Sunday, September 28, 2008

Views of the room

Some drawings of my room. You can see the bed in both views. Check out my earlier post for a more complete description

Koreans love to eat together

One of my biggest difficulties here so far is not having anyone to eat with. Here's a drawing of all the fun i'm missing out on

Golden Orb Web Spiders

I was looking for a place to store my brand new bike and decided that behind the building was the best location. It was dark and I had to walk through a narrow pathway between lots of bushes. Good thing it was dark because the next morning I came back and saw that I was surrounded by these guys:

for more info, check out Nephila Clavata

Waterfall at Konkuk University

Had the afternoon off so I took a watercolor break

Korean Folk Villages

Korean's love their cultural history. For a better source of information, check out this website. Sunday at Orientation was field trip day to one of these villages. Here's a few pages from my sketchbook.

One of the popular performances is tight rope walking. This guy was old, but strong and a talented entertainer

First Sketches

A quick sketch of the lake at Konkuk University. My palette. Some Korean coins.

On the Airplane

Nothing much, but something to start with nonetheless

Saturday, September 06, 2008

New Apartment

Orientation in Seoul is finished and now I am finally settling into my permanent residence in Gangneung City. My contract stipulates that my employer will provide an apartment and furnishings, in unspecified quality and quantity. My apartment is not bad but it's not great either. Actually, it's a shoe box. Even by Korean standards it's small. Because it is the beginning of the semester at the local university there weren't many other places available, my employers assure me. In spite of the size, it does have some quality amenities. The 27” HD flatscreen TV isn't too bad, and neither is the fiber-optic, 50Mbps internet connection running to my laptop. However, there is one problem with my apartment.

It's haunted.

My co-teacher showed me the apartment earlier this week. Upon first entering I could immediately feel the negative energy in the room. I couldn't say it was anything in particular. I didn't hear any voices and the TV didn't turn on by itself, but there is something about it that's unnerving.

It's easy to scare yourself in the dark with your own morbid and paranoid thoughts. While alone in the apartment, my head spins with all the terrible things that can go wrong. At first, I was afraid that my own ignorance or clumsiness would do me in. Maybe I would slip in the shower, or accidentally electrocute myself, or slip and fall on a knife. To deal with this I resolved to be extra careful and more conscious of my movements around the apartment. I would move cautiously and be sure not to run with scissors.

But that's when the completely irrational fears set in. Before I would open a shelf or drawer my mind would flash an image of something terrible and grotesque hidden and waiting to surprise me: a bloody corpse or even just an explosion of some kind. While sitting at my computer I constantly felt the need to look over my shoulder, expecting to see someone or something there. I couldn't stand too close to the bed because of the witch's clawed, decrepit old hand that would reach out to grab my ankles. The mirror was particularly intolerable because I was afraid of the monster I would see standing behind me.

Maybe it's the claustrophobia. It's amazing how the floor plan can evoke an emotional response. There is a small walkway down the middle of the room that's about 2 ½ feet wide and the rest is taken up by furniture. To save space the furnishings are stacked up to the ceiling. Perched on top of two short cabinets, the TV hovers above me. I have to sit on my queen size bed with my back against the wall to watch it comfortably. The bed is another problem. I have to sleep alone on a bed that's meant for two in an apartment that's not big enough for one.

More than anything else it is the isolation that's haunting me. So far, I have zero understanding of the language. I cannot read the signs around me or understand the language and somewhere in the back of my mind it all feels like a big joke. If suddenly every Korean person on the street where to turn in my direction at the same time and say “GOTCHA!” I wouldn't be surprised. I have no friends to share my secrets and experiences with and no place to call familiar. The same part of my mind is building up an Apocalypse Now-Martin Sheen style freak-out. With every minute Charlie is getting stronger out there while I'm getting weaker in here. I've been avoiding purchasing any alcohol.

My first week in Korea was spent in Seoul at Konkuk University. The EPIK program was hosting a week long orientation for all 400 incoming EPIK teachers. I did well to socialize and became friends with the people I liked and snubbed the people I didn't. In the later category, there was a small group of people who enjoyed going to a particular bar at night after classes had finished. It irritated me that they would only go to that particular bar, despite being in one of the biggest cities in Asia. Never mind exploring or trying something new. Couldn't they at least walk another block and try to find something else? Just once?

In another instance at Orientation, there was an aging, creepy white guy with an Asian fetish. The repulsion and awkwardness he generated in those around him was easy to see. He very quickly picked up an unfavorable reputation and became a part of everyone's gossip. On the last day of orientation, before we were bussed off to our separate locations throughout Korea, we were treated to one last meal in the school cafeteria. A group of us sat down together and I found myself sitting next to him. He began to make a joke about the fishball soup, repeatedly stating that it was “fish-ball-soup”. Despite no one laughing, with complete seriousness he explained that they were not actually fish testicles, but only made of ground fish. Following the awkward silence he looked over to the uneaten bowl of soup next to me and asked if anyone was going to claim it. My friend across the table couldn't contain her irritation. With palpable sarcasm, she shot off, “Why, are you still hungry (you fat bastard)”? He caught her drift and fell silent. I didn't think it was funny, but I did take pleasure in her retort shutting him up. After another uncomfortable silence he sighed, his shoulders slumped and with the voice of a reprimanded child explained that he did not know where or how he was going to find his next meal.

Sitting here alone in my apartment in this city and in this country I know nothing about, I now understand why that group would go to the same bar every night. It must be nice to call something familiar when you're a world away from home. Writing this journal entry, afraid of ghosts and phantoms and wondering when I can feel safe and comfortable in my apartment, I feel like my friend from orientation who just wanted to make sure he would not have to go hungry.