Ways Koreas Has Already Changed Me!

As we approach the three week mark of our time in Korea, I can’t help but notice that I have already made some changes in my life.

1) I don’t have a cellphone.  Well not a working one anyways.   I am still waiting for my alien registration card so that I can get a plan.  Although I have heard it is WAY cheaper to get a pre-paid plan ($15 for two months vs. $70-100 for 1 month) but then I won’t be able to use 3g.  And really, what is the point of buying an expensive iphone if you can’t use internet except when there is wifi.  Decisions, decisions.

2) I wear slippers all the time.  I used to not really wear slippers or socks in the house, but I have recently adopted this Korean cultural habit like a boss.  I wear my cat slippers in the house, I wear bath slippers in the bathroom, and I would wear slippers at work if I didn’t have to run everywhere all the time.

My house slippers!

My house slippers!

3) I expect to eat rice at every meal.  David and I went to a Korean BBQ a week or so ago and did not realize we had to order rice separately.  We had finished our food and were still hungry which was confusing because usually you feel pretty satisfied by the meal.  Then we realized, WE HAD NO RICE!!!! I now understand why my dad eats rice everyday.  I have only been here for two and a half weeks and expect it at every meal, so going your whole life eating it, must be very hard habit to break.  Also, David thinks that if people just ate more rice in the U.S. it would solve a lot of the hunger issues there which is probably true.

4)  On another food note, I never know what I am eating.  At work, depending on what shift we are working, we sometimes get 3 meals a day (for free) of work food.  There is always at least 4-5 different dishes not including Kimchi.  One time I thought to myself, “How do Koreans know all the names for the different foods we are eating?”  Then I remembered that they have lived here their whole life so of course they know all the names!  Usually the food is pretty good and I just eat it no matter what it is. But sometimes it is horrible.  The other day we had “fish”.  The scales and the bones were still majorly intact (there were more bones than I even knew could exist in a fish).  Breakfast is interesting because it is pretty much the same as every other meal.  Rice, Kimchi, spicy side dishes… the only difference is there are usually eggs of some sort.  The past two breakfasts we have eaten, what I believe are quail eggs.  David LOVES them, I think they are weird and gross.

On another note, the other day we had sundae, a specialty of the town we live in.  Je Jin, our friend/ Korean assistant at work, told us we were eating “dak” which is a type of noodle.   However, David and I were both horrified because we thought she said, “dog”.  Imagine how I felt when we came home and David looked up sundae on the internet and found out it was made of pig intestines and probably other things… I think it is better to just not know.

5) I talk very slowly and in short sentences.  I…just… want… everyone… to… understand… me…  Examples: Bathroom?  Lunch time!  Let’s go!  Huh? Take scissors, cut.  Color this.  What?!

6) I drink coffee from a can or a dixie cup.  Coffee is hella expensive here.  I have had exactly one cup of regular coffee from a coffee shop (more on that later) and it cost me 6,000 won or around $5.50.  So now I go to convenience stores and get a delicious can of “latte or mocha” for a mere 1,000 won.  At work we also have these powdered french vanilla “coffee” that I drink from dixie cups.  David sticks to tea.

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

Some beautiful English on a beautiful dixie cup.

7) I ride the bus almost everyday. When I lived in Eugene, I hated riding the bus.  For some reason I really enjoy it here.  To get to work, David and I take two busses.  First, the 400 to Byeong-Cheon, then, we transfer to the 500 to our work.  We usually leave around 8:10 in the morning and get to work by 8:45 or earlier.  The total time on the bus is probably only around 10 minutes though.  I also discovered that if you scan your bus card again before you get off, you don’t have to pay for the second bus ride!  So to get to work it only cost us 1,350 won each vs the 6,000 won it cost to take a “call van”.

8)  I feel confused every single day of my life.  No matter how often I tell the children I don’t speak Korean, they don’t believe me.  They come up to me and speak whole paragraphs in Korean, to which I just give a confused shrug or say, “English only.”  I still don’t know our home address but luckily we live right across the street from Korea Tech University, so if we are lost we can always just tell a cab to take us there.  In the office, I feel like I NEVER know what is ACTUALLY happening.  It is like there our two realities.  David’s and my reality and the Korean reality.  We hear our boss speaking angrily in Korean, have no idea if he is mad or just speaking loudly let alone what he could potentially be mad about.  Go to a restaurant, order food, hope you didn’t order live octopus.  Even when Koreans can speak English to us, a lot of the time (especially with children) I can’t tell the difference because their accent is so thick.  This is why I desperately need to learn Korean.  I have no time right now though!

Can't understand the bus schedule?... Neither can we!

Can’t understand the bus schedule?… Neither can we!

9) I enjoy my job! Obviously there are stressful times or things I don’t like but for the most part, I enjoy my job, love even.  It’s is like my favorite things about camp only for shorter periods (which in my opinion is pretty great).  Hate the kids? They are leaving the next day!  Awesome kids? You just had the best day of your life!  Then there is the planning part which I enjoy almost as much as the camp days.  Plus, free meals, sledding, amusement park, and water park!  Pretty good gig if you ask me!

Me with my favorite team of kids so far!

Me with my favorite team of kids so far!

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Busy First Week

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

My Christmas Dixie cup for coffee at work.

So we had a lot of things going on this week.  Most days ended with us stuffing our faces at a local Korean place, then going to sleep between 9-11 (mostly on the 9 side).

Monday:  We had our medical exams.  These were very nerve wracking mostly because we had no idea what was going on.  We were just shuffled between two floors around to about 4 or 5 different rooms and we had no idea if we were “passing” or not.  The first thing we had done was our weight and height.  The scale had this machine on top of it that would come down and hit you gently on the head to get your height.  I had no idea that was happening though so I wasn’t even standing straight and David ducked out of the way and it hit his shoulder… so he had to do it again. Then we got our hearing tested.  They put headphones on us and when you hear a beep in one ear you are supposed to raise that “ear’s” hand.  It kept getting quieter and quieter and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear the next one and then it was over.  The eye test was a normal eye test except they had numbers, letters, and… symbols (think fish and umbrellas).  This whole time they were telling us to breathe because I think they could tell we were freaked out.  I’m sure I looked all bug-eyed.  Then we got our blood pressure done and ours were both a tiny bit high, probably because we were so freaked!

After that room we went downstairs to get a “dental” exam.  She looked in our mouths for two seconds, said “clean” and then that was done.  Next we had the urine and blood tests.   For the urine test you had to pee in a dixie cup (almost exactly like the one pictured above now that I think about it) which was different.  Then we got our blood drawn to test for HIV/Aids.  The weirdest part about that was that the nurse did not wear gloves!!!!  It was crazy!  I mean, I know Koreans are super healthy and such but still… that was weird and you could probably get fired for that in America.

Finally it was back upstairs to get chest x-rays for TB.  I got put into a little room with like 25 lockers and was just pointed toward a locker.  When I opened it I found a gown shirt but I didn’t know if I was supposed to put my clothes in the locker or what.  So I secretly (and as uncreepily as possible) tried to watch this ajumma (older woman) next to me to see what she did.  That is pretty much my life here.  I watch other people to see what they do and copy.

After that we were finally done and I snapped this gem (click to enlarge):

Look closely and it is hilarious.

Look closely and it is hilarious.

 Tuesday:  David already told you about our first camp.  He mostly helped out in “Hospital” class and I mostly helped in “Cookie”.  At one point in cookie class we accidentally lit a baking paper on fire…. so that was scary and funny.  Luckily, we got the fire put out before too many cookies got burnt.

Wednesday: We got our medical test results back.  This was also scary because even though we were 99% positive we would pass, it was still the difference between deportation and our year abroad.  Luckily, WE PASSSED!!! Then it was off to the immigration office in Cheonan to apply for our alien registration cards.  We should get them next week or the week after.  Then we can get wifi, health insurance, and (most importantly :P) cell phone contracts!

Thursday: We had kindergarten camp and our first day of teaching.  I taught three lessons of “Dance” and one “Rudolph paper bag” class.  David taught “Immigration” for three classes and “Rudolph paper bag” for one.   Luckily, kindergarten classes are only 20minutes long because they have such short attention spans.  But they were awesome!  Enjoy some kindergarten cuteness:

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One thing I really like about children in Korea, especially young children, is there is a HUGE culture of sharing.  For example the kids parents all packed them ENORMOUS amounts of snack food.  They know that their kids share everything so they pack lots extra.  At one point one of the girls gave me a little cracker or something, then I looked up and about 15 different students were gathered around me trying to give me snacks.  I got to try a bunch of different crackers and chocolate.  I also got a Satsuma and an Oreo (so apparently they have Oreos here).   And they thought it was the funniest thing ever when I would say thank you to them in Korean.

Friday: Friday was pretty stressful because we had another camp but only about three hours to plan the camp after the kindergarteners left on Thursday.  So we were stressed out.  Also it was middle school (not my cup of tea), and the classes were a lot longer, 45 minutes.  On top of all that, the activity I planned only took about 15 minutes with me trying to stretch it out as long as possible.  So then we would go out in the hall and play some games but only one class understood how to play.  The last class of the day would not listen at all and were horrible demon children (not really but they were pretty bad).  David had a grand ole time though so it might have been just me.  Although we did go to bed at 9ish last night and “slept in” until 7:30ish so that is also telling.

Saturday:  Today we are going to attempt to go into Cheonan and watch Desolation of Smaug as well as do some Christmas shopping.  Wish us luck!

P.S. Sorry this post is so long!

As a consolation prize for sticking around to the end, you get a picture tour of our work! Yay, you!

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The First Days at Work

For those of you who don’t know the details of our new job here in Korea, I think I should mention that ours is not a traditional teaching job.  In fact, our employer is a camp rather than a school.  The camp is located on the grounds of a resort/hotel, and our students come via appointments made by their schools.  Essentially, we are a field trip destination!  We have a particular group of kids for one, two, or three days (rarely more), and then they go back to the real world of school while we wait for the next camp to start.  Never having worked at a camp before, this is certainly a new way of working for me.  Fortunately for Tara, it’s right up her alley!

Being the official English teachers at this camp does come with certain perks.  Case in point, desks!

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Tara snagged the bigger desk, which coincidentally also has the superior computer.  I’m very jealous.

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So what do we do with our fancy desks?  It depends on whether or not we have a camp day.  If the kids are coming, then we’re out in the classrooms doing what teachers do.  Since this is a camp the emphasis is on fun activities rather than intensive teaching, especially since the kids skew to the younger grades.  On non-camp days, we prepare for upcoming camps, tinkering with lesson plans and discussing methods and schedules and all that good office stuff.

At least, that’s the pattern thus far.  We’ve had one non-camp and one camp day so far, and for today’s camp Tara and I mostly observed the part-time teachers.  Our first real camp is on Thursday, with kindergarteners, and boy, speaking of things I’ve never done before…

In addition to our little classes, the resort has other amenities that the students, and by extension ourselves, can take advantage of.  We have a sledding hill (whee!) for a quick dash of winter sports; an indoor water-park of fantastical proportions (currently closed, due to reopen in January); and a carnival/amusement park, which won’t be operating until we get some warmer weather.  Fun for the kids, a nice little perk for us teachers!

Thus far, the trickiest part of work has been getting there.  We believed that our apartment would be in walking distance of the resort.  While this is technically true, it is only so in the sense that a person might walk for an hour and a half or more and not suffer the loss of their feet.  The first day, we rode in a cab with a co-worker who happens to live in our neighborhood.  Since she had to be at work earlier than us today, we decided to try our luck with the bus system.  We managed to get ourselves about halfway there, but couldn’t figure out which connection to make.  So we found ourselves walking after all, until (as luck would have it) our co-worker passed us on the road!  We think we have it all figured out now, but transportation is bound to be an adventure until we figure out a real routine.

All told, we’re having an excellent time here in Korea.  We are on good terms with our boss, who seems excited for what we can bring to the camp.  All of the people we’ve talked to have been extremely helpful, whether they’ve had to be or not.  Our shower has been fixed (thank goodness), so we’re once again clean and pleasant-smelling.  And our work is looking to be fulfilling and enjoyable, even with the language barrier to contend with.  The kids have been great, generally all smiles and eager to say “hello!”  Not too much beyond “hello,” but they really do love it.

One last thing; after a couple of days of eating mostly ramen and other cheap meals, we finally had a truly delicious and satisfying meal of kimbap and bibimbap in a small restaurant near the Korea Tech campus.  The menu was all in hangul, so ordering what we wanted took all of our skill.  But you can’t really go wrong with bibimbap, especially served out of a hot stone bowl.  We don’t want to get sick of it, but I’m sure we’ll be eating there a lot.

We’ve Arrived!

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Hi friends and family!  So as you may have guessed, we made it to Korea! Horray!  We have been here for a little over 24 hours now and it has been pretty awesome so far.

Our plane ride was sooooo long.  We traveled from Portland to San Francisco (one hour, forty-five minutes), from San Francisco to Incheon (12 hours), from Incheon to Cheonan (one hour, thirty minutes), and finally from Downtown Cheonan to our apartment (20 minutes).  Our flight to Korea sucked, at least for me.  I was in the middle seat and there was no leg room.  Time went by so slow, even when I tried to watch movies (I say tried because I would mostly just fall asleep).  I had only slept about 45 minutes the night before so I was quite tired.  The plane did have pretty great food though.  For one meal we had Bibimbop (pictured above).  Then we had a sandwich for a snack a couple hours later.  And about two hours before we landed we had some interesting parmesan chicken stuff with pasta, fruit, and coleslaw.  It was definitely pretty tasty for plane food.

We were picked up by Demitri, a part-time teacher at the school from Russia.  He was really awesome and gave us lots of advice about living where we live and showed us around to all the food places and such in our area.  He goes to Korea Tech which is basically right across the street from us so that is pretty cool.

Once we got to our apartment we pretty much just made the bed and passed out.  Like most Korean mattresses, ours is a rock! But we were so tired we slept for a full 9-10 hours.  Hopefully we will sleep about the same amount tonight.  I think it was actually good that we stayed up super late the day before we left because we are not too jet-lagged yet.

Today was just spent unpacking, cleaning, and such.  As you can see from the pictures, our apartment is tiny but cozy!  We were hoping for a two bedroom since we are a couple and couples sometimes get bigger apartments.  I guess it just wasn’t in the books for us though.  The only bad things about our apartment are that the shower is broken right now and we already found a HUGE spider in the laundry room.  The shower is missing the knob that you turn to get the water to flow from the sink to the shower head.  So we have been washing our hair in the kitchen sink and just wiping our bodies down with wet wipes… Hope we don’t smell too bad for work tomorrow.  My favorite parts of the apartment are the sliding glass doors and our bookshelf on the side of our desk.  Our bedroom/living room area is basically a square with two sets of sliding glass doors that lead to different parts of the apartment.  They keep the heat in really well which is nice. I want to get some Christmas window stickies to put on them if I can find them.  I hope to put up an “apartment tour” video but I want to buy a new camera first so that the picture quality is better.

As for food, we ate a lot of ramen today.  We had it for breakfast and dinner.  They have a whole aisle dedicated just to ramen at this grocery store right by our house.  It is pretty fun to just pick out a bowl and surprise yourself when you open it!  We obviously have no idea what we are getting into when we buy food except for what is in the picture so it is always an exciting adventure.  There are a lot of different foods that are only about two-five minutes walking distance away.  There are at least two different Korean BBQ places, a burger place, a kimbap place (Korean sushi), and lots of connivence stores that sell lots of delicious looking food.  We are excited to try everything out!

Anyways, post is getting pretty long and I am really tired.  We work tomorrow from 9-6, so look for another post about our first day! Love you and miss you all lots!

P.S.  When David and I are trying to communicate with a Korean person (mostly hand gestures) we accidently speak in Spanish sometimes!  I was trying to tell the girl at the checkout counter, “yes” and instead of saying “ne” in Korean, I kept randomly blurting out “si”.  I also heard David do it when were ordering lunch… Funny how that happens.  If only were were in Mexico…

We leave on Friday!

David and I are excited to announce that we leave on Friday, December 13th for Korea (yes, we are flying on “Friday the 13th” *gasp* However, as David noticed, he and I met on a Friday the 13th so it is “kinda our thing”!).  After all this hard work and waiting around as patiently as possible, we will soon be on our flight over the Pacific.  It still does not feel real for me.  I still feel like we are stuck in a limbo state even though we just got our tickets and arrive in Korea at 6pm, Saturday.  Maybe once I start packing for reals (David and I already packed 2 or 3 weeks ago; we were excited), it will sink in.  Or maybe it won’t sink in until we land on Korean soil.  Who knows.   And although it has taken us so crazy long to leave, I am glad it happened this way.  David and I both got to do things we did not think we would get to.  Here is a basic list, hopefully I don’t leave anything out:

  • We got to make an extra trip to Eugene to visit our friends in October.
  • After this trip, we got to celebrate Halloween with my roommates at my parent’s house and go to Sauvie Island (which was a first for both of us).
  • Kelly and I got to watch more Gilmore Girl’s than I thought we would.  I believe we are on season 4.
  • I got to take a really awesome trip to the Bay Area of California where I got to see a Cirque de Soliel performance for the first time, see my family, go wine/champagne tasting for the first time in Napa Valley, and I was reunited with one of my best friends from college, Gaby.
  • David and I got to see Catching Fire and eat Korean food in Portland with my roommates (I am going to forever call them that).
  • I got to hang out with my high school friend group at a delicious hipster bar in Portland.
  • David and I celebrated our second Thanksgiving together with my family.
  • My roommates and I celebrated 13 holidays (including 5 birthdays) in one night… They were sad I wasn’t going to be around so we planned this insane event.  It ended up taking only about 5 hours and most people were passed out sleeping by 10pm.
  • While everyone else was asleep at this holiday spree, I had a three hour heart-to-heart with Kelly <3!
  • I got to see Catching Fire a second time (and I would see it a million more times) and had my first gay bar experience for a friend’s birthday.
  • I have attended Christmas themed events at my parent’s church that I have not gone to since I was a small child.  The first was an advent workshop (aimed at small children, but what can I say, I’m a small child at heart) where David and I crafted a Christmas wreath, two snow globes, and “Snowman Soup” aka delicious hot chocolate that David somehow made wrong.  The second event was the Table Carol Dinner.  You go to the church, eat a Christmas Dinner, then sing Christmas Carols.
  •   Finally, and also semi-painfully, I have spent lots and lots of time snuggling, playing, and walking Minnie.  This has been a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because she is a furry cuddleball.  A curse because it makes it so much harder to leave her.

When I look back on all this stuff I have done in only about two months, I feel very accomplished!  Although the not-knowing feeling is horrible, it has inspired me to live life to the fullest (cough cough *cliche* cough cough).  Even though I will only be gone for a year, my impending departure feels very strongly like the end of an era.  I will be very different by the time I return and so will all my friends.  That’s why it has been so hard to turn down any opportunity that presents itself.  This “pressure” has got me running all over the place but I’ve made a lot of memories over the past weeks that I will treasure forever (I mean who could forget three friends, who shall remain nameless, stuffed in a hotel hot tub aka bathtub for the “fourth of July”).

Seattle: Part One

A lot has happened since our last update!  No, we aren’t in Korea yet.  But we have definitively moved into the end game of our mad get-to-Korea scramble.  It’s extremely possible that this coming week will be our last week in the USA.  Are you excited?  I’m pretty stoked.  I never thought we would still be here in December, but I’m still stoked.

Those elusive visa issuance numbers finally came through on Wednesday evening, the night before Thanksgiving.  I suppose I could say “we sure have a lot to be thankful for now!”  But I’ve already said it a bunch, and it’s getting old, so I don’t think I’ll say it anymore.  More important is what comes next!

We spent Thanksgiving itself with Tara’s family, eating and drinking and playing games.  Tara and I were house sitting for some family friends who left town for the holiday, so we left in the evening to resume our task for one more night.  I’m not exactly sure if the Korean consulate was closed for Thanksgiving, but I’m guessing it was and in any event there’s no missing out on a hearty Thanksgiving meal.

Anyway, after an early start yesterday (Friday) morning, I set out on a grueling solo mission: dropping off our passports and visa numbers at the General Consulate in Seattle.  It was solo because Tara had a previous engagement with her friends, and it was grueling because I hadn’t gotten nearly as much sleep as I’d wanted.  But the delivery itself was easy enough, and came with a fine prediction that our visas would be ready by Thursday.  Fantástico!

I spent most of the rest of the day with my good friend Kambra, who lives in Seattle and whom I don’t see nearly enough of.  I have of course been promising her a visit since this summer, so I’m glad I got to keep my promise at last.  Being book nerds, we mostly hopped between used book stores, discussing music and Russian poetry, and eating pastries.  If you’re ever in Seattle, eat a cupcake.  Nothing will ever be wrong again.

Kam and her boyfriend Joel were kind enough to let me stay the night at their house, and we stayed up way too late between cartoons and video games.  As little sleep as I’d had, it’s a wonder I’m even awake now.  But I did wake up around noon, feeling much better than before.

The three of us had lunch at a Mexican place in Fremont called El Camino, which makes some excellent mole sauce, before hitting up another book store and a gelato shop.  Then I drove them back home, before setting out on the freeway once again.  I promised a return visit later this week, once Tara and I are ready and able to pick up our visas. 
Now I’m back in Canby, writing all of this down before it gets too complicated to keep straight.  Things are moving fast now, but it’s great to know we have friends looking out for us.  It’s even better to know the waiting is almost over!