Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What I love about Korea

I have been in Korea for just over 5 weeks and although there are moments when I wonder what was I thinking coming here, there are many more moments when I know I made the right choice. I thought I would use this space to mention some of the things that I have come to love about Korea.

1. No tipping. In Canada we tip for everything - when you get your haircut, take a taxi ride, eat in a restaurant, get a delivery etc. ect. but in Korea you never leave a tip. I'm sure if you tried they would just look at you like you were crazy.

2. No GST / PST on anything. That's right - no taxes. If the price tag says 1,000w then you pay 1,000w.

3. Banana milk. A fellow teaching friend of mine introduced me to this and I am now addicted. Basically it's banana flavoured milk and it is so good. You can buy it anywhere you can buy snack foods like the local 7 eleven. It comes in a small, pastic container and usually costs 1,000w ($1.00). The way I see it must be better for me than drinking pop.

4. You can eat an entire meal at Homeplus with all the free samples they give away. Homeplus is the local department / grocery store. It's a huge store with 2 floors but in the grocery section they have people (sometimes more than 1) in every row giving out samples of food. It sounds like the floor of the New York Stock exchange with people yelling over each other trying to get you to sample their food. You could spend all day wandering around and trying the different things. The only downside is that you don't always know what your eating. More than a few times I have put something in my mouth only to descreetly spit it out.

5. Finally I love Korean McDonalds - not because it tastes good but because it tastes so bad. A few weeks ago I went to the above mentioned Homeplus and thought I would splurge and have McDonald's while I was there. I was excited to eat something other than seafood and rice as that seems to be the main staple of the Korean diet. I eagerly went up to the counter, ordered my chicken nuggets and french fries and sat down anticipating this taste of home. I ate my first nugget and almost died - it was so spicey my mouth was on fire. So I tried the french fries and somehow they managed to even make those taste like fish. I like Korean McDonald's because I now have no desire to ever eat McDonald's again and given how unhealthy the food there is - this is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The honeymoon is over ... now reality.

I have been in Korea for just over a month and up until now I have felt like a tourist. This whole experience was like an extended holiday, an exciting and adventurous holiday, but still a holiday. Last night I came home from work to find my heating bill waiting for me. It should have been no big deal, the amount wasn't anyting exorbitant or shocking, but when I saw it reality hit home. I live here. I live in Korea. I'm not on holiday. I'm not going home in a few weeks. I still have to do the same mundane chores I did at home. I still have to pay my bills, buy my groceries, clean my apartment, do my laundry and go to work. It's time to stop being a tourist in Korea and start living in Korea.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A day in my life

So a few people have asked me what an average day is like here in Korea and how it compares to Canada so I thought I would give a brief summary here. Bascially this is a breakdown of an average weekday for me (weekends are different because of course I don't have to go to work).

6:45 - I wake up and turn my hot water on. The heating system here is very different. I have a box on the wall where I control both the heat in the apartment and the heat of my water. I flip a switch to have just the water heater on or the room heater or both. You have to be very careful not to leave the water heater on when your not using it or you will pay dearly when you get your heating bill. You also turn your heater off when your not home. They use a heating system here called On-dol heating which means the heating comes up through the floor so the room heats up quickly. It's kind of great because your floors are always nice and warm and you can walk around barefoot.

Once the water is heated up I will have a quick shower. My shower is very different from a Canadian shower. Basically my bathroom is my shower - we call it a toilet shower. You have a showerhead attached to your sink and a drain in the floor and you shower standing in the middle of the bathroom. Your toilet paper and other items are in a special enclosed area so they don't get wet but everything else gets soaked. Usually I open the window so the floor dries pretty quickly.

7:45 I head to the bus stop to catch my bus to school. My bus ride usually takes 15 min depending on the traffic. The bus stops are great here because every bus stop has a screen and it will tell how many minutes until the next bus comes. I'm lucky because the bus I take is fairly empty when I get on so I can usually find a seat. The seats on the buses are wierd. Some buses have almost no seats in the front just open spaces for people to stand, but all of them have seats in the back that are up higher, you actually have to step up into them. I try to avoid those seats because you can't see out the windows and it's hard to know when your stop is. Bus drivers are crazy drivers too. If you have to stand then you hang on for dear life because they barely slow down when they take a corner and usually wait until the last minute to hit the breaks. Compared to Canada buses are very cheap. It costs $1000 won (approx $1.00) if you ar epaying cash. If you have a Hannkumi Card then it's only 950w. A Hannkumi card looks like a credit card and you deposit money onto it at the GS25 convenience stores. Every time you get on the bus you swipe the card and it deducts the cost from your balance. They also let you transfer to another bus or subway without repaying.

8:15-8:30 I arrive at school. I go to my desk, turn on my computer and review my lessons for the day. Sometimes I meet with my co teachers to go over last minute details for our classes that day. Usually this means that they try to talk to me and I don't understand a word they say, then I speak to them and they don't understand a word I say. We then go into class and try to teach together. Usually the first class of the day is difficult because we are both unsure of exactly what the other is going to do. However we teach the same lesson all day, so for example on wednesday I teach only grade 4 but to 5 different classes, so after class one the rest of the classes usually go fairly smooth.

9:00 - 2:00 I teach. I am pretty much in the classroom right through until 2. We have 40 min classes with 10 minutes inbetween and an hour at lunch. The classes are fun so the day goes by quickly. The school is very digital, so everything is computerized and high tech. It's pretty neat and I'm starting to do things on my computer that I didn't know were possible.

Lunch - this is an experience. My lunch is provided for me in the cafeteria. I believe the cost is deducted from my pay. I usually go to lunch with my co teachers, we butt in front of all our kids and then grab our spoons, chopsticks and metal tray which is divided into compartments. the lunch lady fills the various compartments with different foods. There is always some kind of soup (it usually has tofu in it), a generous portion of rice, some kimchi and some kind of vegetable. Occasionally we will get stuffmixed with the rice like seaweed or vegetables and sometimes we get fruit or meat. Last week we had chicken legs. I am slowly getting used to the lunches but they give such large portions that I can never finish. Also my co teachers eat very fast and I am not good enough with my chopsticks to keep up. I ususally end up leaving half my lunch behind. After we are doen eating we take our trays to thesink and then we are given a glass of lukewarm tea which comes out of a big water dispenser. I got a shock the first day when I took a big gulp thinking it was water. I believe the tea is meant to clean your mouth as rice sticks to everything.

The rest of the afternoon I spend at my desk preparing lessons and activites for the next day.

4:30 I head back to the bus stop to go home. I sometimes feel badly leaving at 4;30 as all the other teachers are still there working. I found out that some of them are there until 6:30 - 7:00. However my contract is only until 4:30.

My evening is usually spent watching tv. Occasionally I will meet with friends but that doesn't happen to often during the week. It takes me 45 min on bus to get to downtown so usuallyafter teaching all day I can't be bothered. I learned that I can get a few english channels on my tv and I can watch all my favourite shows on the internet.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Air Raid

So I am sitting at my desk at school today when suddenly I hear this noise. It was a very loud siren. It reminded me of those war movie where you see the bombs falling in London and the air raid sirens going off. Suddenly I see some of the teachers standing at attention and staring out the window and I start to think, Oh my god we are being attacked. I think I must of had a look of shock on my face because my co teacher said to me, just a drill. It turns out that every month on the 15th they do these air raid drills to practice in case North Korea decides to attack. It's kind of surreal to be in a country that lives in the constant shadow of fear that one day they may be attacked by their neighbours to the north.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What I have learned so far ...

1. Despite the fact that there is supposed to be close to 1,000,000 foreigners living in South Korea, we stick out and attract a lot of attention. I must admit in my first few day here it was rather unnerving to walk down the street and have every other person stare at you. It's not done in a shy, don't let them see me looking manner that we Canadians would use. Instead they are very open and unashamed about it, sometimes tripping over themselves to look at you. It's not rudeness but curiosity. I'm at a point now where I don't even notice anymore although there are the occasional moments when it annoys me. Then you get those moments when your walking down the street and some little kid opens the window of his car as he's driving by and yells HELLO at you. Some Korean's are very curious about you but others seem downright fearful. It's almost funny to be riding on the bus and have the seat beside you be the only empty one. Watching the faces of the people as they get on and realize that their only options are to sit next to that strange looking foreigner, or standing. It's amazing how many people choose to stand.

2. In Korea there seems to be no rules on the road. Drivers just seem to go whereever they want, whenever they want to. Although they do seem to stop for red lights there seems to be no protocol for who turns when. It seems to be whoever is quickest or whoever pulls out first. You see cars cutting in front of each other constantly - and yet I haven't seen a single accident. It makes it a little scary when your trying to cross the street as you don't know who driving where. They really love to honk their horns, all the time, for no reason that I can see. They also seem to park anywhere they want. Sometimes they just stop their car in the middle of the road and park, oblivious to the fact that they are blocking all the traffic behind them.

3. They eat rice for every meal. Now I like rice but I just can't do it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I told my co teacher this she laughed and said that when she visited the UK she couldn't understand how they could bread at breakfast. It made me think about how all the things here that I find strange are normal for the people who live here and all the things that I find normal must seem strange to so many other.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are you looking at the monkey or is he looking at you?

So, after a quiet saturday of doing nothing more than navigating the buses to the local Homeplus and then sitting home watching movies and eating popcorn, I decided I needed to get out and do something on sunday. I contacted my friend Andre and we decided to check out the Daejeon Zoo. They don't actually call it Daejeon Zoo it's called O world and it's a combination zoo, amusement park and flower garden.

Sunday morning came and for once it was sunny out. I believe it has rained everyday since I've arrived so it was delightful to see some sun. I made my way to the subway and travelled downtown to meet Andre. We then boarded a bus that was, from our calculation, supposed to go to the zoo. We drove and drove and drove until we were outside of town and the last two people on the bus. Just when we were starting to wonder if we were going to the right place, there it was. It was actually in a very beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains and walking trails.

We lined up with the other zoo goers,, mostly families with children. We were very noticably the only foreigners there but we didn't care. Inside there was an amusement park with a few rides and then the zoo. As far as zoos go it was pretty good. They had an area with polar bears and otters and seals with an underwater observatory. They had all your typical monkeys in various cages and of course the people were crowded around watching the monkeys jump and fight. They are always the most popular animal. At one point some of them were reaching their hands out of the cage and the crowd was throwing food to them. I'm not sure how healthy it was for the monkeys but fun to watch anyways.

The coolest part was the big cats, leopards, cougars etc. They were in cages that went on both sides of the sidewalk. They had an overhead walkway where they could travel between each side while you stood underneath. I'm sure I was hit by cougar drool.

I was impressed by the number of animals that they had there and the manner in which they appeared to be cared for.

Next to the zoo was an area called Flower World and you pay for one admission to get into both. We wandered around there for a while and the views over Daejeon were spectacular. At this time of the year there wasn't much happening but I imagine in a few months when the flowers start to bloom it will be very beautiful. You could see where the flower beds were and I can only imagine how gorgeous it's going to look. I will definitly take a trip back.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

my home part 5

Notice the brand new washing machine. All the instructions are in Korean so it's a bit difficult to use.

my home part 4

My apartment is very tiny, but it's clean and new. Basically it's 3 rooms, kitchen, bathroom and everything else.

my home part 3

However, if I walk up my street it's like I enter another world. It's a busy street full of bars, coffee shops, restaurants and take outs. I live right next to Hannam University so the street is always full of students and hence most of the shops cater to them.

My home part 2

My apartment is on quiet street with a few shops and restaurants but mostly other apartments.

My home in Hong do dong

So I have had a few people ask me to post some pictures of my apartment and around my neighnourhood so the next few post will be just that. Unfortunatly I haven't quite figured out how to put more than one picture in a post so I will do it over a few posts.

This first picture is my building.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Squat or sit - which do you prefer?

So, I was faced with the harsh realities of living in a new country when I ventured into the bathroom at my public school. There were only empty cubicles with a basin in the floor - yes they were squatter toilets. Now, in my many travels I have certainly used squatters before. In Africa we had many days where we didn't even have that and had to do our business behind the tent, waving the flashlight madly to scare off any animals. Still I wasn't epectting it in my school. There's something comical about wearing a dress and squatting over a whole in the floor trying not to let your skirt touch anything. I'm getting used to it though and just think how strong my leg muscles will be by the end of the year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

First Day - Wadong Elementary School

Yesterday, with butterflies in my stomach, I headed out to Wadong Elementary School, for my first day at work. I was slightly anxious because I didn't know what to expect. When I saw my coteacher on friday she never explained to me about what would happen on the first day or even where I should go on my first day. All I knew was that I was to arrive early (7:50 instead of 8:30) and that I should take #711 bus and get off at the bridge.

So I got on the bus at 7:15 and of course it was raining so the windows were fogged and the bus was crowded. I peered anxiously out and watched for the bridge, praying that I didn't miss my stop. Of course I missed it, I saw the bridge as were driving under it. I got off at the next stop and walked back (only 5 minutes so no big deal). I get to the school and there is no one there. In my nervousness and paranoia I start to wonder if I am at the right school. I wander around until another teacher sees me looking lost and directs me to the staff room / vice principals office. First I have to change my shoes because outdoor shoes are not worn inside the school. Fortunatly someone prewarned me so I brought my own shoes rather than wear the ugly, uncomfortable slippers they provide.

I am taken to the Vice-principals office where I sit trying to make small talk with him but his english is very limited. He keeps saying to me :you know Cheryl Tiegs - very pretty" Yesterday was the first day of the new school year so there were a few new teachers and eventually we were all taken into a a larger staff room and introduced to the other teachers. I have no idea what was said about me, all I understood was Cheryl, Canada and Olympics but when they all turned to look at me, I bowed and they clapped.

After that I was introduced to the students via video. They have a seperate room that is a like a movie studio where they record the morning announcements. The children run the video camera and the vice-principal stands at a podium and speaks. All the new teachers and the new principal were introduced this way.

The english classes don't start until next week so I was taken upstairs and shown the english staffroom and given my computer and desk.. I share an office with 3 other english teachers and a music teacher. The rest of the morning was spent preparing lesson plans and getting ready to for classes to start next week.

At lunch time all the new teachers were taken out to a restaurant to have lunch with the new principal. We were taken to a local Korean restaurant where we all had to sit on mat on the floor. It was a little uncomfortable as everyone kept watching me to see how I handled the chopsticks. As well the vice-principal kept coming over and pouring everyone Soju shots. My co teacher later told me the VP likes soju and I should try to avoid him.

The rest of the afternoon was spent doing administrative tasks, going to immigration to apply for my alien registration card and buying my cell phone.

I survived my first day now on thursday I get to go to my second school and possibly do it all over again.