Friday, March 19, 2010

my first week in korea...

What a relief it was to finally get here, I friggin’ hate flying. Gah. Maybe it’s not so bad when you’re not flying alone. They served Korean food on the flight from Vancouver to Incheon. The first meal was this beef bulgogi type of thing, it was pretty decent for airplane food, I suppose, haha. The second meal was described as “chicken and rice”... it would have been more accurately described as “chicken that will burn your mouth so bad because of all of the peppers that the flavour of it hardly matters.” Thanks for the warning old British air steward. Gah. Aside from the horrendous pile of peppers they strategically hid in the middle of the chicken, it was pretty good.

There must be a school in Seoul called the Acorn School because there was forty kids on that flight, all wearing hoodies that said Acorn School on them. They had to round them all up in Vancouver airport... they had airport stewards driving around in carts stopping little Korean kids and asking if they were from the Acorn School, it was mildly entertaining. I saw a lady that had a bunch of kids all tied together... maybe the Acorn School should have employed that tactic.

I got scolded on the flight by a stewardess for looking out my window. Apparently on flights that long you’re only allowed to have your window open at certain times. I didn’t even have it all the way open, it was just opened enough that I could see down and my head was in front of it. I doubt there was much light getting in.
I believe we flew up through Alaska, because we flew over the pointy islands that pop out at the bottom of Alaska. And there were random other islands that we flew over as well.

I didn’t get to see any of Korea until we had already started our descent. Seoul is friggin’ crazy! Everything is a high-rise, the ground looks like a porcupine, everything is a bunch of islands all connected by bridges! It’s beautiful. And when the plane lands, it looks like you’re landing in water. Incheon airport is insanely huge, and slightly confusing. I’m glad I didn’t know that before I left, or I probably would have panicked. Luckily, almost all (or, at least most) of the important signs here are written in Korean and English (thank god!).

I wish I could have taken pictures out of the airplane, but this place is foggy as hell! Really humid too, even my hair is kind of frizzy! And, unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures in Incheon airport because I had to hurry as fast as I could to find my recruiter so that we could make our bus to Gimpo and the flight to Yeosu.

In order to get from the arrival gate to the baggage pick up and customs and immigration you have to take a train! The airport is so big that you need a train to get places! The baggage pickup was so confusing, you get out of the immigration line up and then you have to figure out what gate to go through to find your luggage, and everything is Korean and it doesn’t say anywhere what plane is unloading where. Luckily, I went down the right escalator. Customs consisted of having to fill out a piece of paper on the plane that tricks you into saying whether you’re bringing in items worthy of quarantine or police involvement. I mean really, if you’re bringing heroin into the country I doubt you’re going to check off on the form that you are. 

The bus drivers drive so fast, and if you’re not careful, they’ll run you over at the bus stop. Everyone here is always in a hurry. My first experience with Korean TV was on the bus... there were people doing martial arts or tai chi or something while they were being smacked with bamboo fans. It was even weirder to see than to hear about. We passed by a sign that had a kangaroo in the circle with a line through it (reference point, the circle from the no parking sign). It was either trying to say that kangaroos were not allowed at that particular crosswalk, or that you are not allowed to hop across the crosswalk... it’s hard to say. Maybe kangaroos have some weird significance in Korea.

The vice principal of the school, one of the teachers from the school, and one of my co-teachers all met me at the airport, and we all crammed into the one teacher’s car and drove to my apartment. I couldn’t believe there were so many people there to meet me! Yeosu is beautiful, even at night. Everything here is so bright, and cute. All of the signs are cartoony and adorable; it’s like living in Hello Kitty. My landlord met us upstairs when we got here, he’s a little old Korean dude who doesn’t speak English, but he’s super nice and funny (maybe unintentionally, but it’s an adorable kind of funny, haha). The principal of the school also met us here, he’s a little old Korean guy who doesn’t speak English either, but he was really nice, and, of course, tonnes of bowing ensued.  I’m not sure what the rule is for who to bow to here, so I pretty much just bow to everyone.

My apartment is really tiny, but not bad. There’s no mold and the doors lock, that’s all I ask for. The bed is a queen size, which I couldn’t believe, and the bedding they gave me is really bright and cute. I have a kitchen table and chairs, and, a hot plate as opposed to a stove; so, definitely no oven. My bathroom is pink. Pink pink. As if Pepto Bismol exploded in there. The shower is the bathroom. It’s just a detachable shower head in between the sink and the toilet. The first shower was really odd, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it, haha. At least I remembered to take the garbage can, my towel, and the toilet paper out first. There has to be some way to not get the toilet soaked though... There was nothing in terms of household stuff when I got here, so we went shopping today and my co-teacher told me that I would be reimbursed for what I’ve spent on household stuff as soon as she and I open my bank account. I have a TV though, and it has cable... the landlord was super excited when he showed me that, it was really cute. And the floors are heated! My god I love heated floors!

Oddly enough, there’s at least one English show on every time I’ve flipped through the channels, though, Korean television can be really entertaining, even though I have no idea what they’re saying. I watched people race to see who could wash hedgehogs really clean the fastest (the hedgehogs did NOT enjoy it), and there was an hour long spoof of project runway that was incredibly hilarious. There was one show, though, every time I flicked past it, it was the same two women crying and crying and crying... it think the show was just about those two women crying all day. Korean commercials are really funny though. They make songs and dances for everything, and Korean pop stars and pop bands sell just about everything.  There’s a commercial for face cream where the music for it is just someone counting to twenty in German in a dreamy voice with mystical sort of background music... it was random. I swear Korean TV doesn’t follow the start and end shows on the half hour/hour rule... shows seem to start and stop whenever, and have insanely long commercial breaks between each show. When they do commercials for American shows they make them into movie trailers, it’s the coolest thing, it makes the shows seem way more epic than they really are, haha. And there’s this one commercial for a money lending type of institution or a credit card where these businessmen are friends with a turnip and for some reason the turnip decides to get a haircut, and half of his leaves get trimmed off with clippers, and then him and the businessmen are in a business meeting and all of a sudden they start laughing at him and he gets embarrassed because of his hair and then all of a sudden the businessmen are posing with him for pictures and then he does a little dance. So random. Why a turnip, that’s what I want to know.

We went out for dinner last night (Sunday) at a Bulgogi restaurant down the road from my apartment. You take off your shoes when you come in the door and you sit on cushions on the floor to eat.  It was incredibly delicious, and nothing like the Bulgogi we had in Canada. They bring a hot plate to your table and put a big pot with these spore type mushrooms, huge long strips of beef, some sort of leaves, rice noodles, and a yummy broth, and you cook it yourself. And then! The side dishes! You always get at least six different types of side dishes... it’s insane. Kimchi and then a whole bunch of different things. There was this one, it was egg and some red stuff, and it was so delicious! The food here is spectacular, even though almost everything is in a broth, haha.  My co-teacher and I went out for lunch today (Monday) and I had mandoo (I am only 67% sure that that is the way you spell it). It’s like wonton soup, but it was pork dumplings and rice cakes in a broth. It wasn’t the rice cakes you immediately think of... I wish I could remember their name, but they’re a really dense and thick rice based pasta, I guess, cut into round chunks... it was really delicious. 

Fruit juice here is insanely sweet. I bought a bottle of Minute Made orange juice last night. It said 100% pure on it, but it was more like orange punch than orange juice. It was still good though, it just surprised me. And milk! Holy crap, go to another country and buy milk and see how well you fare. My co-teacher asked me if I wanted just regular milk... figuring regular milk would be like 2% I said yes. I went to put some in my tea today, and regular milk here is pretty much cream. Unexpected.

Even the food here is cute. The cereal mascots are even more cartoony, and the box of tea I bought has the most adorable instructions, it tells you to let the tea steep for 2-3 minutes, sit on a chair and do some leg exercises while you wait, dunk the tea bag 5 times, and then enjoy... and it has adorable diagrams for each step! Oh! And try finding black tea here, holy shit... my co-teacher and the store clerk went on a wild goose chase, and the only black tea we could find was a box of 100 tea bags by Liptons.

My co-teacher and I went to the Korean Wal-Mart, called E-Mart, today (Monday), to get some house stuff. It is crazy. It’s four floors, each floor being ginormous, and you can buy bloody well anything there. I couldn’t believe it. It's like four Wal-Marts stacked on top of each other!

We went to the school today... it’s really huge but quite nice. The school is about a five minute walk from my house, up a giant hill... because EVERYTHING here is a giant hill. Yeosu is literally nestled in a bunch of mountains. It’s beautiful! There’s palm trees! Right behind the school is the university, and the campus looks spectacular; I will definitely need to go wandering around it. Tomorrow’s my first day, but, apparently, English classes do not start until next week. Thank god. I have no idea what I would be teaching tomorrow if they did start tomorrow. I guess I will meet my other co-teachers tomorrow.

The water here is definitely not drinkable unless you boil it first. My co-teacher took me grocery shopping last night, and she asked me if I wanted to buy some water. Knowing me, and how I’m against paying for things that are a fundamental human right, especially water, I asked her if the tap water was drinkable. I may as well have asked her if I could drink out of the toilet with the look that she gave me! All in all, I’m glad I asked, otherwise I wouldn’t have any water for tea. At least bottled water is cheap here; about 750 won for two litres, and if you buy it at E Mart it’s even less.

Today is Tuesday, and it was my first day at work. The first week is all administration stuff. All of the teachers are really nice, though not many of them really speak English. Koreans like coffee the way I do, I found that out today... too much sugar and lots of milk. I thought I was the only one that drank coffee like that! The teachers and I went for gimsap (I’m pretty sure that’s what it was called) for lunch today. It’s basically mackerel and kimchi baked together, and you put the fish, some rice, and red bean sauce on some lettuce leaves and eat it like a wrap. Holy wow it was delicious. It was really cute when we were sitting down, the other teachers kept asking my co-teacher if I could use chopsticks, and whether they should ask for a fork for me, and they didn’t really believe her when she told them I could use chopsticks. That was, until they saw me using them. They told her to tell me how impressed they were.

The ladies I work with are really lovely, and all quite young. On the walk back from lunch they told my co-teacher to tell me that they want to be friends with me and that we will try and communicate with each other as best as we can; I’m trying to establish some phrases so that I can talk to them at least a little. My co-teacher said she would help me.

We had a teacher’s meeting at the end of the day to introduce all of the new teachers, there’s at least ten or twelve new teachers, including me. When they went to introduce me, I have no idea what the principal said, but there were two tables full of younger teachers and they all “awwwed” when he said it... and then started giggling.  I'm going to have to get used to being "awww"ed and giggled at, I think

I had to go for my medical exam today. Talk about efficiency, we were in the hospital for less than twenty minutes, and I had to get seven tests done! At least the lady doing the blood test was nice enough, she didn’t just jam the needle in my arm and dig. I think my co-teacher told her I was afraid of needles though, so that’s probably why.

I went grocery shopping all by myself tonight! I was so proud, I finally built up the courage to go after school. Grocery shopping in a foreign language is slightly intimidating. I bought some kind of pork to cook up for dinner. I recognized the word pork, but had to look up the other word when I got home, and it wasn’t any more helpful even knowing what it was. Peace of mind. Pork peace of mind. What the hell is pork peace of mind?? And I know it wasn’t brains because it didn’t look like brains. It was just a chopped up cut of pork, it cooked up nicely though and was inexpensive. I think my dictionary may be off on some things.

This morning all of the new teachers were introduced to the school over the morning announcements, which are done on a TV... so I had to be on TV... everyone giggles when I do things, I don’t know if I’m doing things wrong and people think I’m silly or if they just find it funny to see foreign people doing things. There was a celebration this morning as well for the arrival of all of the new grade 1 students, we all stood out in the courtyard and wrote messages on post it notes and attached them to helium balloons, and on the principal's count we released them into the sky. There were at least two hundred balloons, it was crazy, and it looked so awesome, watching all of the balloons float off over the high rise apartments by the school... though, I’m pretty sure they all ended up as litter throughout the city.

Today was Wednesday, and, great news, I never have to worry about having to get up early enough to make lunch, the school provides a hot lunch every day! How awesome is that?! Lunch today was great, we had a spicy squid dish (I didn’t know it was squid until my co-teacher told me once I had started eating it... it was so delicious though!), rice (of course), another kind of kimchi that I hadn’t tried yet (I think they have a million types of Kimchi), seaweed soup (which was suspiciously delicious, despite the fact that it was just seaweed and chicken broth), and huge delicious strawberries. I can definitely get used to this, haha.

I haven’t been doing much because I’m not really even sure what grades I will be teaching, but I’ve been going through the first three chapters of the teaching books that I have been given, and studying up on them so I know what they’re all about, just in case.

The teachers here are really nice even though there’s a huge language barrier. One of the older teachers started reading out loud to me from the teacher’s guide I was working from and asked me if he was reading okay, haha. He later offered me his shoes... but it was because, every Wednesday all of the teachers play a volleyball game, and I didn’t know, so I didn’t have shoes. I’ll be ready to make an ass of myself next Wednesday though.

When I left school today one of the other teachers ran after me yelling “Tara Smith! Tara Smith!” at the top of his lungs; he could speak English and he wanted to say hello, and introduce himself. It was pretty cute.

One thing that I have trouble understanding is that, the English teachers here don’t really speak English. I am unsure how they manage to teach English without speaking it. A few of them do speak English, but many do not, or very minimal English... maybe they just speak enough to get by in class and that’s it.  I guess I'll see when classes start.

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