Welcome to Korea!
Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
17Trip End Ongoing
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I arrived in South Korea on my birthday, April 1. Instead of reveling, laughing and enjoying the usual celebration I am accustomed to experience on my b-day, I slept and ate alone. I left for Korea from Las Vegas at 1 a.m. Saturday morning. I arrived in Incheon International Airport at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. My entire Saturday was spent on a plane eating and sleeping. When I finally (there were no in-flight movies...boo!) arrived on Sunday I was too exhausted to even eat with some Korean friends who were showing me around. Instead, I slept for nine hours, woke up ate dinner and went back to bed. By 4 a.m. I was so rested that I could not go back to bed. Five hours later I boarded a yellow school bus (the only yellow school bus in the metro area) and headed to my first day of work at...
Although I have only been here (ICEV) a little over a week, I can already tell it will be a fun year. The teaching (if you must call it that) is easy. I've only taught for a little over a week, but I already feel I can do it in my sleep. The school is more of a camp than it is a school. Two hundred-fifty new students arrive every week and sleep in dormitories. They are taught two different tracks or curricula (for all those teachers out there). Each student is placed in one of five different job experiences: Picasso (art), Shakespeare (theater), Mozart (music), Gaudi (architecture) or Einstein (science). They spend two hours a day in this class with their quasi-homeroom teacher learning about their "discipline" and creating a final project that is presented to the school at the end of the week. The other track, which I teach, is a mixed bag of all kinds of goodies called Life Experience. Life (as in the Experience) is full of many things, including air planes, autos, banks, post offices, stores, movie theaters, UNICEFs, sports and much, much more. Basically, I spend my time going from class to class, teaching kids the vocabulary and basic interactions performed in these various environments. When I say environments, I mean there is an actual airplane room with reclining chairs, snack cart and tray table. And yes, this realism does help them learn the vocabulary, I think. I'm fairly certain that grad schools will be thrilled about this experience. Jokes aside, I love the kids and my fellow teachers. The next four weeks we will be teaching only 4th graders, but usually we have a mix of students from 4-6th grade that are bused in from the Incheon area. The best part about teaching at ICEV is when you are not teaching, you are not working. When I am on break, I can check e-mail, write letters, practice Hangeul (Korean alphabet), play boggle, get some exercise (there is a basketball court and soccer field) or anything else I feel like doing. With no worries about lesson plans, grading or assignments, I can also spend my weekends doing whatever it is I like. That will serve as a pretty good segue into my next topic:
The "Seoul" of Korea
My first weekend was spent mainly in the company of fellow Badgers (UW-Madison alums, for those unaware). I took the subway (which is very clean, efficient and in English!) to the trendy area of Seoul, known as Insa-dong. We (Andrew, Grace and I) ate and window shopped there and then headed to Hongdae, the famous University area full of college students, bars, great restaurants and foreigners. After a fabulous dinner at an Italian style sandwich shop, we headed out for drinks. I will say this: the night was long, eventful and at times fuzzy. I apologize for those that want more details, but my mother (bless her caring and overly cautious heart) has instructed me to be careful about what I put in this blog; so I don't one day ruin my chances of being hired at a dream job. Anyway, I made it to Andrew's place at 6 in the morning, after a horrifying episode with a Korean man in his boxer shorts. Apparently I knocked on the wrong door. Don't worry though; I made it all better, saying gamsahamnida (thank you; one of only two Korean words I knew at this point) and immediately running away. The next morning I groggily explored the city. We had a fabulous American-style brunch in Itaewon (where most American troops live in Seoul and where tons of foreigners are out walking around) and then got some fresh air in Yeuido, an island on the Han River where the cherry blossom trees are prevalent and currently blooming...beautiful! After checking out the church with the largest congregation in the world (according to their promotional materials) on Easter Sunday, I headed back to the Subway for my city...
Incheon: My Kind of Town...So Far
Incheon is large and very metropolitan. Besides housing the international airport, it is also home to over 2.5 million people. It is just across the Han River from Seoul, which has 10 million people, so together they have a crap load of people. Thus, city skylines are usually full of high-rise apartment complexes, rather than the more western business-oriented skyscraper. The area I live is quite convenient. Everything I could possibly need is within 5 minutes walking distance. There are even 3 big box stores that I can see from my apartment complex. One of which was formally a Wal-Mart, but is now an E-Mart...same thing really...except more escalators. There are also tons of restaurants (pretty cheap), bars and stores (mostly expensive shopping). Also, if you are in the mood, massage parlors occupy every corner, which often offer more than a mere massage (red light district). This weekend I plan to stay in Incheon (rather than travel outside) and see what my town has to offer. For one, the only official Chinatown in Korea is only a couple subway stops away from me. Also, the Incheon baseball team is playing their first game of the season in a massive (former World Cup/Olympic) stadium. Anyway, more about Incheon after I experience it more first hand.
My apartment, in Incheon, is a spacious, yet completely unfurnished. The 12-foot high ceilings constantly remind me of my lack of furniture. However, I am comfortable in my 12th floor, free abode with only a bed and a computer on the floor. I just received my airline ticket refund, so now I can begin to slowly furnish and buy a cell phone, and actually be able to communicate with people on a more frequent basis. On a plus side, I have tons of storage space and a kitchen, though I have little to store or cook, but it's a work in progress. Beside, I'm usually eating dinner out, and traveling on the weekends.
Soju in Yeoju Plus Some Nasty Blisters!
By escaping to the countryside and away from the massive Incheon/Seoul metropolis, I was able to see blue sky last weekend, and many badgers (UW alums, not the animal, sorry to disappoint). I took the subway to a large city called Suwon (apartment complex skyline as usual). I met Nat and Alex here. Instead of rushing to catch a bus to Yeoju, we relaxed, enjoyed our dinner and they introduced me to soju. This vodka-like rice-based liquor is the de facto Korean national drink and extremely cheap (one bottle for $4). The custom is to only pour for others and never turn down a drink; thus, it's quite easy to drink too much, despite its less than amazing taste. After over-indulging we crashed at Alex's tiny apartment. I mean tiny. Think of an American master bath and you have the size of Alex's apartment. Next morning we took the bus to Yeoju. On the bus, a Korean mother with a screw loose could not stop talking to Nat and giving us food. I appreciated the second more than the first. She inquired about all Nat's favorite fruits and whether he wanted to buy a water cooler; at least the chocolate she gave us was yummy.
Yeoju felt like a college reunion with a bunch of people I had never met before. Everyone was a UW 06' graduate except for the one Korean guy who drove half the crew down to Yeoju. First order of business was soccer. It was tons of fun until we finished. Back at Mike's place (guy who lived in Yeoju), I realized I had enormous blisters on both big toes from semi-soleless shoes. The rest of the evening was spent limping around at a music party and attempting to stay off my feet at a local bar...more soju and a fun game called titanic.
The next day (Sunday) my feet were throbbing. The subway/walk home was painful! I spent the remainder of the day resting (as it was intended) off my feet. I was ready for anything week 3, including a physical...
I will refrain from getting over political (mostly for my father), but I will say that we could definitely learn something from Koreans. I was informed on Monday that I would need to get a physical on Tuesday, escorted by a member of the staff. I receieved more care in 45 minutes than I could receive in a day in the states (excluding the military). Blood pressure (administered manually), eye exam, x-ray, dental check-up, EKG, blood test, height/weight, hearing test, urine sample all on the same floor with no wait. Let me repeat that, no wait! Maybe the efficient service was due to the proximity to closing time, but I have a feeling that Korean healthcare is much more user-friendly and definitely cheaper. The U.S. should take a crash course on the Korean system before reforming that ugly mess. I'm looking forward to more dental/medical treatment, just to awe at the efficiency.
Thanks for reading my first entry, I hope you enjoyed it...or at least read some of it. If you want to send me something in the mail, I would love to receive it. Send mail or packages to my school address at:
c/o Incheon English Village
350-2, Dangha-Dong, Seo-Gu
Or, if you want to talk electronically, we can e-mail or chat (for those with gmail) at email@example.com. Plus, there is always facebook!
Much love to you all, Bill
PS: Photos to come later!