Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I am back! And I survived my three-day adventure, my six-hour journey to Guyre and meeting my host family. I think I am finally settled in, too. First things first, Seoul. I made a short video that, I think, sums up Seoul very nicely.

Seoul was probably the most fun I've ever had in a city. Saturday was Liberation Day - a huge national holiday to celebrate Korea's liberation from Japan. The entire weekend had a lot of free and interesting cultural events. It was the perfect weekend to visit. Just for the record, I want to state that I have never felt like such a fashion frump. It seemed like every girl on the street just jumped off of a runway. And then there were my friends and me: dressed in our typical American blue jeans, sneakers and $9.99 department store top.

I did go shopping in Seoul (of course!) and bought a few fashion essentials. I can't believe those words just came out of my finger tips. :)

On Monday I officially became an ETA and met my Principal and co-teacher. We, plus a geography teacher, drove from Seoul to Guyre. That was an interesting trip. Three men + me in a tiny Hyundai, with very little English. Needless to say, I started learning "survival Korean" immediately. It was actually a very pleasant ride, all in all, especially when the principal found out that I like to 놀래방 (karaoke).

Well, apparently Guyre is ridiculously small, because none of my three transporters live in the actual city. My principal lives in Gwangju (a huge city about an hour away) and the geography teacher lives in Sincheon (about 20 minues away). My co-teacher lives about 10 minutes outside of Guyre city limits. "Oh boy," I thought, "It's really happening. I am moving to a rice field."

While there were several lost-in-the-translation moments, the best one by far occurred while passing through my co-teacher's city. He said what sounded like, "I feel gas." Not sure if that ment he was about to bust loose with the belches and farts or not, I just said, "Ohhh, okay." Luckily, he meant that he needed gas...for the car. I breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled into the gas station.

I met my host family around 9:30 p.m. on Monday. They definitely fit my personality well. They are active but very realistic. I have two younger brothers: ages 8 and 10. Their names sound like "Oh-Meong" (10) and "Oh-Chahn" (8) (겅의찬 & 겅의명). I call my host mom "Oh-nee" (it means older sister/female figure) and haven't really called my host dad anything yet... :) I have a picture of Oh-Chahn and me fooling around with my computer. Oh-Meong has sort of been M.I.A. for the past day; I think he went to his grandparents.

I will post more pictures as I can get them. My father is a Government employee and my mom works for the Lions Club as a secretary part-time. The boys are still on summer break. School starts next Monday for us both!

Like every American family, every Korean family is a little different, so I didn't really know what to expect. One thing, I think I mentioned in previous posts, is the whole toilet paper thing. The sewer system cannot handle toilet paper, so you throw it in the wastebasket. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the basket was outside of the bathroom. I thought that carrying used toilet paper outside of the bathroom would be quite odd in any culture, so I just air dried for the first few times (if you know what I mean). ALSO, they have one of those souped-up toilets. You know, the ones that give your fanny a bath and everything. I personally am a huge fan of the heated toilet seat.

Well, I came to find out through very intense observation that the toilet takes care of the toilet paper. Whew! First hurdle overcome!

The next is the whole door thing. We are not suppose to close our door; it's like me saying, "leave me alone." That's fine and dandy until you come to the changing/sleeping/showering part of the day. I'm still not really sure what to do, because I never see my family change, sleep or shower. And they won't go to bed before I do. So, I'm not really sure what to do. Right now I change in the corner of my room (door open), sleep with the door cracked and shower with the door closed. Eh. It'll have to do for now. I'll keep you all posted on the situation, though.

Yesterday my Mom took me around Guyre. It took about 15 minutes. It is very very small. We went to their art museum (which was really cool!). It was a one-room museum with "paintings" made completely out of pressed flowers. It was gorgeous! Oh-Chahn was sick, so we took him to the doctor in Guyre and then to one in the next, much larger town over. I visited my school briefly and received a cell phone (I'll activiate it with Skype soon so you all can call me!) and the option of a bicycle or moped. I chose the moped, which is coming on Monday. Sweet! Oh-Chahn and I spent most of the day playing card games and a short game of baseball. Huge baseball fans, my host family. Especially the Chicago Cubs. The card games are fun because the only deck I could find was my Obama deck, so whenever Oh-Chahn wants to play cards he says, "Play with Obama?"

This afternoon I am setting up my bank account with my co-teacher (Mr. Seol [설재문]) and either running by myself or hiking up a mountain with my Oh-nee...I'm not sure. It sort of got lost in the translation. I forgot to mention that Guyre is completely surrounded by mountains. Mountains in EVERY direction. It's crazy, but beautiful. More picutres to come, I promise!

Well, that's about all I have time for. Thanks for reading, and I promise to write more later!


  1. Cub Fans in S. Korea! How does that work? They're not even good. I'm baffled. :0) It's nice to have a few relaxing days to acclimate before the school routine sets in. You seem to be adapting well. Fun to catch up with you. Do you have internet at home? Or just at school.
    Love and miss you. Mom

  2. i know for fact that the cubs games are airred in Africa via radio, so maybe they also hit South korea? i'm not sure, but that's cool =)

  3. I also just found out that my Vice Principal is a HUGE Cubs fan. Apparently there was a Korean player who played for the Cubs for a while...

  4. Thanks for the write-up! I had so much fun reading. Yes, I absolutely understand what you mean about those "dressed-to-kill" ladies in Seoul. I'd be definitely beyond frumpy there.

    Also imagine a quarter of the nation's population crammed in an every expanding city. It's pretty crazy, isn't it?

    You are making such effort to understand the culture, and I am sure that your host family appreciate it.

    The concept of "personal space" is foreign to a lot of people in Korea. However, remember that the understanding goes (or should go) both ways. I would suggest that you draw the line where YOU are comfortable and politely close the door when you need to. They will (have to)understand. Or if you ask them as a question about the culture, they may surprise you or be surprised themselves that you are trying so hard!

    After a certain time, the apartments and houses my family lived in were new and equipped for the western style toilets. Your mom mentioned your "problem" when I met her for lunch yesterday and I thought to myself that it is probably one of the newer apartments. It really depends on where you are and how old the house/building is. I had no idea how new or old the town's infrastructure is. It sounds like you live in a relatively new developed area but not too crowded, which is great. You have figured it all out anyway. Fun times... eh?

    American sports are apparently HUGE in Korea. That's a phenomenon that I didn't really experience when I lived there. I confess that it also baffles me that people can feel such affinity to a team across the ocean, but there are more puzzling things in life, I guess. Only if you had known... it would have made getting the host family gift so easy.

  5. This typo actually changed the meaning, hence the correction: I meant to say "ever" expanding not "every" expanding.