The next day started with a terrifying (but free, yay!) bus ride to the airport. The driving here is actually not as bad as I expected, but standing up with a 24 kilo bag as the bus swerved through traffic was interesting. The airport itself is massive. I took a few photos but they really don’t do it justice. We had some instructions though, and we managed to find the bus ticket office. Fortunately Scott has been to Korea before and was able to sort out the bus tickets from the airport to Jeonju. After a quick feed from McDonalds (it’s the same) we were on our way. My opinion of busses is well known, so I’ll spare you the rant and just say that this one was amazing: air-conditioned, comfy seats, smooth ride. I’ve heard they even run on time. It was almost enough to change my mind. Almost.
The first thing I noticed once we were on the road was the apartment buildings. These things are everywhere. They’re at least twenty stories high, arranged in big groups, and ugly as sin. There are even some out in the middle of the countryside, looking like they grew out of the rice fields. I took a few photos which I’ll put up when I can manage to get my camera, a working computer, and internet access all in the same place. We also got a short tour around some of Seoul. We couldn’t see much from the bus, but it looks like a pretty cool city.
The Korean countryside is very green and at times beautiful, except when it’s covered in horrible concrete apartment buildings. We stopped somewhere (by this stage I had no idea where we were) for a rest and to get a snack. The place was similar to motorway services everywhere, but with a big tent thing out the back filled with Korean food stalls. I bought a sausage on a stick (unusual flavour, but not bad) and some things that looked like chicken nuggets (revolting) which also came on a stick. Then it was back on the bus and on to Jeonju, the capital of Jeollabuk-do province and home to 600,000 people.
We had been told that ‘someone’ would meet our bus, but nothing more definite than that, so it was with some apprehension that we arrived in Jeonju. As it turned out we were met by our co-teachers (more on them in a later post), who took us to the Office of Education to sign our contracts. After that they took us out for lunch. We had traditional Korean food: sliced pork belly barbequed at the table and wrapped in lettuce leaves with red pepper paste, garlic and side dishes. We also had BiBimBap, a rice dish which really warrants it own entry, and cold noodles. These were surprisingly refreshing, and very tasty in an icy soup with sliced Korean pear and boiled egg – very strange to our tastes but very good!
The next visit (after driving in circles around Jeonju for a while) was the hospital. I should stress that at no time were we told where we were going or what was happening. The people at the Office of Education told us we would need to get our medical checks done at the hospital, and when we parked at the restaurant I was genuinely surprised at how strange the hospital carpark looked. Although they did tell us we were going to the hospital after we finished lunch, they didn’t bother to mention that the hospital in Buan, the town were we will be living and a full hour from Jeonju.
Buan surprised me with its size. Our research before we left had been inconclusive (there is almost no information online), and we had expected a small middle of nowhere type place. It probably is that in Korean terms, but at roughly 50,000 people it was a lot bigger than we were expecting. We went to the hospital for what must be the world’s least thorough medical check. As an example of their conscientiousness, the ‘hearing check’ consisted of wearing a pair of headphones and raising your left hand when you heard a noise in the left ear and vice versa. Sounds reasonable, except that there was one noise in each ear and the whole process took less than a minute.
After that we were showed ‘Anna’s’ apartment – an interesting name as we had insisted on living together as a condition of taking the jobs. The place was pleasant enough and walking distance to both schools, but quite small and without the spare room we had been hoping for. We were told that we could have this place, another one in the building that looked bigger but was actually the same size, or one twenty minutes away in Gimje City. We asked to see the Gimje one and found that the word ‘in’ had been used rather loosely. The apartment building was on a farm. I’m not exaggerating: you couldn’t see another building. The building was also a dirty, rundown, stale cigarette-smelling dump. The apartment itself was dirty and devoid of natural light, and didn’t have a separate kitchen unlike the one in Buan. We got out of there as fast as we could, which since Anna’s co-teacher was driving, was about as fast as it’s possible to go while talking on a cell phone, ignoring red lights and not having the slightest idea where you’re going.
Having decided on the apartment we were shown first, we were taken to Home Mart (a small supermarket in Buan). We were told to ‘remember this corner’ where it was located, and buy something to eat for dinner. We assumed this meant that we were going to our apartment where we could cook some food and generally try to relax and take it all in. We only found out that this wasn’t the case when I tried to buy some noodles, and was told I would have to buy cup noodles instead because the motel wouldn’t have bowls. ‘What motel?’, ‘Aren’t we going to our apartment?’, and ‘SeriouslywhatswrongwithyouWhywon’tyoutellmewhattheHellisgoingon?’ These were all things I was far too tired to say.
When we got to the motel we were told to leave our bags in the car because we might not be staying there. This turned out to mean that we got to inspect the room before we decided to stay there or somewhere else. In principle, this was a good idea, and it’s something I’ll remember when travelling around Korea. In practice though, we both looked at the room and in our exhausted state saw that it had a bed and pronounced it ideal. We went back and got our stuff from the car, the pain of carrying it made worse by the knowledge that we would have to carry it all back to the car the next morning. (Probably. We had been given at least three completely contradictory versions of the plan for the next day.) We picked up the little packet of toiletries that all hotels seem to give you here and trudged up the black stairs (the first sign that we were in a love hotel) to our room.
On closer inspection the room is not the perfect oasis it seemed. The bed, once again, is slightly less comfortable than most floors. Once again there’s no air-conditioning, just a big fan that I think I’m developing an unnatural relationship with. This probably looks worse than it is, particularly since I’m naked just to cope with the heat. Reinforcing the love hotel vibe we have one tiny window and large round light in the ceiling that bathes the room in a soft glow. Anna has gone to sleep. I should do the same, but I’m hungry, so I thought I’d have my noodles. The room has a machine that dispenses hot water, so I was able to cook them. Unfortunately my noodles didn’t come with a fork, and the hotel doesn’t seem to provide any kind of eating utensils, so after looking around desperately for something to use, I settled on one of the toothbrushes in the toiletries pack. It’s working quite well.