Cheonan, Korea Rep.
Well here I am, sitting in my “studio” as they call it, having already completed my first day at school! I’ll backtrack a little, but first…happy birthday to my little sister Katie!! Love you & hope you had a great day J
The flights in general went really smoothly. The amazing thing was that I even managed to sleep a little (usually unheard of for me) and arrived in Seoul feeling not too bad considering the length of time I’d spent travelling (about 27 hours).
The Qatar check-in guy nearly gave me a heart attack when he looked at my E2 visa and then asked me for proof of my employment (i.e. contract) which in order to get my visa I had sent to the Korean Embassy and never got back. Luckily a nice lady called Claire saved the day and told him that the visa IS the proof of employment. Anyway, I forgot all about that when I got to the plane and he had assigned me great seats. On the first leg (JHB-Doha) I sat where people with babies would sit so there is a little extra legroom, and the flight from Doha to Seoul Incheon I was in the emergency exit row with no one behind me so I could put my chair right back, stretch out my legs, put the eye mask on, the earplugs in, stick the “do not disturb” sticker to my chair and catch some zzz’s! I even managed to sleep in full view of everyone in Doha airport…I must’ve been really tired or really relaxed as this is usually nowhere near possible!
During the descent to Seoul Incheon I got chatting to the girl in the row behind me who was also on her way here to teach English for the first time and all alone too. She had another 4-hour journey by bus after the flight so I hope it all went smoothly for her. We will hopefully connect on Facebook and maybe get together sometime. Relief surged through me when I walked out with my luggage and there stood Raquel, my coordinator, with a large sign saying “Clare Mills” and a big hug waiting. She was great – took me to grab something to eat and drink (my first food in Korea and it was MacDonald’s!) and then bought our bus tickets and together we drove to Cheonan, my new city, 2 hours away. We chatted quite a lot as I had so many questions to ask but eventually guess what…I dozed off again!!
Waiting for us at the bus stop was Junsik (pronounced “jun sheek”) my young and friendly co-teacher who has done a great job of looking after me. Raquel left us at this stage and Junsik took me to a place to eat although I wasn’t very hungry. Despite all the sleeping on the trip, I still felt shattered, so we kept it short and he then brought me to my flat. It really is small but quite cute. The bed is upstairs in a loft-type thing and the rest is open-plan downstairs. Some of you will be happy to know (as I was!) that the toilet is indeed a good-ol’ Western-style one and not a hole in the ground. Whew!
Once Junsik left the only thing on my mind was a hot shower…but Muphy’s Law…there was no hot water. And both the bathroom light bulbs had blown, the bed was unmade, there was no pillowcase and there was (and still is) a vile, stinking mass of mould in a bowl in the microwave. There was also no mug for tea (as I brought my own special Joko bags) which was perhaps the biggest disaster of all! So I did the bare minimum and went to bed feeling grimy, using my pashmina as a pillowcase and hoping that the bedding left behind was clean. No surprises, I had a great night’s sleep and wondered where on earth I was when my alarm went off this morning!
Junsik was very concerned that I’d be too tired to get up in the morning but I insisted on going to school with him and I was very glad that I did. He collected me in his car and we drove the short distance to school. I can’t believe that big hurdle has already been and gone. From the moment I walked in everyone was SO friendly and welcoming. Those who can speak English make a huge effort to converse with me and those who can’t look on enviously! One of the younger teachers said to me in stilted English “I want to be friendly with you but I can’t speak English” so generally most people just smile and bow at me. Being bowed to all the time is pretty cool and doesn’t really feel weird, and it comes naturally just to bow back J Many people will offer their hand after a bow and some offer you their hand without bowing. Junsik took me to the principal’s office, where I made sure to bow first! He is really nice but unfortunately doesn’t speak much English (which made it rather awkward when Junsik left us to make us tea and coffee).
All the school boys stare at me and bow, bow, bow. Some shout out “hi” and one came to me and said “hi, I am handsome boy” which Junsik told me is a “thing” they say. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t understand what he was saying so just stared blankly at him and now feel a bit bad about that J Oh, I forgot to mention that I am working at an all-boys school!! It is middle school so the ages are (I think) 13-15 years and it is called Cheon Seong Middle School.
I have made a friend called Jina. She is an awesome Korean girl who is 4 years younger than me. She has been teaching English at the school for 2 months and has taken me under her wing. J She was an exchange student in the States for 2 years so knows how it feels to not understand anything and be in a foreign country. She took me to lunch with her which was quite an experience. The teachers eat in the school cafeteria with the students and I don’t think there was one pair of eyes that weren’t on me during that time (did I mention I’m also the only foreigner at the school?!) Again, all the kids shout “hi!” and “hello!” so it’s a bit overwhelming. Jina is cool though because if she’s around she grabs their arm and makes them greet me properly and then they get all shy and it’s quite sweet.
eachers get preference when dishing up and you get a big square metal plate with different compartments on it and then choose from a selection of foods. Then you grab a pair of metal chopsticks and a spoon and go to your table. Gina has kindly translated the week’s menu for me. Today’s lunch was: rice, soup with pork and potatoes, sliced rice cake (very hot and nothing like a rice cake we get at home!), steamed eggs and sliced radish kimchi. Denise told me about kimchi and she was right – it’s really yummy! I think you get different kinds of it and looking at the menu, kimchi appears on every day.
Junsik and I left early and he took me to go do some admin such as applying for my alien registration card (ARC) which will take 10 days and trying to open a bank account (which it turns out they can’t do without an ARC). Then he took me to E-Mart to do some shopping for the basics. Thank goodness he was there because it was highly complex! Whenever I travel to other countries I always find much pleasure in visiting their grocery stores and seeing what delights they have to offer. Well this was paradise! Everything is so amazing, so colourful and so many options. Staff stand in every aisle waiting to help you find something or trying to promote something. They are so innovative, so the variety of products is amazing. The cherry on top was when I found the SUSHI area. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I wish I had a camera (mine is broken!) because it blew me away. You can buy packs of sushi or individually wrapped nigiri (one nigiri costs 480won so about R3…)
Tomorrow is Saturday (Katie, I can guess what you are thinking of right now! J) so I am going to chill in the morning, maybe explore on foot a little, and then Junsik and his wife & little girl are taking me out for lunch at 2. Sunday is mine to relax (think I might clean this place as it is in dire need) and then maybe hit E-mart again. Next week is unusual in that most grades go on field trips. Lucky me – I get to accompany the Grade 3’s with Junsik on a trip to the biggest amusement park in Korea (in Seoul) – wohoo!! That should be cool, I’m looking forward to it. Really hope to get a camera soon so I can start taking pics.