Monday, December 31, 2007

Travelogue #19: Disconnected on Christmas

<----Travelogue #18: Korean Snowball Fights on my 23rd Birthday
--->Travelogue #20: Misadventures in Seoul on New Year's Eve, Part 1

Christmas Eve. 10:20pm. With three high school students I sit in a darkened classroom, lit only by the black-and-white flicker of Laurence Olivier's Hamlet from a MacBook screen. It's the last class of the night and I probably should be listening more intently, for I cliffnoted this play in high school and now I have to teach it. It's hard to pay attention.

I'm working on an evening I usually reserve for sinking into a sofa and watching Real World marathons. There are a few minutes left till my day off...where my plans are to eat dakgalbi and bum around the Internet. Maybe I'll lie in bed and listen to iTunes, letting the Sunae lights spill through my window.

Maybe I'll download Home Alone 2.

Maybe I won't. Every option sounds like a good one for a holiday to be celebrated in pajamas.

The class-ending bell doesn't brring shrilly; instead, it hums with a Christmas carol. Sweet. I clap shut my laptop. Closing time. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

I scramble for my things, not wanting to forget my learn-Korean book I got from my office Secret Santa. There's a buzz in the air with the other teachers, who wait for me to join them for the group trek back to the apartments. "Okay," I say, joining the tribe. "I'm ready."

We walk home. Nothing unusual happens as I step into my apartment, until I realize -


I left my MacBook at school.

So I run back. I want my iTunes. I want my Home Alone 2. I want my MacBook, tormented history or not.

Unfortunately, the doors to SLI are locked.

What's the big deal? you might be asking, It's a friggin' computer. You can survive a day and a half without your computer, Alex.

That sounds fine in theory, but that night I felt naked, and I'm not talking about lack of access to movies and music. I'm talking lack of access to anybody beyond the three-block radius of my apartment. My corner in this enormous, connected world suddenly felt significantly smaller and less connected. I had no webcam to communicate with my parents or sister; I had no AIM/GMail to communicate with my friends. I had no blogger to communicate with those I know and those I've never met. In a way, I was reminded anew of the fact that I was in South Korea, and aside from my job, the new friends I've made, the new foods I've tasted, and the routine I've developed, a large chunk of my world remains reachable only through the Internet. Without it, that world is temporarily lost.

Christmas Day. After joining a group of teachers for a delicious dakgalbi feast and dessert at a hip yogurt joint, I decided to explore a PC Bang. These are Korea's versions of Internet cafes, albeit with more of a focus on online gaming and snack food rather than email and coffee.

The photo above is not my own, but I posted it here to give you an idea of the vibe. Picture me uncomfortably cocooned in one of these cubicles, except surrounded with dimmer lights and a packed house of pimply-teenage Korean boys on holiday, clicking madly at StarCraft and CounterStrike, running up a multiple hour tab. The cost for using the computer was a very reasonable $1 an hour, but I didn't stay too long. One reason is that I abused my reclining leather chair privilege, for I happened to bump into another chair or another person every time I would lean back. My neighbors flinched but didn't say a word.

I felt like more of a foreigner here than I do at many Korean eateries, for in the restaurants, I feel a certain degree of affiliation with strangers because we're all eating the same food, whereas in the PC Bang, the young Koreans zapped aliens while I skimmed Drudge Report.

So I went home and napped. When I awoke, I tried watching Korean television.

(Here is a seventeen-second-video of what I was watching. Watch not only for the clip, but also for my reaction.)

Then I read some of Suki Kim's The Interpreter, a melodramatic downer of a novel. I cleaned my floor. I looked out the window. Korea. I was still in Korea!

Sometimes when I'm in my apartment and on the Internet, immersed in a conversation with a friend or the stutter-step pop of Spoon's "The Underdog", I almost forget that I'm so far away from Germantown, TN and Atlanta, GA. It's a little scary to know how much I depend upon a little white cube.

On the 26th I retrieved my MacBook. That night I webcammed with my mom and my sister. I listened to my favorite music. I read about the struggling Grizzlies on Yahoo! Sports. I was connected again.

Living abroad must have been a whole different animal in the years before the net, when home wasn't just a click away. We have so much access now that it's easy to take it for granted.

I won't.

<----Travelogue #18: Korean Snowball Fights on my 23rd Birthday
--->Travelogue #20: Misadventures in Seoul on New Year's Eve, Part 1


Alex Pollack said...

This is the first post in which I've included video in addition to pictures. Do let me know if the clip runs smoothly, for I plan to include more video in future posts.

Also, I just realized this post will most likely be my final one for 2007. Crazy. Happy New Year!

Coming soon...a new entry on Korean nightlife.

Anonymous said...

Video worked great and was a cool addition to your blog.

Bummer of a Christmas Eve, Alex. Hope your New Year's Eve is much better. Maybe a little Korean nightlife?


Michael said...

Wooo spring break 2007!

Do you have a phone card over there that you can use?

Alex Pollack said...

Phone card yeah, but I love the convenience of the webcam. Mama and Papa Pollack like the fact that they can watch me in the kitchen as I'm doing dishes. Another webcam plus: no need to cradle a phone against my ear for a long painful time.

Alright. Enough webcam schilling.

Steph said...

Hey I also spent Christmas in a strange country without a computer (well, at least without internet access) so I totally know where you're coming from. Mine was okay, spent most of it drinking with australians, but it is definatly an inescapable melancholy.
Here's to new adventures in the new year!