March 10th, 2009
Greetings from the other side of the world! Sorry there have not been more regular updates but work has been crazy trying to get this school off the ground. Today is the beginning of my second week of working in Korea. It has been amazing so far and my expectations are that it will continue as such.
The Texans (nick name for the other two English teachers who have yet to arrive) are still having Visa issues. From what I understand they finally got their numbers from the Korean immigration office and just had their interviews with the consulate in Houston. That should do it and they are expected to fly in over the weekend.
Until then Kid’s College, Gimhae, has brought in the head teacher from Seoul to fill in one of the positions, and a new teacher who is slated to teach in a different city after her short stay with us. In a way they are both a blessing but also a bit of a curse. We had to bring them in because this Monday was the entrance ceremony for my kindergarten class. Last week was orientation in which all of the parents were promised that there would be three high quality staff members instructing their little emperors and empresses. I had to give a speech during the ceremony after being here for only a week!
During the orientation week I was the sole English teacher and was teaching classes from 9am to 7pm every day with a one-hour lunch. I no longer have such long hours with the extra help but I have had to train the temporary replacements and get them organized while also trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing! Dave, the head teacher from Seoul, is a great chap. He is in his late 50’s and has been teaching all over Asia for the last 10 years. We actually hang out quite a lot. The other temps name is Eileen and she is from Roseville, CA of all places. She seems pretty intimidated and unsure of herself, she is in her 50s as well and taught English last year in a different city in South Korea.
My new schedule is pretty darn good because they let me have first pick of all the classes that I wanted to teach. It just happened that all my favorite students were in the same classes together! I now teach kindergarten from 9:30 – 2:30 with a one hour lunch at 12. Then I teach levels Beginner and 1 so that I am done with classes by 4:30. After that I have at least a half hour or so of paper work to do, sometimes a little over an hour (weekly lesson plans). I have been given the unofficial title of “head teacher” because I guess I am pretty good at training and organizing. I cant wait to get the permanent teachers in here but then I guess I will have to train them all over again!
It doesn’t really matter when I get off anyways because Koreans are night owls. Everything is open till at least 2am every night, even most of the grocery stores. On the other hand, nothing is open until at least after 9am and most places don’t open till 10, even COFFEE SHOPS! Koreans don’t seem to use coffee to wake up as much as they use it to keep going or get ready to hit the town after work. Koreans are big drinkers, the “Irish” of Asia.
Korean food is very cheap in grocery stores or at eateries. American food tenders to be slightly more expensive, especially cheese and beef. However, a very good “sit down” style meal can be had for 5,000 wan ($3.50 ish) just about anywhere. IF you want to go all out on dinner with drinks plan on 10,000 wan.
Drinking is cheap! Most bars cost about 2,500 won for a pint of domestic (Hite or Cass are the Budweiser equivalents) give or take about 250 wan. Drinking on the streets is more or less allowed though technically illegal. Not everyone does it but I have seen it.
I walk to most of my destinations but taxis are very affordable when something is a bit further than you care to pump. Taxis cost 2,200 wan for the first 3 or so miles. I can get just about anywhere in Gimhae for 6,000 wan and I am somewhat on the outskirts. Local buses I am told, cost about 850 wan to ride anywhere in town but I have not been inclined to figure out their routes as of yet (no internet at home still ☹). I did take an express bus from Gimhae to Busan on Saturday that cost me all of 2,000 wan ($1.50ish) and took about 35 mins! I cant wait for next weekend when I can explore some more! I think I have convinced Dave that he should come with me because he wants to do some bicycle shopping there!
I have been dieing for a bicycle ride! The countryside around Gimhae looks to be very scenic and a bike would really help me to explore the area a lot better. Alas, I have been to almost 10 bike shops and only two of them even carried road bikes. Koreans seem to love mountain bikes and off road riding. There are plenty of townie type bikes with front and rear baskets that are designed for road use that I have considered, but most of them are of very low quality so I don’t think its worth it to buy one. Ill just wait until I find a good shop or something reasonably nice to ride. I hope soon! I know of at least one bike shop that sells American quality road bikes in Seoul but that’s a 5 hour bus ride that I don’t really want to take as of yet. We will see, it may come to that.
The city of Gimhae is much bigger than I had originally imagined. I do live next to “a” downtown but I no longer think that it is “the” downtown. About 3 miles from here there is a metropolis of bars, clubs, pool halls, and karaoke bars (Korean style). My part of town is probably about half its size but still plenty to do. Another reason the buy a bike! I actually got REALLY lucky last Friday (my first Friday night on the town!) and happened to bump into a group of about 20-25 western ex-patriots in a bar on the other side of town! Great guys/gals all of them. We sat around and drank most of the night until I was more than ready to go home… then we went and sang karaoke for the rest of the night!
Bars in Korea are kinda different. There is no seating “at the bar” but instead they just look a lot like restaurants except that all the tables have little buzzer buttons on them to call the waiters with! Also, it is considered insulting to tip anyone in Korea so that’s a nice plus. There are more “western” style bars that keep popping up but they tend to be a bit more up market. Also, at several of the western style bars that I have been to, the waitresses job is to sit directly in front of you behind the bar and make as much conversation as humanly possible. The girl that I got was very nice and fortunately for us both, know about 10 words of English. However, they make me uncomfortable, making small talk with someone who is paid to make small talk with you is kinda…. Boring. When I go to a bar alone that usually because I want to drink my drink and possibly gab with some of the other guests, bartender IF they feel like it! Oh well, the Korean guys seem to love it!
I saw my first Starbucks over here. Koreans complain that its expensive, I think even with the favorable exchange rate its about the same as the USA. Dunken Donuts is popular over here, as is KFC, McD’s, and Spam. McD’s actually delivers to your home and no extra charge! They got little mopeds for all sorts of delivery stuff over here. Anyplace that serves burgers of any kind is considered American food and is thus, slightly more upscale than you would think. Big thik padded crushed velour seats and tables with tablecloths at McDonalds!
Well this post is getting pretty long and I still have about 100000000000 things to say so I had better just finish it off. I will have more regular access to the internet next week, in my home. I will also have a cell phone at that point which I will give the number for to ya’ll. The thing is that I am waiting to get my foreign residents card from Mr. Lee, the schools director, so I can signer the internet and cell phone contracts. However, he has to go all the way to Busan to get it so he wants to wait until the other two teachers get here so he can get them all at the same time, which I understand since that man works like 25 hours a day! Anyways, Ill try to post again before then, just check this page every now and again for the latest juicy gossip!