Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ten Days In

Jeungsimsa (증심사)
This is the last evening of my summer vacation and thus the perfect opportunity to briefly review how I spent my six days off work. They were well earned, might I add, after having worked a total of three days at my new job, the majority of which I spent observing other classes. I did sort of luck out schedule-wise, since I came to Korea as quickly as I could after accepting the job. I sent my paperwork to Seoul the same day I received my referral number from the school, and I sent my other paperwork to the Consulate General in Chicago the same day I received my visa application number. The school booked my flight for Wednesday, July 25, and so I was becoming nervous as the planned departure day neared and I waited for my visa to arrive. Fortunately, the doorbell rang around noon on July 24 and within twenty-four hours I was boarding an Asiana plane to Seoul-Incheon at Chicago O'Hare.

Thus the welcome strangeness of my schedule here so far. My training was a bit expedited so that I can begin teaching a full slate of classes starting tomorrow. Our school has a summer intensive program for the next couple of weeks, during which extra classes are offered before students return to regular school at the end of the month or early in September. So I've been able to get a feel for the school with a few days of training, I've had about a week to explore the city and work out my jetlag, and I will have a couple weeks of serious immersion in teaching classes at the school. So hopefully by September I will have found a happy medium after bouncing around extremes during my first month here.

Don't let me give you the impression that I am displeased with my time here thus far. I am anxious to get in the classroom and dive into the material with the students. There seem to be many very intelligent students at our school and it will be rewarding to see how they respond to my teaching and to hopefully learn more effective teaching skills. I observed nearly twenty classes, and we have some very talented teachers at the school from what I've seen. I gained some useful ideas from them and will work to implement those ideas into my own classes.

Speaking of teachers, it seems I've really lucked out with my school. They've taken great care of me thus far. As I've said, we are a rather large school compared to others in the city and have a large number of foreign teachers. They've all been very friendly to me, and the first few nights I was in town a group of them took me to a few different places for dinner and introduced me to some wonderful new food. When vacation arrived, it seemed most of the foreign teachers planned to leave town for trips to other parts of Korea or abroad, so I prepared myself to do plenty of solo exploring of Gwangju, with a healthy dose of sleeping to straighten out my schedule in time for intensives.

On Tuesday, the first day of vacation, I headed out with my camera and a healthy layer of sunscreen to check out the area west of my apartment building. A coworker had told me about a park with a track out that way, so that was my original destination. I found the park a few blocks away, Sangmu Citizens' Park, and walked around the track before leaving the park and turning north, as it appeared the city becomes rather sparse west of the park. A few blocks north I came across Kim Dae Jung Convention Center and found a large map of the city, the first I'd really looked at. Until I saw that map I had no notion of where I live in the city or where anything else in the city is located. Now I have at least a vague notion of which side of the city I live in. It seems to be the west. In fact, the "Seo" in Seo-gu, the name of my district, or neighborhood, or municipality, or something along those lines, means "west" (according to my once-in-a-while reliable translator application).

After studying that map until I felt I might be drawing too much attention to myself from the various passers-by, I descended into the KDJCC subway station on the next block. I studied the subway maps for a bit and was able to procure a handy brochure map from a transit worker. However, lacking the adventurousness and exact change needed to board a train and see where it would lead me, I went back up the stairs and headed east along Highway 22, with a naive notion of perhaps reaching the bus terminal where I had arrived from Seoul five days earlier.

This ill-conceived endeavor was mercifully cut short a few blocks later as I lingered near a string of stores and restaurants. The sight of a Puma Golf shop had amused me and made me think of my younger brother, a golf fan who would love to browse through a store like that and would loathe the prominence of a Rickie Fowler cut-out carefully observing each potential customer.

The poor quality of this picture almost makes him look real.
As for me, I consider myself a fan of Rickie Fowler, in small part because of his willingness to resemble a highway cone, and largely because of his fascinating ability to irritate my younger brother. For that, I have much to learn from him, and perhaps following his lead and spending part of a paycheck on one of this store's more neon-y outfits could be a great place to start. Come to think of it, I have been wanting more attention, and that may be just the thing I need to stand out from the crowd here in Gwangju. I'll put it on my to-do list, right after getting my alien registration card and setting up a bank account so I can actually start receiving a paycheck.

With an amused smile on my face I continued eastward, deciding on the street since a string of parked cars had decided to claim the sidewalk of the side street I was following on my way back to Highway 22. I was listening carefully for oncoming traffic, so I turned quickly when I heard my name being called from across the street. Another foreign teacher from my school waved to me, and I crossed the street to greet her. We decided to grab lunch together (which was a great relief to me, as I was still dreading the first time I would have to order food for myself here). We had some delicious beef soup with kimchi that was boiled right in the center of our table. During our conversation I learned that after nearly two hours of trekking I had ended up a mere five minutes up the street from our school, about a fifteen minute walk from my own apartment. She also informed me just how far I was from the bus terminal and put to rest my thought of walking there in the middle of a hot mid-summer day. Most fortuitously, though, she liked my idea of venturing to Yeosu to see the World Expo during vacation, which would likely be the last feasible opportunity to see it before the closing on August 12.

After we ate what we could of the soup, (it was delicious, but there was so much of it...this will be a common refrain, I think. I should learn to say it in Korean) we parted ways, with me taking a slight detour to get some items from LotteMart. That was my first visit to LotteMart after two trips to the local E-Mart. Honestly, I'm not sure how people choose between these two stores. To me they seemed nearly identical, sort of like multi-story and classier Targets. Perhaps one of my coworkers will read far enough into this post to see this and can inform me of their distinctive qualities, other than the fact that I may live about 100 meters closer to one than to the other.

Here are links to the two store chains. If you open them in Google Chrome it does this cute thing where it asks if you want it to translate from Korean to English, and then fails miserably when you accept the offer.

Mr. Home Star. The Korean actually sounds like this too. This name suggests this character's potential to attempt to masculinize housework. Mr. Clean is a bit vague in my opinion. How much better could society be if we could envision people like Mr. Home Star sweeping floors and scrubbing dishes?
After a nap and shower I received a message from the coworker with whom I had lunch to meet up with her and a couple of other coworkers in Sangmu Citizens' Park, where we pedaled around a bike-buggy contraption for fifteen minutes or so, and then prepared to meet up with some of their other friends in the area for dinner.

For dinner I had samgipso for the first time. It was quite good, and grilling the food right at the table was entertaining as well. After dinner we met up with more of their friends at a bar, where I ordered a "Cola, chusayo" while enjoying lively conversation and trying to get some idea of how judo works as several Olympics matches played on the projection screen above the bar. I'm still not sure exactly how it works, but I am pretty sure I could beat any of my brothers at it, especially if I catch them when they don't realize we're competing.

The quality of this picture is so bad you may mistake one of these players for Rickie Fowler.
After that bar we headed to a more relaxed tavern-like spot with a wide variety of beverages from around the world, including good old American grape soda, which I enjoyed over a few games of darts with the men of the group. Though I lost both games (those guys were very, very good), I had no time to despair because I was lucky enough to catch the US women's soccer game against DPRK, aka North Korea.

I love soccer. I loved playing soccer in high school, and had it been co-ed I probably would have tried out for the team all four years. As it was, my school restarted the cross country program my second year of high school, and cross country was co-ed. Thus, to this day I run regularly, yet only manage to get in a pick-up game of soccer once in a great while. However, I watch the USWNT whenever I can. I made sure I was in front of the TV for the semis and final of last year's World Cup, and I was thrilled to be able to see them here in the Olympics, although I did end up seeming a bit rude when I kept glancing behind the head of one of my coworkers to catch glimpses of the action as she was trying to converse with me. Actually, I didn't just seem rude, I was rude. I apologize. Thank you for sitting on the TV side of me so I didn't have to be turned completely away from you to see the game. And from what I remember of the conversation it was very interesting and I hope to continue it sometime.

That conversation was cut short, however, by the closing of that spot at about 3:30 am and the relocation of our party (now grown by two more who had joined us at the tavern) to the streets of Gwangju, where we plotted our next move and I wondered in amazement how in the world I would be able to keep up with such a vibrant crowd. They quickly decided to find a norebang, or karaoke room, and so we made our way to my penultimate destination for the evening.

We entered a silent and clean building and took the elevator to the third floor. It was very well-kept, not quite what I anticipated. An attendant came to greet us and led us to a room down the hall with a large table surrounded on three sides by cushioned booths and facing a projector screen on the wall with two microphones hanging from the wall. A timer beneath the screen began counting down the time from sixty minutes, and others in the group began entering songs into a queue, and the singing began. The music was appropriately loud, as was the singing of my coworkers, and the video images playing on the screen were wonderfully random. At one point during Oasis's "Don't Look Back in Anger" I saw the iconic (in St. Louis, at least) footage of Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson to end Super Bowl XXXIV. I suppose for folks in Nashville that video may have actually seemed appropriate for the song.

My coworkers encouraged me to pick out a song, and I finally decided on "Proud Mary". I wanted something upbeat, and when I thought of that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to remind myself of home. It was nearly 5am by that time, so my sleep deprivation had erased much of my usual inhibition, and my coworkers joined in, helping me to sing out much more enthusiastically than I imagined I would. It felt great to sing that song, and it felt like a great way to end the night, especially since I could barely keep my eyes open any longer.

The timer beneath the projector ran to zero a few minutes later, and we filed out of the norebang into the pre-dawn light. The group considered where to go next, but I was done for the night, or morning. They were kind enough to consider my exhaustion and accept my farewell without much objection. Walking through the streets of a city at 5 in the morning was certainly an odd sensation for me, but I arrived home without incident and sprawled onto my couch as the sun's most slanted rays began to illuminate the shades over my windows.

And here I thought I needed to mentally prepare myself for long stretches of isolation and passing time alone in my apartment over the next year. It's a good thing I didn't load up a suitcase with my book collection.

That was the first day of my vacation, and the longest one. Seeing as it took me a few hours to hammer out that blog post and I have to prepare some materials for school in the morning, I will leave the rest for a future post, or at least whatever portion of the rest I decide is worth describing. I'm quite new to the blogosphere and welcome your feedback, dear (and committed, may I add, to have made it this far) reader. I think probably I should aim for shorter posts in the future. Leave me any suggestions you have, as I want this to be digestible for those who are interested in it, and thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Trevor! I'm so glad you've enjoyed your time here so far! Honestly, there really isn't much difference at all from E-mart and Lotte-Mart, as you observed. They do sometimes carry different items/brands and the prices can vary slightly, but that's about it. If you ever do want more alone, quiet time I have a smallish book collection here that you're more than welcome to borrow from. Also, check out the site It's an English online bookstore based out of Seoul. They have a great cheap used book section in which you can buy books for 5,000 or so. Shipping is free if you spend more than 25,000 won and it usually arrives the day after you order. The site has been indispensable to me. I'm kind of jealous you guys went to a noraebang! I have been here 10 months and somehow I've never been!