I might as well start with the building I'm living in. You caught a brief glimpse of it a year ago when I arrived here, in this post (the tall one on the left).
But the surface of a building, as with most other objects, only tells part of the story. In the year that's passed since I first came to this city and started living in this Estima Officetel, I've gotten to know it rather well, and I'd like to describe it here.
First of all, I should explain what an officetel is. Like the Wikipedia article sez, it's a multi-purpose building. It has both commercial and residential space available for rent. People like to have business in officetels because they're cheaper to rent out (I think) than a spot in a purely commercial building. The tradeoff is that their business is not very visible.
Up until a few months ago, the utility bills in officetels were calculated using a system of averages. Instead of each apartment paying for what it used in heating and electricity, the utility use for every apartment on a particular floor was averaged out, and each person on that floor paid the average. This wasn't exactly fair, as you've probably already realized. I hardly use any heat in winter, though other people run it 'round the clock. Conversely, I run my A/C all the time in summer, where other folks hardly use it at all. Fortunately that law was recently changed, and now people who live (or work) in officetels pay their for their own.
Okay, enough of the boring stuff. Let's talk about the building. Then I'll talk about the people in it, which is where it gets really interesting.
Estima has 15 floors above ground, four parking floors below, and an open rooftop common area. The view's pretty good all around. Something like this:
There's some more scattered businesses on the other floors. I think there's a music instructor over on the north side of the ninth floor (mine). And just down the hall from me is something called "Georgia Immigration Services." It's run by a young woman and I never see anyone going in or out. There's a few other business on the third floor (which is where Avalon's lunchroom is, also) but I don't know what they do, since the signs are all in Korean.
On the first floor are the usual corridors, lobby, mailboxes, and elevators (three of them). The hallways are frigid. For some reason the Koreans decided it was a good idea not to heat the lobbies or entry spaces of their buildings (at least not the cheap-ass officetels, anyway). There are three entrances on the north, south, and west sides of the building, each defended by a double pair of slender glass doors. Those are the interior's sole protection against the elements. The tile floors are perfectly flush and become treacherously slick when wet—which, in wintertime, they always are. Mats are sometimes laid down, but sometimes not. Your only chance of warming up is when you finally walk over your own threshold and into your warm apartment.
There are seven businesses on the first floor of Estima. On the south side (the main entrance, off Gilju Street) there's BHC Chicken and some fancy-pants bike shop that sells ridiculously overpriced mountain bikes to windburned fitness freaks in skintight polyester. (Seriously, they're like $5,000 apiece.)
BHC Chicken is just one of a dozen national fried chicken franchises. Koreans are nuts for fried chicken. You can find a chicken joint on every corner. They usually deliver, too. You'll see the suicidal delivery boys (usually young guys working their way through college) swooping through traffic on their scooters, blowing red lights and mounting sidewalks, the little red cargo box riding high on the seat behind them.
Over on the north side of the building, at the back entrance to the building (across from the police station, on a quiet little side-street) are some more businesses. Embedded within the northern exit corridor, right across from each other, are a convenience store and a Chinese apothecary. The convenience store is called Good Mart, and it's open 24/7, which is handy for us apartment-dwellers if we get the midnight munchies. Though small, it's got everything: six-packs, Q-tips, lighter fluid, ice cream, chewing gum, canned tuna, and a bazillion different kinds of ramen...not to mention a few small bottles of blended Scotch.
The Chinese apothecary really defines the first floor, though. That's not because it has an imposing façade, though. It's mostly just because it smells funny. The thirtysomething woman who owns it is always brewing up some foul-smelling medicine in there, often inundating the entire ground floor with noxious odors. Sometimes I'll see the proprietress sitting in the waiting room with her friends, space heaters cranked up and glowing red, chatting and drinking tea as something that looks eerily like witch's brew simmers away in a stainless steel pot over a blue flame. Behind the counter are dozens of wooden drawers excitingly labeled with mysterious Chinese characters. It doesn't matter to me what they mean. They could read "gout" and "pox" and "boils" and "chlamydia" for all I care. They still look cool.
Down at the end of the northern corridor lie an octopus restaurant, a twigim shop, and a gimbap joint. I've never been to this particular octopus restaurant, though I probably should. I love molluscs and I love the way Koreans prepare 'em even better. Twigim is sort of like Korean fast food: various bits and bobs deep-fried in oil and covered in a delicious greasy crust. I've only eaten at this shop once, and that was with my predecessor, whom I loathed so much that I swore off everything that she professed to like.
The gimbap joint is called Sumirak, and it makes the best stuff in town, in my opinion. Gimbap is sort of like Korean sushi, but you won't find a hint of raw fish in it. Mostly it's got ham (more like Spam), imitation crab, pickled radish, and slivers of cucumber and carrot, all wrapped up in rice with a seaweed wrapper. This is formed into a roll and then cut into slices, just like roll sushi. Sumirak is owned by a middle-aged woman who has aged as gracefully as Helen Mirren or Julie Andrews. Her face is lined, but in that endearing careworn way we all imagine when we think of our beloved grandmothers or great-aunts. She does not stoop or hobble, but stands tall and proud (at sixty-five inches). She rolls gimbap at lightning speed, sets it down in front of you with a smile, and says 맛있게 드세요 (masissge deuseyo—"enjoy your meal").
Maybe I'll put up pictures, and maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just do like Hemingway would have and let you imagine all this stuff for yourselves.
Now you know a little bit more about my bailiwick. Next up: some of the people who inhabit this place. And maybe a bit more about Jung-dong in general.