May 15, 2007

a bit out of date but nonetheless

An-nyong haseyo,

First impressions of Korea arriving at Incheon airport around dusk, grey surroundings, long series of identical 20-storey apartment buildings and churches with red neon crosses. The driver spoke little English except to point out the soccer world cup stadium in Suwon. The car had a navigational computer on the dashboard.

The apartment in Suwon was small and filthy, though quite liveable now it's been cleaned up and furniture rearranged. It's warm and cosy at least and rent free - though no outdoor space and the views out both windows are of the walls of the next buildings a couple of metres away.

On one hand April is blossom season (and winter postponed til the end of the year, so two summers in a row), on the other it's also dust season as every year the Gobi desert thaws and lets off dust clouds across East Asia. Visibility is reduced and buildings a few hundred metres away are seen through a grey haze. My biggest worry coming here was the air quality, and my lungs felt heavy at first but seem to be alright now. The rain a couple of days ago seems to have improved things, and hopefully April is as bad as it gets for air quality.

Korean food is pretty good, though vegetarian food is a strange concept to them. There are numerous eating places around, and tanks with live fish and crabs outside (so you know it's fresh). The food is fairly hot & spicy but not to the extent I'd been expecting. I've had Indian and Mexican food in NZ that's much hotter. Korean barbeque is a great way to serve food, you have a small gas burner in the centre of the table and cook it yourself.

Another good thing is that there's a fair bit of parkland and hills to climb and free outdoor gym equipment. So I'll be able to get back in shape and take off the extra weight I put on over the last year.

Work has dropped me in the deep end, from no prior teaching experience. Some of the kids are as young as 3 and speak almost no English, and the oldest are 8 or 9. From a degree to journalism to this is a progression of sorts - I have to learn to simplify ideas more and more.

There's a lot of pressure on Korean school kids, with six days a week of classes and extra-curricular studies to improve chances of getting into the top universities. Grades seem to matter less in the workforce than which university they went to.

The speed at which the kids soak up English puts my early attempts at Korean to shame. I can't read most of the signs here yet, so am starting from scratch as an illiterate schoolkid myself...

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