Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Story About Jazz

 Down the road from where were staying for our training is an entertainment district full of bars, restaurants and street stalls selling everything from hotdogs to necklaces to shoes. Since were not in our seventies we didnt really feel like having dinner at the training mandated hours of 5.30-6.30pm, plus we got back late from Seoul Tower, so we wandered round the area and found a small Italian place with the blandest spaghetti Bolognese and the strangest pizza Ive ever eaten. We ordered the margherita, which came with mushrooms, capsicums and some other stuff on a bready, slightly green base. It wasnt as bad as it sounds, but I wont be going back.
On the walk home we stopped at an ATM and discovered wed been paid for the first time. Sweet! Extra exciting when its in Won, since we ended up with about four million in our accounts with our entrance allowance added in. Flush with cash I decided I felt like a beer, so we stopped at the Beer Castle. Inexplicably this wasnt a raucous beer hall serving huge steins of German lager, but a rather upmarket restaurant where the Korean waitress looked down her nose at me when I asked if we could just have a drink. Moving on we checked out a few other places and ended up outside a sketchy bar in a building that looked like it was held together by gaffer tape and hope. On one side was a sign made out of at least a hundred brake lights and indicators that said simply Jazz Story.

The inside of Jazz Story put any eclectic café’ in New Zealand to shame: it looked like someone had done a half-arsed job of demolishing two adjacent buildings and then an even lazier job of turning the resulting cavity into a bar. There was a line of exposed concrete pillars where the wall between the two original buildings had been, and evidence that several others had been removed to give a better view of the stage. There were electrical wires hanging all across the roof like a giant spider web and obscene drawings on the bathroom doors. All around the walls were more LPs than most record shops have. I wouldnt want to guess how many, but it would be in the thousands. We were shown to our table: a row of aeroplane seats with a table made out of a bathtub with a sheet of glass on top.

On checking the menu we discovered that every night they have a concert which attracts a 5000 Won cover charge, and they also charge more for drinks when the concert is on. This made it a more expensive drink then we were expecting but worth it for the experience, though I dont think Ill be drinking there every night. Oh, and some of the drinks come in Pyrex jugs with straws.
Airplane seats, bathtub and pyrex jug - that's the piano player in the gap.
The band for the concert was a bass player, drummer, guitarist, an amazing piano player on a grand piano and three singers. These three took turns singing lead and did backing vocals and percussion when they werent singing. The music was not jazz, or even really close to it, but the band was tight and the dude singer in particular was amazing. He did Jason Mrazs Im Yours (told you it wasnt jazz): a song I always thought was kinda stupid until I heard this guy sing it. I usually prefer people with interesting voices to those who can hit all the notes perfectly; too many singers hit the notes and miss the point. But this singer was something else: he got all the notes but still sang with real emotion and inventive, clever phrasing.
Sneaky picture of the toilets - the lady on the left is squatting
Today we took a walk through the district again and on our way we happened across two guys playing an impromptu show on the steps up to our building. One was playing guitar and singing and the other was banging a drum and yelling out a few lines of the song. A good sized crowd had gathered, and it wasnt hard top see why: the songs were fantastic even though I didnt understand a word and the drummer was doing a great job of working the crowd. Its this kinda stuff that makes me love Seoul: theres always something going on and its usually awesome. Too bad theres nothing like that in Buan, but I have a guitar now so maybe Ill start playing some gigs on the corner in between classes.
Bigger update coming soon, going to be super busy with training over the next few days.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Getting sick in Korea

I’ve been feeling pretty shady for the last couple of days – on Saturday we went to Gimje and the trip was interesting, alternating between the heat and the air conditioning made me feel feverish. On Monday morning I woke up feeling worse than before, so I called my co-teacher and asked her to take me to the doctor.
We have health insurance written into our contracts but my co-teacher signed me in under her plan. The waiting room was full of people looking as miserable as me.
After half an hour I was ‘shown’ into the doctor’s ‘office.’ The area where people are treated is completely open and more like a dentist than the doctors I am used to in New Zealand. I was put in a chair and the doctor asked me to say ‘ah,’ sprayed something in my throat, suctioned something out of my nose, jabbered at my co-teacher in Korean and after all of 2 minutes my appointment was over.
I figured I had a cold but apparently I’ve got a sinus infection that will take 2-3 weeks to clear. My co-teacher marched me downstairs to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine. Pharmacies are everywhere in Korea!   There are so many that 약 (yak) was the first hangul word I recognised and Tom and I play spot-the-pharmacy for points. There’s one on every block – the same can be said for cellphone stores.

I’ve been given enough medicine for four days (that’s standard in Korea apparently) and if we weren’t going to Seoul for Chuseok I’d need to go back to the doctor to get some more. I’ve got 6 ½ pills to take morning and evening, and 2 ½ after lunch – a few more than I’d take back home! The appointment was 3600 won (about $4) and the prescription was 6000 won (about $7). Heres a pic of the meds I'm on at the moment:

Blogging note - we got our bed back and we're staying in the 1-bedroom apartment. Tom was a hero and talked the Office of Education into moving it back for us - we were thinking of strapping the mattress to the roof of a taxi and hoping for the best!
Also, we're in Seoul. Its Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) so we have a few days off work and then we're attending some training (FINALLY!) from the 25th -30th. We toured the DMZ today and got drenched - it's pouring down here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Korea's 'Yes' culture

The past 24 hours has been ... well, not hellish, but not enjoyable either. We were told last week that we'd be moving to a bigger apartment that is slightly closer to town - currently we're three blocks away from the city centre and it takes around 25 minutes to walk to our schools. The small apartment is not ideal but it's clean and has air conditioning and we have some nice neighbours. 3 bedrooms sounded pretty appealing, we could each have a room (Tom can play guitar in his, I can eat chocolate and fart in mine) and we'd have space if anyone deigned to make the trip and visit us. Currently guests can enjoy a night on our rock-hard couch, in our bedroom/living room. I hate that couch.
As we'd heard some horror stories about the apartments in Buan - heavy mould on the ceiling was described as 'green paint' by one eager landlord - we wanted to see the place first. I asked for the address and a key and my co-teacher gave me the building name and apartment number, insisting that I would know how to find the building as soon as I stepped out of our current apartment, and that the security guard would let us in. Of course. We spent a good part of the weekend wandering the streets of Buan and matching the hangul on my note with what was written on the side of apartment buildings.
On Sunday, we went to Jeonju and met up with Lauren and some other teachers, ate lunch and walked around the city. Jeonju's about an hour away by bus and where we'll need to go for shopping, movies, entertainment - we bought parmesan cheese and a guitar for Tom.
We got back to Buan at about 6pm and we were tired and sunburnt so we splurged the 3000 won (about $3.50) and caught a cab to finally see the apartment. Or so we thought. The Lonely Planet Korean Phrasebook doesn't cover 'Please can we borrow a key so we can look at the apartment that we might be moving to?' so after a good 20 minutes of walking around, gesturing, pointing and then one exasperated call to my co-teacher (who explained the situation to a very confused security guard) we got let in to apartment 202. I wish I had pictures - the apartment is easily 3 times the size of where we live now. The kitchen has a gas hob. The master bedroom is a decent size, the other two are small but big enough for us to use. There are two drying areas and enough space in the living room for a couch, a TV and a dining table. The downsides?
  • The bathroom is gross.
  • There's no air conditioning.
The latter is a dealbreaker. Korea is HOT and so humid in summer and although we've only been here during the tail end, it's still intolerable. I've spent most of my time here looking like this:

The first few days, I just couldn't concentrate because of the heat and I barely wore pants (usually, I love not wearing pants!) but then I'd get stuck to and have to peel myself off our crappy leather couch. Have I mentioned how much I hate that couch? That couch is like sitting on a park bench covered in sellotape.
Monday morning I talked to my co-teacher and explained that we'd like to move but we needed air conditioning. I'd been teaching her about conditional phrases (a lot of Korean adults use us as their own personal English teachers) so this was a good chance to reiterate - If the Office of Education bought us an air conditioner, we would move into the new apartment. My co-teacher confirmed they'd buy one. I asked again to check. She reconfirmed.
On Tuesdays I teach at two small rural schools, about 20 kilometres out of Buan. Yesterday morning my co-teacher called and asked me where the keys to my house were. They were with me, and no my apartment wasn't unlocked. She seemed really annoyed that I'd gone to work and taken my keys with me. I was told to hurry back to Buan (a 10,000 won taxi fare) and wait while the Office of Education moved our double bed into the new place.
As the movers packed up the bed I talked to one of the assistants from the Office of Education. I wrote down a list of the appliances we'd need for the new apartment and put air conditioning at the top. I got him to sit on our awful couch and explained that we wanted a softer one (please!!) and that we needed a big fridge. His supervisor came up and confirmed that everything we wanted for the apartment was fine and they took our bed and I spent the rest of the day packing everything else. We've been here three weeks and have already amassed quite a bit of stuff:

We were told that we'd have to move everything else ourselves, either 2 taxi rides or about 10 trips between the old apartment and the new (about 1km each way). Taxi rides are cheap but the lack of support from the Education Office was a bit questionable - if the Education Office can move our bed, why can't they move the rest of our stuff?
Fortunately, we are lazy bastards. If we hadn't been lazy bastards, by the time my co-teacher rang at 5pm we would have moved everything into the new place. When she rang, she told me that the Office of Education wasn't going to buy us an air conditioning unit, and would a fan do?  
At this point, the patient and even tone I developed while working at the contact centre of one of New Zealand's major banks really came into play. I explained that no, a fan would not sub in for an air conditioner, and that without it we would stay in our current apartment. I explained that I understood it wasn't her fault, and that I wasn't angry at  her. I explained that although summer is at an end that next year we will still have to suffer through two months of hot, humid Korean summer without air conditioning, and I would rather live in a tiny apartment with air con than a large apartment without it. My sanity needs air conditioning.
Basially, we became victims of Korea's 'Yes' culture. Koreans HATE to say no. Saying 'no' makes Koreans feel like they have 'lost face.' This can happen for small things - like 'Did you do your homework?' or 'Can you understand me?' to bigger stuff - like 'Can we have air conditioning for our apartment?' Despite checking and re-checking, we were never going to get air conditioning. I'm going to have to learn to rephrase my questions to get more direct answers.
This morning, I was told that we have to figure out how to move our bed back to the small apartment ourselves. Tonight, we're going to fit a double bed into a taxi and then drink soju until we forget everything.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Buan's Answer to Roti Chanai

Looking for a big delicious feed on the cheap in rural Cheollabuk-do? No? Well we are, and we've found it. More on that in a bit, but first, the story of the time I lost my bibimbap virginity.

The flight from Sydney to Seoul was less than awesome, with the separate seating, annoying children, and state-of-the-art mid-90's inflight entertainment, but it did have two upsides. The first was the friendly Korean couple sitting next to me. They were from Jeonju and gave me the heads up on a few things. The second redeeming feature was bi bim bap, a rice dish invented in Jeonju, and which Cheollabuk-do's tourist promotional stuff keeps telling me the province is world famous for (I'd never heard of the dish or the province before I found out I was moving here).

The airline's version of bi bim bap was one bowl with a mixture of different veges and beef mince and another with rice. Bi Bim Bap is normally vegetarian, though they also do this one and (legend has it) one with raw beef. All this came with a toothpaste tube full of red pepper paste (delicious), some sesame oil, and a bowl of forgettable soup. The idea was that you mix the veges and rice together with the sesame oil and as much red pepper paste as you can stand (heaps in my case, that stuff is delicious). I enjoyed it, but mainly because I was imagining how good it could be if it was done well. It was good for airline food, but that's obviously not much of an endorsement. Overall my first bi bim bap experience was an important moment in my life, but it was over too soon and left me feeling unsatisfied.

Things were about to get a whole lot better. Our co-teachers took us out for lunch in the middle of that whirlwind first day in Jeonju. In between having dwaeji galbi (pork belly wrapped in lettuce leaves with garlic and red pepper paste) and cold noodles (delicious and refreshing), we had our second bi bim bap. Each course of this meal was more food than I would normally eat for a big dinner, but it was delicious enough that we got through it. This bi bim bap had barley instead of rice, and the veges were done properly: a small plate for each different vegetable so you can add more of what you like. This was a big improvement on the airline's version: fresh and delicious with lots of interesting flavours.

As good as that was, things were still on the way up. After we'd been in Buan about a week we had lunch with Matt, the teacher who used to have Anna's job (and our apartment). He showed us what quickly became our favourite restaurant in Buan. I have no idea what its called, but it's around the corner from Anna's school and they only serve one thing: stone bowl bi bim bap. This turned out to be an advantage: the proprietors speak very little English than, so it's good to be only one simple question away from a delicious meal: “how many?” On one wall of the place is a big cabinet full of jars of . . . something? We didn't know what to make of it and as such it is presented here without comment.

When we went with Matt we sat on the floor at low tables for the traditional Korean experience, though we’ve been back since and sat at the regular Western-style tables that are also available. This got us some dirty looks from the Korean patrons – being uncomfortable is a major part of Korean culture, see: beds, couches. The first thing that comes out is a big plate of different Korean veges, all of them covered in red pepper paste (as you might've guessed by now, it's everywhere) and a bowl of soy sauce. Next comes side dishes: kimchi, mung beans in a soy soup, some kind of lettuce thing and whole chillies (I have no idea what you're supposed to do with these since your only utensils are chopsticks and a spoon.

This is the plate of veges you get: bean sprouts, zuchini, mung beans and an unidentified (but delicious) green sprouty thing, all covered in red pepper paste. The rest of it is is kimchi, the whole chilies, more red pepper paste and the mung bean and soy soup.

Lettuce-like vege, pickled radish.

Then the main event: they take a big stone bowl, heat it up, and fill it with rice, a few veges and some beans. Then they crack an egg on top of it.

The egg cooks as you add your choice of the veges on the table, chuck in some of the soy sauce and mix the whole thing up.

The end result is a super tasty mix of rice, veges, egg, beans, soy sauce and red pepper paste. It's a huge serving...

This picture taken when I was full

...but it's also amazingly good, so I kept going. The trick is to eat from the middle of the bowl, leaving a layer of rice around the side. This rice cooks on the side of the hot stone bowl and goes all crispy.

After you eat the rest of the bi bim bap you chip the crispy rice off the sides of the bowl and eat it.

It's serious business.
It's soaked up lots of the soy sauce so it's crunchy and salty and good.
Reeeeeal good.
And the best part: it's 6000 won. That's like, seven bucks to you. Back home there are a million Malaysian restaurants that do roti chanai (a bowl of Malaysian curry with roti bread) for about that price. It's always a big feed and some of the places do it amazingly well (KK Malaysia on Ghuznee St is the best). Stone bowl bibimbap is the tastiest and the best value feed in town: Buan's answer to roti chanai.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Last Plane Outa Sydney's Almost Gone (Part Two)

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.

Apartment Tour

As part of our contract we have been provided with an apartment for our year in Buan.
Here's a 'tour' I made. Please excuse Tom's butt.

When we first saw the apartment we were pretty disappointed. The couples apartments I've seen online are huge, with spare bedrooms and offices and ample space.  I had grand plans for a chocolate room or a fart room, but they were dashed (I think Tom is secretly pleased.) We were told there was another apartment we could look at in Gimje, a larger city which is a 20 minute busride from Buan. The other apartment was a 3rd floor studio, above a restaurant, literally on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. No Gimje in sight. Although we were clear when we applied that we wanted to live together, the original plan would have Tom in Buan, me in Gimje. It is small but it's bigger than Tom's room in NZ and it's got air conditioning, hallelujah!

Here's a few more shots of the apartment:

Our apartment building. We're on the third floor to the right of the stairwell. The room at the top is full of chillies which are being dried to make kimchi, and the roof is awesome. I wish I had a barbecue and some deck chairs so I could live up there.
The building is owned by the Buan Office of Education so most of the other residents are teachers.

The office area/dining room, and the bathroom to the right. The bathroom walls are falling apart, the previous tenant had zero luck getting them fixed.

Shower/tap contraption. There's a knob attached to the tap, and you twist it to switch between the shower and the sink. It's a pain in the ass. I've been in the apartment just under two weeks and I've been drenched about 5 times.

I keep Tom in his place. I'm too short to reach the top cupboards so I don't know how Koreans would cope! I'm short in New Zealand, but here I'm a few inches taller than most of the women I've met (and they all wear high heels!)

The bedroom/lounge/office.
A note on Korean furniture - we had to buy this double bed when we arrived (350,000 KRW/$420 NZD) and it's rock hard. All of the beds are. It is traditional for Koreans to sleep on a 'yo,' a mat on the floor which is rolled up during the day, so the beds must seem soft in comparison.

This is our drying room and supersonic 10kg washing machine. So far we've just been pushing random buttons to get it to work, it's Russian Roulette laundry.

Our couch. Like the bed, this couch is rock hard and stupidly uncomfortable. Above Tom's head is the panel which controls the floor temperature and the hot water - another post about heating in Korea to come.

Also, as I wrote this I was told we'll be moving to a 3 bedroom apartment early next week. I can have a fart room AND a chocolate room!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Last Plane Outa Sydney's Almost Gone

Forty-eight hours ago I was eating roast chicken at home with my family in Wellington, New Zealand. Right now I'm I'm eating noodles with a toothbrush in a love hotel in Buan, South Korea. Oh, and I'm naked, but not for the reason you think.

Some time inappropriately close to three am yesterday I was jolted awake by my phone alarm. To make matters worse I'd been awake until midnight the night before and I had a long day of travelling ahead of me. I'd managed a fairly stress-free pack, resolving problems of what to bring and what to leave by bringing basically everything.

I discovered at the airport that 'everything' weighed 24 Kg, something I would be reminded of constantly while lugging my baggage around Korea for the next few days. I was over my baggage limit but the guy at check in seemed like he'd had about as much sleep as I had and was about as keen on being at the airport as I was. After the goodbyes with the family I passed through the airport doors and into the unknown...

Unfortunately, the unknown was fourteen hours of flying and a pain in the ass transfer in Sydney away. The flight from Wellington to Sydney wasn't bad; Air New Zealand's in-flight entertainment was pretty sweet and I got to catch a couple of episodes of Moon TV. Anna flew out of Auckland and we met in Sydney airport to fly to Seoul. This meant that the airline didn't know we were travelling together so we got separate seats on a full flight. We also got paged over the loudspeakers, which was kind of exciting until we realised we we're being paged to wait in line to get on the flight.

So I ended up sitting next to a nice Korean couple who had been on holiday in Australia. They turned out to be from Jeonju, which is the capital of Jeollabukdo and about an hour from Buan. They showed me how to eat my first Bi-Bim-Bap (more on that in another post) and gave me an idea of what to expect in Korea. I was surprised when they said it would be hot and humid; even though it's summer here everything I've read about the weather here has been about how cold it is. As I stepped of the plane I was worrying that I hadn't really brought any hot weather clothes, which was a nice distraction from worrying about being in a completely new country where I didn't speak the language and having basically no idea what to do.

Luckily, and with one exception, Korean immigration and customs went surprisingly smoothly. The woman at immigration hadn't heard of Buan but let us through anyway. Then in the massive baggage claim area a crazy Korean woman kept grabbing my arm to get me to help her with her luggage even as I was grappling with my own furiously heavy bag. I helped her get her suitcase off the conveyor and as I was grabbing my pack before it sailed past she was grabbing me and pointing at her suitcase and saying god knows what in Korean. It turned out that she just wanted me to help her put her bags on her trolley, which I did, though somewhat grudgingly after being harassed while obviously struggling with my own bag. 'Customs' consisted of giving a declaration form to a man and then walking past another man sitting at a desk. The whole process of entering Korea was slightly easier than avoiding those people on the street back home that try to sell you books about spiritual enlightenment.

It turned out that the friendly Korean man from the plane had been right about the weather. We were suffocating from the heat and humidity as we found an information desk and got them to call our hotel to come pick us up. All this had been sorted by our recruiter before we left, and it's a good thing it had as I don't think we could have managed in the sticky heat, in a foreign country and after a long flight, to find ourselves somewhere to sleep that night. Our driver arrived and I had by first experience of everyone driving on the wrong side of the road. Our hotel was bland and a bit rundown, but it had a huge fan which at that time made up for any drawbacks. We met Scott and Lauren, also from New Zealand and also teaching in Jeollabukdo, but not in Buan. We managed to use a PC-Bang (internet cafe) to email home, and then we both collapsed into bed, knowing we had to catch the bus to Jeonju early the next morning.

Stay tuned for part two. There's really too much to cover all at once, but I will definitely write more about our first few days here in some later posts.