Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trek through Garak Market

Took a mini-trek through Garak Market on the walk home tonight. My school is directly across the street from this sprawling wholesale farmers' market, and I've longed to see it up close. Although it was an off-peak time, there was still activity to observe, including an auction (hard to say for what exactly, but that distinctive auctioneer cadence was unmistakable). I hurriedly took a few photos to show you and will return again to capture better images. In the shot below, you'll notice mounds of peeled garlic cloves -their aroma was heavenly and got me thinking about when I'll whip up my first batch of pasta sauce over here. Maybe I'll give myself another week to settle in. Strangely enough, I haven't been overwhelmed yet by any cravings for my usual American fare. I do have an In-N-Out sticker up in my classroom, and every once in awhile I reflect on the goodness of a double-double, but so far, it's been manageable.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Eating Regimen

To cut back on spending, I've been trying to eat at home whenever possible. Okay, so it's only been 2 days, but it's a start. For posterity's sake, here's what I ate for breakfast, dinner, and snacks today:

Breakfast (eaten just before departing for school at 12:30pm):
  • 2 eggs fried in olive oil on 2 slices of white bread
  • 1 tiny yogurt (Yoplait!)
  • 2 cups of coffee (a treasure from home -thanks, Dad & Mom) 
  • 1 very large cucumber, sliced into half moons
  • a generous slab of tofu topped with delicious sesame oil
  • 1 Korean pear (a cross between an apple and jicama)
  • 1 small box of mango juice
  • 1 serving of insta-rice (just microwave and eat -no water to add!)
  • 2 packages of dried seaweed, a.k.a. laver
  • several handfuls of puffed wheat
  • 1 red apple
  • Pepsi Nex (2 bottles which I purchased from the convenience store in my school's building; Pepsi Nex = Pepsi Max)
Am still feeling hungry. Go figure.

Keeping Track

There are many things I now keep track of that I once took for granted. Here are some:
  1. Turning on the boiler 5-10 minutes before I want to shower in order to have hot water. Remembering to turn it off afterward.
  2. Adjusting the switch in the bathroom from shower state back to faucet state once I'm finished or else risk getting drenched the next time I wash my hands in the sink (this will make more sense once I upload some apartment pics).
  3. Switching off the gas once I'm finished cooking.
  4. Separating my garbage:  any food remains go into a green plastic bag while all other garbage goes into a white one. These are special bags coded for each neighborhood, and I've forgotten where to purchase them....
  5. Swiping my transportation card both as I enter and leave subway stations. Same goes for boarding and exiting the bus.
  6. Remembering the access codes to my building and apartment unit -no more keys! 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Namdaemun Market, Shinsegae, and Lotte Mart

Stayed up cleaning until past one last night and tried to make it into a game -like, how long can I scrub this particular grimy area before needing to switch arms? I went through an entire roll of paper towels and then continued with another, but in the end, it seemed like I'd made a difference. I passed out from exhaustion, and when I awoke, was excited to find suggestions on fighting the mold (thanks, Mom, Dad, and Uncle Fog). I've since employed the bleach method, and it's helped some. While not completely eliminated, at least there appears to be less mold, for now...

As a reward for last night's manic cleaning, I treated myself to a field trip this afternoon. Took the subway to Hoehyoen station where I had my first experience at Namdaemun Market. It reminded me of Canal Street in NYC but on a much larger scale. I stumbled upon an orange Goyard bag which I really liked (presumably a knock-off going at the bargain price of 30,000 won, down from 45,000) but resisted the urge to buy it. Instead, I bargained for an umbrella (10,000 won down from 12,00), a teapot (11,000 down from 12,000), and a frying pan (7,000). I wasn't too impressed with my haggling skills and rightly so:  I later found similar items with lower starting prices. Oh well, I'm still a beginner. Having more Korean in my arsenal than just Hello and Thank You will probably come in handy for the next round.


I then ventured over to Shinsegae department store; didn't get past the food hall (go ahead and say it:  no surprise I started there, right?!). It was amazing to see the assortment of high-end brands mixed in with a few randoms, e.g. Auntie Anne's Pretzels. I enjoyed a steamed pork bun served on fancy pink and white china for 2,000 won -delicious. Looking forward to returning to this store, ideally after I get a paycheck.

From Shinsegae, I trekked through Myeongdong, which I've subsequently learned is Korea's trendiest shopping area. Very easy to get lost there as it contains numerous boutiques. Most intriguing are the young women dressed in cute, cheerleader-type uniforms, jumping up and down and handing out samples in an attempt to get people into the stores. I took a photo (below), but it doesn't really capture the full effect. Again, this will be a fun area to re-visit.

I then headed back towards home, stopping off at Jamsil Station to get bleach and other necessities from Lotte Mart. There has got to be a better time to visit that store than on a weekend, because it was jam-packed both today and yesterday when I was there. Locating the bleach was a comedy of errors, but ultimately I found it. I tried asking for it, then acting it out -demonstrating washing clothes and pointing to a saleswoman's white blouse. Both tactics were futile. After scouring the cleaning aisles, I finally found it. How? The bottle's color scheme closely matches that of Clorox, and one whiff of its contents confirmed my hunch. Re-learned an important lesson today, one which I first learned back in NYC -never use a shopping cart when buying groceries. The handle baskets are much better as they serve as a reminder of what you'll be lugging back home, so you're less inclined to overdo it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


In the last week, each time I met with a cultural difference, I've tried to focus on the positive. This one, however, will be hard to spin. 

My school adviser met me this afternoon, and together we relocated to my new apartment (Note:  no spinning needed here. She has been incredibly helpful and generous with her time -accompanying me to the store to translate items for me, demonstrating how to use appliances, etc). The upside is that the space is comparatively bigger than where I'd been staying and other places I've seen. Unfortunately, there is mold throughout, and the place is really dirty. Any ideas on how to combat the mold? It's accumulated on various parts of the wall paper.

Long night ahead and am feeling sick. Here's to keeping up a sense of humor.

Chicken and Beer

Can you guess what I had for dinner tonight? One beer and some random fried chicken pieces -no organs as far as I could tell. A nod to comfort food, it seemed an appropriate way for this alien to cap off an incredibly busy week in a foreign land. I dined with two of my colleagues, and we had a spirited discussion, covering a wide spectrum of topics. Plus, I had the added benefit of tapping into their expertise and asking them a million questions -everything from how to master the insane time management component of our class schedules to where to find a good bookstore. We capped off the evening with a walk by my new apartment. Hard to gauge what it looks like from the street, but I'm excited about moving all the same. Will be nice to do some nesting (although that word annoys me) and to feel more settled.

It's almost two a.m., but I wanted to jot down a quick post to say overall, my first day of teaching went smoothly. Thank you for your prayers and warm wishes! I have much to learn about pacing classes and how to make science and grammar more entertaining, but I'm grateful that things went fairly well.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Immigrant? Alien? That's me.

Today was indeed hectic and long. The subway ride to the Immigration Office was an hour, and seating was limited which made prepping for my teaching presentation difficult. Although I had a map (in Korean!), it was challenging to locate the office. Fortunately, a nice woman picked up on the utter confusion all over my face and guided me to where I needed to go. She tried repeatedly to speak to me in Korean and then opted to walk alongside me until we got to the destination. I appreciate that nearly everyone I've interacted with assumes I speak Korean; I only wish I could communicate better with them. In time, in time... 

Once I arrived at the Immigration Office, I was desperate to leave; the thermostat had to have been set to sauna or Hades because it was ridiculously warm in there. The appointment itself went fine; really, all it entailed was handing over my passport, employment documents, and medical test results and then buying a 'revenue stamp' for 10,000 won (still need to determine the stamp's purpose) that I hope will be placed in my passport as a souvenir. Wasn't too happy about having to leave behind my passport and am slightly nervous that it's being mailed back to me in lieu of my retrieving it in person. I asked the woman who waited on me if it was safe to mail it, and she said: "please trust our government; no accidents until now" which I'm hoping means that their postal system trumps America's. 

Lots of adjustments going on. For instance, I'm trying to get used to eating dinner at 11pm. By the time I left campus tonight I'd reached a hunger plateau and could have easily skipped dinner. However, were I to wake up in the middle of the night with gnawing stomach pains, I'd have nothing to eat in this apartment except for dried seaweed and bland cheese slices. Am mildly obsessed with the seaweed -even had some for breakfast the other day- but this current batch of cheese is sub-par. Will press on in search of another, better product.

I am also adjusting to the frequent military air drills. Yesterday I became increasingly nervous as I watched a succession of very low-flying jets fly past a classroom window. Neither the teacher nor the students seemed alarmed, and yet it looked and sounded as though the planes were heading straight into the building. 

On a positive note:  this week has been packed, and it's been good. I've learned a ton during training about teaching English as a foreign language, lesson planning, and cultural differences. I've interacted with bright students and terrific new colleagues (smart and good natured!). And I've also been reminded that it takes time and practice to get good at something, so I don't need to be too hard on myself as I prepare for my first official day of teaching. Yes, folks... it's tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Non Blonde

Just a quick post as I'm about to embark on a hectic 24 hours. Tomorrow is an early wake up call to get across town in time for my appointment at the Immigration Office; then racing back to school for more training; followed by my teaching three sample lessons to my manager -science, grammar, and reading. (Incidentally, I learned today that I'm now teaching a social studies class, too). 

It's after 10:30pm, and I need to start prepping. But before doing so, I have an anecdote:  during another class observation, one teacher suggested I introduce myself to her students. Aware of their insatiable appetite for all things pertaining to marital status and family info, I shared the following:  I'm from California; I went to UCLA; and I have two younger sisters -both of whom have blonde hair and are married. Without missing a beat, one boy blurted out:  "maybe no blonde hair is why you no married."

How Old Are You?

I'd been tipped off prior to arriving that the #1 question I'd be asked in Korea is: how old are you? Had no idea that the students would be the ones constantly posing it. During a class observation today, one girl alone asked me at least ten times. When I finally told her my actual age (after providing multiple false answers), she didn't believe me. The oddest question I got was in reference to my teeth: are they implanted? Not sure if that was a knock on Californians' obsession with implants or if my teeth look peculiar... either way, it amused me. The students' bluntness, juxtaposed with their unusual focal points, definitely adds to the quirkiness of being an ESL instructor and keeps things entertaining.

I found out my class schedule. Starting Friday I'll be teaching reading for various levels as well as science (!). Fortunately the science class is a lower level one, so no need to bust out a physics book. I will, however, need to brush up on climates, solar systems, and photosynthesis and probably review cell construction, too. Laughing as I remember my high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Hay, telling my parents in her thick Scottish accent that I'd never be a scientist.

Training seems to be going well; I feel I'm absorbing a lot, and today was less overwhelming than yesterday. A few colleagues and I grabbed dinner after work. They're nice girls and were very helpful in answering my many questions. They also all read and/or speak some Korean which they claim is easy to pick up. Am planning to set aside time to learn the alphabet and some common phrases since I think it'll pay dividends, and yes, learning is its own reward. Since the subways shut down after midnight, I took my first solo cab ride back home after dinner -went fine, although once again communication was a challenge. More incentive to learn conversational Korean!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Trip to the Hospital + Training, Day One

My day started off well (see previous post; plus bonus: got to talk with Mom & Dad, as well as Karen & Bobby via Skype -love it!), and it ended well. In the middle was a bunch of good stuff, too, but I must start with the most unusual, that being my first trip to a Korean hospital. My manager took me there as step one of orientation since to obtain my Alien Registration Card (the all-important document which allows me to get a legitimate Internet connection and cell phone), I must first submit a clean bill of health. The visit was brief and the battery of tests relatively typical (one exception: too embarrassing to post but involves their taking certain measurements); however, I'm still amused they made me wear a mask throughout my visit (exhibit below):

From the hospital we trekked over to the COEX building for a quick errand (cannot wait to return as there's so much going on at COEX and in that general area) and then stopped at the company's headquarters. I was happy to finally meet Rosa who's been really helpful throughout this entire recruiting and hiring process. I also met the co-founder/president which was a real honor. Don't think I've yet mastered the appropriate bow, so must practice for future meetings.

Training was straightforward and enjoyable. My manager covered part of the teacher handbook, and then I observed two classes. Both teachers were terrific, and I feel I'm learning a ton. Can't believe these young students sit through 2-3 hour classes, and in the evenings no less. I was rather tired leaving campus but motivated enough to check out the cool shopping complex across the street. It is amazing. I had a great Korean dinner and then browsed through several floors which form a fascinating maze of electronics, toys, stationery, clothes, groceries, home goods, flowers, books, cosmetics... easy to get lost, and so I headed home before I forgot the way back.

A Pastry a Day

Went out for coffee this morning -have visited the same place three days in a row (TomNTom's). It's definitely a splurge by Korean standards (3,800 won for a grande iced Americano), but since I'm unable to boil water in my current place, it seems like a worthwhile treat. It was lightly raining when I stepped out, but on the way back I got caught in a downpour. A young Korean man offered to share his umbrella with me -very considerate and generous, especially because I looked like such an oddball in my running shorts and sweatshirt while everyone else was dressed more appropriately for the weather. Stopped off at Paris Baguette for today's pastry -strawberry and cream cheese filled. Yum. Will need to limit my visits there to one/day or I'll soon wind up looking like a doughnut.

Have noticed that I've been talking to myself occasionally... not a usual habit of mine, so my guess is that I'm desperate to speak English. Will be interested to see if this ceases once I begin teaching. Speaking of which, I'm heading out soon for my first day of training. On today's agenda is a trip to the hospital for my medical exam and then a review of school policies. Am hopeful I'll make a positive first impression on my new colleagues and pick up things quickly.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Not as Lost When with Locals

Partnering with locals has its advantages wherever one goes, but it cannot be underestimated in Seoul. This city is MASSIVE, and it completely dwarfs NYC -so much for my naive assumption that since it's a city with skyscrapers and a decent subway system, the experience would be similar.

After my trek to Olympic Park and subsequent (+ endless) meandering back to my place, I collected myself and hopped on the subway to visit my Korean friends in Yeoido. This journey was basic in that it was a straight (albeit long) shot on the subway. Forty-five minutes later, I ascended the subway escalator and was greeted warmly by my friend Stella, the mother of the Korean girl I tutored over the summer while still in California. They're back in Seoul now, and I met the rest of their family -dad and brother. It was good to see familiar faces, and we had a nice visit. They treated me to a very chi-chi, traditional Korean lunch at the 63 Building, a local landmark. The meal was delicious, and would you believe I actually forgot to take photos of it?! Probably won't be going back anytime soon either as lunch was a small fortune. Afterward, Stella and her husband drove me to the electronics district in Youngsan where I purchased a new adapter for my laptop -crisis averted since I'd brought the wrong kind with me. From there we went to a supermarket where I bought some staples. Stella saved me from buying 4 bananas priced at 9,200 won (about $8). In my extreme fatigue I'd missed a zero, thinking they were around 1,000 won. Who needs potassium anyway? Ha. In fact, I am trying to do all I can to keep healthy. My eyes have been really bloodshot since arriving, and I'm not sure if I'm: 1. getting sick; 2. tired beyond belief; and/or 3. allergic to something in the air... I'm hoping for the best.

Truly Lost in Translation

It's official: I've begun my own real-life Lost in Translation adventure. It is so bizarre to be inhabiting a place where I genuinely have no idea what almost everyone around me is saying. And while there are some signs in English, it's usually only a few words so I'm continually wondering what's really going on. Example: this morning I power-walked over to Olympic Park. I took some photos there and then happened upon a sign next to the lake that looked pretty extensive, but the only word in English was "Danger." Of course I came up with several scenarios pertaining to what the warning was for -polluted water? hungry crocodiles? As of now, I remain in the dark. Later today I tried to order bibimbap -except nothing on the menu was in English, the photos on the wall were less than illuminating, and the woman who waited on me was not amused by my mispronunciation. I ended up with bibimbap but upon first bite realized it was bulgogi I'd been craving all along. Next time...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Safe and Sound

I've arrived in Seoul, safe and sound. The flight was fine -really!- and actually went by quickly. The flight attendants on Korean Air are attractive and elegant, adding a dash of glamour to the experience, and the in-flight entertainment was terrific -excellent movie options and decent magazines, too. The food was fair, but maybe I ordered the wrong dish.....?! (note: avoid 'American' cuisine on future international flights). I slept all of ten minutes and was exhausted by the time I landed. Going through customs was smooth, and all of my luggage arrived (it was so soothing to open my suitcases last night and smell my towels. Hope I can find a similar detergent!). The ride from the airport to where I'm staying was l-o-n-g, as in 1 1/2 hours, mainly because of the traffic. This week I'll be in temporary housing until my apartment is ready. Am looking forward to moving as my current digs are quite removed from my school and the more popular spots. All in all, though, I feel incredibly blessed that everything has gone well.

Some first impressions: The drive from Incheon into Seoul is very pleasant -green with lots of trees; no roadside rubbish or graffiti; people drive safely and respectfully, none of the madness of LA. The driver pointed out North Korea in the distance -about 100 km away by his estimate. Seoul is clean and pretty, and the subways are amazing -people are relatively quiet, and the stations are nearly immaculate. I am overwhelmed by the number of bakeries here. So much for cutting bread out of my diet. There's a chain, Paris Baguette, with locations everywhere, and their food is good. Ironically, my manager and counselor took me to Outback Steakhouse for lunch today; I hadn't been to one in over ten years. Anyway, kimchi came with my meal, and I ate it all....if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It was better than it looked, although it'll probably be awhile before I actively seek it out. The electronics and technology are really cool. I am getting such a kick out of my remote-controlled A/C unit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today's the Day!

In a blink of an eye, Departure Day has arrived. Thank you, friends, for your prayers and encouraging words. I'm feeling prayed up and ready for this new adventure.

I thought perhaps I would've been able to capture more of the activities and emotions that led up to today, however these last few weeks have been chock-full. You know the drill: dentist & doctor visits; filling prescriptions; haircut; packing, then re-packing after numerous rounds of wardrobe editing; saying farewell to loved ones; trips to Santa Barbara and Vegas; one last visit to the Beach at the Montage...

It is my sincere hope that once I get set up with an Internet connection at home, I'll carve out time each day to make a new update. In the meantime, hang tight and know I'll be in touch again soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Skype Account? Check.

It's like I'm finally living in the 21st century now that I've set up a Skype account. I am really hoping to get some serious use out of it, so keep that in mind, my friends... maybe we'll wind up talking more when we're living 6,000+ miles apart. If you haven't yet set one up, do it. You'll be glad you did.

My Skype name is: jemmons75. Talk soon.