And we’ll build a row of identical boxes and sell ’em all off and treble the profits!
I’m so far gone now in Korea that a place like this seems attractive to me: row after row of identical high-rises, apartment complexes, monolithic blocks of cement, twenty stories tall, with tar for parking lots poured out in the gaps in between, and enough white or gray or black cars to fill up every space.
I’m at the Daewoo Marina Apartment buildings in Haeundae, a five minute walk from the beach with all the umbrellas and the women in stilettos on the sand, and if you look up at the sky you can see the massive new towers of glass rising up into the clouds way out in the distance like a nightmare from one of the racist short stories of H.P Lovecraft.
There are also, strangely enough, lots of trees around, plenty of bushes and flowers, and even a few square feet of grass—real grass, that rarity of rarities here in the land of tar and cement and dirt—so that the air smells strangely of—dare I say it—nature, life, photosynthesis and sun and rain, chlorophyll, hummingbees powdering themselves up with pollen inside who knows how many vibrantly ultraviolet blossoms?
It does seem desirable, as I sprint as fast as my legs will carry me, hammering the sidewalk in my very-uncomfortable-yet-possibly-fashionable shoes, late, twenty fucking minutes late, to my part-time job here—it’s nice and quiet, there’s no one around, you kind of feel like you’re out in the suburbs, there are almost boulevards here, on the checkered sidewalk that’s destroying the soles of my feet as I slam down, again and again, sprinting at a speed that would be much faster in sneakers. You feel like you might even catch sight of a house somewhere.
Inside, each apartment is about the size of several American dorm rooms linked by a hallway, but the residents have to be paying through the teeth to afford such fabled Korean luxuries as the apartment with more than one room and the residential zone with vegetation—to say nothing of the access to the Sea of Japan, which of course the Koreans prefer to call the Sea of Korea (the “East Sea”, i.e., the “Most Definitely Not Japanese Sea”).
The strangest sort of employer awaits me inside one of these apartments, a nice Korean woman who speaks English at such a ridiculously fast speed that I believe she must think I am an idiot because half the time I cannot follow what she is saying to me and have to ask her to repeat herself. But the even stranger thing about her is that she’s had several very young and very wealthy kids under her tutelage for the last few years, and all of them speak English at an incredible level of proficiency.
There are lots of English teachers here who have had to deal with lots of crazy Korean kids who don’t speak a word of English: try to imagine, now, if all of them spoke English fluently, and you could understand all of the weird, wacky, random things they’re constantly shouting at each other. I am now teaching—or, rather, bantering with—those imaginary little children, for about eight hours a week. They are still curious, open-minded, eager, and far from jaded. Their maddening schedule of five different private schools a week, on top of public school, has not yet destroyed their natural love of learning.
It’s a pleasure to teach them in this odd place in which I feel a very Korean and very un-American desire to live.