March 7, 2010

We’ve been here a week, which is so hard to believe.  It feels like much longer and much shorter.

We really like our apartment.  It hadn’t been lived in for over a month when we moved in, and it hadn’t been cleaned very well when the last people left, so there was quite a bit of cleaning to do when we first arrived.  But, we’re very happy with it now.  We’ve already done quite a bit to fix it up and make it feel like home.  Here are some pictures:

You may have noticed that the bathroom doesn’t have a shower stall.  You also may have noticed the shower head in the corner of the room.  The whole bathroom is the shower…there is a drain in the middle of the floor. This is really common in Korea.  Sometimes they have stalls for the showers, but even then, there is a space under the shower stall for the water to run out into the drain in the middle of the floor.  Kind of weird, but it’s not as much of a pain as we thought it would be.

Obviously the main challenge so far has been the language.  Some things are in English, but the vast majority is not.  I didn’t realize how much our knowledge of Spanish (although it seemed limited at the time) really helped us in Central America .  Here the writing is all unfamiliar symbols, nothing recognizable.  So, it’s not like we can just use an online translator to find the words that we need, because when a word is translated into Korean, it’s translated into the symbols, which we don’t know how to read or pronounce.

Even our home appliances (microwave, washing machine, thermostat, ec.) are a challenge because they look like this….

We expected that people would stare at us, but it actually happens much less than I imagined it would.  What with Scott being a giant and my orange hair, I thought we would be freaks for sure.  And kids tend to stare a lot, but adults don’t pay us much attention.

I haven’t seen many Westerners in Gumi.  But there are three other teachers at our school from North America- a couple from Canada and one from America.  They have been so helpful to us, both in terms of training us for teaching, and also helping us figure out Gumi.  I’m not really sure what we would have done without them.

I’m also not sure what we would do without each other.  I have so much respect for people who come here alone to teach.  I think it would be very overwhelming to move here without a partner.

The food here is delicious (well, most of it).   They do eat a lot of weird seafood and seaweed and pickled cabbage and radishes…those are my least favorite things.  The food here can be really, really spicy, but I’ve managed to find plenty of things that are not.  They eat a lot of rice and noodles, and vegetables…all things that I love.  And, so far, we’ve found that they eat more meat than we expected, which Scott is very excited about.

We joined a gym that is a 2 minute walk from our apartment.  It is a really nice gym, and they have yoga classes that I can take at night after class.  Since we do not start work until 10:30, we’re able to go to the gym in the morning.  Scott joined a Tae-Kwon-Do studio, so he will take lessons a couple nights a week.

Going shopping is a very interesting experience.  We can’t read any of the labels, so we only buy things that look familiar (and there isn’t tons of stuff that looks familiar).  It’s relatively easy to find at least one or two western brands of toiletries, but there are hardly any western brands of food.  So, even if something looks familiar, we wait until we get home and taste it before we get our hopes up that it will taste like what we eat at home.  But, we are making do pretty well.  For example, the yogurt that we bought tastes pretty weird.  But, I’ve found that if I add a little honey, it tastes great.  Scott bought some ramen that made his breath smell like death, so now he just adds some soy sauce instead of the packet of seasoning.  I find it fun to experiment with food, but for whatever reason, I don’t do it much at home.   So (for now at least) it’s fun to be in a place that forces me to experiment.

Some things in the stores don’t have prices on them, and since we haven’t learned the Korean numbers yet, asking the price is pretty futile (unless there happens to be a calculator nearby and we can get the salesperson to type in the price for us).  Pricing here isn’t always compareable to pricing at home…some things are much cheaper, some things are much more expensive, and others are relatively the same.  So, if it’s something we need and it doesn’t have a price, we just cross our fingers and hope that it’s close to the same price as it would be at home, and wait for the price to show up on the cash register….there haven’t been too many terrible surprises yet….

It’s hard to find a lot of the ingredients that we use to cook meals at home, so (using the wonderful Korean cookbook that my friends Allie and Claire gave me for Christmas) we are embracing the Korean foods in the grocery store and trying to cook Korean meals.  The first attempt was somewhat successful.  It was a chicken and vegetable dish served with rice.  It had a really good flavor, but the sauce came out really really runny.  So, for leftovers, I left out the rice and just ate it as soup.  Scott has made a delicious stirfry.

Currency conversions are pretty simple, as 1,000 won is close to equal to $1.  So, something that is 5,000 won is $5. But it’s hard to get used to having the total on the grocery store cash register read 65,000….

We’re quickly learning when it is ok to wear shoes and when it is not.  Koreans take off their shoes when entering a home (either their own or someone else’s).  We also take off our shoes when we enter the school, and we wear slippers all day long (awesome for a cold footed person like myself)!  I learned the hard way that you also take off your shoes when going into the locker room at the gym.  I neglected to do so the first time…I was quickly and passionately reprimanded (in Korean) by a completely naked women.  I would have been sufficiently embarrassed had the woman been fully clothed….so you can imagine how the nakedness up-ed the embarrassment factor.

The kind of heat that they use to heat buildings comes from hot water pipes under the floor.  The hot air rises from the floor and fills the room.  It feels so wonderful to walk around on warm floors in the winter.

They use a lot of sensor lights here, which is not only very efficient, but also very fun.  The lights in the stairway to our apartment are on sensors, so they turn on as we walk up the stairs to our apartment.  It’s fun to run up the stairs and see how fast you can get the lights to turn on…

Now, a little about our jobs.  We work at two different schools:  a kindergarten (4-7 year olds) from 10:30am- 2:10pm  and then we take a bus to the elementary/middle school (8-15 year olds) and teach from 2:50-6:40 or 7:40 (our schedules are different each day).  We have breaks between some of our classes.  Sometimes we have breaks together, so we can walk outside and get a snack….there are tons of places to eat near our school.  So far our favorite snacks are : fruit from the fruit stand, kimpap (kind of like sushi…we still haven’t figured out what all is in it…we know it has carrot strips, radish strips, and rice, rolled in seaweed…whatever it is, it’s delicious and cheap), and corn dogs from a street vendor.  Other times, one of us has a break while the other teaches a class.  I hope to use this time to  do grading, write blog posts and catch up on email.

We’ve done lots of exploring and are glad we ended up in the part of town that we did.  We are in the city, so everything that we need is in walking distance.  But, we are close to the edge of the city (which is surrounded by mountains), so a fifteen minute walk takes us out of town and to a trail that winds up and through the mountains.  There are amazing views of the city from the mountain…we’ll post pictures of that soon.

In summation, we are really glad that we’re here.  We are working for a great school, we like the other teachers and we like teaching.  We like our town and we love the food here.  Gumi is in the middle of the country, so it will be easy to take weekend trips to see the rest of Korea.  I think it’s going to be a fun year.

More pictures of Gumi, our school and the kids to come….


4 Responses to “”

  1. Judy Staten Says:

    Hey Cass and Scott! Enjoyed reading the blog. Sounds like things are going well so far. I finally got the name of the city where Amy Willis is teaching. It’s Ulsan and it’s on the southeast coast of South Korea. She has been traveling all over the country and enjoying it. Maybe you guys can hook up sometime. If you want to contact her, I can give you her e-mail address. Keep up the blogs. We love hearing from you guys. Love, Jude

  2. Julie V Says:

    I’M SO HAPPY THAT EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL! It’s so relieving after the last experience and your first email! I guess John was right about the delicious food. I am so proud/in awe of you guys — you’re really doing it! I’m so glad you have each other too :). Can’t wait for more pictures and stories. I probably would have cried or laughed if a naked Korean woman yelled at me for not taking my shoes off in locker room…. hahaha, that is awesome.

  3. Whitney Says:

    Your kitchen looks just like the one at your mom’s house! = ) Lol!

  4. allie Says:

    so glad the cookbook is useful!

    and i so excited your enjoying the experimentation process with the food. its amazing what not having a choice will do for your menu possibilities.

    and im also uber glad you two have each other. seriously, how else could you survive?

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