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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A new start, or something like it

Hi kids,

Yup, it’s been a while. I was all kinds of ready to move on from Korea and have this mind-blowing experience as an expat teacher working my way around the globe. Well, mind-blowing it was, but not the good kind. However, we live and we learn, and I have learnt a great deal from my mistakes. So let’s pretend the last year and a bit didn’t happen, and move on to more positive things.

For a whole list of reasons that I may or may not go into in the future (probably not), I decided to return to Korea once again. I’m still in the ‘holy cow I hope my documents are in order and I get my visa in time’ stage of it all. I am starting to feel the excitement trickle in.

I do enjoy the experience of fitting my life in a suitcase, arriving somewhere unfamiliar and starting with a clean slate each time, and I most definitely like making big money, but this time I also kinda wanted to stick around my hometown for a little while longer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a job (I had ONE INTERVIEW in six months!). And, well, I’m not all that ready to properly repatriate and kiss expat life goodbye. Korea is a good place to make some dough while living a pretty good life, so it felt like the right place to start.

So in a month’s time, I start my new job. I’ll be in a new city far from the one I previously lived in, but close enough to Seoul to keep this city girl happy.

I’m hoping to use my blog as a bit of an online journal (cos I know you really want to read my innermost thoughts 😛 ), as I spend great deals of time just talking to myself anyway, and I might as well use that time constructively.

Well I’m off to go make lists and sort and pack and freak out and all that stuff.

get

We got this, Sheldon!

Did I tell you about that time I moved to Korea?

Yeah, so we’ve established by now that this has happened. But I never actually got to tell you about my trip.

Let’s start with the bit where I had to squeeze my life into two suitcases. I packed only the bare minimum. This involved carefully planning five outfits for work, weekend wear, shoes and toiletries. Oh, and a few Aeros. During all the test runs, we did OK weight-wise, but somewhere along the line it all went wrong. I only realised this when I checked in at the airport and I was 9 kg overweight. Not me, the luggage. My mom generously paid in the R360, as we agreed that there wasn’t anything I could leave behind.

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All my earthly belongings, vacuum packed and ready to go.

So I boarded the plane, all good and ready for this thing. I had a few hours’ layover at Cape Town International, in which time I planned to write my first blog entry, and just chill out before I spent the next day flying to the other side of the world. Ha. So much for keeping it calm. Let me just say that up until this point, I had my emotions in check. But then I arrived at the check-in counter. The attendant very politely informed me that I would have to pay in close to R4 000 to get all 39 kg of stuff onto the plane with me. I was not prepared for this. The next hour or so became a bit of a blur (defense mechanism right there), but I remember my mom arranging for my cousin to come and save the day.

David, Siranne and my Auntie Lynette showed up, armed with black bags and cable ties. I got down to business right there in the food court, throwing out anything that looked like it weighed anything. I squeezed my eyes shut and became ruthless. It was very painful, as everything I packed was an absolute necessity. But such is life, and it couldn’t have been all smooth sailing. I checked in at 30,6 kg, missing 2 pairs of shoes, jeans, work clothes, everything even remotely long-sleeved, and who knows what else. Found out after that my mom had hidden some Lindt chocolates inside my shoes. Oh well. 😦

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss one of the items I left behind, but I haven’t died yet, so it’s all good. As soon as I get my first paycheck I’ll have some of my favourite things shipped over. For now, it’s me and the bare wardrobe.

Well after all that drama I boarded the plane. Wow! Wow wow wow! Are there any words to describe the luxury that is Emirates? It felt like walking into a dream. I remember taking in the relaxing music, the fresh smell, the friendly attendants… it was just wow! The seat next to mine was unoccupied, which made me very happy. Two blankets, two pillows, no-one in my personal space. I was ready to spend the next 8 hours in luxurious relaxation. Nothing rushing me, no stress, no packing, just complete relaxation.

Around midnight local time,  I had a few hours’ layover at Dubai International. So this is what it feels like to be Tom Hanks a la The Terminal? All this shopping and no money? 🙂 It’s true what they say though – that place never sleeps. It was like peak hour shopping in there. I resisted the urge and made myself comfortable near my boarding gate.

Now this flight was a little more crowded. There were about a million passengers on this slightly smaller plane. Luckily I shared a three-seater row with only one other person. A very hot, very non-English speaking dude from Jordan. He tried making conversation, but at this point I was too tired to try to decipher what he was saying. Which made me feel a little guilty, given his hotness. I do recall his name being Zed. Or Ned. Or Bed? But he was very attractive. My defense mechanism at this point? We’d hardly left the runway, and I was fast asleep. This was around 3:30 local time.

I was woken up by the sound of someone speaking to me. It was the flight attendant asking me about breakfast. I have no idea what he said and what I replied, but the next moment he disappeared, and returned with a tray he called “other one”. Hmmm… turns out, it was the alternative to the regular breakfast. Rice. And some mystery items. This happened at around 04:30 local time, and I’ve never been one for a 02:30 breakfast, so I was happy to peck on the crackers and fall back asleep. Lunch was about 5 hours later. I recall waking up for that one, but not eating either. Do these people think I’m a time zone adjusting machine?

Yummy three-course meal… with metal cutlery, nogal!

Something to take the edge off. 🙂

I became a little obsessed with tracking our progress on my personal screen.

Snazzy, eh?

Dubai midnight shopping

After a day of flying, and after losing 7 hours of my life, I was finally in Korea. Customs wasn’t half as eventful as I thought it would be. They just took the world’s most unflattering photo of me, to ensure I don’t break the law (I mean, no-one would want a post-18 hours of flying photo to see the light of day ever again).

Somewhere between getting my bags and exchanging my currency, I went out the wrong gate, and couldn’t find my taxi driver. I had the number of my recruiter’s office in Seoul, and was told to call them in case of emergency. So there I was, facing a payphone, coins in hand, and I had no idea what I was doing. How much money do I put in? What are all these extra buttons for? I decided to ask at the information desk, surely they could tell me. I explained my situation to the lady, who looked at me sympathetically, promptly picked up her phone and called the recruiter. She then arranged a spot for me to wait for my taxi driver. And that was my first taste of the amazing service and helpfulness in Korea.

The taxi driver found me, and we walked to his van. Now this was a challenge all on its own! He was walking so fast and I kept losing him; I was terrified that I would start spontaneously following the wrong person. Ah, but it turned out OK and soon we were on the road. As we pulled away, he started yelling at me. All I could make out was ‘sido’ – over and over and over. Turns out he wanted me to put on my seat belt. Done. Sorted. And off we went.

It took about an hour to get to Munsan, an hour of fighting to stay awake (wel all know what I’m like in a car), and being amazed at how different everything looked. No mistaking that I’m in a whole different country! We arrived at my apartment building, where my co-teacher came to meet me.

After getting the grand tour and freshening up, I went out to dinner with my co-teacher and the head teacher. There are many levels in the  educational hierarchy. I have no idea yet of who fits in where.

I opted for authentic Korean (so brave on my first night!) and they took me to a galbi restaurant. Galbi is the Korean version of a barbecue, where the meat is cooked at your table. I can understand why it’s every foreigner’s favourite thing! Cooking together broke the ice just enough, and my tummy was full.

An example of a galbi table setting. Meat is cooked in the middle of the table, and there are many side dishes and accompaniments to choose from.

Back home, on my own. On my own! And then the jet lag set in…

Metamorphic May

I figured that today is about as good a day as any to get started on this thing, seeing as May 2012 will go down in my personal history as a life-altering month.

Let me explain:

In less than two weeks I’ll be getting on a plane to spend a year (or so) teaching English in South Korea.

Wow, that revelation is so big I needed a moment of reflection. And italics. Sometimes the excitement, anxiety, anticipation and downright fear is too much to handle. Despite this, and the ever decreasing time frame, I have chosen to procrastinate by creating a blog. Yes, typical me. You see that shelf that needs organising? Yes? Me too. Rather choose a theme for your blog. Story of my life. 😛

Two weeks! It feels like just yesterday I was aimlessly poking around on the interwebz looking for something exciting to tackle come 2012. That was five months ago. I can’t remember how it all came together, and that really isn’t important any more. What I do remember is feeling a little down and out in general, and in desperate and long overdue need of adventure. In a moment of defiance, I turned to God with a challenge. Silly me! Because, as it turns out, when I asked God to “show me what You’ve got”, he accepted the challenge. And then some.

Those of you who have been in close touch with me in the last few months will know what I’m talking about. Looking back, it feels like this entire process has taken care of itself. More about this in a future post.

More about everything in many future posts.

For now though, I have some studying to do. Among a million other things. Two weeks!!!

L.

Oh wait. Blogs need images.

 

 

 

 

Much better. 🙂