If I had one piece of advice for anyone coming to Korea, for any length of time, it would be this:
Wear cute socks.
In Korea, you take your shoes off everywhere. On the plane, I was handed little slippers and I watched the guy next to me take his shoes off and put the slippers on for the entire 14 hour flight. So I did too.
Then, I went to lunch at a Korean BBQ place, and there were little cubbies at the entrance—like the ones in kindergarten where you put your markers or backpack. And everyone puts their shoes in the little cubbies and walks around shoe-less.
And that’s how I ended up wearing my SHINee socks around a restaurant. A part of me is embarrassed by this, but a much larger part of me isn’t.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For anyone who doesn’t know, I am working as an elementary school English teacher in Suwon, Korea. It’s a city of 2 million people about an hour south of central Seoul. It’s a destination in itself. Many guidebooks recommend taking a day to visit Suwon because it’s one of the few cities left in Korea surrounded by an old wall. It’s full of history that I should probably Google once I get internet.
Oh that’s the other thing—I was dropped off at a motel at 10:30pm last night. My room is nice; I have a bed, a bathroom with a real shower, a flatscreen television that I haven’t tried yet, and a water dispenser. The view isn’t much, but there’s a nice park down the road that is probably really pretty in the spring. Right now it’s just yellow and brown and the lake is frozen over, but that’s what’s to be expected of winter right? Anyway, it doesn’t have everything I need because I don’t have wifi. If someone said, “Mallory would you rather have a nice meal or an hour of wifi” I’d pick wifi because that’s how much I depend on the internet. I’m a millenial—sorry not sorry?
My phone does pick up 3G, but I leave it off most of the time so as not to rack up hundreds of dollars of international service. So (actually) sorry if I’m not responding to anything for a while, I only check LINE every couple of hours.
That’s another thing, if you would like to talk to me (and I know you do) download LINE (I’ll text you ON LINE get it?) from the app store. It’s free and uses internet to chat, so it doesn’t cost anything. If I’m in your contacts, I’ll come up as another user. If not, talk to someone who knows me because I’m not going to write my name on the internet—yet. I really do like receiving messages because it makes me feel like I have friends so you should download it; there are lots of fun stickers and emoticons!
I knew about LINE before coming to Korea because of the…research I’ve done. Yes let’s call it research. If you’re not my family or close friend, you probably don’t know that I have been spending a socially unacceptable amount of time the past 6 months watching Korean dramas, Korean variety shows, and listening to K-Pop. I’ll give you 5 seconds to judge me.
Okay now you’ve judged me. So you can either stop reading this blog, or deal with it without judgement. Those are your only two choices.
I knew that coming to Korea was going to be nothing like the movies. American school is nothing like High School Musical (unless it’s BYU…) and not everyone looks like Zac Efron. I knew this, yet I watched/listened to it anyway. Because entertainment is entertainment and just because mine is (probably) different from yours doesn’t make it any worse. I’ll probably rant about that later but for now, just accept that fact that I’m kind of obsessed with K-Pop.
Anyway, what I was getting at was that Korea, or at least Suwon, is a lot more like the Korean entertainment industry than I expected. For instance, there are a lot of pretty people. I’ve spent some time in Asia before, and I have to say, this place is nothing like Guangzhou, China at least. People wear nice clothes and obviously take care of their skin and do their hair and are just overall more attractive. It makes me feel the need to dress nicely, brush my hair, and wear earrings.
They also eat the same foods as in the shows, which I guess is expected, but still I wanted to come with the the idea that it would be NOTHING like the entertainment industry when in fact it is.
For instance, I already knew how to grill samyupsal and wrap it in lettuce leaves. I already knew it would be expensive, and that it would be delicious. No one however fed it to me, but I guess it’s not Valentine’s Day anymore so I can’t get everything I want.
For those who have not romped around the Korean entertainment industry, samyupsal is raw pork that you grill on a little metal plate in the middle of your table. There’s also bulgogi (beef) and ribs from some animal. I knew it would be expensive because people always won bulgogi as a prize or took a date to one of these places. And they were always very happy about it.
The only thing I would like more than samyupsal is some wifi.
Okay, so why was I at this restaurant? Well, it’s kind of a funny story. So last night when I got to the airport I met with a bunch of other Adventure Teaching teachers in a corner of Incheon Airport. I was there for about 2 1/2 hours before everyone going to Suwon arrived. Then the Suwon kids were divided into multiple vans, I’m assuming by location. I met many people while waiting, but instead of going person by person I’ll just bring them up casually when they are important.
Right now, the most important person in my life is named Starcraft. Okay, that’s not his name but we’ll refer to him as Starcraft. When he told me he came to Korea because of Starcraft I was honestly surprised because he doesn’t really fit the I-play-videogames-in-my-basement-all-day stereotype. Not at all actually. But hey, I’m obsessed with K-Pop so I’m not in any place to judge other people’s entertainment forms. Right?
Anyway, there were four of us in this van and Starcraft and I were told to get off at our first stop, a motel. Now everything always looks worse in the dark, but I was already pleasantly surprised. While it’s not really fair to compare entirely different countries, already it was a million times better than my grand entrance into China, with the half-naked children and the satanic smell reeking from next door and my crazy head teacher meeting me in a qipao. No, compared to that, this was quite nice. I was given a key and while it took me a while to find the right light switch, I did eventually figure it out. And I learned some Korean in the process.
I slept soundly from 11pm-11am. And I am officially adjusted to the time.
Oh HERE’S something really cool.
So, in a lot of shows, they sleep on the floor. I mean, some of them had beds, but a lot of time they just crashed on the floor with a pillow and blanket. In some ways it makes sense, especially if you’re living in a small space, beds take up a lot of room and are unfortunately hard to move. I just accepted it as an Asian thing and moved on.
But then, I watched a show that made me think perhaps there is more to sleeping on the floor than just social construct or space. In this show, Thanks for Waking Me Up (which I highly recommend), a famous and slightly crazy famous variety show host breaks into popstars’ dorm rooms and wakes them up so they can be on time to their schedules. Sounds boring, but there’s something about seeing superstars drooling on the floor in matching heart pajamas that is actually quite entertaining. Anyway, in one episode, one of the boys is hopping up and down on his feet and complains that the floor is “too hot” and everyone laughed at him. I was like…haha? What on earth does that mean. Like many things, I figured it was lost in translation. But then the next episode, the popstars had moved to a different “less hot” dorm. Okay?
No. Everyone. You’re not going to believe this.
The floors are heated. As in, there are no heating vents along the walls. The heat in the room physically comes up from the floor—the heating system must run below it.
You know those cold days where the alarm goes off but you’re cozy under your comforter and the worst thing that could ever happen is taking the blanket off and stepping on to the cold hard wood?
Well, you still have to take your blanket off, but imagine if stepping onto the hard wood actually felt like your feet were hugging a warm cup of hot chocolate.
It’s something I never knew that I wanted.
And now it all makes sense. Why little Kim Hyung Joon was jumping around claiming the floor was too hot, and probably one of the reasons some people sleep on the floor. In fact, the floor looks really appealing and it can’t be that much stiffer than my bed….
I don’t know if my apartment will have this glorious addition, or if it’s only something “nice” places have…but seriously…I love it and may have it installed in a future house.
Okay so I just spent 400 words describing the floor. Oh dear this is going to be long. And I’m all over the place subject wise, but there’s just so many new things and thoughts all trying to make sense in my head so bear with me.
Anyway, so I woke up at 11 and had two main goals: find food and find wifi. Even if these were the only two things I accomplished today, I would call it successful. I couldn’t hear anything from Starcraft’s room so I dressed cutely and ventured out by myself. It’s not that cold, around 40 degrees I think, and sunny. Across the street was a 7/11 where I found both breakfast and wifi. I got some banana milk, which they always drink, and was therefore necessary. It tastes like banana laffy taffy, which I happen to love. There were also a million internet routers but only one was unlocked and it was being shoddy, but at least I got enough to send a few pictures and messages.
Also, one thing they always do in the dramas is eat Ramen outside a convenience store. I wondered if this was a thing. Well, there was in fact Ramen, a microwave, and chairs at this 7/11. So I may have drank my banana milk and watched the traffic go by (on an inside chair) feeling very local.
Having accomplished both of my goals for the day in 45 minutes, I decided to head back and see if Starcraft was awake. Indeed he was, and said that he was meeting up with teachers from his school in a half hour for lunch. I was like…”really? I haven’t heard anything from my head teachers…” and he was like, “oh…well I start work tomorrow” and I’m like:
So I asked if I could tag along and he said of course and that’s how I met two girls from another Avalon campus in the area. An Australian who’s parents are Korean so she looks Korean, and a ginger girl from Canada. I say it this way not to stereotype or anything like that, just to not use their names and perhaps give you a better picture than name A and name B. They took us out to lunch at the samyupsal place, then walked us around to the HomePlus (Walmart on steroids), get a T-card (bus pass) at a convenience store, and Baskin Robbins. They showed us the bus stop, the PC Bang (internet cafe), and other interesting things. I told them I hadn’t heard from my head teacher, so they called the HR guy who was very surprised and said he’d contact them. He seemed very concerned about my welfare but I told him these girls had taken care of me and everything was great. HR guy said he’d contact my head teacher and I should check my email tonight. If not, Australian girl is going to bring me to my campus tomorrow morning because it’s right next to hers.
So who knows, Mallory may turn up to school tomorrow completely unexpected! That would be fun.
You’re probably wondering why I’m not more concerned about this—because I’m sure that you are—but to be honest, it’s not like Adventure Teaching doesn’t know I’m not here. Also—this kind of stuff happens to me literally literally all the time.
My life is full of crazy things, but I’ve found that what seems to be bad often turns out to be good. For instance, I made two new friends today, and I used them to my advantage. I asked them a lot of questions, and their answers were mostly things I already knew because of my…research…
I know that was a lot of information and you probably have a lot of questions, but that’s really all I have for now. I’m going to explore Homeplus and ride the bus and do other fun things in the future so I’ll just leave that up to your imagination for now.
Time to chill and get ready for tomorrow.
I’ll make sure to set aside socially acceptable socks.