Sunday, August 29, 2010

Coex Mall, Inception

My quest to get my medical exam yesterday was unsuccessful. When I got to the Seoul Medical Center, the lights above the information desk area were dark and it appeared as though it was closed. In the area, however, was the Coex Mall, a huge underground shopping area. It was there that I finally saw more than a few foreigners. It may sound like a bad thing, but it was a very welcome sight. I found a bookstore, and upon investigation, I found that it actually carried English language books and foreign magazines. I even found the science fiction section. Jackpot! I hung around the area for awhile, eventually going to a PC room to kill some time. After that, I went to the "Megabox Theatre" and watched Inception. It was a real treat eating theatre-style popcorn and watching a flick on the big screen. The experience was a little different from what I am used to; the seating in the theatre is assigned, and of course the pre-movie advertisements are all in Korean. I wish I could understand them, as some of them seemed quite amusing.

The movie started at 9:20pm, which meant that, by the time the movie had let out, the subway had shut down for the night. This enabled me to take a Seoul taxi for the first time. Getting a cab is fairly easy; there are designated taxi stops near the Coex Mall. The driver understood my request to be taken to "Nowon Station," the nearest subway station to my officetel. The taxi was also quite affordable. It wound up being around 20,000 won to get home (less than $20 CAN). It had been a very long day, and it was nice to get back to my room.

Today, I slept in somewhat; I didn't get out of bed until around noon. My goal for today is to check out Itaewon, a neighborhood in central Seoul known as a popular hangout for ex-pats.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Costco, and SMOE

So, last night I made a trip to Costco. It was my first time taking the subway train here in Seoul, and true to form, I got myself lost. Briefly. Eventually I got back on track, and got off at the correct stop. After walking about six blocks in the wrong direction, I got turned around by a helpful worker at a PC room, and eventually found Costco. Upon entering, I was greeted by many familiar sights. The products are very similar, and the packaging had English translations. It was a very welcome sight. The store is laid out somewhat differently, however. On the ground floor, I found electronics, clothing, bedding supplies, cleaners, pharmacy... basically everything but food. Then, once you are done with that section, you push your shopping cart onto a slanted conveyor belt and ride it down into a basement area, where all of the food is available for purchase. The checkout is very similar to western Costcos. Like Costco in Canada, Korean shoppers are limited in their payment options. The only way to pay for groceries in a Korean Costco is either cash or Samsung card. Thankfully, I changed about a thousand Canadian dollars into Korean Won at the airport, and had more than enough to cover my purchases. I bought two large towels, two pillows, and a package of toilet paper (nothing but the essentials!) Unfortunately, they didn't have a power converter or bedsheets in the size I needed. I think I may have to break down and order those on-line.

Today, I had to go to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to pick up a copy of my contract. Again, I had to navigate the subway system, this time transferring from one line to another. The subway stations are huge! I found my way to the correct station, and after wandering for a bit following signs, I found myself at SMOE. It is very hot here today, and most Koreans carry small fans around with them. I will have to try and get one for myself.

After getting my contract, I left SMOE, and turned left when I probably should have turned right. I'm very glad I did! I walked through a gate and came upon Gyeonghuigung Palace. Seoul is very much a city of contrasts. It is very modern, and very much a vibrant cosmopolitan city. Then, you turn a corner, and you are thrust back in time. The palace is a beautiful series of buildings featuring a huge courtyard, surrounded by beautiful trees right in the middle of a busy city. I took many pictures, and as soon as I am at my own computer, I will upload them.

After touring the area, I found the nearest subway station and made my way back to Nowon station, the closest terminal to my officetel (apartment). However, once I got off the train, the beautiful sunny day had turned into a deluge. After waiting for the rain to abate, I finally decided to make a run for it, and wound up going into what the Koreans call a PC room, which is basically an internet cafe, except more in the style of Fragz, for those of you familiar with that particular business. This is where I find myself now, writing this very blog post. Hopefully the rain will let up soon. Take care!

First Day at Sin-sang

Thursday, August 26th

I've just finished my first day at Sin-sang Middle School here in Seoul. The staff is extremely friendly, and was very eager to meet me. Almost as eager as the students. As I did only office work today, I didn't have much of a chance to interact with the students. Passing them in the halls, however, illustrated to me how fascinated they are with me. The students here are very respectful as well. Usually, if I made eye-contact with them in the halls, they would stop and bow formally. Needless to say, this behaviour on the part of students is very unfamiliar to me.

In order to do things such as get a cell phone or internet service, I need to get my alien registration card. To do this, I first need to have some passport-style pictures taken. They took a few hours to get done, so I took the opportunity to walk the streets in my area. The first thing you notice when you step outside here is the humidity. It has been overcast and rainy ever since I arrived, and even when it's not raining, it doesn't take long for your clothes to be in a perpetually clingy state.

On the streets, everyone is Korean, and I am immediately identifiable as an interloper. There is a big difference between the curiosity of the students at the school and the curiosity of the average person in the street. Whereas the students bowed and said hello, when I made eye-contact with passers-by, most tried their hardest to pretend they hadn't noticed me. I received a few grins and nods, but for the most part the reception was lukewarm.

My task for this evening is to take the train to Costco, where I'll buy some much-needed supplies, most notably bedsheets, towels, and a power converter. Tomorrow I will go to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to get a copy of my contract and to the Samsung Hospital to get a medical exam. Until tomorrow, I bid you a fond adieu!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cry, the Beloved Country

Monday, August 23rd, 2010: Vancouver, British Columbia

My last night in Canada. It's taking awhile for that one, simple thought to sink in.

My last night in Canada.

This one sentence is a powerful thing. Right now, it's causing me to go through a multitude of sensations: butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, quickened pulse, and more than a little shortness of breath. Am I ready for this? I mean, sure, I've done all the paperwork, I have my visa, I've signed my contract... but will I ever be truly "ready"?

My friends.

As I write this, I keep coming up with things I'll miss. My brain adds to the list constantly, making me realize what I'm giving up. Skype and Facebook are great, but they are no substitute for wing night. Or going to the movies with friends. Or Left 4 Dead at St. Joe's. Or "trekking out."


In Grande Prairie, I was so used to simply hopping into a vehicle and going wherever I wanted. I sold my car a couple of weeks ago, and I really do miss it. Not to mention road trips!


The Vinyl Cafe, Age of Persuasion, Q, As it Happens... turning on the radio in my car opened my mind to whole new worlds, allowing me to fulfill my goal of learning at least one new thing every day. All I know is I will be eternally grateful for podcasts and live internet streaming.

Having my best friend as my roommate.

We may not have kept the apartment perfectly clean, and we may not have finished watching the new Big Bang Theory episodes together, but dammit, having my best friend as my roommate was something special, and I will miss it.

Crown Royal.

Seriously. According to a friend, two-hundred dollars for a bottle of Crown Royal in Korea. Ridiculous!

There are many other things I will miss, but I suppose now is the time to look forward. New friends to go along with the old, new places to explore, new foods to eat, new things to drink, and even *shudder* K-pop. After all, Canada, this is not really goodbye, merely see you later. And until we meet again, you will go on fine without me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Great Expectations

Well, I'm on my way. As I sit in the hotel room here in Kamloops, I can't help but reflect on what I'm leaving behind. I have so many good friends in Grande Prairie and the rest of Alberta. There are so many special people who have touched my life. Friends, family, co-workers... when I try to think about everyone I care about, the list seems endless. To all of you, I can truly and honestly say that I love you, and I will miss all of you terribly.

Looking to tomorrow, we will be driving to Vancouver to visit the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea. There, I will be picking up my E-2 visa, which will allow me to work as an English teacher in South Korea. I will also be getting back my passport and my university degree, both of which I mailed to them a couple of weeks ago. It was a strange feeling, booking an overseas flight without my passport in-hand. Hopefully, everything will go well at the consulate tomorrow; I'm confident there will be no snags.

With any luck, my next posting will be from Vancouver, visa in hand and raring to go!