One year in! So many changes…

We’ve been in Korea for a year now, and I’d say we’re settled in, but Korea doesn’t like to keep things settled. Things change a lot here, and pretty fast. So to commemorate our one year anniversary, I thought I’d go through a list, in no particular order, of a bunch of things that have changed around us as we’ve remained steadfastly (ha ha) the same. They are mostly little things, but put together they give you a sense of what goes on around us all the time.

The new paint scheme - very smart!

Our apartment complex got a paint job. They went from a dingy, faded beige and pastel to a crisp white and brown. Well, except for our building and the one next to it, and I’m sure Korea’s getting to us soon.

My (Mike’s) Principal, Vice Principal, and school Administrator have all been replaced. In fact, Korean public schools have a policy that no staff member can stay in a school more than four years. A typical teacher can expect to teach in four or five different cities, in six to eight schools, over the course of their career. So, in fact, about a quarter of the teachers at school have left for other schools, and been replaced. Most of the other teachers have been reassigned. Fourth grade teachers now teach sixth grade. The gym teacher now teaches sixth grade. They seem to like the change, but it would probably be a “challenge” for American teachers to put up with so much change.

My (Mike’s) main co-teacher remains the same. However, I am now on my third and fourth secondary co-teachers. One left to spend more time with her children. Her replacement was at Seohae for six months, and then moved to a middle school. One of my current co-teachers taught fifth grade last year, and she plans to move to Seoul in a few months. My other co-teacher, who deserves a blog entry all to himself, is also the head teacher at Seohae, so he’s very busy and often does not show up to class at all.

Likewise, the foreigners come and go. The main ‘intakes’ are April and August. No sooner had we settled in last year than a bunch of friends left. A similar exodus is taking place at the end of the month, and we will miss our friends a lot. But they’re moving on to bigger things – hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, for instance. I’m sure some nice people will come in and take their teaching posts, but they can’t be replaced.

The gap closing...

The big bridge that’s been under construction is nearly done. When we arrived, there was a gap of a few hundred feet in the suspension itself, and the decking leading to the far shore was completely absent. Now when we look out, the span is complete, and we expect traffic to be flowing on it any day now. In preparation for the extra traffic they’ve been digging up the parkway by the beach, adding strange underground tunnels that I can’t quite figure out the purpose of.

The building next to us got renovated over the winter. One day the Jugong Mart, the tiny market with the orange sign, where we bought our juice and beer and other daily needs, shut down. We were heartbroken because the family that ran it was so sweet to us. During our early months when we didn’t know how Korea worked, they were patient, showing us where things like light bulbs and band-aids were. They had let us borrow a truck to pick up some furniture last summer. (We also got a new couch and chair. Very pleathery.) So we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Then, the Jugong Mart shop was shut down. The worn floors and homely shelving were gutted for a bright, florescent space. We wondered what would go there, but construction started right away, and eventually a new green sign went up, a new floor went down, and it’s still the Jugong Mart, but it’s pretty much all new. It’s bright and shiny, and the new people are nice but they haven’t warmed up to us quite the same way.

Other stores open and close quickly. In the same building as Jugong Mart, a store that specialized in ginseng products – pickled ginseng, ginseng candy, ginseng by the pound, you get the idea – shut down and was replaced by a honey chicken stand. A ladies clothing store next to the 7-Eleven also shut down one day and three days later was another honey chicken place. Our favorite hamburger place – one of the only hamburger places – Kraze Burger – shut down without warning one day, promising to re-open in the neighbor city of Namak, though this has not happened yet. However, a new place opened last month on Rose Street, and they have some decent burgers on the menu, one of which, the Volcano Burger, is spicy and tasty; a new favorite. But there’s still nothing to compare to a good Jucy Lucy from Matt’s on Cedar.

Well there are other changes as well, but that should give you an idea of what it’s like here. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss something.

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Welcome to our home!

Hey folks,

We left Minnesota a month ago today so to celebrate a month in SK we are posting a tour of our home.  We are settling in, it is quite comfortable and the neighborhood is a good fit.  Like nord-east Minneapolis, but without the Polish touches. We’ll post a video about our neighborhood one day, until then I’ll give you the gist. We live in the northwestern corner of “old Mokpo.”  We are surrounded by a port and shipyard, mountains, and small family markets.  Most vacant lots and open spaces are filled with agriculture.  Women grow canola, sweet peas, bell peppers, red lettuce, and unknown greens.  They then sell them on the sidewalk.   The sidewalks are covered with merchants who sell meat, seafood, produce, clothes, kim chi, plants and accessories right on the sidewalk.  We love this, because the prices are much better than the big markets.  Some of our friends live across town in “new Mokpo,” where are very few sidewalk markets.  The stores there sell mainly western imports (expensive) or knock-offs (still expensive.)  The general atmosphere of “new Mokpo” is more like Uptown.  It is okay for a couple of hours, then I want to come home.

This is the first video that we have edited.  I know it looks choppy, but we spent 3-4 hours fussing with it.  It might be time for film school.  I think it will give you a good idea of our home.  This seems to be a typical “couples” apartment.  Singles get a small efficiency apartment with no living room, and often have only a one burner stove.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the tour.  Please register with wordpress and subscribe to the blog so you can get notice of future posts sent to your inbox.  It is so nice to read your comments and see that you’ve been by.  It’s just another way to keep in touch.

Glossary:

waygook: foreigner

officetel: small, furnished apartments that are also used as business offices.  Many Koreans live in these small apartments.

A few days in review

We have had a crazy first few days here. Here’s a brief review of the blur that was our arrival:

Day 1:
Travel day 1: We flew from Minneapolis to Chicago to Incheon to Gwangju.  The airport staff were very kind and patient in helping us with the animals.  The Korean Air staff at Chicago O’Hare was so very helpful, and quite enamored with Remi, Ching and Clark, who are nothing if not charming.  The animals traveled well.  We gave the cats Valium on the Chicago flight.  It didn’t work as well as we had hoped so we didn’t give them a second dose.  Clark resisted it so much that it frothed in his mouth, he was angry and terrified.  Ching on the other hand loved the Valium, she was rubbing against everything and chirping non-stop.  The Korean Air bathrooms are HUGE, they even have baby changing tables in them, and we used them as a cat exercise area every so often.  Otherwise, they stayed under the seats in front of us, or we snuck them onto our laps for some cuddling.

Clark in is usual mood.

We were able to walk Remi between each flight.  He did well, though when we landed we could hear him barking from his cargo class seating, under the plane. He only really barked during take off and landing.  Before the flight I told him to try to yawn to keep his ears from popping, but he never listens.

The food, seating, and customer service on Korean Air was WONDERFUL.  We had two delicious meals with glass wine glasses and metal silverware.  The flight attendants wore beautiful outfits with pretty fastenors in their hair and neck kerchiefs.  They clean the bathrooms between each use.  The bathrooms, in addition to being big for a plane, were stocked with everything: aftershave, drinkable water, lotion, nice tissues… Each seat came with a soft fluffy pillow, big warm blanket, tooth brush, tooth paste, and slippers. With all the amenities, there wasn’t much room for us, but we made do.

We traveled for a day and a half and were exhausted when we arrived.  We traveled west, the entire trip was daylight.  Straaaange.

Day 2:  We woke up, ate breakfast, and took the animals to the boarders.  Our hotel is very western, with full baths and patios on every room. The breakfast is a a buffet that has western food including bacon, eggs, toast, fruit, and yogurt and Korean foods like soup, rice, and kimchi.

Marker on the mountain path.

We are in training in the city of Gwangju for 10 days and we are happy that the animals are at the boarders. But the first night, we had to keep them in our room, which was stressful for everyone involved. As one of our Canadian handlers said, the hotel “wasn’t too keen on” having the animals stay in our room. In the end, we promised them we’d keep the pets in their cages, which we mostly did, though after two days in transit they were nervous and shedding all over. Clark sprayed his kennel, and the next day, sprayed Remi’s. Needless to say, there isn’t a litter box in our hotel room.

Our hosts provided us with the name of a boarder, and helped us greatly with booking a taxt across town, and then translating our pet needs to her.   It is run by a kind couple.  They sell very small dogs, groom, and board dogs.  They provided Ching and Clark a kitty castle with a monkey shaped pillow and litter box.  Remi stays in his kennel.  They walk him in the morning, we walk him after class.  He seems to like the couple a lot.  Every time we show up he is happy, not shaking or nervous.  The place is very very clean.  Today when we came in from the rain she gave us a towel to clean Remi off with and turned on a space heater to warm/ dry him before he returned to his kennel.

Downtown Gwangju

Later on day 2, we returned to the hotel for lunch, an opening ceremony, and a brief intro to Korea.  We all met up and went on a walking tour of the city center.  Then we went to WA Bar, in downtown Gwangju, for foreign beer.  Mike had 2 Guinness, I had 2 Weiss Braus, and we won’t be doing that again.  The Guinnesses were 18 dollars, the Weiss were $26.  Lots of cash for not a lot of beer. We learned on day 3 that Korean beer is $1-2 a glass, and tastes like PBR.  PBR is fine with me.

Day 3
We had a class on Korean customs and expectations, lunch, and another class on the basics of the Korean language.  They were okay, basically just repeats of what we had already read.  After class we piled into taxis to go to the baseball stadium to see the Gwangju Kia Tigers destroy the Hanwan Eagles 8-1.

Cheap beer and Kim Bap at the ballpark! Just like Home!

Baseball here is much more affordable than the Twins.  Tickets were $8 for general admission, and beer cost $2. We got a tray fo Kim Bap (rice rolls) for 2 $2, and a bag of Oreo knockoffs for $1.  There are vendors in front frying chicken to order as well as grilling squid.  We made friends with a Korean guy who helped translate the player names and the crowd  cheers. The game was well played, and the crowd cheered for each player, there are cheerleaders, and an event in the middle of the 6th inning.  The “event” was a race of guys in car suits, similar to the fan competitions at Gopher Hockey games.  Super cute.

Day 4
Today we went to the hospital to have a health evaluation, including blood and urine tests so that we can qualify for our Alien Resident Cards.  The hospital was quick, well organized, and painless.  No complaints.  After lunch we had a class on lesson planning.  eh, it was okay.  Mike and I took a nap between class and dinner, then we brought our clothes down to a laundry woman for washing.  Finally we went to the kennel to walk the dog and pet the kittens.  Everyone seems happy, clean, and well fed.  There is a river by the kennel so Remi has had some fun walks with new things to smell.

Things are going well in general.   The hotel is very nice, it is in a national park, in the mountains, in the city.  Mike and I often wake up and walk around the mountain before breakfast.

View from the Mountain

The trees and flowers are blooming everywhere and the weather is beautiful.  The Southerners and South Africans think that it is cold, but the Northerners and Canadians are all very happy.  There are 50 of us. We are from the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.  Our fellow teachers are very diverse, there are some fresh out of college, 5 teachers in our age group, and many in between.  The teachers are white, Black, and Asian (I had heard that they only hire whites, mainly Aryans, but this is not true.)  Our fellow teachers are very friendly, and many of them are in their third or fouth year of teaching, so people like it here a lot, and we think we will as well.

Well, that’s probably enough for now – more to come soon.