Thursday, June 15, 2006

Updates from Seoul

A month in Korea

Wow, time flies... seems like just the other day I was getting dropped off at O'Hare. I remember being really nervous about my flight for no reason, like was my ticket actually there at the Korean Air counter? etc. Stupid stuff like that. Some guy sat next to me on the plane because there was a seat open, no other reason, even though he had his own assigned seat and I kept wishing he would go back to his seat. Never happened. At least some of the food was OK - they served bibimbap, kind of a Korean vegetable salad (cucumbers, radish, cabbage, carrots, and sometimes wild mountain greens) mixed with rice and a spicy sauce. Very delicious and authentic, especially for an airplane meal. The dinner was horrible, frozen ravioli drowned in tomato paste and topped with an American frozen mixed veggie assortment, made in Chicago and completely inedible. But served with an amazing tiramisu, I still don't know how they pulled that off.

I did get to watch a lot of movies on the seat-back movie screen in front of me - Weatherman, Fun With Dick & Jane, Narnia, etc. I also watched a really good Korean movie called "Typhoon" -the first half concerned this guy who sees his family die during the Korean war and he grows up to hate South Korea and the US. In the second half it degenerates into a Bond-style action film where he escapes from North Korea and threatens to unleash a million ballons filled with some pretty dangerous stuff over Seoul during a major storm. It's up to, like, one guy, to stop him, a recently graduated lieutenant in the South's army.

When I got to Seoul I had to go through immigration, customs, etc. and then change dollars to won and find my bus, since there was no-one from the school there to meet me. Then it was an hour and a half by bus to where the school was, through terrible traffic backed up along the Han River. Tons of extremely modern apartments, cars, houses, shopping complexes, government buildings - Seoul is the world's 5th largest city and the sheer size of it just boggles the mind. There are over 10 million people in the city, where as Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea only has 2 million. Everyone here is pretty well dressed and they all have really fancy cell phones. Keep in mind that 2 of the world's largest cell phone manufacturers, Samsung and LG, are based here. There are tons of small restaurants, stores, street vendors, open-air markets, and the largest number of bars, nightclubs and internet cafes I've ever seen. The subway is really clean, fast and efficient and so are the taxis and buses. Seoul is also really safe - women walk down dark alleys here at 3 in the morning with no problem at all.

My school is all right, I'm just learning all the ropes. There really is a lot to take in at first, but I'm getting the hang of it all. I know as soon as I have the whole system memorized, it'll all change! So I shouldn't get too comfortable. I teach all age levels, from my first class at 3 p.m. of Kindergarten age children to my last one at 9 pm of high school age. I have some great coworkers: Kim (from Toronto), Lyle (North Dakota), Scott (UK), Les (Seattle), Mike, Charlie, Will (still not sure where they're from), plus my Korean coworkers Marty, Rose, Sienna, Sally, Lucy, Esther, Michelle, Anna, Monica, and a few more.

On the weekends I like to check out some areas of the city I haven't seen yet - like Apgujeong, kind of Seoul's answer to Rodeo Drive or Michigan Avenue, with posh boutiques (Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton) and some totally bizarre pet stores, where your dog can get a manicure/pedicure, shop for designer doggie clothes and get specially baked doggie treats for the discerning pooch. This weekend I'm going to an arts festival near Hongik Univerity, with some modern and traditional art and music presented entirely from the perspective of women. Should be interesting.

I really enjoy Seoul, today I spent about 4 hours in this really cool coffee shop talking with a friend and drinking jasmine tea. Afterwards we went and had some really good Vietnamese noodles. Both the coffee shop and the Vietnamese place I discovered completely by accident, and that's a cool thing about Seoul - little surprises around every corner. There are also some cool record cafes, where you can sit and have a drink and request music off the owner's large collection of vinyl records.

When I first got here, everything seemed so modern and bleak and sterile, but today it was raining and the air and light of the city had a different feel - dark, mysterious, romantic. Today on the subway going home, I was riding in the front car when suddenly there was a commotion and lots of people started running and screaming away from someone or something. I heard some guy yelling and realized this guy was crazy and was just being loud but he certainly scared everyone. He had kind of a disheveled appearance, was really thin and had long hair and was wearing black clothes. When the train pulled into the station, he jumped up and kicked the door really hard. Then an older Korean man yelled at him, something like, "Hey, what are you? Crazy? Look at how you've scared all these people! You should be ashamed of yourself!" or some words to that effect. He got off at that station and no one else wanted to get off, they were pretty shaken. I'm just glad he didn't have a weapon and that no one was hurt.

Then when I was walking from the subway station I saw three young guys tumble don the stairs of a second floor bar, where they had obviously had waaaay too much to drink, and they immediately started fighting in the street - kicking, punching, etc. A crowd of spectators gathered at a safe distance, oddly enough the police never showed up. Weird....

I'm now officially a Seoul resident, as I recieved my resident alien card the other day. Whoop-dee-doo, this calls for a party. No, really I am excited, just that it's been a long week and I came down with a cold over the last few days. I hope to get a little rest over the weekend and I've found some really good orange juice (not conventrated, with the pulp still in it - yum!) and am trying to get back to my regular health. I had a massive sinus headache the other day at work - ugh. But my back problems have cleared up......

More later,

mailing address: Rick Vaughn c/o YBM-ECC Language Institute Mia 3-dong 202-2 Joong-Ang Bldg. 2/F Kangbuk-gu, Seoul Republic Of Korea cell phone: (82)10-3980-1559 home phone: (82)10-983-6693