Week 1: An update

Yes! I’m here!

Huge thanks to all my friends who have kept in touch since my departure. I’d love to type out an extensive, personalised reply to each one of you, but I’m unashamedly dedicating pretty much every free moment to keeping in touch with my mom and The Boy.

My mom and I, we’ve done this. It’s not our first rodeo, and thankfully she has waited patiently for email and voice note updates. The time difference makes weekday Skypes a bit impossible, but that’s what weekends are for!

The Boy and I talk every day. He’s a night-owl, thankfully, so he waits up a little later and I get up a little earlier than we usually would to have a chat while I get ready for work. I like that it gets my day going on a positive, homely note. It takes the pressure off weekend chats as we’ve already covered the regular daily things by then.

Instead of getting myself into a dead panic over the unanswered messages and emails I’ve received over the last week, I’ve combined all the questions you’ve asked and I’ll try and answer them all here. Things won’t always be this crazy. For now it’s just difficult as I don’t have a local SIM card/data on my phone yet, and I’m either without internet or busy doing lesson planning at work, and unpacking/faffing/shopping/settling in in the evenings. Soon everything will start feeling like it’s supposed to and then I’ll be a good friend again.

Here we go, in no particular order:

Did you eat?

giphy1Ja, Ma! 🙂 It’s impossible to go hungry in Korea. With restaurants staying open until midnight/2am/all night, convenience stores that never close… It’s all good. I’ve actually eaten more Korean food than Western, which I never would have seen coming.

Did you find your way to school? How far is it from your apartment?

After a bit of a panic over finding my school again, it all turned out okay. My co-teacher took me along a winding back road at 11pm and after spending more than 24 hours travelling, my brain was not in a position to retain information. Thankfully the next day was a public holiday and the foreigner I met showed me an easier way. It’s a ten minute walk between my apartment and the school, a nice flat walk. It’s going to suck in the rainy season though, as there aren’t any buses between the two. I got so lazy in Munsan, where it was sometimes easier to take two connecting buses than to climb the hill to my school.

How is your new apartment? Was it clean? Do you have adequate bedding?

I have a nice apartment, no complaints. It has a nice layout and I actually have a separate bedroom with a door! Not much of a view though so I think cabin fever could become a problem. The previous teacher left it clean, but she also left it completely empty. She moved to Seoul and obviously took everything with her, which meant I had to go out on the first day to buy cutlery, crockery, etc. There was only a fitted sheet and pillowcase, no blanket! My co-teacher told me to bring one with me and I told him I wouldn’t be able to. Who moves to a new country and dedicates several kilograms of their baggage allowance, not to mention space, to a blanket?! I found a cheap comforter at the supermarket, so that’ll have to do for now. Proper bedding will have to wait until after my first paycheck, which is mid April only.

On the upside, the previous teacher managed to get the school to buy her an oven. I became quite masterful at using my oven in Munsan and was planning to buy one here, so this is definitely a win.

As far as cooking is concerned, I’ve been quite lucky in Korea first time around as well as Malaysia, and somehow ended up in places with electric stovetops. My luck has run out though. Despite my initial panic about not being able to get the gas stove to turn on and burning all my food, I’ve become quite good at boiling water without incident. I’m slowly starting to experiment with actual cooking as well, and I’m sure I’ll be a master in no time.

Are you sleeping?

Haha, yes. Jetlag was rough the first few days. I got maybe two hours sleep the first three nights and I was in full zombie mode. Lucky for me, the school hadn’t organised my laptop yet so I had an empty desk and no planning to do, which meant I could nap a bit during work hours. I’m gradually falling asleep earlier so hopefully my body is good to go in no time.

Have you found bedding?

Fotor_145749343784752[1]For now, yes. It’s so terribly mismatched, but it keeps me warm and that’s enough for now. After payday I’ll spoil myself with some nice things I don’t mind looking at every day.

Priorities, though. Paul Frank’s Julius already has a prime spot on my bed!

Did you eat?

🙂

What does your building look like? Where is it located?

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View of my building. Accidentally selected this filter but decided it beats the natural grey of Korean winter. My entrance is down the alley to the left.

It’s a small, newish building similar to the ones most of us lived in in Paju. There’s a beauty salon out front (maybe my nails will finally grow). I’m one floor up from the ground floor (1st floor if you’re from the real world, 2nd floor if you deny that the ground floor exists). I’ve joined the keyless ranks and now gain entry through typing a secret code into a very fancy keypad. In a bizarre twist, I actually have to walk past a supermarket to get to the nearest convenience store. But we’re still talking about only three or four minutes, so it’s hardly a complaint.

I’m a stiff walk from the train station, but the buses and taxis are much closer. There’s a Tom n Toms coffee shop just across the road, and I suspect that avoiding it will be an ongoing challenge.

There’s a lot more shops compared to Munsan. There’s a variety of restaurants just around me, including the usuals like Pizza School, Mr Pizza, Lotteria… And Paris Baguette, Dunkin Donuts and Ediya are all close enough to make me fat.

And then, there’s the worst temptation of all temptation. McDonalds. Five minutes away.

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I don’t even like McDonald’s. I just want it.

Have you met your neighbours?

No, but I’ve heard them. When my bathroom door is open, I can hear my upstairs neighbour do his thing. This usually happens around 11pm so at least he’s predictable. Not living next to my best friend (and not having any other foreigners in the building at all) is going to be an adjustment.

Are you ready for this thing?

Sure, why not.

Did you eat?

What’s the school like? What’s your co-teacher like?

I’m at a public middle school teaching grades 7, 8 and 9. It’s your average school building, though a little older and more worn than the shiny new Jayu Elementary School I taught at in Munsan. The teachers here have been very friendly and welcoming, and they’re a lot more willing to speak English than my previous lot of colleagues. There are a few English teachers and some teachers who have taught English before. The biggest surprise was the Vice-Principal, who is a kind and approachable man with great English. He’s made a point to chat to me every time we’ve been in the same room.

My co-teacher has a sharp and interesting sense of humour. He speaks English confidently and that makes communication less stressful. He seems constantly overwhelmed by the volume of his work – he’s a homeroom teacher as well. We have a good working relationship and that’s all that matters. I haven’t actually got a schedule yet and I don’t know whether I’ll be co-teaching all my classes with him or alone or what. There are other English teachers as well and they are all really nice, so I guess we’ll wait and see what the deal is.

How close is the nearest Daiso and other fun shopping?

Daiso! Oh, how much I love that place! It was, in fact, one of the first questions I asked my co-teacher on the night I arrived: where is the nearest Daiso. He wasn’t sure as he doesn’t live in town, but I was lucky to come across a medium-sized store on my own and another foreigner pointed out a bigger one on the bus route. There’s also Daiso sections inside Lotte Mart. It’s already becoming very difficult not to buy ALL THE THINGS. I haven’t done a whole lot of other shopping and exploring – mostly waiting for that first paycheck. As soon as the weather’s better I’ll be out and about more. This town is so much bigger than Munsan and I’m sure there are little shopping gems to be discovered.

Have you met any expats yet? How is your new social community looking?

One. I’ve met one other person in my town. I found a Facebook group for the area and posted on there that I needed to kit out my apartment. A girl who lives in the same town said I was welcome to join her when she went to the big E-mart in the next town over. She has been exceptionally helpful and generous. Another foreigner who has finished up gave the entire contents of their kitchen to her, which she basically passed right on to me. I now have the world’s most extensive collection of baking tins (no muffin pan though, WTF?!) and glass dishes. But there was some very useful stuff in there and it definitely helped get me started.

There aren’t a lot of foreigners around I’m told. It doesn’t sound like there are a lot of schools, and so many schools have lost their funding so teachers are finishing off but not being replaced. It’s only been a week though and I’m tired and broke so it hasn’t been top of my list to go out and find people. All in good time.

Arriving here has definitely once again reminded how extremely lucky we were in Munsan/Paju to have had the community that we did. I don’t think any experience will ever quite match up.

How are you feeling?

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Tired, mostly. Even though I’m a stranger in this town, I’m no stranger to Korea which means at least that I’m not completely overwhelmed by my environment. I also know to just wait it out and see what happens in my job. No use getting worked up. The culture is different and thankfully I know that by now. I’m also still just avoiding really sinking in emotionally, if that makes sense. I’m dwelling on the surface a bit as I fear that there might be a massive implosion if I really dig in deep. All in good time.

And dry. Travelling, stressing and all the internal heating have really done a number on my skin. I’m trying to up my water intake, but that never goes as well as planned.

Did you get pizza yet? Is it still as good?

I have not! There are a few of the old dependable pizza places around me, but I’ve resisted the temptation (and the price – the conversion to Rand is just awful!). I’m sure it’s still as corn-y and potato-y amazing. I’ll spoil myself soon enough.

Did you make the right decision?

I didn’t make the wrong decision.

 

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100 days in 100 pics – volume 3

The first part of the last instalment is dedicated to some food-related business.

And to end off, just some significant randomness:

Well this has been fun. And time-consuming. Pro: reliving a few key moments. Con: trying not to use photos already plastered all over Facebook.

Here’s to keeping up the blogging!

100 days in 100 pics – volume 2

The language and other quirks. What can I say? These pics essentially, um,  speak for themselves. Ha. Ha. That’s lame.

And then there are the people – the other foreigners. However temporary, I have made some great friends here. Back home, it would be unhealthy to spend this much time together. Here though, it’s a survival tactic. We get up to lots of, well, non-interwebz-appropriate fun, but here’s some of the milder things that have gone down:

I haven’t really shared much about my apartment, mainly because it’s never clean enough to take internet-worthy photos. For those who haven’t been on the skype tour, here’s a tiny peak:

100 days in 100 pics – volume 1

Seeing as I recently celebrated my 100th day in Korea, I decided to commemorate this milestone with a post of no less than 100 photographs. Ambitious? You bet!

These photos will broadly reflect my experiences so far. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. I’ve organised them into broad categories, though I don’t have the time nor the motivation to sort them chronologically, or any more specifically, really.

In the interest of sensory overload (and my attention span), I’ve broken up this project into smaller parts and will work on each post as time allows.

Here goes…

One of the things that’s helped ease me into this whole Asian experience, is the availability of Western products, and most specifically things from (or inspired by, or reminiscent of) South Africa.

I’ve already dedicated an entire post to the school I work at. And that was only the first week. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with my job. And I adore the kids.  Even though I was born to teach high school (or was I???), I’m really enjoying this experience and I look forward to each class.

In a small countryside town like mine, there isn’t all that much to do, so I’ve spent a lot of time wandering around, exploring new places and discovering interesting things – both in Munsan, and further away. So far, my adventures haven’t taken me past Seoul, but that’ll change very soon. 🙂

One month in…

Yay for me – I made it through the first month without any major hassles. And by saying that, I am of course not acknowledging that little immigration hiccup that caused the 10 most terrifying days of my life so far!

Man, what can I say? I’m sitting here all jittery with excitement. I wish I could simply dictate everything I wanted to put into this post and it would magically appear on my screen. I’m so scared I might forget something. How do I fit a month into one post?

By saying this:

I’m happy!

That about sums it up. I haven’t regretted a single moment. Everything is exactly as it should be.

I’ve decided to put together a top 10 pros/cons list of life in Korea. Well, I can’t really speak for all of Korea, but I can speak for the lovely countryside town of Munsan.

Now, please, I don’t want to come across as one of those people who move away from their hometown and suddenly believe that they are somehow superior for having “finally broken free”. I also don’t believe that “everyone should do this once in their life”. Well, I do, but truthfully, not everyone would enjoy it. Or cope. Moving away from home has merely given me the opportunity to experience something completely the opposite of what I’m used to. I love to share my observations, though at the same time I realise that I was once perfectly content in the situation I was in, and one day I’ll have to return. Keep this in mind when I rub in what a good time I’m having. 😉

Let’s roll…

Top 10 things I love:

 1. My own apartment. It’s my first time living alone, so it’s quite something to be allowed to leave the dishes to rot away, should I so wish. (FYI, I don’t.) I’m still a domestic apprentice, but I’m getting the basics right. I’ve always had freedom and privacy at home (I was an easy teenager, hope my kids pay it forward!), but this is something completely new. Initially, it felt weird to come and go as I pleased, but I’m slowly getting used to it.

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This one was taken after a tea party with the girls, so it’s not exactly the best reflection of the level of neatness I’ve achieved.

 2. Korea is safe. Someone described it as “South Africa in 1975-safe”. That put my mom’s mind at ease, so it must mean something good. Burglar proofing? Alarm systems? Unheard of! I could write a book on the stories I’ve heard of people having lost items returned to them (I’m talking wallets full of cash, Kindles, etc.). I mean, can you imagine?! I love that I can walk around late at night, and not feel threatened. When I’m at the supermarket, I can safely leave my bag in the trolley while shifting my attention to deciphering labels. Munsan still has that small-town feel to it, which makes it even better. I can’t describe how good it feels to not have to be constantly on edge, waiting for the next strike. I was talking to another South African about this very thing. We don’t realise just how bad things are in SA, until we remove ourselves from that situation. It’s sad really, that people have to live in fear and anticipation of their personal safety and security being violated so often, and that’s it’s just OK. Sadly, I’ll have to return to that life one day, but for now, I love what I have.

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Walking home around midnight one Tuesday night. Look how many apartment lights are still on!

 3. Western food! I can’t be grateful enough that Korea caters for the gazillions of expats. Some Korean foods are great… some. I’m not exactly a very adventurous eater, but here, everything tastes exactly the same. It smells the same, it looks the same, it tastes the same. Especially the school lunches. There are enough fast food places around, and the supermarket stocks enough familiar items for me to survive with my limited culinary skills. And if that isn’t enough, Itaewon (the foreigner district in Seoul) has what is known as ‘foreigner markets’ – little shops that stock all sorts of imported items, like Ceres juice, Colgate gel toothpaste, Milo (!!!), jelly, Pop Tarts, and many other things with English labels! Itaewon also has a tempting selection of restaurants with foods from around the world. South African, Greek, Mexican, Irish, Filipino… just name your craving! Korea is also huge on pastries. These things will be the death of me. I can’t say no to an apple tartlet, or a cherry donut, or any of the other mouthwatering items on offer all over the place.

I plan on making the owners of the foreigner markets millionaires!

4. Working conditions. Don’t even get me started! Imagine having any resource you may need at your fingertips, and if it isn’t available, you just say the word and the school makes it happen. Am I dreaming? This is an exact one-eighty from my previous job, where we regularly ran out of basic stationery and had to fight for our salaries every month. Yes, it gets pretty lonely at work when you’re surrounded by people who are speaking to everyone but you, and you can’t take part in the conversation anyway. But all things considered, it’s worth it. I work at a wonderful school and haven’t had any problems with the principal or other teachers. I’ve read some horror stories on blogs, so I’m ever so thankful to have landed at a school I’m really happy at. I’ve befriended the school nurse, who lived in Australia for three years and has genuine compassion for the huge cultural adjustment, and with whom I can openly discuss Western as well as Korean things. I would have gone nuts without her company and helpfulness.

I’ve already dedicated an entire post to the school and its awesomeness.

 5. Situational friendships. Korea can be a lonely place if you’re not Korean. At least there are many foreigners around. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people my age, and they’re all awesome people. Back home, we probably would have overlooked one another because we’re so different, but here, the variety is refreshing. And because everyone was new and scared when they first arrived, they are so helpful. I’ve noticed in the bigger cities that foreigners tend to just pass each other by. Us small town kids however, we stick together!

Zelda and I enjoying milkshakes at the Filipino restaurant in Itaewon. I need more pics of my new friends!

 6. Friends from home who have kept in touch. To my dear close friends and family who have gone to the trouble to check in regularly over the last month – you have no idea what that meant to me. I know that contact goes both ways, but FFS, I moved to another country. Thank you for acknowledging the difficulty of my situation, for sending encouraging messages and virtual hugs, for taking the time to type decent length e-mails with news and updates, and for doing a little more than clicking ‘like’ on the odd status update. Settling in has been pretty darn tough at times, especially for someone like me who’s used to being surrounded by people, but you’ve supplied a lifeline that’s kept me going. For that, you get Top 10 acknowledgement.

*For PC reasons, I’ll refrain from putting any pics here.*

 7. The subway. Ah, the subway. Munsan is well, the end of the line. Literally. The subway station is within walking distance of my apartment, and there’s a line that goes straight to Seoul. It’s a cheap and really cool way to get around. I especially love watching the people. If they can stare at me, why can’t I return the favour?

Munsan Subway Station

 8. There’s always life. Convenience stores are open 24/7, with bright lights and constant movement. Many of them have a few tables and chairs outside. They sell booze, so the locals will meet after work and have a few drinks. And by after work I mean any time until well into the next morning. They work until late at night (I’m talking 22:00-late), then grab some dinner at one of the ten thousand galbi restaurants scattered all around, and afterwards they chill out on the sidewalks. There’s one such convenience store across the street from my balcony. I love leaving the windows open and having the jovial sounds drift into my apartment.

View of MiniStop from my balcony.

 9. Cultural quirks. Don’t even get me started! I was properly warned about the culture shock I’d experience in Korea. I must be honest, I’m not that shocked. I came here with an open mind and I had done my research. Koreans have a much different way of doing things. I love observing their habits! Many things make a lot of sense. Others, well, OK. :/

Restaurants are big on displaying lots of pictures of the animal you’re eating, anything from clip-art to actual photos.

 10. Last, but not least – the money. Let’s face it, no-one who comes here doesn’t at least think about all the money they’ll be making. That’s not why I came, but it’s definitely a plus. Not only is my salary quite a bit higher (if converted to Rand), but the cost of living is only a fraction of that in SA (within reason – fruit and veggie prices are astronomical, but I don’t pay rent, petrol, tax…). I’m able to live comfortably and save, and soon I’ll have enough saved up to start travelling around the country, and eventually all over Asia.

These add up quickly!

And of course…

Top 10 things I don’t love:

1. I have wash all my own clothes.

2. I have to do all my own ironing.

3. I have to clean my own floor.

4. I have to make my own bed.

5. I have to cook my own food.

6. I have to take out my own garbage.

7. I have to wipe my own countertops.

8. I have to do all my own dishes (and pack them away!)

9. I have to clean my own toilet.

10. I have to deal with my own clogged up drain.

Who’s going to clean this mess? Oh? Me?

Now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, she’s spoilt”. U-huh! But I think you can see where I’m going with this. I think that, in a way, I really am living the life. Kimchi and all!