This update is partially verbatim from my diary entry: SUNDAY
Christina and I went for my first walk through a Korean neighborhood. We bought some necessities for my place. At the counter, I was figuring out what to pay. 28,000 won. I need 3 10,000 won bills. I looked for which ones were the 10,000 bills. I recognized King Sejong, the only Korean figure in history I could recognize. Aloud I said, “Three Sejongs.” Christina said that the older lady next to the girl at the counter sounded impressed that I knew who King Sejong was.
Christina’s place is at the foot of a hill. There’s a well under a shelter with a pipe running water out of it. It’s pure mountain spring water. They get their drinking water from it, saying it’s much safer than the tap water. Christina and Glen worked on my new computer some after we found a nice smashed computer on the side of the road. We raided it for parts and got me a free upgrade.
We packed the car with my new sheets and stuff and headed to Chris’s place via the car wash. I got to pay attention more to the driving in Korea. Then I decided it was better to close my eyes. I’m not driving in a country where a red light is considered a suggestion. At Chris’s place, we made some trade-off so I could get a toaster oven. We then went to my place to unload my stuff. We found a larger and nicer bed frame thrown out next to the building. I’ll have to get a larger mattress with my first paycheck, I guess. After we put it together and cleaned dishes, we went to the most crowded department store I’ve ever experienced, Home Plus. More crowded and pushy than Wal-Mart, though not as many parents beating their kids. There IS a Wal-Mart here, though. We got groceries for my place. At first I was trying to find ingredients for basic recipes. Realizing how futile that was, I just bought prepped foods and items that were on sale and looked interesting. I’ll just throw them into a wok and see how they taste. I bought a whole red fish for sashimi. The fishmonger asked if I wanted it sliced. Not thinking clearly, I said, “No.” Got a 12-pack of beer for a little over 12,000 won ($9 US). Turned out the beers themselves are magnum gangsta sized. One bottle should last me a whole evening. Even so, the Korean beer I’ve had so far has been light and bland. It’ll be good in the summer. I’ll live with it for now. I also noticed that the Japanese strange craze over mayonnaise is seeping into Korea. There was a wall of different flavored mayonnaise, including (get this) kiwi and mango. So far, I think I’m pretty set. My groceries and extra appliances for my apartment cost a total of 127,000 won (less than $100). I hope the rest of my money holds out until pay day. If I’m able to do that, then living here will be a lot easier.
As Christina said, I’m in the “Waygook Ghetto” (Foreigner Ghetto). The apartment is around the same size as the one in Jacksonville, but much nicer. The floors are linoleum, but they look like blonde hardwood. The trim has a cherry wood look and so does my new bed. I have a small French cafe style glass table. It looks charming, but I have bumped into it a lot. I have a short refrigerator, which I’ve found makes a decent food prep area. The gas burners kick butt. The flames reach as high as the flames they have the woks on in Chinese restaurants. I can do some major stir fry with this.
After Glen and Christina left, I started making sushi rice and unpacking my new stuff. Unfortunately, my fish cleaning skills aren’t that great. I barely got any meat off that fish for anything. Changing plans, I put the sushi rice in a container in the fridge for a later date. Started a new batch of rice and stir fried the Korean sweet and sour chicken I found on sale for 1,800 won ($1 US). Popped open a beer. The chicken was great and spicy hot. My first Korean meal I cooked for myself. I couldn’t finish the food or the beer.
Next I unpacked the suitcases. I’ll need to iron all my shirts. When that was done, I took a walk to see how long it would take to walk to my school. I love my neighborhood. Once you get out of the ghetto, it’s like Times Square. To add to the ambiance, a building was blaring techno music into the street. I saw people entering and huddling into steamy soju tents for late night snacks. The air was alive with the smells of oils, meats, fish, and sweets. I can’t wait until I’m more confident in ordering food and shopping. There’s a lot to explore. I’m near Hanyang University, so there are lots of college hangouts. I need to take pictures of some of the funny things I see. There’s a bar called “Yuppie,” a store with a cartoon drawing of an African pygmy that you would never find politically correct in the States, and for those of you who lived in Decatur, there’s a little store called Family Mart. I remember my route from school to my apartment. Just follow the road for a few blocks and turn right at the picture of black pigs.
I woke up and noticed that my alarm clock and watch had different times on them. Either way, it was around 4 AM, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I read and wrote for a few hours. Made some coffee. Got ready to go out. Thought I’d take a walk early to see if some store had a clock with the correct time. It was freezing outside. I walked to another section of my neighborhood. There are buildings here that I think are restaurants. They look like old wooden Korean homes. They’re not really old but made to look folksy, like Cracker Barrel. I’m really going to enjoy these walks. I returned to my apartment, grabbed my backpack, and headed to school. On the way there, I found a clock that confirmed that my watch had the correct time, and that I was way early. I killed time by walking around the neighborhood more. There are smells coming out of restaurants and big cauldrons boiling out steam in front of some. No idea what’s in them.
I entered the school and met Ms. Sue. We have to take our shoes off and wear slippers in the school. I’m now wearing a nice suit with grandma-looking gray flowery slippers that are way too tight. She gave me an orientation packet and a desk to sit at. The faculty meeting was around nine o’clock. I work with four other foreigners, but all but one are leaving soon. More are coming in the next month. Everyone was polite. The first American I met, Brant, offered to pick me up some doughnuts, which I declined. Then the Brit, Ross, asked if I wanted a biscuit (cookie). Nah. Thanks.
I’ve had to observe classes today. I’ve found that the school if for 4-7 year-olds. So class consists mostly of making things fun. The kids have English names. Sometimes the teachers pick them out, sometimes the kids, and sometimes the parents pick them out. In my first class, one of the kids was named Dumbo. And his parents came up with that one.
So far, the job looks like it’ll not be hard. It’s babysitting, like I thought it would be. High priced babysitting.
The second class I attended was a phonics class taught by one of the Korean teachers. She gave out stickers when the children did well. She had this device consisting of three flip cards. It had a consonant on each end and a vowel in the middle, so she could teach the kids “box”, “fox”, “ox”, etc. After doing the initial routine, she decided to work on the vowels some more, flipping the middle cards while the children made the sound of each vowel. Trouble was that the first and last letters she had facing were “f” and “g.” That was amusing.
Then things got more surreal. When the children accomplished their task for the class, the teacher gave them a treat… a treat of dried anchovies. I remember in Dante’s speech therapy they awarded them with goldfish crackers. This took it to a more literal level. The kids loved them. I tried them myself, and they were pretty good, I’ll admit, if you don’t mind the heads.
I had lunch with the children, which consisted of rice, a bowl of soup with meat dumplings, kimchi, and some other marinated bean sprout thing. It was actually pretty good. It was my first real Korean meal in Korea made by Koreans. And it was day care food. The Korean chopsticks take some getting used to also, since they’re made of metal. A snack was served a little later during a class consisting of rice noodles shaped into chewy logs and some sweet brown sauce that would taste great with linguine.
Anyway, we’re in a break right now, with screaming kids running up and down the hallways. I’ve been invited out for a birthday celebration. Making friends with the one teacher who is staying. I have to get my alien registration card, and he needs to get a new one himself, so I guess I have a partner to help me get that done. Heh, alien registration card. I’m an alien.
Even with all this strange and surreal stuff, I’m still not getting the culture shock I had in Germany. I’m still waiting for it to hit me.
Well, the cheerful bell that sounds like a greeting card and a Pokemon game has rung. Time for me to return to class.