Before I begin, let me tell you a sad story about a girl and her laptop. Now this girl, ever since she could remember, loved to procrastinate. There always seemed to be something better to do than what she had to do, and there was always tomorrow. But while this girl was living overseas and blogging about her experiences, she realised that she needed to step up the pace of her blogs, so one weekend she wrote two posts in one day. She delayed the publication of the second post until mid-week, and it remained on the hard drive of her laptop. Then came a sad convergence of a full mug of tea and her keyboard. While the laptop is mostly fine, the non-functioning of half the keys made it impossible for her to retrieve the blog post from her user account (she couldn’t enter the password, you see). And time has passed and her laptop is still not fixed, but she realised another blog post is sadly overdue and so she resigned herself to writing it out again.
Here you go.
Crisis in Korea: round two
Homes and places like restaurants in Korea are heated by ondol, underfloor heating powered by hot water running through pipes. After two days and two nights of a sauna-like , I realised there was a strong possibility that my control unit was broken. Even though I switched it off every morning (the whole thing is in Korean, of course, but the symbol for power is universal), it remained on, to my increasing frustration and disturbing visions of a huge bill. That Friday morning I dealt with the situation by turning off all the switches on the electricity mains board in turn until I found the two that were neither the plugs nor the lights (it’s all in Korean, naturally). I’d had another foreigner over the previous night (she was going back to the States and I’d bought a load of stuff she was leaving behind) and she had confirmed that I was not in fact losing my mind and the heating control unit was not working properly. At school I emailed the EPIK (the programme that is technically my employer) housing guy about the problem and waited patiently for his response. As it was also within 15 days of my moving in, they were still responsible for dealing with any maintenance issues that arose.
Hey, I’m teaching here
On the way to school the teacher I get a lift with in the mornings asked if I wanted to see “beautiful street”. Of course I agreed, and she took me on a lovely detour to school, through countryside roads lined with pale-pink cherry blossom tress. It was wonderful, and so kind of her to think that I’d enjoy seeing it.
When I got to school I noticed a nametag on my desk. Me being me, I decided that I was not going to wear it until someone expressly told me I had to (possibly a hangover from five years of being forced to wear a namebadge) and besides, it identified me as “assistant EPIK native teacher” which I found a little insulting, seeing as I plan and teach nearly all my classes by my damn self – assisting nobody! Anyway. Clearly a terminology and protocol issue.
So when, throughout the morning, I had men in suits wandering in and out of my classroom while I was teaching, I wondered about it but did not connect the two (again, me being me) until the TaLK teacher arrived in the afternoon and told me the nametags were very important and we all had to wear them to identify ourselves as teachers (which raises another question: I am the only waygookin (foreigner) in the whole school; who the heck else could I be?!) and it was particularly important that day because people from the Department of Education would be visiting us. Oh. Well, that would explain the men in suits, then.
I again got to leave school early that day as I was meeting Sylvia and we were going through to pick up our ARCs together, and so split the taxi fare. Upon our return we dined on McDonald’s (hey, until you’ve been stuck in a completely foreign country where they don’t speak English at all or eat any food you recognise, don’t judge us) and then parted, making plans to meet the following day for the Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival.
On Saturday morning I set out on the epic journey of Trying to Find a Public Phone (seriously, Frodo’s trip to Mordor had nothing on this. I’m joking. Mine had fewer orcs) and on the way I had to fend off a crowd of determined Jehovah’s Witnesses. These people! They’re inescapable! From Cape Town to Korea! Nowhere is safe! I eventually found one and put through a call to the EPIK housing guy…which went unanswered. Such is Life. At least switching off the power at the mains had succeeded in turning the heat off, so I was no longer living in a sauna, so I didn’t mind leaving it until Monday.
Around lunchtime I waited for Sylvia at the bus stop, munching on a sandwich from Family Mart (the Korean equivalent of garage convenience stores), much to the fascination of two people watching me from a nearby bus. The staring got so bad I eventually raised my hands and shrugged at them, like “What?” OMG! A foreigner! Eating a sandwich! At the bus stop! Get your cameras! Sigh.
Wait, where are all the cherry blossoms?
The Cherry Blossom Festival was…interesting. Not so many cherry blossoms, but loads of canola plants (the ones with the yellow flowers), people, and food stalls. We wandered around, drinking in all the strange sights and sounds and smells. Koreans like deep-fried sausages (chipolatas, essentially) as snacks, and there were all sorts of variations on that theme. They also had bugs, sea creatures, all types of seafood, and even a pig’s head or two. There were people selling appliances, educational materials, toys and balloons. We also came across a few old women doing fortune telling.
After walking around the entire fairground we found a stage with various performances. We listened to some fantastic traditional Korean singing, some less fantastic no-so-traditional singing, some bizarre acrobatics, some traditional drumming, a water-pots dance, a clothes-changing dance (very cool) and my personal favourite, a display of synchronized marching and gun twirling. (You know, while you’re waiting for your crazy northern neighbour to attack, you have to do something to keep yourself busy.)
After a while we walked up to a small hill overlooking the fairground, and relaxed there while we debated what to do with the rest of the afternoon. We could see the sea, a blue line on the horizon, and because we really did not have anything better to do…we walked there.
THIS was more like walking to Mordor
It took us about two and a half hours to get there, but it was a worthwhile and very enjoyable experience. We found a street of cherry blossoms below the fairground and took photos. We used the internet and got take-away Lavazza coffee at possibly the smallest coffeeshop on the island:L it’s probably the size of my laundry at home. We discovered the underground shopping centre and took a detour through it. We found a canal with a beautiful walkway and a Chinese ship museum at the end of it. We eventually reached a harbour wall and walked out in the gathering dusk until we reached the very end, where we sat and watched the airplanes land and the ferries come in.
We took a taxi to the City Hall area where we were meeting people later that night and found a wonderful pasta restaurant where we had supper. It was called “Pasta&” which I found a little strange, but the food was so amazing I soon forgot about the name and devoted all my attention to what I was eating. We both ordered the spag bol which was covered in that most amazing and much-missed item of Western food, cheese; and came with a slice of garlic bread. We ate in silence, savouring every mouthful and practically licking our bowls at the end.
After grabbing coffee and internet at a nearby coffee place (Coffee People, slogan “Good Coffee Smile” and logo suspiciously resembling that of Starbucks) we met up with some friends of Sylvia’s from her building at a dance club/ DJ bar called the Factory. Populated almost entirely by foreigners and staffed by Koreans, with crazy free drinks specials that ended just before we got there, it was … interesting. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The Sunday I spent lazing around my flat and doing a bit of shopping (continuing the hunt for the elusive rubbish bags) and lesson planning. My third week in Korea was about to begin…