Tomorrow will be our three-week anniversary of Life in Korea. Mainly, I’ll be able to celebrate how I am less of an idiot now than I was before I left.
Why, for example, did I pack five bottles of contact solution, four bottles of face wash and a jumbo bottle of conditioner. What, do I think Koreans live in the gutter? Was I preparing to be stranded in the middle of the Congo? All it got me was a neon orange ‘HEAVY’ tag on my luggage. That, and deep pangs of regret for having substituted basic toiletries for a stack of English-language books. Although I could open a pharmacy, all I have to read is ‘Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven’ (which has already been read once) and Jared’s copy of ‘Ulysses’ that neither of us has managed to make a dent in.
Fortunately, today apartment 102 was inducted into the 21st century. We can now join the rest of the Koreans with our own cable TV and internet service. I shouldn’t have doubted the wisdom of getting a cable TV package, either. There are a minimum of four English movie channels, one of which is currently set to Harry Potter 3. Harry and his posse are truly unavoidable.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Of course we’re not here to watch movies and surf the web. We are here to do what we have been doing for nearly two weeks now: help teach English at Yeongwol Elementary School.
Much to our initial shock (and, okay, concern), Jared and I were placed in the same school. It is the largest elementary school in Yeongwol, the main town in the region of -surprise- Yeongwol. There are approximately 1,000 students, ranging from 1st to 6th graders. Our principal himself is a Yeongwol alumni, having graduated at least 60 years ago. He is a charming man who always shows great concern about our eating habits, seemingly convinced that we don’t like kimchi or rice.
His concerns are valid, as it would be exceedingly difficult to function in social situations if you shunned both kimchi and rice. One of the first things we did was to buy a 20kg bag of rice, our rationalization being that if we ran out of money before our first paycheck, at least we wouldn’t go hungry. We knew it would be at least a month before our first salary, so we were expecting to budget for a few weeks.
Little did we know, our school (specifically, our department’s office) magically generates a smorgasbord of food every afternoon at 4:30PM. According to a colleague, every time a teacher wears new clothes, the head teacher notices and buys corn dogs. For everyone on staff. In two weeks, we’ve had corn dogs twice. There have also been three varieties of rice cakes (sticky, not crunchy), home made yogurt, crackers, cabbage pancakes and a selection of pig parts. Today, there was a plate heaped with meats, surrounded by sauces and salt, so I stuck my chopsticks into the most innocuous-looking pile. Luckily for me, I had hooked into the longest pig tail in the universe.
What else can you do? I ate it. Rubbery, but predictably pig-like.
Besides the surplus of food we have encountered, our generous school has provided us with so much. The school didn’t get the information that we were a couple, so they arranged two different apartments in the same complex. My 11th-floor apartment had a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains and a desktop computer, but no couch or air conditioning. Jared’s 1st floor apartment had no double burner, but it has A/C, couch and easy access to the corner shop, as well as being significantly cleaner. We are now set up downstairs, and the school gave us a double bed, double burner and rice cooker, all of which arrived by the end of the first week.
Since our transition has been relatively seamless, we have lots of time to explore Yeongwol and its surroundings. Yeongwol boasts no less than twenty museums, including a Literary Museum, Photography Museum, Teddy Bear Museum and Insect Museum. But we don’t need to go to the Insect Museum because we see awesome butterflies like this right outside our front door:
You can’t really tell in the picture, but it is gigantic. At least the size of a hummingbird, it is the goliath of butterflies.
There is also an ancient tomb (Jangneung) in town, along with endless mountain trails everywhere you turn. I have literally never seen so many mountains in my life. (But keep in mind, I come from Indiana.)
My 29th birthday was last Friday. Jared and I went to Wonju (the ‘big’ city) to submit applications for our alien registration cards. A teacher from our department drove us there and took us for ice cream in the mountains afterwards. Heaven.
My co-teacher had even dropped by the night before with a birthday cake, which we ate later that evening. It was supreme. Some kind of raspberry filling and chocolate cake, topped with glazed fruit. The fruit included a kiwi, grape, cherry, mandarin, pineapple and, the finishing touch to any birthday cake, a tomato.
During orientation we learned to expect the ‘Honeymoon phase,’ a euphoric feeling about everything Korea. We are both firmly set in the honeymoon phase – everything is exciting and stimulating. Even the difficult times feel like a welcome challenge. Even if this phase passes in the predicted 3 months, I already know I’ll be smarter and more capable than I was before I arrived. And even if things get hard, I’ll still have saline solution and an economy bottle of conditioner.