I slept through my alarm on Monday morning (can anyone say “jetlagged”? They say it takes a day for every hour’s difference, which by my calculations means at least a week of awkward sleeping patterns) and had to hurry through my morning ablutions and catch a taxi to the local hospital.
I’d been saddened but not surprised the day before when I’d tried to take a shower and found the water to be unrelentingly icy-cold. After pushing a few buttons here and there (have I mentioned that everything is in Korean?) I’d managed to get the geyser working and so had hot water on Monday morning. Win. (Side note: “geyser” appears to be a South Africanism. I said it to an American and she was like, wuh? True story.)
Medical check time!
I tend to shudder when anyone says the words “government hospital”, and for good reason. This hospital was pretty okay though, aside from being full of sick people. Ew. I arrived there at about ten to 9. I knew Mary, my TaLK teacher, had said she would be there at 9, but I decided to go up to the clinic in the meantime to meet Sylvia and her co-teacher. I was about to get into the lift when I realised I didn’t know which floor the clinic was on – and have I mentioned that everything is in Korean? So I returned to wandering around the reception area until the lady at the front desk hurried over with a note from Sylvia. She’d obviously been told to look for a lost-looking foreigner. The note gave me the floor number, so I went back to the lift and waited. The doors opened and Mary stepped out – she was there early and had come looking for me. We went up to the Foreigner’s Clinic together.
Well, they call it a Foreigner’s Clinic, but no-one really speaks English there. Mary and the other co-teacher were on-hand to translate the necessary forms, which of course were all in Korean. We went through to the other side to undergo the required humiliations.
First up was peeing in a cup, for the drugs test. Now when you haven’t had anything to drink in over 12 hours, this is a little bit challenging. “Good thing I didn’t pee this morning, ” I said cheerfully. “But I did!” wailed Sylvia from the next cubicle. Oops.
Then we had blood drawn – never fun. Next we had to be measured, weighed, and have our eyesite and hearing tested, all of which I’d been expected, so you can understand my confusion when the nurse took a measuring tape out of her pocket. “We measure chest!” she said. I stared at her. “But why?” I asked, feeling as I said it that I would never understand why on Earth the Korean government wanted the dimensions of my breasts. She didn’t answer but slipped the tape around me and took a reading. (Never mind the fact that I was wearing about four layers of clothing, but anyway.) Really. You just can’t make this stuff up.
When we’d both been measured in just about every way possible, we were sent to change into gowns for the x-ray (and EKG, as I later discovered. Pleasant surprise). The changeroom was tiny, with a full view to the waiting area whenever anyone opened the door (which was often). We asked the nurse several times if we had to take everything off. “Yes,” she answered, emphasising “Top!” and “no underwear”. So, we stripped. Complaining bitterly under my breath, I was the first to be ready. Glaring at everyone, I shuffled awkwardly out of the changeroom, clutching the knee-length robe around me, white legs and bare feet on show for the world.
Mary gaped at me. “You can keep your shoes on!” she said. My shoes happened to be knee-length faux-suede boots. Bizarre mental image. A shocked nurse hurried over and ushered my swiftly back into the changeroom. Turns out we only had to be half-naked and could keep our pants on. Lost in translation. Lost.
Bring on the junk food
After the EKG and the x-ray, both painless, we were free to leave and collect our results on Thursday. We were both starving, and Mary was too, so after securing T-money cards (like London’s Oyster card, but you can use it for public telephones too) we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. “Are you sure you don’t mind? We can go somewhere else if you like,” Mary said anxiously. I just looked at her and shook my head repeatedly. After not eating for over 12 hours, no chicken in days and with an intense desire to eat something familiar, there was no way I was going to say no to good old Mickey D’s.
It did not disappoint. I savoured the first fry, letting the warm saltiness of the fried potato slowly dissolve on my tongue. Then I ate another, then two at a time, then several, until the medium serving was finished. Heaven. Did you know you can order McDonald’s to be delivered to your place of residence? True story. Although I’d rather walk there myself – at least you have the exercise as a justification. (Please, no judgies. Thanks.) We then hailed a taxi which dropped Sylvia at her school (which is in town) and Mary and me at the bus stop to wait for the only bus that goes to the rural areas. Alas the stop is a good 25-minute walk from my flat. Oh well. I’m going to develop calves of steel, that is all.
It’s about a half-hour bus ride to get to my Monday-Wednesday-Friday school (hereafter to referred to as the MWF school), although I won’t often take the bus as there are teachers who live near me and who have agreed to give me lifts. There are no trains on Jeju (which makes me incredibly sad; I love trains) so the bus is the primary source of public transport. We sat in the front on the right (ie not behind the driver) so I had a great view. It’s so nice to see the sea!
At a couple of stops I noticed people not boarding the bus, but instead handing the bus driver a ticket and retrieving a parcel from the luggage hold. Mary explained that this happens quite often; transporting items for a small fee is not strictly legal but it’s convenient for people and a way for bus drivers to earn a bit of extra money on the side.
The Gwaggeum school (MWF) is not large, but it’s very nice. They’re very proud of the fact that they have “real grass” (as opposed to astroturf) outside. It was lunch time when we arrived so we went straight to the cafeteria, stopping to disinfect our hands (no jokes) via a small wall-mounted disinfectant-spraying-machine by the door.
The school deducts money from your salary for cafeteria meals – you have to specifically tell them ahead of time (like a month in advance) if you won’t be eating the food, and then they won’t, but I see it as a way to try different Korean foods, even if it is made in a cafeteria. Also, I am extremely lazy and this saves me both time and effort. The last ESL teacher, Mary explained, used to check the menu, which they post in the cafeteria, and then decide if she wanted to eat the food that week or not. As we joined the line for trays and cutlery, Mary gestured to the wall. “There’s this week’s menu,” she said. I glanced at it, then Looked at her. Naturally, it was all in Korean. She seemed to realise this at the same time, and gave me a “Oops, my bad” look in return.
I don’t remember the food we had that day, but I don’t think it was bad at all. There’s always broth and rice, at least, which is edible. (I’m going to get so skinny on this broth and rice diet, never mind the walking…! Haha. I kid. Mostly.) We sat at the centre table with the rest of the teachers. Obviously, everyone was staring, kids and staff alike. I heard one teacher say something about “soju” to another, so I looked at Mary enquiringly. “They’re saying, ‘She can drink soju,'” she explained. Ha. Great. That’s me!
After lunch Mary showed me to my classroom, the only upstairs one, although sadly next door to the offices of the principal, vice-principal and head teacher. It’s very nice – quite spacious, lots of resources, and one of the largest flat screen televisions I’ve ever seen. Mary uses the classroom in the afternoons for the TaLK lessons, so I don’t have access to the computer then, which is a little sad.
Mary left soon after and I was called down to the grade 6 English lesson. Grade 6 is the only class I don’t lead; I’m just there to assist Charles (the head English teacher) with whatever he needs. Because it’s such a small school, the classes are quite small, which is great. The kids are also very well-behaved. It was good to sit in on a class, seeing as I have absolutely zero teaching experience. The former ESL teacher had told me that Charles is an excellent teacher and that I would be able to pick up techniques from him, so I watched closely. There’s a lot of parroting, and a lot of questions and answers. Fortunately the kids are enthusiastic and responsive. Charles has them well-trained!
After the class I returned to the English room where I availed myself of the internet facilities and waited for Mary to come back. There was no sign of her and first and second graders began to pour into the room. One cute little girl ran up to me and shouted in my face, “What’s your name?!” Eek! I answered her and asked her her name. She stared at me and then said “Toy story!” “Er, no, no Toy Story now,” I began feebly, and then Mary arrived to take charge.
Her classes were also good. I was very glad to be able to just observe for a week before attempting to teach. Although, it turned out, actually doing is the best kind of learning…
Food time (again)
I got a lift home with the aftercare teacher, one of the few who leaves at 5pm. She dropped me off by the Lotte Mart and I hurried to the flat to drop off some of my stuff, then set off for Sylvia’s motel. I bravely decided to walk, but started to rethink this move when I found myself wandering around the suburbs with the sun setting. I hailed a cab – and could’ve kicked myself when I realised how close I’d been! Basically if I’d carried on straight and turned right I would’ve been in familiar territory, sigh.
Because Sylvia was stuck in the motel until Wednesday, and couldn’t cook in her room (obviously), we would be eating out Monday and Tuesday nights. We decided to try the pork barbecue place opposite the motel – and what a good decision that was.
Each table has a brazier in the middle and a smoke-suction-chimney thing above it. When you order your raw meat (from a picture on the wall, fortunately, so we both a) knew what we were getting and b) didn’t have to attempt to communicate our order, we just pointed) they bring you a pan full of hot coals and a grill. Being Korea, you also get a stack of (often bizarre) side dishes (banchan), at no extra charge. Among the banchan tonight was a weird round green vegetable, the texture of apples but tasting of sweet onion, and a runny, watery egg-cake type thing which tasted good but looked disgusting. There was also onion and garlic, which we added to our Korean braai, and mushrooms with our bacon rashers. All round an excellent meal.
After dinner we made our way to the coffee shop Sylvia had discovered the night before: Caffe Ti-amo. It’s pretty much the perfect coffee shop. Lots of couches, strummy indie music playing, Christmas lights twinkling everywhere (and Christmas decorations which, I admit, is a little odd), delicious coffee and, best of all, two computers with free internet. We enjoyed our coffee and surfed happily for a while.
After returning Sylvia to her motel I walked home, and even though it was 11pm, it was so safe. There were loads of people around and where I was walking was very well-lit. I did not once feel threatened or unsafe. It was awesome.
Again, I was plagued by insomnia, and only managed to sleep around 2am. Given that I’d only had about three hours of sleep the night before, the inevitable happened…