Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is this real?

Korean Meal in Air
I've made it to South Korea! Here I am at 8:15 (PM) Korean time (4:13AM), sipping on some soju and orange juice and eating kimchi in my nicely air conditioned officetel. Since my last post, I have safely made it to Korea and taught 1 day of English classes. The flight was as amazing as a 13-hour flight can get. TVs at each seat, non-stop service from the beautiful Korean flight attendants, and my English speaking Korean seat neighbor were absolutely wonderful, but still, it was 13 hours. The best, thought, was the seat neighbor, Jeong-Min. I asked her: "If there is just one piece of advice you could give to a foreigner living in Korea, what would it be?" She explained that Koreans are often more physical, assertive, and touchy when showing you that they care and to just be open and accepting to that. Note taken, and very much observed. 

Once off the flight, Jeong-Min noticed that my carry on was quite heavy (my bad for not getting one with wheels) and assisted me in carrying it. With one hand from each of us on the handle, it was bearable. She also helped me in navigating the airport, which was not too confusing. We exchanged contact info and she went to meet her sister to head home and surprise her parents (she is studying in the U.S.). Unfortunately, my scheduled van driver was not there right away and for an instant, I panicked. It is a very scary feeling being alone in a new country, not having a clue  to the where abouts of a method out of the airport, and even with transportation, not a clue where to go. 

Van Ride Prior to Apartment Arrival
My fears were smashed after I did a money exchange and headed back to the gates. A man stood waiting for me with a sign that said, "Welcome to Korea Lana." WHEW! When we met, I foolishly tried speaking English to him, but he did not understand me. That means that during the entire van ride, which lasted about an hour, we were unable to communicate and so, I had absolutely no idea where we were going. Would he take me to my apartment? My school? A temporary motel? I kept trying to guess based on the turns we were taking and the few street signs that I could read, but I had no idea until we arrived at my building. Well actually, I still could not tell if it was my apartment or a motel from outside...Only until I walked in the apartment door were my questions finally answered. 

At my apartment (or officetel), I met my co-teacher. She is absolutely amazing in so many ways. Her and I have a lot in common, which is refreshing in a country that so far feels hard to made connections. I won't go too into detail about how wonderful she is because she deserves an entire post (coming soon). I will simply say that she has made settling in as easy as it gets. After getting the basics out of the way at my apartment, she and I walked to the school so that I would be ready for the walk the next day. By this time it was about 3:30am US time, so I was pooped. The 10-minute walk felt like 100 minutes. When I got back I had to make a trip to the E-Mart (giant store with anything you could possibly dream of). I mainly just wanted toilet paper, but bought paper towels on accident. Oh well!

Do Not Press
Excited to use my recently purchased paper towels and break my Korean toilet in, I went pee when I got back from the store. Afterward, I could not figure out how to flush as there are many buttons on the toilet, all labeled in Korean. Hmm... The first two were definitely not the flush and water began shooting in the air all the way into my kitchen. In aw, I just sort of stared for a minute. Finally, I pressed the buttons again and the waterfall stopped. I found the flush button, which actually looks like an American toilet-flushing tool, but I had totally missed it. 

The first day of school was 100% awkward, but the good sort of awkward. Afraid of getting lost, I left about 30 minutes too early. Once I entered the building, I had no idea where to go. Roaming the halls, I received many English "hellos" and bows from friendly students. They were obviously very curious and eager to meet me. Finally, I found my main co-teacher and was shown to my office space, which is equipped with my own computer. Score! After many introductions, I realized I had not taken off my shoes nor did I have indoor shoes to wear. One of the teachers told me it was OK and to just wear what I had on. Strike for Lana. This prompted my second E-Mart trip this evening. I taught 5 classes, all with co-teachers and students ranging from grades 3-6. In one class my teacher and I taught the word "fart" during a lesson on comparatives, smelly/smellier being the comparative. I said it, drew it, and explained the meaning without breaking a laugh. After my students started laughing, though, I let it out! During a staring contest, one girl was absolutely amazed that I had green eyes and it totally threw me off. When I am here in this country, most of the time I feel extremely different, but this is not the case when I am in the act of teaching. During this time I feel strangely similar, even though I am often unable to understand my students and vise versa. I think it has something to do with us sharing a common goal of just trying to understand- them the language and me how to teach the language. Anyway, I guess her pointing out the difference took me back to that feeling of not fitting in that I felt at the air port, at school when not teaching and briefly around Anyang. Luckily, this only lasted minutes and soon I was back to teaching. 

After school, it was off to get my health check with my co-teacher. The hospital is also within 10 minutes walking distance, by the way. It wasn't fun and cost me 85,000 won, which was pretty much the lowest of my experiences thus far. Afterward my co-teacher and I went to a little coffee shop attached to my officetel building. My co-teacher taught me some Korean character basics and I am going to make sure to make flashcards and study. It is going to be absolutely pertinent that I learn Korean if I want to live comfortably in Anyang. I have seen only 2 other foreigners and talked to just a few people that can speak fluent English. 

After coffee, we parted and I re-visited E-mart. I really needed a shopping cart this time, but had trouble with them the night before because they are locked. So, I asked an employee for directions in unlocking the carts. He kindly unlocked it for me, but on my way out, I realized you are to pay and there is an inconspicuous coin slot. I felt lame. 

I bought a lot of cleaning supplies because my officetel is very much in need of a heavy cleaning. The previous teacher just moved out 2 days ago and as far as I have heard, it is generallythe duty of the new resident to clean. Anyway, the cleaning supplies were heavy, but a very friendly Korean man at the bottom of the elevator insisted he take them up for me. I allowed him too and rewarded him with a strawberry milk from my fridge. We chatted about being language friends, him teaching me Korean and me teaching him English. My Korean is awful, as was his English, so we had difficulties communicating. I tried asking where I could find free wifi, as I was told I needed to sign up for internet/TV once I receive my alien registration card. Health check>results (Monday)>alien registration card (two weeks)>too long without Internet. After he found out I had a laptop, he thought I was crazy for asking about a wifi location outside of my apartment. I logged onto my computer and he typed in the passcode for one of the secured wireless networks. He said it belongs to the officetel building. At this point, I don't know if I'm stealing it or rightfully using it. Regardless, I neeeed it, so thank you Mr. Gu whose name I heard as Mr. Coo and so, whose nickname I made Mr. Cool...he still thought it was funny. 

This is quite certainly the longest post I will ever make, promise. On a last not, things seem too good to be true. I keep asking myself, "Is this real?"

P.S. Photos and video coming soon. 

Miss you, mom!

Last Day before S. Korea

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