It’s been almost 2 weeks since I arrived in South Korea.
Yeah, I’m vaguely aware of how close I am to North Korea.
I’m currently writing to you from my apartment in Ulsan, after having spent 10 days at a gorgeous university in Busan with 290 other foreigners that are teaching English. After some serious cabin fever, I’m glad to be in what seems like the actual Korea, but I’m grateful for my time learning about Korean culture in and out of the classroom.
Orientation taught us about:
– Any question about anything in this country/experience/program will be answered with “it depends…”
-Korea’s “one shot society”
– the Korean language is amazing – look into it
– Korean music and dance at a performance, as well as the Korean war
– How Korean’s syllabic nature makes it hard to learn English
– Your whole year depends on how cool your co-teacher is
-Waygook means foreigner in Korean
-7/11 is open and sells cheap beer and soju, and it’s kosher to drink in the streets. Corner stores are the all-purpose shop and are open 24/7
– the UK uses, miles/hr, celsius and weighs in ‘stones’ as well as kg
– Humidity + my hair = …
– There are a lot of rules and regulations in Korea (cheeky understatement lololol)
– Chopstick fluency is possible
– Ulsan accents are more gangster than others.. literally.. Apparently the Ulsan accent is used in movies featuring gangsters.
– The deep squat ability of older women here blows North Americans right outta the water
– Which leads me to tell you that yes, I have tried my first squatter toilet. The kids use them in my public elementary school
-mushrooms in this country are abundant, cheap and AMAZING
I am replacing a British GET named Sarah at a small elementary school in Dong-gu (Meaning East district). Korean children are going to think every foreigner girl’s name is Sarah, and they won’t be wrong.
All 51 of us going to Ulsan sat in the bus and waited for the co-teachers to arrive with a sign with our name on it. One by one people were picked up and taken away and it felt like we were all orphans finding families for the first time. Some of waited longer than the others and stared out the window, waiting expectantly for our co-teachers.
My flat It’s much bigger than I expected, and is a block away from the ocean!
My co-teacher is a 36 year old mom of two and she took me shopping for my groceries. She speaks little English, which means I’ll just have to learn more Korean and work a bit harder to communicate well. She cleaned up my apartment with me a little bit and asked me if I knew what “ajuma” is. I did, but she explained it’s a mother that likes cleaning. She helped me figure out my garbage and food waste days, and introduced me to the woman at the convenience store across the street.
Basically I am now her third child, and I will make her love me.
I need to tell you about my landlord, Mr. Jung.
He’s a 59 year old Christian Korean man and I have yet to meet his family.
He came over and was so excited meet me. He taught me how to turn the gas on in my stove, showed me that my bathroom floor is slippery, and saved me when I freaked out after seeing the the floor flooded in my laundry.. er.. area?
Naturally, the floor is supposed to flood, based on his cool reaction, I just had blocked the drain… Okay Korea.
He helped set up my new closet and TV (Samsung, of course) and helped himself to a granola bar. He speaks very little English, unlike his son who’s an English major in university (I’m 100% sure he’s hoping I’ll marry him). He asked if I play piano, and I said I don’t but it got lost in translation and of course I ended up next door playing piano. I think he used it as a segue into luring me into his home, because I did not expect what happened next.
He indicated for me to move over and sat next to me, flipped open a music book and began singing beautiful opera in full voice as he played piano. It was so beautiful I closed my eyes, huge smile on my face.
What. A. Legend.
I wanted to take a video but I was afraid he’d make me retake it until it was perfect, so I decided against it.
He showed me some videos of him as a soloist and managed to tell me he’s an elder in his church, and belongs to the elder choir. At one point he told “me player, for you healthy, traffic, school, teaching..” which I eventually realized was him telling me he would pray for my safety and health in Korea. Thanks man, so needed.
Next he asked if I was hungry, even though he saw me making dinner earlier. But.. of course I ended up eating ramen with him. I told him in Korean that it was delicious and he somehow explained how unhealthy it is and that I shouldn’t eat a lot of it. He said grace for us in Korean before we ate (him- out of the pot, student style) and again, I couldn’t help but smile.
I managed to take a bad photo of us to document the moment, mostly because I couldn’t believe what was happening.
At one point as we we spoke with our hands, Google translate and a pen and paper, he looked at my hands and told me I needed a manicure (many a hangnail, yes) and he slapped the top of my hands in dad-like disapproval. He said something about his daughter and my hands, but I couldn’t make it out.
He directed me to rest tonight, gave me some baby wipes to take home (cheers), and told me he’d get his son to take me to the beach tomorrow. We moved my mattress into my place and he told me to clean up the floor in a non-serious tone, and also scolded me for not wearing my slippers properly in my house and his: one for outside, one for inside, one for the bathroom. He also made fun of my rice and said it looked hard and gross. I still have no idea what he’s talking about, but I know he’s an expert. The next day his wife came in and took a look at my rice situation and she scolded me as well..
New rice goals.
24 hours in Ulsan
A I mentioned, I live in the city of Dong-gu within the city of Ulsan. It’s absolutely full of foreigners, mostly chubby old white dudes that work at Hyundai making ships and cars. The area that my apartment is located in has what are known as Western Bars on every block. Every bar has a funny name like Banana, Flamingo, Tango and Baha Beach, to name a few.
I hesitantly got on a bus and didn’t attract to much attention to myself. Then I got lost trying to find my school and took at $3 taxi about 5 blocks away from where I was…
The next events go as follows:
– Found a traditional market
– Walked a few km to the Seuldo Island lighthouse
– On my way there was a halmeoni selling freshly gleaned and still-alive sea creatures
** GOOD STORY, settle in**
– I asked her what the heck this one crazy looking creature was in Korean, and without saying anything, she pulled one out of the water, violently cut in two, scooped out its inner parts and thrust it into my fingers and indicated that I should eat it.
Shocked, I smelled it slowly and she scolded me saying something like “just eat it girl!” and I forced its raw, cold and salty contents into my mouth. A Korean family was eating lunch next to us and they all watched and cried laughing as I tried chewing and prayed to the good Lord that the creature wasn’t related to shrimp (epi-pen so ready). I swallowed it, and indicated that I did not enjoy this ‘monge’ creature. (I spent the next 20 mins trying to figure out if the creature wanted to come back up out of my body).
– She also had an octopus and she let me touch it and then I screamed because it’s little suction cups unexpectantly sucked onto my finger… I swear I studied marine bio guys but the sea life here speaks Korean..
Got to Seuldo lighthouse:
-Asked a guy to take a photo of me and we ended up chatting/miming/google translating
-Hun and In are two online store businessmen and happened to be touring Ulsan as well
– I offered them a snack and they asked for a sip of my drink too (if you give a moose a muffin, eh Mom)
– Him and his friend mimed Korean words at me, and I attempted some Korean and miming back
– We saw the Daewangam bridge from where we were and I got stoked
– The offered to take me there (after we figured out our age difference – very important in Korea.)
-They let me jokingly call them opas (big brothers)
– Spent the whole afternoon learning Korean with them and enjoying the salty air and beautiful park
-Ulsan is adorned with whale murals, statues, and artwork (stoked!). Little did I know, I moved to the whale eating/hunting capital of Korea... all day my friends teased me that we would go for whale-gogi later. Thanks boys.
– They bought me bingsu to share with them!
– Got home exhausted and went back out the door for a foreigner teacher meet up in downtown Ulsan (about 40 mins away).
– Korean BBQ and soju to celebrate
To be continued!
Class starts tomorrow and my students are learning all about Canada and my life.