Tuesday, November 29, 2005

New Digs

So, I've moved again and hope this is the last move in Daegu, seeing as the places seem to be getting progressively worse. We were moved into our place last weekend, on November 25th. When I say "we were moved" I don't at all mean the coherent effort that statement implies. You know, like my roommate and I actually being taken to the apartment by our director or anything like that.

Instead, what happened is that we had vaguely known for some time we'd be moving "November 20." Every so often we checked in to see if that was still the plan, but perhaps I knew in my heart of hearts that "yes" answers meant little. A couple weeks back, it turned into "November 26." Then, "I mean November 27," since on Saturday, Nov 26 there was a big pre-school open house at the school and all the teachers had to work that day for a few hours (special case, we usually work Monday-Friday). Then suddenly in Tuesday's foreign English teacher meeting they said, "So, you're moving on Friday, OK, check" and were ready to move on to the next item on the agenda, and I said "Friday? What?!"

I could back up even further and comment on the fact that I was originally told I'd have a single apartment and this whole "you're-going-to-live-with-the-Chinese-teacher-for-a-month" thing was sprung on me on the ride from Daegu station to my first week's even more temporary digs (in the CEO studio). And that I only found out "we" were moving to "our" new place on November 20th/26th/27th, as oppposed to "I" was being moved to "my" new place on November 20th/26th/27th, when my roommate said one day in the old place, "Oh, when we move on November 20th it will be better." I said when we--what?!?

I could also comment on the fact that I found out where we were moving from the Canadian marrieds, on the way to Costco one night. They had heard that day from the other two teachers, the Canadian single guy and the English guy, that my roommate and I were moving into those guys' building. And I found that out only when one said, in passing, "Boy, I wouldn't want to move into that building after what I've heard from those guys about the cockroaches."

Yes, I could do that. I could comment on those things. But I will move forward, because it gets so much better.

With so many things already being ridiculous like the who, the when, the where, and the cockroaches -- picture Linda aghast at her least favorite abode issue in the world rearing its ugly head(s and legs and wings) -- I sat in the meeting going, "How is it that we are moving while we're at work?" Oh, they'll move your stuff for you. Just bring your valuables to work. "Who's 'they'?" The movers. "But we're not moving furniture from our temporary furnished apartment; we're supposed to be getting the furniture that's being stored at the Manchon branch of our school right now." [in a big empty classroom, I saw it when I lived in the studio apartment at that school] Well, the movers will move the furniture from there and then also move your luggage.

I began to have misgivings.

I stopped interrogating the poor girl running the meeting; she's actually my friend, with whom I teach a bunch of classes, and there was no need to shoot the messenger. I approached the assistant director, whom I also like and who is the best at translating things and being helpful, and who holds meetings and conversations that are actually informative. We'll call her Betty. I said, "Here are the things confusing me about my move" and rattled off a list.

Her response: You and Snow [roommate's English name at school] can go to the new place after work Friday. I said, "But Snow teaches at the Manchon branch on Friday afternoons and evenings and comes home from there on Fridays. She won't be here." Maybe you can move on Saturday. "We have the pre-school open house and we have to be here on Saturday." You can move after. "Is one of the directors going to take us?" Maybe you and Snow can move your luggage in a taxi. I said, "That would require calling a cab, which we don't know how to do nor can we speak to them, or walking down our street with all that luggage to the main street to hail one--and where is the new apartment we're going to?" Oh, you don't know where it is? Director Michelle thinks you know where it is. "Why does she assume we know where it is? Like all the English teachers automatically know where all the others live?"

So Betty get roped into major translation and intervention that week, and I felt bad for her, but I was starting to get really irritated. Last time I moved, director John, who spends all his time at the Manchon and other branches of our school these days and is never at ours so I can never talk to him about any of this, moved me and the new Chinese guy and the departing Chinese teacher in his SUV and took us to where we lived. But, Betty said, directors John and Michelle are really busy these days. "Well, then they don't have to move me at all," I said. "Frankly, I'm fine with staying in Bongdoek, as I heard there are cockroaches in the new place. Will it be cleaned before we move in?" Yes, Betty assured me, someone will clean your apartment, but you have to keep it clean too. Really? You don't say.

I also asked if we would have phone service already in place when we got there and a director said, "You need a phone right when you get there?" all shocked. As opposed to when? After the weekend? Days later? Never? Yes, I need a freakin' phone right when I get there.

Another thing I specifically asked Betty--who went to director Michelle on the spot--was about bedding. Not sure if it constituted landlord provided-furniture or school-provided items, I asked if we should bring the bedding from Bongdoek. No, no, no was the answer. Everything in that apartment stays. Just your luggage. And the hard-won plan, when Friday rolled around, was the following:
1. We pack our luggage Thursday night/Friday morning (Thanksgiving, mind you! the one night/morning I wanted free for calling the U.S. at various specific times!)
2. They switch one of Snow's pre-school classes so she is home Friday morning.
3. One of the school's secretaries goes with the movers to be translator.
4. They get the furniture, then come to Bongdoek to get Snow and our luggage.
5. They all go to the new apartment and leave the stuff.
6. Snow goes to the other branch of our school to teach her afternoon classes.
7. The secretary comes to our school and gives me my new key.
8. After work the English and Canadian guys walk home with me and show me our building. (To this last one I replied, "Did you even ask them if they're going straight home Friday evening?" which, of course no one had. Assumptions everywhere. You know what happens when you assume...)

Most of the things in the plan happened, more or less. But Friday at work my misgivings continued. The secretary said there's a phone but the wrong jack and cord and I needed to go buy the right kind. "OK, what kind is it, and can you write it in Korean?" Big sighs, and the secretary went to buy it herself. Next: you don't have gas for the stove. You have gas for the heat and hot water, but it's not connected to the stove yet. "OK, whatever. The least of my worries at this point."

But, they were all hopped up about this one and wanted right then and there to schedule a time for the gas company man to come. We called Snow at Manchon branch to see if she could be home Monday morning. Her first words to me on the phone, "Oh, Linda, the new apartment, it's very bad!" Well, fantastic. Not the words I wanted to hear, Snow. When the boys took me home, they walked up with me to check out the place (I live right above them now).

In I walked, and there it was, and it was ferocious.

There were light brown ondol wood-like floors. The living room had a TV with built-in VCR on a small black stand and some dark brown leather or pleather couch, chair, and reclining chair, all of which had various rips down to the stuffing. Strewn across the floor were plastic bags, some containing dishes, some containing hangers, some containing old cell phone cords or random plastic items or unidentifiable and similarly useless objects. The floors were so dirty: gray, film, lint, dirt, that they were topped only by the walls, which looked as if they had been attacked by bug spray -- not bug poison, but a spray of bugs. The wall was dotted with smashed mosquitoes. Then again, at least it matched the ceiling.

To the right was a door into the bathroom. Its floor was white, so you could easily see the black dirt and grease smeared all over it in front of the sink and toilet, as if six workmen had decided to hang out in there after a day at the motor pool. "In front of the sink and toilet" about covers the entirety of that floor, seeing as there's no shower nor tub, just a nozzle in the wall and a floor that slopes a bit toward the drain in the corner.

Past that on the right is the kitchen. Well, it's a little nook in front of the window, with a sink and "counter" of metal dish drying space on one side and a two burner stove on the other side, and three cabinets above. On the other wall I found a refrigerator, not plugged in, which when opened revealed a covering of mold from freezer to fruit drawer in black and pink hues.

I didn't even want to keep walking at this point, but there was a door leading off of the kitchen. "What's that, or do I even want to know?" I asked. The boys said, Oh, that's your washroom. I looked in. Washing machine, dirty floor. About right.

The two bedroom doors were on the back wall. No hallway, no alcove, and no privacy whatsoever, because my room has sliding glass doors with frosted windowpanes that aren't transparent but aren't really any closer to opaque. I looked in my room: more dirty floor, more dead bugs on the walls and ceiling, and a bed. Mattress on wooden frame.

Snow was freaking out and started in about the phone, because of course no one had communicated to her about it, so I fished the phone cord out of my bag while I tried to lift my jaw from the floor. She promptly took the phone into her room and made a call, but left the door open. None of the three of us English teachers speaks Chinese, but we didn't need to to know she was telling someone how crappy the place was. The Brit was duly surprised by her behavior. "Wow, she is spoiled. I've never seen a 22-year-old stamp her feet," he commented.

They eventually left me to my misery, and I began fishing through the things on the couch to look for bedding. I had a string of Christmas lights, a pile of videotapes, and a couple of couch cushions, although those thin cloths are "cushions" in much the same way a string and cup are a "telephone." No blankets. There was one thin cloth that may once have been a comforter, dirty and ripped in multiple places, and two dirty pillowcases, so I dropped all three into the washing machine, even lacking laundry soap and a way to dry them, thinking maybe I'd sleep on wet cloths that night? but under what? Then I found two pillows sans pillowcase floppy and warped with smashed stuffing and actually black from dirt and grease.

That's it. I was done. I plopped myself on Snow's floor and called director John's cell phone at nearly 10 o'clock: "The place is disgusting, it wasn't cleaned as promised, there's no dresser/desk or bedroom furnishings, there's no table, the furniture is ripped, the refrigerator is moldy, and of paramount concern for tonight there is no bedding and I specifically asked about that and whether we should bring it from the other place! I am going to go in search of bedding to buy tonight, and I fully expect the school to pay for it."

He agreed that I should do that, and of course Snow came with me, all kinds of fretting because she didn't have any bedding either. She never wants to spend money on household things, like heat and hot water in the old apartment, though she does like shopping for herself, and she always uses the excuse that she's here through a school program and gets paid less than us English teachers. However, I had still not eaten dinner and my blood sugar was low, my mood even lower. I was cranky and had no time for this girl's helplessness. So when I told her I was going to buy bedding and get some FOOD, and she said, "After we buy the blanket you first show me how to get back home" I almost lost it. I wanted to say, Why don't you just open your eyes and pay attention, as I'm walking only about three blocks down the street to the Nais Mart...

But I didn't lose it. Yet.

Inside Nais Mart (pronounced "nice mart," you see) we made a beeline for bedding-land. Thus began one of my more distressing attempted Korean communication endeavors. Oh, I had my dictionary and I was throwing around words like "pillow," "blanket," and "cheap" but there were a few obstacles to a smooth shopping experience: my general state of mind, the pressure of being close to closing time, the lack of selection, the extreme lack of cheap selection, and the fact that my roommate had NO MONEY and needed me to buy hers, too (to be reimbursed by the school, you see, so it's OK). Meaning I had to calculate and recalculate. There are no fitted sheets in Korea, so it's a matter of a bottom layer thin blanket, then a top blanket or comforter, and Snow had a thin blanket borrowed from her friend at the other school branch, so I was like, sorry babe, you ain't getting both from my wallet, you're just getting a comforter. Oh, wait, and a pillow. Crap. Calculate again.

At long last, the terribly patient woman helps us carry two blankets, two pillows (which come with pillowcases, heaven be praised) and one thin lower blanket to the cash register, but I still needed to go to the ATM. The store was now going through its closing motions: dimming lights, madly ringing up customers, and wheeling in outside tables. Nice bedding-land woman literally took me outside to the ATM, where I tried and tried to make it give me money from my Daegu Bank account. It was all in Korean but I was sure I remembered "withdrawal" correctly, only nothing came out, and some long message I couldn't read kept appearing on the screen.

This is the part where I lose it.

I walked back into the Nais Mart with tears of tension, frustration, anger and, frankly, hunger spilling down my cheeks. Snow gasped. Ms. Bedding Land was like what?! what?! and I just pointed to the word "withdrawal" in my dictionary, shaking my head. The funny thing was, I didn't even care that I was crying in the middle of some Target-like store in Korea, and if I had had even one spare second I would have gone somewhere and screamed to release the tension, but instead I just thought, 'After all this I still have to sleep on a bare mattress tonight?'

Ms. Bedding then ran with me back to the parking lot ATM where she asked some Korean girl using it what the deal was and reported back, "No cash! No cash!" We rushed back inside and attempted to pay with my Daegu Bank card, which has some symbols such as Cirrus on the back, but of course god forbid the Korean teacher who helped translate/set up my bank account actually be clear on where I can and can't use it. Additionally, I was frantically writing down "60,000 won" and pointing to the card, and "60,000 won" and pointing to the cash in my hand, because I knew there wasn't enough in the bank account to cover the 112,500 won purchase even if the bank card worked. Which it didn't.

By this point we were the only customers left in the darkened store, so a few more employees including a manager had gathered around and the cashier was trying to request things of me, but I didn't know what those things were. Snow offered up her mere 10,000 won (all she had "on her") but we were at a loss. Finally, I grabbed my U.S. bank debit Mastercard and said, "Foreign card? American?" and the cashier took it, turned it over, examined it. Then the little huddle of Nais Mart employees examined it.

I didn't want to use it because there was just enough in there that I had wired to the U.S. the week before to cover the bills to be deducted from it a few days later, but I was like, fine, I'll wire money again on Monday and hope it gets there in time. I was out of options. The cashier swiped it and eureka! A cheer went up from the assembly, the bedding was thrust into bags, I signed something, and all felt a sense of triumph as we marched out, but not before getting the name of Ms. Bedding Land written down in Korean. Any ideas on how to thank her are welcome. Getting at long last to take home some shiny new blue, peach, and purple Korean bedding: priceless.

I walked my useless roommate home, dropped the bags, and headed to a nearby restaurant/hof/bar where I ate a rice concoction and didn't even care that it had shrimp, drank a beer, and had a lovely conversation with the young twentysomething girl who works there and was so excited to practice her English that she has pretty much learned from watching American television like Friends and Sex in the City. I'll say this, her accent and pronunciation beat the hell out of most I've heard around here. She thought I must be very sad because my boyfriend is in America. I told her, well, no, at this particular moment you are looking at someone upset by a crappy apartment and an incompetent school. But the food and beer sure helped.

Needless to say, I was more than a little disillusioned and the fantastic irony was that I had to show up at work the next morning to stand at the top of the stairs smiling and greeting prospective pre-schoolers and their mothers and being a little advertisement for my madhouse...er, school. It's an annual event and a big deal ($$$) that I might have enjoyed had the timing been any less absurd. I spent most of the time regaling my English teacher co-workers about the pit of an apartment. They were perhaps a tiny bit impressed I'd called John and announced I was buying bedding, which I insisted he pay for. They assured me they'd seen English teachers get raw deals apartment-wise before but never quite this bad! Well, that's just swell.

After the pre-school event ended, John and I sat in a classroom and I made my list of things broken at the apartment. Did I mention that the washing machine doesn't work? That ratty joke of a once-comforter is still sitting in it a week later. Did I mention that there's a more-than-an-inch-diameter hole in the front door where the previous tenants ripped out the deadbolt? Did you know there's a leak in the bathroom? The TV doesn't work? The kitchen sink drain was clogged? John couldn't believe I spent 112,500 won on bedding. (Like 110 bucks.) I said, "Believe it!" He insisted Snow already had bedding. I said, "You know what? You are fluent in Chinese. You talk to her. I seriously don't care. I want my money, and I have to wire money home on Monday, so I want to be reimbursed immediately."

I spent the rest of Saturday cleaning. Two or three hours with the refrigerator and its mold. Scrubbed the walls and ceiling...scrubbed the stove...scrubbed the windows and the doors and the floors and scraped moldy gum off my heardboard...scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed some more...I'm still scrubbing. After the initial cleaning day, my most unfortunate Saturday in Daegu, I've still been washing something every day.

Part of me was ready to just leave and go take a job in China or Thailand (where I like the food better), not necessarily because this was the straw that broke the camel's back, but seriously because I thought my time and sanity spent cleaning this hole are possibly worth more to me than my spectacularly crappy Korean job and salary (or so I perceived it that day). But, fortuitously, the next day was the grand Thanksgiving gathering at the new American military friends' place, and everything felt better after that (see previous blog post), and even my spoiled princess of a roommate didn't bug me that day.

Here are the good things about this new apartment:
1. It's close to work. (although my former 35-minute morning walk was nice exercise...)
2. The view is better! I can see the mountains out my window, when the pollution lifts.
3. Um...there's a pizza place nearby and they already know the apartment building because the teacher guys order from there all the time.
4. There's loads of hot water. And gas is way cheap here, unlike expensive heating oil. I can shower endlessly with reckless abandon, if I so choose.
5. I really can't think of much else. I'll get back to you.

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