Are we bitter?
Not as angry as we were...
I think the question we just keep asking ourselves is, WHY DID WE LISTEN TO EWHA???
In early October, we told Ewha we would need to move. Our place had mold, was filthy and filled with cockroaches, gross long hairs, and grime from centuries of uncleanliness.
"Oh, yes," Ewha said. "We will move you. We will find somewhere and we will move you."
Later, in November, we said to them, "When are you going to move us, Ewha?" and they said, "We will move you."
Later, in early December, we said to them, "WHEN are you going to move us?" and then they said, "Alex teacher will be leaving after Christmas and we think that you can move into his apartment when he gone. It is very new and nice."
We said, "Great. Will this apartment be clean?"
"Oh, certainly," said Ewha. "We will have a lady go to clean it after Alex leaves."
"Good," we said. "Will we have time to move there before someone comes into our apartment? We want at least one full day to move."
"Oh, certainly," said Ewha.
"Good," we said.
Christmas Eve was Alex teacher's last day at Ewha, part of the reason we went out to the spring roll restaurant. Everyone from the school was there.
Here is a quick chain of command:
Mr. Min owns Ewha and is the Big Boss.
Bruce is the under-Mr. Min boss.
Nicole is the head teacher.
Then there are seven other Korean teachers: Paul is the detention teacher (what a cushy job, right?), Ken and Jane are "desk teachers", which means they sit at the front desk and you can scare kids by saying you'll send them to, "desk teacher". Landon (the best English speaker at Ewha), Alisha, Amanda and Jessi are all classroom teachers. They teach Grammar and other things it would be difficult to explain without a fluency in Korean.
And, after that, the foreign teachers: Bryan and Aaron are brothers from Colorado, Alex is from.. actually no one is sure where he is from... no one ever asked, nor would he probably have told anyone had they asked as he tended toward paranoia, then there is Spencer who came to replace Alex because Alex left yesterday, on Monday. Spencer is from England and pretty much everyone is in love with his accent. He's maybe the most normal person at Ewha. Very, very nice and, you know.. just normal.
Anyway, while eating dinner, Bruce told us that Alex would be moving out Monday morning.
"So, when would you like to move to Alex's apartment?" he asked us.
"How about we start on Tuesday?" we said.
"That is good," said Bruce. "Also, perhaps Alex will leave you many things in his apartment."
"Okay..." Great. Just great.
That's when Alex piped up in his affected deep voice, "I'll leave you all my good books," he said.
"Uh, thanks," we said. Too bad you have a cold sore on either side of your mouth, a seriously bloody looking case of conjunctivitis and you wear the same clothes for a week before you switch them out. Not to the mention the graphic stories you've told of your, paid "conquests" in Itaewon, Seoul. Fill in the blanks there.
"He has gotten many things while he has been in Korea," Bruce said. "So, perhaps he will leave them for you. Then, if you will leave many things for Spencer. That would be good, I think."
"Actually," Alex said, leaning into the conversation now. "I haven't really accumulated much." Then he sort of stroked his creepy facial hair. "Except a ton of memories," he said wistfully and leaned back again, half mumbling, "Man, I always have a headache until I start drinking soju, then it just goes away..."
Yeah, isn't that called alcoholism?
"He has many dishes, though, I think," Bruce said, looking at Alex, probably hoping he would take back the, 'I've accumulated nothing but memories,' comment. Bruce basically wanted us to leave everything for Spencer.
"Um..." we said. "All right..."
"So," Bruce said, "You should leave these things for Spencer."
"Anything you have gotten in Korea," Bruce said.
Right. How about... no.
But you quickly come to find here, that it is best to play along, plus Bruce had done a good many shots of soju by this time.
"Yeah, okay," we said. "We'll see."
"Also, Alex has said he will clean the apartment."
Alex sort of nods through his soju haze. "Yeah, I'll totally clean it for you guys."
Yeah. I seriously doubt that an alcoholics take on clean is going to jive with my take on clean...
"Okay..." we said. "Is someone else coming to clean, too?"
"I think we will see after Alex leaves," Bruce said.
Oh. My. Gosh.
But we dropped it there, thinking that we'd have time to deal with this. No one had said anything about Spencer moving in soon, so we had time to deal with this. Christmas Eve was Thursday, we could talk to them on Monday, once Alex was gone.
So, Monday rolls around, and Alex has left us keys to his, "apertment" (yes, that's A-P-E-R-T-M-E-N-T) along with a note about security codes.
Yes, he taught English for a year. Korea picks only the best for their children.
The funny thing is, that Ewha is actually considered one of the best hagwons. It's very expensive, and considered somewhat prestigious.
Still, there's an Alex there.
"But his voice is so beautiful," the Koreans say.
Yeah.. his voice isn't actually his voice. He makes it deeper on purpose. And.. it's obvious.
Anyway, it's Monday and Ben goes to work, I pack up the entire house, cleaning everything, Aaron brings Spencer over to see the apartment. Everything seems to be going according to plan. Spencer is very nice and Aaron says nice things to him about how clean our house usually is. I tell Spencer it will be clean when he gets here, not to worry. I know he only believes me inasmuch as anyone believes the tenant moving out who says they'll clean for you, but I really am cleaning for him. I was doing it before they arrived. They leave, seemingly happy with our place.
"It's WAY nicer than before," Aaron said to Spencer on the way out. "So much cleaner."
Then Ben comes home.
And he is not as happy as Aaron and Spencer.
He went to look at Alex's place on his lunch break and also had a revealing talk with Bruce, who let him know that Spencer would be moving into our place that night: Monday night.
So... not only are we not ready to move, since we're thinking we don't have to be out until Tuesday night, now we're basically supposed to have been out by Monday morning because Spencer brought all his belongings with him to Ewha.
In fact, he was told that he could sleep in our house -- in our bed -- Monday night.
Right. Thanks for telling us THIS IMPORTANT PIECE OF INFORMATION!!
For a while, we're thinking, okay, maybe this is just the Korean way. We already know they don't think about things until last-minute. By American standards, they're disorganized. That's culture more than anything else.
But then we realize that even when things happen last-minute, they always let people know in advance. Often, "in advance" is only one day. Occasionally even several hours, but always in advance.
This is no advance.
So, suddenly, we're realizing that, no, this is not the Korean way, nor is it the American way and we're beginning to become irritated.
But, Ben goes on and tells me he has talked with Bruce and Spencer, we will move Monday night -- immediately -- and Spencer will stay in a hotel for the night and move in Tuesday morning.
THEN.. Ben starts telling me about Alex's apartment. Filthy, he says. That is the adjective that is used over and over. Filthy, filthy, filthy. Alex left pretty much everything he owns, which.. had Alex been a normal person, that would have been nice -- we'll get to that. Ben tells me he didn't have that much time to look around, all he knows is that it's dirty.
Still, I'm thinking: but the floors in Alex's apartment are real laminate floors, not paper-thin linoleum that's not been glued down. And: Alex's apartment has a lot of room.... And: the kitchen is so much bigger.........
So, we pack the car up, drive to the Alex "apertment" and start unloading.
It is 10:00pm when we enter the apartment.
And I am having a nightmare. This has to be a nightmare because this is not the home of a normal person.
Well, that's just duh... Alex was never normal. He told us he wouldn't treat his conjunctivitis because "antibiotics don't really work". Three kids that Ben and I know of then caught the pink eye. It's the only time in my life that I've religiously washed my hands every hour or two.
So, we shouldn't have expected miracles.
But this is... this is miraculous in a bad way.
It's miraculous that filth like exists.
And I am angry. I am not sad, I do not feel anything except the severe urge to bash someone or throw something at someone or scream at someone. The main someone is Bruce, but I'd settle for Alex if he were in country.
How to even describe Alex's apartment...
He has left in the entryway: two pairs of disintegrated shoes, a dirty umbrella and the filthy, stained leather jacket we most hate that he wore every single day. As well as a bowl of change (okay, that's not terrible) and a bunch of weird books in the shoe cabinet next to the door. Dirty cleaning items occupy the utility cabinet. A broom, a mop, a scrub brush, all covered in black grime and hair.
The floors -- the floors I want, the nice, laminate floors -- are covered in dirt. How anyone could track that much dirt into a house is beyond my ability to comprehend.
And the kitchen. The two burner, gas stove is near identical to ours, but instead of looking shiny and well-loved, it has a thick, impenetrable glaze of grease over its entire horizontal surface. As well as over the entire cabinet above the stove and the one below it and everything surrounding the stove within ten inches. It is yellow -- I mean, everything in the vicinity is yellow -- with grease.
Every cabinet door has black fingerprint smudges on and around the handle as though whoever had touched them had never washed their hands. As though, perhaps, they were unaware of hand-washing as a common, human practice. As though, perhaps, this person were a cave person. Or a Tarzan. Or an abandoned child raised by wolves (that could actually be true of Alex...). The fridge and freezer were the same, black and brown fingerprints over it's entire surface. And slimy inside with red, green and yellow goo. There were dishes. He did leave us dishes. They were plastic and had Peter Rabbit on them.
And they were in the sink.
Covered in dried food and another layer of yellow grease.
Alex left us blocks of freeze-dried seaweed, Korean off-brand ketchup (don't try it), and a bunch of bowl noodles, as well as a zillion empty water bottles and wine bottles, stacked two and three deep in a windowsill above our heads.
The bathroom has a broken toilet seat on the ground, surrounded by probably every empty toilet paper roll he'd ever used. The toilet was black inside, the washing machine in the bathroom that should have been navy blue was grey with hard water. The walls near the floor that should have been off-white, were a rusty brown with.. heaven only knows. And the floor drain was just ugly.
Then there was the hair. So much hair.
He left us a bunch of books on sex and a bunch of books on Korea.
Yeah.. apparently those are his good books, the ones he told us he'd leave.
They makes sense in context, though, as those two topics basically surmise his one and only hobby. Which is probably the main reason no one ever befriended him. He didn't/wouldn't/couldn't talk about anything else.
It could also be why he left a strategically placed pair of earrings right on top of the books. As if to say, "See? All those things I told you really happened."
I was really okay hoping all those things he told us were lies. I was really okay in that world.
He left a sweater, a flannel shirt and one black sock in the wardrobe. A pile of dead light bulbs. An exercise ball.
Oh! But he did make his bed. His cozy bed with greyed blankets and yellowed pillows. His nice bed.
His teeny, tiny bed.
That was when I lost it.
It took me ages to clean the house we're in right now. Ages. It is finally beginning to feel like someone normal actually lives here. We've fixed things that were broken, kept up with maintenance. I am finally used to OUR bed. It is also small, and hard. Real hard. But I am used to it now. And at least it's not THIS small.
Then we walk into Alex's place and it's like somebody really mean is playing a trick.
Stunned, we carried everything from the car, up the stairs. Flights upon flights, up to the sixth floor, making probably six to seven trips. All I could think the whole time was, A.) Who lives like this?! and B.) I can't move here. I cannot clean another house full of other people's dirty grossness.
Usually, in a situation like this, one of us -- Ben or I -- rises to the occasion. One of us thinks about it and comes up with a nice, bright side of things and says, "We can do it like this," and the other person grudgingly goes along and then we do it like that we feel better. This time was not like that. There was no silver lining and no way to do it that would make us feel better. This was like the wall of Jericho only we had no horns.
I the inability to even find one nice thing to say made it much worse.
We drove back to our clean, bright and happy home. Moldy in places, maybe, but loved, yes. This also made it worse. Thinking that tonight was our last night in paradise...
Who knew this place would ever feel like paradise.
And we started packing the car again.
Two or three trips in, I came inside and collapsed on our warm, queen-sized bed.
I did not want to move to Alex's.
Suddenly, our sad little apartment in the old part of town with a filthy outside walk-up, whose front gutter often smells of raw sewage, seemed like the only place in the world I actually wanted to be.
When Ben came in to get another load, I asked if we could Skype Bryan.
"Because he might call have Nicole's number."
"We can't call her this late."
"Oh, we can. Korean's don't sleep."
"Why do you want to call her? She can't do anything this late at night."
"I want to tell her we're not moving. I'm not going there. It is disgusting and they told us it would clean and they told us we'd have time to move and it is midnight on Monday and we just walked up and down six flights of stairs a thousand times. I like it here and I like this bed and I am staying here."
"I have her number somewhere..."
So, we called her and she couldn't understand us and then we called her back and she still couldn't understand us (language barrier+Skype+bad wifi="phone is no work"), so we said we'd email her, which we did, letting her know in no uncertain terms that everything was very bad and we could not move there, very sorry, but we would stay in the apartment we were in until our contract was up and that was fine, thank you.
Then we emailed Spencer, told him there were complications with the apartment and that he wouldn't be able to move in Tuesday morning, really sorry, we'll get back to you, etc...
And we unloaded the car.
And we went back to Alex's place and reloaded the car. Up and down six flights of stairs.
And came back home and unloaded the car.
By 1:00am, we were finally done undoing everything. It was exhausting, but we got to sleep in our own bed.
And Nicole came by this morning to tell us we could stay here, that was fine, she was sorry things were so bad at Alex's and we said it was okay, as long as we could stay here, it was all fine. We just weren't walking into another terrible disaster and thank you so much for understanding.
So, now we are moving back into our own house. Everything is packed and has to be put away again.
But I got to deep clean most everything as I packed it, so we're putting things away into a clean house. That's nice.
And we get to stay here.
I think we both realized that we should have just said we'd stay here a long time ago. I don't think I really wanted to move, even though I thought I did, because once we decided to stay, I was relieved on more than one level.
I like it here. Grimy, creepy-linoleum-ed, cement brick house that it is.
It does get tons of good, natural light all day long as there are windows on all sides.
Plus, it's clean.
.....I feel pretty bad for Spencer. But I told him I would help him clean Alex's apartment and I will as long as I don't have to live there. :/ And I told him I would make him a pot roast (which is apparently food of legend and now that I've made it once no one will stop talking about it specifically and then: how amazing, you can make REAL food in Korea!).
I guess he went and saw it and said that Ewha was going to have pay someone to clean it before he'd touch the place and he also didn't know what sort of person lived like that.
I would have told him that lots of people do, apparently, since we cleaned a house like that in Boise last winter and then the one we're in now also.
So, ambiguous end for Spencer, who will hopefully still want to carry on amiable relations with us.
But HAPPY ending for us!
Plus, now Bruce can't try to persuade me to, "leave everything we have gotten in Korea" behind for Spencer.
And I am making chicken with potatoes and carrots and onion soup mix in the crockpot.
So glad I brought the onion soup mix with us. That and the dry ranch have really paid off. Bryan and Aaron were super impressed at Christmas that we had real ranch. They wanted to know where we got it and I told them I made it. It's the only flavor dressing you can't find anywhere here.
Well, that's the update on us. Hope all is well with everyone else! :)