I heart weekends.
Our first weekend in Korea consisted mostly of organizing, and me meeting my co-teacher for the first time. She took the bus to Yongin and we had 'coffee' at one of the many very expensive coffee shops in our area. Since I don't drink the stuff, I opted for a $7 lemonade made with tap water. After getting the business stuff out of the way - contract details, teaching assignment, expectations - we shared a lunch at (my first) korean restaurant just up the street from our apartment.
Never in a million years would I attempt to walk into a korean restaurant by myself. Honestly I don't know if I will be able to before our 12 months is up. Let me explain.
It's one thing to research the table etiquette and the names of the 'traditional' meals before you go in, BUT it's an entirely different story when you're faced with the actual ordering. On a side note, Jason and I thought it was hilarious (and then, on second thought, quite clever) that most restaurants in korea put 'models' of their dishes in the restaurant window, so you can 'window-shop' for your meal. Not sure if they use play-doh, or wax, or some type of clay, but other than the fact that the fake food looks like it's been covered by a 1-inch thick clear glaze, it's actually quite realistic looking. Anyways, between the menus being in korean symbols with no pictures, having to remove your shoes at the door to sit on the floor, unidentifiable side-dishes, cookware built into your table, and having no clue how to pay or how much, let's just say the process was only made possible by the presence of my new wonderful co-teacher.
We entered the restaurant (which apparently is a popular chain restaurant in Korea - who would have guessed?), removed our shoes and sat face to face on the floor on either side of a small table. Each table was equipped with a built in hot plate, which I now know are used for the popular korean barbecues (I'm sure Jason will elaborate on this, since the memory of my first korean bbq is fogged by my excessive consumption of soju prior to the meal). My co-teacher signals the waiter (this is conveniently done by pressing the red button located to the side of the table, in most restaurants) and I remain oblivious to what she orders until the lunch arrives.
It turns out to be a very tasty chinese-style soup with pork and spinach (I think? I may be wrong) stuffed wonton in broth (Koreans love chinese food by the way). What made this meal distinctly Korean were the bean sprouts in the soup, as well as the kimchi side-dishes. For those who don't know what kimchi is, it's a spicy national dish, served with almost every meal, which consists of fermented vegetables: cabbage, radish, others. The taste takes some getting used to; for now I can tolerate it in small portions, mixed with rice. In any case, my co-teacher was very helpful, without even knowing it, in showing me how to eat it all (I was copying what she was doing, while trying not to be too obvious) while we talked about anything other than school matters: family, friends, travels, living arrangements, etc. Then she graciously paid for the meal, and I didn't argue, since I was afraid it would be perceived as rude or uncourteous of me to decline, but also because there's no such thing as 'splitting the bill' here.
Before I returned home we walked past the nearest subway station, where my co-teacher showed me an alternate, cheaper but less convenient, way to commute to my school. Since I'm much lazier than I am cheap, I take the expensive bus that drives right by our street. Hehe. We parted ways and met again on the following Monday to go to Seoul's Immigration office.
I was glad this meeting was over, not because I didn't enjoy myself (it was actually quite the opposite), but because it had been so difficult to get into contact with my school without a phone or any internet access. When I did speak with my co-teacher on the phone for the first time, it was in a phone booth on a busy, noisy street, and neither I or she could hear a single thing. We both felt terrible, her because of her broken English, and me because of my zero knowledge of Korean, so we mutually decided to set up our meeting through the extremely impersonal world of email. Sigh. In the end the miscommunication worked out and all was good.
I was excited to start my first teaching day on the Thursday and meet my other co-teacher, the one I would actually be teaching and working with every day; everything was flawless. The students loved me and I loved them. Everyone is so nice and so helpful. First weeks = success.
I must admit that Jason and I are still stuck on western food. Well, that's not entirely true. Jason eats korean food every single day at school, and he loves it. Me, well, I bring a salad, some fruit, a sandwich, leftover pizza... anything that's not fish or kimchi. I suck. But in my defense, korean cuisine doesn't quite fit my almost meatless, seafoodless, spicyless, eggless diet. I've tasted quite a few dishes. Result: I like the rice, and that's about it.
I need my bread, pasta, fruit, and pizza. I can't go very long without it. Sure enough, I was quick to discover two little gold mines: PizzaSchool, which Jason talked about in the previous blog, and this wonderful little fresh pastries-cakes-breads-sandwiches place called Paris Baguette. I'm addicted, and the franchise can be found at just about every street corner. It's worth clicking on the link. They have the cuuuuuutest website EVER.
I've also never eaten so much Ice Cream in my life. I used to be indifferent to the stuff, but here it's everywhere. The most delicious vanilla soft ice cream you'll ever taste. And since it's an imported product, there's no korean translation for the word, which means I can order 'Ice Cream' and be understood :)
There is one food I miss, unfortunately. McDonald's. But although I'm completely addicted, there isn't one anywhere near where we live, and I'm not willing to do a two hour round trip just to get a cheeseburger. Oh well. My body will thank me in the end.
Jason and I do have another obsession that is not food related, not even Korea-related... the Breaking Bad series! It's sooo good! But I will leave that story for another day!