Monday, September 17, 2012

17 September 2012... Settling in (about time I say).

Hi again to everyone. I have officially been living in Anjung for 22 days. I’m practically part of the furniture. Ha! I still get the strangest looks walking through the street and plenty of ‘waygooks’. That means foreigner. I’m sure worse has been said but that is one reason to be grateful that I don’t understand the language yet. The last few weeks have been VERY busy.

The meeting at the school went fairly well considering I got as far as the school parking lot before being whisked to my new apartment which was completely bare except for an unconnected gas stove, the kitchen cabinets and a closet. Over the course of the day the rest of the furniture and appliances stipulated in my contract were delivered and the place started to slowly look like home. I have to admit that I am one lucky fish (I really don’t get that saying… is the lucky fish the one that got away?). Back to the point, my apartment is AWESOME! Most people get stuck in tiny, dirty apartments with old stuff from the previous teacher who has since left. I was given a brand new apartment in a shiny new building and my place was kitted out with new everything (LG, Samsung, etc.). It’s honestly a really awesome apartment and now that I’m done with all my shopping for the things not provided, it feels like home to me. It is a small studio apartment. When I walk in, I take off my shoes and place them in the little cupboard at the door which I also use for linen and towels (storage space is a little low). It’s a Korean custom not to wear your outdoor shoes indoors so I have separate slippers to use at work and at my apartment. (Note to those coming over, get ones with a thicker sole for work. You will be grateful when your socks are still dry on the rainy days.) Directly in front of my door is my tiny kitchen but it has all the necessities such as a kettle, toaster (not toaster oven), fridge, microwave, gas stove, sink, small table and 2 chairs. Directly behind that is my tiny bathroom. It has one of those freaky little showers that I was dreading but I’m getting used to everything constantly being wet. In typical Indian fashion, I invested in a plastic stool, bucket and jug. I find that a far more efficient way of bathing than the crazy shower that soaks everything. On a hilarious note my neighbour (an awesome American who teaches at the middle school next to me) and I could not figure out how to get the hot water working in our apartments. As it turns out there is a little panel on the wall that you have to switch on. It would have been useful if I knew that in advance. Naturally all the labels are in Korean like everything else in my apartment. So that first morning involved very cold showers. Thankfully there were some maintenance people about who explained to us (in broken English, hand signals and grunts) how to get the hot water working. Moving on… to the right of my door is one large room (by Korean standards not typical Western standards) that serves as my bedroom, lounge and study. I actually like the open plan style but the downside is the large windows (I had no curtains/blinds for a while) and there was a creepy lady across the street who I once caught watching me sleeping. I KID YOU NOT! I have awesome roll blinds now (worth every cent) so at least I can move about my apartment without being watched like the unfortunate subject of a David Attenborough special. Directly next to my bed is a small enclosed balcony-like room that has my washing machine and a clothing rack for drying my clothes (also great for drying my dishes when I run out of space in my dish rack). As mentioned previously, everything is in Korean so after some help from my American neighbour (who is actually pretty good at figuring out the Korean stuff), the maintenance people (who also fitted a lid on the toilet seat and fixed the leaking cistern) and the land lady, I now have little labels all over my apartment so I don’t forget what everything means. I also have labelled illustrations of the air conditioner remote, washing machine and iron. OCD much??? Yip, you better believe it but it comes in handy when it comes to getting organised. So that’s my apartment.

Work has been quite interesting. It turns out that I now work at a high school, not a middle school as I was initially informed. Oh no! More teenagers! And it’s an all-boys school. Needless to say, this will be a challenging year. I did absolutely nothing constructive the first week of work. It took the school a while to arrange textbooks for me and my teaching schedule. I see each class once a week and also have 4 teacher training sessions a week where I help the other English teachers. Some classes are nice. Some are bordering on evil. Thursdays make me slightly suicidal. But that’s most jobs right? Honestly I can’t complain much. I have 6 hours more free time a week than I had in South Africa (perfect for my lesson planning), absolutely no extra-curricular and I only have about 4 lesson plans a week. I also have a smart board in my classroom which makes teaching really interactive but (isn’t there always a but) it’s connected to a computer that’s 5 years old, in Korean and has the tendency to break down regularly. The super nice IT technician opened it up today to find that it had dust bunnies the size of dinosaurs in there and no sound card but it is functional for what I need it to do except for the lack of sound. Unfortunately, it can’t be changed to English so I use my personal netbook for the most part. For my second week at school I did an introduction lesson with a slideshow all about myself and my life back in South Africa (I strongly suggest that all new teachers have an introduction slideshow prepared for your first lesson). As for the teacher training, that threw me off a bit at first but after some discussion, the teachers and I settled on a textbook and I’m actually really enjoying the teacher training classes now. They have informed me that they want to do a little less grammar and a little more listening and conversation in future. Makes sense but it’s a little harder to plan as the textbook we chose doesn’t cater for that. I’m on to my third week of teaching now. It was a little frustrating because my classroom PC broke down again and I couldn’t use my netbook because it, my cellphone, all other contents of my bag as well as me got soaked walking to school today. It turns out there is ANOTHER (yes, another) typhoon that decided to pay Korea a visit in a matter of 22 days. Helpful hint to anyone considering coming over, carry/buy a very big umbrella, carry a big poncho as well (to cover both you and your backpack/bag) and carry rain boots/wellingtons. I am grateful each and every rainy day that I endured the discomfort of wearing my wellies on the plane to have them here with me. The staff at my school is so incredibly nice. They help me with everything from problems settling in to life in Korea to helping me dry out my soggy computer. They are really good people. I am constantly being given little gifts like vitamin drinks and rice cakes. It blows me away how nice most Korean people are. I mean South Africans are nice but Koreans take it to a whole other level. That is something that I am really lucky to have. I seriously need to get some little gifts for my co-workers just to say thank you for being so awesome to me all the time.

A social life in Anjung took a while to find. Facebook groups help a lot in meeting other foreigners who can relate to your daily frustrations and help you. I’ve met a lot of really great people here. And I’m not the only person as brown as the dirt here anymore. I have another Indian friend here. She’s Canadian Indian. It’s great to have someone to talk to about curry and the funny little things that make being an Indian person fantastic. (She is NOT replacing you dude.) I also met a lot of random people just walking in the streets. I found a great church and through the church, met even more amazing people. I also went to my first foreigner night. That was great. Laughs, food and other English speaking people trading ‘battle tales’. I’m not much of a party person which is probably a good thing. Food in Korea is ridiculously expensive. I have a complete lack of fruit in my diet and am only eating limited vegetables. Meat is also pretty expensive. Thankfully the school offers a great cafeteria lunch that is well balanced, substancial and relatively affordable (about $2.50 a meal) so my biggest meal is lunch. For breakfast, I just have cereal and for dinner I usually cook something. It’s not too bad cooking for one person but there are a few affordable take out options when I feel lazy. I try to limit take out to 2 times a week (foreigner night and weekends). Try not to convert into your home currency when shopping for food or you will barely put anything into your trolley. You will have to just suck it in and pay for food or risk malnourishment. I have been having plenty of those vitamin drinks to try and compensate for my lack of fresh fruit. I bought bananas once but due to the 100% humidity, they rotted in just 3 days. In future I will buy fruit that can be refrigerated. I also divide everything biodegradable into parcels for one and freeze it. It makes stuff like meat, garlic, onions, peppers, etc. last much longer and it gets mushy when you cook it anyway. Mushrooms and cabbage are cheap here and plentiful. I do my mini shopping trips once a week for things like eggs, bread, milk and vegetables. I’ve heard that there is also a local market but I haven’t had a chance to go yet. I’m looking forward to some fruit. I was so spoiled when it came to fruit back in South Africa. (*Downs another vitamin drink*)

Korea hasn’t been all great times though. There have been some challenges that had me wondering why I put myself through this. While shopping at the Home Plus I made a big purchase (things for my apartment and a month’s worth of groceries) and they double deducted me. I informed my bank and the bank then decided to promptly freeze both my cards so I was stuck in Korea with NO money. Yeah, that’s enough to scare the **** out of anyone. After a good cry on Skype with my dad, plenty of email exchanges between my parents, me and the bank, some help from my Korean co-teacher and a trip back to the Home Plus, I was eventually refunded the money a week later and my cards were unfrozen. More advice: have a stash of cash somewhere safe and keep a ledger of EVERY cent you spend. It’s important to budget well to get you through that first month until you get paid but that ledger also helps you pick up when things go wrong. If I hadn’t kept my ledger, I never would have noticed that so much money was missing from my account. I even have a backup ledger on my netbook now because that whole experienced scared me so much.

I’m slowly getting used to the town. I’ve been walking around and as I discover new things I mark them on my map. I have gotten lost once and had to resort to getting a taxi but it’s all part of the learning curve. I’ve also made a few trips into Pyeongtaek-si for my health check (pretty typical stuff; eye test, height, body mass, blood pressure, urine test, blood sample and x-ray) and some shopping. Unfortunately I lost my T-money card so that put my travel plans on hold for a while. I am however planning a trip into Seoul in the near future for a Zombie walk. I love cosplay events even though I haven’t had to chance to attend many apart from 1 Halloween party a few years back. I’m really looking forward to that. All the walking has its benefits, I’m shrinking at a steady rate so I actually fit into Korean clothing now. I managed to get a 2 pairs of shoes (heels for going out and heeled boots for the cold) and some clothes (skirts, cardigans, dresses, blouses, etc.). At least my wardrobe is somewhat respectable now. There is a distinct lack of colour beyond black, white and grey but it does make it easier to mix and match. I still need to get some more substantial clothing for the winter. I seriously underestimated the cold here. If you have one, bring a snow appropriate coat. I plan on buying one when winter hits. For now layering the few items I do have helps. I also plan on getting a nice comforter from They are a lot cheaper than anything I found at the Home Plus bedding department. If you have the space, bring your own sheets, pillowcases, etc. They are so hard to find here and unbelievably expensive. I’m grateful for my sheets, blanket, towels, and pillowcases as well as for the blogs I read that advised me to bring those things. Hopefully you’ll take my advice on that.

Well each day here is an adventure. Today’s adventure is attempting to walk home in a typhoon without soaking all my electronics... again. To those reading this, I hope you have enjoyed my rants. Feel free to comment, ask questions or even share your own experiences if you are also an ESL teacher living far from home. Until then, may the force be with you.