I generally hate having my picture taken. Cameras always seem to capture me at just the most awkward angle to pronounce every feature I generally attempt to minimize, and on a day where I feel relatively comfortable about my grooming choices, I am suddenly presented with badly angled evidence that makes it look as though I am a thoroughly disheveled, wild-haired, generously bechinned urchin. I endure people taking portraits of me the way children accept going to the dentist, or how I imagine medieval lords and ladies dealt with their loveless marriages: a kind of sullen, contemptuous devotion to my duties, with hopefully the promise of moderate reward for not complaining. This stretches back as far as I can remember. That school included a yearly, ritualized form of picture-taking served only to enrage my tiny, cowlicked spirit. But my hate was a malleable thing, and it changed with each passing year.
Because I am very specifically lazy about certain aspects of my life, I never ever have kept track of my social appointments on some sort of calendar. I buy agendas and journals and planners, and I download programs that will remind me of important dates, but I never commit to these things. It was strange then, earlier this year, to stop during one of these fits of determined life-organization, to write down all of the parties and get-togethers and shindigs and bake-a-thons and fun-runs and baked potato festivals, in hopes of getting my life together and organizing my affairs. And then to see the actual number of them. I looked at my calendar and was sure that there must have been some mistake. Every weekend for the next four months was full.
The sunburn was possibly the nastiest and most severe I have ever suffered. The merciless Thai sun had scorched me the colour of lobster, leaving most of my torso inflamed. I quivered when I walked, and wearing a shirt was an encounter with pain I couldn’t even comprehend. When I went to bed, I willed my body into early sleep paralysis and hoped I would not shift while I slumbered. But Bill was worse. His burn was nearly comical in its violence–his absurd hobbling and swollen joints would have been howlingly funny, if I wasn’t already busy howling from my own swollen and reddened flesh. Our daily applications of liquod aloe vera gel became fanatical in their frequency and provision of solace, but we would face trouble when it came to reaching our backs. If we tried to reach with our own hands, it would require the use of joints and muscles that would send us into spasms of pain. Soon, we accepted fate, and began regularly applying aloe to one another’s chapped, repulsive, leathery skins. It was awkward and embarrassing and absolutely necessary. And after very little time, it simply stopped being weird.
For everyone learning a new language, there is a constant desire to be just more fluent than you currently are. There’s always a verb you’re searching for, a new syntax you wish you could deploy, some fanciful flourish of phrase that would convey your meaning just so, and it’s always just beyond your grasp. More frustratingly for me, though, is how much my skills have begun to tilt to one side. Many areas of my Korean skill are haunted houses full of lingering desires and forgotten words, while others are vibrant and lively. For the people who encounter me with the former, I appear to be a stuttering boob; but for those who see the latter, I’m practically capable of modern poetry.
There are times in life that make you truly wonder, “How the hell did I get here?” Circumstance or odd occurrences mount, and suddenly you question the very nature of your existence. Lots of things in Korean schools bring me to the precipice of this feeling, but I am often able to subjugate the emotion. However, there are some things which I am expected to teach–things which I must pass on to my charges as though it is not actually bizarre, inarticulate gibberish, with a smile and a flourish and the projected confidence of a native speaker. It is in these times that I move over the edge. In that vein, I bring you, “My Mom’s Story.”
Dave and I hadn’t really been close in the first year. We lived in the same neighbourhood, and hung around the same people, and did occasionally similar activities–but we were sort of tangential people. We’d see each other at parties and be pleasant, but both of us were really too busy to put out the effort. “We should really have dinner!” we’d both say, and then be satisfied with the extent of our interaction and never feel the need to actually go through with eating. The Venn Diagrams of our lives had significant enough overlap that it was basically like being friends anyways, just without any sort of real commitment. He was not bad, and neither was I, but both of us already had full phonebooks and weren’t really desperate for more entries.
The convergence of my birthday, the last throes of my online course, and the need to plan Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and all my vacations has left me a little short on time. Meaning, of course, that it’s time to drench you with waves of my amateur photography! I can feel your excitement.
Recently, the world and the internet collided, as I hung out with new photobuddy Ginny. I met Ginny after the most recent flock of people arrived in Incheon: she spotted me, came up to me, and told me she recognized me from this blog. Then the world divided by zero, and we decided to hang out and take photos. Here we journey to Incheon Central Park (humorously named because it is actually almost as far south as you can possibly go on the Incheon subway), to take photos of whatever would be there.
Though I personally think they’re all enacting their own private versions of Deathproof, taxis have become a part of my life in Korea. The amount of time I spend in them, as well as the amount of money I give them, is far greater than I ever could have imagined before moving here. That their unions have pushed the subways into closing at a Victorianishly genteel midnight in Seoul, and 12:30 in Incheon, makes them kind of a necessity. But beyond that, I still find myself clambering into the backs of cabs simply for convenience, an activity I never thought possible.
Because cabs, at home, are the transport of the desperate, the wealthy, or those travelling in large enough groups. In Toronto, cabs are absurdly pricey, and I will only ever jump into one if I am travelling with 27 other people: 18 in the back, two in the driver’s lap, and at least five or six dangling out the trunk and windows. Travelling a great distance in Toronto in a cab is desperately unfeasible, and to get home from downtown to my neighbourhood would have regularly run me around 50 dollars. No, instead, I took the righteous route: even in the depths of the worst beer hazes, I kept a hawkish eye on the time, and would flee to catch the last subway, followed by the last bus to get me home. Anything to evade falling into the embrace of a cabbie’s ravenous, craven, money-stained talons.
The formula for getting a taxi back home was simple. If Michael’s desperation > Michael’s enjoyment of Michael’s money, then I will take a cab. Given that this scenario almost never comes up, I will surely find my way to the holy and righteous Toronto institution, the Blue Light Bus (affectionately known as the Vomit Comet). There just aren’t many scenarios where I won’t vie for the three dollar option, even if it is soaked in urine and emesis.
In Korea, this isn’t so much the case. The absurdly low price, the number of people who will ride in a cab with me, combined with the breakneck speed and ubiquity of cabs (I don’t think I have ever waited more than five minutes for one), means that their convenience is far higher than at home. The damage to my wallet is almost negligible: can I afford around five Canadian dollars to get me wherever? Why, certainly I can.
The problem is that, my formula has now switched dramatically. If Michael’s laziness > Michael’s attachment to three dollars, I will get into a cab. And that weighting almost always tilts to one side. Sure, I could walk or wait for this bus, but there’s a cab right there. Sure, I could find my way to the subway, or sleep here, or wait until the morning until the subways re-open, but is that rain I feel? I could use my legs, but then again, I don’t have to. I take cabs at all times of day, to all sorts of places. If I’m running late, I should probably just hop in one. If I’m meeting a friend really soon, or worse still if I’m travelling with one, I will lunge in without a second thought. In the morning or at night, no matter the weather, and if I’m carrying a load greater than 12 ounces, my burdens become so great that I just hop in a cab and let my troubles drift away from me at approximately 145 km/h.
It’s a luxury I’ve grown rapidly accustomed to, and I don’t know what will happen when it is wrenched from my fingers. While briefly visiting back home, I went downtown with a friend. We were going to several places, and she was desperately looking up subways and buses and streetcars and horse-drawn chariots to get us from one point to another, while minimizing how many bus fares we’d shell out (Toronto’s bus fare is now more than the average 5-10 minute cab ride in Korea).
“Well,” I said, practically swishing imaginary brandy around in an imaginary tumbler, “we could always take a cab.”
My friend looked at me with obscene horror. What was wrong with me? Had I gone insane? Taxis, unless we figured out a way to summon the Cash Cab, were never an option. “You’ve changed, Michael,” she said grievously. She shook her head accusitorily. What kind of lunatic would take a cab at any time of day?