First of all- sorry this is so diary-like and also sorry it’s so long and picture-less! I promise to shorten it up/add more visual interest in the future!
It’s 7:46am Friday August 24th, 2013. I have been in Korea now since yesterday at 4:15 (ish) when we landed so technically, it hasn’t been a full day yet but I need to write down what’s happened so far so it isn’t erased forever once I’m no longer in the time twilight zone.
First of all, I feel I should say a few words about the flight, or really one word will do: EXHAUSTING. Duh, right? Ahgjfdksla. Every international flight is a different story and yes, they are all exhausting. This is nothing novel or extraordinary but I have to ask: why are infants even allowed to fly?!? Have mercy on your child and on all the people on the plane, just don’t fly with your baby or at least drug them!!! Ok, maybe a bit extreme but I swear, of the three infants, at least one was screaming blood-curdling cries for the first 8 hours of the flight. I mean, I had earplugs in and had taken melatonin and could not find peace.
Besides the extra hour of joy spent on the runway before leaving Chicago—there was also a grown man behind me kicking and beating the back of my seat like a toddler. He literally tried to push it forward so that it wouldn’t be reclined and at one point, not kidding here, he grabbed my seat and tried violently shaking it in utter desperation. I don’t know if this was a battle of the wills but the thing is, I’m way too stubborn to allow for that. Of course I kept my seat reclined, I may be a jerk, but he could have asked nicely that I not recline, or he could have reclined more, or gotten over it. There was no way I was not reclining the meager inch I am entitled to (yes, American entitlement) for a thirteen hour flight.
Arrival: I got through immigration and then customs with no problem, save that the man looking at my passport gave me a look that said: you are a disgusting and worthless waste of my time– I can only conclude this stemmed from my heinous and no longer human post-thirteen hour turned fourteen hour flight experience. Curly hair does NOT bode well for plane life. Oh well!
In the ten minutes that followed, I learned something that I think will become invaluable. Waiting for my pickup guy, I was approached by some random blonde girl. She asked me, “Hey, are you also here teaching English?” Before I knew it this random Canadian girl and I had exchanged first names and e-mails- so weird! Also this random young American guy (stationed here for the army, I think?) who said he was from the Bronx was waiting for family and just struck up a conversation with us (asking if we had husbands stationed here). I’m thinking, great…why are we speaking to each other?? At what point is it strange if you are bonding with people purely based on the fact that we are Caucasian and speak English? I quickly decided to brush that question aside and move on. Lesson: solidarity.
At the airport, I met another new teacher from my school, Amanda, who would ride with me (and our grumpy driver) to a hotel where we are staying until sometime next week. Attempts at charming our driver seem futile as he begrudgingly deals with our numerous swollen suitcases. Directly after dropping off our bags, he takes us to the school. What?! I haven’t even been in the country an hour, I haven’t even showered yet and I’m meeting my boss and co-workers?! GAH! It’s ok, I survived. They are awesome! Sweet, sweet Diane, vice-director of the school, becomes our guide and instant friend and introduces us to so many teachers! I’ll never remember all their names but I also pick up on the inevitable second question when meeting another native-English speaker “Where are you from”? **I met one other person from Ohio and even though he doesn’t like Ohio state, we agreed to unitedly hate Michigan, which is enough for me.
The school is so cute, it is two floors of a building and the classrooms have fun names from A-Z like Alligator and Otter. The kids are cute and curious and the rooms are filled with color and books and I am so excited to start teaching. I hope I can get the hang of it!
First meal: After hurriedly meeting everyone, Diane took us out to dinner at a restaurant that serves a traditional type of meal called Chabu Chabu or something like that. (Obviously the Romanized spelling of that is probably incorrect). Anyway, chabu chabu was delicious- basically there is a hot pot of broth in the middle of the table that sits on a built-in burner and there is a plate of rolled up thin slices of beef, a giant plate of vegetables like cabbage, wild mushrooms, pumpkin, and these huge leafy greens I’ve never seen before. There is also a bowl of this chopped cabbage salad with a delicious light orange dressing and of course a bowl of kimchi! This is basically what happens, someone cuts up the vegetables (literally with scissors) and uses tongs to stir them around in the hot broth and then adds the beef, which gets cooked instantly in the boiling broth. Then someone serves with the tongs and places meat and vegetables in your individual bowl. There are also bowls of chili sauce, and a sort of sweet, oniony brown sauce for dipping. Once all the meat and vegetables are cooked and eaten, there are green and orange (carrot) noodles added to the remaining broth along with delicious meat filled dumplings. After eating the noodles and dumplings, there is a rice/seaweed/other things mix that gets added to the last of the broth to make a porridge that everyone eats. DELICOUSNESSS! I should have taken pictures seriously. Oh and also we sat with our legs crossed on the floor, with no shoes of course, on little mats with short little tables. OUCH! Note to self: do more yoga.
After battling a Korean ATM which did not like American banks apparently, Diane gave us a lift back to the hotel. Tired as I was, the adventure was not over. Even figuring out how to use the dang toilet became a challenge. There are all these sneaky buttons on the side written in Korean and whichever one I pushed produced a spraying contraption (think super-powered bidet) and out sprung a forceful-river-fountain that sprayed all the way across the bathroom and soaked everything. WHY?!
That’s all I got for now. Today, Amanda and I plan to explore around our hotel in Bucheon and hopefully not get lost, fingers crossed!
p.s. currently drinking Korean instant coffee and not hating it.