This is a diary-style record of our first month in Korea. It’s really more to stay in touch with those interested back home. However, if you’re looking to find out what your life in Korea might be like this will give you some idea while also entertaining you.
Day 1: We arrived in South Korea after a rather long flight and immediately realized that we weren’t in Kansas anymore! Everything was in Korean (I suppose this should be obvious, but the reality only sinks in when you’re in it) and the language barrier proved to be very fucking real. We exchanged our $200 for Korean Won, bumbled like morons through the airport and finally managed to find the gentleman who was scheduled to meet us and help us get aboard the KTX bullet train. We sleepily boarded and set off for Ulsan – a two and a half hour journey travelling at a blistering 300km an hour. It was a
smooth and pleasant ride, and we eventually reached our destination. Upon exiting the station, we met the assistant director of the school Gareth would be working at. He was very friendly and pleasant, but like most Koreans we have met seemed super rushed and was all business. We travelled for another 30 minutes and eventually reached the flat where we’d be living for the foreseeable future. I think it’s fair to say we were both quite nervous about our accommodation, but it was actually perfect – small yet comfortable and with all the amenities. The previous teacher had also left a number of useful and greatly appreciated items (mostly groceries – the jalapenos have been devoured on many occasions subsequently) – and the quote from Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson seemed like a rather good omen. All round we were really chuffed with our spot and are both already a little in love with it.
Day 2: We woke up in our new home raring to go. At around 10 the school’s assistant director took us to a nearby bamboo forest for our first real glimpses of Ulsan. It was a great experience and a perfect welcome to our new city.
We then went to eat some lunch (shaved pork and cold noodles), and were confronted for the first time with Korean chopsticks. They are flat, quite unlike the usual round ones we are used to, and fucking impossible to eat with! The director spent the entire meal laughing at us and every eye in the place was probably on us as we struggled to eat like a pair of infants. Though it turns out this is more due to the rarity of foreigners than anything else.
Day 3: We decided to head out and get a few badly needed groceries, and god was that experience a mind-fuck! We quickly learned that not many people speak English and to make matters worse none of
our bank cards worked when we tried to pay. That moment staring at the till lady was as super fucking awkward as you’d imagine… Thank goodness one of our cards eventually worked and we managed to leave with a few provisions.
We also went and visited the local park – Ulsan Grand Park. It is a lovely spot and we can’t wait to see it in spring when everything is in bloom. We’ll add photos soon.
Day 4: For the past two days I’ve been observing classes at my new school. After classes finished, we headed out with two of my colleagues for some Korean food. It was good fun and we all ended up getting quite drunk. They are very cool people and we are sure to do things with them in the future.
Day 5: Today we tried to take a bus for the first time. The trip started well and we reached our destination, however on our way back things went to shit a bit as we couldn’t determine which bus to take to get home, and consequently spent an hour or some running around like headless fucking chickens. Plan A was to pop in to a restaurant and use their wifi. Of course we chose one of the few restaurants that doesn’t have wifi… Plan B was to take the little info we had and ask someone who looked interested and able to help us. Luckily that worked out. The younger folk more often than not speak some English.
After we eventually managed to get home, we both put on the free facial mask samples we’d been given earlier when we bought sunscreen.
Day 6: We tried to brave the shop again today and it turned out to be an easier experience the second time around. That said, we have still not been able to locate the official correct dustbin bags. It’s fucking complicated for people who’ve never had to deal with that type of thing.
After the fun and games of grocery shopping we went home and got rather pissed on flavoured soju. You’re sure to hear a lot more about soju in the future. Soju is the most popular alcoholic drink in Korea. It is essentially like vodka in that it is made from starch products – potatoes, rye – and it tastes quite similar, but it is more watered down and is only 19% alcohol. However, because it is lighter it can be consumed in massive quantities and is usually drank neat (although Kay and I drink it with mix from the giant bottle because it’s economical, okay?!), so you can get really hammer-fucked!
Day 7: After work today both Kay and I headed out with my colleagues for some Korean barbeque. It’s like a normal braai, except it’s indoors while everyone sits around and only the youngest people are expected to be the braai masters… so basically nothing like any kind of barbeque or braai you may be used to. Again, those flat fucking chopsticks were the order of the day and once again I had to use a fork to eat much of my food. Sigh…
Day 8: Today I learned that there had been some anomaly regarding my liver after the results of my mandatory medical exam came back. This means I will have to go back to the hospital for a follow up test just to determine if there is a problem – seriously, fuck my life. I really hope there isn’t some weird fucking issue.
Day 9: The 1st of March is a public holiday in Korea, so there was no school today. Our freedom allowed us to try some socialising and we headed out to meet some other expats we’d met. We both agree, it’s kinda weird hanging out with only foreigners and I don’t think either of us entirely loved it. We also found everyone there rather conservative and, as we are sometimes a little rough around the edges, I couldn’t help but noticing the occasional raised eyebrow. The people were friendly and eager to impart wisdom, luckily. The food was good too, and when we went to watch Logan it was amazingly quiet during the film (a real bonus) as Korean people tend to be exceedingly polite in public.
Day 10: Just before going to bed I was violently ill. Blegh…
Day 11: This morning Kay and my colleague went off to Costco to find the essentials – real cheese and peanut butter. It was a successful mission. I stayed at home as I was still feeling rather shit. All the vomiting last night also meant I woke up with no voice. Teaching is going to be really fun today…
Day 12: We decided to hibernate this weekend, partly because I was still feeling shitty and partly because we still haven’t sorted out our bank accounts and funds are looking pretty precarious. You can’t open a Korean bank account without an Alien Registration Card. You can’t get the card until you pass your medical test. So hibernation meant staying home, making pancakes and watching movies – a perfect Saturday!
Day 13: As per our plan, we went for a long walk in the park, bought a few more groceries, made ourselves pizza (we now had cheese!) and lolled around in bed. It was a good day… You might being seeing a pattern here, but honestly it’s 5℃ outside and we’ll be here for at least a year so fuck it.
Day 14: Just a long-ass day of work. It surprises me that schools drop their foreign teachers in the deep end with little training or supervision. Especially considering that a lot of these teachers are not only new to teaching but also new to the working world. I imagine the fact that these young teachers have completed the lengthy process of coming to Korea means they’ve at least got a good head on their shoulders.
Day 15: Yay! Today I learned that my liver is okay! Bring on the alcohol!!!
Day 16: Holy shit, Mondays and Wednesdays are gruelling work days!
Day 17: I made the mission to immigration today along with my school’s assistant director in order to apply for my Alien Registration Card (I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien…!) and after that we tried out a new grocery store, because we’re adventurous like that. It was still fascinating with all the weird-ass products and still challenging, but it seems to be getting easier every time.
Day 18: Friday meant chill time so we bought McDonalds (it’s like the only place Kay’s stupid bank card seems to work), downed soju and played pc games.
Day 19: Today we decided to try something new with my colleagues and go see a play. As seems to be the norm when foreigners gather, every foreigner in Ulsan appeared to be there. I think we have realised we are not about the cliquey life. Also, the play was freaking horrendous – something we might have guessed when at the start they informed us that talking and heckling was not allowed. I complied – Kay a little less so. We were annoyed and after the play went straight home to eat disgruntled packet noodles.
Day 20: We decided to be brave today and travelled on our own to find a bunch of stuff we had to leave behind in SA because of packing restrictions, specifically a little keyboard for my PC and colouring pencils & crayons at a 5 storey stationery store. We also found this pencil sharpener shaped like poo! After shopping we managed to find a lovely Indian restaurant called Namaskar and we feasted on curry and biryani. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a somewhat regular foodie place for us. The Nepalese manager speaks perfect English and the food is delicious. We then came home and coloured stuff while getting seriously drunk on soju and dying Kay’s hair.
Day 21: I managed to drop my fucking cell phone on the floor today and the screen smashed, so it is no longer operable. I’m rather pissed off.
On the up side I sorted out my Korean bank account, which is nice.
Day 22: After work we Skyped with Fluff and Tam. Although we did most of the talking, it was still lovely to see their faces!
Day 23: I was invited to go out for dinner with my colleagues again today. I must confess, I felt like it like a kick to the groin as I’d had a particularly long day, but after eating dinner and having a few shots of soju I started to get into the spirit of things. So much so that when everyone headed off to karaoke, I was persuaded to go as well, and I ended up getting hammerfucked and having quite a good time. I think I may have even impressed a few folk with my amazing rendition of Radiohead’s Creep (and my less than amazing rendition of Sia’s Chandelier). Next time, stop while you’re still on top.
Day 24: We decided to take a long walk to HomePlus (another large shopping store… yeah, we do seem to be doing a lot of shopping) to buy a few things. We used some of our purchases to make delicious quesadillas for supper… mmm, quesadillas! I wonder when we’ll start getting into Korean food. For now, we can only make what we know. It seems a lot of foreigners eat out more than cook at home.
Day 25: Yho, today we got super drunk after work! We finished a 1.5 litre bottle of soju between the two of us while colouring and making a yummy hotpot stew for the week. This winter has been warm and cosy.
Day 26: We took another long walk and enjoyed a very Western style lunch at Mom’s Touch – a restaurant that makes hamburgers and the like. We don’t have it back home, plus my foot needed a rest before the trip home.
Day 27: Because we had the whole day to ourselves, we decided to explore the Eastern side of Ulsan and, hopefully, check out the sea. After an hour-long bus ride we eventually reached our destination and after another hour hiking we managed to reach the sea. Admittedly it was far from the amazing sights you see in Cape Town, but it was interesting and I was right about how to get there. So suck it, Kay. On the way back home the strangest thing happen. First, the bus we were travelling on broke down. So strange! Second, an old Korean lady who didn’t speak a word of English took a shine to us and kept us close with smiles and strokes while making sure we got on the right bus to our final destination.
Day 28: Just another long-ass day at work…
Day 29: It seems all the walking over the weekend has caught up with me, as I woke up this morning with a seriously sore foot. Seriously… fuck my fucking life!
Day 30: Looooooooooong work days (especially with a sore foot!)
Day 31: Woop woop! Today is a school holiday, so we headed off to immigration to sort out Kay’s permanent visa, which all went smoothly. Then we finally organised ourselves a portable internet connection – something which will really help when we’re out and about – and after that we headed off to the acupuncturist to try and sort out my foot. It was
interesting, they have way more amenities than what you’d find in a waiting room. Hand massager, blood pressure check, massage chairs, etc. Then we headed home to rest the foot, play games and drink more soju – soju life!!!