That's a mouthful huh? I couldn't even fit in South Korea because the heading was too long!
This is my long belated first blog entry since arriving in South Korea. I’ve been meaning to do one sooner, but since arriving I have been kept busy mainly by the school… that plus I do not yet have internet service set up yet in my housing. So I have been trying to sneak some time here and there at a café right next door to my apartment block to use their free wi fi . Let me warn you this may be a very long blog entry because I am trying to pretty much regurgitate all that has happened to me up to today.
Starting from the day I left Fresno.
Well let’s see…. I pretty much stayed up all day and night on June 18th the day before my departure date. Getting last minute items like a 5 pack of deodorant from Costco haha. The reason for that is I keep hearing from others who have been to or are currently living in Korea that it is essential here for foreign teachers because for some reason or another Koreans don’t use deodorant much I guess they don’t perspire? Or maybe not like us sweaty westerners hahaha. Anywho I also had to grab some gift items for my good friends currently living in Korea and every time I mentioned to a sales lady I was going overseas to teach English they all seemed intrigued like they were interested in doing the same. After I received my items I ran back home to shove the lat of my things in my already overstuffed luggage. I decided to pull an all-nighter so I can repack my stuff I ended up pulling out more unnecessary clothes. I pretty much left all my winter clothes behind. I hope I can lose some weight while in Korea so that I can buy some cute autumn and winter clothes here, or else I’m gonna have to pay an arm and a leg to have my clothes shipped from Fresno . After readjusting some things, I got ready to leave early in the morning of June 19th. I skyped with a friend and had to be rushed out the door by my family. I wish I could have said my good-byes to my dog Luna more properly . We then loaded the car with my mom, her boyfriend, my older brother Ignacio, his son – my nephew Anthony, my twin sister Kathy, and I plus all my possessions for a year. And set off for San Francisco.
First we headed to the small town of Mendota to drop off my mother’s boyfriend home since he had to go to work early in the morning. Then it was just the 5 of us going to San Francisco. I was to depart from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) at around 1:00pm. I have 2 major airports about the same distance from my hometown of Fresno Los Angeles International (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). I chose to be flown out from SFO because it was a tad bit closer than LAX plus I have never flown out form that airport before and I was curious. After about a 3 hr. drive we arrived in San Fran about 5 hours before my flight so we decided to have breakfast or one last meal as a family before I took off for a year. We ended up driving past the airport and into downtown San Francisco and made out way into the world-famous Chinatown there to eat some good Chinese. The meal was delicious. We then decided to head back to the airport early so that I may check in a get myself situated. I was getting nervous since I have never traveled alone before…much less by plane overseas before. We got to the Asiana Airlines counter and they were all very nice and helpful. It was very easy showed them my passport then they asked to weigh my luggage. That’s where we hit a snag one of my bags just as I feared they was a few kilos overweight the good thing was that the other checked bag was a little underweight so my awesome family helped me a great deal in transferring over s few things had taking a few more things I really didn’t need back home. When it was weighed again I was still slightly over the weight limit but the lady behind the counter was very kind and let my bags go onboard without charging us the excess baggage fee . Then came the heart wrenching part of spending the last few minutes with my family. The waterworks were on full blast. My mom and my sister were crying so much it made me cry. It was time for us to part once we got to the TSA screening line. I at least got to wave my good-bye a couple more times as I zigzagged my way up to the x-ray machines. Pretty soon my family were out of sight and I was feeling utterly alone ironically just as a TSA agent was patting me down to check for forbidden items :/. Once I got past security. I headed towards my gate number. On the way there I realized I did not have a single clock or watch on me to find out the time. I luckily ran into a watch store on the way to my gate and bought the cheapest wristwatch I can find luckily it was one that had many different cool functions on it like a dual-time zone so I can keep track of the here in Incheon and back home in Fresno and an alarm function. The salesman was very helpful in setting the times for me then I headed to my gate. I got there early of course as one is supposed to do…I was waiting there looking outside the huge windows looking at the different planes go in and out. Then I heard an announcement over the speakers saying that our flight will be delayed for about 40 more minutes.
I found that a perfect opportunity to phsych myself up for this flight I bought a very expensive bottle of water there since my throat tends to get really dry when I get nervous or anxious. Then it was time to board! I was flying Asiana’s travel class which is a way of saying economy or coach. And let me tell you I felt first class on that flight at least compared to the last time I flew. I got on and they greeted us in English and Korean. They had a large selection of newspapers for the passengers to read. I got a copy of the Korea Herald which is Korea’s top English newspaper. I then took my seat and the flight attendants were all very helpful and pretty I should say. They were all very skinny. The aisles on the plane were very narrow but you can easily have 2 of those girls stand side by side and still have enough room to move about hahaha. Each seat in travel class had its own small interactive television screen facing them. There you can watch a nice selection of movies and TV programs or you can even see a map that shows you where the plane is at any given time. I was surprised to see that the plane was taking a totally unexpected route to Korea than I thought they would take. I thought we were going out of San Francisco and directly west out across the Ocean a straight shot to Korea. It turns out that the pilots head north over land hugging the coast of Northern California, Oregon, Washington we flew over Seattle then we passed a big chunk of British Columbia and Canada and made our way up to the coast of Alaska …then the plane started making its way west when we crossed the Bering Strait the small body of water that separates Alaska from Russia. Let me just add that during this time I think I took 2 or 3 small naps but for the most part stayed awake watching movies and eating great plane food. First dish I chose was Korean. I got Bibim Bap which is pretty much a bunch of different vegetables served in a big bowl with rice and you add chili paste and spices and sauce to it and it was very good. For my second meal I chose to eat western food…pasta. Once we arrived in “The East” then started making our way down the large coast of Russia and then down through China we finally got to South Korea after a 13 hour flight. The first thing I noticed outside the window was that Incheon International (ICN) was huge it looked a lot bigger than SFO. The planes looked like they have more room on the runways. Once in the airport proper around 6:00pm their time I noticed that it didn’t look as busy with people as with SFO. I filled out an arrival card for Immigration and a customs declaration card. The immigration line went by really fast I then went to up my bags and received a good amount of help. I then quickly got past customs all I did was submit my card and that was that! I thought I was going to be patted down again and have my bags searched. I then went on and got my money exchanged for Korean Won their currency. The very first thing I purchased was a Jamba Juice since I was thirsty. The Only bummer was that a small 16oz cup was about the same price for one of large Jambas in the States. I ordered my drink and the guy handed me a pager like the ones you get at some restaurants back home to tell you your table is ready. I liked it this one had a tiny LED screen telling you your drink was being blended and then once it was ready it would tell you and then it would start to vibrate and light up! So cute. I then headed towards the nearest public phone and called the coordinator at my school. She told me to catch the bus into Songdo City. When I got to buses I found the number I needed and got my ticket. I had to wait an extra 50 minutes to the next one since I just missed the one I wanted to take. While I was waiting for the bus I was just taking in all of my surroundings. The very tiny portion of what I saw of this huge airport was beautiful I read that ICN is ranked as the top airport in the world. The weather when I arrived was very cool and pleasant. An attendant was very helpful to me in getting my suitcases on the bus when it arrived. The buses are very punctual. They arrive and leave very quickly and efficiently at the time they are supposed to. The bus I took was called an Airport Limousine Bus and that’s what it felt like it was very nice in there. The seats were very comfortable and the bus also had its own wifi. I was looking outside my window the whole way into town The Korean Landscape was beautiful a lot of green hills and then you would see large building scattered here and there. We then got to the one of Korea’s Architectural wonders Incheon Bridge. It is a 7 mile long bridge that connects Incheon Airport (which is on an Island to the greater city of Incheon. It was the 2nd bridge I crossed in a 24 hour period I was a lot like crossing the San Mateo Bridge in San Francisco to get to SFO. After crossing that bridge we were in New Songdo City and into my new home for the foreseeable future.
I was the last one on the bus after a few youngsters and more beautiful flight attendants from Korean Air got off at various Hotels around Songdo. I got off of the airport limousine bus at the last stop which was The Songdo Sheraton Hotel where I was to meet Bora the coordinator at my school. I saw her there waiting for me I felt bad that she had to wait there for what I think was an hour because I missed the earlier bus. I greeted her with a hug I guess it was because of the long journey and there was this person that I knew just through corresponding through e-mails plus she knew me by name and it felt nice. She told me my housing was ready to move into that night! So the bellhop at the Sheraton was nice enough to help us with my luggage part of the way even though I was not going to stay there. We walked to my Officetel (In Korea these are high-rise apartment buildings with Office and retail space at the bottom levels) it was really close by. Bora showed me to my apartment she showed me how to control the various appliances like the A/C the microwave/oven, and the washer. She also pointed out to me some of the things that were left behind by the last tenant which was also a teacher at Songdo ECC. She I assume left behind a small mess. I guess when your contract is over you tend to leave in a rush. There was a big pile of trash that needed to be taken out so Bora took that opportunity to show me where and how they dispose of trash in my building. They separate almost everything that can be recycled, there is regular garbage and food scraps in one area, then there is plastic, paper, aluminum, cardboard, and even clothes. The only thing is I have to figure out how to lug all my garbage down to the bottom level if I happen to have a lot. Bora also told me that I have to buy special garbage bags from the store and not use just any bag. Bora then showed me how to get into my apartment by inputting my own code into a numbered keypad above my doorknob so cool Bora also gave me a special keycard that gets me into my apartment block, I just tap it against this sensor and it unlocks the door. After giving me a quick rundown of what are some of the problems with the apartment that she will bring to the attention to the “superintendant”she told me that since I must be tired from the trip that I could sleep in and to be ready by 11:30am because a boy from the school named Sam would come and get me and show me to the school so I may begin my first day of observations. And she left to go to her apartment which was a few floors above mine. I was left alone to settle in. I was tired and did not feel like unpacking but I hated to see the mess that was left behind and having those suitcases just sitting there. So I cleared some things and started unpacking everything I just did a few organizing things and discovered where things are and then as soon as I found my sleeping clothes I put them on and went to bed.
Luckily the last tenant left behind bedding and pillows, but the bed was noticeably harder than the one I had back home the mattress had no springiness to it. Good thing I like to sleep on my stomach because it would a while to adjust to it. I’m not sure if it was the jetlag or the very bright sunlight coming through my huge windows (I like to sleep in complete darkness) but I only slept like 5 hours I woke up around 5 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I decided to start organizing my stuff throughout my apartment and putting away my clothes. I started to make my room a little homier by adding posters and pictures I brought from home. I took an inventory of the things the previous tenant left behind to see what I had to work with and started making a list of things I still needed to buy. I am slowly but surely obtaining those things. After I took a shower in my bathroom which is very nice it has a very high tech looking toilet with a bunch a buttons that I cannot read haha I wonder if it has a bidet. It is also one of those all-in-one bathrooms that are very common in Korea where the shower is connected to the sink and pretty much the whole bathroom itself is your shower stall everything get wet so put all the things you don’t want getting wet in the cabinets. After getting ready I was pretty much just waiting for Sam from the school to pick me up. 11:30 came and went and still no sign of Sam. It was past twelve and I was getting worried that they forgot to get me and I was getting hungry so I remembered that the previous tenant left a landline phone behind so I connected it to the wall and put some of my AAA batteries in it to see of it could possibly work. I saw that some numbers came up on the caller ID screen but when I pick up the headset there was no tone so I started pressing random buttons and I saw that one of the biggest ones turned on a big bright blue light on the phone! It was then that I finally got a tone so I thought maybe I can call Bora’s cell. To my amazement she picked up! I told her that it was past the time when they were gonna pick me up. She told me that she had been busy speaking with mothers of students. She was going to send Sam to get me in half an hour so I patiently waited and that is when I heard my door bell. I have an intercom in my place that has a screen where if someone presses your doorbell you see their face and you hear a fun chime. I saw a young Korean boy on the screen. I opened the door and he told me he was Sam and that he was going to show me to the school. I asked him how he was doing and he looked sort of confused he tried to tell me that his English was not very good and I understood so we were silent the rest of the way to the school. The school is a little less than 5 minute walk from my apartment. He showed me the quick back way of getting there. The school is spread over many floors in a tall building which is the norm in Korea tall buildings everywhere! I was greeted by some of the staff there including the schools director Mrs. Chun Eun Hee. She seemed very nice she asked me how my trip was and told her it was all very nice. I was then shown to where the teacher’s room was and that was where I saw Bora busy at work. She introduced me to Erica the new coordinator that will take her place when her contract is up next week she and her husband who also works at the school as an English instructor are going back to Canada. Bora knew I was hungry…but before she could tell me where I could eat one of the other foreign teachers told me he can take me to lunch. He was so nice he took me to a Korean restaurant right next door to the school where he was explaining some food options on the menu. He ordered for me a cold buckwheat noodle soup which is served with ice in the broth and is popular in summer. I ended up really liking the flavor of the broth. He ordered gimbap which is like Korean version of sushi where instead of raw fish they put in it various veggies and meats and tofu in it. I liked it but I have to get used to the strong flavor of seaweed they call it laver in Korea. He bought lunch for me which was very nice of him. Since I arrived I have been treated to at least 4 meals, people are so generous here. I then went back to the school to observe classes. The kids are very cute and some are very nice while some can be just as if not more rambunctious than the ones from Pinedale Elementary. I don’t blame them these children don’t get much of a recess here and they have all this pent up energy. After observations I was introduced to the rest of the staff. There was a girl from Scotland, a girl from Ireland, girl from Canada, girl from Texas, and a guy from Canada, and a guy from North Carolina. I’ve never met such a diverse group of people in one room before. That was when Bora dismissed me and told me to report to the school at 10am with my passport in hand to go to my hospital for my health check and to get a bank account. I then went home with the girl from Ireland where she showed me where I can go grocery shopping right next to the apartments. I just grabbed a few things and left quickly. I then went home and tried to clean up my apartment more and went to the café next door to use their wi fi internet since I do not yet have internet setup in my apartment. I finally got to contact my family and check my e-mail.
The next day I woke up early due to the damn light in my room and decided to take the extra time to take a stroll through my apartments they are called: The # (sharp) First World Apartments there are many tall buildings in the complex very beautiful. As a walked the perimeter I noticed that these apartments are right across the street from the Sondgo Convensia which is the convention center in Songdo. It is nice! It looks like the Sydney Opera house on my next walk I need to take pictures. I then discovered some of the many businesses that are on the bottom level of the officetels. I then snuck some time on the internet at Holly’s Coffee before school. I then saw that I needed to head back. I went to the school by myself this time and greeted Bora and Erica who told me that Sam the young Korean boy from the day before will take me to the hospital and that was when we walked out to the street and we caught a cab. The cab was really nice and comfortable. I was looking at the fare box and it was very cheap. There is a sensor I the center where if you tap it with a T Money card (transit card you can use to pay for the cabs, buses, and subways throughout Korea) it will pay for your cab fare. To get into Incheon city and to the hospital was just 5,000 won which is like 4 bucks! I got to the hospital and filled out a simple form and then went to get a urine and blood test. Urine tests in Korea consist of having to pee in what is essentially a Dixie cup with no lid haha. Then I got poked with the needle which took a while since my veins are very deep. I then took a hearing test, a color blindness test, a vision test… I need a new prescription for my glasses either that or I should just try and save my money for Lasik (fingers crossed) that happens while I’m here. Then I had my blood pressure taken and I was weighed and measured not only my height but surprisingly my chest size haha. The last part of my check up was a chest x-ray and then questions from a doctor. It was really quick and only consisted of 2 questions. Do you have any kind of medical history? and do you have any kind of discomfort? I said no to both and I was on my way. Sam took care of the payment portion. The school paid for my health check yay! Which I heard was like $100 bucks. We then took another cab into town and I was then told that I am to get my bank account. I noticed that everything you may need is very close by. He just walked over to the next building and went to Hana Bank to get my bank account. There Bora was explaining to Erica in Korean all the ins and outs of her job so that when she leaves Erica can help other teachers get situated. I received a bank book to keep a record of my deposits and withdrawals and my ATM card I noticed that this a particular card also serves as a T money card which I can use to pay for the public transportation. After that it was lunch time so Bora told me if I preferred to eat the free school lunch or to eat out. I wanted to see what they were eating in the lunch room and she showed me the different dishes I saw that they were eating a fish dish and decided eating out would be better. I told Bora that although I would like to eat the Korean foods that they had, one of the foods that does not agree with me the most is seafood. I told her that I can only have shrimp and tuna. I felt bad; I don’t wanna be that person that turns down food especially free food! But I really can’t stand fish everyone else in my family loves fish I have family in México that constantly go out fishing in the Pacific for their food and yet I never got used to it . So Bora took me to a nearby café and she treated me (again haha) to a sandwich and an iced coffee. I notice that Korean love 2 things A LOT sweet things and their coffee. There are at least 5 cafes on every block and possibly more on the upper levels of buildings and practically everywhere you go they serve coffee. The sweet thing I noticed then on the first day at school they had Krispy Crème donuts and Baskin Robins Ice Cream cake in the teacher’s room. The ice cream cake looked do pretty much cuter that one’s I’ve seen in the states with a ribbon tied around it and little Ice cream stars on top so cute I did not even eat any ‘cause it was so nice. So back to the sandwich it was really good but they put a dill pickle in it that is super sweet. I then went back to observe even more classes. I stayed all day this time until 7:30pm because Bora was going to have a going away dinner with the whole staff that was being paid for by the school. We went to a close by barbeque chicken place. The chicken was very delicious. Bora then ordered some chicken in spicy BBQ sauce and man it was pretty spicy! Afterwards the party was far from over the teachers walked over to a bar that stays open late they have a humongous selection of Korean domestic and imported beers from all over the world. Man! Koreans know how to party after work is over. Some of the teachers and I started playing a dart game which was very fun. I guess since our group was ordering a lot of drinks the servers decided to give us free appetizers! That’s another huge thing here in Korea it is the great generosity of its people and the freebies! Like yesterday I went to the grocery store and I bought a pack of cheese and noticed it came with a free tiny pack of cheese behind it ha. I had a great night out with my coworkers I’m gonna miss Bora when she leaves even though I’ve only known her a few days. I then went back and finally got a chance to call Ahyoung my friend from Fresno State. I wanted to see if she can come visit me for the weekend. She wanted to come over to see me that night even though it was close to midnight! I was trying to explain to her from the little knowledge I had, where I lived. I told her I’d call her back with more information. I walked outside to find out what street I lived on and luckily found Bora and her husband with another one of the teachers walking back from the bar. Bora let me use her phone and she tried explaining to Ahyoung in Korean how to get to my place. It was then that Ahyoung told me that it was too late and she would try to come see me tomorrow.
The next day Saturday I tried to get a tiny workout in and then I clean my apartment for my first guest I then got to Skype for the first time since arriving. I was seeing my brother and sister and dog having dinner it was so awesome! It made me feel like I was in the same room with them and not thousands of miles away. Ahyoung found my apartment just fine we gave each other hugs and just chatted it up for a bit. I gave her gifts she wanted a few things from the states that you can get in Korea, but they are double or triple the price here. She then wanted to have lunch and take me to Bupyeong-gu the district of Incheon where she lives. We walked and I told her I need to buy some food for my fridge so we tried to find an affordable grocery store. I have a GS supermarket right next door to me, but she told me they are not known for affordable groceries. So we found our way down the road to find the Shinsigae Supermarket. I got a few things and she told me if I spend over 30,000 won in food the store can deliver to my apartment for free! I thought yeah! That beats having to lug the big box to my place so she gave the checkout girl my address in Korean. The sucky part was I couldn’t go to Bupyeong with her that day because I had to wait at my apartment for my groceries to arrive. We had lunch and then went our separate ways since she needed to go to church. I want back to my apartment but not before checking out the Paris Baguette Bakery by my apartments. Ahyoung tells me that they are everywhere in Korea and that they have good sandwich bread. I bought a tiny loaf and yeah it is real good they have different flavors I went with the butter flavored loaf and I can’t wait to make French toast with it
I waited for my groceries but around 5:30 I got very sleepy and decided to take a nap. I didn’t wake up until 12:30am! And still no groceries I thought I would have to go down to the grocery store and ask for a refund or something but as soon as I got up I heard a voice coming from my intercom I think it was the front desk attendant but was speaking Korean I told him I’m sorry I don’t understand a few minutes later a man was ringing my doorbell I had no problem answering because I knew it was my groceries! I went back to sleep and I finally got more than 5 hours of sleep in one night since I got here.
This morning I felt good so I decided to take a longer walk down to the park that the other foreign teachers told me about. So I walked down to Haedoji (Sunrise) park and man it is one of the nicest city parks I have ever seen you walk to the entrance and you immediately see a separate pedestrian and bike trial then you see many beautiful trees and workout equipment along the trail. You see a large hill to challenge your workout there are also rose and wildflower gardens and water fountains, sculptures, picnic areas and gazebos the list goes on and on. I hope to visit here at least a couple a times a week so that I can try and get into a healthy workout routine. I want to try and work up to a light jog then eventually build my stamina to go running. Let’s hope I can finally lose a good amount of weight in Korea.
So today is an easygoing Sunday and I am hoping I can meet up again with Ahyoung again and try to knock some things off of my TO BUY list. Korea is looking to be a great place to live I just hope I can learn to read Hangul and speak some more basic words so I can get along here much better. I am missing my dog and family, but I am finally working and traveling and it’s such a dream come true. Sorry so long but I warned you I really want to remember what I did while here .
Click Here to view photos from my first week