Seoul Survivor
A Day in the Life

By Brian Heuvel

"Beep, Beep, Beep"

I slowly reach over and switch off the wailing alarm clock. I open my eyes to be confronted with an angry, red "5:30" staring me in the face. I sigh and push myself out of bed, ready to begin another day in the life of the average "wei-gook saram".

I shower, dress, and hurry out to catch the bus for work. I have it all timed out, you see. I go through this ritual every morning and I know to within two minutes of when the bus will arrive. I have undertaken pain-staking research in order to eke out every possible minute of sleep.

As I arrive at the bus stop, I see the unmistakable blue-green "ma-oul bus" pull up. Ah, right on time! I climb aboard still half asleep. The driver, an older fellow with a warm smile, greets me with a hearty "Anyanghaseyo!". I merely smile and take my seat. He continues driving, amusing the other passengers with his occasional comments about the radio program playing throughout the bus. I look out the window wishing I were still in bed.

I hate the early morning classes. It's definitely the worst part of being an English teacher. You would think that after four years I would be used to it, but I'm not. Despite this, I can't really complain about the job. I only work about 6 hours a day and I make a pretty good salary. At this time of the morning, however, I do often contemplate a career change.

I arrive at my institute and see all the other teachers getting ready for class. A couple of them, having already completed their preparations, are staring blankly at the wall waiting for the last few minutes to tick away before heading off to the classroom.

Once I get started, the classes go by without much effort. It always starts with me asking the students about their daily lives and most of them replying with the typical "Nothing special". From there we progress through the day's lesson with a few laughs along the way. All in all, a pretty laid back job.


I finish my third and final class at noon. I'm supposed to meet my girlfriend and go get my hair cut this afternoon. It's sad that after four years in Korea I haven't learned how to communicate well enough to get a haircut on my own. However, if the truth be told, it's not something that's been particularly high on my priority list. I'd like to be able to speak Korean; I really would! But I admitted to myself long ago that I don't have the patience or the discipline to do it. Besides, the practical side of me says " You've lived here for four years without it. You don't really need it."

I arrive at the Galleria department store and see my girlfriend seated on a bench waiting for me. She's dressed in her usual attire; T-shirt, denim jeans, baseball cap, and sunglasses.
"Hey, baby. What's up?"

Peering over the top of her sunglasses, she says " Not much. Just waiting." and smiles.
I love this woman. She has an effect on me like no one else ever has. The baseball cap and sunglasses make her look tough, but sexy. When she smiles, however, the toughness disappears and all seems right with the world.

We go to the fifth floor of the Galleria and have lunch. Sitting outside on the rooftop patio, we make light conversation. I tell her some of the amusing comments made by my students in the morning classes and she tells me about her plans to meet her mother later this afternoon.

We finish lunch and set off towards the hair salon. I have high hopes today of getting a good haircut. It's not easy, as most foreigners will tell you. On the way, I give her detailed instructions to translate to the hair stylist. Most importantly, I tell her to make sure I don't get "the line".

What is "the line" you ask? It's when the stylist takes the shears and shaves off nearly all the hair over your ears and around the back of your head. Thus forming an almost bald line. Koreans seem to feel it is essential for a good men's haircut, but I take particular exception to it.

We arrive at the hair salon and I take a seat in the chair while my girlfriend and the stylist discuss the finer points of the haircut. Having conferred for several minutes, the stylist begins preparing me for the haircut and my girlfriend sits down and begins reading a magazine.

The stylist, smiling sweetly at me through the mirror, starts combing my hair and moving my head into the proper position. She then picks up the shears and faster than you can say "Danger, Will Robinson!" zips off nearly all the hair above my left ear.

I stare into the mirror in utter shock and disbelief. The stylist, meanwhile, proceeds to do the same thing to the right side. What was supposed to be my moment of triumph has suddenly become my Waterloo. The stylist examines her work and with a broad smile asks "Gwain-chan-ayo?" Completely dejected, I respond with a quiet "no".

She looks momentarily confused, but with a shrug of her shoulders she begins working on the top. When she finishes, I stand up and pay her. My girlfriend comes over and inspects the new look, nodding approvingly.

"Looks good." she says, as we head out the door.
"Yeah, but she still gave me the line."
"Umm..., but still looks good."
"It's OK, but why did she do that? You told her not to."
"I don't know, but maybe she's trained like that. You know, it's Korean style."
"Yes, but we specifically told her not to do that."
We walk in silence for a few minutes, each pondering the question. When we arrive at the bus stop, my girlfriend says "I gotta go."
I nod understandingly.
As the bus pulls up, she turns and flashes me one of those smiles. "Don't worry! It looks good!" she says and runs for the bus.

I wait a few more minutes for the "ma-oul bus" and climb aboard. Same driver, less enthusiastic "Anyanghaseyo". I guess driving around in a circle all day has that effect on people.

Twenty minutes later I arrive at my apartment. After a short break, I eat dinner and weigh my options for this evening's entertainment. After making a few phone calls, I decide to meet my friend Jeff at our favorite bar for a few drinks.

I like hanging out with Jeff a lot. He's one of the few people I enjoy talking about politics and social issues with. He's very intelligent and can discuss these issues without getting too emotional. He's also a lot of fun to get drunk with.

Our usual routine is to meet at a little bar in Nyon-yang dong called "K2". In my opinion, it's the best bar in Korea. The inside walls are covered with graffiti and the lights are low. The owner is a very mellow guy with superb taste in music. The place is air-conditioned and has a great selection of imported beers, but the best part is the chips. Home-made potato chips served on-the-house with your beer. They're hot, dripping with grease, and incredibly good.

I arrive to see Jeff already seated at one of the tables. We order and begin talking about the latest international news. The conversation quickly turns toward analyzing various aspects of American and Korean societies. We drink, listen to music, and debate various philosophical theories for the next few hours.

At about midnight the owner announces that he is closing soon. As we finish our beers, Jeff looks over at me and says "By the way, nice haircut."
"It's OK" I reply, knowing what's coming next.
"But you still got the line, I see" he says, barely suppressing a grin.
I respond by throwing my arms up into the air and answering "What can ya do?".

We say our good-byes and go to our respective homes. I get to my apartment about a half hour later. I undress, check the alarm clock and crawl into bed thinking about the next day's activities. So ends another day in the life of a typical "wei-gook saram".


Other columns by Brian Heuvel

foreign friends

dining with kids

cable TV

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