The knock on my door interrupted a few moments of quiet reflection. I put Sydney into her travel kennel and let the mover into my apartment. His English wasn’t great, but it was passable. We managed to move everything in a few elevator trips, and covered everything–spare Sydney and her carrier–in several plastic tarps. Miraculously, the tarps would prove to be totally unnecessary as the sun peaked out from behind the clouds for the first time all week. I climbed into the front seat and looked at my watch: 3:10 on the dot. I had left my students in tears a scant 55 minutes ago, and it already felt like it had been a lifetime ago. The mover finished tying down everything with a giant bungee in the back of the truck, and climbed into the cab. He started the engine, and we were off.
I took in the sights around Gangdong and Cheonho stations with a sense of nostalgia, and then watched Seoul spread out before us as we crossed the Han River. Seoul is a truly immense city, and never is it more apparent than when crossing the Han. It was one of those great days for taking photographs, with the rain temporarily clearing the smog, and the remaining clouds adding vibrant contrast to the city. Thousands of high rise apartments rose up into the sky for as far as the eye could see. The irony is that none of these expensive, high-rise apartments stood out from one another, their raw numbers created a sense of uniformity.
We drove on a highway along the north side of the river. Just to the west of the city, the Han River takes a jog to the northwest, and then north, eventually becoming a de factoborder with North Korea. We continued following the river nearly the whole way. There were signs over the highway pointing the way to Gyeonggi English Village, and as the kilometers clicked off, the military installments along the banks of the river increased.
We managed to arrive at the campus in about an hour; it’s amazing how much smaller the world is in a car than a city bus or train. (That said, I would never own more than a scooter or a small motorcycle were I living in Seoul. Traffic is horrendous, particularly when commuting during rush hours). My boxes were unloaded into my apartment at lightning speed. I thanked and paid the driver, and I was once again alone with my thoughts.
I find that there is a strange paralysis that grips me when I set out to unpack after a move. Where does everything need to go? What needs to be put away first? Will everything fit? The process begins slowly, and picks up speed as a home begins to take shape.
After a couple of hours I took Sydney for a walk, including a trip to a field where I was told I could let her run around. To my pleasant surprise, there was another dog there–a Schnauzer-mix named Ruppert. I had yet to teach or even observe a class, but the simple act of watching my dog run around with another dog in a field was enough to convince me that the move was a great one. Soon thereafter, another dog, a retriever-mix joined the fray, and there were three black dogs chasing eachother around. And for the first time since coming to Korea, Sydney was a medium-sized dog.
With the apartment still a mess, I made my bed. I finally had a full-sized mattress and I spread my arms out in both directions, thrilled that neither was dangling awkwardly off a side. Sydney was happy too, there was now room for both of us. She was still anxious about her new environment, and slept curled up in my arms the whole night.
I was picked up by another teacher–Daniel–and taken to City Hall for sign in. Or, at least I watched Daniel sign in, I had yet to have my fingerprint scanned. The whole vibe of this place was completely different, and in a wonderfully refreshing way. Everyone, as a whole, was just more positive and there was a loose, go-with-the-flow attitude which was as pervasive as it was infectious.
After some brief introductions, I was asked to follow around John, an easy-going Irishman with a good sense of humor and work ethic. I learned that we would be working in the same content area, “Cutting Edge,” the cooking class. To a person, every Cutting Edge teacher (and a handful in other content areas) told me how lucky I was to be teaching in this area. If nothing else, I’ll get a few free snacks out of the deal most days.
My first day was largely uneventful. Fridays tend to be very relaxed at EV, as students leave after lunch and the rest of the day is filled with meetings and development time.
After work, John invited me out to play soccer with a few other teachers. It’s always a nerve-wracking and embarrassing experience playing soccer with Europeans. I was terribly out of shape and hadn’t so much as kicked a ball in nearly a year, but I was reassured with a “Not bad” rating from John. I’ll take it. One day on and I already felt like I belonged and was starting to grow friendships. I went to bed exhausted and content.
Saturday and Sunday
The weekend was largely uneventful. The skies were grey, and the rain was pounding. I slept a lot. Finally, on Sunday I found the energy to go to the store to pick up some essentials, and got around to getting my home set up the way I wanted it. My place was small but nice, and I was ready for the real fun to begin on Monday. This was a memorable week, and I think I’ll look back upon it as a real turning point for years to come.