Daegu – Day 1
Korean spatula says… Gina and Joel both had nothing to do on their first day of class, so they kind of wrote about the same thing. But read both stories, because you love them equally, right? Annyeung-hi Kaseyo!
On Friday we left the comfortable bubble that Eulji University provided us for the past week and ventured out into Korea. The REAL Korea. Earlier in the day we were given our school assignments and were happy to find out that Gina and I both got middle schools that seemed to be close together. A winding four-hour bus ride through the mountains brought us to our city and new home, Daegu. We met at the ministry of education’s central office, where we got one last pep talk. Then, we were off to meet our co-teachers.
I cannot overstate the importance of the person we were about to meet. Not only will they be our direct co-worker for the next year, but they also will be our guide to everything from working the washing machines in our apartments to getting our Alien Registration Cards to making sure we get paid. Understandably, we were all pretty nervous. It was like going into an arranged marriage. Our crowd of 80 or so young teachers worried aloud as we made our way to the meeting point; “I hope they’re young” or “I hope they speak English.”
We were met by a giant mass of Korean women holding pieces of paper with our names on them the way you would see a limo driver looking for his client at the airport. One by one we were matched up with our pairs – some people were relieved and happy, others not so much. My young co-teacher seemed reserved but nice and was accompanied by a very excited school secretary that must have been told I was fluent in Korean. Gina and I introduced our co-teachers to each other so we could figure out how to get in touch once we arrived at our apartments. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to give us couples housing, but promised us that we were very close together.
Gina and I parted ways and I schlepped my over-packed luggage out to the parking lot, where we walked to a car about half the size of a golf-cart. They giggled and said they didn’t think I would have so much luggage. I thought to myself, “there’s barely room for a third person, luggage or no luggage.” So, remembering rule #1, ‘Korea is Dynamic’ my co-teacher and I grabbed a cab.
If you’ve ever been to South America, try to imagine how everyone drives. Now, blindfold those people and give them a few shots of vodka, and that’s how good Korean drivers drive. Now, add the fact that nobody knew where my apartment was, and you have a good 45 minutes of fun. Korea is dynamic. The cab driver pulled up to this huge condo building right off of a main road. Shortly after I said, “Wow, this should be nice,” he hooked a right into the alley behind the nice building into what can only be described as ‘the hood.’ I don’t need to outline the characteristics of the hood, I’m sure you can imagine.
As they walked me up the stairs into my apartment, I just kept telling myself, “stay positive, stay positive.” The fluorescent lights flickered on to reveal a studio about the size I expected with some furniture, an old TV and no bed. ‘…Korea is dynamic, stay positive…’ The mud and dry-wall dust on the ground clued me in to the fact that at least the furniture and appliances were new. But…the little issue about the bed. “Do you have towel to clean floor? You should clean floor to sleep,” they said. ‘…Stay positive, stay positive…Korea is dynamic…’ “Um, no…I have a towel to shower with…?” –Discussion in Korean – “OK, we’ll take you to get blankets .” Gina came over with her co-teacher, who was very excited to see that I had any furniture at all. She pointed to each piece and made the ‘X’ sign with her arms, which is a move Koreans have learned from game-shows and incorporate into daily conversation. So, we were both sleeping on the floor but, at least Gina’s place was clean.
The four of us walked a few blocks over to the local E-Mart, which is like a Super Wal-Mart and did some shopping. On the walk over, the answers to our numerous questions didn’t inspire much confidence. “Is there anywhere good to eat around here?” -“I don’t know, the area.” “Is there a metro station around here?” – “I’m not sure.” “Oh by the way, what’s our address? –“I don’t know. In Korea we don’t exactly have addresses.” Wait, what? And with that, they gave us the names of a few landmarks we could tell a cabdriver and bid us adieu. Korea is dynamic.
That night we made ourselves a nice little nest on the floor. Koreans heat their homes through an ‘under-the-floor’ system, so Gina’s apartment was warm, but I spent the night shivering from a fever I felt building up throughout the day. I popped some NyQuil and hoped for a better Saturday.