Donghae, South Korea
Sorry for the long delay in posting this entry; a lot has been going on.
After landing in Incheon, the group of us from the New York flight made our way to the immigration desk. The time was approximately 3:30 AM. At first I was a bit lost and unsure of where to go, but the long line of Americans was rather easy to spot. No one had any problems getting through with their A-3 visas so we made our way to baggage claim. It took quite some time for my luggage to cycle around, but eventually I caught sight of that bright orange duct tape holding it together. It was a good thing my mom suggested taping the luggage up before taking it to Korea because it looked like it had taken a fair beating. With the exception of one or two people, I think everyone was able to retrieve their luggage at baggage claim. After getting all of our bags together we wandered over to the money-changer and converted our cash on-hand into Won… There were lots of zeroes and lots of bills.
Early morning at Incheon
We made our way to Arrival Gate F, an easy-to-remember meeting place for all of the arriving Fulbrighters. We were all pretty tired, and plopped down on some benches for a while and whipped out our laptops. Everyone had one! I think they were all either e-mailing people back home or updating their Facebook statuses. Also, unlike JFK International Airport, Incheon has free wireless (much to my delight). I was able to Skype briefly with Erin and let people know I had arrived in Korea safely. After about an hour we met with our first Fulbright staffers. They waved us down to the end of the wing so we toted our bags with us and left them by the wall near the last set of doors in the hallway. We sat and socialized for a bit, and I finally decided to take a ‘bum shower’ in the public restroom. I shaved, washed my hair, brushed my teeth, put on deodorant, etc. all by the sink in the airport bathroom. I think it would have been harder for me to work up the nerve to do that in the states, but being in a foreign country lets you play the ‘I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that; I’m a dumb foreigner’ card. Though, really, it is probably perfectly acceptable in both countries. I was also the only ETA brave enough (or motivated enough?) to bother with sprucing up. Some people brushed their teeth, but that was about it. I must say though, I felt like a million bucks and was very glad I made the effort. So for all you world travelers out there, it definitely makes all the difference if you bother to clean up and change after a full day of flying.
Incheon in the Rain
After a while more of waiting, the other plane arrived. A new group of ETAs joined us and began socializing. One partially asian-looking guy came up and sat next to me on the bench. We got to talking and found out a little later that we were going to be roommates at the university. His name is ‘Morrow, like tomorrow,’ as he explains it. That’s a pretty awesome coincidence that we ended up being roommates considering I still feel like I haven’t formally met all of the ETAs even after 2 weeks of being here and he was one of the first people I talked to that day. The next plane took much longer to arrive. It was close to 9 AM before everyone was finally together. There were also a handful of ETAs who didn’t make it that day due to a delayed flight. I’m also very thankful that didn’t happen to me. For breakfast and coffee I walked over to the Dunkin’ Donuts in the airport. The iced coffee I had was completely unsweetened and I made the mistake of assuming that Koreans must take their coffee black (this is not the case). The doughnut I bought was much chewier than what I’m used to back home. I also accidentally paid with American cash, but the lady at the counter took it anyway; I was surprised. She told me ‘5 dollars’ and I meant to grab my won, but grabbed one of my twenties by mistake.
Roads near the airport
When I went to throw my trash away there was a lady there who was hand-picking all of the recyclables out of the trash bag. I was shocked at their dedication to recycling, which I’m not used to seeing back home. If it ends up in the trash bin I think most Americans automatically assume it has the plague. And then there’s the whole issue of trying to get people motivated enough to recycle. America has a long way to go before it catches up with Korea or Japan in terms of efficient waste management.
Convenient store in the airport
While we were waiting for the luggage trucks to arrive, we were given our first stipends and some important phone numbers and name tags. When the luggage trucks arrived we all grabbed random bags (there were too many at this point to locate our own) and dragged them outside to toss into the trucks. The outside of the airport looked pretty spectacular to me for some reason. It was also a bit rainy, and luckily for us the walkways outside were covered. The Orientation Coordinators (OCs) tried to communicate some directions to the 85+ ETAs all chattering, but it was impossible for me to hear what was said. They apparently wanted ETAs numbers 1-44 to board Bus 1 and the rest of us to board Bus 2, but Bruce Park apparently didn’t hear that either. 😉 I asked around and ended up on the right bus. After some snacks and a good 45 minute bus ride chatting with some of my new friends, and after one epic U-turn, we arrived… back at Incheon!! We were all very confused.
More bus snacks
Yet more Bus Snacks
We were told that we had left someone behind at the airport. Bruce Park wasn’t on our bus and when the OCs called the other bus to see if he was on it, they couldn’t find him. We waited for what seemed like forever, until the urge to go pee consumed my every thought. I told my friend Morrow that I wanted to run off the bus to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to end up being ‘That Guy.’ That Guy is the guy that manages to accidentally fudge up the plans and/or schedule of a large group of people by being inconsiderate or unobservant. Morrow promised me he’d let the OCs know that I was running to the restroom if the bus started to take off (there were no OCs on board at that moment that I could ask permission of). I hauled butt off the bus and into the airport bathrooms. I remember being frustrated with myself because it was taking a lot longer to pee than I had anticipated – I was full up apparently! TMI? I ran back to the bus and… it was still there, and no one was the wiser. However, five minutes later an OC walks back on the bus to make the announcement that Bruce Park was on the other bus and had not responded to his name being called multiple times. He’s the reason we turned around and lost a good hour of our schedule. I laughed at this as Morrow said, ‘No worries, Dan. Bruce Park is forever “That Guy”. You’re in the clear.’
Loading up the luggage trucks
We took off for the university again, and resumed chatting with our neighbors. I made another good friend on the bus named Adam. We practiced reading hangeul together using our Korean water bottles as reading material. We stopped once along the way and used the restroom and got some street food. I bought something called Kochumatpa. It was some sort of pressed, spicy, starchy cake on a stick. Cheap. Delicious. I also bought a Pocari Sweat from the vending machine. It has been a while since I last had one of those! If you don’t know what that is, it’s essentially an isotonic drink with a very unfortunate name. Tastes better than it sounds. Luckily I had my leather jacket on me because I didn’t have an umbrella and it started to pour just as we were trying to get back on the bus.
A spicy whatever
Raining at the rest stop
Street food at the rest stop (Korean rest stops are epically more awesome than most in the US)
Got me some Pocari Sweat 😀
We pulled up to the school completely dumbfounded. The university building is essentially a giant marble palace built into the side of a mountain.
Jungwon Palace (University)
It was recently constructed and is still being added onto. I didn’t see much of it the first day, but we were shown around briefly by tour guides who mostly couldn’t speak English. The dorm room was much nicer than I expected and was very comfy. The bathroom is a bit peculiar in that the sink is the source of the shower and it’s all in the same room as the toilet and the cabinets. Needless to say I need to be careful where I point the shower head.
My all-in-one dorm bathroom
On day two (July 4th) I ventured out a bit and gave myself a tour of the campus. I stumbled into Anthony who wandered around with me, having essentially the same purpose as me. We even wandered into the areas that were still under construction – adventurous and fun in its own right. I also wandered up to the top of a stone staircase and back into the woods. There was a little trail we found that led to a beekeeper’s hive.
We had a few workshops that day too, but nothing terribly memorable. The gist of the day was getting acquainted with our responsibilities as ETAs, clarifying the routine and getting settled. The schedule was pretty tightly packed though, so our whole group was getting worn down, especially with jet lag weighing heavily on us all. We had a scavenger hunt later in the day that took us into the town nearby the school, Goesan (pronounced kway-sahn). The goal was to take pictures of as many things on the list as possible. There were things like the town mascot, a Godzilla statue, a meat restaurant sign with happy animals on it, etc. They told us we’d be learning the history of hangeul, but they intentionally lied to us to make the scavenger hunt seem more fun, I guess. Always fun being treated like a ten year old!! I think the OCs are a little too used to teaching Korean school children. No big deal, we still had a good time on the scavenger hunt!
Thinking back, I realize now that with the jet lag and the packed daily schedule, July 4th felt more like a series of days than anything else. They surprised us at the end of the day during a mandatory club meeting with 4th of July fireworks! It was pretty spectacular. A number of people went out drinking with their new friends, but I was far too exhausted so I went back to my room to relax.
The next day I had my first official Korean lesson (4 hours long) and got a membership at the gym.
On the 6th we dressed up and met with the Executive Director of Fulbright Korea, Mrs. Jai Ok Shim.
She’s a really sweet, hard-working lady who loves what she does. I also coaxed my Korean teachers to take a picture with me so all of you can see them. There’s a convenient store at the school that I had been to a couple of times, but hadn’t purchased anything from yet, but my ever-changing daily schedules were making me wish I had a good planner. I ran down to the store and picked one up which has been working perfectly for me ever since.
Today I bought 4 Fulbright Korea t-shirts! I’m excited to wear them around when I get back home. I’m proud to be a part of this program. In my free-time (which I have very little of) I wandered to areas of the school I hadn’t been to yet and snapped a bunch of pictures. Later in the evening I attended GLEE club which is a club designed to get the ETAs and Korean students to network. In principle I liked the idea of the club, but it felt more like an excuse to waste time than a cultural exchange. I may not attend many more meetings and instead focus on doing homework and blogging. If I have a lot of free time to kill I may attend another one, but I anticipate skipping many GLEE meetings in the future. UPDATE: I never went to another one 😛
Friday, the 8th, was a great day! We broke from the routine and left early in the morning to visit various schools nearby where former ETAs had been placed. Current ETAs at the schools ran us through their day and showed us what lessons in action were like. The school I went to was awesome! It is a co-ed vocational high school in Daejeon and it is different from any high school I’ve ever heard of. First though, we accidentally walked up to the wrong school and passed by a classroom of girls who went CRAZY for us! They started screaming and running around the room excitedly, so we felt kinda bad when we realized our mistake and had to walk away. It was a funny scene though. We were all rock stars for a brief moment.
Walking to the wrong school
At the high school, we were privileged enough to witness how Korean boys behave in the classroom. There’s a lot of leaning on your neighbor and playing with their hair and tugging on their ear – stuff we’d consider overly affectionate or even homosexual back in the states – but in Korea this type of affection is commonplace among people of the same gender. We sat around in a classroom for a while and talked with the ETA. She explained a few things about the school and what it was like to work there. It actually sounds very entertaining. The tour of the school was one of the best parts of the day. Because it is a vocational high school there are many different populations of students. They ranged from auto-mechanics to architects to semiconductor and SMT operators. We got to take a walk up to the SMT center to see the machine that assembles the circuit boards. The students had been working on LED displays that would show off all sorts of cool things. The art room was a jaw-dropper too! We were all very impressed with the ability of the students. Lunch was decent, but the yogurt stuff that came with it was pretty horrid. However, what easily made up for that was the amazing kimchi! It was far superior to Jungwon’s (in my humble opinion). There have been rumors that Jungwon’s kimchi is packaged (as opposed to fresh – that is, as fresh as kimchi can be).
When we got back to Jungwon, after picking the rest of the ETAs up from the schools they visited, Morrow and I walked down to Goesan to explore. Every now and then we would decide to take some other arbitrary turn off into unknown territory. It was very adventurous, and I’m always hungry for adventure! We found a large stream with a few foot bridges cutting across it. Why not cross? The weather was good for walking around out in the open during the day because it was completely overcast, ergo we didn’t get baked alive under the Summer sun. It was across the river that we found this striking and unique path that had a different design every few meters or so. I took many pictures of it. Eventually Morrow and I decided to walk up a mountain path and climbed down the other side, wandering somewhat aimlessly into a direction I assumed was farther away from campus. We walked under a large overpass and marveled at what appeared to be a temple up high above us on the other side. We kept walking down the road and came to a very old-fashioned looking fort. It was completely abandoned (as was the ticket box outside), so we decided we’d just walk in. I couldn’t help but feel like I was stepping into a Miyazaki film – I wasn’t sure if when I came back out I’d find a road or a river. All it needed to complete this ridiculous scenario was a long bar full of delicious food set out for seemingly no purpose, with no one to watch it. Mmm, that would have been something! We came out and found a road, however, and that is where the delusional fantasy ends. There was a mysterious twist though, in that somehow we had circuited around and wound up back on the road that leads up to the school. I was more than a bit confused. I could have sworn we had a long way to go to get back, and really we were quite close to home by the end of our walk. On the subject of film, our guest lecture in the evening was given by Michael Hurt who was partially in charge of the English subtitling of the Korean movie The Host. I think Ben will find that fact amusing.
On the ninth we had a lesson planning workshop that drained us of all our energy. It was a life-draining, soul-sucking endeavor that should not have lasted as long as it did. In the end it was helpful, but it went breakless for far too long. At the end of the day, though, we took a fun little trip down into Goesan for dinner. It was my first experience in town at night, and trust me, it had an entirely different feel to it. The place we went for dinner is famous for ice noodles. Imagine ice-cold noodles in a very light broth with lots of spicy seasoning in it. It was a very refreshing Summer meal. I walked back to campus with Hogan and took a bunch of pictures of the night scenery.
On Sunday we had some optional excursions to choose from, but one of them was so popular that they had to have a lottery for the people who signed up because there were only 15 slots available. I signed up for one that promised to be less popular and got to join my OC Bryce in Cheongju (at least I think that’s the name of the place). I woke up early and went down to the convenient store to buy an umbrella and breakfast. Buying an umbrella was about the smartest thing I could have done!! It rained all day. I did my best to take pictures, but it was very wet and sometimes difficult to handle the camera and the umbrella at the same time. We started with lunch and had a nice traditional Korean meal with lots of side dishes (banchan). Afterwards the excursion became much more disorganized. We essentially just walked around the town in groups for a few hours, doing whatever we felt like doing. I started in the bookstore and looked for Korean comics to use as study material. I was told there was another ETA in the store that I could buddy up with, but I never found them. By the time I left I realized I was alone, so I walked by myself through various parts of the city. In the process my shoes had soaked completely through. At last I bumped into another group at the meeting place and joined them for the rest of the day. We wandered around and found a bridge over what appeared to be a river. Upon closer inspection the river turned out to be a road! There were traffic lights hanging over it, road signs jutting up out of it and identifiable parking lines off to the side. The current was strong; I could hardly believe I was staring at a road!
We walked into a towel store to get Leora a floor towel (for outside her shower I think). It was funny watching her try to talk to the clerk, because none of us could offer any help – we were all equally noobish in Korean. She walked away with one of the cheapest towels in the store though, which was her goal. Afterward we headed back to the meeting place and waited for the rest of the ETAs to get there. In the meantime, we searched high and low for a bathroom, which proved a little too difficult to find. I thought about getting coffee to pass the time, but the Angel-in-Us Coffee Shop had really expensive coffee. Each cup was over $5. That’s more expensive than Starbucks! I decided I didn’t want coffee afterall. Before taking taxis back to the bus station we grabbed some street food. What I bought was so delicious I doubt I can do it justice in explaining it. It was a rice-starch ball on a stick wrapped in cooked ground meat and then dipped in very spicy sauce. They had different sauces that I could choose from and I told them I wanted the hottest. The vendor made a cry baby face to make sure I knew what I was getting into and I simply nodded in acknowledgment. He handed me the snack with a smile, I thanked him and chowed down. That was a good memory. I want another one of those things now, darn it.
Dokkpokki Wrapped in Meat
We missed dinner because we arrived back in Goesan a little late, so a few of us went to a kimbap restaurant and had a lot of trouble reading the menu. By a lot of trouble, I mean we flat out couldn’t read it so we arbitrarily chose four things close together. Now, kimbap is essentially sushi without fish in it. Instead, the substitute all sorts of things. We ended up with a kimchi kimbap, a cheese kimbap (with American-style processed cheese food in it), and some others with unrecognizable vegetable ingredients. It was dirt cheap and very filling.
The following week was rather unremarkable, as things at Jungwon started to become routine. Inside this marble palace I don’t feel like I’m in Korea at all. Jungwon is a bubble, isolated up here on its mountain, self-contained. From the outside it is much better, but I spend so much time inside that I start feeling isolated from the rest of Korea. On Thursday, the 14th I finally venture out again and join a large group for dinner at a samgyeopsal restaurant in Goesan. I was on my way down to the cafeteria with the intention of saving money for the coming weekend, but Alex the Korean RA on my floor invited me to join them. I asked him ‘Is it worth it?’ and he responded, ‘Of course! It’s my favorite!’ And that’s really all it took to convince me to join. I was so ready to get out of the school! I may end up taking more excursions off campus in the near future in order to maintain a sense of place. Oh, and by the way, samgyeopsal is grilled pork belly (which is extremely fatty) that you wrap with sundry condiments in a lettuce leaf. It was sinfully delicious, though I find myself craving healthier foods which for whatever reason I’m having the hardest time finding. With samgyeopsal we had soju and beer and by the end of dinner most of us were on a good food and booze high. And so began my favorite weekend in Korea so far.
Friday we left for Donghae (the beach). The bus ride was 3-4 hours long with one rest stop along the way. At the rest stop I got some takoyaki which I shared with a few interested ETAs. For those who don’t know, takoyaki is a fried doughball with octopus in the center. The hotel in Donghae is actually owned by Jungwon, and had a very similar appearance from the inside and out. I will say though, the food was far superior. We had lunch at the hotel, a brief visit to the beach and then came back to the hotel for a 2 hour talk on Buddhism in Korea. The talk was given by a sweet expat who worked in Korea with the peace corps many years ago. His humor was pretty dry, but his laugh reminded me of the dalai lama’s. We then took a bus ride to a nearby mountain and hiked a short way up to a Buddhist temple. They setting was absolutely gorgeous. There was a little shop there where you could buy Buddhist trinkets and things, so I picked up a few items as souvenirs. That evening I went out into town with Kevin and friends, but broke away from them when they decided to wander off down a dark street to seemingly nowhere. I met with some other ETAs in the beach town joined in their “merriment.” This consisted of roman candles and beer. My friend Adam and I ended the evening late at night after discussing philosophies for at least an hour. He seems to be having trouble adapting to his momentary place in life, but I’m confident he’ll grow into it. The following day was a free day on which I went back to the mountain with a large group of ETAs and hiked up as far as I could. I paired off with a guy named Kevin and we ended up losing our way a number of times. The paths were not marked as obviously as we had hoped, thus we blazed a number of trails into dead ends. The process was fun and ultimately worth it. We made it back to the beach hotel in the early afternoon and went to town for lunch. I ate at a ramyeon place and got a spicy oyster ramyeon for just 4000 won. My roommate with the room key decided to stay at the mountain and taxi back to the hotel, which left me and my other roommate, Brody, locked out. We convinced the hotel staff to help us out though, and we were able to get back in. I spent the rest of the day at the beach with Brody. He had me bury him in the sand multiple times, and as he is almost completely blind, he had me describe to him what sort of shapes I was making the sand into. At first I made it look like he was being swallowed by a giant fish, and then later I made it look like he had two giant cartoon arms. Then came the horrible part! He had to rinse all the sand off in the ice cold water. I have a video of him doing this and he looks so cold! Dinner that evening was samgyeopsal, but slightly less delicious than the Goesan variety as the condiments were not as good. It being free spelled redemption though. That evening is also the night I started working on this ridiculously long blog entry. I only got a few days in and had to quit for sleep’s sake! I’ve only just now got back around to finishing it and it’s Wednesday night! On Sunday we left the hotel after a lovely breakfast and visited a museum in I-don’t-know-where, Korea for many more hours than we needed to. It was big and impressive from the outside, but was more like an arbitrary and eclectic collection of items (mostly replicas) on the inside. We were scheduled to be there for four hours, but only needed two at most. At first I thought I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, but was later told that I just couldn’t use flash – so I started taking tons of pictures. Next to nothing in the museum had a placard explaining what the items were. The most they’d usually say was the name and the era they think the item came from. The collection ranged from dinosaur bones and rocks to models of buildings from around the world. They were playing the BBC program Walking With Dinosaurs in one of the rooms, which happened to be a convenient place to sit and wait out the remaining hours we had for our museum visit. After we were done we ate lunch at the museum restaurant. We had bibimbap – scrumptious! Something in my gut tells me that the museum is also owned by Jungwon though… They have the exact same owl-tree fountain that Jungwon has on its golf course. I think they’re moving us from bubble to bubble! Mrs. Shim surprised all the ETAs with ice cream as we were getting back on the buses. I got melon. Yum!
Monday, the 18th I taught my first ESL lesson ever and it went over extremely well! I felt very comfortable and had a really good time teaching the 11 student class. I made a few beginner mistakes, but that was the point of the lesson! I am learning to teach, so I got some good feedback from my camp instructor. I also did really well on my Monday morning quiz. The two successes put me in a really good mood for the rest of the day. Tuesday was less eventful. I spent most of the day locked in my room writing a lesson plan for next week. I was having a lot of trouble with the Korean Heroes topic, but had a breakthrough when I left my room for dinner. Getting out and around really does help clear the mind. I was able to think much more creatively while moving about.
Today, finally!!!! It’s nice to be caught up. I’ll try not to fall too far behind again. Today I had a very relaxing day free of obligations of just about any sort. I had class of course, but after that I was free. I played a game on my computer for a bit and did my laundry (which only took 2000 won this time). In the middle of the day I went with a few guys into Goesan to shop. I got some large sheets of paper for next week’s technology-free lesson, and a new wireless mouse because my old one finally started to die after about 5 years. We ran into D-mart as well and I bought some instant coffee sticks (which should help me save money on coffee during the week). Today was actually really sunny out. There were no clouds to speak of, which is saying a lot. I think this may have been the first cloudless day since I arrived here. As a result, it was really, really hot! We decided to take a taxi back and save ourselves from the sun and exhaustion that we’d inevitably get if we walked back to the university. Since dinner in the cafeteria (which was not terribly good) I have been in my room, playing games, watching a movie and writing this epic blog entry. Peace and love everyone! I’m tired and going to crash in less than two minutes. Watch me.