On a lighter note

Aside from my school’s financial woes I really am enjoying being here.  My students, albiet unorthodox compared to what I’m used to, are great.  They are fun to work with (and I only have a few “problem children”).  Planning and grading has been pretty straitforward; the school gives us a curiculum I’m teaching my native language.  It all makes sense to me and we work on pretty basic concepts.  Last Friday I got my first “gift” (shhh don’t tell my principal) when my afterschool student brought me a beautiful chopstick & spoon set, possibly even silver, we think for Chuseok.

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The field trip last Tuesday was a ton of fun, even if I couldn’t understand anything.  We saw “You Are Special,” a musical derived from a children’s book that helps teach that everyone is special and you shouldn’t worry about what others think, merely what you think about yourself.  The costumes and music were great even if it was all in Korean and the random disney songs beforehand sparked a mini sing-a-long (even if it was just Americans). Not sure what the “Truman Tower” was but here it is!

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Meeting people is turning out to be a little tougher than I thought, mainly because I don’t speak Korean.  I have had a handful of Koreans introduce themselves but the majority of the people I talk to are coworkers.  That should get a little easier once I get my Alien Registration Card in 2 weeks and can get a local cell phone.  I’ve got a party through my recruiter this weekend and hope to enjoy the company of lots of ex-pats.

I’ve settled into my apartment and enjoy exploring my neighborhood (check out some of my previous posts for more on that).  I’ve got a 5-day weekend in 2 weeks for Chuseok, aka Korean Thanksgiving, and plan on checking out Bukhansan National Park and some of the more popular areas in Seoul.  All in all I’m really enjoying it here.   I’ve even found a fencing club and planning on checking it out on the 16th !  For those wondering dinner tonight was a hodgepodge of leftovers and some dumplings I made.  Stay tuned for more!

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A weekend of exploration

I woke up obscenely early for my first Saturday (damn you jet lag) but made good use of my morning and by 9:30 was unpacked.  I thought my shower was odd since it connects to my bathroom sink but reasoned out the knobs in no time.  Only problem was it remained cold.  Same thing in the kitchen.  As I thought about taking a cold shower I contemplated what it would be like in the winter with a warm butt and frigid shower.  Perhaps I’ll find a gym with a shower?  Or maybe I’ll just figure out how to turn on the hot water by then.  I checked the circuit breaker and my thermostat; not that it mattered since it was all in Korean.

Showerless, I went out to explore my neighborhood.  I succeeded in my mission to find a new cell phone charger and got what I think was bulgogi for breakfast.  Wandering up and down the street to find working WiFi I ran into a coworker who helped me figure out which button turns the hot water on in my apartment.  Not even 11:00 and I’ve already been so productive but now what?

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After a quick shower I went out for some more exploring.  My coworker mentioned a mountain park not too far away.  Walking through the city I was reminded of the bustle in New York with street vendors, absurd advertising and crowded streets.  The sidewalk grew steeper and after strolling through a few more blocks the rising trees slowly came into view.

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The trail ahead was certainly up a mountain.  Lush forest surrounded the well-tended path with steps and rock cobblestones to aid the abrupt climb.   On the way up I passed Korean couples, a grandmother with her little ones spraying each other with water guns, joggers and more.

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As the trail snaked around the path split frequently and I always picked the trail leading up.  Pausing briefly, I noticed colorful wildflowers and sounds that told me there was plenty of well hidden wildlife.  I continued upward passing an array of exercise equipment that seemed to be most used by elderly Korean women.  As the trail leveled out a beautifully designed pavilion came into view.  I climbed the steps discovering I had company up here.  With a beautiful breeze to keep us cool many Korean locals enjoyed their afternoon here as well.  I think I’ll follow their suit and bring a picnic up here next time.

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Looking around the intricate pavilion it was easy to forget the scene below.  A breathtaking view of downtown Seoul with multicolored sky scrapers was framed by the nearby trees and another green mountain in the distance.  This peaceful place was the perfect location to start studying Hangul, the Korean language.  Listening to my music I took out a notebook and my Seoul guidebook and began transcribing vowels, consonants and numbers when a Korean gentleman came over.

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Ham quickly became my first Korean friend.  At first I thought he just wanted to practice his English and I quickly learned that he too was a teacher.  He teaches at a school library in downtown Seoul and helped me with my pronunciations while I helped him practice his English.  He quickly drove the conversation towards women, insisting that Chinese women were the most beautiful in the world but that if I had any pretty American friends I should introduce him.  Laughing I obliged and took his picture & phone number to give to any interested coworkers.

I made way down the mountain and stumbled upon a Korean street market.  All sorts of goods were being hawked but the most interesting were from the sea.  There were dried squids, fish, eels and assorted scales.  The aroma was an overpowering in the August heat but must have had an influence on me because before I knew it I was standing in a sushi restaurant.  No pictures on the menu this time.  The delivery guy burst into laughter as I struggled with the menu; he tried to lend a hand and although he understood me, he didn’t know the English to tell me what I wanted.  He gathered that I want a roll and I told him to order me whatever he would eat.  In the end I had a monster size roll with all kinds of fish and sauces.  What a fantastic way to end a beautiful Saturday!

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A heated seat, a bidet and my first night out

My little studio apartment is full of surprises, most notably in the bathroom.  I’ve been assured that I live in a pristine location only 25 seconds from the subway with a washing machine, microwave, fridge, “stove” (its really just a built in hot plate), TV, DVD player and plenty of storage.  But, apparently the best feature of my apartment is not my plethora of appliances but rather the heated toilet seat.  Thats right, my bum is being warmed as I write this and will stay toasty even in the coldest of winter nights!  Oh, and I have my very own bidet. Haven’t quite figured out how to use my “robot toilet” yet but it  which made one coworker seriously jealous because he doesn’t even have enough water pressure to take a shower while my toilet can shoot a stream across the room.

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My shower is attached to my bathroom sink.  Moving on.  Plenty of storage and not too messy of a room.  Sleeping in my sleeping bag until I find a good place to buy sheets.  I’m told they’ll rip me off locally but was given a few suggestions.  Clothes washer but no drier so I’ve got this nifty drying rack too. A big shout out to Megan (the teacher I’m replacing and taking the apartment from) for leaving me all these gadgets, along with some kitchenware so I didn’t walk into a bare apartment.

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Megan leaves tonight for Taiwan and a month of backpacking before heading back to the States.  We all went out for Korean BBQ, a fantastic little restaurant where we have a grill in the middle of our table and cook our own meal.  This was amazing and will be a regular occurrence!  There was plenty of beer, beef, kim chi and some soju among a soups and salads.  After dinner we all went back to my apartment so Megan could get her things.  With some more beer we said our farewells and the rest of us went to the Beer Garten.

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One of my favorite discoveries of the the night was the lack of open container law!  Obviously we grabbed “road beers” at 7-11 and walked to the bar.   Walking down busy streets it felt a lot like NYC; except that the 6 of us were the only white people in sight.  Lots of traffic, bright lights and colorful advertising everywhere; too bad I can’t read any of it.

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We arrived at the beer hall and quickly found our seats.  They bought us massive glasses and I got the hot seat.  New guy got to answer tons of questions, I was a willing participant and shared my story although I’m not sure they realized they didn’t have to loosen my tongue with more beer.  I didn’t mind.

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The jet lag hits me in waves.  By the afternoon my body keeps thinking its the middle of the night but I get a second wind and am great for a few hours.  Well, by midnight the second winds stopped failed me.  Brian, one of my coworkers lives across the street from me and helped make sure I didn’t get lost on the way home.  A successful evening but for now its bedtime; I’m told I’ll regret the soju tomorrow.