Where am I Going? Friday 20th October 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)
My flight to Seoul wasn’t too bad, it took around 12 hours and I flew across to the Baltic Sea, then across Russia, over Mongolia where we banked to the south and flew across China towards Beijing. Descending, we flew over the Yellow Sea and down into the sprawling metropolis of Seoul. I was very lucky to get a seat by the emergency exit and though I could stretch out my legs, I could hardly move in my seat as the arm rests were so narrow. The flight arrived at 1650 on the Thursday afternoon. After wandering around the arrivals for ages, I eventually bumped into Mr Young Won Lee and a Korean woman called Christine. Mr Lee introduced himself and using his mobile phone telephoned a driver who is to take Christine ( a Korean Letterland Teacher) and I to a hotel, somewhere in Seoul. The weather was very mild and not much different to the autumn temperatures I’d left behind in the UK.
On the Friday, suffering from jetlag, I ate breakfast which consisted of rice and fish and then had to carry my heavy baggage some distance to the Letterland school. Even though it was early in the morning, perhaps 8.00am, the humidity was uncomfortable and I could feel sweat trickling down my spine. The pavements were uneven and curled up and down small hills and all around me the city was busily gearing up for a days work. Once we arrived at the school, I spent the entire day being ferried by car to four English language schools that the Letterland people were trying to coax to work with their system. I think I was used as a native English speaker to make their credentials look good. On several occasions, while sat in front of school bosses, I nodded asleep. In one school I had to read to a class of 6 or 7 year olds and was asked to pronounce certain words to them. I could hardly keep my eyes open. It was all very confusing as no one had welcomed me or told me what I was supposed to be doing and no one seemed competent or willing to answer my questions. I had been told back in the UK, I was to teach in Ilsan but could find little or no information about where this was but was most disconcerting was none of the Koreans seemed sure was I was going. As the proverbial mushroom, kept in the dark and fed on shit, I was ferried between one school and another with no idea of the purpose of visits. Finally, at almost seven in the evening, exhausted, I was taken to Kimpo International Airport. Christine, who spoke very little English and yet was, at least I assumed, an English language teacher, was unable to answer my questions and I only knew I was arriving at an airport by seeing airport traffic. Suddenly, her mobile phone rang and after a brief conversation I was told I am to fly to Daegu where I will find my school. At first I thought this was in another part of Seoul; I’d never heard of Daegu and was totally bewildered considering I thought I was to be teaching in Ilsan. It is only when I am being pushed into the departure lounge, Chrstine stood waving goodbye, that I realise my 35 minute flight is to take me way beyond Seoul.
Daegu is the third largest city in South Korea and lies in the central southern part of the peninsula, above Pusan and Masan. That much I gleaned from the in-flight magazine. It was already dark as we flew into Daegu and the small town I had envisaged was a sprawling city. At Daegu I was met by a young Korean man called Tony who drove me to the Shane English School where I met my new boss, Mr Jo. I looked around the school and then went for dinner with him to a bulgogi restaurant. Luckily, we didn’t sit on the floor as I had done for the last two meals. Afterwards, Tony drove me the short distance to my house which I am sharing with a man called Nana who though from Canada, is Ghanese. Nana was away for the weekend and so I had time to get used to the apartment and to familiarise myself with this part of the town.
Today (October 23) is my first attempt at writing my diary. On the way to work today I called in at a Taekwon do school which I might join. I think it’s a World Taekwondo (WTF) Federation school rather than an International Taekwon-do (ITF) Federation school but this is okay as I would quite like to learn this system. I hope they will be able to get me a dobok (suit) suit though they will probably have to have it made specially.
I spent this first morning of my new life in Korea, a Saturday morning wandering around the area known as Song-So, and totally in awe I was. Though I’m sure poverty exists here, as it does everywhere, so far I haven’t witnessed any and there are no horrid smells at all. The toilets are very clean as are the roads and pavements and apart from some crappy sidewalks and the odd bit of construction work, it is very comparable with the UK. In fact my flat is of a better quality than my house in the UK. My immediate area is primarily high rise buildings all with enormous neon hordings or banners emblazoned with bold Korean characters. I very quickly got lost and later discovered I had been walking around a one large block of buildings. It was very difficult to get my bearings.
My apartment consists of two fairly large bedrooms, a kitchen come dining room a washroom and utility room and a balcony. The balcony runs all the way around the apartment, there is also a small hall. It is a very clean place though it lacks any windows in my bedroom which look onto the outside world. The flat is only five minutes walk from my school and is close to a KFC and MacDonald’s.
My boots have been smelly and I’m pleased I put some odour eaters in them before I left the UK. I’ve eaten very well and so far all my meals have been paid for by one person or another. The only inconvenience has to sit cross-legged on the floor. The food is excellent and consists of all sorts of condiments and pickles such as kimchi – a sort of pickled cabbage leaf. Koreans eat garlic raw and dip it into a sort of chilli sauce and everyone’s breath stinks so I don’t feel out of place.