I realized I never talked about the money situation much other than mentioning that the exchange rate was more or less $1 for 1000KRW. So I figured I would start my blog off with a little mention of the monetary system if only to explain how it works and how much we spent since we got here!!!
Back when we were still at Pearson international in Toronto, we decided that bringing in some Korean currency with us would probably be a good idea. In hindsight, I wonder why we hadn't thought about it before, but we hadn't... So anyways, we stopped at the exchange booth in Terminal 3 to get a "substantial" amount of on hand cash. After all, we were not expecting to get paid until at least a month. The Korean public school system pays its employees only once a month (something we were fortunately prepared for seeing as it was the same in Fort McMurray). So obviously we would need some cash. We weren't even sure if our Canadian credit cards (Visa) would be accepted everywhere (which it is thankfully). But at the time, we weren't sure. We also expected a 300,000 KRW settlement allowance but we didn't want to rely on that... And that was a good thing too considering Jen still didn't receive hers! In any way, I opted to get $1000 worth of KRW and Jen went for $500. In total, we got something like 1,800,000KRW! That should get us started! But it wasn't long until we figured out that money, like food in my hands, disappears quite quickly. It wasn't even a week in when we decided to try out the Visa "just in case"... It would make our cash last longer, and it was a great backup in case of an emergency. Note to travelers, they accept Visa pretty much everywhere in Korea!
Saturday - Sunday, August 27-28
Anyway, back to the chronology... Jen got ahead of herself a little bit in her first blog, because this Saturday was actually the first day she met her co-teacher. Over a phone conversation held at a pay phone and a few emails, they had set a date at the local Dunkin' Donuts for 10:00am. It was my first weekend after my first official week of work. I woke up with the tiniest of hangovers from all the beer I had ingested the night before, but overall I felt great.
While Jen was getting ready, I decided to call home and check in with the family. So using Jen's cell phone, I made a quick call to good ol' Smooth Rock Falls (These "little" phone calls would later reveal themselves to be incredibly expensive... Like $300 for under an hour expensive!!!). But on this particular occasion, I figured I would just call to ask Mom to skype with me. Before leaving home, I courteously downloaded skype on my parents' computer and showed them how to use it. You have to understand that my parents are not the computer types... They forgot to enter the new millenium like most other up-to-date parents... nevertheless, they were now the new owners of a skype account... and a wireless network (but that's another story)... So after re-explaining to my mom how to use skype (you have to type in the password where it says password... No I'm just kidding it wasn't that bad) I hung up, took my Macbook and went outside where I could steal an Internet signal. A few minutes later, I rang my mom and she picked up... but I couldn't hear anything. At first, I thought there was some sort of malfunction... then I remembered... She had to plug in her microphone. So she could probably hear me, but I couldn't hear her. So I explained to her how to plug in the mic and Ta-da, I could hear mom's voice! She could see me, but I couldn't see her cause my parents have yet to invest in a webcam. But it would do. It was good to hear a familiar voice. There is always something soothing about hearing your mother's voice. Especially when you are across the world!! So we chatted for quite some time. At 5 to 10, Jen left to meet her co-teacher, and I was standing alone on the garbage bin outside our building just talking to my mom.
When we hung up, I didn't really know what to do with myself. I was actually alone for the first time in Korea... Now I knew how Jen must have felt for the entire week. In fact, I didn't know when to expect Jen back. I knew her co-teacher was going to bring her to her school and show her the bus route (even though we had already figured it out during the week). But other than that, I had no idea when to expect her back! From the day we got here, Jen and I had given each other challenges to complete everyday in order to facilitate the transition in our new environment. Day 1 had been to order from a Korean restaurant (Kraze Burger counts!). Day 2 had been to figure our where E-Mart, Shinsegae mall, the subway station and Jen's school were. Day 3 had been our medical checks. Day 4 had been reserved for something that I can't remember. Day 5 was the passport photo. On day 6 we had figured out the bus route to Jen's school. Day 7 had been for my ARC and a time to relax (although I'm sure we learned something else that day too). And now here we were on day 8... I had skyped. Jen was meeting her co-teacher. I guess I could go for a haircut. I had seen a few places over the days and opted to go to a place nearby... Clara's or something like that.
I walked in and, to my great relief, was greeted in some sort of English-Korean. Ouff, dodged a bullet. The hairstylist was already busy with a customer but told/gestured for me to sit down on the chair next to her station. Then she told me it would just be a few minutes. I was excited. My first haircut in Korea. What was I going to get.. Who knows. At least I could explain it in English and be understood. But then came this other lady... She got behind me, looked at me and said something in Korean. I looked at the "English" speaking woman and gestured that I didn't understand. She says to me "when was your last haircut?" "About a month ago" I reply, which she repeats in Korean (I think anyway) and my hairstylist starts hacking away at my hair. On a couple of occasions she looked at me for my approval but other than that, that's pretty much all the instructions I gave. Just when I thought it was done, another lady comes up to me and gestures me to follow her. She sits me down at a sink and starts washing my hair while gracefully massaging my hair. I thought to myself "OMG, this is going to cost me." Just a haircut in Fort McMurray had been $22 at the cheapest place. What was this going to set me back? So after she was done giving me the rub down (oh yeah) she had me sit back in the hairstylists chair and blow dried my hair and asked if I wanted product (or at least I think that's what she asked). After refusing, I walked to the register where the amount I owed was waiting for me on a calculator... 12,000 won. Not bad at all!!
When I got back home, Jen was still MIA so I decided to start watching the new HBO series "Game of Thrones. And thus began my love affair with season 1! Jen eventually got home, told me her story (she can blog about it later) and I don't really remember what happened next other than it was Sunday.
And here we were again... at the E-Mart. We had put off buying a few of the larger items until the weekend since we could only carry so much at a time. And given that E-Mart is a good 10 minutes walk and that it was scorching hot, it was best to pace ourselves....
So here we were at the E-Mart. Because the previous tenant (Adam) had been living on his own in the apartment, you can imagine that it was mostly configured for one person. We therefore needed more storage room, or organizers. So we bought a cute little wooden shelving unit. It was pretty cheap but it was heavy as hell. It would serve as Jen's "hair and makeup" station as well as a place to store our school resources. Price tag - 37,000 KRW... Cha-ching. Our storage room was also mint, but it was unorganized with all the stuff pretty much laying on the ground. To that effect, we bought a closet organizer that I set up over the washer! Price tag - 45,000KRW... Cha-ching. We filled out our shopping list with a few other household items and before you knew it, we had rackd up another pretty bill. If paying by cash, our money supply would be quickly depleted. Fortunately, we knew E-mart accepted Visa so we made the effort to use it every time we went... for convenience, for saving our cash... and for points (I have the Infinite Avion card.. worth it!!!)
When we got back home, drenched in sweat after carrying all that shiznea, I started setting our new serviceable space organizers and before we knew it, our place was transformed into a beautiful, organized humble abode. That evening, we decided to try out this place called pizza school. Yup, you guessed it... they make pizza. Adam had left a fridge magnet and I was intent on finding the place to see if it was actually edible. Awesome, would be an understatement to describe this place. For 5000 won, you get a pep n cheese pizza. Add a few bucks and you can get anything from deluxe to steak, etc. And they are absolutely scrumptious. Some of the best pizza I've had. Sure beats the overpriced, undercooked Pizza 73 that I was used to in Fort Mac. And thus began yet another love affair... this time with Pizza school!
As I sat on my bed after having stuffed my face with pizza, I could not help but think to myself that "this was the life". There was a perpetual smile on my lips that made me realize for the first time that we were not only going to survive this incredible adventure, but we were going to thrive. Yes, everything would be OK. I had all I needed with me: My loving wife, a roof over my head, a decent supply of money, and now, I had pizza!
And that's it for now.... Join me next time when I will talk about our second week, our first excursion and more random facts!