Monday, April 2, 2012

Email home #1

Here is the first email I sent home. Interesting to see how things have changed in just a month...

Hi friends and family

 From the beginning I must apologise for sending a general message, and please know that it isn't because I don't think you're all special enough to get a personalised email, it's just that for this first general update, I didn't have time to email everyone seperately haha. Also, forgive any spelling mistakes...these Korean computers don't like to correct English ;) I also couldn't find some email adresses so feel free to pass on! 

So, let me tell you allllll about this weird and wonderful rice land I am now living in. Firstly, there is no logic here and as a foreigner, it's even more scary. We seem to go through red lights, drive on the wrong side of the road and eat things that I never imagined.But let me get there :) 

Orientation was amazing. We were kept busy in clases from 9 to 9 every day, with a curfew of 10.30, meaning we had very little time to explore the surrounding area. But we did venture out now and then, including a (few) trips to the local 'pubs' and twice into Daejeon proper, where I felt like I was in a movie with all the lights and music and shops. The people are so friendly. The EPIK staff were so well prepared, and they really gave us more than we could've asked for. I was surrounded by people from all over the world which was amazing, and English was spoken so we felt secure. I have learned how to hail cabs and ignore stares - man but they stare at you like you are an alien. So although we were constantly tired, I loved it. I was sung to in Korean for my birthday which was very special, and we went out and drank some beer and soju (a sweeter, lighter vodka type drink which is dangerously cheap) as those are the only affordable things when drinking out. A coke is 4 times the price of a BOTTLE of soju haha. I've met some really great people from all over: America, the UK, Korea and Australia. Lots of South Africans too which is great! Nothing like an Afrikaans accent to make you feel at home. But the bubble didn't last and on Tuesday, we were whisked away to meet co-teachers and see our new cities.

I have been placed in Jecheon (jeh-john kinda sounding), the smallest city in the Chungbuk Province, famous for their lake and mountains. I am teaching at 2 elementary schools - HwaDang is my main school and I haven't found out anything about the second one yet. I'm quickly learning that Koreans are as bad as South Africans when it comes to organisation - going to have to think on my feet, be flexible and expect the unexpected this year. So to cut a long story short, I was dropped in my apartment without having met my co-teacher, been told ANYTHING about the place or where I actually was. Needless to say I had a total freak out and wanted to be on the next plane home. Welcome challenge one. Thank heavens for my cell phone. You cannot just call me, and I can't call home without a call card. So if you all invest in one, you'll be able to call me, that's other than Skype of course. I have whatsapp though so whoevers numbers I had I added you, so chat me up yo haha. I know I haven't had time to add everyone so if I'm not there - add me! So with that, my dad and Jin could both call me that dreadful day and make me feel a lot better. I have finally been able to find an adapter for my laptop, so as soon as I can figure out the internet, we can skype. Yay! 

So lemme tell you about my room (please note that I might sound very sorry for myself, and I did get the shortest end of the dam stick, but this too shall pass and take what I say in a lighter tone). So I will be living in a groundfloor 'apartment' very close to downtown (aka shopping and food central) Jecheon. I can walk to the main bus terminal in 2 minutes and have started to figure out my way around town to avoid awkward, hand- gesture-hoping-i-get-to-the-right-place-taxi-rides. So those are good things - I really am central. My room is just that - a small room with a section dedicated to the kitchen, the fridge pretty much next to my bed, a little desk with my only window (looking into the ugly street) some cupboards and plastic drawers. Then my bathroom. I have to laugh, else I will cry. It is tiny and contains a washing machine, a toilet, and a shower thing that I need to hold up myself and wet myself with when I shower. No basin. Hard to picture? I brush my teeth in the kitchen sink. Koreans also don't believe in seperated toilets and showers so when I shower, my whole bathroom gets wet. When I wash clothes, the dirty water is released straight onto the floor. So everytime I go into my bathroom, my feet get wet. My whole lower body gets wet when I try wash my face. I make it sound terrible, and it is going to take some adjusting to, but I'll get there. My fridge's thermostat kept me awake the whole first night but getting used to that now! I plan on using my room as a sleeping area only, traveling lots so it's not the end of he world, just feel sad when I hear and see the other people's beautiful apartments with separate rooms and couches!!!! But I have hot water, an aircon and underfloor heating so I am happy about that! Plus, there is a rumour that I might not pay utility bills, because they realise I have a crap apartment haha. 

I've met some cool people in the area; there are lots of saffas and they were all super stoked to meet me and are really very warm and helpful. Found a few right up the road from me so I no longer feel so isolated. The Korean people are also very friendly, but they do stare; the men spit horrifically; and the language barrier is very difficult. We were taught some survival Korean which has been slightly helpful (I went blank when I met the staff though, idiot) and I'm sure it won't be long before I pick up some more. Like "I don't speak Korean" "How much is that" and "Help". The school is lovely, and the teachers all very sweet but none (including my co teacher) speak much English. The one teacher who does is very helpful, but am still in the dark about a lot because of my co teacher - not only is her English average, she is also new to the school. But she smiles a lot and seems lovely. I am what they call 'desk-warming' today, but was introduced to the children and staff and new parents, and am constantly trying to help them say my name. I have accepted the fact that I will be 'Brownie" from here on out haha. The kids either need to touch me or avoid making eye contact in case I ask them to speak - and I'm pretty sure my pink socks and Western appearance got some stares. All the Koreans dress alike, there is no individuality here. The school is tiny (about 40 students from grades 1 through 6) so my classes will be small and intimate. There was an opening ceremony today, so there are balloons in the shapes of flowers EVERYWHERE. Brings me to another point. Everything in Korea is cute. They use little animation characters for everything, it is very sweet but quite bizarre too. Natually I love it. 

I'm learning to nod my head and smile a lot, bow, receive and accept things with both hands and accept the fact that around school, I will never understand anything haha. We are going for dinner tonight as a welcoming,and apparently I must be ready for soju shots with my Principle and VP lol. Interesting culture this. The night life is great, plenty of bars and restaurants and am really looking forward to experiencing the other cities. I have friends all over now, so will be traveling a lot. Thinking of going to Chonju tomorrow for a night - should be fun. I am about 2 hours from Jodie and Nats...I might as well have come on my own the way it's worked out but I do look forward to seeing them in Daejeon soon! 

The food is generally good. No, we are not eating dog. Lunch at school was VERY spicey but nice. I'm getting over the rice, can't believe it, but in general their food is very tastey. But...yesterday in town we walked past a few stalls selling fish, and I struggled not to throw up. There was every kind of fish under the sun; skinned, chopped, whole, inside out, insides for sale, alive. My goodness but that I struggle with. It isn't everywhere, but there's something, uhm, unique, about walking through your local supermarket passed giant crabs trying to escape their tanks. I thought you only saw those at the zoo. The weather has been mild, but today is rainy and freezing. Chungbuk is generally colder than the other provinves and here was some snow when I arrived, but spring is on the way. My schools are in beautiful areas and when the apple trees begin to blossom, expect lots of amazing photos. 

So in general, I am settling in well and adjusting to my new life here. I am missing home and everyone immensely, but I know the pain eases with time. This country is amazing - filled with all sorts to entice the senses and I can't wait to go for my first hike, my first sight seeing tour or temple stay over. I'm happy I've been able to sit and give you all an update, even if you didn't want one quite so comprehensive haha. I am surving and am very excited to actually meet my kids and start teaching.  

Sending lots of love to you all and look forward to regular Sypke dates, and getting mails back with all your news (yes I expect replies people haha).  

All my love, Bronnin, Brownie, Bron or Bronwyn-song-saen-nim

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