Before we get to the meat of today’s post (sorry if that sounds a little gross), please allow me to get a few minor grievances out of the way. I’ve been meaning to write to you about these for some time, but I keep putting it off.
First of all, there are a couple of things about my apartment that are a trifle irritating. Since I came to Korea nearly six years ago, my wife Jina and I have lived in four different flats. The first one was in an “office-tel,” which I suppose is Konglish for a combination office-hotel building (even though that’s technically inaccurate since it contained apartments as opposed to hotel rooms. Who cares? It’s only language; to hell with clarity, right?). It was a nice place–clean and spacious, with plenty of light, the kind of place Hemingway would have dug were he not a playground for worms.
One especially nice thing about it was it was new. I’m not trying to pooh-pooh old things, being one myself, but you’ll understand why its recent completion was a virtue in a paragraph or two; stay tuned, fasten your seatbelts, and please make sure to push in your tray tables and check to see that your seats are in an upright position (I’m rehearsing for a potential future career as a flight attendant; no job could be more glorious than being a food-server on a flying bus).
The only drawback was that it consisted of one room, not counting the bathroom, which didn’t include a bathtub (few Korean apartments do). This meant that Jina and I could have no relief from each other’s presence. But the wide open space also made it easier for her to throw one of the wooden chairs she’d ordered online across the room at me without hitting the wall (and also without hitting me, despite my crapulence at the time; my reflexes were a sneak preview of George W. Bush’s ducking of the Iraqi shoe-thrower–twice). Since you opened the door by pressing a numerical combination on a keypad, there was also no way she could lock me out (wait a minute–that can’t be; there must have been a chain-lock as I distinctly recall her having locked me out at least once, but only for an hour or so).
Another problem was we were only on the second floor. There were three benches situated around a wooden table outside our window, a place where drunken middle-aged Korean men liked to congregate late at night, smoke cigarettes, and exchange their views in loud snarls. Having to get out of bed and yell at them to shut up was a frequent ritual. The smoke from their cigarettes liked to slither up and crawl through our window screen during the warmer months, flooding the place with the acrid, repellent stench, the nasty medley of deadly chemicals you’re all familiar with and some of you may even enjoy inhaling as a life-long hobby.
One night we heard screeching tires and looked out the window to see a taxi driver standing over the prone body of a woman he’d hit (at least I think it was a woman; I couldn’t tell as her head was farther from view than her feet). Jina got very upset and we watched and waited helplessly while a cop car and an ambulance arrived, the other motorists passing by on their merry way to shelter.
Another time we saw a preternaturally inebriated man walk across six lanes of traffic and back, causing a fender-bender between a taxi and another car without even appearing to realize it. Both drivers got out; the cabbie glanced at his fender, shrugged it off, and let the other guy go. Jina called the cops to come rescue the drunk, who was now sitting on the curb in a contemplative coma. We waited for the fuzz to show and then went on our way after they’d escorted him to a better place, probably a jail cell where he could sleep off his self-induced stupor.
(It’s not uncommon to see grown men pissing against walls and trees at night; once when I was getting off the bus, the businessman walking in front of me paused to puke, forcing me to hop over his newborn puddle. He then went out to hail a taxi, somehow managing to lose a shoe in the process. Sadly, the shoe was run over by a car. Its partner was devastated by the loss and hasn’t been the same since.)
The second place we lived in was in a different part of town, Itaewon, a waegeugin (foreigner)-ghetto. We didn’t move there out of homesickness, but because the rents are generally cheaper. The apartment was in a basement, and although it had certain virtues, including a spacious main room that soon boasted a big black plush three-piece sofa Jina’s brother generously gave us, along with a deep plastic bathtub, it was also kind of scuzzy. What eventually made it a deal-breaker was the mold that crept up one of the walls of our least-used room. More on that in a moment.
One Saturday afternoon while I was snoozing, I overheard my neighbors making love through the wall and cheered them on inwardly. Nice to know that some Christians know how to get it on. A few years later, after we’d moved into our third place, I saw the woman, who had been cute and perky, transformed into a beleaguered, haggard mom with two little kids in tow. I felt sorry for her and thanked God I hadn’t been nailed to that particular cross yet.
To return to the shadowy infestation of mold, it got to be so bad, Jina invited the landlady over to show her and complain about it. The screaming match that ensued was one of the most terrifying displays of evenly-matched human aggression I have ever seen. Although–blessedly–no blows were exchanged, I suddenly found newfound respect for my wife based solely on cringing, pusillanimous terror. The landlady was equally testosteroneous in her venomous outpouring. It reminded me of the first and only time I’d ever seen two girls fighting, when I was in second grade; a year or so after the great-mold showdown, I saw two cats having it out under a car, although I think it might have been some kind of insane mating dance. Either way, such feline ferocity is terrifying to behold to those of us males more used to our own primitive, clunky versions of violence, hostility, and hate.
Jina later chewed me out for not confronting the landlady myself; I hid behind the “But I don’t speak Korean” excuse. Before long the woman invited us to her place upstairs for dinner; all was apparently forgiven, even though we ended up moving out anyway.
And the next place we lived in, a first-floor apartment, had a problem with mold too. So does the place we’re in now, along with sweating windows and a plastic vent where the extractor fan is directly over the toilet that sometimes drips onto the sitter’s head. I’ve considered bringing an umbrella with me whenever I take my place on the throne (although to be fair, the drip has abated).
Well, it looks as if I’m not going to be able to get to the “meat-post” (a great gift for your cat!) after all. Guess we’ll have to save it for another time; but I’ll make sure to cover it before too long, since memory, like so much else in life, is a fleeting thing.
Good day to you all. May your best dreams come true and your nightmares evaporate.