Monday, August 19, 2013

My First Day in Korea

So I said I’d write some more after a rest and I have some pictures and videos to share.

Honestly, the flight to Korea (13 hours 14 minutes not including the time after boarding and before leaving the plane) is not that bad.  It felt more like a 5 or 6 hour trip… definitely less than driving to Pennsylvania.  I wore my winter boots like a trooper for the first 7 hours of the flight because I just couldn’t be bothered to take them off.  I had peanuts and pretzels followed by a nice dinner of chicken with Italian herbs, dumplings, and vegetables.  I tried to sleep and got about half an hour so I decided I would watch Iron Man 3 and Life of Pi which I hadn’t yet seen – look, I was kind of productive!  I read a little about market efficiency and worked a tiny bit on research too before the mid-flight snack (banana, ham and cheese sandwich, and Milano cookies!).  Then I twiddled my thumbs for a while and finally changed into the slipper socks that Amanda got me before settling in to watch Puss in Boots.  I now realize it’s ironic that I took my boots off before watching that movie… an oversight on my part.

I got another half hour of sleep in before the pre-landing meal.  I decided on the bibimbap breakfast and it had this spicy paste you could add (I watched the Korean family next to me to figure out exactly what it was since I couldn’t understand any of it – haha).  It was yummy and the meal also came with fruit, a roll, and a little Hershey’s chocolate bar.

Coming in for the landing was pretty amazing.  It was very foggy here, but there was this fascinating beauty in seeing the little islands and peninsulas that dotted the coast rise out of the water and appear from the fog.  It was phenomenal: I’m actually on another continent!

We landed and, having filled out our Arrival Forms and Customs Declaration Forms on the plane, our little group of six that traveled together met outside of the terminal and headed into the airport.  Luckily one of our members has traveled here many times so we followed her to immigration (the first step).  Immigration was really easy: they took our arrival card, looked at our passport, took our fingerprints, took a picture, and then stamped us with our entry visa.  We followed the signs down two sets of escalators to a little train that took us to the main terminal where we picked up our luggage.  

Fun fact about this airport: whereas Detroit Metro charges you $4.00 to use a cart, they’re free here!  A nice Korean man next to me asked me why I had a winter coat (you could feel the humidity even indoors where there was some air conditioning).  When I told him he asked how long I was staying and was like, “Oh!  A whole year, that’s nice!”

Toll booth in Korea!
The currency exchange was really fast and right beyond customs which we just handed in our form and walked through.  TSA (by the flag on my lock and the little note in my duffle bag) had gone through my stuff so I actually didn’t have to declare anything because they were not any of listed items.  We did currency exchange with KEB and just handed over my money, checked amounts, handed over our passport, received money, and then signed the receipt ($1.00 = 1070.00 KRW was the rate).

Then we headed down towards the EPIK check-in booths.  I stopped and grabbed a bottle of water (!,000 KRW) at the convenience store and Janelle bought her SIM card for her phone at the G25 convenience store (I think they may be everywhere here… I saw some more later).

At the EPIK booth we showed our passports and received a little info packet with a bus number on top.  When our numbers were called we took our luggage out and got loaded on the bus to head to Daejin University, about 2 hours outside of Seoul.  The bus ride was very reminiscent of the Pennsylvania turnpike: winding roads between mountains with retention walls, tunnels, though all of the road signs were in both Korean and English.  The bus ride did teach me that red lights are really just a suggestion here.  I watched several cars and our bus either just go through them or stop and then proceed.  I think Korea has the worst record for pedestrian-related accidents and I can see why…

The architecture and store fronts were really quite interesting.  There is writing EVERYWHERE and you can see the vertical nature of building things here: not a lot of area to sprawl!  Celebrities are endorsing almost every single thing and there’s actually quite a bit of Hangul names that are just phonetic spellings of English words.

When we arrived at Daejin-dae (Daejin University), we got our room keys and a bag with a bunch of goodies (including a bagel from the Paris Baguette shop which apparently has a good reputation and some towels embroidered with EPIK 2013 – so yes mom, I didn’t really need to bring that towel).  Then we hopped on the bus and headed to the girls’ dormitory where we unloaded our luggage and then grabbed a quick bite to eat.  The food was very good, but the kimchi is very spicy compared to even traditional Korean places in America.  So spicy!

The dorm rooms are very nice – there’s air conditioning too even though we have limited hours when we can run it because of the power shortage (six nuclear reactors are down right now).  We have a bathroom in our room and the shower has a glass door and everything, but there is no step between the shower area and the rest of the bathroom.  Other interesting fact: the Korean toilet paper they gave us is scented.

I went to bed around 10:45 KST (or 22:45 if you will) and woke up at 3AM.  The time change is so strange…

Day One

Day one was actually really relaxed.  We had a nice breakfast (rice, kimchi, pork sausage, a fried egg, and some really sweet pear (?) juice for me).  Then we went on a campus tour and visited Pocheon Sudojang which is one of the buildings of the religious order Daesoonjinrihoe.  It is right by Daejin-de and is absolutely gorgeous to see sitting on the mountainside in the morning as the fog is slowly lifted by the rising sun.  Gorgeous.  After the tour was over, I actually had some time to go back.  They had peppers drying out in the sun... probably for making kimchi.   A man that worked at the temple also gave a few of us a little tour.  He spoke entirely in Korean except for four words (one, two, three, and angel… which was another phonetically spelled word).  But after the little tour, he waved me over several times saying, “Yeogi, yeogi!” which means, “Here, here!”  He also took us up the temple where  no photography was allowed and then explained the murals painted on the walls.  Very, very nice man.  Annnnd… I need to learn Korean fast.

Then there was lunch and the opening ceremony which began with a super awesome Tae Kwon Do demonstration.  They did the fourth and first degree black belt forms and then did jumping breaks, backflips and breaks, more than 360 degree breaks, and then this fancy musical number. 

There were opening remarks from the head of the NIIED (National Institute for International Education) and the head of education at Daejin-de (I think the exact title was Education Research and Training Institute).  Then there was another speaker that reviewed some things about Korean history and culture.  He was a phenomenal speaker – very, very funny and down-to-earth - and gave a few great tips for living in Korea.  For example, it is NOT a bullet train, it’s the KTX and for the past 24 years, 2.3 convenience stores have opened up every single day so life is very fast here and you need to get used to it.  Also, vegans are kind of SOL here, holding hands amongst the same sex is normal and a sign of closeness at any age, and know your go-to karaoke song and go first so you can spend the rest of the night “looking” for another song, but still know that you participated.

After that it was off to our first class.  There’s actually a ton of people in Gangwon-do and they come from all different places (South Africa, Australia, Scotland, the UK, Canada, the US…) and have fascinating perspectives and experiences.  Which is nice and all, but I kept thinking about this huge bottle of water that I bought earlier that was just waiting for me in my room....  Anyways, we were placed in groups for our lesson demonstration that we do at the end of the week, took a Korean placement “test” for our survival Korean class (I could actually read the basic sentences they wrote and write some phrases down… I felt really awesome!), and also had grape juice boxes.  I figured out “podo” (포도) is the Korean word for grape.  I asked the class leader about other words on the box and learned that “gwa” () is fruit and “jeum” () is like concentrate (she described it as the stuff you squeeze out of the fruit).

Then we had our welcome dinner.  We had bulgogi amongst other things, including fruit (pineapple and orange slices) and cake.  The cake was cut into these tiny little 1 inch by 1 inch pieces.  I could eat about 40 of them, seriously!  It was very sweet and light; different from a vanilla cake from the States.  I also had rice juice.  It was sweet, but it’s not really a favorite of mine.  I think I’ll grow used to it.
Everyone is really tired and we can’t eat any food after 10PM tonight or drink any water after midnight because we have the medical check-up in the morning.  But then there’s a Tae Kwon Do lesson!  Yay!

Don’t think there’s much else to say though this wasn’t the most exciting entry anyway.  I visited the convenience store a few times and got sparkling apple juice.  I also used a squatting toilet today!  That was different.  The toilet paper was outside the stall and you throw it away in a little blue bin rather than flushing it down the toilet (Yes.  Even though they are in the ground, they still do flush!)  Apparently many rural areas have them so that’s something to look forward to.

1 comment:

  1. This just makes me so excited to read the rest of your adventures. And if this one post is any indication your photos are going to be AMAZING!
    Kick some butt at the TKD lesson tomorrow!
    <3 A