Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My first day on the job

I didn't really accomplish anything today, but I sure got a lot done. Even after trying to stay up late last night, I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't fall back asleep. My Internet connection had tragically quit working and I couldn't live without it. 5 minutes after calling the front desk the bell boy was knocking on my door. He was polite and didn't try to hide the fact that he was clueless - he even gave me the name and number of a good contact with the MIS department who wouldn't arrive until 8. How dare he? I wandered down to the gym and ran a few miles on a treadmill then came back and showered. I popped in and watched half of Enemy at the Gates for my 12th time - timing finishing breakfast by 8. Not that there was any hurry, my sponsor was coming off of leave and had taken his family back to the airport. He wasn't going to be able to pick me up until noon. Long story short, MIS quickly gave me a static IP (yay!) and I was back to seeing that my forum posts and emails hadn't been responded to from last night. Oh it was nice to be connected again.

I met my sponsor and a few contractors that I'll be working with. These guys first came to our unit in the late 90s and decided to come back and stay - never a bad sign. They had much wisdom to impart including telling me what those things were on the back of cars. They're mirrors, angled down toward their own bumper so that the driver can park ridiculously close to the other cars. But the madness doesn't end there! They actually park their vehicles in neutral so that other drivers can push their car as needed. One contractor told me that it's common to leave your business card in your window so that drivers can call you to tell you to move. He doesn't speak Korean, but recognizes the word for "car" at 3:00AM on the phone when his neighbor needs to get out. This is considered to be polite. And he was parked legally in some crazy double spot.

I've come to learn that the driving situation only goes from bad to worse. Speaking of distance in miles is meaningless. Direction, route, traffic, and lights seem to be much more significant. My sponsor lives a mile and a half from base and the round trip takes him about 40 minutes at lunch. There are times when he calls his wife to tell her that he's going to be another 30 minutes from a half mile away. The first part of his commute home, which can take up to 20 minutes, involves cutting across 4 lanes of traffic then waiting for a stop light to make a left, then another stop light to make another left. There's just no way to make a left hand turn out of the base! I was surprised when we pulled onto the sidewalk to park at the realtor's office, then realized how disruptive the truck with his blinkers on in front of us was. "The lines here are merely a suggestion", my sponsor explained. Everyone drives like Las Vegas taxi drivers - honking, swerving, and cutting each other off is commonplace. Yet somehow, everyone is more or less polite and well composed. I'd be ready to bash some glass if drivers behaved like that in the states.

I went into the office, met the boss, filled out some paperwork, registered my ID, and filled out some paperwork. Tomorrow I'll go to the Navy office and fill out some paperwork.

The interesting thing today was checking out places to live. Our overseas housing allowance was probably based on size in the states. Seoul's extremely expensive to live, but my allowance doesn't really reflect living conditions of someone local of my income - it more closely reflects the size of place that I "should" live in stateside. Unfortunately they're really strict on verifying contracts and "suitable living conditions" so I have a cap of a lot of money to spend for rent. If I find a cheaper place then the government saves money. If I find a slightly more expensive place then my limit, then it gets negotiated down to government rates (since payment is pretty much guaranteed). I also found that I was recently promoted to the very lowest rank (O2) in my cost bracket, meaning that if I make O4 in 8 years and I'm still single, I'll get basically the same amount. In fact, I'll get to spend more on housing than my salary. So the strategy is obvious - maximize your rental for what you're given.

I'll probably live in the first building that Sally showed (no pictures of that one - I may return for try 2). It's a VERY modern high rise that happens to be a couple hundred yards from where I work - except that the main gate, the only entrance, is up a ways on the main street. Still, it is probably within walking distance as a daily commute - my guess would be like going from the Oeste house to campus, and riding a bicycle is an option. High tech is an understatement. Your RFID badge automatically opens these huge glass doors. Security is everywhere to a pesky extent - they made me delete the pictures of the amazing lobby. Apparently even unaccompanied guests get ID'd to come up to your room. There was a 'free' gym that had a row of treadmills in front of a huge window wall that overlooked the busy main street. The apartment, which was the smallest in this tower, was bigger than I need. I think it was about 1200 square feet - the decent sized master bedroom was smaller than the one in my last 1000 square foot apartment, but the kitchen and living room were sizable. There was a small room set up as an office and an extra bedroom. I checked out one on the 16th floor and one on the 26th floor that were both the same price. The 16th floor unit had a few upgrades. Each unit had breathtaking views in several directions. Even the parking lot was outrageous! It was spacious and they had the entire floor covered with the fancy garage floor finish. There's an electronic sign outside that says how many open spaces there are in each of the 5 levels of parking. Btw, EVERYONE is invited to visit me for up to a month - I should hold a developers retreat. Seoul is awesome! You won't regret it! I checked out a few other places - all were incredible (as they should be in that price range).
The pluses: Location near work, incredible view, A major bus/subway station is less than a block away. There are a moderate amount of shops and markets around (many other areas have much better selections). Gym included.
Minuses: Lots of military, relatively far from nightclubs/bars but close enough to base that "courtesy patrol" can stick you with the 12:00/1:00 curfew, which is a big no-no around here. Other places have morning markets and more close shops. Locations near the Han river have awesome biking/running trails, but are also necessarily a few nasty miles from work.

The real question to ask myself is how much I mind a couple mile commute on my bike. Even riding conservatively allows for lane splitting that gets you through every green light. My instinct tells me to go with the close tower.

Pictures of the houses I checked out. Tower views were partially obstructed, but much better overall.

I almost forgot to mention my best meal yet. Sally took me out to an upscale Korean restaurant where we had "bani", some kind of fancy beef rib. As usual, the variety of sides were delectable. I wish I would have taken some pictures. The place was great! I felt retarded as I kept repeating, then forgetting the phrases that she was teaching me in Korean. Maybe that's why she was so shocked that I could use chopsticks!

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