Fast forward two bus rides, a ferry, a plane, three films (The Wrestler is exceptional), a seatmate from Portland who’s in the shoe business, an unfortunate three hours dealing with baggage in Seoul, and a final flight (and nap) to Busan, and you’ve got 22 hours from the Johnson Street Bridge to Mr. Song holding up a sign at arrivals that says Courtney Leane.
Mr. Song, a short Korean man with a round face, was joined by Mr. Wan, both officials of the Sogang Language Program (SLP) Institute, where I now work. They wore black suits. Mr. Song’s job, I sooned learned, is to take care of the foreign teachers, a curious occupation, as he speaks no English. More on that later. Mr. Wan is the head guy. He was tall and his suit had pin stripes. In the parking lot he sparked up a cigarette while Mr. Song steered the baggage cart back to the terminal. We talked about the weather. The night was cool and dark. The car was black and had the word Dynasty spelled across one rear corner in silver metal letters.
In the dim, vacant lobby of The Rotary Motel, where I would stay my first five days, I noticed five or six cards the size of baseball cards lined up along the floor and propped against the wall. On them were pictures of naked Korean women. Ashley, an American teacher at the school who I’d been in email contact with, had mentioned I would stay at a “Love Motel” when I arrived. There’s a few in the area, most with names less subtle than The Rotary: “Romance” and “Joy” were just around the corner. The rooms are cheap, so the schools pay for foreigners to stay in them while they’re waiting for their apartment to be vacated by the teacher on his or her way out. We rode a tiny elevator to the 5th floor. Two trips for my bags and payment to a man behind a frosted glass window, and we arrived at Room 516, my new home between homes.
Mr. Wan and Mr. Song offered to show me a couple nearby stores, so we locked the room and strolled a minute down the road, which was like an alley but wider, and lit up with neon light spilling down from each side. At the G5 I picked out two bottles of water (you don’t drink tap water in Korea), a box of almond cookies, and some Dr. You crackers. Mr. Song paid for everything. We paused outside a closed restaurant and Mr. Wan pointed through the glass. “The menus will be in Korean,” he said. It was somewhere around 10 p.m., and the streets were busy with people walking in every direction. I told him I had a phrasebook, and I would be fine. It was a Tuesday night. The motel parking lot was half full. On Thursday morning Mr. Wan would pick me up, he said, and drive me to SLP for my first day of teaching orientation. We said goodbye and I turned in to the lobby, to the glow of The Rotary sign.