Friday, July 31, 2009

Entering Seoul

Looks a lot like JFK

One 13-14 hour plane ride and I've found myself on the other side of the world.


After a short trek through the deserted airport I found myself presented with an older Korean man with my name on a card. I know that putting my bags in the cars is the cars drivers job, but it makes me feel weird. I think I annoyed him by trying to help. Or he was just grumpy because it was four in the morning and he had to drive an American around.
We took the express way from the airport and the views from the road were quite amazing. The center of Seoul spread out from below the elevated roadway. To my surprise the city seemed rather dark with most of the light coming from street lights and red, blue, and yellow neon crosses that seemed to perch on every other roof top.
The city, blanketed in a think layer of fog, and dark save for the neon crosses, looked kind of like a graveyard. Each skyscraper and high rise a headstone for a giant. All that was missing were the cement angles and lambs.
Even more impressive were the brief views of dark blue mountains rising over the metal fences blocking the city from the express way. Skyscrapers and mountains were equally obscured by the foggy predawn light, but where the buildings looked dead the mountains looked like something out of a storybook. I wish I could have gotten a picture but my driver was hell bent on getting us killed.
After the first five minutes in the van, I began to suspect that my driver had never in fact driven before. Even before the four lanes began to clog with traffic the driver would suddenly hit the brakes, then speed up, all the while taking up as much of two lanes as he could.
I have much more to add to my first morning in Korea, but with out the proper converter my computer can not be charged and it insists on dieing. More to come.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hotel and Manhattan

I may not do as much travelling as some, but I have stayed in my fair share of hotels. After much detailed testing and experimentation (ok, not that detailed) I have come to the conclusion that hotel lamps are actually designed to frustrate travelers. (Or I am idiot and incapable of using them)

Every time I stay in a hotel the first thing I do is try and turn on the desk lamp. Usually this entails turning some sort of nob first right, then left, then back to the right a few times. I repeat this process with all of the lights in the room. If I am lucky I get at least two of the lamps to turn on. So far I haven't gotten completely unlucky and had no lights turn on. I am, however, prepared for the possibility. I never travel without at least one flashlight, and you can always count on the bathroom light to be a switch.

So, today I had to go back into Manhattan to pick up my passport and the books my Little ordered for me. Everything went well. I now am the proud owner of one US passport with one South Korean VISA in it. I also have two William Gibson novels to keep me company and a fabulous book by Lee Iacocca.

After retrieving my books, I stopped to have a smoke on the bench outside of the store. While sitting there a young woman almost got run over by a bike messenger. I confess that an Iacocca rant about GW was holding my attention when the incident occurred so I'm not entirely sure what happened.

The woman, however, loudly accused the bike messenger of running the red light. The messenger, on the other hand, informed the street that any woman dizzy enough to stop dead in the middle of a NYC street deserved to be hit by something larger and heavier than a bicycle. They continued to exchange pleasantries for a couple of minutes and then parted ways.

A scene like this probably wouldn't have taken place in Pittsburgh, but even if it had I feel sure that what happened next would not have.

An older man in a very expensive suit detached himself from the crowd of people waiting to cross the street. He jogs a bit to catch up with the bike messenger and proceeds to begin screaming at the man over the top of my head. The bike messenger stops, and starts screaming back, also over my head.

This goes on for probably 30 seconds. (a 30 seconds that seemed like much longer to me since it was taking place over top of me) Right about the time I decided I'm done having either of these men yell over me, the messenger mounts his bike and starts up the street. Wonder or all wonders, the old guys jogs up the street after the bike, all the while still screaming. The bike stops and the messenger yells back, then tries to move on. The old guy chases him some more. This continued for the length of the block, at which point the bike messenger took a sharp left and sped off.

New York is a strange city full of strange people.

My own personal weirdness for the day was not over, however. On my trip back to the subway two different people stopped me and asked me for directions. Stranger still, they asked for directions to two of the five or six places I am capable of getting. I guess I should be proud of myself for being comfortable enough on the street to be mistaken for a New Yorker. Or I just looked as annoyed and indifferent as the natives. Either way I agree with Jim Croce, "New York's not my home."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New York, New York

If you have to get up at 3 in the morning you'd think you'd get some sleep the night before. Some part of my brain missed that message and kept me up until sometime after 1. To top it off, they let you into Pittsburgh airport at 4:30, but no one turns on the coffee pot.

The flight to NYC went well. I didn't even have a person in the seat next to me so I had lots of room to spread out and enjoy the god awefull hour of the morning. Despite my sleepyness I couldn't sleep on the plane. Which is probably for the best since I'm not sure I could have woken up.

Getting from the airport to the hotel went smoothly. I was even able to check into my room at 8am. I had hoped for a nap at this point in the plan, but the inevitable need to make a million phone calls and sort out the little imperfections in the plan kept me up. Again, this was probably a good thing.

Sometime around 11 I made the decision to trust my street smarts and head to Manhatten via public transportation. I figured that with only one bus and one subway ride it couldn't go to terrbly wrong. I made it to the Consulate, but I ended up missing my bus stop and had to rely on the kindness of two gay men.

After filling out my paperwork I had a couple hours to kill. My wonderful little conspired with my mom to have books waiting for me at a Barnes and Noble near the Consul. In keeping with the vibe of the rest of the trip, they had the books but they were on the wrong shelf. SO, lots of blocks later, one 6$ pair of socks, and a couple of blister spotted ouchy feet later, I found myself bookless and back at the Consul for the interview.

For all the hype surrounding this interview, it wasn't all that exciting. She just wanted to know what I knew about Korea, why I wanted to teach, did I have teaching experiance. The most interesting part was watching her look sadly at her phones blinking light every couple of seconds. She never wanted to give in and answer the phone, you could tell by the weary way she lifted herself from the chair, but answer it she did. In the end, interrupting phone calls and all, she approved my VISA. I get to go pick it and my books up tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

VISA Time

And so it all begins to fall into place.

I fly to NYC tomorrow at 5:45 (yes am. And yes it is a terrible, terrible time to be going anywhere, let alone New York) I have my interview with the Consul at 3pm and hopefully the woman remembers who I am this time.

As for when I'm flying to Korea...well that's supposed to happen sometime Thursday evening. I haven't heard from my guy in Korea about the details, but I trust he will take care of that and let me know.

They are all on vacation over there in Korea. I feel kinda bad about making them do work when they should be relaxing, but there's not much I can do about it. I figure I'll pay Jer back by taking him out for a drink when I get there. Buying someone a drink makes up for all sorts of sins, right?

On a more personal note, I took the pirate home yesterday. It seems crazy that I won't see him for a year. We haven't spent more than a month apart since we met, let alone started dating. I hope I remember how to function without his constant humor brightening my day. I'll just have to try and fill the void with lots of Guild Wars and small children I can't understand. I somehow doubt it'll work.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm not going to talk 'bout it

We all, as reasonable people, understand that anyone who works for any government probably doesn't really care about the people they are supposed to, ya know, serve. We also know that they probably aren't going to answer their phones. So, that being said, I'm not going to talk about it anymore. I'm going to try real hard not to think about it because it makes me want to cry in frustration.

Everything is going to be ok. Everything is going to work out and when it does I'll let ya know all about it.

What I am going to talk about is blogging.

Up until my mom strong armed me into starting this blog, I didn't care at all about blogging. I knew what it was. I knew people did it. I knew other people read blogs. I just didn't care. I kind of lumped blogging and reading strangers blogs into the same category as watching E or reading tabloids. Lots of people care about what people they don't know do, and there are venues that cater to that need. I just never really cared enough about anyone I didn't know to make use of those venues.

But then I started blogging. I thought, "Self, if you are going to write a blog you should probably read a few and see what this whole thing is all about. After all, I don't want this to end up like my brief encounter with chat rooms (shudder) Best if I look into what else is out there before I let this get out of hand."

So I looked into the blogs the people who follow my blog follow. And good god, I found a new addiction.

I read the thoughts and day to day stories of people I have never met. I find myself checking my dashboard before I even check my email. I feel like a voyeur peering into peoples mental dialogue and then creeping away to roll those brief moments of satisfaction around in my own head, impatiently waiting until the next time they step close enough to the window for me to peek.

I know that everyone else who blogs knows that strangers might read it. They, like me, are ok with other people reading their thoughts. If they weren't, they wouldn't blog. And so, I should not feel any guilt or weirdness reading the blogs of those I don't know.

It still kinda creeps me out.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Staying Positive

Sooooo, Korea approved my VISA. However, I need the New York Consul to approve it and stamp my passport. This seems like a fairly easy thing to do. After all, South Korea gave me the thumbs up to come on over and teach some children English. But nothing is easy.

The NYC office won't allow me to do my interview over the phone or web cam. I HAVE to go to NYC. Ya know, cause that's just like running up the street. On top of that, getting their office on the phone is not an easy task. They tell you to call at such and such a time, and then don't answer. I left them a message and, hopefully, I can find out how long the interview and approval process takes tomorrow.

What happens next depends on what the Consul says. It seems likely that I will drive to NYC with my Dad, do the interview, and if they approve it, get on a plane to South Korea. If things don't work out this way...well, I'll just figure that out when I get there.

On a positive note, my laptop came today! It was supposed to be here Monday, but shipping errors abound and so it came today. In an unaccustomed act of kindness, the universe made my computer blue! With bubbles and sparkly keys! Does it really matter what the thing looks like? Of course not, but it is nice that it ended up being awesome.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finally, a date

Despite FedEx's best efforts, my document made it to South Korea, thanks to UPS and 53$ American dollars. My contacts in Korea (when I call them "my contacts" it makes me feel like some sort of James Bond-esque super hero) tell me that my VISA should be processed by the 21st. Hurray for that. So, because of this wonderful coming together of a months worth of paperwork, they want me to fly out on the 27th or 28th.

It seems so crazy that I'm going to be leaving for the other side of the world in a week and a half. Don't get me wrong, I am so excited to be going to Korea. I can't wait to have my own apartment, explore Seoul, and have a job again. (not to mention health insurance. I mean, everyone was all impressed with the graduating thing, but what they don't tell you when they hand out the diplomas is that you're suddenly unemployed and that mean no health care. Thanks America) I can't wait to get there and start my life. I am, however, a little freaked out that it is all so close.

Literally everytime I walk out my front door I look around, I look at the trees that seems to go forever, the pond, the garage and vineyard, and I listen to the sounds of the wind and the stream, and think to myself, "Self, soon all you will see when you walk out your door is another apartment door. And, when you walk out of your building, you will see other buildings and hear the sounds of the city."

When we lived in Pittsburgh, I loved the city. I loved listening to cars as I fell asleep. I loved listening to people on the bus and the T. I loved that I could get anywhere I wanted without a car. I loved that there was always something going on. But I've spent the last four years living at least 25 minutes from the city. At school, the noisest things were the frat houses behind my building. At home, the dogs barking at deer are the loudest part of my day. I'm a little daunted by the thought of being surrounded by all that noise.

I think the only reason I worry about moving to a city is because of New York. When I turned 16 my Dad took me to NYC. It was cool to think about all the music, art, and culture surrounding me. It was really impressive to see the city spread out beneath the Empire State Building. But it really freaked me out that the city literally just kept going. Pittsburgh, you drive 15 minutes outside the city and there are more trees than buildings. Even in downtown, the streets are lined with green and the river is only a couple blocks away. But New York? New York just...kept...going. And Seoul is a BIG city.

It's not that I'm afraid to move to a city. After all, where I am living is about a 3o minutes bus ride from downtown. It's also sounds a lot like Mt. Lebanon (read: people with money and over priced stores BUT safe and clean) Plus, I am a laid back kind of person. I am, if nothing else, adaptable. I know that I can make just about anything work (as long as I can A. keep reading B. have unfettered access to a bathroom and C. have a bed that is mine and that I can go back to every night) I can get used to just about anything. If nothing else there will be no more people waking me up at all hours because they locked themselves out of their rooms. I am just a little nervous about the getting used to it process.

Anyways, the whole thing is nearly settled. Soon I should have a plane ticket, monday I will have my own laptop, and next thing I know I'll be in Korea making their bus system my bitch.

Monday, July 6, 2009

If you're closed, don't say you're open

All of my preparing for South Korea has finally reached the point of no return. The background check came in. My wonderful, though Republican, state rep and his amazing secretary sent my background check off to Harrisburg and it has returned to me. All of this hullaballoo over the Apostille seal has produced a rather unimpressive piece of paper, stapled to my notarized background check, that magically makes the whole packet of shit official. Don't ask me, the Koreans make the rules.
The only thing, on my end, that stands between me and a visa is FedEx. So, I find my nearest FedEx, check their hours, mapquest them, and, with 45 minutes till they close, I head out the door. I make it to FedEx, with minimal confusion and fifteen minutes to spare. The hours are posted on their big glass door, sandwiched between a friendly, "Come on in! We are open" sign and a glowing neon FedEx sign. Everything is as it should be. Everything, for once, seems to be going my way. The sun shining on me, full of confidence, and in a great mood I stroll up to the door, grab the handle, take half a step, and barely manage to keep myself from walking face first into their LOCKED door.
Now, I get that it's the day after the weekend of the 4th. If the person at FedEx is a good American, they have spent the weekend drunkenly celebrating our nation. Probably they celebrated yesterday just to make sure that the USA understood that drinking beer=patriotism and drinking beer the day after the 4th of July=super patriotism. If this is the case, then I completly forgive them for ducking out of work early. After all, no one wants to work off their patriotic hangover by shipping packages. But come on, was it just too much to ask that your store front reflect your closed status? Was it really so hard to flip the sign as you locked the door? I almost brained myself trying to open that door, and that is very unpatriotic.