My First (Approximately) 90 Days, in Retrospect

First off, I'll admit that I'm slightly intoxicated as I write this essay. I'm also procrastinating. Right now, it is September 16, though by the time I finish this essay, it'll be September 17, in all likelihood. I have almost finished a 750 mL bottle of makgeolli, the famous farmer's rice wine. I don't like soju. It tastes like medicine. Makgeolli is kind of sweet, and it doesn't hit nearly as hard. For the worried parentals: don't worry, I didn't consume the whole bottle at once -- I did it over the course of an evening.
Me and Danyeong, a Classmate
Thank you, whoever took this picture using Danyeong's camera.

This essay is important, because if I don't write it, I risk forgetting key things from my first 90 days in Korea (technically less, but who's counting). In addition to being my first 90 days outside the United States, without parentals, and in addition to being my first 90 days in South Korea as an adult (kind of), these have been my first 90 days "out on my own." Amazingly, no crises have really occurred. A few things haven't gone quite according to plan, but nothing's been a disaster. I have survived. I slightly overspent. I wanted to do this term on $3,000, and it probably ended up costing about $3,500. The adults back home always told me that living on my own would be _way_ more expensive than I was anticipating, but I don't consider 17% to be a lot more. From a financial perspective, I'm pretty pleased. In the coming term, I'll tighten up a few screws and try to get by on $3,000 a term, but with my five-terms-until-graduation plan, I should still have almost $10,000 left, if everything goes to plan.

I went through different types of housing this semester. I started out at Windroad Guesthouse. It's a cool place to kill a week or two, but don't ever think of living there long-term. I spent 67 days there. It's cheap (264,000 won a month during the peak season), but meals aren't provided, and all the English teachers on their visa runs from Japan and China are hogging the computer. I bought a computer from Yongsan and set it up on my bed, but that totally didn't solve the problem of accessing the internet. I got no privacy. In my opinion, privacy is this: the ability for you to use your computer without anyone else being able to bother you or monitor you. I did not have this ability. However, I did have a few bonuses with my bed at Windroad. I became the "top dog" of the people staying at the guest house. I had been there the longest, and knew where to get a meal for 1,000 won (kongnamulbap), and I knew where the travel agency was. I could speak Korean, at least to some pitiful degree. People respected me. I got to room with some hot Japanese babes (like Makiko). I could totally see staying there again, if I didn't have classes for which I needed to study.

From August 24 onward, I was living in a hasook-jib (Yonsei's spelling of the word, not mine). Life improved dramatically. I had my own little room, my own cool little internet connection, and meals were provided. My cost of living went down, and I could wake up at 8:30 and still get to school on time. Life will improve dramatically, now. I've been moved in for precisely 24 days, now. Life would be totally stellar, except that I've had a bunch of things keeping me ultra busy. I had the final exam on the 30th/31st, then I had the speech contest on the 4th, and I have the Skip Test on the 20th. Basically, within a 22-day period, I have three major things. Once the Skip Test is finished, I'll be able to get my life on its feet again. I haven't done too poorly, though. I got a 98.7% on my final exam (versus 99% on the midterm). I didn't make a fool of myself in the speech contest, though I didn't place. I feel confident about the skip test, but we'll see.


My Classmates: Mark, Danyeong, and Abi (not a classmate, but Mark's wife)
I don't remember who took this picture, but it wasn't me.
I cannot mention this period of time without mentioning school. I attended Level 1, Course B from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM Monday through Friday. Despite my 20 hours a week, I didn't make the kind of progress that I had hoped for. Early on, I was over-ambitious and tried to learn 30 words a day, but eventually stopped this nonsense. That was overdoing it. From then on, my goal was 12 words a day, and four hanja a day. I received my inspiration to learn hanja (the Chinese characters) from Andy, a dude from Japan. Andy was a white guy, but had lived in Japan most of his life, and gone through their school system, so he spoke Japanese like a native. I was extremely envious. He knew a ton of kanji. I decided at that point to become literate in Chinese characters. I began asking Mijeong for characters. At first, I just wanted to learn three a day, but Hyeonjeong gave me Cheonjamun (the 1000-character classic), which divides them into groups of four, and I decided to learn four a day for the first three semesters, then eight a day for the last two semesters. That will result in 2,520 hanja (B-grade literacy according to the standardized hanja exam). I now know about 360 hanja, so I'm on-track. To motivate myself, I study to the Shinra themes from FF7. I bet those crooks know their hanja.

I made enormous leaps in hanja, but honestly, my Korean hasn't accelerated as fast as I had hoped. Despite getting a 98% in my class, my Korean is arguably not even conversational (it depends on who I'm talking to). I have gone through numerous revisions to my study plan. I've been writing them in OpenOffice.org 2.0 and saving them. My latest study plan (which I haven't formalized, yet) calls for learning 0.33% more every day, so that I can know the remaining 50% halfway through the next year. Then I can practice just watching TV. I practice with KOREAN.BAS and by reviewing my notes, etc. Even if I don't become proficient in Korean, I plan to graduate the Yonsei program in September 2007, with 30 official university credits. That's like a year of college. That alone is worth it. The Korean is like a side benefit.

Okay, it's time to talk about my teachers. Teacher Seo was great. She started teaching in 1992, and knows how to explain grammar and complexities. I really liked her. Teacher Yang was not as great, but still okay. Her main problem was that she refused to ever revert to English, even when a concept needed to be explained in English. She tried for like 15 minutes to explain the word "got," or "soon." Then, the teacher-in-training clarified it for me in English. Sometimes, she oversimplified, as well. "Seongnyu" is not "fruit." It's "pomegranate." Got it? She was unbelievably hot, though. I'd say she was no older than her 20s. When she taught, I wasn't always thinking about Korean. Actually, both women were quite beautiful. Teacher Yang was hot because she was young, but teacher Seo was very "areumdaun," meaning that she had earned the right to be called "beautiful" by aging very well. I figure that she had to be at least about 24 in 1992 when she started teaching, because Yonsei teachers need at least a master's degree. It's been 14 years, so she has to be at least 38, yet she's still quite attractive. She's also an excellent Korean teacher. I'm of the opinion that it's a bad idea for a guy in this decade to have a wife, but if I had to have a wife, a good-looking Korean teacher wouldn't be the worst. Teacher Seo was great. I hope I have her again, though I realize this probably won't happen, given the size of the KLI.
Teacher Seo
This picture was taken by Danyeong (thank you).

I got kickass scores on my tests. I got a 98.85% overall between midterms and finals, but that was truncated to 98% for my transcript. I will take the skip test in three days. I hope to place into the faster Course A. This is more about saving money than education, though both are important. I want to finish the program with $10,000. I will earn some cash, then buy some land, then maybe be stable with a job for a few years. I hope to land a well-paying job in Korea, or get a position as a translator in the United States (or in Korea). I don't know the qualifications for becoming a translator. Where do I ask? You can't just walk into a building and say "I want to be a translator."

This was the first term where I had access to alcohol pretty much whenever I wanted it. I discovered this one day when I wandered into an industrial district. I just walked into a store and bought some soju, and the manager was curious about me and chatted with me, and asked me why I had come to Korea. I'm still not legal, but I've never been carded or arrested or anything, and my birthday is in a little over a month. I only got vomiting-drunk once. That night, I was really wondering if I was physically capable of getting truly drunk, because it'd never really happened before. I downed a whole 360 mL bottle of 20% alcohol soju in about five minutes. I was drunk, but my Korean got better. This is something I have discovered. I need to drink a little bit to relax and understand what they're saying. I rarely drink soju anymore. I just drink makgeolli. It's a sweet farmer's rice wine, made from ssal (uncooked rice). It's 1,300 won at the mart near me. Before last night (technically the night before last night), I hadn't had anything to drink in about a month, but this stuff works wonders for my comprehension.

Okay, let me hold forth about comprehension. It is fucking impossible! I don't know how ordinary humans have the kind of patience for this. I have the patience for it because I'm obsessed, but I guess everyone else just gives up, which may explain why there aren't any foreigners in Korea who speak Korean. At first, I thought I had a special mental retardation regarding comprehension. Then, I realized that 6/7 of the class feared the deutgi section of the exam. I wasn't the only one. Then my question became "is it a skill that Westerners can reasonably acquire?" I'm still waiting for any answer. At present, I barely understand anything. I can understand Mijeong and Jeongho to a certain extent, but certain situations make me feel like crap, like visiting the bank or the Immigration Office. I can't understand the TV, but the radio makes a little more sense, because they speak so clearly, and the headphones block out background noises like the fan. Here are the three things that I'm wondering right now:
1. Do I have a special kind of mental retardation regarding listening?
2. Is listening a skill that Westerners can reasonably acquire?
3. Is it going to take like 20,000 words and 10 years in-country to acquire this skill?

I realized while in-country that reading is more difficult than anticipated, as well. This is actually somewhat comforting. Maybe this is why my listening is so bad -- I can't read, so it goes to follow that my vocabulary isn't very good, so I can't listen. Maybe if my vocabulary increases, listening will come with that. I want to learn to read well, but I'm still pretty far away from even that. Every percentage increase is harder than the previous. I have had all kinds of pie-in-the-sky ideas about comprehension, but none of them have really panned out. These include regular listening practice (based on the theory that I already have the needed vocabulary and just need practice), going through a word frequency chart, etc. It'll just take hard work, if that even works.

I've been gaming a fair amount. I beat "Dink Smallwood" and "Castle of the Winds" (Part I only). I have been playing Part II and Phantasy Star II (which is legal because I own the CD back home). I have some other games on hand, but my computer sucks because one of the RAM chips died and I had to extract it. I have speculated about getting back into programming. I have downloaded Microsoft Visual C++ and have started playing with it. If I get back into programming, it could be lucrative. Even though I won't get paid much because of those people in India usurping the jobs, the cost of living here isn't that high. I've been thinking about getting into Rapid Application Design. I could churn out 100 programs a year, selling each to 10 people for $10 a piece and make $10,000 a year. That'd be great. That's just a model, not an exact absolute. Oh, I also beat Final Fantasy Legend II on arrival. That was a fun game. Arsenal was easy. Odin was the toughest boss, in my opinion. Arsenal only took a couple of tries. In my opinion, it was bad game design to allow players to hear the final boss theme from the first cafe, because that means that they listen to it a lot, spoiling it when the final boss fight comes. The final boss themes are the best themes in any RPG, and shouldn't be spoiled like that.

Now that I'm out on my own, I must remain a productive individual. This is my model: I must work at least 80% of "average." Average is 39 credit hours a year, or 2,080 work hours a year. Since I'm only an 80% man, I think 32 credit hours a year is fair, or 1,664 work hours is all right. I'm not going to stress myself too much. I will just live with 20% less, but make up for that with less stress. 36 credit hours in five terms comes close to (but not quite up to) 80%. I will need to do something else during the final semester to boost my output to 80% output. Maybe I can have an areubaiteu. Maybe I can take an NVCC online course. Productivity is important until retirement, which for me, will be early, because I'm smarter than the rest of the pack. I threw away retirement at age 27 because that was unrealistic, but I think that retirement by 35 is fully feasible. I should spend less than half of my life stressing over bullshit. We live in a technologically advanced age. Why stress? I wrote a little QBASIC program to evaluate my productivity. It's like my Mother Brain from Phantasy Star. It controls my output.

Basically, right now, my life revolves around spoken Korean, hanja, and potentially learning C++ and passing some kind of exam to prove that I know it. I believe that I am working at least 32 hours a week. I'm on track. Life is not a disaster. I hope you enjoyed this rant. I'll probably take it offline as soon as I come down from this makgeolli. Let this serve as a time capsule of what it was like on September 17, 2006, about 90 days after arriving in Korea.

I feel like I should append a few things. I went through my D-4 visa and alien registration application process. The immigration office was Hell, but I got what I needed. I just feel disappointed when I have to revert to English. What if the whole world didn't speak English? How would I survive? I often wonder. My flight left on the 15th, but I wasn't on it. I'll be staying in Korea until the end of the Yonsei program. That's my plan. If I fail in my plan, I may give up on Asian languages, forever, so it is imperative that I succeed.