Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lady of Incheon

I passed training!

I'm so relieved. It was such an exhausting week. It didn't really have anything to do with the material we were being trained in itself but the busy schedule and the amount of material being covered. Basically every day we were up at 6am to leave the hotel by 7am to catch the subway to the training center and even though the days ended fairly early in the afternoon we had to prepare for the following day's session and since there was a lot to cover that took several hours. Bah.

So I'm happy that's over. It was a good week though. I met some cool people during training, a couple I think I will actively stay in touch with and get together with while we're here, and I feel better about starting to teach now that I know what I'm getting myself into.

After we finished up on Friday a bunch of call vans showed up to whisk everyone off to their respective locations. There are four of us teaching in Incheon, a city west of Seoul which is divided into eight wards. Two of the new teachers are in Bupyeong and I'm in Yeonsu with one other newbie. We had roughly a two hour ride from Seoul, mostly due to traffic which is some of the worst I've seen. People drive crazy here! And I'm from Massachusetts! Our van driver was constantly riding right on the tail of the car in front of him but always managed to brake in just enough time that he stopped about 5 centimeters from the other car's bumper. I swear all the cars were doing this. I don't know how we didn't crash, it's an impressive skill.

Around 7pm we were dropped off at our school which is located on an upper floor in a mixed business building. We met the manager and head instructor and all the other English teachers working there. They invited us to join them for dinner when the second class of the night ended at 10:30 and in the meantime our manager brought us over to the hotel we'd be staying at for the night until our apartments were ready.

I wasn't expecting anything ritzy, just a place to rest my bones for the night, but when my manager opened the door and I walked inside I got a bit of a surprise:

Seriously? Am I Austin Powers?

Wait a second, couples robes? And a round bed? Surely this can't be a-

Oh my god a love motel!

According to Galbijim Wiki, love motels are, "hotels that are frequented by lovers or cheating spouses". I figured sooner or later I would run into one of these places on weekend travels if I was looking for somewhere relatively cheap to stay for the night (they're pretty decently priced) but I have to say that being checked into one by my very polite and very reserved new boss was all sorts of amusing.

After resting up we went out with the other teachers who treated us to Galbi which was delicious. It's really typical here for meals to be communal and with Galbi the meat is grilled right on the table in front of you and everyone shares. There are also loads of side dishes like kimchi, seaweed, carmelized onions, etc. You can order an individual order of rice or something but otherwise everything is up for grabs for anyone who wants it. And I'm kind of liking that actually.

Today after checking out of Casa de Couple I finally got to move into my apartment! All the CDI teachers live in the same building so I got to see what the apartments look like when we visited yesterday but I still didn't know what my particular pad would have for furnishings and such.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about though. My apartment is amazing. I could not be happier and I really don't know how I lucked into such a great place. I had pretty low expectations considering what I've read and seen of western teachers' apartments in Korea so I was prepared for much less. Shall we take a look?

Walking through the front door.

Don't forget to take off your shoes!

Look mom and dad, lots of locks!

Wet room bathroom.

Lots of shelf space a.k.a. a painful remainder of all the books I had to leave behind...

Wardrobe that was most helpfully already filled with coat hangers.

The kitchen/laundry room!

Two burner stove plus washing machine.

Full size fridge, microwave, and armchair. I am in love with this armchair. I plopped onto it and it is the perfect reading chair. Plus something about it looks like a squashy old man.

Do you see it? I'm telling you, it's there.

Full length mirror, TV, and coffee table. I really am a lucky duck.

Oh hey I have an upstairs-ish.

My bed! And it isn't (as) hard as a rock as the hotel beds. Also are you seeing this wallpaper? This place was made for me.

I don't know who this dude is but I like him already.

View from above. I'm in love with my floor.

Monster windows.

Street view.

So this was a bit of a picture overload but as you can tell I'm ridiculously excited about my apartment. And the location too for that matter. When we were first driving into Incheon it was crazy busy and there was so much traffic and I started thinking to myself, "Why the hell did I ever request a city? I hate the frenzy of cities". When we crossed into Yeonsu though things quieted down and the streets opened up and I heaved a massive sigh of relief. I mean there are still lots of stores and bars and things are open late but it's more on the edge of the craziness rather than in the heart of it and that makes all the difference to me. I like being able to get to the hustle and bustle quickly and easily when I want to but at the end of the day I want to walk home on mostly deserted streets past schools and parks and get to sleep without needing ear plugs.

I think I'm going to like Yeonsu.

Korean Drama Trivia of the Day: My Lovely Sam Soon also referred to as My Name is Kim Sam Soon: a South Korean drama series which was aired on MBC from June 1, 2005 to July 21, 2005. The series was a major hit in South Korea since its premiere and 50.5 percent of Korean households tuned in to the finale. Some critics believe its huge success was due to the show's focus on the life of a single and chubby woman in her late twenties. Particularly, the physical appearance and stereotype that the female character portrayed in the drama greatly increased its popularity due to its resonance with many Koreans. Actress Kim Sun Ah is noted to have gained 15 pounds for the role. For such reasons, the drama is said to be the Korean version of Bridget Jones in Seoul.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In which an arrival is detailed

I made it! And in one piece! And with both suitcases and carry-on bags accounted for! If that doesn’t spell success I don’t know what does.

My trip consisted of four phases.

Phase One involved flying from Logan Airport to SFO in San Francisco. I left my house at 3:15 am on Friday with my parents and headed into Boston. Once we got to Logan we went about finding the check-in counter for United Airlines which was a total mess. There was hardly anyone working the counters and most of the employees were visibly just screwing around. Seriously unimpressive UA.

We were waiting in the international check-in line which had finally started moving along when the guy in front of me put the first of his three bags on the scale and it registered at “57 lbs”. The lady checking him in snapped, “It’s overweight. That’s $200”. He was like, “What?!” and behind him I was like, “OH MY GOD”. Apparently that’s the fee for overweight bags for international flights. Holy heart attack Batman, I was freaking out. I’d weighed my bags at home but that was using a bathroom scale and my biggest bag I figured was going to be over but I’d just suck it up and pay the $25 or $50 that it might be, thinking it’d be the same cost for my family to ship those items to me anyway.

But that was before I knew it’d cost 200 friggin dollars. That’s absurd. One of the employees saw me panicking and said I could weigh my bags at an empty counter just to check before my turn. I put both bags up and they were under 50 lbs so that was a huge sigh of relief. Another employee came over, told us the wait was shorter at the domestic counter, and told us to go there. So we trooped on over and when I put my big bag on the scale it registered at 54 lbs. We said that on the other scale it was under 50 and the woman working the counter just sort of laughed and was like, “Oh really?”, slapped a tag on my suitcase and sent it on through. So no ridiculous charge, sweet relief!

I said goodbye to my parents outside of security and made it through without having to endure any creepy TSA groping or sketchy naked-o-vision machine. My mom called me when I got to the other side and we realized she had the copies of my flight info in hand. A woman on my flight overheard the conversation and first offered to let me use her computer to bring my info up on email to copy down and then came back a few minutes later to point me toward a counter where they could just print it for me. She was wicked nice and assured me SFO would be easy to navigate and that even traveling solo for the first time I’d be okay. The kindness of strangers sometimes, it’s a beautiful thing.

So the flight to SFO was fine I guess. I was exhausted but couldn’t really sleep and was more than happy to finally disembark and commence Phase Two: SFO to Incheon International.

I got in the wrong check-in counter line twice but finally tracked down Asiana Air and got my boarding pass. My flights were booked separately but I’d made sure at Logan to have my bags checked all the way through so that was one less thing to worry about.

That flight over was much better. This was only my second time flying internationally but I think I like it. The plane was bigger so I felt much less claustrophobic and I liked that the TVs had an option to track the flight. I don’t have much to compare it with but I was very happy flying with Asiana. The meals were tasty and the movie options were decent and they provided complimentary slippers which was the best thing ever.

The two guys seated next to me were returning to Seoul from a business trip and when they saw me looking over my welcome packet they asked a bunch of questions and gave me some tips about the city and told me that everyone would be really helpful and friendly. We chatted about the weather and they made sure I knew it’d be cold soon and did I bring a coat. Before we landed just after 6pm they even checked that I was all set with transportation from the airport and wouldn’t be wandering aimlessly. I’m telling you, either I earned some good karma of late or there was something in the water yesterday because people were being totally nice. For a frazzled first time flier I can’t tell you how much I appreciated all the help.

Phase Three went relatively smoothly as well. After getting through the immigration line I scooped up my luggage, internally wept with joy that it hadn’t gotten lost, and headed through customs and out to the bus stops. Luckily the stop I needed was right in front of me because carrying a heavy backpack, a laptop/miscellaneous items bag, two suitcases, and a coat was awkward as hell. My suitcases kept toppling over but the bus to City Air Terminal in Seoul arrived quickly. I bought a ticket for ₩15,000 won (just under $15) and hopped on board.

At this point the exhaustion started catching up with me (I only slept a little on the way to Incheon and had basically been awake since 10am Thursday) and I nodded off a few times during the drive. It was under an hour to CAT and then on to Phase Four upon arrival.

From CAT I took a taxi to the hotel that I’m staying at for the duration of training. I shared it with another CDI trainee and a friend of a fellow trainee who was meeting her. At the hotel I checked in, lugged my stuff to my room, called my recruiter to say I’d made it, emailed home, took a shower, and collapsed. I was so tired and so gross from all that traveling. I slept for about 10 hours and I think I may have avoided the dreaded jet lag. The lack of sleep meant I slept beautifully last night and I drank so much water and orange juice between Boston and Incheon that I feel pretty okay now.

At the hotel I'm rooming with another trainee and yesterday I went exploring with her and two friends who trained a few weeks ago. We went to Myeongdong and Namdaemun Market which were knock-offs heaven with food stalls and coffee shops and clothing stores sprinkled in between. Today I start training but there's apparently so many of us in this session that they've broken us into morning and afternoon groups. My roommate is heading there now and I'll be going downstairs around noon to catch the bus to the training center.

I haven't snapped too many pictures yet which is why this post is a giant wall of text but once I'm settled in that will definitely be changing. When I came through customs at Incheon however I finally did pull my camera out to capture this amusing greeting message:

Heh. Welcome to Korea.

Trivia of the Day:  Tetraphobia is an aversion to or fear of the number 4. It is a superstition most common in East Asian regions such as mainland China, island of Taiwan, Japan and Korea. The Chinese word for four sounds quite similar to the word for death, in many forms of spoken Chinese. Similarly, the Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean words for four, shi (Japanese – other four is Yon) and sa (사, Korean), sound identical to death in each language. In Korea, tetraphobia is less extreme, but the floor number 4 is almost always skipped in hospitals and similar public buildings. In other buildings, the fourth floor is sometimes labeled "F" (Four) instead of "4" in elevators. Apartment numbers containing multiple occurrences of the number 4 (such as 404) are likely to be avoided to an extent that the value of the property is adversely affected. The national railroad, Korail, left out the locomotive number 4444 when numbering a locomotive class from 4401 upwards.

My hotel has the fourth floor labeled in the elevator but I'll be keeping an eye out in other buildings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deep breath and...

Today's the day! Well, sort of. I'm pretty much planning on being awake straight through until my 6am flight so it's going to be one long day.

Sunday my family had a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. My brother came home from school and my niece and nephew were here for the weekend and it was nice just spending the last stretch with everyone home and hanging out. Since Monday I've been running last minute errands and getting everything in order. I picked up some Korean currency at the bank, made a zillion photocopies of all my various IDs and documents, spent 10 minutes at Target debating if pink striped gloves were cuter than the purple striped before purchasing neither, etc. You know, the important stuff. 

And then yesterday was packing day. Eeshk. I laid my suitcases out on my bed, threw on a marathon of Gilmore Girls, and started piling up everything I wanted to bring. I swear each time I tossed another shirt or pair of shoes into the mix I could see the space inside my suitcases shrinking faster than Alice after sipping on a bottle of "Drink Me". Then I started the actual cramming process and it was not pretty. Man, packing for a year away is serious business. I don't think I over packed, it's just that there's so much to bring! 

Emotionally I'm feeling really awesome which is great. My mom and I were talking the other day about my going and I said how once I reach the sixth month mark I'll be really psyched because it'll be a huge accomplishment and the next sixth months will then seem even more doable. She pointed out that by then I would also feel like, "Wow, only sixth months left! I need to do all the things I still want to do!". And it kind of hit me when I was thinking about it later that that's the attitude I need to go in with. Not this, "Oh my god I'm leaving for a year and it's going to be such a long time" but rather, "I only have a year to spend in Korea doing and seeing all the amazing things it has to offer so I better get cracking". 

So today I'm getting all the last last minute details squared away. And saying goodbyes of course, which are not going to be fun at all...

But I'm staying positive. My niece and nephew are here tonight so I get some more time with them and then a few hours post-dinner my boyfriend and I are going to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! True as soon as it's over I'll be rushing home and immediately heading to the airport but I couldn't miss this. I love midnight shows and I love Harry Potter and together they are a fabulous combination. Plus it doesn't come out in Korea until December 16th, as if I could wait that long!

So this time tomorrow I'll be on a plane and come Monday I'll be in teacher training. My bags are packed, I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be, and if things don't go as planned I am going to go with the flow and just follow this very sage advice:

What can I say, I have to keep a sense of humor in the midst of this craziness.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It's crazy that in less than two weeks I'll be in Korea. My hotel for training is booked and now that I've finished a short stint of work that kept me occupied for a few weeks there's nothing left but to jump right into packing and preparation mode.

Mostly there are odds and ends to purchase- a new set of camera batteries and rain boots, if I can ever settle on a pair- plus assorted documents and IDs that need copying so I can stash extras amongst my luggage as well as at home. Hopefully this week I'll get as much done as possible but truth be told I know that at noon on Thursday the 18th I'll most likely be in Target buying six more tubes of chap stick and some new winter mittens. I wouldn't be me if I weren't bustling to get ready at the last second.

Surprisingly I'm feeling really calm about the impending move... which is kind of freaking me out. I slept better last week than I have in months and the panic I figured would hit about now is keeping its distance. I'm not complaining though!

I've been reviewing the Chungdahm pre-training videos and going over the assigned grammar packet exercises again and man, loath as I am to admit that anything good came out of taking five semesters of Latin, they were the only refresher I've had in grammar rules since high school and that's doing me some good now. The reality of the situation is that if you fail training they send you home. This was one of the first things my recruiter and I discussed when I initially interviewed and though he said it rarely happens and mostly occurs when the incoming teacher really just doesn't have their heart in it, I'm not taking any chances. So packing and preparation mode also includes intense participles, gerunds, passive voice, clauses, etc. review. Fun times.

Also I was perusing upcoming events the other night to see what will be going down during my first month or so there and stumbled across this:

Ah what a tease! This show is literally like an hour after my plane gets in so there's no way I could make this but it would be so awesome to see my favorite band play in a different country. I finally saw them in concert for the first time this summer and they were amazing. They are so much fun live. So if you'll be in or around Seoul on the 20th go hit up this show. I think this is the first time they're playing in Korea and who knows when they'll be back and you'll get to see Wayne Coyne rolling across the crowd in a giant plastic ball. I promise it's as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

Trivia of the Day:  The Blue House or Cheongwadae is the executive office and official residence of the South Korean head of state, the President of the Republic of Korea. The Korean name literally translates to "pavilion of blue tiles." The Blue House is in fact a complex of buildings, built largely in the traditional Korean architectural style with some modern elements. Built upon the site of the royal garden of Joseon Dynasty, the Blue House now consists of the Main Office Hall (본관), the Presidential Residence, the State Reception House (영빈관), the Chunchugwan (춘추관) Press Hall, and the Secretariat Buildings. The entire complex covers approximately 250,000 square metres or 62 acres.