Friday, June 12, 2009

Stuff and Things

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do next. I'm about to start a new contract, and it will be my third year of teaching here- same school, same job. I like it, but it's starting to get old.

I want to keep Having Adventures. The more I read, the more I want to see. I've thought about the Peace Corps, but I don't feel very comfortable with the whole go-where-you're-sent, do-what-you're-told thing. (I briefly considered the military, back in high school, and rejected it mostly for the same reason.) Ditto the Foreign Service, though that would be more to my taste. I'm not sure I want a full-on career working in Points Abroad, and embassy work sounds a bit boring. (There's also the exam and hiring process, if it comes to that.)

The easiest thing would be to just keep on teaching, maybe in another country. I briefly thought of going to China for a year or so, just for the experience. I feel like I'm starting to be in a rut, though, and the thought of spending years and years more teaching ESL abroad for profit is starting to feel a little suffocating.

Another option would be to try and do grad school abroad. I don't know where I'd study, but I'm still thinking about urban planning off and on (especially whenever I read something remotely environmentalist). My main concern there is the expense: from what I know, most places won't let you work on a student visa, so I'd be living abroad and pouring my savings into school with no guarantee of a job afterward.

It sounds cliche, but I do feel like I'm being pulled in two different directions. One part of me gets a little wistful whenever I see updates about friends my age getting married, moving into new apartments, having friends with other friends I haven't seen in years. Another part thinks I'm lucky to be free of all that, and wants to cut all ties and go wandering in Cambodia or something. I've tied myself down a bit with the cat, which is one weight on the "settling" side of the balance, but I don't quite want to put down permanent roots yet.

On the other hand, I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss going to parties with people I've known since college, catching up on people's lives, being at home and making a place for myself in a neighborhood I can plan to stay in for a while. My life here is many things, but one big one is TEMPORARY. I have to avoid picking up too much stuff-- knickknacks, dishes, things to move later. My friends come and go-- one of my best friends here is leaving in a couple of weeks, and I've only known her a year. Starting over again means I'll have to pull up what roots I have put down and start the whole awkward feeling-out process again, in a new town at least, maybe a new country. It's a daunting prospect.

The obvious downside about going home, right now, is that the job market is terrible. If I go home, even for graduate school, there's no guarantee I'd be able to find a decent job, and there's the terrible risk of ending up right back where I started. The one thing I DO NOT want to do is get stuck in a retail rut all over again, even if I could start at a slightly higher level. I've gotten used to being able to afford to do the things I want to do. I like having the money to travel, eat out, buy clothes-- these are things I couldn't do, before, not with a bank account that was always veering towards the negative. I'm luxuriating in stability. The problem is that it's a false stability. No matter how many roots I put down here, this is not a place where I could stay forever.


I tried to spend yesterday making plans for Tokyo. Made lots of lists, but didn't get much concrete planning done. I've almost decided-- pending in-person inspection of the area-- to stay in Ueno, at least. I plan to find a motel first, set up camp, then read my guidebook a little and go out for a bit of sightseeing before dinner. That will probably be all I'm up for, the first day. Ueno's the area that had most of the most interesting restaurants, according to the guidebook. It's also right on the railway, and has some interesting things to see. It seems like a safe, comfortable area to base myself from. I tried to make reservations for a ryokan, but I'm not really comfortable doing that over the internet. Since travel plans always change, anyway, I'm leaving mine fluid this time. I plan to take my laptop and will try to update as possible; if nothing else, I'll try to do some kind of a write-up when I get back next week.


A story for you. I'll preface it by explaining that all the foreign teachers' apartments are leased by our school, and the school handles all the maintenance requests (largely because none of us speak much Korean).

A year ago, I came back from my end-of-contract vacation and noticed that a section of my ceiling was sagging a bit. I didn't do anything about it, because I thought it was just the wallpaper coming loose and didn't want to deal with the fuss of repairs over something so simple.

Over time, the sag got bigger, and I realized there was stuff inside the paper-- as in, the damp, crumbling contents of the ceiling. I told John, our school's man-of-all-work, and he brought in the building guard to look at the problem. The guard opened the ceiling panel, looked inside, frowned a lot and made some noises. He left, promising repairs.

A few weeks later, the ceiling started to drip. I put a pot under the leak and called in John again. He called the building guard. The building guard came up, opened the ceiling panel, looked inside, spotted the leak, and commandeered my (one and only) mixing bowl. He put the bowl up inside the ceiling to catch the drips and went away, promising repairs.

The leaking stopped for a while. John said that the problem had been a leak in the water pipes upstairs (our floors are heated with hot water), but that it had been fixed. I forgot about the problem (and the mixing bowl) and waited for the ceiling to dry out. The bulge was by now very unsightly, and the paper was starting to peel a little at the seam.

A couple of months later, the leaking started again. I called in John. John called the building guard. The building guard came in, opened the ceiling panel, took out my mixing bowl (now overflowing with water and silt), emptied it out, and stuck it back up again. Apparently the problem had not been fixed. He left, and John promised me they would fix it this time. The leak seemed to stop, the ceiling dried up it was ugly, but not unstable. I breathed a sigh of relief and went on with my life.

On Tuesday, the ceiling started to leak. Again. I touched the bulge, and found that it was wet again. The paper is now gaping about two inches at the seam, the inside of the crack is black with mold, and the whole thing looks like it's thinking about coming down. (I tried to take some pictures, but was unable to capture the full effect.) The kindergarten had its 100th Day event today, and I'd gone in for fun, so I let John know that the Problem had returned. He brought the building guard over right away. Lo and behold: My mixing bowl, still faithfully serving its new purpose, was once more overflowing, and the problem had SPREAD. Water was now pooling in other areas of the ceiling, which are now subtly beginning to sag. The guard mopped something up inside the panel, replaced the bowl again, and stuck the biggest sag with my paring knife like he was lancing a boil. Water immediately began to drip out-- and not clean water, either, but brown and rusty, enough to fill a tupperware container halfway. The guard said it would stop after about ten minutes; it was more like three hours, though it did stop.

I started crying. This is my house; this is where I live. The fact that Upstairs is having a problem with its sink (that's the latest explanation) should have no bearing on the structural soundness of my roof. The guard left. John gave me a hug and promised that someone would be in to work on the thing tomorrow-- I'm leaving him my key so he can let the guy in whenever he ends up coming, since I have an errand to run in Seoul tomorrow and we don't know when the repair guy would be coming. John also promised they would fix the problem permanently next week. We'll see.

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