안녕하세요! (Hello!): James is in Korea

Post written on Wednesday 12th December.

Annyeong Haseyo (Hello) from Korea! As much to my own surprise as anyone else’s I am writing this from my desk in the staffroom at the place I now call work. It’s my second day here, my fifth in Korea, and how very strange those days have been. If I were to give you the full rundown of everything of everything thats happened over the last few days, if my notes are anything to go by, I could write about 20 pages. Don’t worry, I’m not nearly that mean, and I don’t think my hand could take the strain of writing it all, it would probably drop off in protest. What I thought I’d do instead is break it down to three main things that I think (hope) you’ll find interesting. ‘The Job’, ‘The Food’ and ‘The Place’. Obviously I’ve only been here five days so I don’t know most things and I’m sure these broad topics will make up the majority of what will make up this blog. So rest assured that I have barely scratched the surface of each. If you have any particular questions you want to ask then leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it or make a post about it. So without further delay.

The Job

At the point of writing this I am, as I said, sitting in the staffroom of the English language and Maths Hakwon (Korean after school school) where I’m going to be working for the next year. Not sure that I should go shouting the name of the school on the internet, not sure what I’ll be saying about it and I don’t want to get myself or anyone else in trouble, so I’ll be calling it the ‘school’. Its in Gansoek (pronounced Kang-sok) in Incheon, about 45 minutes outside Seoul by train.

I spent yesterday observing the lessons taught by Liam, the current teacher who’s classes I’ll be taking over from Thursday. Until then I’m going to be observing, getting a hang of the way things work and meeting the kids. Liam makes it look easy but it’s all about timing and a good knowledge of the individual kids. Most seem lovely, eager to learn and happy to participate in class. Others seem tired or lazy, which is hardly surprising considering most study from 8am to 10pm every day. A few seem to be little terrors, but just one or two. The worst behaved also seem to be the cleverest. Talking to Liam is seems most of his classes seem pretty good, with only one or two that take a little extra work. Luckily the best class he has is the one that he teaches exclusively, all others are taught three days by a Korean teacher and two days by a native English teacher, alternating each week. By the end of the week I should have met all my students.The School looking pretty drab from the outside. I'll get some photos of the inside soon.

The building, like most buildings in the area, and from what I can gather in most of Seoul too, looks very different on the inside than it does from the outside. From the outside the building (right) looks pretty drab, grey and it’s covered in large signs advertising the school and  other things, no idea what, can’t read much Korean yet (but I am getting better). The school takes up the whole of the 4th floor and once the lift doors open your in a completely different place. The school is large and clean, with wooded walls and floor, a large lobby area which currently hosts a christmas tree, and a carpeted walkway. The classrooms are all named after elements in nature such as Sky, Tree or Flower, or after planets in the solar system. The size of the rooms reflect the differing sizes of the classes which range from one on one tuition to classes of eight students, most classes seem to have around five students. All are mixed sex and most are mixed ability.

The Food

Korean food, at least what I’ve tried of it so far, is awesome. I had never had Korean food before I arrived here. Its usually spicy and seemingly always involves fish in some way, usually as a part of the sauce. So far breakfast consists of Kimchi Bokenbab which is kimchi mixed with meat, vegetables and spicy rice, with a fried egg on top. But that reminds me, I haven’t told you about the classic food of Korea, Kimchi!

Kimchi is the quintessential food of Korea, and Korean people are very proud of it. I heard that Japan tried to make its own version, it didn’t go down well. It’s twice fermented cabbage, fermented for weeks and months in a salt broth with spices and, surprise surprise, a fish sauce. Its also very nice, I was a little surprised, my mum will be able to confirm that I am not a fan of cabbage. Kimchi is one of many side dishes that come with most meals here, you generally get about four or five. I’ve had boiled eggs in soy sauce, tiny anchovy like fishes in a spicy sauce, tofu, omelette, scrambled egg and a few others, and i’m sure there are many, many more.

Looking forward to trying Korean BBQ, or Galbi (pronounced Kal-bi). They bring the meat out raw and you cook it at the table on a small inbuilt BBQ. Thats something for the weekend, which brings me to…

The Place

I live in Gansoek, Incheon. Incheon is the third biggest city in South Korea after Seoul and Busan. Luckily for me Seoul is only about an hour away from where I live via train, so I can get there on weekends to explore or experence the reportedly awesome nightlife.It took 3 hours and some puzzle style reshuffling to clean and organise my lovely new room. Underfloor heating is lush.

I haven’t seen any westerners in Gansoek yet, apparenlt y there are a few around but as this isn’t an area with a high number of schools here aren’t many westeners around. Before I properly moved into my room (left), I spent a night CouchSurfing and met a lovely girl called Sarah who lives in a different area of Incheon where there are a lot more westeners. I won’t say too much about my Couchsurfing experence just yet as I want to do a post on it sometime later, but I did have a very good time and I’m looking forward to meeting more Couchsurfers, and Sarah, over the next year. I should also mention that my room looed very different when I arrived. To get it to the way you see it in the picture took three hours, one bin bag and about half an hour of puzzle like reshuffling.

Its about -8 degrees here in Seoul. Here i'm wearing my hat from friends. Most streets look like the street behind me.

I spent the weekend exploring and dancing, two of my favorite things to do on a weekend. Friday night Joe (my other colleague and housemate) and I went to Bupyeong for  few drinks in the evening and met up with another former teacher at the school. One of the Korean beers here is Cass, and after a night of drinking it whilst barhopping between a few of their regular hangouts I woke up with a whole new kind of hangover, a much, much worse kind. My usual hangover is fairy managable, I don’t tend to drink too much so even if i’m pretty drunk the worst I usually feel the next day is a kind of bottomless hunger that i’m sure we’ve all felt before. This was different, imagine a spiky mace ball. Now imagine its shoved into the center of your brain and shaken for about six hours. It was bad. I’ve done a little research and found that Cass and a few other Korean beers are brewed with rice, rather than barley. Its also unpasturised. I’m not 100% sure what this means chemically, but the real world effect is obvious.

Hangover or no hangover however, Saturday was spent exploring Seoul. Joe and I jumped on a train to Myeongdong, a large shopping district jampacked with shops and department stores, and these department stores are huge. It’s lucky that I don’t have much money yet or I’d probably have gone a little nuts whilst walking around.

The stream used to be a road, the tall buildings of Myeong-dong surround it.

Saturday night, Cass still ringing a little in my ears, was a big one. Liam is leaving soon and this was his leaving party. We met a group of seven or eight others who Joe and Liam knew in a bar/resturant called Oktoberfest, where all the staff were wearing, you guessed it,  traditional German attire. We stayed there for a drink before heading to FF club, an Indie rock club in a large basement room in Hongdae, the student district of Seoul. I’d been told before I came that western boys here get lots of attention, and most of the native teachers seem to have Korean gitlfriends. I found this out first hand in the FF Club, where lots of girls wanted to dance with me. We all ended up dancing till about 5am, the time flew by, not quite sure how it happened but I’ve been told that 8am can suddenly rock up without any warning sometimes. We headed out and, crap. Look left, no one I know, look right, nothing. Turn around, wheres the club? Balls.

It took me an hour to find my way back to the club, via the station to see if they had gone there. I went back in and didn’t see anyone I knew so I did the only thing a lost person in Seoul can do, I danced for another two hours. By the time the bar shut and everyone left the trains had started up again. I got home around 9am, woke Joe up to let me in (he’d only gotten in an hour ago) and crashed into bed.

Sunday was a day of rest.

Things to mention:

The mission to get my laptop back from Heathrow is moving forward, hope to get it back by wednesday next week, friday at the latest.

I found once I arrived that the security tag was still on the trousers of the new suite I had bought, a coping saw and a pair of pliers sorted that out. Also, I look awesome in the suite, big thanks to my Nan for getting it for me.The forgotten security tag is powerless agains the only two tools in the house

Finally, some bars in Korea have a ‘No Turnaround’ Policy, meaning once you walk in you have to buy a drink. By the sounds of it this policy is most often in effect in the less classy Hostess Bars, where you also buy drinks for the girls, employed by the bar, who join you at the table.

James Vs World – Point World
(I lost my laptop, new jacket and new jumper, plus had the hangover from hell)

2 thoughts on “안녕하세요! (Hello!): James is in Korea

  1. You absolute trooper! So weird about the ‘No Turnaround’ rule and buying drinks for female bar staff. Good on ya for carrying on the next day with the hangover from hell! Glad you’re getting on well there Ginge :). So happy for you. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Thanks Steph. It is pretty weird to have a no turnaround policy. Hostess Bars are places you can go, often as a group of business men, and have a drink with some girls for company. Their not really bar staff, their only job is to join in the conversation and help the customer have a good time. I haven’t found myself in one yet but a few of my colleagues fell victim to the No Turnaround policy and found themselves in a bad one. One drink and they were out of there.

      Lots of love x x

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