It’s come as a bit of a shock to realise that I have been in Korea almost 2 months. In some ways it feels like I got here 2 weeks ago, in others like I’ve been here 6 months. The good news is that I’m finally settling in. I live here now, which brings with it both good and bad things. The good things are that I feel settled, I can get things done and that my stress level has gone way down. I’m settling into a routine, have made friends and have access to all the conveniences of living somewhere. I have a phone*, super fast Internet (I get up to 2 MBpS with wireless), an oven and a stick blender (wooo!). I know where to shop for different things (and how to get there), I know good places to have lunch and dinner, which cafes make the best coffee and I’m starting to know which Korean foods I like and dislike. Plus, a large pepperoni pizza is only $6! The bad things include getting itchy feet again, feeling homesick, getting annoyed at the language barrier and having doubts about the path I’m taking.
I like the job. I love the teaching, but my employer leaves something to be desired. I like the apartment, except for the fact that it’s the size of my bedroom back home, I’m still trying to remove the mold from the walls and trying to get someone to fix one of the lights. It could be worse – a coworker’s apartment periodically smells like sewerage and her hot water heater sounds like a generator. Other things aren’t the employer’s fault (the apartments are because they give them to us to use during our stay). Things like the fact that everything is too small for me. Even sitting at my desk right now, I tend to hunch because it’s too short for me.
I don’t want to spend this whole email complaining, because I’m actually really enjoying it here. Many people have these stereotypes about Koreans, but the truth is that the people I meet and see are just like the people you meet in Australian cities. Usually very materialistic and very busy. I’m sure that the Koreans who live out in the countryside will be similar to Australian country people. The public transportation system here is amazing. I can pretty much take a bus, subway or train anywhere I want to go, though they usually stop running sometime around midnight. It’s cheap too, about 90 cents to take the bus and $1.40 – $2.00 to get the subway pretty much anywhere. It takes me about an hour to get somewhere specific in Seoul – it’s a big city! All transportation can be accessed using a T-money card (I think the T stands for Transportation) which you can recharge at any convenience store (and there are about 2 convenience stores within 100m of anywhere in Seoul) or at the subway stations. Best of all is that you can also use your T-money card for other things, like buying stuff at the convenience stores and at loads of different other shops.
I probably mentioned this in my last email, but you can drink alcohol in public here. That means that you can by a 300ml bottle of Soju, a ‘weak’ rice vodka drink (20%) for about $1.50 at a convenience store, sit outside it at the little chairs and tables they provide and catch up with your friends. Other options include heading to your local park which is usually filled with various people – families, couples, groups of friends and various people playing music from ‘boom boxes’ they brought with them. Korea doesn’t really enforce any type of noise pollution laws, except if you happen to be talking above a whisper when you’re in a bus or a subway, which is considered incredibly rude.
This week is an easy one work wise – we get two days of public holidays because of Korean Thanksgiving (Cheseok). All the Koreans go and visit their grandparents, and all the foreigners either explore Korea, get out of the country or party and sleep for 4 days straight. I went hiking on Saturday. There are photos, but you guys know me well enough that they probably won’t see the light of day for a while yet. Yesterday I spent the day cleaning the house, listening to an audiobook – Shantaram, which I recommend to everyone, especially Aussies, travellers and people who love or are interested in India. Today I have managed to organise an assignment for uni, though unfortunately it’s a group assignment, so no use actually getting started on it before everyone agrees on the basics. I’ve also been putting in some time with my Rosetta Stone for Korean, but I get frustrated at the speaking parts because I can’t pronounce the difficult sounds. I’m hoping that it will become easier as I go along.
*Before I go, I want to tell you a story that will hopefully convey the frustration I sometimes feel here.
A month ago I got a pre-paid SIM card for my phone. It was pretty easy, except for the fact that you had to go to a specific store on a weekday. This is because only specific stores have people who can deal with foreigners, and they can’t get access to their databases (or something) on the weekend. Anyway, I got it all sorted out and it turned out to be much cheaper than going with a contract (take that Australia!). Everything was great for a month, then a couple of days before my credit ran out, I decided to go to a store and ask them to recharge my credit. After about half an hour, they ‘told’ me that because I still had credit on my SIM, they couldn’t recharge it. This is what I understood with the language barrier anyway. So, I decided to go to an English speaking store on Saturday, since all I wanted was some more credit for my phone. I got there, waited half an hour, then was told that they couldn’t add credit because it was the weekend, and I would have to wait until Wednesday because Monday and Tuesday were public holidays. They gave me a number to call on Wednesday to recharge the credit. I asked if the people at that number spoke English, they said they didn’t know. I forgot to ask them how the hell I was supposed to call that number WITH NO PHONE CREDIT!
I’m slightly ashamed to say that I raised my voice at them and told them that it was the most idiotic system I had ever encountered in my life. All I wanted was some phone credit 😥
Anyway. Korea. It’s been an experience.
That being said, if that’s the WORST thing that’s happened to me so far, I’m having a pretty excellent time, don’t you agree?