13 August 2008

All the Things I Wasn't Worried About

I have been here long enough to get a handle on most things here (no pun intended) and I think it is time to revisit the post I wrote prior to leaving where I attempted to foresee what would be the most difficult parts of my adjustment.

  • Banking. I have had a pretty easy time with this, although I haven't tried to send any money home yet (sorry mom). There are a couple of people at the bank branch who speak passable English and I have been able to access money here pretty easily. I have had some trouble getting money from home when I needed it but the one real emergency I had was solved using of all things my checkbook. I wrote a check to a coworker and he cashed it and it went through (about two weeks later) at the current exchange rate. I don't think there was a fee on either end. There are two major international banks here and I think I will end up opening an account at one of them. This might be the easiest way to move money back home.
  • Shopping: I have found most of the clothing I needed at the larger shopping centers like Megamart. They had shoes my size and I even found a set of sheets. It is possible to find anything if you don't mind looking. The best shopping moment I had was finding the 220 battery charger in Yeosu. I was walking around aimlessly looking for anything resembling an electronics shop and I eventually came upon a tiny shop with alarm clocks and odd looking batteries in the window. I showed the proprietor where it said 110 on my charger and he scratched his chin and started going through the hundreds of tiny boxes lining the shelves of his shop. After about two minutes he came up with my charger. I gave him a hug which is not cool but I think he understood my drift.
  • Transportation: I had conjectured that it would be best to buy a scooter and I still thought so when I got here but we all know how that turned out. I still don't miss it (it got stolen the first week I owned it after I left the keys in it at work if you are just joining us). Public transportation is incredible here. The subways here are unbelievable and even with my rudimentary Korean I am starting to understand the bus routes. It is cheaper in many cases to take a taxi than either the buses or the subway in many cases. They must be subsidized is the only thing I can think of to explain how ridiculously cheap they are. The buses come about every two minutes and I have never waited more than I couple of minutes for a taxi. In addition, there are buses and trains going everywhere in the country in half-hour or one-hour intervals. I went all the way across the southern part of the country by bus last week for about 25000won ($30) last week on vacation. Round trip. I have a train ticket for Deagu tomorrow night (as far as Springfield/St. Louis) and it cost 10800.
  • Food: This has probably been the roughest. I have been unable to find the things I need to make some pretty basic stuff. For an Irish kid prepared to live on potatoes if necessary $7 a pound butter is a low blow. On the other hand, pork and seafood are very inexpensive and the stores stock lots of cool stuff like fresh take-home sushi. Every day I find something new I like and the menus at restaurant are becoming intelligable. I have started to like very basic rice dishes a lot. Korean food is extremely spicy. I went out and had kimchi bukkombap (fried rice with kimchi) and it was hot and all the sides were hot but I have been able to handle pretty much everything. The only thing that has bothered me is the noodle soup, like ramen but better. It is HOT. It will give me a little gurgly gut. Everything else has been ok. It is not a matter of finding things I liked back home anymore because there isn't any. It is a matter of finding things I like here. And I have found a lot. If I get desperate for a taste of home there is always the McDonalds, which is better than home because they still use saturated fats. Yummy.

  • Teaching: The first month was a bitch. I didn't get the material, I didn't know how to deal with the kids, and I didn't really understand what was expected of me. Now I have a complete lesson plan for all of my classes and I have come to terms with the potential of the materials (which was actually much better than I thought), and I have a handle on the expectations. I came into this with a lecturer's mindset. That didn't work. However, keeping the kids engaged helps me stay engaged and I am finding that I am often surprised by the bell now. At first the days drug on horribly. Now I have more to do than I have time to do it for most classes. I would advise incoming teachers to plan to weather the storm for the first month. After that you will hit your stride.
  • Packing: I brought pretty much everything I need. I would like to have a couple more short sleeved collared shirts, especially since I ruined one. My best purchase was my convertable pants/shorts. I am also happy that I brought a feather pillow. I don't know what they do with the feathers here but they ain't putting them in the pillows. My pack is great and my slicker has come in handy. I am pretty good in the clothes department and as I said above, there is more out there if I need it.
  • Accomodations: I like my apartment. It is small but plenty roomy enough for me and a guest. I have pretty much left the AC on arctic all the time and my first electric bill was only 47000 so it is a pretty efficient place. The matress is like a rock (not surprising since most Koreans sleep on the floor) but I am getting used to it. I haven't done much cooking, but when I do the kitchen functions well. The hand shower is a lot better than I thought it would be, and saves a lot of water. Wet down, lather, rinse. Nice. There are nicer places...I could have an apartment with an ocean view on the 50th floor of a highrise. But I guess I am blessed by not knowing the difference. If I want to see the ocean all I have to do is take a ten minute ride on the subway.

All told I am pretty content. Like I said, there have been some rough spots. But I read before I left that the most important thing is to maintain an open mind and a positive outlook. Every time I walk out my door I am instantly on an adventure. This city is the best. Everyone I have talked to who is teaching elsewhere tells me: Busan is the greatest. Climate, culture, clubs, outdoors, touring, food, people...everything the best. I am so lucky.