Sunday, February 21, 2010

The 02 Bus

The location of my apartment is such that I am at an equal distance from three different subway stations. The closest one is the Sookmyung Women's University stop; it's a ten-minute walk, but it's on Line 4, a line on which there are no stops I ever need to arrive at. A couple blocks further is Namyeong, which is better because it is on Line 1, which goes lots of places but isn't always very fast. In a different direction lies Noksapyeong Station, the neatest station there is. But that's all the way on the other side of the hill, and super close to the army base. Very dangerous.

Obviously, the common denominator here is that none of these places are very close. One could walk, but that's not much fun in the winter. One could take a taxi, but that gets expensive. So the option that one would be left with is the 02 bus.

Also known as a village bus, the 02 bus is the size of a huge van. It's got somewhere between fifteen and twenty seats, though most are usually taken by the old people who currently populate the area and the high school students will populate the area later. Between the seats and the door is an area in which to stand. This is my usual haunt. I am usually not going far enough on the bus to justify sitting down, and generally the seats are taken anyway. So I stand. There's not really enough head room, though. Were one to ride the 02 bus long enough, one would undoubtedly develop a fatal case of scoliosis.

If one were to avoid scoliosis, there are a host of other physical injuries to incur. The trip in this vehicle is bumpy and violent; standing riders are often throw forward, backward, to the left, to the right. Up. Down. It's wild. It's sort of fun when no one is on the bus and you can try to balance yourself against the pitching of the floor.

Many times, however, there is a mass of people who often clog up the standing area, because of its convenient proximity to the door. Then the only place to stand is right in front of the door and/or in front of where people swipe their cards. Awkward. Many times when the bus stops, I will be in precisely that position and just get off to let those exiting swoosh past me.

All the bus stops that I ever board the bus are between key drop off points, too. There is the top of the hill: Hae Bang Chon ogeori. Tons of people get off there. By my house is a fairly large intersection. Tons of people get off there. Then three stops after that are the two subway stops. Tons of people get off there. In between these three intersections, it is a battle for spots on the little green maul bus.

The worst experience I have had on there was with Jordan. We were coming back from some far-off land and we crowded onto the bus at Namyeong station, four hundred thousand stops away from his house. It was wall-to-wall people, so no one could grab onto the hand rails, and the bus driver gave the accelerator quick stomp after quick stomp so that everyone in the bus was reeling to the left and to the right. I laughed most of the way, but Jordan was pissed. He watched some old geezer cough right into a younger guy's face. After a while some other drunken old dude got on and started yelling and smashed his way all the way in. Holla. It was awesome and gross. Somebody grabbed my butt, too, but I couldn't do much about it. I probably wouldn't have if I could, though...

Even if the bus is not packed, riders are not safe from destruction or awkwardness. Once after school, Mark and I were on our way somewhere on the bus when a student called him. He answered by yelling "Monkey?" in Korean to the student through the phone. Everyone turned to look at us. Then the bus driver's phone rang, and he answered. We made it safely, though. Another time I was the only person on the entire bus, and this old lady got on, surveyed the scene, and joined me in the double seat next to the door. And, just to get back at the system for all the headaches, I was getting off the bus once and tried to wave to Erik, who was remaining on the bus, but I accidentally smashed a lady on the head with the book I was carrying in my waving hand.

Mark relishing a ride up the hill on the 02 bus:

Erik feigning excitement about his impending ride:

Jordan running after the 02 bus in vain:

Me enjoying a ride void of other passengers:

Jordan delighting in the front seat of the 02 bus:

Me feeling the breeze of the 02 bus. No, this picture is not photo-shopped; the bus driver, and most other drivers in Seoul, for that matter, have very little regard for the proximity of their vehicles to pedestrians, male or female:

At least the 02 bus does not look like this bus:

Mark letting me sit on his lap when the bus gets full. The guy who sat by us grumbled until we left:

I know I don't have a lot of credibility with most of you out there who read at home, especially when it comes to buses. But I am not the only one who has, well, mixed feelings about the village bus. Behold: three chapters of validation by three more credible bus riders.

Chapter the First: The Evolution of Punishment: The 02 Bus

by Mr. Erik Johnson, a prolific writer whose work has been compared to that of such authors as Alexandre Dumas, George Orwell, and the apostle Paul. If this link to his Facebook Notes "Page o' Brilliance" doesn't work, I apologize. But you know what to do.

Long long ago, southeastern Asian countries decided to hold a multilateral conference. One significant agreement reached during this conference was to do away with primitive methods of punishment. No more Chinese water torture or bamboo in the fingernails, they agreed. It was bad for their reputation. Every country in the region, therefore, came up with their own new, more acceptable method to administer justice. The Koreans, in this momentous effort to modernize themselves, created a vehicle of pain. The vehicle's name: The 02 Bus.

The 02 Bus, is the Korean vehicle of modernized punishment. In Korean, it is pronounced "Gong-ee bus-uh", which is loosely translated into "let justice be served". And, serve justice it does. In fact, there's an old saying - "There's no such thing as an atheist in the foxhole." Another way to put it is, "There's no such thing as an atheist on the 02 Bus".

A typical ride on the 02 Bus would go like this:

Phase 1 of Punishment: The Waiting.

Korean winters are cold - brutally cold. As you wait in this cold, you never know when the 02 bus will arrive. It could be (theoretically) 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or up to 20 minutes at times. During this waiting period, it is not uncommon to experience the initial stages of frostbite on your exposed skin. You'll find the temptation of taking a taxi growing more and more alluring, until you finally reach your breaking point and find yourself conscientiously reasoning, "Whichever comes next - the 02 Bus, or a taxi - that's what I'll take." This is usually the point where the 02 Bus comes, almost as if on cue. Almost as if it's hiding around the corner, waiting for you to boil over with frustration. Or, almost as if to soften you up for the ride, as a butcher uses a mallet to tenderize slabs of meat.

Phase 2 of Punishment: The Riding.

Now that you've been tenderized, it's time to throw you in the heat. Riding the 02 Bus can be compared to being thrown into very very large pressure cooker. As you fight your way to board this pressure cooker, you've already resigned yourself to standing the entire time. The ceiling is, at best, about 6 feet tall. If you're lucky, you'll get to stand under the escape hatch, which allows one to stand fully upright. If you're not so lucky, you'll find yourself crammed awkwardly into a corner. A common Korean proverb says that on the 02 Bus, death, or at least unconsciousness, can come at any time. Your goal thoughout the ride to remain standing on two feet. Normally, this would be easy. On the 02 Bus, however, nothing is easy. You'll have to fight to keep your balance (falling on the 02 Bus means certain death) as you endure repeated blows to the solar plexus and visceral region from other passengers. Couple this with the drunk bus driver's swerving and abrupt stop-and-go's, and you've got a challenge on your hands.

Phase 3 of the Punishment: The Escape.

Now that you've survived and reached the end of your sentence, the next challenge is to exit. Your stop will once again come one cue - just when you reach your threshold of intolerable pain. Physically exhausted, you hear over the intercom, "Ding. The next stop is Nam-young station". You glance out the window to see all the familiar signs and buildings of your stop. Overjoyed, you clamor to get to the door through the hoards of people. This can be compared to running the medieval gauntlet - the only difference is that the poisoned darts and flaming throwing axes were replaced by jabs to the ribcage. Not as lethal, but just as humiliating. Once you exit, you can finally breathe the fresh air and get ready to transfer to the next bus: the 03 Bus.

Chapter the Second: Caleen's Facebook Wall Post

by Ms. Caleen Gordon, a prolific writer whose work has been compared to that of such authors as Mike Moravec, Dave Barry, and Bill Watterson. I don't know where she keeps her writing. I apologize. But you know what to do.

So...if on a particular Sunday I'm running late, I know that I can depend on the 02 to quickly take me down the hill (or a taxi if I'm ridiculously late, which I was). As I was nearing my usual destination to hail a cab, I saw a group of people huddle for one before the 02 stop, so I figured my chances of getting a taxi weren't as great. But that's okay.....the 02 comes every 2-5 minutes! (or so I thought)....A couple people were already waiting, which made me think the 02 was quickly approaching! 5 minutes pass. I was now standing by myself. "That's odd," I thought, and continued waiting.

A few minutes pass and I am still waiting but with a couple other hopeful passengers now. And who starts to make themselves known now? The group of people who were waiting for a cab just 10 minutes ago! They started walking up the hill, I think hoping the 02 would rescue them too! Pretty soon there were about 20 of us with the same perplexed expression on our faces wondering if the 02 was really going to make it. I was now 20 minutes late for church and thought I should trek uphill to the ogari to see if maybe I could either catch a cab there or...? ...Ah, I don't know. It was February 14th. maybe because of the holiday the 02 wasn't running? That made sense. I walked to the Tous Le Jous just 6 feet shy from the other 02 stop before I had spotted a cab! Yay! I was feeling more hopeful again, but lo and behold the 02 comes spiraling up the hill right as I get in the cab. Grrrrrrrr.

Chapter the Third: The Jordan Files

by Mr. Jordan Williams, a prolific writer whose work has been compared to that of such authors as William Carlos Williams (no relation), Bill Bryson (no relation), and Felix the Cat (no relation). I don't know where he keeps his writing, either. I apologize. But you know what to do.

So there I was, waiting in the frigid cold for the 02 bus to come. I had just walked out of the CCS building (the back way) and saw the thing putter down the hill; I had just missed it. Joyous of joys. I got to wait.

As a little experiment, I decided to look at my watch and clock the time it took for the next bus to come. Contrary to Caleen's comment that it pokes its ugly green head around the corner every 2-5 minutes, I have had other experiences (what kind of Candyland world does she live in, anyway?)
5:20 PM: I was on my way to Insadong because I wanted to pick up some incense for the poetry slam I was having with my ninth graders. I just needed to take the mal bus to 숙대, then take another green bus to Gwanghwamun, then I was going to stroll to Insadong. It shouldn't take that long.
5:25 PM: I was once told that it took about 10 minutes for another bus to come. I've waited down on the other side for quite some time as it sits there, idling its engine and wasting peoples' time. It could have been 10 minutes, it could have been longer. When you're sitting on the idling bus, who cares?
5:30 PM: It was late autumn, early winter. The wind was starting to cut. It was cold, but that damp air of that season makes the chill cut to the bone. I heard engines as they came nearer, always a glimmer of hope that my wait was over.
5:33 PM: Well, 10 minutes had come and gone.
5:37 PM: Seriously?
5:40 PM: COME ON!!!
5:41 PM: Sometimes I wonder if I'm just the impatient foreigner, used to having everything my way. But there I was, standing amidst a throng of Koreans, glancing at their watches and leaning their upper torsos forward, as if they could really just tilt themselves to get a better look up the hill and, miraculously, the 02 bus would smile down upon them.
5:42 PM: Did that ajuhma, who just appeared not three seconds ago, seriously just sidle her way in front of me for when the bus comes? Does she understand that I've been waiting here for TWENTY-TWO MINUTES?!!!
5:43 PM: You know, some people claim that this is okay--it sure beats having to pay for gas and car insurance and registration for a car in the states. Well guess what: I pay insurance on my car that is sitting outside my parents two-car garage in Ohio while I wait in the cold for the stupid bus!!!
5:44 PM: Is that a giant diesel engine I hear?
5:45 PM: Final-freaking-ly. I'm cold and I wanted to be at Insadong by now. I couldn't be less grateful if I tried. Ain't it a kick in the pants, though: I'll continue to wait for this bus again and again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bummer, Dude

Tomorrow morning will mark the end of the five-day Lunar New Year break. Going into this spell of laxity, expectations were high. But I am not going to lie, those expectations were not met. There were a number of factors, including the fact that last year's Lunar New Year was super fun, the fact that every attempt at excursion we made failed due to holiday closure, and the fact that it was freezing the entire stretch. Who knows.

The break started off well; in each of my classes on Thursday we played a loosely-labeled “word game.” Lots of laughing. Then, after enduring a hundred-hour staff meeting, several of the teachers went out and got potato soup near CCS, a meal that was followed by an insane go-round at a previously-undiscovered noraebang near Sukdae. Mark, Jordan, our school's secretary Megan, and I expended an inordinate amount of sweat and melody there and it was all only 15,000W. Holla.

Even Friday indicated that the weekend would be a success. I read a sum of pages equivalent to that of T-Duck's well-known “Little Black Book” and didn't leave my apartment until 5:30 when Jordan and I went to eat. Following that we went to J.J.'s and hung around with various townsfolk until about 11:00, at which point some four or five of us ventured out into the night and ended up at some sparsely-populated hip hop club far from home.

Now, for the most part, this undertaking was a gross success. We laughed and sweat and got down a ton. None of our party were solicited by any creepy dancing patrons at the venue. The musical selection was neat. However, a devastating event occurred at the end of the night:

I lost my Twins hat.

This has happened before. Once, in Mexico, I threw my white Twins hat at Naked Jon during a card game by the pool. It went into the bushes and then Nasty Nate pushed Naked Jon into said pool mere minutes later and, in the following pandemonium, the hat was forgotten. Another time I left my blue and white Twins hat lying around a landscaping site when Nasty and I worked for the utilities company. I forgot it again and failed to find the hat when I returned to look. A few days later we were driving in the work truck and saw a kid with what very well could have been my hat, so I stopped and put it in reverse and questioned the fourth-grade boy. He said his dad got the hat for him. I couldn't argue with that.

Anyway. The hat was not where I had left it at the beginning of the evening, which was lying in plain sight next to my hidden flannel and sweatshirt. So, as in the aforementioned tales of loss, it was most certainly my fault.

The effects did not begin to set in until later. We left. It was snowing. I felt good about life.

The next morning, however, something was clearly wrong. While attending a brunch at Erik “Easy E” Johnson's apartment, I lost a game of “p-i-g” (Do I capitalize this? What kind of title is it? Bah.) on his indoor basketball court. Then, following praise band practice, a group led by Mr. Jordan Williams trekked out to the COEX mall with intent of visiting the legendary Kimchi Field Museum that resides within its walls. We got as far as the front door before seeing a sign that said “Closed.” Spirits were immediately dampened. We missed our bus on the way back, too. The rest of the night was spent watching sad chick flicks and eating shepherd's pie.

The entire day of February 14 was shrouded in sorrow, of course. I needn't expand on why...but when has the lack of need stopped me from expanding? I went to church twice, hoping to turn the tide of negativity that had overtaken me. Both services were actually pretty solid. I played drums in the praise band at KMI, which meets at CCS and has been my usual haunt Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We played games afterward, too. The second service was at Onnuri and was...bigger. The evening hours brought a few bright rays of hope (I ran into a friend at Onnuri who lives in Burnsville, Minnesota [home of Cole “CD Playa” Johnson] and is going back there soon for a couple weeks...she may be coerced into bringing a new Twins hat back for me...for a horrific price; a bunch of single guys got together and played poker [I lost terribly and was the first one out; I said it was because I was used to playing while watching “The Big Lebowski”] and laughed a lot; Jordan lent me a book [sorry this parenthetical blurb is longer than the rest of the paragraph]), but, ultimately, it was just another Valentine's Day spent without a female companion by my side. Or with one even within shouting distance. Can I get an amen?

Monday I corrected papers for much of the day. I did some in my warm apartment and some in my cold classroom. Then Jordan and I ventured out in the Arctic weather to Sinchon to meet Tony Hanf for supper. It was cold and my phone was dying, but we ate with him and promptly left him for Jordan's best friend and some accompanying folks in Myeong-dong. Then we came back to Sinchon and Jordan beat me 10-0 in shuffleboard.

Up until this point, you know what? It wasn't that bad. I laughed a lot and enjoyed at least some of the day. But Tuesday. Tuesday! It proved to be the breaking point. After working all morning, Jordan and Mark and I struck out for Gwanghwamun. There were several different touristy sights that we were hoping to take in in this area. The first one we checked out, “The Story of King Sejong” and the history of the Korean language, was closed. The second one we looked into, some art hall that Mark knew of, was closed. Exasperated but not defeated, we walked several light years to the National Folk Museum. If you didn't see this coming, let me spell it out for you:

I don't really remember the rest of the day. I think we went to a bookstore and I sat in an aisle and read “Stuff White People Like” by Christian Lander, a book I am going to invest in sooner than later. We may also have gone to a nearby Christian bookstore and then gotten pizza and watched the replay of Korean Olympic figure skaters wiping out into each other, thus demolishing the almost certain gold-silver-bronze finish they'd have had in one of the ice skating races in Vancouver. And now I am here, in my apartment.

There have been numerous other instances where I was hoping, whether realistically or fantastically, to travel or go do at least something with my vacation (Chuseok: Taiwan; Thanksgiving: Japan; Christmas: the Philippines), and I'm batting under .500 so far this time around in South Korea. The past weekend was composed of events that seemed much more obtainable than leaving the peninsula. But, again and again, we were denied. I don't like this trend. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bits and Pieces: November, December, and January Edition


The following is reminiscent of the stories I think I tell quite frequently. You may recognize similarities between this post and my reports on the day if you've had the misfortune to have hung out with me before. By that I mean that most of them are funny in context, to me, and I feel obligated to try to share them, but I know that most of them probably aren't funny to anyone except me.

Also, I am sure that when you noticed that this was three months' worth of useless anecdotes, you shrank back in fear of how long this post would be. Ironically, it is sort of short and not even that funny. Sorry?

*I walked into my classroom after lunch one day and all that was written on the board was this: "You'll get yours, Haggar."

*One of my students was in the U.S. over Christmas and bought some basketball cards. One of the cards featured Jonny Flynn, the Minnesota Timberwolves' first-round draft pick from last year and a player I witnessed shooting around in the Niagara Falls High School gym last summer. The guy knew I pledge allegiance to the T-Wolves regardless of their record, so he gave me the card, and now Flynn sits on my desk, forever dunking on some poor college forward.

*Speaking of the Timberwolves, another student copied and pasted the Western Conference standings into an e-mail and sent it to me with the accompanying message: look at the bottom.

*I recently agreed to let students shave my head if more than 1,200 items of clothing are donated in a clothing drive.

*In some vocab exercise, a kid wrote that "Mr. Haggar is the archetype of American college students."

*Against my better judgment, I engaged in a game recently (or recent enough to still have scabs on my hands) with some of the students at my school. They spin a coin on a table and each player must flick the coin to keep it spinning. The player who causes the coin to cease its spinning has to place his (or her, I suppose) knuckles down against the table top while the other players fling the coin with extraordinary speed against said knuckles. The first/only time I engaged, I knocked the coin down, at which point the other players put several large, bloody dents in my hand.

*Students were silently reading "A Modest Proposal" during class one day and, in the middle of it, a girl looked up at me with a look of complete sincerity and concern; she somberly asking, "Mr. he suggesting that they eat the children?"

*One of my classes has to send me a one-page paper that describes a location of their choice each Monday, starting...February 1. The first one I opened said "Subway Bathrooms." This is a promising start to the new semester.

*One day I gave out fourteen tardy slips during one class period. It was not even in the morning.

*When it became really really cold, I started bringing my clothes with me into the bathroom and leaving them inside my washing machine so that when the shower was over and I was dry, I could just dress in there and not leave the steam safety of the bathroom. One morning I threw the clothes in there but failed to close the lid; then I turned the shower on to warm it up. However, the showerhead was angled right at the washing machine and so the water went all over my clothes.

*After being put to sleep by a lesson on grammar, a girl wrote "I hate infinitives...too many I''s so selfish!" on the board.

*We were talking about tattoos, and one kid said that if he had to get one, he'd have an inked periodic table of the elements put onto his skin. Mr. Nola, the resident chemistry and science teacher, was ecstatic.

*In English 12 we read a story called "The Possibility of Evil." The plot revolves around a quaint old lady who appears to be nice and caring but who writes anonymous letters of judgment and condemnation in her spare time, letters that she sends to members of the community. The notes she sends are written in large block print. I tried [unsuccessfully] to simulate what mindset and emotional state a person would have to be in to send such awful letters by having the students write similar notes to people in the school. We didn't have them delivered, thank the Lord, but I was hoping that they'd engage with the text a bit, right? But it was more of a bust and I put it on my list of "failed ideas." A few days later I got a note on my desk that said, "Dear Mr. Haggar. YOU ARE SUDDENLY SO HAIRY. I DO NOT PREFER THE UNTIDINESS LOOK THAT COMES FROM YOUR HAIR. BE NEAT!" It was written in large block letters.

*Some kids write "King Haggar" and "Lord Haggar" in the headings of their papers.

*There are three Bethel grads who I have been hanging out with a lot recently. In addition to sharing such similarities as having attended that illustrious institution, they also all keep blogs (Pete and Kelly's; Tony's) and live in Ilsan (literally translated: Ill San). Which means that they are not at all close enough to where I live, nor I to where they live.

*A kid was using a knife to cut his fingernails at the beginning of class. The dude in front of him swung around to ask what he was doing and, for whatever reason, tried to grab his hand also. The knife cut deep into the dude's hand, and both he and the knife wielder ran from the room. I heard him yell, "I cut my hand!" and then I saw them sprint past the window that looks into the classroom from the hallway. And that was it.

*Sorry if this offensive:
A fill-in-the-blank question from a worksheet: Many of _____________ were taken to Auschwitz. An uninformed student from the basketball team wrote "my teammates" in the blank.

*Who knows: