Saturday, August 06, 2005

Greetings From Korea

Photo of Korean woman near the DMZ taken by Kevin McNulty (Flickr)

I arrived late Tuesday after crossing the an international dateline. The countryside on my bus ride down to to Daegu was quite spectacular. Very green and hilly.

I met some international teachers at a couple of bars Friday night. More on that later. I bring it up now because my accommodations, from what the other internationl teachers tell me, are not the norm. The owner of my school has put me up on the 16th floor of an 18 floor high rise. He bought the place for his son and new wife who are in japan for a year.

I am in a Korean yuppie apartment. Absolutely gorgeous. Three bedrooms, hardwood floors, tan leather couch and chair I am afraid to sit on, TV and DVD player, huge kitchen with a laundry room. No dryer. I have to dry clothes on my enclosed terrace overlooking a few other high rises and hills in the background. My kitchen is huge. All the modern facilities a yuppie kitchen would have. My window has a view of some typical Korean houses with the slanting tile roofs and curl at the end. Also if I look to my left I have a view toward downtown full of more high rises and loads of neon lights. My apartment has loads of light which I love. Big windows in the living area.

Photo of Daegu, Korea taken by Kevin McNulty (Flickr)

So Graham, this gorgeous Scottish man I met Friday night from Glasgow, told me he lives in a tiny place and has forgotten what a couch looks like. This is what I expected my living accommodations to be like. The owner of the school is a very rich business man. He is very kind and generous. When he was young, he went to America and the people were kind to him, therefore he wants to be kind to me. And he is.

The people have been so very polite. The children i meet on the street are so sweet. They are fascinated with me. Probably never saw such a tall western woman like me before. I learned my first Korean word. Thank you is pronounced like this phonetically: come-saw ha-me-daw. I don't know how to write in Korean, but I hear it is easy to learn. This computer I am writing on has the symbols on it. I am sitting in an internet cafe downtown. My DSL service should be connected some time this week.

I was sitting in this little sidewalk cafe on Friday trying to figure out what bus to take to get to my school for a sort of orientation. My apartment is a 15 minute bus ride from my school. Anyway, these two gorgeous little girls came up and started trying to speak to me in English. They mostly giggled. Their mom came up eventually and I asked her how to get to my school. While she was giving me some instructions, along came this hip looking young Korean man, with a shock of orange hair running down the middle of his mod haircut. He asked if I needed help.

Long story short, Jay, mod boy's English name, speaks with an English accent because he is learning English at the London school in downtown Daegu. Jay lives a high rise one or two down from me. He told me the bus to take to my school.

Photo taken of Downtown Daegu by Kevin McNulty (Flickr)

Mod boy took me downtown that night to the bars where the international teachers hang. It was a blast. I met Graham who I already told you about. It was Graham's birthday. Graham and I had a conversation about the great music coming out of Scotland and Manchester, England. Graham has been in Daegu four years now. I also met folks from London, Australia, and the USA.

One guy from Chicago was very cool. He studied philosophy and theology at a small liberal arts college south of Chicago. His name is Chris, but I am going to call him Jesus since he looks like the Jesus depicted in all the famous paintings. Long light hair, beard, and beautiful light eyes. I personally think Jesus was probably dark with brown eyes and hair.

Anyway, this Chris (a.k.a Jesus) is tall and lanky. Looks like he may have not eaten in forty days and forty nights. Jesus recommended we head over to this bar a few blocks over called the Commune. When I walked down the narrow stairway leading down, I turned the corner and saw on a big screen Jim Morrison. The owner of this tiny dive bar with wood tables and a musty smell of stale cigs and beer was showing footage of Morrison I had never seen before. Jesus told the owner that I was amazed at this footage of Jim Morrison live. So the owner burned a copy and gave it to me. It was the Doors live in Europe 1968. Jesus is just alright with me. Those who grew up in the 70s might remember that Doobie Brothers song.

One last thing about this bar the Commune. The owner has a wall full of vinyl albums. So cool. He has all the old stuff from the 70s. Jesus told me that the owner is a big fan of the Doors and the Velvet Underground. After the Doors DVD ended, the owner put on some Sonic Youth. He played the song, Teenage Riot. The place just kicks some righteous ass. Jesus says he is there all the time. No doubt.

Photo of Daeugu market taken by Kevin McNulty (Flickr)

About my neighborhood: I have some cool little shops and open markets to buy fruits and vegetbles. The fruit is shockingly expensive. Jay, my mod neighbor said it it because all the fruit is imported. I paid six bucks for a cantoloupe type melon. Yikes! There are two great bakeries. I have been sitting at the cheap plastic table and chairs at one place nearly everyday. Just watching the people go by. I have a ham and cheese croissant and grape soda.

About the food: I am in heaven. The owner of my school took me out with his wife and his friends Wednesday night. The food was so good. Hot and lots of garlic. We had a chicken soup with about 15 side dishes. one side dish was a plate/dish of whole cloves of garlic drenched in a red spicy sauce. So yummy.

About the architecture: Lots of modern high rises. Lots of neon downtown. Downtown is full of narrow streets. I love the downtown area. It is very different than Bogota. I will say I think I like the architecture in Bogota better. The red brick and especially the area known as La Candelaria near downtown. I loved the old colonial architecture and the narrow streets, and the arepas of course. The lady who sold them on the street made the best ones ever. So yummy.

That is all I can think of to tell you all at the moment. I did join a gym. Jay took me there yesterday. It is a Gold's Gym and a block or two from my apartment.

Photo of colorful Daegu Street taken by Kevin McNulty (Flickr)

I'm off to find some cheap, good, spicy Korean food.

Oh and one last thing, the Koreans have some pretty strict laws about recycling that I think we should implement in our consumer society.

Addendum: I have noticed that I am getting hits to this post from google with folks looking for information on teaching in Korea. The above was the first email I sent from Korea. However, after I wrote that email, I ran into racism, ageism, and a boss who would not pay. I would be remiss in not sharing this with the readers of this post.

My job in Daegu was abruptly ended when a co-owner of the school saw that I was in my 40s and had brown skin. He is not the man who let me stay in his son's apartment. Anyway, this man kept asking, while staring at my brown arm, what my bakcground was. I knew what he was asking, but responded with my education and credentials in teaching. Nevertheless, I was told to leave. I had not even been there 2 weeks.

The director of the school felt horrible about this and so found me a position in a much smaller town, Gumi.

When I arrived in Gumi, I was taken to an apartment that was filthy, and the bed, a mat on the floor, smelled like piss. There was rotting meat left on the counter covered in maggots. I was up all night trying to clean and then I had to wait for the mat I washed out by hand to dry. It was horrible.

There was a bar I frequented while in Gumi. When I told the two white South African owners about my experience with racsim, one of them told me that after he arrived, he told a friend who was black to come to Korea. She arrived at her school with suitcases in hand and was told to get out. These are true stories. You will not see many brown or black people in Korea. They like young blondes.

My school in Gumi did not pay me. The American teacher that was there before me and who left me the filthy apartment did not get paid for some 4 months. I fought for my pay and threatened to go to the labor board. So this boss paid me. We should never have to ask for our pay. Ever.

Please check with the U.S. Embassy before heading to Korea if you are a U.S cirtizen. They have a warning up about schools not paying foreign teachers. Or be sure to find out from teachers currently at the school where you are applying on whether the boss pays. You can request to talk to a current teacher on the telephone.

I do not mean to sound negative, because there are good schools in Korea. Just be sure to do your research. The hours listed on the job site can sometimes be extended when you arrive. Be careful about that as well.

Good luck. Any questions or if you want further information, send me a comment.

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