Travelling, Part 2 + Initial Reactions in Korea

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Rainy day in Myeong-dong

Picture$45 travel pillow I splurged on at the airport in Toronto.

Hello Friends and Visitors! 

I’ve officially been living in Korea for just under a week now and thought I would take some time to debrief my experience here so far. I am currently living in Seoul where I will be teaching science at an international school for the next ten months. 

So I might not look like a super model, but I am slowly beginning to understand why backpackers spend so much money on their gear. The act of travelling itself is not as glorious as it seems – just imagine being sticky with sweat, fully aware that the guy who was standing next to you a second ago has moved away because of that ungodly odor coming from your body, and then really wanting to quench your thirst on the plane but worried that you might get stuck going to the toilet after somebody’s just taken a big dump. When it comes down to it, making your travel experience as comfortable as possible is well worth the extra effort. When I traveled to Kazakhstan last year, I was too cheap to spend money on a good travel pillow and took the “memory foam” one we had lying around at home. You ask, how can you ever go wrong with memory foam? Let me tell you… not all memory foams are created equal! There is real memory foam, and then there are the posers. I ended up spending eighteen hours on the plane trying to sleep with a lump of coal on the back of my neck.  


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Comfort or style?

Despite my somewhat unkempt appearance, I managed to sleep in relative comfort during my 14 hour flight to Hong Kong from Toronto, and 3 hours from Hong Kong to Seoul, Korea. Here are a list of five things I learned while in Korea thus far: 

#1. A little preparation goes a long way.  Last year, I picked up some survival Russian phrases (i.e. hello, nice to meet you, goodbye, and thank you) before heading out to KZ, but did not bother to learn Cyrillic until much later on. This year, I decided to learn Hangul (Korean alphabet) before my arrival in Korea, and BOY, WHAT A DIFFERENCE IT MADE!  Rather than having to devote extra attention to learning the language in addition to getting settled, I’ve been  able to do the latter in a relatively care-free way. It also helps that Korea is very English-friendly; street names and subway stops are translated into English, and I have ran into quite a few English speakers on occasion in shops and restaurants. 

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I’m a bit of a keener, aren’t I?

#2. Expect to be surprised. People generally have a very romantic view of life in the big city, but it definitely has its own drawbacks. To be sure, I’m loving the convenience of living next to a subway station, being able to hop out on the street and pick up free wi-fi at any one of the nearby cafes, and having easy access to all the goods and necessities I need. However, my apartment is basically one room with no clear or distinguishable bedroom, living space, or kitchen; it’s sort of all just blended together. Same goes for the bathroom, the floor of the bathroom serves as the floor of the shower. This style of bathroom is actually pretty common to Korea and China, so if you’ve never experienced anything like this before, it might take a while to get used to. 
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Korean-style shower.

 #3. Expect to have your mind blown. As in, elevator buttons that you can un-press, diagonal crosswalks, key-less door locks, and little foam pads for your car door. Honestly, Korean people think of everything. ​​
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Keypad for my door.

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Crosswalks that go every which way at busy intersections.

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Foam pads so you don’t damage other vehicles when opening your door. Image from businessinsider.com

#4. Be grateful for the little things, like being able to unlock the main door to your apartment.  So my first day here I was given a sheet of paper with a map and the pass-codes for the main door and my apartment door. On some locks, there is a special combination of keys you must press in addition to entering the code, I did not know this, so I figured I would just keep trying different combinations until I found one that worked. Well, my landlady caught me in the act of struggling and I guess I looked like I was trying to break in. She sat me down in her little lookout area while I attempted to explain that I was a teacher who had just moved in and that I was just trying to get back into my apartment. 

There are many other little things that I never thought twice about in Canada and had to re-learn while in Korea. Like, figuring how to get hot water for a shower, turning on the gas so I can use the stove, setting up password protected wi-fi on a Korean-only site, and learning how to properly sort my garbage (they take this very seriously in Korea) to name a few. I spent the first night showering in cold water because I didn’t know how to turn on the boiler. I spent the second night showering in cold water because I didn’t realize the hot and cold symbols were mixed up! Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending: I am now able to take hot showers. =D 

​#5. Watch your spending, because temptation is everywhere! 1000 won here, 2000 won there, and pretty soon you’d have spent a good chunk of your money on a) food, and b) things you never knew you needed, like that cool organizational storage unit designed specifically for your bras. 

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Amsa market.

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Fried chicken stand at Amsa market.

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