Sometimes when you're trading the stock market you find yourself on the opposite side of a trade to a hedge fund, which is either intent on conducting a corporate mugging, or alternatively driving up a company's share price relentlessly on the back of some rumour which they probably started in the first place. In winter, the London stock market closes at 1.30am Korean time, but after doing my end of day accounts and staring with variable degrees of unease at my risk management spreadsheet for a while it's usually 2am before I go to bed. On the days I decide to fight hedge funds, I usually end up watching TV for a little while to decompress. Suffice to say, I keep odd hours in Korea.
I have moved around a mile from my old apartment, but I'm in a different district and unexpectedly, the basic cable TV channels are subtly different, because we have a different local provider. This is quite different from the UK, where we started off with individual city-wide cable franchises twenty years ago which, despite - or because of - a series of corporate incompetences of staggering proportions, have become one amalgamated uber-disaster known as Virgin Media. But consolidation doesn't seem to have happened in Korea, where there isn't even a standard cable television package within Busan, let alone the country.
So I've unexpectedly lost Science TV, which I was obviously addicted to, and which admittedly probably had too much English-language programming for my own good, and even the Ministry of Truth's channel Arirang (which according to the right-wing newspaper Joong-Ang Daily, is a pro-Government propaganda mouthpiece aspiring to North Korean levels of censorship... although they said that when there was a left-wing government) has disappeared. On the bad days this has left me randomly surfing channels in the small hours desperate to take my mind off things and prevent me from dreaming dreams of flashing numbers.
Well, it turns out there's an awful lot of porn on Korean TV late at night. Or perhaps we can call it sex because - as far as I can tell - it does appear to occur within the context of movies with plots. A significant minority are Japanese, which I suppose figures, but I'm a little more surprised at the Korean porn given the occasionally high levels of puritanism or prudishness I encounter in society here - publicly at least (privately you can't help wondering whether the vaguely sado-masochistic theme running through society here extends into the bedroom).
It is a pity that while I can gain something from watching the Korean TV news channels or programmes which feature a lot of Hangul subtitling or word-play, movies are impossible to understand. Before I came to this country, the kind of Korean movies that got promoted in the UK seemed to predominantly concerned with extreme violence, but it's since transpired that there may be a lot of interesting and intelligent films to get my teeth into. Unfortunately, the few Korean films I've seen with English subtitling had generally very poor translation which did nothing to reveal the subtleties of the situation or the culture. I guess foreigners have a tendency to find good and bad in any alien society they find themselves in, but while I can certainly do both, I'm hoping that when my language skills are up to it, Korean movies will be on the positive list. Perhaps there was really something to the Korean Wave after all, beyond Arirang's near-orgasmic conclusion to one Korean Wave documentary "Hangul is sweeping the world!" (yes, they really said that).
So I'm watching a lot of episodes of Monk at the moment in the small hours to work off my sense of frustration and isolation. And apparently directly above my bedroom I have a budding Thelonious Monk of sorts, except their jazz instrument of choice is a saxophone rather than a piano. At 8am in the morning, which used to be an hour before I would wake up, but is now the time I jerk back to consciousness as our octavely-challenged neighbour triggers flashbacks of my time in an orchestra, and any mistake that would trigger my conductor to turn his head Exorcist-style to stare at me while his baton maintained its perfect and independent orbit. Even now, I still cringe when I hear so much as a flat-note because I expect to be screamed at afterwards, proving that my time in the music cult may be over but the psychological trauma lasts a lifetime. It also seems that when not hosting acid-jazz improv, the rooms above are utilised for urban Taekwondo practice or possibly staging re-enactments of the Korean War.
I'd like to think that even if I keep odd hours, I do it subtly and am not banging around at three in the morning, unlike the neighbour in my previous apartment who usually announced her arrival at 3am with manic laughter and uneven footsteps staggering down the corridor, culminating in the loud crash of her door. All this, about an hour after the person somewhere above us would finish vacuuming their apartment. Surely only serial killers needed to hoover at 2am?
So my wife wants to go talk to the budding Charlie Parker upstairs, but is practising the sax at 8am unreasonable? Maybe the battle against my Government has taken all the fight out of me, but I figure my hours are my problem. Of course, 8am sax on a Saturday morning would probably eventually get you murdered in my country (although even then, I don't think it would lead to a 2am hoovering session), but in a land where people are trying to sell salt by loudspeaker three hours earlier, 8am's practically the middle of the day here. Korea never sleeps - perhaps because it can't.