Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Get Off That Plane Like you Were the One Who Invented Kimchi

These were the last words I received before I boarded the plane for Seoul (compliments of my brother, of course!). And at times when I’m getting stared (really, it’s all the time) at or feel like I’m the “ugly duckling”, that’s exactly what I remember. After the initial shock of being alone and halfway around the world from anything remotely familiar, I was finally able to start settling in. This means that I didn’t automatically break into tears when someone asked me how I was doing and the thought of food also wasn’t making me nauseous anymore. As a result, I was able to start trying the local cuisine. Since the initial “culture shock” has worn off I’m now just trying to navigate around the city. It’s a bit tricky since the bus schedules are not in English. Luckily, some of the more well-known bus stops are also marked in English at the bus stop itself. This is how I managed to get up the courage to get on the bus this past weekend. I saw some young girls (like elementary-school age) waiting for the bus and they had out their 1,ooo won bill (equivalent to $1). From looking at the sign (in Korean), it appeared that it would cost me 80 cents to ride the bus. So I got out my 1,000 won as well to pay and got on the bus. I tried to pay the man, but he proceeded to chatter at me in Korean (he could have been telling me anything for as much of it as I understood) and wildly motioned for me to just sit down without even taking my money. What I could infer was that I was obviously doing something wrong as far as the paying went, but he was forgiving because I was clearly out of my element. I have since learned that you need to buy a bus pass at a convenience store and you scan the card on the bus when you get on. But how does that explain the girls paying when they got on the bus? I’m still confused by that. Maybe he sensed that I was the inventor of kimchi..... who knows?

“Sometimes You Just Have To Say “F” it and Be More Flexible”

These were words of wisdom given to me and my siblings by my Uncle Gary during a family gathering. And this was exactly what I had to do if I was not going to starve while I am here. Those of you who know me well will remember that I’m a bit of a germaphobe and detest the idea of double-dipping. You see, when Koreans eat, they typically each get an individual bowl of rice and then proceed to share the rest of the meal from several smaller “community” dishes. We would refer to this as mass double-dipping. My already travel weary stomach lurched when it dawned on me during my first meal that I was going to have to eat off these community plates and bowls if I was going to eat at all. Shortly after that initial shiver, I just said “F” it and jumped in because I’m going to be here for a year, so I might as well get used to it. And the chopsticks thing…..For now, they just provide me with a fork automatically. I’ve also been told where I can find a pair of “training chopsticks”.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Candid Camera

Welcome Greeting

Not the most PC sign you've ever seen. We could never get away with this in America!

But they try to redeem themselves with this one........

My First Morning Out Exploring

I dare guess what lies inside.... I'll save the adventure for when my brother comes to visit.
Of course I would find a Starbucks here. It's a little pricey, at $3 for just a small coffee. I was just sticking to the basics, since I had to overcome the hurdle of ordering in Korean.
There would be riots back home if Starbucks didn't open until 9am!
Would you trust your money here?

I'm SO BIG in Korea!

Previous to coming over here, I was told that there was some“propaganda” being spread about my arrival at the school. This was because I was actually a “real teacher” and had experience teaching English to Koreans and had classroom experience. To put it in perspective, they described the previous teacher as a “log”. But I nearly “shite” myself when I saw my picture and resume (in Korean, of course) as big as life on a banner in front of the school. And yes, it really is as big as it looks. I’m sure it was an even stranger sight to see me taking a picture of a banner that had my face on it.

Miller Lite on Ice, Anyone?

I have done some drinking in my days and have a family who can really drink with the best of them, but I was not prepared for what I saw on my flight from Austin to San Francisco. The flight left Austin at 7:30 am and the flight attendant came around to offer drinks at a little before 8:00 am. Most were choosing water, juice, coffee……. Standard drinks for that time of day. But a man on my row requested a Miller Lite on ice. I did a double take and wondered if I heard right, confused by both the Miller Lite on ice and the time of day it was. But sure enough, she came back with just that. In less than 3 hours he consumed 6 Miller Lites on ice and would have had more, but the attendant told him “Sorry, the cart is closed”. Of course it was. We still had a good hour or so left of the flight when she cut him off, so he bounced his leg up and down for the remainder of the flight (apparently suffering from DT’s), shaking our whole row in the process. If the beverage cart wasn’t “closed”, I might have considered a drink to numb my mind……

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

36 Hours and Counting!

I went last Thursday for my interview at the Korean Consulate in Houston. I made it down there in 2 hrs and 45 minutes. Not the best way to spend a morning, but it could have been worse. Worse came on the way home as this was right at the beginning stages of the Hurricane Ike evacuation. If you have ever been in the midst of people fleeing for their lives, you know it was a tangy situation for me returning home in that mess.

But back to the "interview" with Consulate Min. I was ushered into his office by an American lady some where around my age. She had on a nice sun dress complemented by extremely scabby, white trash legs. You know the kind you get when you are out camping or at the lake and get bitten by flies, mosquitoes, ants, and anything else that comes along? After I sat down, Min asked me several questions and appeared to make notations on my visa application, all without even looking up at me After about about 3 minutes of this, he told me I could go wait in the "salon". I inferred that the "salon" was the standard government issue waiting room that I was in before being called to his office.

I then spent about a half hour in the "salon" watching updates on Hurricane Ike situation. I finally asked if I could leave, as I was not planning to hand around until 4 pm to await the return of my passport/visa. I'm still not really sure why I was sitting there in the first place.After the lady checked to see if I "passed" my interview, I booked it out of there to face the Ike madness. As I had included a return Express Mail envelope with my original application, I anticipated having my passport/visa in hand the following day (Friday). But Ike didn't allow for that did he? I spent a few fearful days not being able to track my package and being told that the post office in Houston did not know when they would be starting deliveries again after the flooding and destruction from the Ike storms. Luckily, I received the visa in the mail today so I don't have to worry anymore (at least about having my visa returned to me).

And speaking of worrying , all of the new airline baggage restrictions really make it difficult to pack for a year-long stay. I am limited to two 23kg (50 lbs) bags for. It's not really very much, considering one of my suitcases weighed in at 7kg (15 lbs) just by itself. Those of you who have ever traveled with me or had the pleasure of me being a house guest know that I do not travel light, as a rule.

So I had a couple of options: 1). I could pay $110 for an extra piece of luggage 2). I could pay $330 to have an overweight piece of luggage 3). I could get a very large, lightweight duffle bag for $40 at REI and shove whatever I could into it. I went for the latter of the 3 options and am still trying to arrange and re-arrange everything so that I will not exceed the baggage limits.

I will be leaving Austin at 7:3o am this Friday morning and connect in San Francisco. After a 5 hour layover, I will then make the 12 hr 30 mi flight to Seoul. This should give me a little over a day to "prepare" for my first day of teaching on September 22 (coincidentally my mom's birthday).

The next time I post, I should be 14 hours ahead of you (if you are in the Central Time zone).

Monday, September 8, 2008

11 Days and Counting

On September 19 I'll be making the switch from "Keep Austin Weird" to "Keep Suwon Weird"! That's the day I'm leaving my dogs and husband to teach English in Suwon, Korea for a year. Those of you who know me will find this surprising, but will not be surprised. I plan to make the most of this adventure and will use this page to keep everyone updated on my adventures.
My family is coming this weekend from Dallas to say their final goodbyes. Almost everything from my closet has been dumped into two suitcases. I'm stocking up on items I've read that they don't have an abundance of in Korea (like deodorant). I'm awaiting a call from the Korean Consulate in Houston so I can schedule an in-person interview with an official there (and drive 3 hours each way to Houston and back) and get my passport stamped with a Visa.