It’s not enough that I moved to a foreign country and started a totally new career. Now, six months later, I’m starting another new job and moving again. Same country, and same career, but I hope a totally better situation. I will say this now that I am out of the range of EPIK retribution, but that program…leaves a lot to be desired. If you found this blog while searching for information about teaching English in Korea, particularly on Jeju Island (Jeju-do), be warned. It’s a crap shoot. Some people are very happy with their teaching gigs, others, like me, not so much. I can’t speak for how the program (English Program In Korea) is administered in other provinces, as Jeju is a “Self-Governing Province,” which means, they really are an island unto themselves. Jeju is the maverick of South Korea.
But frankly, I’m tired of fretting over the ineptitude and incompetence that are the hallmarks of Jeju EPIK, so let’s move one, as I intend to do. I am moving from being a talking parrot, clown and bad cop for classes of 30-plus kids, to being an actual teacher at a hagwon (after school private academy) for classes of less than 10 kids. Right now it looks like my biggest class is 6 kids. Since housing came with the EPIK job, changing jobs also means changing housing. I am the first foreign teacher my new school has had to find housing for, and I was trying to think positively, and visualize a nice, spacious apartment with a lovely view of beautiful Jeju Harbor, or maybe snow-covered Mt. Halla. At the very least, I was praying for something not on an alley with a view of the garbage cans. It’s an odd system here in that since the school is paying for your housing, they choose it; you don’t get a say in approving or rejecting. My school director said I could look on my own, but without being able to read the classified ads, that’s kind of difficult. There is no Craigslist! I had to be out of my EPIK apartment by Feb. 28th, and as the date approached I got increasingly nervous. Finally, last week he announced he had found my apartment. Oh joy!
Well….there are no garbage cans, but yeah, I am on the first floor, next to the front door and the driveway, of a really crappy ‘60s vintage apartment building. In a studio, with possibly the worst decorating scheme ever. The kitchen cabinets are dark turquoise, adjacent to a large wall covered with large, red poppy wallpaper. It brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s pronouncement as he lay dying in a cheap Parisian hotel: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” I can so relate to his dark humor.
While that is pulling your eyeballs out of your head in one direction, the bathroom is vying for attention in the other direction. All the fixtures are dark maroon. But worst of all, the ONLY windows in the place are in an enclosed patio. They have bars on them and are all frosted glass. Poor Sammy. Not only forced to be an indoor cat, but now denied even a daily view of the outdoors. The only way to see daylight at all is to open the windows; which don’t have screens. In another month I might as well hang out a sign saying “mosquito bloodfest this way!” Wait, how do you say that in Korean? Basically, it’s like a basement apartment on Capitol Hill, without the Bohemian factor and good coffeeshops.
I moved in last Saturday, and on my second day I had a visit from my upstairs neighbor, who apparently has some mental issues. When I answered the door I noted her blouse was held together with one large, jaunty safety pin. She barged in and gestured “sleep” and pointed at the ceiling. I took this to mean she lived upstairs. She prattled on, while I tried to convey that I don’t speak Korean. Undeterred, she then began inspecting the place. I grabbed my phone to call my director, to see if he could tell what she wanted. When she opened my closet doors my limited Korean kicked in and I yelled “ANYEO!!ANYEO!!” which means “NO!” I got her out without further incident. Nice welcoming committee.
It was supposed to be a 5-10 minute walk to my new school, but I tried walking it the first day and could not find a route that was less than 20 minutes, half of that steeply uphill. There is no direct route or shortcut, as the neighborhood runs helter skelter across the hillside. That may not sound like much, but the summers here are intensely hot and humid. And I already know how bitterly cold the winters are.
So, it’s not the apartment of my dreams, but I am doing what I can to make it “mine.” I bought an area rug to cover the hideous beige linoleum, and am putting up posters to cover the poppies. I’m going to send home for curtains, as Korean draperies would only add to the gaudiness. My director agreed to buy a double bed, so Sammy and I are enjoying that, after 6 months in a single bed. I do have internet, although it’s not always reliable. And maybe it’s a good thing to not get too comfortable here. Korea is not my home and it never will be. This is just another stop on my road of life. I signed a one year contract which I will do my best to honor. After that, who knows. I have a craving lately for baklava…