Right now it’s storming like mad outside and I’m loving the cool breeze coming through the windows of my ninth floor studio apartment, or officetel as they’re known here. Fall is beginning to set in and I can’t wait! So much of the information I’ve relayed home has been about the weather here and I’m glad to have something positive to say. The past 3 weeks have been between 80 to 90% humidity and rainy nearly every day and when you’ve got sweat pouring down your face just sitting down, it’s hard to think about anything else but wishing it would stop raining and for something to drink.
The water here is technically safe to drink, but bottled water and water coolers are everywhere. Not many people actually drink the water and what I’ve gotten of it brushing my teeth, it’s terrible. I do cook with the tap water but I buy large bottles of water to drink.
I just went down to the market at the base of my building to buy my water (and some skim milk) and like I said, it’s pouring rain. One of the men who works there donned a raincoat to go get my 6 pack of 2 liter bottles from the pallets outside and then after I paid, he saw me picking it up said “no, no..” and carried it to the elevator for me, then rode up and delivered it directly to my apartment door.
Two days ago, I went to the post office to pick up 2 large packages my mom had sent me with the things I hadn’t been able to bring in my suitcase from home. I tried to convince the postal worker that I was going to carry them myself (my apartment is only about 4 blocks away from the post office so even though they were heavy boxes, I could handle it for such a short walk) but he insisted on finding someone to take them there for me. After about 10 minutes of talking to other post employees, I got to ride in a courier’s car with my boxes and even had my packages taken as far as the elevator. No charge!
You could be negative and say these are examples of chauvinism, but me, I’m grateful for the help. What has been amazing to me is how willing people have been to take time out of there day to not just tell me something or point to it, but to actually take me there or get up from their desk to walk me to the street where the post office is located or bring my 12 liters of drinking water directly to my door, expecting nothing more than a nice bow and an ansamida (thank you). Things like that rarely happen in the United States and especially not in a large city.
I’m really trying not to make generalizations as I tell people about Korea, but if you’ve heard that visiting Asia as a Westerner means you’ll get stared at a lot, it’s true. My first few days here I hated it and thought it was rude even though I knew to be prepared for it, but after training, I started interacting with more Koreans and the more I did, the more I came to accept that the staring was just a fascination. My friend Estelle, who lives in my building and works at ECC with me, is South African and has long blonde hair that the kids ask for strands of regularly. There are some people that dislike that you because you are foreign (everyone has a story about someone moving away from them on the bus or subway) but it’s not an outright rudeness, just more of an avoidance. And that’s fine–some Americans do things like that too.
Although most people enjoy that I’m American (really, you wouldn’t believe how excited some people have gotten when I’ve responded to their “Hi!” or “Have a nice day!”), I’m trying to learn some Korean. I haven’t been great about studying my hangul (alphabet) but since I don’t know many Korean words anyhow, learning the phonetic alphabet won’t help me much until I do. It’s the same with my students–they know the sounds the individual letters make, but they can’t necessarily recognize a group of sounds as a written or spoken word. Right now I’m at the hello, please, thank you stage but my kids have been a huge help. I ask them one or two questions a day in addition to telling me the Korean name of whatever we’re eating for lunch and then write it all down in a notebook. Learning another language from a 4 or 5 year old is great–they don’t over complicate things.
Tomorrow I’ll post some pictures of my students, but for now, to boa!