South Korea: Where to even begin? (Sept 2010-Sept 2012)
What I knew about South Korea before moving there: Something called Kimchi, 40 something million people, slightly larger than New Brunswick, Annyeonghaseyo, Kamsahamnida! Needless to say I did some research before leaving, and what I read had me super excited! Thank you internet bloggers!
I moved to Siheung, South Korea, September 4th ish, 2010. Up until this point I had only ever traveled in Canada, and the USA. I had always wanted to travel but was fairly uncertain of how to make this happen without a sizable amount of money. You know the catch 22-loads of time-no money or some money and no time. My friends Dan and Jason told me they were moving to Korea and that I should come too! So Dan hooked me up with an ELL teaching job at the same school. A few months later I found myself on a 12 hour Korean Air flight, squashed into the window seat (I am an aisle person). I hate flying, the noise, the smells, the ear popping, the food; the only pleasurable thing about flying is the free alcohol and endless movies. At 4 am, my new boss, Amy, Dan, and Jason met me at the airport and drove me to Dan and Jason’s apartment (mine wasn’t ready yet). I was so jetlagged and off centre that Jason decided it was time for me to have a few Korean Hite beers, a nap, and then he would eventually walk me over to the school to check it out. Around 1pm the phone rings and it’s Jay, the manager of the school telling Jason I need to come to the school as soon as possible. So we go over there only to find out that they need to take my photo for a school event…needless to say at this point I was not looking my best and this photo would haunt me for the next year. Then they asked me to sit in on classes and observe, at which point Jason informed him that I only arrived this morning, hadn’t slept or eaten and perhaps it would be better to get me some food first. I did end up going back to the school that evening to observe a few classes but was pretty out of it and don’t remember a thing. That first night happened to be a friday and since Ben was leaving and I was the new teacher, Amy threw a big dinner for everyone. This was my first Korean BBQ experience and since I was a vegetarian at the time it was not a good one..I soon figured out in Korea that trying to eat out as a vegetarian was not a good time and after about 6 months or so, started eating meat…no regrets…Samgyeopsal, Bulgogi, and Galbi are delicious! That weekend Dan and Jason showed me around town and Amy took me grocery shopping and filled up a cart full of supplies and things I needed for my apartment to get me started.
My apartment, the first place I lived alone, was great! There was a mezzanine I couldn’t quite stand up in, that was just for sleeping and keeping my clothes. I had two single mattresses that I put side by side to create a massive bed, I bought a giant fluffy magenta blanket and a bunch of pillows and created a cozy little sleeping nook, I also hung curtains from the top over the banister to block the sun a little but not completely. The downstairs was mostly one large room with a floor to ceiling window on one wall. My kitchen area had closet doors to cover the area at night when you just wanted to relax and not stare at the dinner mess. The bathroom had a small partition for the shower but it was basically one big tiled shower room…really easy to clean fyi, just don’t forget to put your socks on after you brush your teeth. There was storage under the stairs to the mezzanine, and little storage areas anywhere they could fit it in. As a result my apartment rarely felt cluttered, it was small, but the furniture fit well and life was efficient in that place. Now with my large 1 bedroom apartment and inefficient use of space in UAE (there is very little storage) I miss my apartments in Korea.
Siheung, SK: Population of 421,192
Siheung is about an hour and a half on the metro outside Seoul and since the metros in SK were equipped with excellent Wifi (even in 2010), the seats were heated in the winter and there was air-conditioning in the summer, this was not a bad ride at all. Jeongwang metro station also happened to be the second stop on the way to Seoul which meant there was always a place to sit; on the way back from Seoul-not so much. There are not too many reasons to visit Siheung but living there was quite pleasant, As with most places in Korea, the cities are compact and walkable-usually the dong (neighbourhood) you live in has everything you could need like grocery/department stores, restaurants galore, gyms, bars, cosmetic shops, and of course numerous coffee shops. If you are Korean or tiny like a Korean, there are also many clothing shops, but for my voluptuous self I would have to make the journey into Myeongdong (Seoul) and brave the crowds for H&M and Forever 21; order bras and shoes from Canada and pay exorbitant shipping costs for said items.
We used to walk to the park and up the small mountain or walk along the foot massage paths (yes that’s a thing and it’s both painful and amazing!) In the winter we would spend more time than necessary at our favourite bar “Cool Pub”; they had these big high booths and cheap pitchers of beer. Honourable mention, Batman Pub, a place that had nothing to do with batman, had less ambience than Cool Pub but they did have booby pitchers.
Korea has an endless selection of delicious restaurants and fun bars but the thing about these places is that they rarely came equipped with bathrooms inside the restaurant so you would have to go out in the hallway to use the building’s bathroom. In the summer the hallways were not air-conditioned so I’d always come out of the bathroom sweating like I’d had a real hard time in there or in the winter freezing and shivering like I’d just squatted behind a bush outside during an ice storm…bathroom experiences in SK were not always pleasant.
In Siheung I taught at Wonderland Primo English Academy; a Hagwon (private academy for English and Kindergarten). Possibly the best thing about teaching here was that every morning the kids would be so excited to see you, EVERY MORNING; so if you were feeling crappy, at around 9:30 10 little people would come running and surround you, yelling “Chelsie teacher!!!” I am not special, they did this for all the teachers. Another awesome part of this school was the monthly field trips with KG, even the bus trips were fun! We took them to so many different places it’s hard to remember them all but I do remember the Art Museum in Ansan and an awesome tubing spot. Actually the best field trip was when we took them to an island about 40 minutes outside of Siheung. We literally just let them dig in the mud flats for an hour or so; they were so cute squealing at everything and anything they found wriggling around in the mud. Afterwards we had an amazing lunch of Kalgeoksu, A clear broth, noodle soup with mussels and clams.
I was very fortunate to know people when I moved to Korea, in fact it was Dan who helped me get my job with our amazing boss Amy. I knew Dan and Husband Jason from Montreal, they encouraged me to apply to work in SK to which I am eternally grateful. Dan is basically the live action character Gir from Invader Zim; he’s bubbly, happy, and full of energy and great ideas! Husband Jason is the polar opposite to Dan which is why I nicknamed him Poopy Pants. Dan’s brother also worked at the school and as it turns out, is also a huge grump therefore I call Brother Jason Grumpy Pants. These 3 guys were the extent of my social life for the first few months and while I enjoyed their company, I needed some female friends and less video game nights in my life. I met Douglas about 2 months after I moved there and that was the start of a tumultuous 51/2 year on/off, mostly long distance relationship. I met Krystale, a Canadian teacher, through Dan and Husband Jason and we became fast friends, she is a hilarious, warm hearted person with a way of observing and commenting on random things that will crack you up for days. I also met Meagan, a Korean American from Portland, Oregon. She had been adopted by an American family and consequently didn’t speak much Korean. Whenever we would go out the servers would automatically speak to her instead of us, obvious foreigners and she would stare back blankly before uttering “Hangual Malmuteyo” (I don’t speak Korean) to which they would stare back blankly and then we would just point at the menu and everyone would smile bow their heads and we would eat delicious food!
People are often worried about not speaking the language when they visit another country; I tried to learn some useful phrases here and there and was able to get by quite easily. When words fail you can always a) play charades or b) play pictionary to communicate. I quickly learned that miming toilet is incredibly embarrassing and thus promptly repeated the phrase Hwajeongshil Odi Isayo (Where is the bathroom) a million times so I would never forget! I loved that generally Koreans will have so much patience with you when you’re trying to communicate with them, they earnestly try to help you out and rarely get frustrated because most of the time the situation becomes fairly comical and everyone gets a good laugh out of it.
I have so much to write about Korea, I have already written about the DMZ, but this is a lot for now so stay tuned for more on Korea. I will be posting about Seoul, Busan, various islands, and of course CHERRY BLOSSOMS! Also check out my instagram for pictures from my time in Korea. I will be posting almost exclusively on Korea for the next little while. https://www.instagram.com/joy.adventure/