Arriving in South Korea

August 7, 2010

I was waiting in Los Angeles International Airport, thinking of cause and effect. I live by it. If I hadn’t been turned down for jobs in NYC and San Antonio, I would never have gotten the chance to go to help in Haiti. I’m getting excited about Korea, but part of me feels like I’m diving in too deep. Who knows how long of a honeymoon period I’ll have? Have I reached the point in my travels where it will take more than simply living abroad to satisfy me? Then again, I might learn to love it.

Issues to resolve when I arrive in Bugu-ri, just north of Uljin in Gyeongsangbuk-Do:

1. Getting my foreigner registration card

2. Get a Korean cell phone

3. Find a good place to run

4. Establish internet access

5. Go over what’s required of me this week, from Ben (outgoing teacher) and Chan (the man)

6. Find the nearest bathhouse and take a long-needed soak

Hours later, it feels good to be back in Asia. Everything seems familiar (rather, Japan-like), down to the brand names in Family Mart. I’ll have to see where the differences arise, and be careful not to speak Japanese to random people.

My bags were the last to come out, and yes, I did panic. I wasn’t even sure immigration processed me correctly; they didn’t provide a visa stamp. In Japan, your passport page is essentially a bookmark, something for immigration to let them know they need to provide an actual visa stamp. Not so here. In fact, I’m kind of undocumented for the next month or so; until I get certified by a Korean doctor (which can take a while), and drive to the nearest government office to get my alien registration card (not sure of the nicknames for these cards, but more than one guy has called it a green card).

Grey and rainy as we take the bus to East Seoul (Dongseoul) Bus Terminal. Up to now, everything is reminding me far too much of Japan: clean streets, a sense of organization, English friendly. Pierce Brosman even advertises for their casinos. The city itself reminds me of a scene in the movie Inception; the same tall buildings are produced en masse, in rows and columns… it’s really an ugly city.

Side note: the Korean currency, the Won, only goes up to 10,000 notes. Things are cheap here, but not THAT cheap; you need to carry an usual number of notes just to buy something large. On the other hand, credit and debit transactions are more common.

I spent the evening walking around town with Ben, getting a sense of the community. One of the country’s nuclear power plants is within striking distance; although this does bring out some protesters and a military presence, it has the advantage of letting the town cater to the needs of the thousands of workers. There’s a “second town” just outside Bugu, filled with playgrounds, parks, apartment buildings, restaurants, etc. for the nuclear engineers and their families.

In addition, it seems the sex workers have found a niche in Bugu. I’m still figuring the lay of the land, from restaurants, to karaoke rooms (noraebang, 노래방), to upscale Gisaeng houses (기생, equivalent to geisha houses… I think), to regular bars, to nothing more than whorehouses. Hopefully I don’t step into the wrong one by mistake.

It feels good to be busy again, discovering what to do. Having internet access and knowing about Couchsurfing this time around will be a lifesaver. Off to meet with Chan in a few hours, and need to do my research.

Currently studying:
– Korean language; as of now, all I can say is hello (annyong haseyo)
– Bathhouse etiquette, but I believe it’s the same as Japan’s
– Looking for nearby CSers, sources of information
– ESL exercises for the kids

Currently reading:
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, Paul Collier

Hopefully this will be a fresh start for blogging.

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