Ah, immigration. Who doesn’t love a place where you get to experience the wonders of looking around in confusion, walking up and down stairs, queuing, watching with bated breath the digital display that has become your own little world, and eventually being told that you forgot something and to start all over again tomorrow?
Last Thursday, with me still stuck in a “Korea four years ago” mindset, I toddled off wife in tow (or the reverse, more accurately) to the main Seoul Immigration Office in Omokgyo (great instructions on how to get there here), which has been the only place in Seoul I have ever had immigration stuff done. Handed over all the paperwork for alien registration after a wait of 20-odd people, got a pick up date, and toddled off back to whence I came. All good.
Then my wife gets a call yesterday saying that in fact we had gone to the wrong office, and should have gone to the Sejongno Branch (directions as above), given that we live in the vicinity of Sungshin Women’s University. So today I had to stalk back to Omokgyo (notice the change in verbs there? English is a great language) and pick up the paperwork (which had already been processed by the looks of it) to transport 40 minutes or so to the other immigration office. Fine, work doesn’t start for another couple of weeks, and I’d probably just waste my day trying to figure out how to use proxy servers to watch the rugby back home or something. My wife, demonstrating her spooky ability to anticipate and avoid unpleasant tasks before we are even aware they exist, contrived to catch a cold two days ago, and was as keen to accompany me on this errand as she would be sitting down and watching a Liverpool game with me (that is to say, not at all). So I was all on my lonesome. All good – I like listening to music and zoning out every now and then, with a side of people watching thrown in.
Anyway, picked up the documents from Omokgyo and got back on the subway. About four stops from Jongno-3-ga, where I would transfer from Line 5 to Line 3, I was zoning out just nicely. Suddenly, this foul odor started to penetrate my existence to the core of its being. People around me started to wrinkle their noses, some of them looked like they would pass out. The smell was undeniably foot odor, but of a supremely concentrated sort, the kind of odor you’d expect if a group of reclusive monks in Tibet spent centuries distilling the odor to the highest spiritual principles. It was almost religious, the way it united that carriage of strangers to experience a singular, non-subjective moment of extreme disgust. As humanity, we were one, if only for 15 seconds, which is how long it took the two banks of seats surrounding the culprit – an old Korean grandfather, who all joking aside, may have been mentally ill, who had removed his shoes and was changing his socks – to flee the vicinity.Except, it has to be said, for two girls in their early 20s, who were sitting across from him and didn’t look up from their smart phones. Maybe they had a deodoriser app or something.
I was a block of seats down, about 20 metres away, and my eyes were watering. The only real reward for staying was seeing the people at successive stops get on, look at all the free seats and think “Score!” and then register the smell, and then have they brain go “Ahhhh!”. And then they scurried to the other end of the carriage. Gold.
I made it to Jongno-3-ga and gasped the fresh air on my way out, only to find the grandfather had got off with us. I glanced back into the subway, and saw the most magical thing – he had left his old mouldering socks smack-bang in the middle of the subway floor.
Anyway, got to the Sejongno Branch, figured out what button to push (2 for alien registration) and found that I was 166 in line. That is not a typo; I was 15 full soccer teams away from speaking with one of the Immigration Officers. The time was precisely 2:35pm (it’s printed on the ticket you get, as a helpful reminder of your own mortality as you feel the minutes tick away).
First thought: screw this. Second thought: what if it’s like this all the time? Third thought: you have your iStation. So I think I safely achieved a personal record for the amount of time waiting in a queue today, getting to the window at just before 5pm, for a 2 minute sit down from the surly Immigration guy. (Our conversation: Me – Hi, I went to the wrong office so they told me to come here. They said all the documents were fine though. Him – Where’s your wife? Me – They said she didn’t have to come as they saw here at the other office. Actually, she’s sick and in bed at the moment. *one minute and 37 seconds of silence* Him – Your pick up date (hands me a bit of paper) Me – Thank you. AND SCENE)
Not sure that I want to break this record any time soon.
Two Songs I Obsessed Over on the Trip (i.e. Repeated a Few Times)
Damon Albarn knows how to write sweet, simple ballads that never get to saccharine (check out This is a Low by Blur as well), and this is one of his best. I have the first two Gorillaz albums, but would never call myself a fan, just an interested listener, but this still gets me.
Another bit of voyeuristic pop (following on from Pulp’s This is Hardcore), but this instance is less grimy and sweaty, and more libidinous and self-effacing, backed with an absolutely monstrous riff. I mean, check out the lyrics:
I will never get to touch you so I wrote this song instead
Thinking about you lying in bed, it’s gonna get inside your head
And it’s the best that I can do, this is the closest I could get
So let it penetrate your consciousness
Oh oh oh oh yes
Turn it up, turn me on, I’m feeling good but don’t get me wrong
I know it’s just a song
And every time you play it I will perform the best I can
Press repeat and there I am, and there I am, always glad to be your man
And this way, oh well there won’t be any mess
As I assure you that there would be in the flesh
This is my very, very best