Spring break is basically over. It’s been nice. It wasn’t long enough. There are still more buildings to climb, more paper to write, and above all more forms to fill out. Two weeks with no obligations and it seems I’ve still barely even made a dent in what I need to do. I did get a good amount of work done on my MAP, which is nice. But the “everything else” part of my life remains a problem.
Here are the good things. I got to climb a lot of stuff over break. For example, I celebrated my birthday by getting together with a mildly crazy friend of mine and climbing buildings around town. We nailed a pretty broad variety of them, including the high school, some anonymous buildings downtown, the town library, and a fancy church that doesn’t look like it could possibly be climbed if you look at it from the usual angle. It was a night of stupendous views and inventive climbing. We added these four buildings to our already respectable tally of other buildings we’d climbed, which included three major ones and a few minor ones on campus, and two others downtown. Later on during break, we conquered another major campus building, and I have ideas for two more—possibly the last two, as the rest seem impossible without grappling hooks or really tall ladders or something.
I’ve mentioned climbing buildings before, but how about a little flavor of what it’s like? Well, first off, the guy I climb with—I’ll call him “6”, for obscure reasons—is kind of a ninja. He’s sneaky, he does lots of swordfighting, and whenever we climb, he wears all black. On my birthday expedition, we started out by going to the high school, and though it was a very good climb, I’m going to tell about the row of anonymous buildings that we conquered next, because I think it’s a better story. So we came downtown around 11 at night, which was really a bit early for this sort of thing, but it didn’t seem to matter. 6 had been casually scouting out possible climbs in this area lately, and this row of buildings was one he’d considered a possibility. The starting point was a concave corner in the alley in the back, where two buildings’ corners didn’t quite align and there was a small piece of metal sticking out of the wall. The flat roof we needed to grab was about nine feet up, probably. That meant it was too high to jump in a straight shot, but the wall was basically smooth, so we couldn’t climb it well either. So we would need to count on the piece of metal in the wall—something that looked like it used to have a bolt of some sort screwed into it. But then even that was too small to get a good foothold on. “If we had a box,” 6 said, “this would be much simpler.”
“Or a pallet,” I said, and pointed to one leaning against a wall a little ways away.
I brought it over and set it up like a rickety ladder. Standing partway up it allowed me just the height I needed to grab onto the roof. Once I had my hands on the roof I scrambled and muscled my way up until I was entirely on the roof.
“Well, how is it?” 6 asked.
“Pretty standard.” It was sturdy enough to walk on, and covered in a black sort of rubbery, plasticky sheet that most flat roofs have. I stood out of the way a bit, but offered 6 a hand as he came up, in case he needed it. He’s admitted that, despite being a ninja, he can’t yet do a pull-up. But for a guy who can’t do a pull-up, he sure does a pretty good job of pulling himself up. He managed this one without any trouble, and we stood and looked around.
We couldn’t really tell what we were on top of, but that wasn’t important. What was important was finding the summit. In this case, there were two ways to go higher: in either direction, roofs stair-stepped in height, each step a very easy clamber. We went to the west first. The highest roof was much the same as the low one, except with a white sheet instead, and a special feature: a wrought iron fence around the top, with a concrete ornament. At such a visible point, we made sure to keep stooped low so no one on the ground would see us, but really, there was no one, and anyhow nobody looks at the tops of buildings. We looked out at the town, afforded a better view by our height. We weren’t at the highest point in town, so there were still some buildings in our way, but a lot of stuff around here is about equal in height, so nothing’s going to offer a particularly commanding view. Whatever the case, we still felt pretty masterly. After a while we went to the other summit, which was just as good, except without the wrought iron. And then we came down. And that was that.
I think I wrote that mainly because I don’t feel like thinking about all the other stuff I have to deal with very soon. I’m so entangled in so many webs. These are the sorts of things that drive me to want to be a primitive or a hobo.
First, the classes I’m in all involve long-term projects that are going to really start gearing up once classes start again. In one, I’m going to have to call about 50 random people from around here and survey them. In another, I’m going to have to put frog eggs in water that has varying concentrations of motor oil. In another, I have to basically write another MAP application, but for a project that’s imaginary and that I’ll never do. And the last is my MAP itself. All the due dates are coming up with some really alarming speed, the kind you might feel while cliff-diving. And then there’s also Press, which has to send all its books to the printers within the next two weeks.
Then, there’s the Korea stuff. It’s ironic that I wanted to go to Korea because of the lack of bureaucracy. Theirs is just as bad as Japan’s, it’s just that it’s not as easy to see in the beginning, because what you see are recruiters’ sites, and those are all staffed by friendly people (sometimes)—who are there to help guide you through all the massive amounts of bureaucracy. The JET program is the kind that might reject you if your forms aren’t in the right order in the envelope you send. The Korean programs seem to be like that too, but there are also more of them, with different standards, and none of the deadlines are public, and they can change their mind whenever they feel like it, and also my time for applying is becoming awfully slim. My next hurdle to overcome is getting two reference letters from a former employer and a professor, letters that, the internet tells me, will quite possibly never get read, but still must be printed on professional letterhead and signed in blue ink. (If it’s black ink, they’ll think it’s a photocopy and maybe disqualify it.) I also have to figure out whether I’m applying through EPIK (English Program In Korea), or through GEPIK (Gyeonggi-do “ “ “ “ , where Gyeonggi-do is the province that encompasses a lot of the perimeter of Seoul and contains its satellite cities), or just independently. Meanwhile I’m in touch with two recruiters who both don’t know about the other one yet, and I have to write a 500-word personal essay about why I want to teach on Korea and what’s my teaching philosophy.
It’s enough to make a man want to put all his stuff in a bindle and walk down to the railyard. But—I realized this the other day—because of my student loans, I can’t do that, because if I don’t pay those consistently, every one of the numerous institutions I now owe money to will begin making my life miserable. This is to say: I am too poor to be a hobo.
Kind of puts college education in perspective. In order to achieve even an absolutely free-of-cost life, I must now pack up my belongings and move to a strange country and eat kimchi every day, and even once that’s done I’ll still be only temporarily financially comfortable enough to be a hobo.
But I’ll soldier on, and eventually, I’ll live a free man. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel—it’s the Year of Adventure—but it’s an awfully long tunnel, and it’s hard to see the exit from here.