Thursday, March 24, 2011
We’ve been back in Korea for Round 2 for a good month now. I haven’t written anything or taken many photos because it’s been one hectic month. We’ve now officially settled into our new apartment and new job. But the last four weeks, that was a different story.
In Korea, you can rent one of two places to live – an apartment in one of the many high rise buildings or an officetel. An officetel is a smaller version of an apartment in every way. Smaller buildings, rooms, kitchens, laundry areas, bathrooms (sans bathtubs), you name it. It’s what we lived in last year. When we arrived this time, we were placed in a temporary officetel until a bigger apartment would be ready for us. Tiny doesn’t begin to describe it, but we made it work. I really started to like the place even though we quickly found out that it was owned by two completely insane people.
The day after we arrived, the landlady accompanied the extremely efficient cable-internet man to our door and hung around the entire time he was there. She yammered away at us in Korean and began writing something furiously in one of Steve’s notebooks. Wow, she’s friendly, I thought. Her husband came back a short time later to give us a service (read: free) set of clothing racks. Excellent, since the only included storage was a small shoe closet. For the next 5 days, we didn’t bother unpacking much and only lived off daily necessities. But as tiny as it was, it had a sunny warmth to it and I enjoyed waking up there every morning.
By the following Monday, the real crazy started to come out. We discovered that the landlady and her husband were no Mr. and Mrs. Roper. (If you’re not American or a fan of Three’s Company, Google it). But given where I live and I have no idea what their real names were, I’ll just call them Mr. and Mrs. Kim. Statistically that was probably their name anyway. So not 5 days after we moved into her officetel, Mrs. Kim called our boss and ordered us to leave because she didn’t like our dog. This was odd because she knew we had a dog, he’d not made a peep in the 45 minutes she’d previously visited us, and a rather loud yapping dog lived in the house next door. But there’s a first for everything, and this was the first time we’d ever been evicted. If you want to look at it that way.
But wait! The next day, a national holiday, she came barreling into our living room to ask Steve what seemed like 80 questions about whether Frankie poops on the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the stovetop, or the refrigerator. I had a feeling she was changing her tune, and two hours later while we were napping off the jetlag, she returned. Only this time it was to make emphatic arm movements and yell the word “mountain” at me over and over again. I’m almost positive she was asking me to go hiking with her. Hmmm, evict me and then ask me to go hiking? Thanks, but no thanks.
The next couple of weeks was a series of odd ups and downs. Mrs. Kim clearly felt bad for how she’d treated us because she came to our door yet again with 3 heads of cabbage. For kimchi-making purposes, I assumed. Since no American I know can tear through 3 heads of cabbage without painful gastrointestinal side effects, I shared them with my coworkers and made cole slaw out of the rest.
We exchanged pleasantries after that, but it didn’t stop her or the lady that lived below us (who I’m fairly certain was her relative) from complaining that we moved our chairs too loudly. Really? We live in Korea, which is loud by nature. There is no insulation in officetels, and other neighbors clearly had visitors who talked and yelled till all hours of the night. But sure, ok, we moved our chairs too loudly. Blame it on the foreigners. I sincerely hoped no crimes were going to be committed in that building because you know who they’d come looking for. Being a white girl, it gave me an appreciation for not being in the majority for once. And that sometimes being the minority means you get a whole lot of unnecessary attention. It’s like, stop being overly nice or overly mean and just leave me alone for a hot minute.
The whole mess came to a head with Steve’s motorcycle. He retrieved it from storage and parked it in our lot only to find a note glued, not taped, to the speedometer and the air strategically let out of the front tire. Yet another misunderstanding, but this time an expensive one. As soon as Mr. and Mrs. Kim figured out that it belonged to us and not some rogue biker looking for free parking, they sheepishly insisted that we continue to park in front of the building. And again, like clockwork, the doorbell rang and a peace offering was made in the form of a steaming pile of kimchi. Guilty conscience? Me thinks so.
Soon after, luckily, our school secured our new apartment and it was only a matter of time until we moved. Our pleasantries descended into avoiding each other all together. And sure, I might have made a few cat-like hissing noises while walking past her door.
Even while in this tornado of insanity which we knew would end quickly, it didn’t skew our view of Korea. For every one experience like this, there are 50 outrageously positive ones. Last week, we moved to our new apartment which, with 3 bedrooms and a balcony, is the biggest place we’ve lived anywhere. Our classes are equally enjoyable. And I was told by a random cab driver just this week that, “American people, sa-rang-hae-yo!” Which means he loves American people.
So I keep it in perspective. Mr. and Mrs. Kim? Just another story to add to the whole experience.
Cue the Jack Tripper-like pratfall.