Sunday, September 1, 2013

My first three days in South Korea

Friday, August 30
After watching The Bling Ring there were still twelve hours left on my flight.  I started to watch The English Teacher (it's bad!), during which lunch was served, so I snoozed for just a little bit some point during the movie, and didn't bother to finish it.  Later I watched The Internship, which was enjoyable.  Korean Air is a really nice airline, by the way.  The plane is great and all of the flight attendants are very kind and attentive.  I feel like they brought us a lot of food/drinks during the flight.  We started with a drink and peanuts (I asked for red wine), followed by lunch and later dinner.  Between all of that were lots of orange juice offerings, coffee/tea, a "brownie" at some point, even a hot towel to refresh yourself!  After watching The Internship I turned on some boring documentary to force myself to sleep some.

We arrived in Incheon at 4:45pm local time, which would have been 2:45am Madison time (19-20 hours awake thus far), but that wasn't the end of the journey.  We presented our passports and entrance cards one at a time, where electronic finger prints and photos were taken of everyone entering the country.  Then we went to wait for our luggage.  Luckily luggage carts were free in the Incheon Airport, so I took one and loaded up my two suitcases and backpacker's backpack.  Everyone from TTG was all sort of scattered about around the luggage claim, but I thought we'd still have to go through a customs or something more before we were at the part where people awaited our arrival.  So I handed in a customs card thing to a guy, and walking forward I caught a glimpse out of the sliding doors in front of me, as someone had just walked through.

This was it!  I saw lots of signs, some of fellow TTGers, but I didn't see my name right away.  Well I had to keep walking, so as not to clog the exit, so I kept walking out and a woman asked if I was from Wisconsin.  Yes, I told her, so she checked her list of everybody and I showed my name.  On her spreadsheet was the name of the person who was going to pick me up.  I had gotten some emails from a Eugene the week before my departure, he'd ask what time my flight got in, so I'd been expecting him to pick me up from the airport.  This lady looked at the corresponding name and said oh she's here, then called out a name in Korean.  A younger Korean woman held up a sign with my name and I raised my hand to say that's me!

We had practiced bowing and politely saying hello (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo) during the orientation, but when she got up to me, I was behind my big luggage cart and she probably said hello or something, so in the end nothing happened.  No bow from me, and no bow or handshake from her.  Whoops.  She whisked me right out of there, saying let's go to the taxi.  Not all of the TTGs were out yet from baggage claim, and it felt strange to leave so quickly without any last words -- or to make sure everyone got picked up (but the lady I first talked to with the clip board was clearly on top of that, so I wasn't worried).  She had called the taxi driver or something, so we were supposed to leave right then, but luckily I remembered that I had $USD that I wanted to exchange at the airport.  There was an exchange place right in front of us, so I did it there (took less than a minute) and then we headed to the doors.

I was still a bit confused about who this woman was, so I asked what her name was -- since we hadn't had any introductions of any sort.  She was kind of surprised when I asked and said "I'm Eugene, you've been emailing me..." Double whoops.  Duh!  The only Eugene I know from back home was in lots of my math classes in college, and he's a male.  I didn't want to tell her that I was expecting a man, so we left it at that and she probably thought what an idiot.  We go outside to wait for the taxi, which is when I realized I had left my white track jacket on my seat in the airplane.  Whoops again.  I blame that one on the lack of sleep.  I'm fairly certain the only item in the pocket was a burt's bees chap stick, so no harm done.  I can live without that jacket.

The taxi pulls up and we get in.  I think the ride was probably an hour and a half.  I was so sleep deprived and disoriented, I didn't realize how weak I would feel on my own, without the other TTGs.  Thought I was going to have a breakdown in the taxi at first, but Eugene kept on making conversation with me, which luckily eased lots of my worries.  She is so nice and on top of things (a change from Spain.  Note: teachers are super-qualified and respected here, so I'm excited to learn from her).  She was so understanding that I would be confused and take a while to adjust to the new life and culture.

She had a packet for me that contained my apartment address written out in its romanization and in Korean, instructions about getting in to the apartment, a welcome/to-do list upon arrival, GEPIK contact information and useful websites, and my favorite: the girl before me had written up notes to help me out in the apartment and town.  She even took photos of the AC control, heat control, and washing machine, so she could write in English what all of the buttons do. (I hadn't even thought about that problem before I got there)  A life saver!  She wrote about taking out the trash, how to pay the monthly management fee for my apartment, buses, nearby cities, and she drew a map of the town pointing out the apartment, post office, grocery stores, etc.  Thank you Jessica, wherever you are!

Eugene asked me to make a powerpoint this weekend to introduce myself to the students this upcoming week of classes.  (I'm actually procrastinating from finishing this as I type at 18:47 on Sunday!)  She also told me that I seemed calm (after so many hours of traveling and sitting in the back of a taxi in a totally foreign country, I'm not going to be too rambunctious...), and asked if I was a calm person.  Umm yes, I'd say I'm more of a calmer person, I told her.  She seemed kind of disappointed, and mentioned that their new principal really wants the English classes to be interactive.  Ooh, maybe she thinks I'll be this calm around the kids.  So I told her that I'm different when I'm around younger kids -- I like to play with them, I'll sing songs, etc.  She asked if I could make different voices when I read a story -- heck yes!  She was pleased by that, really excited.  (How else do you read children's books?)  I guess the current TTG doesn't like to make voices while reading books or something, so point noted.

Later during the taxi ride, Eugene used her hand to show where Seoul was in comparison to my town.  Except she pointed southeast of Seoul, and I though I was way up north.  Guess what?  There are multiple Wangsan Elementary Schools in Gyeonggi-do!  That caught me way off guard.  So here's where I'm actually living and working:

Mind blown!  [Oh, and if any of you were worried about where I thought I'd be living, since it was close to the North Korean border, please take a few minutes to watch this video.  In it, a Canadian couple that has been living in South Korea for five years explains the general feeling in South Korea about all of this, and compares it to the media hype that the rest of the world sees/feels.  Worth a watch.]

Eugene told me that Jessica (the 2012-13 TTG teacher) was spending her last night in the apartment that night, so I would be staying at another teacher's house.  Day 1 and I'll already be going into a Korean's home!  Eek.  The taxi stopped at the super tall apartment building, and a 20-year-old girl came down (YeEun).  YeEun is the daughter of the other teacher, so she and I headed up with my bags, and Eugene got back in the taxi and went home.  YeEun's 18-year-old sister was also home, but their mother was at a relative's birthday party.  I ate some toast and a few grapes (I'd asked for rice and they didn't have any!  I was surprised.), took a shower, then went to bed maybe around 8:30pm.

I thought I would sleep so much since I'd been awake for so long (and exhausted), but I woke up once around 1am and went to the bathroom, then I woke up again at 3 or 4am and went online for a bit (using YeEun's laptop).  It was hard to sleep anymore after that.

Saturday, August 31
I was awake by 6:30, but hung around awake in bed until 8.  I could hear the mother and one of the daughter's in the kitchen, and finally went out around 8.  The mother said "You're so young!"  She also wondered why I was up so early on a Saturday.  Uhh hello jetlag?  I'd sleep if I could!  I normally just eat a bagel in the morning, so I could not eat everything she had set out for me, but I had two pieces of toast and scrambled eggs.  This is not a regular Korean breakfast at all -- it was clear they had tried to get things they thought I would like, which was really thoughtful, though it would have been interesting to see a typical Korean breakfast.

I had been wondering if maybe just the three of them lived there, but then around 9:30 YeEun told me her dad was scared to come out because he doesn't speak English.  But soon after he came out and had breakfast while I was in the adjacent living room.  From then until 11:00 I awkwardly hung around the house while the family went about doing things (the dad went to work, the youngest sister was still sleeping, YeEun was studying off and on, and the mother was sometimes in her room, and sometimes in the kitchen.  I couldn't understand anything they'd say to each other, so I pretended to stay occupied with my journal or a book.

At 11 we loaded up the car and drove to my town.  It was about a 30 minute car ride.  The mother drove around the town a little bit so I could see the nearby University of Foreign Studies (neat, eh?), and then we stopped by the school so I could see where the English room was.  Then they helped me carry my luggage up to the 4th floor of my apartment, make sure I had what I needed before leaving.  I love the apartment and found so many surprises and useful things left here (by Jessica, I can only assume).  Photos to come in the next post -- this one's long enough as is!

It was about 1pm when they left and I was so tired.  But it was Saturday and I had to start teaching on Monday.  So if I slept during the day, that would not help me adjust to the new time zone at all.  So I forced myself to stay awake.  I unpacked my clothes and had fun opening all of the drawers and cupboards to see if there was anything.  I did some blogging and watched some Orange is the New Black, and ultimately did not leave the apartment for the rest of the night.  Somehow I stayed up until 10:30pm!  I was pleased, and passed out in bed.

Sunday, September 1
I thought I would sleep a ton, but I woke up at 3:30am, and was unfortunately up until 6 or 7am.  Then I slept until around 10am.  It's been pretty hot out; I sweated a lot last night.  I showered just before noon, then left the apartment to walk around the town and venture to the grocery store.  I did buy some food, but I don't know if I would call the grocery store visit a success.  It is no Trader Joe's!  I got kind of frustrated inside, but I'll have to study a lot more food vocabulary before my next trip. Well actually, I think I'll do a lot more eating out this year than I have in the past - I think it'll be cheaper.  I was surprised at the grocery store prices, they were quite expensive.  I had heard about Korea's affordable cost of living, so I wasn't expecting I'd spend ~$50 USD on the few food items I got today.

That Canadian couple (Eat Your Kimchi) whose video I linked to above have blogged the same sentiments regarding grocery store prices.  I've read how cheap it is to eat out (no tipping this year!), and also that all places will deliver for free to your door (though I don't see myself ordering any food on the phone for a long while... until I can speak Korean on the phone).  So soon I'll need to try a restaurant nearby after learning some more Korean -- enough to order.  In the mean time, I get to have Korean school lunches every day (they take out the cost from your paycheck, but it's really cheap) during the week, so it's just dinners and weekends I'll have to cook/buy for.

That was the only outing I had today.  I know some other TTGs went into Seoul yesterday and/or today already, but I've got to take baby steps.  Not ready to tackle the buses alone yet.  Need to get on a normal sleep schedule first.  I think I've found pickup somewhere in Seoul on Sundays though, about an hour and a half away from my town, so maybe next week I'll try to get there.

I'd better work on this powerpoint so I can watch another episode of Orange is the New Black before bed!  If you read this whole post without skimming, you deserve a pat on the back.
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  1. What kind of food did you pick out at the store? Best of luck on your first day :)

    1. Pat me on the back! Sounds like you have helpful people around you, that's good. Is your PP presentation in English?

    2. I bought: eggs, bread, sweet potatoes, lettuce, dressing, 2 L water (you can't drink the tap water here, so I'll be buying lots of these), orange juice, some kind of chopped up meat -- I'm not sure exactly what kind it is but I should cook it soon, some frozen pot sticker type things -- I have no idea what's in them, red/yellow pepper. I think that might be it. So expensive!

      The most frustrating part was that I couldn't find rice! Well, I found a section with lots of different grains, and something that could maybe be rice because it was whiter, but they were really short - almost circular. Then in a different aisle I found cooked rice. It said cooked rice in English, and had the Korean on there. So I copied it down (thinking I'd captured the word for "rice" in Korean) and went back to the grains. I studied the bag I was looking at earlier and couldn't find the same Korean characters on it. Again, it was more expensive than I'd like, so I didn't want to buy a 1 K bag of something I wouldn't eat. Finally I gained courage to ask a worker (which literally went like: "Hello. Rice?" as I held up the grain package). I showed her what I had copied down from the other aisle. She said "aniyo"-- no, had me put the bag back, and then I followed her to another aisle. I got excited thinking I must have just overlooked it before. But she brought me to the cooked rice I had seen earlier. Fail. I said thank you and grabbed a 4-pack and was ready to leave then. How could I not find uncooked rice?!

    3. Luke -- fyi you replied to T.J. instead of commenting! But I give you a big pat on the back! Yes, ppt is in English. I'm not sure of the students' levels, so I put barely any text - just a short sentence with a big picture on each slide. I'm not sure how long it was supposed to be either; feels short. Vamos a ver.