Once upon a time (in 2002), I took a year long teaching job in Korea. I packed up my 9 yr son, his little white cat and 4 huge bags of "stuff" and we got on a plane and flew from Washington state to South Korea. We lived there for a year, came home for Xmas and then my son stayed in the states for 8 weeks while I flew back over the big pond to finish my contract(the first time I've ever been away from him for more than 2 wks). We lived in a small town, with no native English speakers, no familiar food, and no real clue of what we were going to do. It was a great adventure!
I wrote long, sometimes boring, letters home. These are them, unedited except for the removal of the whining and begging to my parents to please send this or that. You can click on the pictures to enlarge.
Andrew and I are settled into our new home in the tiny town of Munmak (also spelled Moonmuk). The population of the town is about 20,000 and we are the only foreigners that we've seen, though rumor has it that there is another native English speaker who recently moved here. We are trying to scout her out, but no luck yet.
Our apartment is not as tiny as I thought it was. We were provided with two beds (it's a 2-bedroom apartment) and the bedding for both-Korean sheets are a quilt type blanket to cover the mattress-there are straps that hold it in place. The pillows were big oval-shaped types that look like they should be decoration and sleeping on them proved to be dangerous...so I got out my sewing kit and removed half the stuffing from each! We have a two-burner range, a microwave [actually an electric oven, which I found out the hard way], a table for two with chairs, a tv, vcr, a small couch, a wardrobe closet (in Andrews room) and a hanging stand for my clothes. We had plates, cups, silverware for two as well as some nice pans to cook i. I think we got a really great deal and we love our apartment. [most teachers have to share an apartment with another, or stay with a Korean family. They are typically responsible to buy their own house stuff].It is on the 4th floor in a 15 story apartment building. The elevator doesn't have a four - just an F, as four is an unlucky number. The heating is amazing, but there isn't much hot water-ever. I'm sure we'll get used to it eventually. We were really spoiled in the states!
Andrew and I ventured up to Seoul last week for my birthday. We took a bus there from Wonju (15 minutes from Munmark) which took almost two hours. Then we took the subway (our first time) to get to downtown Seoul, where upon climbing out of the subway system, we were greeted by riot police lining the street! It seems President Bush wanted to visit Seoul for my birthday too...
Not everyone was thrilled to see our dear President. We saw this van multiple times, or maybe multiple vans driving-the sign on the left says: USA, empire of evil. BUSH, god of war. Maybe the Korean writing says something like: Just kidding! Welcome to our country.
We hopped on a tour bus from downtown called the Seoul City Tour Bus-highly recommended if you are in Seoul for limited time and want to briefly see lots of places. It rides all around the major points in Seoul-28 in all-and you can hop on and off at any time. Buses run continuously so you can hop off and another will drive by to get you in half an hour. It was a great way to see the city without the stress of figuring out the bus routes.
We picked our main points and headed out. We visited a famous market place, Namdaemun Market, where we got to experience true bargain hunting. Andrew was great at driving prices down! We got a few deals and headed back to our bus stop. Next stop was the Korean War Memorial. We had it in sight, when we were again greeted by the ever-friendly riot police.
Yup, seems that, again, Bush was interested in visiting the same thing for my birthday! We eventually got to walk up there, but the bus wasn't allowed on the street to take us up the hill. By the time we got there, Bush was gone and the inside museum was closed. We got to see some planes and helicopters from the Korean War, however I couldn't convince Andrew they were real! There is even a little submarine there, but he kept believing that it was made out of plastic.
This is the blurriest photo in the world (did I mention I had no digital camera this entire year abroad? Ghetto).
Just outside the Korean War Memorial, we missed the large crowd with signs, but one was left behind...it reads Welcome to Korea President of the USA. It makes you wonder if they recycle this sign and use for all US presidents, they didn't even list his name. Funny.
After the brief tour of the outside, we hopped back on the bus to visit Itaewon, another famous part of Seoul. It's known for it's shopping and western restaurants. It's the place that most foreigners hang out at in the city. We treated ourselves to a Mexican dinner, though the food wasn't that great and was terribly expensive. We met a few basketball players from the states, who are famous here. We also met a secret service agent, who Andrew was excited to talk to. He asked her for Bush's autograph, but surprisingly enough, she doesn't carry them around with her! Andrew got a kick out of talking with her though and we both felt that the events of the day might be the closest we get to any president. We bargain shopped for a bit then headed to the Seoul Tower, which is one of the tallest towers in the world, but only because it sits on a mountain! It was great to see though.
At this point, we were both getting really tired so we headed to the bus terminal where we found we had missed the last bus to Wonju (our neighboring city). We then headed to the train station, where we found that the last train was sold out!! We were able to buy some tickets for "standing only", so just before midnight, we headed off to stand on the train for two hours to take us home! However, once on the train, Andrew sat in the aisle and some wonderful girls offered up one of their seats for him!! They fed us, gave us drinks and let him sit in one of their seats the whole way. They even offered me a seat, but I declined. We had a great time talking to them-Andrew taught them a useful English phrase: "pain in the butt"-and we took pictures with them before leaving. They even dug i their purses and found a couple things to offer up as birthday presents (bright orange lip gloss-but a present is a present!). What a wonderful end to our day! There is so much more to do in Seoul, so we hope to visit once a month or so. It is only about $18 transportation round trip for both of us.
Until next time...