Sunday, February 27, 2011

Korean Officetel

Tonight is my last night in Korea. I finished packing Friday night and spent the weekend searching for the corner of my apartment I surely forgot to pack, because there was no possible way I was finished packing two days in advance. I've been having nightmares of weeks where get back to America and realize that I had completely forgotten to pack up my apartment, but I think I'm finally done.

I spent the week before last last week cleaning my apartment, partly because trying to pack a messy apartment means you end up packing the mess and partly because when I was cleaning, I didn't have to be packing. I ran out of things to clean on Saturday, but I took some photos of my apartment before I started to tear it apart and stick it in boxes.

So, my apartment. I live in an officetel. Officetels, which comes from office + hotel, are usually one room studio apartments. The first four floors of my building are commercial (a pharmacy, a half dozen clinics, a billiards hall, a couple of restaurants and a butcher shop), and the top five floors are apartments. Some people complain about noise or smells from the businesses below, but other than getting the side-eye from clinic patients in hospital gowns hooked up to IVs taking a smoking break by the back stairs when I take my trash out at night, I've never had any problems.

Koean Officetel

This is the main room of the apartment, looking from the door. The bathroom and kitchen are to the left and right. On on the left side of the room is the table, couch and bed. On the right side is the closet type thing, the dresser and my desk. The far wall of the apartment is all windows, which was nice during the summer and really cold during the winter.

Koean Officetel

Standing next to the bed, looking back at the door. The recessed area by the door is the only part of the apartment you're suppose to wear shoes in. The light over the shoe area is motion sensor, but it's erratic and I sometimes trigger it when I walk into the bathroom or the kitchen.

Koean Officetel

A closer look at the closet thing. It was put up by the previous teacher, and while I'm grateful for somewhere to hang my clothes (the dresser isn't very big), it did severely limit how I could move furniture around. Underneath the clothes are my crafting stash bags, luggage and spare bedding.

Koean Officetel

A closer look at the desk, which is the only part of the apartment I really decorated. The red box is full of stationary products which, yes, I know, I have a problem. Stationary is ugly and overpriced in the US, so it's a get-it-while-you-can situation. The painting was done by my little sister. The trashcan has pandas in airplanes quoting R. Kelly lyrics. Also, my light-up devil horns from the World Cup.

Koean Officetel

This kitchen isn't technically a separate room, but it's tucked away in a corner and if I pull out the counter space from under the stove, it almost has four walls. I have a hot plate, a rice cooker, a electric kettle, toaster, microwave and, after I absorbed Margaret's spices while she was in America this winter, a spice rack with four different containers of curry powder. The contraption above my sink is the sterilizer, so I can UV my dishes after I wash them.

Korean Officetel

The bathroom was my least favorite part of the apartment. The sink-shower meant that the bathroom was *always* wet. I can't keep anything in the bathroom since it would get soaked daily, the floor stays wet for hours after a shower (or a load of laundry, since my washing machine drains onto the bathroom floor) and standing water on the counters means I risk electrocuting myself every time I blow my hair dry. Also, the hot water heater only runs at night, so once the hot water is used up, that's it for the day. It's more than enough for a shower but, let me tell you, washing the dishes with ice cold water during the winter was LOADS OF FUN.

So, that's my apartment. I actually really like it. It's small, but how much space does one person actually need. It's in a good area - buses to my school stop in front of the building, a subway station is three minutes away and a much larger bus stop is only a ten minute walk away. There's a Daiso next door, a market two buildings down and in that three minute walk to the subway, I pass six coffee shops and a ho-tteok stand. In good traffic, I can be in Seoul in half an hour. It's smaller than my last apartment, but the bed's a double, the ondol worked all winter and I don't have to stick the AC hose in a trashcan to keep from flooding the apartment, so I count it a win.

It was a good home.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Yesterday was my last day at school. I spent the morning cleaning off my computer, and then left around 11:00 to finish packing. A group of my former 6-1 boys were playing soccer in front of the school when I walked out and they shouted hello.

"Teacher," they told me, "we going to middle school now."

"I know," I said.

"Where are you going, Teacher?"

"I'm going to America," I told them.


"Well, I'm from America. My family is in America."

They huddled together for a quick consultation and finally the most advanced boy asked, "So, Teacher not Canada person?"

Turns out, my ENTIRE school thought I was Canadian all year.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Goodbye, Part 1

One of the hardest parts about teaching in Korea is how transient the expat community is. Contracts are only for a year and once their year is up, a lot of teachers go home. I was lucky my first year and none of my close friends left, but this year Omega left in May, Tony and Christine left in November and Riah left a few weeks ago.

On what was suppose to be Riah's last evening in Korea, we (Audrey, Caroline, Riah, Siobhain and I - the ladies I spent Christmas with) were sitting in Cold Stone in Gangnam, feeling morose, when Caroline suggested we make a scrapbook as a going away present. She had a Polaroid camera. I had many different colors of pens. We had a notebook and stickers. And scissors. And tape. Look, I'm friends with a very crafty group of people, okay!

Scrapbook: The Making
I love that I'm friends with a group of people who, when someone suggests making an impromptu goodbye scrapbook, ACTUALLY have all the necessary supplies on hand.

Scrapbook: The Making
Caroline and Siobhain examining a Polaroid.

And so we made a scrapbook. It was a rush job; Cold Stone kicked us out at 11:00, the Coffee Bean we relocated to kicked us out half an hour later and Audrey and I needed to catch the last train home at midnight. The first half of the scrapbook was detailed (or at least had interesting asides) and had introductions and dinosaurs and fun lessons learned in Korea (even in Korea, don't assume people don't understand English is an important one) while the second half consisted of unannotated Polaroid pictures hastily taped onto blank pages while the Coffee Bean employees gave us the side eye for still being in their shop ten minutes after closing.

Scrapbook: Selections
Riah's introduction page. When pronounced with a Korean accent, Riah sounds an awful lot like the word liar, so Riah specified that her pants were not on fire. And, underneath No Pants On Fire, I added 불 바지 없어요, which says, in what I'm sure is truly atrocious Korean, No Fire Pants. It was hilarious at the time.

We adjourned to the street outside to say our final goodbyes, which were awful. Saying goodbye is never fun, but it's especially hard in such a ephemeral community because Korea, our common ground, isn't a permanent location for any of us. My group of friends from university still meets up in Chapel Hill periodically, but the odds of seeing this group of girls again in the US are slim. Also, for me, saying goodbye to Riah was the first on a long list of goodbyes I have to say this month.

Scrapbook: The Making
Riah gave us matching bracelets from Cambodia as a going away present.

So, we were standing on the street of Gangnam crying and promising to write and it's awful and cold and then Audrey and I realized that if we want to get home, we have to leave RIGHT NOW, only we didn't realize the time quite soon enough and just missed our last transfer. I've just barely caught a lot of last trains home, but in two years of living here, this was the first time I actually missed it.

Luckily, we were both able to find taxis willing to drive out to where we live with minimal fuss.

I woke up the next day, Wednesday morning, to an email from Riah. The snowstorm that ate Chicago (are we calling this one Snowpocalypse?) meant that O'Hare was closed and Riah was stuck in Korea until Friday night. Suck it, Chicago. On Thursday, Riah, Audrey and I went to COEX, and during our shopping breaks, we finished the scrapbook. We captioned the photos and wrote lists based on our experience here: crazy English names Korean children give themselves, Things We <3 About Korea, Places we <3 in Korea, How to Anger a Korean, Important Konglish Words, Important Korean Words.

Our list of Important Korean Words is possible the most worthless list of Korean ever and contains such gems as kimchi dumplings, old woman, fleece lined pants and fish (the animal, not the kind you eat). Others - Samsung, Hyundai, soju (Korean rice liquour, like drinking rocket fuel) and bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef) - don't even have an English translation. We had more, actually useful, words, but it turns out we don't know how to spell the Korean we use the most. We spent five minutes trying to figure out how to write thank you, a word I say ALL THE TIME.

After several failed attempts, I said, "You know, we are surrounded by people who know how to write 감사합니다."

We looked around at the cafe, full of Koreans. "Yeah," Riah and Audrey said.

"We could, you know, ask any one of them."

"Yeah," they said again. We stayed seated and left thank you off our list.

Audrey and I said goodbye to Riah again Friday afternoon, after spending the morning at the jimjabang. It still sucked, and I still cried, but it was easier the second time. It was easier when we weren't rushed. It was also easier because, during her extra days, Riah and I made plans to take a road trip once we're both back in the States. Wisconsin and North Carolina aren't that far apart.

Scrapbook: The Making
Me and Riah

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

죽을래, Blog?

Long time, no blog. Since I last wrote I have:
  • Turned 26, which was anticlimactic since I had already turned 27 Korean age a few weeks before.*

  • Pru came for a week and we went to many palaces and markets and ate lots of food. Some of it was in a tent and some of it was deep fried and on a stick.

  • Pru also got me started on K-dramas. We mainlined Secret Garden in four days and now I'm watching a bunch of K-dramas, three of which are about cross dressers (I swear that was an accident) and something called Joseon X-files (oh yeah, aliens in 16th century Korea). *faceplam*

  • Said good-bye to Riah, who left for the US. On Tuesday, we made an impromptu scrapbook in Cold Stone and cried on the streets of Gangnam and Audrey and I missed our train home. On Wednesday, I woke up to an email from Riah telling me that the snowstorm that ate America meant that O'Hare was closed until Friday and I got two and a half more days with Riah! Suck it, Midwest! [More here]

  • Celebrated 설날 (Seolnal, lunar New Year) by making a spectacle of myself with Riah and Audrey at the aquarium, one of the few places that was open. Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit!

  • Adhearing to the rule that you should be as clean as possible before getting on a trans-Pacific flight, the morning before Riah's flight, Audrey, Riah and I went to the bathhouse for a few hours. It was my first time at Dragon Hill Spa, which I liked, especially the outdoor tubs, but my favorite is still the green tea themed spa I went to in Boseong.

  • Break is over and students are back for eight whole days before the end of the school year. Yesterday, the 3-1 boys filed in a few minutes ahead of the girls. "Where are the girls?" I asked.

    I was solemnly told, "In Seolnal, they is DIE!"

    죽을래, which means do you want to die?, is a common expression in Korea and I've heard countless variations of it in English in the past two years, but it still kills** me every time.
All of these bullet points deserve their own entry, but it's unlike I will actually get around to them.

* Sokay, in Korea ages are counted differently than in the West. You're one when you're born (none of this X month business for the first year) AND you age on New Years instead of your actual birthday, which means your Korean age can be up to two years older than your Western age. On December 31st, I was 25 US age, 26 Korean age. The next day was New Years, which meant I turned 27 Korean age while I was still 25 US age. Since my birthday is in January, my Korean age is normally only one year ahead of my western age, but my little sister, who just turned sixteen in December is already eighteen in Korea. Somewhere my mother just blanched at the thought.