hope everyone else is doing well.

Into the 21st Century

By , April 29, 2011 4:12 pm

I hope you have never seen one of these and never will see one

MyeongHee’s hairshop got updated this week to the 21st century. She rents a small building with an adjacent bathroom. Prior to this week, the bathroom was just a concrete shell over a ceramic-lined hole in the floor. They used to be fairly common when I first came to Korea but more and more the western toilets are the norm. I really abhor these, because they aren’t meant for toilet paper to be flushed down them. That means that if you wipe you booty with tissue, you’re supposed to leave the tissue in the bucket next to the “island.”  So even though they may wrap up some fouled tissue in a wad of clean tissue, there are still little piles of poop sitting in that bucket for days until someone cleans it out. Very clean and tidy. Smells lovely, too.

You have seen these before, I hope

One of MyeongHee’s friends came by the hairshop to chat and then used the bathroom.  For a man, these islands aren’t such a big deal just to do #1  – we can simply unzip and let loose. Women, however, particular if they wear pants, are not so fortunate and must squat with pants all jumbled up.  After doing her business and having had to work the pants issue, she spotted MyeongHee’s landlord and then bitched him out because of the ancient toilet he maintains. Two days later, apparently shamed into action, he remodelled the hairshop’s bathroom with a tile floor and real toilet.

Progress marches inexorably onward.

Now we can comfortably do our business and without the leftovers from the last person sitting in the bucket next to us.

And then it was back!

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By , April 28, 2011 11:47 am

Less than two days after the bike was stolen I got it back!  Woo hoo! I must be living right!

It turns out the thief sold it to a “friend” and the “friend” brought it to OMK Bicycle shop in Ulsan. OMK is one of several bike shops that know me, but these guys do all the mechanical work on my bike and are also my business partners on my other website, Ulsanonline.com.  They have been regular advertisers on the site and regular mechanics for me. It was no surprise they recognized the bike since a) I just had some work done on it last week and b) the seat was still raised high enough to accommodate a 6’1″ dude.  I’m betting the “friend” is the thief himself and unloaded it as quickly (and as far from my house – 5 miles) as he could. The bike shop owners convinced him the police would be looking for such a bike (they weren’t – I didn’t even call them since the thief had a mask and hat) and that it would be foolish to openly ride it around town.  They called me on Wednesday evening and I picked up the bike Thursday.

Honestly, I think it pays to be a white-face among a sea of Asian faces. Lots of Koreans know me because I look so different. But if I see them outside of the normal environment I have come to know them (i.e I see the butcher not at his store but at the park) I don’t always recognize them.  Back home in teh USA I’d be just another forgettable guy whose bike was ganked.

Anyway, as I expected, when I got the bike  the compact air pump was gone, as was the saddle bag with tools and spare tube. The thief also took the speedometer/odometer but he left the sensor on the front wheel so that’s useless.  All minor problems.  I immediately bought a hand-phone case from OMK BIkes (I love those guys) that will let me clip the phone to the handlebars and I can run Endomondo, a GPS-enabled application on the phone that will track my speed, miles, calories – an even better tool than a mere speedometer/odometer.  Now I just need another air pump and tool bag with tools and I’m set for the long rides into the mountains.

The only bad news from all of this is that my bike now lives in the apartment where we really don’t have room for it.  Even chained to the metal handrails on the stairwell outside the apartment offers no protection from a bolt cutter.

Empty Nest

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By , March 2, 2011 11:46 pm

And just like that, we were childless. Up until Tuesday, DongHyun still wasn’t sure where he was going to go to college. I figured it was going to default to not going at all and he’d simply find an odd job here or there until he did his 2 year stint in the Army.  But on Tuesday he said he was accepted to MiRae university in Daegu. So today, we packed him off to the bus station and he’s now living in Daegu.   It’s only about 1.5 hours drive to Daegu, but for a boy with no car it’s too far to commute by bus so he’ll live in a boarding house. He has a roommate in a very small room and he’ll study Sociology.

And today, Wednesday, is the first night we’ll spend alone, just MyeongHee and I. She’s a little sad without her boy. And I can’t blame her.  Been there, done that. I think her sadness is compounded by the fact that I’ll be leaving shortly , too. On Sunday, I’ll take off to the USA for a month or so and she’ll be alone.

Anyway, I’m too excited to be sad. I’ll be home in less than four days and I simply can’t wait. Hurry Sunday!

Crunch Time

By , February 23, 2011 10:13 pm

I suppose it had to happen. The fact that I was feeling more than a little homesick and was ready to come back for a visit meant that something had to get in the way. Bittersweet, though it is, as that something is actually really good. I think. Maybe.

Today I was offered a job at UNIST – Ulsan National Science and Technology University – for a position as a technical writing instructor. All that work on novels, websites, and blogs has finally paid off and someone has recognised that I actually know what I’m talking (or writing) about and can most likely teach others to do the same.

It’s crunch time, however, because I haven’t accepted the position yet. All I know so far is that I’ve passed the interviews (strenuous and arduous) and I’ll go up on Thursday morning to try and negotiate a contract. Their website posting for the position advertises the pay as quite a bit less than what I currently make, but they say there’s room to manoeuvre for experience. Since during the interview process they let on they wanted someone with technical experience I know their pickings are slim. As far as I know, I am the only English teacher in this neck of the woods with any sort of technical background. So, I’ve set a number that I want to be paid and it’s higher than their advertised amount. They’ll either pay it or they won’t.

For me, it’s win-win either way.  I’ll either have a nice job in a prestigious up and coming university with 6 weeks of yearly vacation or I’ll be able to come home in less than 2 weeks for a very long, very overdue vacation. I’ll come back here after my vacation and make decent money doing corporate teaching with a varied schedule or part time teaching at two or more private schools. There’s no lack of English teaching positions here for someone with experience and brains.

We’ll see. I know more tomorrow after I meet with the university.

The Pitch, The Catch

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By , February 11, 2011 10:17 am

I get to present on the 22th of February to UNIST.  Until then, I’ll know nothing about whether I come home in March or June.

I submitted my presentation yesterday. I decided to do it on proper emailing, a subject most Koreans truly suck at. I took a presentation I’d already done for a company I teach at and prettied it up for a the academic crowd.  Should be fun, as the ones who have emailed me already regarding the position are guilty of most of the egregious errors in spelling, grammar, cultural usage, etc.

Today at my regular school, the director is bringing in another foreigner for the day.  He says he’s not hiring anyone full time to replace me and wants to just have a native English speaker once or twice a week come in. I guess he wants to break them in right while I’m still there. He hasn’t said anything else about it, but I suspect I’ll have someone else shadowing my classes for the day.  I hope it’s someone I already know.

Pins and Needles

By , February 9, 2011 11:33 pm

I was hoping to have heard this week from UNIST, the national science and technology university about the writing instructor position. Well, I did indeed hear from them. I heard they want a 2nd presentation and interview. I am to prepare a 15 minute presentation (i.e. dog and pony show) on any subject relevant to university level writing  and then let them have at me for another 15 minute of Q and A.

They don’t know yet if the presentation will be on the 15th of February or the 22nd. The next semester starts in March 2, so that’s only 1, maybe two weeks from when I present. And I leave for Texas on March 6th if they don’t hire me.

So, here I sit, contemplating what I’ll present and how I’ll present it and whether I’ll come home in March or wait until June. I’m learning I don’t deal well with periods of uncertainty and I’ve considered even blowing them off just to have the certainty of knowing what will happen in March. Not the right thing to do, but it crossed my mind.

More news later as it happens.

One month to go…maybe

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By , February 2, 2011 9:37 am

My contract is up next month at the private school I now work at and I’ve already got a ticket home. But it’s still a maybe in my mind. Although I had applied for a couple of university positions, nothing had come of my applications until mid January. That’s when friends of mine, who already worked at these colleges, submitted my application again with their personal recommendations. Of course, it’s always been that way – it’s better to network than simply throw resumes to the wind.

Anyway, two colleges here in town, one a nursing college and the other a national technical university, decided they’d better get busy and hire a native English speaker for their spring semester which starts in March. I interviewed at the nursing college last week and then at the teach uni this week. Both times I knew my competition – other friends here in town. That makes it nice because if I don’t get the job I’ll still have a friend there for next year when they need another teacher. The nursing college has already decided and they didn’t choose me. No worries, the winning applicant was Alan, a guy who used to live in Watertown, SD and partied at The Prop, the old watering hole by the lake near Lizzie’s former home.  I’m happy for him. On the plus side, he has a private school of his own he’ll have to hire a teacher for. Maybe I can be his boy there when I come back.

The tech university is a much bigger school and they’re hiring a couple of teachers. They wanted writing instructors, and with the novel I’ve written and continuing writing on my other website, Ulsanonline.com, I figured I’ve got a good chance. My competition is Dee, another good friend who has written for the same website and for the local newspaper we both wrote for a few years back. Dee is also a rock climbing partner and we’ve spent many a Saturday together clinging to rock faces. She’s got a leg up on me on this job as she’s midway through her Masters degree in journalism. She’s also younger and prettier, which is something the Koreans tend to value more in their native English speakers than they do quality or ability, of which she has plenty of also. Regardless, this would be a nice job if I get it, but I’m not holding my breath. If I get, I’ll stay through May and come home. If not, I’ll come home in March.  I hope to know definitively within the next week or two.  I have to admit, though, that even though I’d like the job, I’m more than ready for a break and am homesick. Part of me wants to be passed over  for the job so I can simply go home for a while. The other part of says that rejection still hurts and I want the job, more so than the nursing college job I was already rejected for.

This week, February 2nd through the 4th, is Lunar New Year. It’s one of the two biggest of Korean holidays and the country nearly shuts down while people travel in packs to their hometowns to celebrate. We’ll be going to Pohang and I’ll be sitting on the floor again for a couple of days.  Next week, beginning on the 7th, people will be back and work and thinking hard about who they’re going to hire. I should probably know something that week.

Until then, ta ta for now… and Happy New Year

Transformation

By , January 25, 2011 10:48 pm

We’ve Moved.

Not nearly as traumatic as moving day has been in the past. In fact, it was relatively easy. With a few exceptions, of course.

It started at 10:30, which was probably the biggest exception. The movers were supposed to arrive at 12:30, so we still had time to make some breakfast, drink coffee, lounge a bit and take showers and get dressed. We did almost none of that. I had time for only one cup of coffee and everyone was else was still in their pajamas. I had already gotten up and taken the dogs out to the park so I was at least dressed.  MyeongHee complained that they were too early, but they just barged in and went to work.

And work they did.

on the left, nephew ChangHyun, DongHyun and MyeongHee stand amid a sea of boxes and crates in our old home

Within one hour, this team of five or six people (they moved so fast I didn’t really count them) had everything packed. They marched in a boatload of reinforced boxes and proceeded to unfold them and load them up. One woman stayed in the kitchen and wrapped dishes in bubble wrap and filled boxes and then did the dry good and then worked over the refirgerator and freezer.  The mean worked on the living room and bedrooms and packed books, beds and clothes and armoires. They had their business down to a smart science.

MyeongHee tries to act happy even though she's had no shower or breakfast

It was really amazing how much stuff we had. Especially considering I moved to Korea with a suitcase and duffel bag of clothes and a few sundries. Of course acquiring a wife means also acquiring a lot of other things, such as all her pots, pans, dishes, refrigerator, and her clothes. Add in her teenage son and all his accoutrements and we had a 2-ton truck filled. And even that was amazing. No trudging up and down stairs for this moving team.

The ladder truck

Once everything was packed, the ladder truck arrived and they began moving things down into the truck.

The platform is moved into place on the front balcony

A test ride up on the platform

Boxes and crates moved with ease from the 4th floor to ground level in mere seconds

While the men on the 4th floor loaded the platform with boxes and crates, one man in the truck rearranged them into the truck for a tight fit. They would send down a new platform of boxes and he would quickly slide everything into the truck and send it up again for another load while he stacked them.

Just less than one later they had everything moved from our apartment to the truck and we’re pulling out. An amazing time of slightly less than 2 hours to pack and load and entire 3-person household. We packed only our wallets, money, important papers, sex toys (just kidding) and passports. They did everything.

And they were off. MyeongHee and the two boys (her nephew ChangHyun has been staying with us since Christmas) took off with the car while I stayed behind. I cleaned up some and then took off on my scooter to join them

preparing to load the new apartment

And then the process begins anew – only in reverse. Boxes are loaded on to the platform in the parking lot and shuttled up to the 3rd floor.

One man waits for the platform to bring more boxes

A new sea of boxes and crates is formed

This time, we got involved in the process. We knew where we wanted things and how we wanted them arranged. To let them do it all would have been possible, but we’d have probably redone a lot if they did. Our clothes was another small exception to the day – they unpacked them and didn’t seem to notice that my underwear, which are quite a bit bigger than MyeongHee’s, all went into the same section of the armoire.

At just after 2:30 pm the team left with their now empty truck. A total of 4 hours to pack, move and unpack and entire apartment of goods. That must be some kind of land-speed record. Nothing was scratched, nothing was missing and nothing was broken – not even the many eggs that were in the refrigerator. A testament to efficiency of the Korean moving team. I was very impressed. That cost us about US$900 which I thought was a good value.

Still, we spent the next several hours setting things up, hanging pictures, redoing the pond and waterfall. The final exception was the gas. We had none until the next morning so it was a bit chilly and we had to cook with just the microwave. Truly a small price to pay for a mostly effortless move.

The New Apartment, including Sparky the dog

I was going to take several pictures of the new place. This will have to suffice. If you really want to see it, you can come and visit us.

Here’s our new address:

Ulsan
Namgu,Yaumdong 701-1
Hanla Ace Apt. Bldg 101 No. 305

The phone, if you want to call is 82-052-266-5941

That’s all the new for now. Love to everyone.

On to the Hive

By , January 23, 2011 9:07 am

That’s what my friend Mark called them when he came to visit: hives. Vast tracts of apartment high rises. Well, they’re quite a bit more spacious than that, but the analogy still holds.

Today we’re moving from our villa-style apartment in the suburbs to an apartment in the city.  We went in last night to check out the place and see how clean the previous renters left it. It wasn’t too bad, but they left a dozen or so posters on the walls, windows and doors – mostly elementary-age posters with a mix of Korean and English language. We spent a good amount of time pulling them off and scraping the remains of the tape off. Otherwise, the place is in good shape.

I’ll shut off the internet here sometimes around noon and will be back online on Monday, although email via the smartphone is still possible.

But check this out…we’re getting a new internet provider, and new cable TV provider and a new land line phone provider – all three in one company. How much would you pay for that in America?  I think the phone alone would cost you $30. Plus another $30 or $40 for each of the other services.  Not here – we’re getting all three for the princely sum of $30 per month.  Korea is cheap. And I’ll bet my internet is 10x faster than yours, too.

Here’s where we are now. We’re far enough out of the city that Google maps uses a lower resolution on the west end of the area where we are. The higher resolution is for the city and our new place in down east.

And here’s a closeup of the area. Looking closely, you can see the shadows caused by the high rise apartments in the area. The big building on the right is ‘Home Plus’, one of the large department stores. It’s very much like a Target or WalMart with a grocery. It’ll be nice to have some decent shopping close by. It looks like a parking lot because they park on the roof. The lavender lines on the left belong to the local Korean market – a long line of stalls of just about anything to buy. More pictures of that fun place later.

Anywho, I hope to have some pictures of the move and the new digs this week.  Ta ta for now.

Moving Day

By , January 17, 2011 11:25 pm

It kind of snuck up on sooner than I thought. I was thinking we’d move around the end of the month, but we’re now set to move on the 22nd of January. One week of living here in the school building and then we get to move into town.We’ll move on a Sunday and have to do almost no work. The  moving company will come and box everything up, take it down to the truck, deliver it and unpack it all for us. We’ll just have to arrange it the way we want it. All that for only $900.

It’s costing a few bucks in other ways, though. We’ll need to buy a washing machine, a twin size bed, and an armoire (Koreans don’t do closets as far as I can discern) or two. We’ve already bought a new sofa.  Another $1000 or so.

We’re looking forward to it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that my landlord is also my boss. One can imagine the potential for conflict – or more likely having to bury conflict to keep it from happening.  But also because people tend to tattle on anything I do (let my dogs leave poo in the park, for example) to the school director and in the new place that won’t be possible – they’ll have to deal with me as I am and not someone they can circumvent and go to my boss. Also, its just a bigger, nicer place: 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bath.  We’re in a 2:1 now, but we have a very large rooftop veranda we’ll lose.

We’re also looking forward to not driving so damn much. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I take MyeongHee to work and then go to Samsung Chemical to teach. Then I go back to the school for the evening. Afterward, I drive back into town to pick her up and drive back to the school/house. The new apartment is close to her hairshop and a couple dollar taxi ride.

I’ve also started plans for a big-ass party here. My website, Ulsanonline.com, has been in business for just a little over two years. It’s all mine, now, by the way. My partner went back to Canada in June and, for a while, he thought he might come back to Korea. Now he says he will never come back (he broke up with his Korean girlfriend) and we’ve transferred all the ownership to me. So, it’s my very own website and business. A fairly decent one, too, as I have the most popular English language site in Ulsan. It’s getting 200 unique people a day hit it – not anything as large as Google, mind you, but decently big for an English language site in a Korean city.  So, on the 28th, I’m hosting a party at one of the foreigner bars here. Should be fun. I’m not a big party planner so I’ve got a few friends helping me out with logistics.The biggest headache was getting a large banner printed. I had to take my artwork to a sign maker and have them create a vinyl size I could hang in the bar. All accomplished in Korean (with some hand waving, of course.) The sign, a full 2m in length, cost only $20, which explains why there are hundreds of them around town hung on every lamp pole and guardrail. But that’s another story.

And still planning on coming home. I’ve paid for a flight on the 6th with my AA miles, but I also submitted an application to a university for a job. This one actually looks promising as I have a friends already there pushing for me. It will indeed delay my return, but certainly not cancel it.

Anywho, that’s all the news I have. Hope everyone is doing well.

The Doggie Run

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By , October 2, 2010 8:59 pm

It’s been a while since I took SaTang out for a run. Summer is just too hot for her to run as far as I usually go. Now that fall is here and she won’t overheat, I decided to take her out with me on the bike. Sparky doesn”t go to the hairshop like she’d been going – I think MyeongHee has decided it’s too much trouble to keep a pup at her shop – so I took her with us. This was a first for her. The basket I bought to hold SaTang is only good for 10kg. We just barely made that limit but I wanted to make sure both dogs physically fit in the basket before we attach it to the bike.

Well, they both fit as evidenced by the above picture. Sparkey isn’t so sure what the hell we’re about to do, but being all puppy she’s ready for just about anything.

So, basket firmly attached, we’re ready to ride. SaTang isn’t so sure why she has to share the basket with Sparky. She’s usually pretty psyched about getting to go but she seems little put out – even peeved. Ears down is a sign of not entirely happy.

But, a little distraction with a ‘hey look at me’ shout from MyeongHee and the ears are up and ready.  We only ride a short way with the dogs in the basket. Just far enough to get out of the neighborhood and away from the cars. We rode around the corner and up the hill to the farms behind Cheonsang. The farmers have paved quite a few one-lane roads in and around their patches of rice, bell-flower, sesame, and squash. There’s a few ponds back there, too.  Once out of the way of cars, both dogs had great fun running around and smelling anything and everything. Lots of flowers, trees and hills and it’s beautiful farm land.

The next day, I took them to the playground across the street from our apartment. Normally we have this place to ourselves in the mornings since all the kids are in school. But we were attacked by a pre-school mob of kids who came to the playground .

SaTang is well used to the kiddos and is usually very calm, even tolerant of the little turds as they do some heavy petting. Sparky, though, hasn’t gotten the hang of the kid thing and hangs back, sometimes cowering under me.

Here’s she hiding behind SaTang (the playground fence is out of view on her right) and stays just far enough away to keep from getting petted.

Poor Sparky. That’s a classic ‘help me’ look as the kids encroach on her space.

Don’t tell anyone, but I ended up smacking one of these little shits. He thought it would be fun to jump on the dog with both knees. SaTang jumped with a little yelp and I reacted with a backhand across his temple. No way he’d understand my angry English anyway. The smack was probably the only thing that would have worked. And it did. He went off crying to the teacher who brought the kids to the park. I don’t blame him – I blame the parents.  Still lots of fear and ignorance regarding dogs. Just today we came out of our apartment and a teenage girl dropped her book bag with a screech and hopped into a nearby truck bed to escape from my marauding hounds from hell, both of whom were probably wondering what the fuss was all about.

Anyway, enough of the dogs.

Tonight being Saturday I’m off to the closing night of the last foreigner bar in this city. This bar, Benchwarmers, has been in business for 6 years and the owners are tired of fighting each other for who is going to work what night, split what cost, give discounts to whom – oh! The Drama!

When I first came to Korea, the Korean owned bars and nightclubs operated differently than they do now. It was nearly impossible to buy a drink by the glass – one had to have a table and a single tab, which was paid at the end of the evening. Moreover, whisky or vodka was purchased by the bottle – a prohibitive expense at $125 a bottle or more. That was no problem for a group of people who arrive and leave together as Koreans often do. Koreans rarely go dutch, by the way. It may be his turn at this place but your turn at that place. A single tab was no issue.

For the come-and-go pub crawl crowd of foreigners who want to check out a bar, buy a drink, see who’s there and then move on to another bar that model doesn’t work.   Splitting a tab at the end of a night would be a headache, if not impossible.  There were only a few foreigner owned or foreigner friendly bars in town. These days, many Koreans have gotten smart and figured that the rigidity they imposed is the “old way” and many Korean owned bars offer drinks by the glass. Consequently, the bars have become a better mix of Koreans and foreigners instead of the either/or bar.

So, the last bar in Ulsan owned by a foreigner is closing tonight.  Should be a good party and lots of people will be there to help celebrate and/or commiserate. It will feel like old home week.  There are lots of places where foreigners go now.  It’s  nice, by the way, to walk in to any of them and find someone I know – that almost never happened back in Texas – being part of a small minority makes it easy to meet people in the same situation.  Don’t wait for pictures of this event. I don’t do pictures in bars often.

Best laid plans…

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By , May 20, 2010 12:58 pm

I had planned to be doing a lot of writing over the past few weeks. I did get some writing in on my newest novel, but that’s taken a back seat. I got a few dozen pages written before being sidelined by other things going on here. What things you might ask? A plethora. All good.

First, we (my Ulsanonline.com partner, Fin, and I) have been approached by a multi-faceted group in Seoul. They had seen our site and the great stuff we’d produced for the foreigners in Ulsan.  The owner, a Korean-born, Brazil- and US-raised guy named Fabio sees a potential for us in a vastly underserved portion of Korea – the Gyeongsangnam-do province to the south and west of Ulsan. We’ll do a website, complete with lifestyle, travel and how-to information for the area. But we won’t stop at just a website. Fabio and his team are fired up about creating a magazine. A magazine that caters to both foreigners and english-speaking Koreans, complete with fabulous photos and glossy goodness.  I admit, I wasn’t keen on the idea as print seems to be going the way of the buggy whip, but they’ve got me wrapped into it. I’ll be co-editor of the magazine and Chief geek on the website.  The catch is that the local city and provincial governments all have foreign populations – teachers like me, engineers, factory workers – and they all have a budget to provide support in one form or another.

I started work as editor of the Korea Sun back in the summer of 2008. That was another glossy lifestyle magazine, but it went under before any of my writing or editing was published – costs were just too high to produce and revenue from Korean businesses for ads were just too low.  I’m somewhat wary of this being the same, printing and ads sales will be Fabio’s role and his other companies are already established. We might have a shot here. We’ll see. Faboi’s team includes several English-speaking foreigners, all of whom are counting on this to free them from teaching to focus on this full time.  I’m keeping my teaching job for now – until the $$ roll in regularly.

Here in Ulsan, with spring firmly ensconced and summer nearing, the outdoor season is upon us. We’re planning a “scooter rally” – a race/scavenger hunt to visit several places around the city and take creative pictures. I’ve been involved in the planning of this event as well.

With both the new magazine/website and scooter rally, I’ve been doing lots of programming. I’m chief geek here in Ulsan and forced myself to learn some new tricks.  Although I doubt most reading will understand what it is, Flash is a tool that is very prevalent on websites where animation, flashy, eye-catching graphics are required. You may not know what it is, but I guarantee you’ve visited and seen a website with flash.  It would be a shame if you didn’t see mine.

So here’s the programming/artwork I’ve been doing lately. These are likely transient and won’t stay up in these places forever, but for now these links work. I may, at a later date, pull them into a portfolio of sorts should I wish to build a resume for becoming a geek back in the USA someday. The website for the new magazine is still on ulsanonline.com – we’ll eventually buy a site expressly for that, but we can dovetail it off there for now. Check out the fancy lead-in here.  That cool map thingy – all Flash.  Then I made a banner for the scooter rally. It sits on the front page for now, but will certainly be gone after the rally. The cute little scooters drive across the page with links to the race site – all Flash programming. For the race site and registration, I made another fancy-pants banner on this page. The original “inferno” as they’ve called it started several years ago. They’ve skipped a few years, but its back with some flashy Flash.

Anywho, that’s why I haven’t written too much on here lately. I’ve been a busy boy.  More news later as it happens.

Another Year

By , March 28, 2010 11:36 am

This month I signed a contract for another year here at the school. It will take me through February of 2011.

And I dropped the bomb on MyeongHee.

February 2011 is when her son, DongHyun, will graduate from highschool and either go to college or off to the military. He must go sometime before he’s 28, although most boys do a year or so of university before signing up.

Either way, I decided it would be a good time for a change. I’ll have been teaching at this school for four years straight and another in 2004-05. Five years is about my limit, it seems. But the bigger bomb I dropped is that I want to go back to America. Probably not forever, but longer than the week or so I’ve been able to come back in the previous three years.  Who the hell knows what forever is anyway?  But the longest I’ve ever held a job is seven years and five seems close enough.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I want to be able to experience America again – nothing so dramatic as the old Simon and Garfunkel song. Just the feeling of going outside and speaking English to a neighbor or chatting with the salesclerk in a store. Not that either of those happened very frequently in America, but when I see a Korean just having casual conversation it makes me miss that. One of the TV shows that really gets me is America’s Funniest Home Videos – just goofy stuff –  but seeing the homes, the yards, the kids, the sports… I miss my country and my culture. I’m probably idealizing to a great extent, but the fact remains that I miss my home country and despite my ever increasing Korean-language ability I am still an outsider here.

Of course, the bigger question is what would I do when I got there?  It’s hard to imagine what job I would qualify for after doing nothing more than speaking English for four years. And that’s if there are jobs to be had – given the economy that’s a big-ass what-if.

Other questions involve MyeongHee – she’s not interested in coming to America. She didn’t enjoy it much.  She’d rather stay. And leaving her hairshop would entail a great expense upon reopening should she come back. She’s happy doing one or two weeks visits but no more.

If I do come home, it looks like it might be just an extended month or two rather than years.  All of that is still a year away and a lot can happen between now and then. We’ll have to see how things go here and in the US. Stay tuned. More will be written as it becomes clear to me.

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