Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world. It has an unmistakeable energy that is very similar to that of New York city. I always enjoy riding the subway across the Han River and seeing the sky scrapers that line the banks. I am always taken aback by that. I love weaving through the crowds walking through Seoul Station and Myeongdong. Even the cafes at certain spots also have a certain unmistakeable energy. Maybe that's why I find that I write better in Seoul.
Previously, during my first two years as a teacher in Korea, I was on what is called an E-2 visa, which is sponsored by the school where the foreign teacher teaches, so many times, his/her status as a resident in Korea is dependent on the school. I am not going to go very deeply into it, but basically, as far as work is concerned, it can be fairly restrictive.
Currently, I am on what is called an F-4 visa. My residency is no longer at the mercy of my employer. My status as a resident here is based on my Korean heritage. Basically, with an F-4, I have many of the benefits that Korean citizens receive. My apartment will be in my name, instead of my school's, so if I decide to quit my job, I will still have a place to live, and I can find another one with minimal problems. I can work more than one job legally, unlike an E-2. I can start a business, get a credit card (not that I ever would), buy property, and etc.
As beneficial as it is to have an F-4 visa, at the same time, I have had my share of difficulties this week.
The school that recently hired me only hires foreigners on F-type visas, so unlike those that sponsor E-type visas, I have to do everything myself, as far as preparing for my job. I had to go to the hospital to get my required medical examination on my own. I had to find an apartment without the help of my school. I had to pay for my flight. I had to handle all of my required registration with the immigration office myself. Under an E-2, the school takes care of all that, so now I find that during my previous two years, I took that for granted, as do numerous other foreigners teaching English in Korea.
On top of that, I speak very little Korean, which can many times throw a "monkey wrench" into my entire set of tasks. If I didn't know anybody here, and had no friends or connections, I wouldn't be able to do it. I really need to learn Korean...
Seoul is a city where the people seem to be in their own worlds and totally oblivious to things that my laid back personality would easily notice. They seem that way because they are so focused on the task at hand. As a visitor, I never quite understood why the pace of these megacities is so fast, and why there is such an inherent intensity and energy among the populations. I have come to find that it is because the task at hand takes precedence over stopping to enjoy the sights and sounds. I.e. "Money makes the world go round."
This week, while working intently to complete all that I was required to do to prepare myself for work the following week, I found myself blending in quite easily. I was walking through the halls of those subway stations with a focus, and I was rather oblivious to my surroundings. Just like a lot of those business men, I was texting and talking on my telephone with new colleagues about logistical issues regarding work. I felt like I was walking, talking, and texting with a new sense of purpose.
Even my leisurely walks had a purpose. Today, I viewed a few apartments. I visited a particular one that was my favorite. It's on the nineteenth floor of a high rise building. I would be the first person to live in that particular unit, so everything in it was new and spotless. The view from the large window was vast and stunning. And, not to mention, the price was right. I started picturing myself living there, but the subway station was a little further from the apartment than I would have liked.
After viewing the last apartment of the evening, the real estate agent dropped me off at the subway station, and I had some extra time before the sun set with nothing else to do. Those who know me know that I am rather laid back and care free, and they know that I am not a detail or a task oriented person. I would normally never do anything like this, but I decided to walk from the exact position where the steps ended at the subway station to the apartment, so I could time exactly how long that walk would be on a normal day when heading to work.
I walked as if I were walking to work, and I made it a point to stop at every crosswalk, and not jaywalk where there was a light (Hey D.), so I could get an accurate timing. When I got to the apartment, I found that it was a little faster than I had anticipated. I was determined to get an even more accurate timing, so I also timed my walk back to the subway station to get an average. I found that it took an average of seven and a half minutes to walk from my potential apartment to the subway station.
When I got to the subway station, I noticed that I had to walk completely across the entire place to board the train, so another three minutes could be tacked on to that. I also took a wrong turn, and walked up a gargantuanly large escalator. I found that four minutes can be lost because of a wrong turn followed by a ride up and down an enormous escalator.
Those who know me well know that I am not the type of person who is concerned with mundane logistical issues. Maybe Seoul brings that out of me. This week has been somewhat stressful, and stress causes me to focus, so this week, I made my contribution to the inherent intensity, energy, and fast pace.
The skyscrapers, the bright lights, the roar of the subways, the sound of heavy traffic, and the crowds all motivate and energize me. They seem to also enable me to focus. I am looking forward to living here, and experiencing this great city as a resident. It's tiresome, and sometimes stressful, but nonetheless, it's exciting, and much more so than caffeine, excitement energizes me.
I am looking forward to my time here.