Well friends, I've been in Korea for 3 full weeks and am acclimated to the weather, my schedule, the food... but not the language! I have less than 30 pp. left to complete my TEFL Certification, and I am anxious to begin studying Hangeul. I feel paralyzed here in Tongyeong, unable to venture farther due to my lack of understanding and inability to communicate. Unlike me, yes, but all my other ramblings have been through Latin-speaking countries, or holding the hand of a friend in Turkey for a few short weeks. I don't know what I'm ordering in restaurants, so I find myself sticking to the same ones and eating the same thing, that's getting old quickly, even though I love the food. I have no idea what shopkeepers are saying to me as I buy household items or groceries, and luckily, they all have calculators handy to show me the price, because I certainly can't understand the numbering and counting system, which is a combination of Chinese and Korean and switches between ordinal and cardinal when counting vs. $$.
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So, while I am NOT at all complaining, i find the language barrier challenging. I love it here though! And I am ready to get out and about on weekends, (like today!) and start exploring the country. Of my 52 weeks weekends here in Korea (of course I want to stay longer), 3 have past.
Today's lunch at home:
Bap (rice) sits atop fresh red leaf lettuce from Momi's organic garden
A red sweet and slightly tangy/spicy sauce I decided to try from the market, absolutely no idea what it is called
On top of the unique licorice-like sesame seed leaf, is my favorite: melchi, a miniscule seasoned fish OkHee always made that I LOVE! salty and sweet!. Next to the melchi is marinated squid (if I remember correctly) I purchased at the street market yesterday. Also tangy, sweet, with a slight spicy heat. The sauce in the bowl, and the sauce used on the melchi and squid are similar but not the same: made with red pepper, sugar, salt, and other yummy stuff.
Then a big gob of kimchi, holy sh** is it hot! Sinuses are clear! Also acquired at street market. Not cheap! The kimchi, squid, and noodle soup cost $15 together!
It just occurred to me I haven't used a fork in two weeks! I'm getting used to eating everything with chopsticks or a spoon!
I also haven't had any wine or other boozey substance since leaving NC, which is good for me, I'll take a break from drinking happily!
Besides, the crappy wine that's $6 in the states is $15!
I'm lucky, blessed, good-karma-ed, etc., etc., to have such a wonderful school Director! We seem to have so much in common! She truly likes me, and I, her! She compliments me on my lessons and teaching, and how I manage the students. And she is constantly surprised and happy at how much I love Korean food. I think on both sides, school directors are wary, and prospective teachers are wary, of what is to come when two differing cultures meet in the middle of a job situation. More on that later!
We had the best day! Jeong and her husband, Mr. Bak, took me to the highest point in Tongyeong, and hiking, and then dinner! We rode the cable cars across the valley to the highest point where the view was amazing! I live in the Korean Caribbean! Now, I call that lucky!!! How many people get to live in a Caribbean setting twice!!! Wheeeee! 360 views of all the islands surrounded us, and then we hiked the long way down toward on of the nearby Buddhist temples. Unfortunately, by then, it was so late that it was pitch black dark and we were using the flashlight on our phones to navigate the narrow, rocky paths! We will return to see the temple during the daytime. We were hiking upward and then descending for at several hours; first up and then down-- I can feel it in my knees! We returned to our neighborhood for dinner later, and ate BBQ-ed pork that we cooked on the table. Here I experienced my first taste of seaweed leaf- - very difficult to describe. It's a beautiful green leaf, shaped like a heart and about the size of your hand (well, my small hand!). The flavor is sweet; perhaps the closest taste that comes to mind is licorice, and yet it is not licorice. I just wanted to stuff a bunch of them in my mouth over and over again; this is how delicious and unique the flavor was!
... And yes, for those of you that were paying attention, I said pork. Guess I'm at the end of my vegetarian days, after 7 years. There's just no way I'm going to try to be a veggie here, and I'm okay with that. I will still try to concentrate my meals with non-animal items, and with lots of fish, but eating the occasional meat dish is unavoidable. For instance, today for lunch, I was out on my own, and after passing 6 restaurants, I finally just dove into one. Luckily, most of them have picture menus. I asked for lunch, she said "What do you want?" ...(of course I'm heavily translating this because she was speaking Korean and I was attempting Korean but relying more on sign language!)... I shrugged and said you tell me. She made her recommendation, which looked like a bowl of soup with veggies. It was delicious, but it had two huge bones of some animal with very delicate meat attached, and I relished every bite!
Picture coming soon!
Tongyeong is spread over at least 3 different islands that are actually connected by small strips of land/fingers or bridges. I live in "new Tongyeong" (TY, from now on), and the original city is across one of these fingers, only about 4 km away (a bit over one mile). What's amazing about NEW TY, is that a decade ago, it was under water! They "reclaimed" the area, filled it in, and built it up! The area I live in, new TY, could be considered a suburb. It's all new building, modern, with many shopping areas. Again, think in terms of 1 square mile. My school is ~1000 ft. from my house: 2 blocks (if bing.com is accurate). It's a 5 minute walk, if I saunter... It is a 10 minute walk to the huge shopping center of EMart.
(A side note: Emart is similar to WalMart, except they don't' carry items made in china, and it's not all cheap crap. It's not inexpensive, and the items are of high quality or good quality. One thing I've noticed in Korea, they do not make "cheap" goods. Inexpensive, yes, but not the cheap stuff Americans have an affinity for,i.e, all the junk you can get at Walmart.)
Korea is small compared to the U.S., and it is densely packed with people. And yet, all the mountains have been designated as "national parks" so those areas are not built up. And of course the "countryside" has a smaller population density. What is amazing is the speed with which they were able to build an entire second city of TY! And it's not the cheap, quick fabrication you find in the States. For instance, my apartment, although it must have been constructed rather quickly, ti has not been built cheaply and shabbily! I'm on the third floor, there is a busy street below, and I have many neighbors. And yet, I never hear them! I'm in a large complex and never hear anyone coming or going, water running, talking, music...nothing! The cabinets, doors, frames, everything are made in a quality manner. It's such a change from the quick, sub-par construction builders put together these days in the States!
Anyway, Old TY has a lot of character of what I consider (from my foreign perspective) "authentic" Korean: traditional buildings, it's a fishing village, outdoor fish/veg markets, etc. My new TY is, like I said, a new suburb with a very modern feel. And the wonderful thing is, it's only one mile away! I will be there frequently when I get a bike and learn the bus system!
Director and I had to go to Immigration, so I get to see Old TY, walk through the market, buy a tasty snack of squid, and have lunch! More to come.... ciao for now!
author's note: ICloud/itunes/Applegodintheapplesky has seriously ticked me off-- because they've changed the order of all my photos and made it almost impossible to return them easily to the correct order--, I will try to get these photos re-ordered because I have nothing better to do with my time!!!
The flight over was incredible: Korean Air's coach class is equivalent to any U.S.-based airlines' First class accommodation and treatment! I suppose U.S. airlines are in a pinch because no one wants to fly them anymore because it is a pretty unpleasant experience; they've made everything a hassle, the customer service has nose-dived (excluding southwest Airlines!), and they charge extra for everything ( Oh, that will be $20 to barf in this paper bag, and we only accept American Express) LOL. Seriously! I looked at flights on Delta, and if I wanted to sit in a MIDDLE seat for 14 1/2 hours, I could pay a regular, non-refundable fare (~$!000). But if I wanted a window seat (which were nearly all available and empty, I had to pay for a the full fare, non-refundable ticket, i.e., hundreds more. Nice job Delta. You lost a customer for EVER! Anyhoo, Korean Air fed us twice: two full meals plus snacks, and gave us the choice of American style or Korean style food. Wine and Beer were FREE (wouldn't you know on the one flight I choose not to drink because I want to minimize jet lag, drinks are gratis--ha!). Headsets were free, every seat had pillows and blankets, individually plastic wrapped and sanitized for single use (none of the gross used blankets or pillows). I also had my own flat screen with movies, radio, etc etc, plugs for charging, including a USB, and polite and prompt service. The seat size was comfy, my knees were far from the seat in front, as well as my hips from either side of the chair. I've noticed on most U.S. domestic flights that my knees are jammed into the seat in front, and my hips barely fit into the seat, hello! I am not overweight, large, tall, or anything other than small!
Well, I ranted so long, I almost forgot some of the other amazing aspects of the flight! I'm not sure exactly where we were geographically, but the flat screen offered the option of route mapping, and views from the cameras positioned on the bottom, rear, and front of the plane! it was incredible, looking out the window at one point and seeing ice floes. I'll have to research and figure out where we were over Russia or the North Pole or what, but it was amazing and I've never seen a sight like it outside of national Geographic videos!
As we flew over Russia's snow covered mountains, which became the alpine ranges of China, I was taken aback once again: I have never seen mountains that looked like those! Then rivers began to wend and iwnd through the mountains, then the white morphed into grey rocky faces, and then greenery crept up... hours later, civilization appeared. As we passed well above North Korea, we took a circuitous route well away from the northern part of the Korean peninsula, over the Sea of Japan. Heading into Seoul was akin to flying over the Caribbean Sea, as island began popping up out of the sea randomly.
14 and one half hours later, I arrived in Seoul, Republic of Korea!!! Passing through immigration with no problem, and retrieving my checked bags all took maybe 20 minutes or less! I walked through immigration and into the main concourse, and the first thing I saw was a Baskin-Robbins! UGH!!!
[My escape from America is not complete: the horrors of American commercialism have oozed into every crevice of the world like a stinking filth! I live near a 7-11, and of course have passed by a McDonald's. I don't understand why AMERICANS eat the nasty non-food at McDonald's, so how can Koreans or anyone else eat it!!! Gross!]
I almost missed my flight from Seoul to Busan, but that's best left for later. I am so happy to be in Korea! On Day 4!
...is in Korea loving Korean food and culture!