Sunday, 16 December 2007

The long and the short of it

I was shocked to notice it's been nearly a month since I've written anything here. Trying to remember what I've been doing for three weeks... I can remember being busy but am sure I will now struggle to describe what it is I've been busy doing. I will have a go anyway.

Were I still in Korea on 27th of December I would officially become an illegal immigrant, my three month visa-free tourist status having come to an end. This fact lies behind two of my busynesses – coming up with a travel plan so that my exit from Korea is more of a holiday than an eviction, and finding the offer of a full-time job so that I may return triumphant after my travels equipped with an employment visa. Fortunately these two goals are now nearly achieved.

I won't say too much about my travel plans now – the story should unfold on this blog during the travel itself (including pictures!). Jin and I are leaving for Taiwan on Wednesday where we will spend six days together. We are both feeling a bit exhausted and are greatly looking forward to some relaxed time together. After Taiwan, Jin will return to Korea for the important business of money-making, and I will continue on to Thailand and Malaysia. I will meet up with Ant for most of the rest of the tour, and along the way hope to see Steve, Rowena, Paradise, P'Pie, P'Nun (and their marriage!), Peyshan, Peng, Luangpor and Tahn Manapo. It should be a good trip :).

Meanwhile, I have accepted an offer of postdoctoral research at The Catholic University of Korea (which thankfully appreciates religious freedom enough to admit non-Catholics). The choice was made rather easier by the impending visa deadline and by the fact that it was the only definite offer I have thus far received. The work will be on analytical study of models of biological evolution. Like most analytical (non-computer based) studies in physics, the models are greatly simplified to make the analysis possible – the hope being that even though the model is far from realistic it has enough in common with reality to share some important features (the notion of 'universality' is often cited in this regard). I am just starting to read around the subject, but so far it seems like something I will be able to make a useful contribution to. My work at Catholic University will also include giving a couple of lecture courses which should be fun, if a little daunting (for both inexperienced lecturer and non-native-English-speaker students). Unfortunately the pay is not very good, but it is enough to get by, and the University offers cheap accommodation which should mean Jin and I will finally be able to move out of her parents house.

I have found looking for a job very draining, not demanding huge amounts of time but a constant investment of energy – as opposed to working in a job, which demands large amounts of time (especially in Korea!) but is made easier by the daily routine and familiarity with the tasks involved. It is surprising how difficult the lack of daily routine was, some days I was full of energy with nothing much to do, waiting for responses of prospective employers before planning my next move; other days there was a lot to do but I felt like staying in bed (such as the NIMS presentation, two posts ago). I guess such an experience may be common to anyone seeking a job but it is the first time I have tried it, having stayed a student for as long as possible. I'm not sure how much more difficult being in a foreign country made things, although it certainly reduced my options and opportunities, which were much less widespread than I had hoped. Indeed, before coming to Korea I received much positive reassurance from Jin's friends that there was much investment in scientific research in Korea, and that universities were keen to recruit foreign staff who could teach in English. Unfortunately these aspirations have not turned into foreigner-friendly recruitment policies on the ground – positions are usually filled through personal networks and so there are few advertised positions, and information is often available only in Korean. Also the financial investment seems very heavily focussed on research leading directly to new technology (to which my specialisation does not lead itself). Having dreams of walking into a job upon my arrival certainly made the real process more painful.


Three days after my last post was Jin's mother's birthday, and it turned out to be quite a fun occasion. On the evening before we had a small party at our house with Jin's two sisters, her older sister's husband, her uncle and her aunt (who's birthday was just a week before). Jin and her younger sister did most of the cooking (so that their mum didn't have to) – the sexual segregation of labour in Korean society being again underlined when they failed to receive much in the way of thanks, whereas I was praised to the heavens for spending a few minutes washing up afterwards. It was the first time for Jin's younger sister to have a meal with her parents after acrimoniously moving out at the end of October, and it served well as a reunion between them. I presented Jin's mum with the wrist warmers I'd made and she received them with (possibly genuine) delight, insisting on wearing them for the remainder of the night. Jin found herself politically isolated (again) within her family over the upcoming presidential elections (her younger sister would have had sympathy but was with me doing the washing up at the time) but there was no blood shed. In the course of proceedings Jin's mother, father and aunt drank rather a lot of soju, and with their usual social filters dissolved in the ethanol we set off to a karaoke club together.

I had had my first experience of the Korean noraebang (lit. song room) in Gwangju during my and Jin's tour of the country, and I had liked it. With Jin's family though it took on a whole new dimension – Jin's younger sister sang some hip new tunes, Jin's aunt is keen to learn English and so enlisted my help in producing some new covers of Beatles classics, I did my best to sing some Korean love songs, and though Jin's mother and father hit about five right notes between them that didn't stop them belting out the songs as though performing the national anthem at an international sporting event. Compared my perception of Jin's parents before that night it was a complete and shocking (but amusing) metamorphosis. The next morning though they were both totally poker-faced and giving nothing away. Jin's aunt is now desperate to go to the noraebang with us again.


Ant said...

Good to hear that the wrist warmers went down well! ;)

ned said...

don't forget your mosquito net in thailand and malaya

Ian said...

Guess you'll be in Taiwan now (assuming the Korean authorities didn't arrest you as you tried to leave the country!)
Know exactly what you mean about the effort involved in job hunting. I seem to be expending more energy now then when I was thesis writing!
Anyway, take care and hope you enjoy your travels.