Hey everyone! It has been a while since I've gotten to sit down and write a post about Korea. If you've followed my progress, you probably know that I'm here in Korea now, going on almost two weeks! I just got the internet set up in my apartment on Monday, so now I have more access to email, Facebook, etc. Which means now I can get in touch with everyone so much easier!
Things are going well here so far. The trip over here was long, and tiring, but it is good to finally be here. Culture shock hasn't been too bad yet, besides missing some key things that aren't served here...Bojangles and sweet tea, anyone? But supposedly I can remedy the second problem by buying Lipton tea bags at the foreigner store here in Gwangju. So I won't have to miss sweet tea for too long! I'm enjoying the food I've tried thus far, haven't had anything too wild--aside from a bit of octopus in my salad the first week. I'm sure there is more to come later, though, so I will let you know what other culinary adventures I take.
My favorite thing to eat here so far is mandu, which is a dumpling that's boiled, steamed, or fried. It can be filled with anything from kimchi to pork and green onions. And kimchi isn't really that bad, despite what I had heard about it. Also, dog is not as widely available on the menu. It is only served at a few specialty restaurants in Korea, and even then, you have to request it. So it's not like you would unwittingly eat it. Plus, I could never do that!
Right now I'm trying out my gas stove, making mushroom cream soup. It's an experiment in cooking on foreign technology for me, as I'm used to a non-gas stove at home. I'm also listening to the sound of the washer spinning my clothes and hoping that they're getting clean enough. (Everything on the washer is written in Korean, so it's hard to figure out how to operate the machine.) There are no dryers here, so once it's finished running the cycle, I have to hang my clothes on my drying rack. That's just how it works here. I think I might come to miss the convenience of a dryer real soon.
This past weekend I had my first going out in Korea experience. Ivana, Amber, and Mariam (the female foreign teachers at my school) went downtown to Chungjangno. This is one of the shopping areas of Gwangju, and has a lot of stores to choose from. This includes a ton of American brands, like Adidas, New Balance, Converse, The Body Shop, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, Crocodile...the list goes on. There are plenty of American restaurants there too, along with the local specialties. Our destination? Mike & Dave's Speakeasy, a foreigner bar. They serve import beers as well as mixed drinks, but you'll pay a little more for those than you would the local brews. And no, I didn't try soju. (It's a potent Korean liquor made from sweet potatoes.) The crowd wasn't terribly big on Friday night, but when we went back the next night to listen to the band Faded Seoul, it was packed full of foreigners and Koreans alike. It kind of reminded me of parties and going clubbing back home, so it made me a little homesick for my friends! The nightlife here ends a lot later than back home, as Korea is a very night-oriented country. The bar didn't close until 5 a.m., at which point you can hail a taxi home (only a few bucks no matter where in town you go!). Or you can partake in some "street meat," which comes from a street vendor. I tried a sausage the other night on our way out of downtown; it reminded me of kielbasa. Very tasty.
This past Sunday I went out on my own and did some exploring downtown and in my neighborhood (called a dong). I managed to navigate the bus system just fine (the number 56 gets me downtown and back), without too much hassle. Of course, everywhere I go here, everyone looks at me since I am a blond American foreigner. (I've heard a thing about how blond foreigners are considered prostitutes, not sure if that is entirely true...)
North Carolinians will appreciate this next sentence: I found a Krispy Kreme store downtown! A real Krispy Kreme in Gwangju, South Korea. Words cannot describe my awe at finding it this past weekend; I actually stopped in my tracks when I saw it and my companions were like, "what?" Of course, none of them have ever lived in the South, so they don't recognize the awesomeness of Krispy Kreme. Dunkin Donuts is the mainstay here for everyone. I went to KK on Sunday, ordered a coffee and a doughnut, and enjoyed a little taste of home goodness. (And yes, it does taste just as good as it does at home.)
One of the great things about my neighborhood is that there is a university nearby, Chonam University. It's a gorgeous campus, and has an English library that I eventually will get a card for to check out books. And on the other side of the university from my neighborhood is the main drag of campus, which reminds me a lot of Franklin Street at UNC. Just all in Korean, lol. I haven't explored it too closely, but look forward to it when I have more time, maybe this coming weekend. There is some sort of St. Patty's party going on at the Speakeasy that the girls and I might go to on Saturday, otherwise I'm not sure yet of what I'll do. One of the things that I like about living here is how you can get around town cheaply, it's just a matter of knowing where you want to go and reading Hangul script.
As for teaching, that is going well, also. The first few days were rough, after Geoff left and I took on the classes by myself. This was unfortunately the same time that the new series of classes started at the school, so that was craziness. My kindergarten classes are cute, but it's hard to work with them when they know very little English. Communication is definitely difficult. My older kids are easier to understand, but some of them are troublemakers and drive me nuts. And I mean nuts to the point that even strict discipline doesn't seem to help. I really can't do much with the troublemakers beyond telling Peter (our head teacher) about it and having him deal with the kids. It used to be that students were afraid to even step on a teacher's shadow, but now it appears that they are much more spoiled (that's according to Peter).
I realize that this is probably pretty long, but I just wanted to write about some of the things I'd experienced in the past week. I hope that everybody who reads this will enjoy it though.