Beautiful Korea

Beautiful Korea

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saturday and Sunday (3/14-3/15)

This weekend was another boring one. I spent most of the weekend taking, editing, and uploading pictures, writing up blog entries (see what I do for you people?), and cleaning.

Plus cooking, washing dishes, and laundry. Yeah, it's an exciting life we expatriates lead!

So now the bathroom is completely clean, except I want to try to get the hard water stains off the glass shower enclosure (I sprayed it with vinegar and let it sit and then wiped it vigorously, but it wasn't enough), and I still have to give the floor a good scrubbing (it's already been vacuumed and cleaned with a rag and soapy water, but that wasn't enough, it's going to take abrasive cleaner and a scrub brush). The kitchen is all clean except the ceiling (and yes, that does indeed need cleaning--every SINGLE SURFACE in this apartment needed cleaning). The closets and closet doors have been thoroughly wiped down, and the bureau drawers have been wiped clean. The entryway is mostly clean, so most of the cleaning that remains is the floor, ceiling, walls, and windows of the main room. Whee. My arms are already very tired from scrubbing!

I also wrote up lesson plans for tomorrow.

In the fun category, I did spend some time reading, and managed to finish Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, and started another book (one that was free for the Kindle, by T. A. Pratt).

And now we're all caught up through today!

The box I sent by UPS (because the US mail said it was too large) arrived at UPS on Tuesday, but I didn't get it until Friday because they demanded all kinds of things to clear it through customs: a complete list of the entire contents, a copy of my passport, and a letter explaining why I had shipped these items. Meanwhile, the boxes I sent via US mail arrived on Wednesday with no issues whatsoever. I am totally never using UPS again if I can possibly avoid it. They are *always* the biggest pain in the butt.

When the UPS box finally came (it contained the PS2 and DDR pad), of course I had to test them out! And everything made it just fine.

I'm all unpacked and everything is put away.

I keep forgetting that at E-mart if you're buying loose vegetables, you have to weigh them and print out a label or something like that. The checkers do not have codes to enter for them, so if you haven't printed a scannable sticker for them, you're out of luck. I've forgotten that twice now (I blame jet lag), with sweet potatoes and with bananas. Hopefully third time's the charm, and I'll remember to print labels for them next time. The other fruits and vegetables I bought (potatoes, apples, tangerines, green onions, mushrooms) were pre-bagged, so at least I managed to buy those successfully!

Thing I love about Korea: 2 liter bottles of mango juice!

Please send: a maid to do my cleaning!


My first week (3/9-3/3)

My first week at the school went well, although there were a lot of interruptions, diversions, and things to take care of. First thing on Monday morning, I found that the glass on the huge touch-screen monitor was cracked! I was still able to use it, but fortunately they replaced the glass on Friday, so now I won't have to worry about it.

In the office, they'd set up my computer, which unfortunately is all in Korean, which makes using it interesting at times! Later on, they added another piece to my desk for the computer, and fixed the big tangle of loose cords behind my chair. They also brought in a space heater, because the office was cold, which later in the week they replaced with a big heater/AC unit that's right behind my chair. (We had to move my desk forward a bit.) So I'll be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, which is nice! The classroom also has an extra heater, so it is probably the warmest in the school, and I get to control the temperature. They also installed speakers in the room so I could hear the bell better (it was hard to hear it, before). Also, I now have a microphone, which will greatly spare my voice. All of these installations were disruptive and noisy, but since they are for my comfort and convenience, I'm not complaining! They still have to install clocks in the office and classroom, and then I think they are done.

Meanwhile, my teaching schedule was also interrupted by the need to go get more passport-type photos taken for the health check and the alien registration card. (Wouldn't it have been nice if I'd been told from the start that I would need nine pictures, instead of telling me four, and then, oh, one more, and then, oh, four more?) The next day's interruption was going for the health check, which was weird. They took blood and urine samples, did a chest x-ray, checked my blood pressure, measured my height and weight, and then checked my vision (including my color vision—I'd forgotten how to do those, and probably got some wrong), and my hearing. Wow, I haven't been checked out so thoroughly since I was a little kid! Then on Wednesday I had to be at the school, but had no classes because the students had testing. I used the time to look through the English textbooks for the two grades I'll be teaching (first and second years). Friday I left early so that Mr. Yu and I could meet the workman coming to install internet in my apartment.

Aside from the interruptions and disruptions, classes went well. I showed them pictures, and had them tell me their names and their hobbies, and encouraged them to ask me questions. Many were very shy of speaking English, which most have not had much practice with, but they seemed enthusiastic about my being there, and I think with time they'll relax more and be willing to talk. All of my co-teachers seem very nice.

Next week should be a normal schedule, except that once the results of the health check come back, Mr. Yu and I will need to go to the immigration office in Seoul to fill out the paperwork for my alien registration card. Once I have that (maybe another week after) I can open a bank account.

Miscellaneous details:

I had to buy some slip-on shoes to wear at school. They don't wear street shoes in the school.

The teacher's cafeteria is excellent, and cheap. It's under 3,000 won (so less than $2), and the food is really good. Some of it is fairly spicy, but a lot is not, and there are always many types of food each day. It's funny, everyone always takes kimchee, but I have noticed that many of the Koreans don't eat any of it. It's like they feel obligated to take it, it being the Korean national food and all, but they don't actually want to eat it. Many do eat it (including me, it's very healthy), but I have noticed several who don't touch it after putting it on their tray.

The employees at the school all seem to be relieved that I'm Korean-sized. I think they were fearing some species of American Giantess! Mr. Yu was afraid that the bed would be too short for me (it's over 6 ft long)! Everyone seems happy that I'm not intimidatingly large and they feel more comfortable around me than they expected.

Thanks to jet lag, I was severely sleep-deprived most of the week. I kept waking up at ridiculously early hours and not being able to get back to sleep. Finally, on Thursday, I woke up at 6am after going to bed at 10:30, and Thursday night I gave up and went to bed at 10, so when I woke up at 6, I'd actually had eight hours of sleep for the first time in I don't know how long. I'd really prefer to get up at 7, since I don't have to be at the school until 8:50, but at least 6 is better than 5. I've actually slept all the way until 6:30...but not later. Oh well. I get things done in the morning, so I guess I'll go with it.

Thing I love about Korea: excellent public transportation: incredibly clean, cheap, efficient subway system

Please send: Clothes dryer


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday and Sunday (3/7-3/8)

When Mr. Yu (the school administrator) left on Friday night, we arranged to meet in the lobby of my building at 8:20 on Saturday morning, so he could show me how to get to the school, take me to meet my new coworkers, and tour the school.

Despite being exhausted and not getting to bed until midnight, I woke up at 3something am, and again at 4something, and couldn't get back to sleep. Finally I gave up and got up at 5:30. I had coffee, ate breakfast (Mr. Yu had kindly provided coffee and some food, so I would have something to eat in the morning), did some cleaning and organizing, decided what I was going to wear and laid it out, and read for a bit. I was planning to wear warm tights under my pants, with socks over them, because I had been told that the school is usually cold, and I was going to be wearing new boots and wanted to avoid blisters. At 8:10 I went into the bathroom to get dressed and do my hair, so I could be down in the lobby at 8:20. Then the door buzzer rang. Mr. Yu was 10 minutes early! Since I wasn't yet dressed, I tried to dress really quickly. Knowing that the tights would not go on quickly, I abandoned them and just pulled on the socks. I finished dressing in about a minute and opened the door. Mr. Yu apologized for being early and explained that he was worried about me, because the heat in my apartment did not seem to be working properly. (It does heat the apartment, it just takes a lot longer than it should.) I didn't want to keep him waiting, so I just ran a brush through my hair, and gathered my things.

I really suffered for the lack of tights, though. Not only was I cold all the time we were at the school, but I got a nasty blister on my heel from the new boots, which having tights under the socks would have prevented. Oh well. I guess I've learned not to wait to get dressed until the last minute when I'm expecting to meet someone!

We walked to the subway station and took the subway for two stops. As we went out of the subway station, I saw the exit for the school was the same one for Gwanaksan, the mountain that is north of Anyang and East of Gwacheon. We walked the few blocks to the school, which turned out to be right at the base of the mountain. I'll try to get pictures of the school and upload them soon.

I met the vice-principal and principal of the school ,and a lot of other teachers, most of whose names I have forgotten because I was severely jet-lagged and suffering from lack of sleep. Plus Korean names are still hard for me to remember.

I was shown the new English Room, which is a room set aside for me to teach in (most teachers don't have their own rooms). It has a huge touch-screen monitor on the wall (as well as white boards), and six tables that seat six students each. (And that tells you roughly what the class size is.) It also has six computers at the back for students to use, and a library of English reading books and reference books.

Next door is my office, which I share with the English coordinator. They didn't yet have my desk or computer set up, and the table was covered in boxes of books, CDs, DVDs, and other media, all unsorted. The English coordinator had ordered it all, and it had just arrived and had yet to be checked, organized, and unpacked.

So I spent some time organizing it all, and then checking off what was there from the list of what she'd ordered.

Then I sat through a training on how to use the touch-screen monitor, which was all in Korean (as is the User's Manual), but I could see what he was doing, so I think it won't be a problem.

After that, I was finished at the school for the day, and Mr. Yu took me to E-mart (in his car, which he had left at the school when he came to pick me up that morning) to first eat lunch (tonkatsu curry, Wintersweet!), and then to shop for the things the school still needed to provide me with (a clothes iron and some more bedding), and I bought some things I needed (such as a hair dryer, a clothesline and clothespins, fabric softener and laundry detergent). It was nice not to have to carry them home afterward, since we could take his car. Money was not a problem because Mr. Yu had given me the 300,000 won moving allowance in my contract. It went fast, though, so I was very glad that Mr. Yu was willing to exchange my American cash at the bank for me on Monday while I was teaching.

He helped me carry things up to my apartment, and showed me where the trash and recycling goes down in the garage. Then he left, and I had the rest of the weekend to myself.

It was not exciting. I spent it figuring out what I was going to do for classes the first week, shopping for more things at E-mart, ironing clothes, figuring out where to hang the clothes line and doing some laundry (the clothes I wore on Thursday/Friday and Saturday, plus new towels, etc.), and cleaning. The prior occupant had NOT cleaned the apartment and had evidently been a slob, and poor Mr. Yu had seen the state of things and done some cleaning before I came, but it still needed a lot more, and cleaning has been a major (and exhausting) feature of all my time at home since then, and I'm still not done.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Arrival, and pictures!

Warning, lots of big pics!

Thursday morning, my friend Wintersweet arrived to take me to the airport. I said a sad farewell to Tattermuffin and family, who were all big helps with the packing and getting ready to leave for Korea. Wintersweet and I had breakfast at Hobee's which is a Bay Area restaurant chain I had never eaten at before, to my regret! They try to use only fresh local foods, and breakfast there was great. We both had the same thing, because it sounded so delicious, and it was! It was cinnamon-orange swirl french toast sandwiching fried bananas and sliced almonds, with yogurt sauce instead of syrup.

Wintersweet and her husband (via her cell phone) offered more suggestions of ebooks I could download to my new Kindle 2 before I left. (Whispernet doesn't work outside the US, and I was not sure I would be able to get books for the Kindle while in Korea, so I wanted to download as many as possible before I left. I have over 150 things on my Kindle now, so I think I'm good for books for a while!)

We parked at the airport, and then Wintersweet helped me get my suitcases and carry-ons to the check-in counter. One of my carry-ons was overweight (I've never had them weigh a carry-on before!), but we managed to re-distribute a few things, and he let it go. My checked bags were just under the limit, thanks to Tattermuffin letting me borrow her scale to weigh them beforehand.

Then Wintersweet helped me get my stuff to security, and kindly waited to make sure I got through ok. Everything was fine, and I set off to find a place to buy some Ghirardelli chocolate as a gift for the school principal and for the administrator who was in charge of getting an apartment and all the things my contract provided (TV, microwave, bed, etc.). I managed to stuff the chocolate into my backpack, even, and it arrived without being squished. Then I schlepped all my heavy gear to the departure gate, which, naturally, was at the very far end of the terminal.

(I'm going to try an LJ-cut tag, so it won't kill the friends pages for those of you on LJ. I don't know if it will work.)

This photo is a little blurry, because my arms were so tired they were shaking badly.

The plane I flew to Korea on:

The flight was uneventful. The food was decent, and there was no one in the middle seat in my section. Korean Air has video-on-demand even for economy class, so I got to choose from many available movies and watch them when I wanted to. I also read part of one of the books Wintersweet recommended, His Majesty's Dragon, and played My Sims on Nintendo DS. But I spent most of the time reading Tattermuffin's gift to me: Lost in Austen, a Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure. It was very funny, and kept me entertained, although I did fail in my mission several times.

Eventually, we arrived at Incheon International Airport, and proceeded through immigration and on to baggage claim. Where I waited. And waited. And waited. My bags were the penultimate off the plane, and it was an hour from the time we landed until they finally showed up on the carousel. The whole time I was fretting that the van driver would think he had missed me and go off somewhere, but it wasn't a problem. Once I finally got my bags, I breezed through customs, and the van driver was waiting right past customs, holding a sign with my name on it.

He seemed to be in a big hurry, and didn't speak any English, so I wasn't able to exchange any of my US money for Korean won at the airport. This was a problem, because it was Friday evening, and banks here aren't open on weekends, and I work during the hours banks are open on weekdays, so I was worried that I wouldn't have any spendable money!

After a longish van ride, we arrived at my neighborhood. The driver didn't know what building my apartment was in (Korean addresses are very confusing, even to Koreans!), but he asked around and found the right place. My coworkers were there and waiting, and helped me get my suitcases up to my apartment.

Check out the high-tech door! (As you might guess from the number, I'm on the 4th floor.)

I was surprised and pleased to find the apartment more than double the size of my last apartment in Korea. Plus, there is one big bonus.

View from the entryway:

Far corner:

From the far corner across:

Looking from the center toward the kitchen/dining, and check out the adorable tiny vacuum cleaner!

The kitchen:

Check out the fancy rice cooker. Not only does it cook rice in 15 minutes, but it's also a pressure cooker, crock pot, and can steam vegetables. Unfortunately, the instructions are all in Korean. So far I've figured out how to make rice and boil water. LOL

The narrow black rectangle is the stove top (2 burners) -- glass top, yay! And below is the clothes washing machine. No dryer, darn!

I was very happy to find that this kitchen has about 5 times the counter space of the previous apartment in Korea! More cabinet space, too!

The bathroom:

The toilet has a bidet! And it blows you dry! You can choose hot or cold air! The instructions and buttons are all in Korean, of course, but I screwed up my courage and experimented one morning.

The mirror slides back and forth, and there is storage behind it, as well.

And check out the best part -- shower stall!

It has a door that seals it off completely, but it's all the way open so you can't see it in the photo. Woohoo! No more splashing water all over the bathroom when I shower! I can store towels and TP and stuff in the bathroom! I don't have to squeegee the whole bathroom dry after I shower! It's not quite as exciting as a clothes dryer, but it's a close second.

The only thing about this apartment that's not much better than my old one is the view out the window. My last apartment looked out on Gwanaksan (Mt. Gwanak) (and yes, Wintersweet, the mushroom bar). From this one, I can only see buildings:

The side window is even worse:

However, the window itself is much bigger and lets in more light, plus I have a second side window for light, so overall it's still better. And I have blinds for privacy. The windows open two different ways--sideways, or the top tilts open. Unfortunately, there are no screens, so I'm really glad that I brought some mosquito netting.

After bringing my things into the apartment, my coworkers took me out to dinner. We had a delicious mushroom bulgogi soup. (For those not familiar with Korean food, bulgogi is beef that has been cooked to tenderness in a slightly sweet sauce with onions and garlic. If you find yourself in a Korean restaurant and don't know what to order, bulgogi is a good choice, assuming you eat beef.) Then we went back to my apartment and they showed me how to use the heating system, the washer, the TV, the vacuum cleaner (the base snaps out for emptying and for use as a mini-hand vac, with attachments) and the basics of the rice cooker. Wondering why I needed help for this? Check 'em out:

TV remote:

Rice cooker:

Washing machine:

Door camera and intercom, heat, timer:

Then they left, and I did a little unpacking and went to bed.

And this is already way long, so I'll leave the rest for another post.

I can haz internets!

I got internet installed yesterday afternoon, so soon there will be an actual new post, with pictures!