Midnight Musings

After what was an incredibly long day, I am sitting here in my Hello Kitty pajamas (I’m a grown ass woman and I’ll wear what I want) waiting for one of the American teachers to bring me his apartment key since he is moving out tonight and I’m moving in tomorrow.

So, some random thoughts:

A hug would be awesome. It’s been days since I’ve had a hug and it’s weird.

I would really like for Netflix to not be blocked here. I was up to season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, dammit. And they just added season 10 of Criminal Minds.

I am very excited to properly go grocery shopping tomorrow and start cooking some meals.

Also looking forward to actually unpacking my suitcases and stop feeling like a vagabond.

First Day!

Today was my first day at school! I got to shadow one of the co-teachers, Nick, during his classes. There are a lot, but they only last 35 minutes each. There are plenty of breaks throughout the day for preparing lessons, as well. My school also has a planned curriculum and many different text books and work books. The American teacher whose place I’m taking (Peter) was really good at going through each class with me and gave me a general idea how to use the books and work through the lessons.

First day selfie!

First day selfie!

I’ll have students from beginner elementary level to more advanced middle school level. All the kids are very cute. From sitting in the back and observing, I got to see that some are really interested in learning English, while others are not. I guess that’s to be expected, though. Many of the students were willing to participate. Some were very shy, and there was only one I saw that was legitimately disruptive.

During the dinner break, Peter and I grabbed a snack and a coffee. There is a very prominent coffee culture here and there can be three, four, or five coffee shops right next to each other! It’s a wonder how they don’t put each other out of business. The one we went to was very nice. I ordered a frappuccino and actually watched the barista brew espresso to put in it. It was exponentially better than any frappuccino I’ve ever had at Starbucks – and probably with way less calories and preservatives.

We got back to the school and many of the teachers had to administer tests to their classes. I awkwardly sat by myself in the office for a while. The only thing I really didn’t like was that the native Korean teachers didn’t go out of there way at all to introduce themselves or talk to me or anything. It was mildly off-putting.

Regardless, I am excited to go back tomorrow. I’ll be on my own for my classes, so I guess I’m diving right in!

The Inconvenient Convenience Store

I woke up at around 5:30 this morning, stomach rumbling. I tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but it wouldn’t let up. I finally got up and ended up talking to my friend Carly on Kakao Talk. I Skyped with my mom last night, too, and it was good to hear familiar voices. While I talked to Carly, I powered through one of my remaining Luna bars and thought “maybe it’s time to go shopping.” It’s something I’ve been avoiding since I’m not moved into my apartment yet, but a girl’s got to eat.

I remembered seeing a 7/11 next to the Lotte Mart yesterday, so I walked over to grab a few things. Closed. Opens at 10 AM. I got really annoyed because I’m used to having 7/11 open 24/7 at home. What do you do if you’re drunk at 3 AM and need a snack? Have a really early shift at work and don’t want to make lunch? This is what 7/11 is for. But apparently not in Korea.

Why you no open 24/7?!

Why you no open 24/7?!

I walked back to my hotel and tried to go to the convenience store around the corner from me. Also closed. Walked down a random side street. Everything closed.

Frustration.

I finally walked back up towards the Lotte Mart and went into a chain called Paris Baguette, which is like a little bakery and coffee shop. I bought a red bean and cream pastry and a bottle of orange pineapple juice for 2,600 won ($2). The pastry itself was a bit sweet for me, but the red bean was delicious and nutty and the cream was similar to what you would find in a cream puff.

Delicious tiny breakfast!

Delicious tiny breakfast!

My first day of work is today, too. I think I will only be observing, but I am super excited! I’ll write more later.

Sunday Funday

Tonight, I met up with a Korean friend I’ve been talking to online for a few months through the Ulsan Meetup Group. We decided to go out for 치맥 (chimaek), which is Korean fried chicken and beer. We met up near the hotel I’m staying at and took the bus to Samsan. The buses here are efficient, but they absolutely strike fear in my heart.

We walked to the chicken place and grabbed a table. It wasn’t very crowded. The waiter brought us 반찬 (banchan), which included sweet pickles, pickled daikon, and some crispy snack rings. I told my friend to order something mild, and we got boneless chicken with sides of honey mustard and ranch. It. Was. So. Good.

Chimaek!

Chimaek!

After dinner, we walked to the Lotte Department Store. The place was massive. We walked through the bookstore, shoe department, cosmetics department, and home department. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop; everything was so shiny and new and wonderful. Then, my friend and I decided to take a ride on the Lotte Wheel to get a view of Ulsan. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a Ferris wheel as big as this one before!

Me with a Kakao character.

Me with a Kakao character.

View of Ulsan from the Lotte Wheel.

View of Ulsan from the Lotte Wheel.

Later, we walked around some more before deciding to go do norebang (karaoke). In Korea, they have private rooms and you can buy beer and soju and snacks while you hang out and sing. It was really quite a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure they have private ones in America, too, but I’ve only ever done karaoke at a bar. I’m also usually not much of a singer, but I had a great time!

People Will Stare at You

Really, they will. They will also point. Especially when you’re a 5’9″ Western woman in yoga pants who’s sweating profusely and trying to find lunch. It’s incredibly humid right now and you kind of need to take two showers a day.

Little kids will also brazenly come up to you, sometimes grabbing your arm, shout “HELLO,” and walk away giggling like a hyena. It’s a little jolting at first, but it quickly becomes adorable because they just want to speak English.

Today, I slept until after noon (which I never do). Going to attribute it to the fact that we didn’t get home until around 4 AM and there was alcohol involved. So, by the time I woke up, my coworkers had already left for the film festival and I decided to do some exploring on my own. This was mildly terrifying as I have zero working knowledge of Korean and had no one to ask a million questions to.

But I did it anyway. I decided to walk over to the Lotte Mart, which is essentially a department store on steroids. They have groceries, a food court, clothing, electronics, you name it. It was completely overwhelming and I didn’t stay very long.

Next stop was trying to find lunch. I walked back the way I came and made my way towards where we went out last night. There is a LOT of American fast food here: McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut. They’re really easy to spot because, obviously, I recognize them. However, I wanted something a little more Korean. After walking down the main street for about 20 minutes, I turned down a side street because I saw a little cafe. Instead of the cafe, I spotted a place called School Food Blooming Mari. It seemed to be a chain, but the picture menu outside drew me in.

I wasn’t sure if I should sit down or wait to be seated, so I just walked over to the waitress and said “menu?” She smiled, gave me one, and gestured for me to sit before bringing me a pitcher of icy cold water. Everything looked so good! I decided on the fried pork cutlet. The waitress brought me a bowl of clear soup and pickled daikon. I was shocked when the food came. The cutlet was bigger than my head and came with a salad and white rice (which I didn’t eat). It was so crispy and tender and only 8,300 won (roughly $7) for such a big meal!

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Look at the size of that thing!

After I ate, I paid and walked back to my room. I will probably take a shower and eventually make my way to the film festival because there are some animated shorts I would like to see.

Adventures in Eating

At around 8 PM, Nick and Hailey came to my hotel and we headed off to dinner. We couldn’t figure out what we were in the mood for, so we walked until we came across a restaurant that served stew (I can’t remember what the dish is called, but if someone else does, please let me know). We got a table and got some water and beer. We also decided to get the “small” size stew pot. Yeah, far from small.

*Edit: The dish is called 감자탕 (gamjatang).

It was filled with tender braised meat, a spicy broth, white potatoes, little rice cakes, and cabbage. We also ordered rice and ramyeun to go with it.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I don’t particularly care for spicy food. Mostly because I’m a big baby. But anyway. This was incredible! It didn’t make me feel like my face was melting off, but it was so flavorful.

The beautiful spicy stew!

The beautiful spicy stew!

Our banchan.

Our banchan.

For three people, this meal (including the stew pot, rice and ramyeun, and alcohol) cost about 43,000 won, which is about $36. Just wow.

After dinner, we walked to another neighborhood to get some drinks. The bar we went to was housed in a building that kind of looked like an apartment building from the outside. Inside, there was also a gym and a pool hall. This bar also had a roof garden, although it was partially closed off because a neighbor had complained of noise. We went to a brewery before returning here to meet some people. People from literally all over the world: England, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Scotland. It was incredible. And most of them seemed to have gone to school for something within the field of humanities.

I can’t believe how kind, generous, and hospitable everyone has been so far. I’ll probably say it a million more times. I feel very grateful to have met so many interesting people already who are helping me to get the hang of life in Korea!

Off to an Amazing Start

Wow, just wow. Korea has been so good to me already, and it’s only day one!

Despite my original plans to sleep in this morning, my body woke me up at 7 AM, as usual. After mulling around, I messaged one of my co-teachers and he invited me to the Ulju Mountain Film Festival with a teacher, Hailey, who works at another branch of our school. We walked to City Hall and took a shuttle to where we thought the film was. Long story short, we were wrong. So we took a cab to the right location.

Ulju Mountain Film Festival.

Ulju Mountain Film Festival.

Ulju Mountain Film Festival.

Ulju Mountain Film Festival.

The film we saw was calledThe Salt of the Earth, a documentary by Wim Wenders about photographer Sebastião Salgado. Although the pamphlet said there would be English subtitles, there were only Korean ones. The majority of the film was in French with a smattering of English, so it was difficult to fully understand. However, it was visually beautiful and extremely poignant and I’m glad we went.

After the film, we took a bus to another neighborhood (Seongnam-dong) to grab lunch and walk around. I have already learned that being in an vehicle in Korea (save for the train) is an incredibly terrifying experience. People drive quickly and carelessly and you pretty much have to hold onto something for dear life. Regardless, we made it to our destination in one piece. The restaurant we went for lunch was called Toolbox, and they serve up some banging burgers.

Bacon cheeseburger at Toolbox.

Bacon cheeseburger at Toolbox.

After lunch, Hailey went home and Nick and I walked around Seongnam-dong some more. There was some kind of street festival going on, but it was difficult to determine when and where each showcase would be. I made him come into pretty much every cosmetic shop with me. We also visited a cat cafe, had some yummy drinks, and played with adorable kitties. A lady sitting next to us even gave me some cat food to feed them with, which was really nice.

Walking through Samsan-dong.

Walking through Seongnam.

This sweetheart at the cat cafe.

This sweetheart at the cat cafe.

I’m back at my hotel room for now to rest, and will probably be going out with some other teachers later!