Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Twilight Samurai

One can get a wonderful feeling of spaciousness in a supermarket car park. In the particular Tesco car park I was walking through early yesterday evening, I could see for miles across the city as twilight settled in, the lights came on, and a few cold wisps of air hinted at the coming of winter.

It was always this time of year that I seemed to start something new. I started all my college courses in autumn, University as well, and three of the five jobs I ever had (the other two started in August). My birthday is also at the end of September, so in another sense the season is the beginning of a new year for me.

This year, I am starting a new life in
South Korea, but for once I find myself not thinking of beginnings, but of endings. It is the end of everything I've built up in the UK, perhaps of everything I've done, and now all my possessions have to be disposed of, or packed away like my memories to remain unused until I return - if I return. And while I may come back, even for a few years, it seems the longer term future lies elsewhere, so I'm not sure it will ever feel like home again.

Autumn carries with it the promise of winter, with its snowfalls and the bright lights of Christmas shopping, and I will miss it this year.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Barbarians at the Gate

I couldn't marry my girlfriend in the UK so the potential circus that is a Korean wedding has loomed on the horizon for some time now. Her mother has consulted a fortune teller and booked our wedding for the 7th January, this being apparently an particularly auspicious day. I really don't have a clue.

Weddings always struck me as a monumental waste of money and effort, so I always wanted a quiet one with an intimate gathering of close family and friends - there's nothing intimate about attending something with the same size crowd as a football match. However, I fear events are already out of my control and I will spend the next three months being lectured about 'face' as the size of the guest-list grows, despite heroic efforts on my part to invite no-one at all due to the ill-health of my parents and the distance of my friends. Unfortunately this makes me look like an orphan, which seems not to be a good thing in Korea.

I'm sure my own 'face' must be at stake as well, except when there's a chance that on a bad day my condition might see me staggering haphazardly down the isle, it's hard to have any to start with.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Missing Link

Long before my trip to Korea loomed large I decided to look for Korean blogs to read which would give me that on-the-ground feeling of living in a country, that is otherwise hard to get from culture books and general websites.

Aside from not being one for writing blogs, neither was I much one for reading them either, so it took me some time to find blogs I wanted to read regularly. I looked for blogs which stayed on topic (apparently not as easy as it sounds) and which were coherently written, perhaps even with a dash of dry humour - it's a British thing, live with it. I finished up bookmarking several, reading them for a while, and then ignoring them for a few months because I was just too busy doing other things, until coming back to them a few days ago. Two were still active, another seemed to have lost all its Korean content when the writer left
Korea, and the rest had disappeared completely.

This left me pondering the nature of blogs, especially those written by people about a particular place which they don't intend to stay in. Should blogs, like their owners, be merely transient, and if so, what is their purpose? Perhaps these are impossible questions to answer but I'm very disappointed how easily such interesting writings can vanish in the Internet world.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Apartment

We decided some time ago to rent an apartment in Korea during our stay, so the hunt began for a place. At first it looked like we could only get an apartment for a minimum of a year, which was bad enough, but my greater shock was reserved for the financial terms - maybe a £30,000 deposit and little or no monthly rental charge, with the deposit returnable at the end of the tenancy. I don't know whether I was more shocked at the onerous deposit level or the financial illogicality of a piecemeal rent which couldn't possibly make the landlord a profit. It doesn't help that being a stockmarket trader by profession means if I see someone apparently willingly entering into a loss-making relationship with me I get suspicious. My girlfriend tried to explain that their motivation was likely to be their desire to use the lump-sum to generate greater returns in the year of its deposit, but this just made me even more dubious of them; I know what happens when the guy on the street puts large sums of money into the stockmarket - or anything else for that matter - hoping to generate quick returns.

I was a bit frustrated that no-one seemed to rent apartments in the logical way in which this happened in the UK, and everywhere else I knew. That is, with a couple of month's rent as deposit and a monthly rental which meant a profit for the landlord.
But it later transpired that there were such apartments with the discovery of Officetel, which are neither offices nor telephone kiosks, and the plan of getting our own place seemed back on track. My girlfriend's mother volunteered to look for places and the hunt was on.

When a few places came back with descriptions it was hard to know what to make of them really. Without pictures each one-room apartment seemed very much like another and when a decision was made it was mainly on the basis of proximity to my girlfriend's mother's place and the availability of TV and Internet in the apartment. That's fine by me though; sadly my life is founded on the principle on Internet access and I asked about that before I'd asked about cooking facilities. In my defence I do need to plug myself back into the markets as soon as reasonably possible to figure out what's going on in the world.

An intriguing alternative possibility arose during the course of the apartment hunting, which was to buy a two-room officetel-type property for £28,000. This got me quite excited because if it could be rented for £300 per month it could theoretically pay for itself in 7.7 years - or as traders would say, it has a price-to-earnings (p/e) ratio of 7.7. That's cheap; a typical apartment in the UK would be on an effective p/e of 20. Property in the UK is increasing in value (though it's probably overvalued), and I'm told that Korean property isn't, but for a p/e of 7.7 I didn't care. But I passed on the idea in the end because another thing I know from the market is that where there's a good deal, there are usually others to be had, and I'll have time to think about this in more depth when I'm in Korea, rather than trying to make big decisions outside it.

So we have our rental place, which
is allegedly near the university. From the maps I've seen this is clearly the Korean use of the word 'near' which in the UK would translate to 'not very close to at all'. It doesn't matter but I've made a mental note to be cautious of Koreans' ability to measure distances. We have no furniture, and no actual TV or Internet even if they can be linked up. The early days are going to be fun (i.e. hard).

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Fly in the Ointment

Today I went to get a fit-to-fly certificate from my doctor, some new drugs, and while I was there, request any appropriate vaccinations I might need. I got my drugs, I didn't get my fit-to-fly certificate (the doctor said she'd have to look into it), and it seems I need shots for Malaria, Hepatitis-A and Hepatitis-B. Suddenly Korea doesn't seem quite as safe as it used to.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tail Spin

I have Meniere's Disease, and I like to say it makes life a little more interesting and unpredictable. What I really think about it is another thing entirely, but one is not supposed to open up the darker recesses of one's soul on these subjects because people don't want to hear it.

I had an attack early this morning, so my day consisted of lying on a couch with my eyes firmly closed in order to avoid seeing everything in the room jumping several feet from side to side every second. Later I stopped taking my anti-nausea tablets and spent some time vomiting for a change of pace. So today ended up being a complete washout from the point of view of getting ready to move to Korea.

Since developing Meniere's two years ago, every trip out of my house has been a bit of an adventure - even if it's just round the corner to the shops. So how I'm going to travel half-way round the world if I'm not well is an open question. I have visions of them pushing me onto the plane in a wheelchair, and I know it might have to come to that too. Unfortunately, stress and air-travel do not mix well with Meniere's so the odds are going to be more stacked against me than usual. I'm seeing my doctor on Friday to get a 'fit-to-fly' letter and I'll probably beg him for some better medication at the same time, but I'm not too hopeful; much of the UK National Health Service seems to revolve around the 'live-with-it' principle. And apparently this is what I pay around 47% of my income in taxes for.

The Korean health system on the other hand obviously works on the principle of wanting to cure its patients, since generally this is more financially lucrative. I imagine this can be a double-edged sword though; I want to find a solution to my illness but not at the expense of being over (and unsuccessfully) treated. I met a Korean a few months ago who told me that she thought Meniere's was normally 'easily treated' in her country, which perhaps irrationally made me quite angry with the UK for a while. Maybe I'll get to the bottom of this subject when I'm in Korea.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Deconstruction of Falling Stars

I have to admit that almost two years after leaving behind my corporate existence in favour of becoming a stockmarket daytrader I'd rather lost track of the passage of time. I knew the day would probably come when my having a Korean girlfriend would probably necessitate a stay in Korea, but it was a bit of shock when that day came all too soon. Suddenly I was faced with the task of selling my house, car, and generally deconstructing my complicated life into a simple form which could be packed into a couple of suitcases and relocated half-way around the world.

I decided at some point that I would keep a blog of my stay as a way of maintaining my sanity and letting my friends back home know I hadn't been arrested. Despite the fact that my addiction to the web began at the improbably early time of 1994, I'd spent the twelve years since largely avoiding making a public spectacle of myself - at least not globally anyway - and I'd always found people who were willing to slightly suspect. It is therefore, highly likely to be a sign of my deteriorating mental state that I now find myself committing things to the public record, where previously my mantra had been to leave no evidence.

I'm actually leaving for Korea on October 12th. I'm starting this blog early in order to amuse the reader with what promises to be an increasingly complex mix of fear, panic and crisis as it becomes ever more apparent that I have absolutely no chance whatsoever of getting everything done in the time available.