Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chuseok Holiday

My co-teacher walked me to my school from my apartment so that I would know how to get there. She tole me a little about the scenery on the way. My school is named “Joongang” Middle School meaning “central.” Apparently where I live used to be the center of Daegu. Now downtown is considered more of the central area. We got a taxi from the school to downtown, which ended up being only about 7 minutes. Taxis here are WAY less expensive than at home. It only ended up being something like $3... tipping not necessary here. We got to this mall that was kind of like a big Nordstrom, with a bunch of other stores connected. We went to the Apple store to try to find a converter for my laptop. Their only solution was a 98,000 won (about $85) new plug. No thanks. We headed downstairs and eventually found a cheap converter to use with any of my plugs. Sun Young then took me to a Japanese restaurant for lunch.

Alright guys... figure out how to
write my address on an envelope
and start sending me presents!

Today is Chuseouk. A day where families give thanks to their ancestors. From what I gathered, they usually go visit graves and give offerings. They also have large feasts similar to our Thanksgiving. Unlucky for me, I don’t know anyone in Daegu, so I am left to fend for myself from today until Saturday. I was going to wander around Daegu for a little today but it is POURING outside so I decided to unpack a little and do some blogging. I’m watching what little TV I have. Depending on the programming, I have anywhere from zero-5 English channels to watch. There may be some sort of option for subtitles in English but all of the buttons on my remote are in Korean so.... who knows. 

Actually, every button on every appliance in my apartment has Korean writing on it. So it becomes somewhat of a guessing game. One thing I will need help with is the washing machine (too bad... no dryer!) Every appliance also makes some sort of cute beeping noise when turned on/off or a button is pressed, including my door buttons.

Check out some of the wonderful commercials I get to see on TV here:
Daily Lemon Water (this one gets stuck in your head when you hear it 50 times during one show)
KB Good Day Card (gotta love how pop-ish Korea is)

I’m also pretty sure I’m sleeping on a box spring. Either that or Korean mattresses are very very hard. Another thing I don’t get is the trash. Apparently the Korean government is a stickler for recylcing due to mass pollution. I think it is a great idea, I just don’t know how to use it. Yet another time when reading Korean would come in handy. There is a tiny recycling can in my apartment with a bunch of words on it. 


So the past few days I have spent wandering around the area where I live. Apparently people here don’t see many foreigners. I get stared down everywhere I go (except the downtown area.. ill get to that later). It is mostly the older generations who stare, but there are some younger ones too. South Korea is unlike America, where people are of different and mixed ethnicities. Korea has one race.... Korean. Sure there are some people of other Asian descent, the occasional American/Canadian/Brit/Kiwi/Aussie/Irish, and oddly some Arabs, but the main ethnicity is Korean. Thus, I get people staring bluntly at me as if I were the walking plague. This is especially true in the area surrounding my apartment due to its small town-like feel and I’m assuming not many foreigners are actually LIVING in the area. Even though Daegu is the third largest city in S. Korea, it definitely does not see anything near as many tourist and foreigners as Seoul. If I end up seeing more white people, I will let you know. 
Another observation: the people of Daegu do not or will not speak much English. Granted, my general knowledge of the Korean language can be summed up with “hello” and “thank you”... and I added “yes” to the mix, but I thought things might be a little easier. There is such an urgent need for learning the English language yet no one will speak it. Therefore, I get by with a little hand gesture here and a little charade-like action there. For example, yesterday I did a little shopping at a convenience store (FamilyMart) near my apartment... think Korean 7-11, even though there really are 7-11s here! I bought some apples and some beer (found some Heinekens!) The lady at the counter was just chatting away in Korean, maybe even asked for my ID... who knows. I just shrugged my shoulders, exchanged some blank stares, looked at the register to see how much it was, and went on my way. This describes the majority of my interactions sadly. Time for some Korean lessons ASAP! Maybe once my apartment get internet! 
I also still dont know how this whole trash thing works and my kitchen is starting to stink :( I’m waiting to ask my co-teacher when she arrives to pick me up tomorrow to take me to the train station. Tomorrow I am taking the bullet train to Seoul for orientation. Six days of workshops and lesson planning lessons. At least maybe I will be able to meet some people. Not knowing anyone in a foreign country gets a little lonely after awhile!! 
What I also found today was a beautiful park near my house, maybe 15 minutes walking distance, with the Daegu public library sitting right in the middle. 
Gukchae-bosong Memorial Park
built in honor of the
National Debt Repayment Movement
Sunflowers!! So pretty

I love that there is so much
GREEN all over Korea's huge cities!

I haven’t figured out the bus/rapid bus/metro system, so walking will do for now. The downtown shopping area is about 30 minutes walking distance from my house. I am not kidding you when I say there are hundreds and hundreds of people there at any time. Do these people not have school or work because I was there in the middle of the day!? Anyway I found anything from high end boutiques to the Gap and Zara to little shops where you can bargain. SO many stores and I only saw a handful of what was actually there. I realized I have to pretty much buy a whole new wardrobe because I am too scandalous here. California wardrobes do not translate well to Korea. Girl Korean dress= high necklines, hardly any shorts, longer skirts or dresses, and heels or sneakers (bye bye rainbows? I still wear them but I get weird looks). Almost ALL Korean girls around here wear heels at all times... how they do it I will never know. My dress code for work is jeans or anything else not too short (“remember these are middle school boys and they are curious” says my coteacher) and a nice-ish top with a high neckline.
Well, hopefully at orientation I will be able to get these blog posts up and going. Until then I am typing offline in a word document. What did people ever do before the internet?? It has only been one week and I am going through withdrawals and feel like I am completely disconnected from all of my friends and family!! Ahh... I will be back online soon, I promise!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First Few Days

Arrived at the San Diego airport on Sept 17th. I brought 2 pieces of luggage, a carry on, a camera, and a purse. The weight limit on checked baggage before they charge you ($200 a bag!) is 50 lbs and the absolute maximum is 70lbs.... So of course one of my bags was 57lbs and one was over 70lbs. Thank god I had my dad to help me unload about 27lbs of things from my 2 suitcases. Then, to top it all off, they were expecting my plane to be delayed. Normally this would be ok but I had a connecting flight to catch in San Francisco and about an hour and a half in between flights to do it. Luckily we only ended up being delayed by about 20 minutes. My connecting flight at SFO ended up being across the entire airport so me, my large (and heavy) carryon, camera, and purse went flying quickly across the airport after we landed. I even heard my name announced over the loud speaker as I was on my way to the gate. As luck would have it again, my flight to Seoul ended up being delayed by 20 minutes anyway. About 12 hours and many movies later, my flight landed at the Incheon/Seoul airport. I passed through customs, grabbed ALL of my bags, and made my way to an airport hotel. By the way, summer in South Korea means very hot, humid, rainy weather.

Incheon (Seoul) Airport

Sitting out the rain in my hotel room.

The next day I took a 8:30am flight to Daegu (45 minute flight). Once I arrived in Daegu I realized how much smaller this city was compared to Seoul. Not only was the airport pretty small, but there was about 20 times less English than there was in Seoul. I hopped in a taxi with an old man driving who spoke approximately zero words in English and didn’t know where the address was that I gave him. I eventually arrived at where I was supposed to meet the director of Daegu Metropolitan Education after a lot of gestures and unknown English/Korean words swapped. I signed my contract and was soon met by my co-teacher, Sun Young, the vice principal, and the chief officer of administration (I think). Only my co-teacher spoke English. They drove me to my new apartment and helped me carry my heavy bags two flights up the stairs. My apartment is about the size of my room at home, but I don’t really need much more room than this. Right inside the door is a closet-sized kitchen. This leads to a bedroom/closet/dining area, which is then connected to a bathroom/shower and a closet/laundry room. One nice thing about my apartment building is that it doesn’t require any keys, just a code to get into the building and another to get into my apartment (kind of reminds me of the good ole ADPi days). 

Ugly wallpaper and bed spread, oh my!
Bedroom/Living room/Dining Room

Uber mini kitchen

Typical Korean shower bathroom.
Just imagine...
you can shower, brush your teeth,
and sit on the toilet all at the same time

My street: Apartment building on the left, at the end.

After showing me around my apartment, I was driven to the Daegu Joongang Middle School. On the way I was told to remember how to get to the school as I would be walking everyday. It is only about a 20 minute walk but after turning down 5 different alleyways, I got a little confused. We arrived at the all boys school and I was met by the principal. He also did not speak English but told my co-teacher that I looked like a movie star haha. I was then led to my office in the “English Zone,” which I will share with five other teachers. There are a total of six English teachers including myself. Only two of the other English teachers speak English very well. My desk is at the head of the office with the biggest desk, overlooking all of the other teachers (a little intimidating). I was then brought to the teacher’s lunch area for my first legitimate Korean meal. There was soup and rice and a few other side dishes. One of which I thought had green beans... I was sorely mistaken. It was THE HOTTEST pepper I have ever had in my life. If I thought I was already sweating from the heat, I was definitely sweating from the pepper. I wanted to faint and throw up at the same time. I thought I loved spicy food until I got here and realized I there is a whole different level of spicy. After lunch I sat around waiting for my co-teacher to be done with her duties and let her students go. The students got Tuesday-Friday off for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) so they were let off early on Monday so that they could travel to their relative’s hometowns. I chatted with one of the other English teachers, Jon. He asked if I knew any Korean and I told him I knew “hello” and “thank you.” To my surprise he said that my pronunciation was very good... Thanks Amber! My co-teacher and Vice Principal took me to open a bank account. Good thing I had Sun Young with me or else I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Most people speak little English. They then brought me across town to E-Mart, which is an enormous version of something like Wal-mart, Target, Macys, and Costco combined. I had to shop for things for my apartment like bedding, food, etc. Turns out this was the worst day to go because it was right before the holidays. Think being at the grocery store on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving... complete chaos. By the end of the shopping trip I was completely exhausted but the VP insisted on taking me out to dinner. We went to a place near my apartment and had something similar to bulgogi without a bunch of sauce. Pretty good. But my VP insisted that I keep eating... too much beef in too short of time! He also ordered rice and stew after the meal. My coteacher made sure to take out all of the peppers in my stew before serving it to me because she remembered what happened earlier haha. The VP bought me a yogurt drink and some type of very sweet grapes at the restaurant to take home after the meal. So nice!