Club Night last night was quite fun, more fun than I’d expected. First I went out to dinner with my friend Patrick and two of his Korean friends, after which we met a bunch of people from Incheon — some of whom I’d met and others whom I hadn’t — at a bar in Sincheon (the main clubbing area of Seoul). After drinking enough to allow ourselves to dance unselfconsciously, we headed to the clubs. I’ve never been one for dance clubs, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have quite the time. The clubs were packed, the music was loud, and I found myself often just getting swept away in the seeming chaos of it all. I even danced, if you can believe that.
I found a part-time job in Southeast Seoul — two hours a day teaching primary schoolers, and they agreed to sponsor my new work visa as long as I pay for the trip to Japan. The visa sponsorship offer made me take the job, as I’ll be able to make far more money working several part-time jobs than with one full-time job, and most part-time employers won’t sponsor a work visa. I do need to find a permanent place to live, which is a fairly big problem right now, and the school is quite a subway ride from central Seoul. In the end, though, I’m not planning on staying here for another year, so I’d like to find work that doesn’t require me to do so.
And, I’m going to meet with Mr. ___ tomorrow night. I’m a bit scared, really, as I’m not really sure what he’s going to ask of me at this point. I offered to go back and work for him in two separate emails, and he never responded to the offer, so I assumed that it was off the table. I will pay him back the money for the plane ticket and bills as soon as I am able, whether or not he agrees to give me the release letter. I’m essentially convinced that I don’t need the release letter at this point, although I know that Mr. ___ doesn’t realize this, so he’s going to go into tomorrow thinking he has the upper hand and I shall do my best to allow him to maintain that impression. I’d like to help him find a new teacher, but in the end I’ve also got myself to worry about, and I feel as if the help I’ve offered him thus far has been largely ignored.
I’m back in South Korea, staying at a guesthouse/hotel in the Sincheon area in western Seoul. It’s ok being back, despite my precarious money situation and urgent need for employment. I’ve got an interview lined up for this afternoon, and I don’t think I’ll have much trouble lining up some more for next week. Hopefully something good will come along quickly.
Tonight I’m going out with some expat friends to “club night” here in Seoul. 15,000 won gets you into about ten or fifteen different clubs in the Sincheon area (near where I’m staying) — unfortunately, drinks aren’t included. I probably shouldn’t spend the money but I really need to go out and be with people that I know, if only relatively.
My last night in Thailand, for a while, anyway. I was going to leave this morning, but decided to change it at the last minute — I still had some Baht left, and I wasn’t prepared to leave yet. Now I feel ready to go, as it is getting hotter by the day here and I am nearly out of Baht. Timing is everything, as is an open-ended plane ticket.
I spent yesterday wandering around. I ended up at a big flower market, with more flowers than I have ever seen all being sold in this one area. I walked by many Buddist temples, saw many Buddists, and sweated my ass off in the stifling heat. I found the river here, too, and rode a boat up and down for a few hours. At one of the stops there were people selling bags of stale bread to feed to the fish — thousands of big fish who were just mad with hunger or something, flapping all over one another to get to the food. It was interesting to watch, and a little sad. Then, last night, I ran into Omer again at the same outdoor bar, hung out with him for a couple hours.
Mr. ___ update: I emailed him and offered to go back to work for him at a reduced wage and with slightly reduced hours (so I’d have time to visit schools in Seoul in the morning) until I find a new place to work and a new teacher for his institute. This, in exchange for the release letter. Once again, I was very apologetic and all in the email, and I explained that this seemed to be a solution that would solve both of our problems. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the response I got from him said that I was being “negative” and that I was “playing tricks on him” after which he once again asked me for help finding a new teacher. He also wrote that if he didn’t get the money for the airfare by Friday, that he would go to immigration and tell them about me (although I’m not sure what he would say). So, I wrote back and repeatedly apologized again, explained my solution once again in a different way, then told him that if all he wanted was for me to pay back the airfare, that I would do it and that would be that. I advised him to use a recruiter if he needed a teacher quickly, and tried to make it clear to him that I am genuinely trying to help him with this problem. That was last night, and I haven’t heard back yet.
His emails do make me laugh, though, if only because every one of them simply starts “Jeff!”
Last night I met and hung out with an Israeli guy named Omer. There’s quite a few Israelis here, and when I meet them they’re always surprised to hear how much I liked visiting their country. Omer was no exception — he kept saying things like: “You really liked Israel, yes?” He had just gotten in from Japan, where he’d spent three months working as a handicrafts merchant, which is apparently a popular way for travelling Israelis to make money abroad. Who knew? We had an interesting night drinking Thai beer, talking about Israel and America, and watching the construction equipment tear up Khao San Road.
The story keeps getting stranger.
Over the last week or so, Mr. ___ and I have exchanged a series of emails — me explaining and apologizing for doing what I did, and him venting his anger and then agreeing to give me the release letter in exchange for the money for my airline ticket. The last email I got (yesterday) basically asked me to call him when I got back to Korea so we could work out the release letter, so I assumed things were settled.
Today, however, I got an email from him saying that Monique — the teacher that I got to replace me — announced that she is leaving in a week to attend a university in Seoul, and asking me what I think he should do now. I’m at a complete loss on so many levels. I can’t believe that Monique, who was so desperate for a job, and who almost seemed judgemental about the fact that I left the school the way I did (despite the fact that I got her a job in the process) is now leaving with a week’s notice. I also can’t believe (although maybe I can) that Mr. ___ is now coming to me for advice, after having chastised and threatened me in previous emails.
This is a completely fucked-up situation, and I’m really not sure what to do. I could offer to go back to work for Mr. ___, despite the fact that it would be horribly awkward to do so, until he (I) can find a new permanent teacher. I can no longer legally work for him, as my work visa is now cancelled, but I honestly don’t think it would matter much to him at this point. I also, obviously, really don’t want to go back and work at that school, but I feel somewhat responsible for his current situation. Or, I could offer to help find a new teacher for him in exchange for the release letter, in lieu of the money for the plane ticket. The thing is, I probably won’t even need the release letter — I’ll probably be able to go back to Korea and get a new job and work visa with no problems. So, I could just ignore the whole situation and not feel terribly guilty about doing so, considering some of the threats Mr. ___ has thrown my way over the past month. I really wish I didn’t know at all, so I could just plead ignorance to the whole matter. Knowing about it means I have to react, even if my reaction is not to act at all.
In other news, I also found out today that I don’t even have to go to the Korean Embassy here to get a tourist visa and cancel my work visa, I just have to leave the country and come back.
One less thing to worry about + one more thing to worry about = a wash.
In the interest of experiencing all aspects of Bangkok, last night I took a taxi to Patpong. Patpong is the street/area where all the go-go bars are, although it has apparently lost much of its edge over the years. Much of the area now is overwhelmed by tourists and vendors, at times I found it hard to even get around with all the people and booths. However, the go-go bars are still there, and plenty of them, most of them neon-covered and with men and women outside trying to get people in. It’s really quite a strange situation — a street covered with tourists shopping for souvenirs surrounded by go-go bars. My curiosity got the best of me, so I ended up going into one of these establishments to see what there was to see. I won’t go into details — I’m not sure most of you’d want me to — except to say that it was an interesting experience, and that I bought two beers and nothing else.
To get back to Khao San from Patpong I took a motorcycle taxi. I now insist that you haven’t lived until you’ve flown through the streets of Bangkok at night on the back of a motorcycle.
Today I have to go to the Korean Embassy and get my visa taken care of, which should prove to be a rip-roaring good time.
Today, on the recommendation of my sister, I went to the Chatuchak Market (or Weekend Market). It’s an enormous open-air market, the biggest I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen many), and I spent several hours wandering aimlessly through it. I saw everything from pets to (the ubiquitous) tee-shirts to furniture being sold there; in between the food vendors hawking everything from fresh fruit to dried fish. The experience of walking through the massive crowds and the mazelike series of vendors is a bit overwhelming — squeezing in between people to get from one place to the next, the scents of different foods and animals wafting through the stalls, and everywhere people trying to sell you something. I was surprised, though, at how laid back the vendors were — here on Khao San Road they can get quite aggressive, while at the market they seemed to have a more take-it-or-leave-it attitude. I got there rather early, before most of the afternoon crowd arrived, but once the heat and the crowds showed up I found myself feeling a bit claustrophobic and heat-exausted — so I left.
It is uncomfortably hot and humid here, which I am trying my best to appreciate before I head back to the end of winter in Korea, but after the market today I found myself back in my air conditioned room recovering for a bit. It’s a heavy, draining heat that my body doesn’t seem to take well to. Everyone drinks lots of water, although I see a surprising amount of people wearing pants.
Thailand is the furthest I’ve been into the poverty and mayhem of the second world. I’ve seen quite a few people lying in the streets, people who might be dead, and today I saw several strangely disfigured beggars. One begging similarity between here and Korea is the sight of a disabled man wandering around with a karaoke machine, cup in one hand and microphone in the other, often singing very badly. I saw one at the market here today, and it reminded me of the one I often see in Korea. It’s the effort and the strange creativity that impresses me, as opposed to the beggars who just sit on a corner shaking a cup.
Bangkok is very crowded and full of tourists, I often get the feeling that someone is trying to swindle me about one thing or another. In a country so based on haggling, it’s hard to know if one is paying the proper price for anything. I took a tuk-tuk to the market today, and we’d agreed on a price beforehand, but once we got there I had to ask repeatedly for my change… I still felt I’d gotten shafted. Tuk-tuk drivers are usually very poor people from the north, though, so I reconciled my shafted feeling with the fact that they need my fare to simply exist from day to day. Two hundred Baht is not much to me, but is probably quite a bit to him.
There’s motorcycle taxis here, and I’m hoping to try one tomorrow. You just hop on the back of a motorcycle and hang on as the driver weaves in and out of Thai traffic. I’m told it’s quite the experience, and the initial magic of tuk-tuks has worn off after today. I’ve only actually ridden a motorcycle once in my life, and how often will I get the opportunity to ride on the back of a Thai motorcycle through the streets of Bangkok? Next time I’m here, perhaps… and I will be back — I’ve got the Lonely Planet book and it’d be a shame to use it just this once.
Last night I was sitting in an open air cafe here on Khao San, drinking a Thai beer, and this guy in a shirt and tie comes up and sits with me. He starts talking, and it becomes apparent that he is fairly intoxicated in one way or another. A British man, although his accent made it sound as if he might have a speech impediment of some sort. We talk for a while, and he tells me that he’s an English teacher here in Thailand, and that he has lots of money, etc. But then he just starts talking about how he’d like to go to America, and how he loves the bands Blue Oyster Cult and KISS, and that he wish he could reconcile with his family. His talk was all very random, as people do when they are extremely drunk, but the essence I got from him was of a complete aimless and pointless quality to his life. It made me a bit sad talking to him, realizing how so many people just don’t know what in God’s name they’re doing in this world, and are therefore just kind of stumbling through willy-nilly and pissed-off. He kept telling me about this guy he knew that had died in the WTC attack, and he asked me how he should react to this. I tried to provide some sort of perspective on his loss, and the loss of those who have lost family members to American bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that I had a good point, but I think he might have been too drunk to really understand it.
There’s a long post for ye, my seemingly loyal reading audience. Makes me think I should write long posts like this more often, as opposed to the random blurbs I have been dropping of late.
I’m back in Bangkok, and I’m so very tired. Traveling for twenty straight hours is exausting, and now I’m stuck waiting for a decent room to stay in for the next few nights. I just want to eat something, take a hot shower, and then take a long nap. Alas, it seems as if it will be several more hours before I’m able to do two out of three.
The trip back to Bangkok was hot and relatively uneventful. I broke the rules (if there are such things in Thailand) and opened the window of my train bunk so I could see the stars. It was so worth it — I haven’t seen stars like for a long time, and never from a night train to Bangkok. I didn’t get in trouble, and I still don’t understand why they insist on closing the windows when they put the bunks down. Noise, perhaps.
I feel disconnected from the world today, and it hurts because I’m so tired.