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There : Space, Nicknames and Eating Out

July 31, 2007 Leave a comment

The Premium on Space

In Kansas, at least in general, space is cheap. I know that when we built our house, land was one of the cheaper things. Even in KC, the rent on a fair sized apartment wasn’t unreasonable. It is interesting, then, to see the restriction of space, even in a “small” (by Korean terms) city like Pohang.

The first time it hit me was when we went to a Walmart-like department store. It was 5 stories tall (with the top two being parking garage). I thought, man, this place must be huge. It was big, but even with the 3 floors combined, it was probably a bit smaller than a Super Walmart or Target. The fact seems to be that instead of building out, Koreans must build up. It seems like everything is multistory here, and I would venture that a single story building isn’t a good use of the land.

Another thing that struck me is more of an interior design issue. Inside almost every building, there are large mirrors. Not just in lobbies or bathrooms, I’ve seen them in staircases, hallways, churches, pretty much anywhere people will be spending time or walking through. There may be other cultural importance behind mirrors, but one simple reason why they may be used is because they make rooms appear bigger. The bigger the mirror, the more (imaginary) space.

 

Nicknames

One of our students has had the nickname “White Pig” for a quite a while, apparently. She’s a great girl, and hardly a pig by any American standard. But after talking with her and others a bit, it because very clear that it was a term of endearment. This isn’t surprising, given the Chinese zodiac and Korean celebrations of the animal-themed lunar New Years. However, it was a bit surprising to find out that mothers will often call their young daughters pigs (probably more like piglets, from the sound of it) and friends gladly call each other pigs. It isn’t unbelievable, just odd.

One of the students now calls me Camel, because I have a beard, and when I was drinking water from a fountain on a hot day I pointed out that it stored water like a camel hump. If you want to get attention in Korea, grow a beard. And be American.

 

Eating Out

Eating out in Korea is nice. It’s significantly different from America. For one thing, it’s cheaper. A huge meal is like $4-5 USD. The only meals that cost a lot are American food, usually steak, which starts at about $20. For a Kansas guy, that’s a ton, and honestly, I feel like I can do without, mostly. You can’t get Mexican food here, apparently, but that’s about the only complaint I have. You can get a good sized meal some places for $2 or so.  Oh, and no tip, and no tax. So you get a 4000 Won meal, you pay 4000 Won (~$4).

The dishes all come with more than enough side dishes, which they usually refill. Peppers, Kimchi (Kimchi comes with everything, and there is a wide variety of good and bad tasting Kimchi, so you may not like the Kimchi everywhere you go), dumplings, pretty much anything. When people say Korean food is hot, I think they should really be warning you more about the temperature than the spiciness. Most soups come superheated from stoves that apparently connect to magma pipes in the center of the earth. I have not run across many dishes that I would deem uncomfortably spicy, and the few that were, were no where near as spicy as Thai food.

Meals usually come with a tiny metal cup of water and a bottle of water or a water cooler nearby. Fill up your own glass when it’s empty, it’s not like they get tips. If you ask for water, they’ll usually bring you more, free of charge. That is, not place I’ve gone yet has charged for more water. (On an interesting side note, at larger markets, sacks cost extra). Food is usually served very quickly (IE: within 5 -10 minutes of ordering, at the most) As an American, I drink probably 4 times more at a meal than a Korean. This is not because the meal is spicy, but because we just drink more. They hardly ever drink during the meals.

The meals are often taken at short tables, so you must sit cross legged, or at least agree with the person that you’re across from that you can stretch out sitting “normal”, legs under the table. You will get a little, flat pillow. It is more for your ankles than your butt. Almost all floors are wood. Shoes are taken off before you get to the table. Here is some sage advice. GET SHOES THAT ARE EASY TO TAKE OFF AND ON. I didn’t. This was a mistake. I take off my shoes 3-4 times a day on a normal day, and Koreans do it like it’s a NASCAR pit stop. You will only be slowing them down, no matter how many of them are in your group.

Korean chopsticks are usually metal, shorter than Japanese style chopsticks, and have flat handles. This makes them a bit harder for me to use than the fast-food style disposable ones, but I’m catching up. You also usually get a spoon, which is nice. Some times you can get a fork if you ask for it, but don’t count on it. You should be mildly proficient with chopsticks before you come. I’m not talking Karate-Kid-Catching-Flies, just picking stuff up, like beans or rice. You’ll be eating off of many small plates, and you’ll be sharing a lot of food with others. Don’t come to Korea if you are terrified of germs. It’s Asian style personal space and property at its best, and while they are usually very respectful to not be totally Korean to Americans, not all of them will be, and certainly none of them will be all the time. It hasn’t been a problem for me yet.

The food is good quality and almost always well prepared. Food here seems much healthier, and less greasy. It has lots of spice and a significant amount of salt, especially fish. But on the whole, it leaves you feeling better than most American meals. The portions are huge. I don’t know how Americans get a bad rap for eating too much. I have been able to finish maybe 3 of my meals here, so far. Not finishing a meal seems common, though, and doesn’t seem to be an insult.

Expect a lot of garlic and pepper. And Kimchi. They make Kimchi dumplings, Kimchi soup, Water Kimchi, normal Kimchi, fried Kimchi…and so on. If you can eat Kimchi, you should never starve here. If you can’t, you can avoid it mostly, but I wouldn’t suggest it. Eating American style all the time totally isolates you form their culture. This is a culture that revolves around eating with others, and just doing things with others. Anything that you refuse to do with them is an experience you won’t get and it will keep you from making friends and understanding them. They are very social. If you’re nice and genuinely interested in learning about them, they reciprocate. Expect to be invited to things.

We had to make it clear early on that we didn’t want to just eat American food. We didn’t need to sit at tall tables. We could handle chopsticks. They were very eager to make allowances for us, but I think we gained a lot more by not taking them up on it. For one thing, we don’t really make those allowances for our visitors. They are a lot more allowing of our inability to speak Korean than Americans would be to a poor English-Speaking Korean. But we still pretty much have to have a Korean speaker to order. I could wing it, but I wouldn’t know what I’d be getting.

Menus are usually on the wall. The restaurant you go to usually only has a few dishes. Maybe ten different ones. Maybe only three. So the restaurant you choose kind of decides the available food, in a much more specific way than in America. You might go order Chinese and pick from a menu of Chinese dishes, or go to a Mexican restaurant and pick form many Mexican dishes there. In Korea, it would be like choosing a Taco restaurant, and having 4 or 5 types of tacos, and a few blocks down there is a burrito restaurant with 3 or 4 burritos. It’s not a bad system, but everyone in the group pretty much needs to want the same thing.

There are restaurants everywhere. Some times they are just a nice front end to people’s houses. This isn’t bad, as it keeps the costs down. I have not seen anything in a Korean restaurant that was unclean. They’re pretty clean people. You’d probably be much worse off picking 4-5 Small Kansas restaurants and pitting them against Korean ones, as far as cleanliness goes. But again, you can’t be absolutely germ phobic.

Bathrooms are a little less pleasant than in America, but not disgustingly so. There are still some places with squat toilets, but urinals and sit down style toilets are common. This might be a bigger deal for women than men, but since I mostly use urinals outside of the dorm, it has never been an issue, and they tend to clean those types of places daily, if not thoroughly.

You can eat dog here. I have. It’s good. Tastes like roast beef. That is a social stigma that you’d do well to get over, and if you can’t, try hanging around with some cows for a while. They are worthless aside from eating and leather. Same for the dogs. They aren’t pets. They’re for eatin’. But it is a dish that you can easily avoid if you’re worried about it. If you have invented some moral qualm about eating dog, you probably won’t have to worry, because I had to actively seek out dog to eat. And it’s not in everything. Korean food is pretty straightforward. After you’ve had dog, you’d notice it in almost any dish.

Eating is one of my favorite things in Korea. Parking costs more, housing (at least in Seoul) costs more, Gas costs more, and shampoo costs more. But health care and food both costs a ton less than in America. Since I’ve been healthy so far, I haven’t had occasion to use the health care system. But the restaurant system is a great value at a low price. And once you get used to what to expect, it’s far smoother than most American restaurants.

Categories: Being There

There : T-Shirts and Lyrics

July 31, 2007 Leave a comment

T-Shirts

I don’t think I’ve seen a Tshirt in Korea with Korean writing on it. There are lots of Tshirts with writing on them, but they are all in English. The Engrish on them is often hilarious, and more often puzzling. One of my roommates has worn an English Tshirt every day for a week, and I haven’t understood a one. Equally funny, to me, is that when you ask them about it, they act like they never even considered what it said. One girl in class wore a shirt with a Winged Banana on it. This wasn’t in itself unthinkable, but the shirt contained snippets of Engrish like “Banana Endures” and “Banana show makes the future” all over it. I wondered if maybe it was a band, or a TV show. Nope. It was just a yellow shirt with English on it. That seems to be enough. Walking down the street on a Saturday night I saw no Korean shirts, except for waiters wearing uniforms.

It is equally interesting because, while the average product might have a tagline in English, the vast majority of everything else, from menus to soap, are labeled in Korean. And TV shows seem to use American catch phrases less than the Japanese. So it seems to just be Tshirts.

So if my friends ask me to bring them back a Korean T-Shirt (which are nice and cheap in the open air market downtown), and they want something authentic, it will likely say “Powerful Jeans Fight For Independence and Conquer Normalcy”…or something.

Lyrics

I’ve now been to two Karaoke bars. I’ve never been a fan of singing around other people, but culturally, it’s required. Or at least highly recommended. It doesn’t matter that I’m tone deaf and forgot most of the words and dislike most of the American songs. I must sing, because they like it, and honestly, I have fun doing it about half the time. It’s like DDR. In the right company, it’s fun.

Anyway, I went to a cheap bar this weekend. It was for my roommate’s birthday. I say cheap only based on quality. I don’t know the price of either place. But the microphones were prone to feedback, the room was more dingy, the song list seemed less encompassing, and there was Engrish.

Many of the songs in English were mostly correct. But then again, they were partly incorrect. Some words were homophones, like “Mold” or “Mould”, others were just phonetically similar, and the problems seemed to get worse as songs neared the end. So around the 2nd verse of some Green Day song I’d probably only heard one other time, singing with a Korean guy who was obviously doing most of it phonetically (as I did with the Korean song I sang, no shame in it), the confused words began to spill out rapidly. It’s hard enough to sing when you know the words and you’re just trying not to crack up. But when the song says something like “I went to a hole, he said my life’s a bore” (which is not what the song says), I just had to kind of mumble. And I was the enunciater. I was the guy who said the words. It was my job.

It was fun.

To add to the fun, the zombie sang zombie. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “let me esplain”. There is a girl in class I call Zombie. This is because when we went to KyungJu, she insisted that the entombed jewelry was hers. She was a princess, you see. But this was from the Silla-ic period, 3,000 years ago. That makes her a bit old, but she looks about 20. She is a Zombie, you see. Zombie is the Korean word for Zombie. Actually they say it a bit more like “SOM-bee”. Anyway. She came to Karaoke for a bit and sang “Zombie” by the Cranberries. It was great. She was such a sweet looking girl, and she managed to even produce some cute little angst. Her pronunciation was good, but it still had a thick Korean sound. It was hilarious. I wish I’d taped it.

Speaking of cute little girls singing, another girl, the first night sang “Hit Me Baby One More Time” or whatever it’s called, by Brittany Spears. The girl singing was about chest height on me, and just the sweetest girl. But it was hilarious. Like Zombie, she pronounced the words correctly, but had a thick accent. I can’t reproduce it vocally or in type, but when she said “baby baby” it was both well sung and funny as all get out. It was like the song existed outside of it’s original version. Like a Weird Al Polka Parody, all the words were right, the singing had quality, but it was funny and ultimately more pleasant than the original. Karaoke is only fun because they let it be fun. Some of them are amazing singers, but they still go up there and do things they know will make them look silly, even when they sing better than most of the people on American Idol.

Categories: Being There

There : First Week

July 26, 2007 Leave a comment

We started teaching classes on Monday, so I’ve had 4 class periods to assess some things.

For one thing, Koreans aren’t competitive in the same way Americans are. In situations where they know they are in direct competitions, like games, they will often knowingly, almost automatically, help each other to complete the same tasks. For instance, we had a video scavenger hunt on Wednesday, and one task was to find an American (in this case, me) wearing a silly hat. I made them bring me the hat. One team made a hat out of cardboard and I put it on. When they were done with it, they handed it to the group behind them, who did the same to the group behind them. I am fairly certain that something as simple and valueless as a paper hat would have been destroyed before anyone passed it on.

In another way, they all work really well on guessing games. We tried to have them play Taboo, a game where you have to explain a word without using it, or other words specifically restricted. We disallowed Korean, but let them use gestures (which are typically restricted). They weren’t allowed translators after they started giving hints. They all did well, sometimes picking up on hints after what I would term very little information.

Last night we did Karaoke. I have always been adamant against (me) singing in front of others. I have a bad singing voice. And, to be honest, I was dreading this kind of thing. But it was a night on the town as a reward to our good students, and we were locked in. When we got to the place, they let us browse through the songbooks, as they got started. The students were all very good singers. I am not. Jared eventually did a song, which was well received. So I picked one I thought I could do, “Tears in Heaven”. I didn’t do well, but they were nice enough to be polite and encourage me. A round or two later, I
sang a song with Jared, which I have forgotten already.
Then I decided I’d sing a Korean song. It is an old dance club style song, sung by a girl, which I barely had the lyrics memorized phonetically (and by barely, I mean pretty much not at all). I invited the girl sitting next to me, a powerful singer trapped inside a very small girl, to help me out. Together we did it and I think I only made a slight fool of myself. So for the last song I did Bohemian Rhapsody, which I knew I wasn’t up to, but would have fun trying. One of my roommates helped me with backup, and I even did as many of the parts (at once, high pitched let him goes, low pitched Bishmilnuh-s and all)
as I could. They laughed. I guess that’s all I would want out of it, and I had fun.

Then we went to ate Pot-Bing-Su, which is like shaved ice with sweet bean paste. Despite that description, it’s really good. Actually, all the food has been pretty good. No all-time, world favorites yet, but some very solid meals. The students are great, and very willing and excited to share time with us. I don’t know what they expected out of
the class, but we are doing our best to make things funny and entertaining, but still helping them learn English.

Each class is from 9 AM to 8:30 PM, so it’s pretty much bedtime by the time class is over. It’s draining, but I got a nap in today over the dinner hour, and I feel much better.

Tomorrow we are going to try to do a movie night, and Saturday we have a trip to Kyung-ju, a historical Korean city. On Sunday we have a few engagements already. I think that lack of free time will wear on me before culture shock can set in.

Categories: Being There

There : Day 2 – 3

July 21, 2007 1 comment

Time has been a blur, and, at this point, I’m glad I’ve got 5 months instead of two weeks to be here. There is just too much to do.

 

I ate dinner last night with Sunlin President Chun. He is such a nice, friendly man, almost always smiling, with a great spirit. He, and many high position people at Sunlin, quickly impressed me. I guess I expected most Korean men to be dower, and want little to do with me, other than in respect to how we might work together. Instead, I’ve found that most of the older people here smile, joke and include me in very genuine ways. At this point, I am probably a bit too much of a guest to get a good idea of how they will treat me in a few months, but judging by how they treat Jared, if I do my part, they never stop being great people.

 

We ate breakfast with President Chun and his family this morning. His son is very funny, and I was impressed to see that his humor translated well into English, but still made his father laugh. Cross cultural, language or situation (as opposed to slapstick and gross humor) is hard to pull off, especially in a second language.

 

I ate ox tail soup. It was pretty good. President Chun explained that the broth of the soup was bone water, water boiled with bone for 4-5 hours to get the calcium out. He said it was good for the bones. I didn’t hear “bone water”, though, I heard “pond water”, which I assumed meant something like spring water. I then concluded that the calcium was from the rocks of the spring, and it was boiled for hours to make sure it wasn’t contaminated. It was funny to later have it explained to me, then the Koreans had a good laugh, as we walked by a nearby pond. I’m glad to share in these mistakes, because if the occasional Engrish can make me laugh, they might as well get all they can from me. It was all good natured, anyway.

 

We are working on setting up for our first class Monday. The classes are part of a camp that goes from 9 AM to almost 9 PM. There should be plenty of time to get in some exercise, meals and some fun little games. Still, it could be very exhausting for the first few days.

 

I am learning so much about Korea in general that it’s a bit difficult to tell what I’m actually learning of the Korean language. I suppose any knowledge is helpful to my overall goal, which is to be a functional, accepted member of their society. I know I’ll never totally fit in, but as much as possibly without losing important parts of myself and my history, I want to learn and participate with them in everything.

 

I haven’t really gotten to know any students yet. I still have no roommates, and classes aren’t really in session, though there are people about. I wonder how much being a teacher (assistant, really) will impede, or even assist, in my making friends.

 

I’ve been out to eat or in the cafeteria quite a bit now. I’m quite impressed with the cost of Korean food, and its quality. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the food itself seems much healthier than most American food. It might be lacking a bit in calcium, but it has a lot more fish, vegetables and is generally prepared in a better way. There are McDonald’s, KFCs and a host of other American restaurants here, but I haven’t tried one. The Koreans have offered us quite a bit of American food, but the three of us (Dr. Waters, Jared and I) like Korean food and since Dr. Waters and I are new here, we want to try everything we can. I never really ate at those places in America, anyway. Maybe in a month when I want something besides Korean, I’ll be tempted.

 

So far, my only eating complaint is that there is too much to eat. Every meal has been huge, and they eat Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. I almost never ate Breakfast back home, and lunch was usually light. I was so full today that I basically skipped dinner. I’m a bit hungry now, around 10:30, but not enough to bother me. Either I will have to start exercising more, or skipping a meal here and there.

 

Korea is quite beautiful. Pohang isn’t what I would call a pretty city (I don’t believe those exist), but it isn’t ugly, either. The open market was a lot of fun, and some place I could waste lots of time. I hate shopping, but it seem much more like exploring. There are people all around, but walking from place to place, there isn’t a smothering mob. Pohang is a port city, with a few pretty beaches, but I haven’t spent any time on them. The average shop seems to be kind of mom and pop, which is fun. Everything is like a collection of several smaller, more quaint stores, rather than single, more department like stores in America. The mountains inland are beautiful. There isn’t anything more to say, but I’ll have to take pictures.

 

Tomorrow promises more interesting experiences. There is church (I’ve been to Korean churches state side, but this one, where President Chun is an Elder, is huge.), more planning for classes, and a jazz concert on the beach. I’m not sure what to expect, but so far, my expectations have tended to be insufficient, so I’m happy to see where things go.

Categories: Being There

There : The First Day

July 19, 2007 Leave a comment

It’s another day here. The flight and time change lost me two days, and I’m surprised to see that it is Friday, when I left Kansas on Tuesday. My first day in Korea was great. A lot of it was eaten up by the trip from the airport to Sunlin. But once I got here, I was shown quickly to my room, they brought bedding and showed me where the bathrooms and showers were. I’m living in a dorm room with no roommates right now, but that will change.

I had my first functional test here. When I got to my room there were 3 banks of switches and a rotary style desk fan mounted to the ceiling. I flipped a few switches that didn’t seem to do anything, but I wanted to turn on the fan. One of the switches was labeled, so I decided I’d figure out what it said without turning it on. So I looked it up in my dictionary. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a close enough match to make sense. What it did have was a word that started with the same character block, but went on for several more blocks. It was windmill, so I figured that made sense. The switch had 3 positions, and one of them, I found in my dictionary, was “intense”. So I set it to intense windmill and the fan turned on. It’s a small think, but it seems like a victory.

The accommodations were nice enough, and I got about three hours to fire off my first message to my parents since leaving, take a much needed shower and lay around. That was some much needed time. Then it was off to lunch with Jared, Dr. Waters and Mr. Ha.

Jared is an ESU graduate who is over here teaching English at Sunlin. He was my contact through 90% of the trip setup. He’s a really stand up guy, and he speaks Korean fairly well. He also has a car and can seemingly navigate through Pohang without getting hit. That’s impressive.

Dr. Waters is the ESU professor who is, with Jared, doing the teaching at the English camp. I am an assistant. Dr. Waters is also a great guy, and shared the day-plus trip with me.

Mr. Ha was my other contact and the man who set up my Visa, showed me around the dorm, and drove us to Pohang.

The lunch was very nice. It was some kind of Cream-of-Potato soup, a salad which was mostly sprouts and peppers and a sweet vinegar dressing, rice with bean paste, some kind of beef thing, with mushrooms, and a sausage with mustard and purple cabbage. And Kimchi. But, of course, every meal has Kimchi. It was nice to have some good Kimchi, again.

After a pleasant lunch, we went to meet with Dr. Ahn (whom I had met at ESU before) and the President of Sunlin, Mr. Chun. It was a fun meeting, and the Koreans were very welcoming, friendly and funny. One thing I noticed was a trend towards being very complimentary and stressing past connections with us. That would make sense, from what I know of the culture.

Then we went with Jared out into the world. I’ve already talked about driving in Korea. I’m impressed at how well he did, because it seemed like we were constantly in danger of getting hit. We went to a 5 story, Walmart like place. The parking was on stories 4 and 5. It was interesting. There was a girl waving around in the parking garage saying there was no parking, try the next floor. There was parking on that floor, but it was interesting. We went down to the first floor and I was immediately struck by how many service people there were. Maybe 40 per floor. They had lots of people handing out samples of everything, people standing in the watch and clock cubby, people in the soaps and aftershaves there to let you try stuff out, people by the fish, and people by the electronics. People everywhere. Don’t mistake the description as being like Walmart associates where there are maybe 2 people per large section, with more people at specific places. Think of Walmart with someone in every aisle, and maybe 2 per aisle in electronics, groceries and anywhere else they could fit more.

They seem to have lots of service people everywhere. The small (really small) restaurant we went to for dinner had 3 waitresses for something like 10 tables. I asked Jared how they could support that many people. He said that places go out of business a lot in Korea. I’m sure they make minimum wage or so, and most were high school aged (I think, I still can’t tell ages of Asians very well), but in America, you’d have to mark up your prices a lot to compensate.

The store had an interesting layout. You took escalators between floors, but you could only get to floor 2 from floor 1, not from 3. You had to pay for whatever you got on one floor at that floor, before going to the next. Bags cost extra. I bought an umbrella that promised me “Technical Intense Joy” or something like that, and an alarm clock. It was around 2000 Won, or a bit over $20. I used my American debit card and got charged $2 in fees, which is actually pretty good, since I hear it can cost up to $7 per use. There is no sales tax, and no tipping waitresses. We went upstairs to get an electrical adapter, but couldn’t find one. It seemed very difficult to convince the sales people they existed, but there may have been a large barrier there, language wise, as even Jared was unsure how to describe it. I finally found one at another store (where 4 clerks sat me down at a table and didn’t really talk to me, as Jared tried to get a friend on the phone to describe the part in Korean).

As I alluded to before, we ate at a tiny restaurant with short, Korean style tables where you sit on the floor. That moment validated my habit of sitting weird all my life. I was born to eat on short tables. We had a big plate of noodles and chicken that was really good. It was more than Jared, Dr. Waters and I could eat. It cost $15, no tax, no tip. Eating here is quite cheap.

 

We also saw Jared’s apartment. It was bigger and nicer than I expected, even though the building was painted a bit how I imagine a Soviet Era apartment complex would be painted. Jared said that a similar apartment in Seoul would cost around 5 times more. It had two rooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen that went into a somewhat separate living room. It was probably as nice as any apartment I’ve lived in.

 

That was pretty much it, though. We went home, settled down, and I slept from 9 PM to 7 AM. It was a great day.

Categories: Being There

Trip : Looonnnngg

July 19, 2007 Leave a comment

The trip is over and done. It was long. It took something like 28 hours before we finally stopped in Pohang. We hopped from KCI to Denver, then LAX and finally Inchon.

KCI was my favorite, not just because it was (sort of) my home town, but because it had comfy chairs and free WIFI. The other places charged for it (Seoul might have been free, I didn’t get to check). Seoul/Inchon’s airport facilities were really nice. Denver had an amazingly elaborate bathroom setup with S curve hallways and 3 separate rooms per restroom. LAX was dingy, crowded, complex and uncomfortable, but a nice worker there pointed us through a shortcut that saved a lot of time waiting in line (Protip: ask for help from people whose job it is to help you. They are usually helpful). Of course, all that saved time was spent sitting on their uncomfortable chairs waiting 3 hours for the flight to board.

Luggage traveled just fine. Mine was randomly selected for search. Nothing happened there. Bring shoes that are easy to take off. This goes double for Korea. I may have to buy new shoes here. But I’ll cover that later.

The planes were 2 Airbus 320s and a Boeing 747. My first airplane ride was on what I termed the moose plane. It was a Pioneer jet, and like (apparently) all the Pioneer jets, it had an animal painted on all the fins. There were ducks, polar bears, even bunnies, which are possibly the least comforting thing to put on a jet. We had a moose. My initial thought was, man, moose are not a good airplane animal. They don’t fly, and they’re pretty slow. I guess they have those long legs, so they’re a bit higher off the ground than a polar bear, but it doesn’t conjure up images of comfortable, affordable flight.

That aside, the flight was good and quite exciting. A bit of turbulence, a half-glass of juice, and we were in Denver. Denver’s airport wasn’t as glitzy as KC’s in some ways. Sure it had moving walkways, which were novel, but not really useful. But it didn’t have style. Or free Internet.

 From Denver we got onto another pioneer jet, this time an Eagle. At first, I thought, great, the eagle is a much better animal. But by the end of the flight, I kind of missed the moose. It’s hard to tip over a moose. The Eagle was named Sarge, and that didn’t help its case. The moose didn’t have a name, at least that I was told. I think he should have had a really good one.

 The 747 was ok. I expected it to be faster, more spacious and stable than the much smaller Airbuses. It was packed to the brim with people. There was almost no leg room. They DID have a really cool system of touch screens in the seat in front of you. You could track the airplane’s speed, altitude, heading, flying time, ETA, Time at Destination, Miles Remaining, Zoom in and out, almost any information you wanted. There were even features like pilot view that didn’t seem to work. But I loved being able to see that stuff and it made the 13 hour flight a bit better. They also had a LOT of in-flight movies you could control and choose from. 40 or so, with subtitles, different country of origins, classics, TV shows, live(ish) news. It was pretty good on that front, and the food served was good, but really awkwardly timed. We ate dinner at around 2 AM LA time, not too long after we got into the air.

The bad part was that I had a window seat, I couldn’t get out without making two others do so, which totally blocked all the isles. It was dark the entire flight. There was turbulence off and on the whole time, and about 20 minutes until landing I needed to pee, but I decided I’d wait, since the seatbelt sign just went on. Then they announced that there was a storm at Inchon. Cue bad turbulence, and an hour and 20 minutes of flying around in which I couldn’t get up to use the rest rooms.

When I got to Inchon, after a short trip through customs, and a long waiting around for our baggage (and a mad dash to the restrooms when we landed), we met with Sunlin Faculty (it’s important to know that it was 4-5AM for them, which meant everyone was tired), who drove us the 5 hours to Sunlin. Koreans drive crazy. Fast, crazy and crazy. I’m sure there are crazier drivers. I’ve seen YouTube videos of it, but never been involved in it. City driving seems to be an absolute free for all, with lots of horns, but no one paying attention. The roads are really tight and everyone is in everyone else’s way, but no one seems to really care. On the highways, everyone drives really, ridiculously fast (and the only speed enforcement seems to be predictable overhead cameras, similar to the ones we use to do quick pass weight scans for Semis on some Interstates). The roads are in good condition, though.

Everyone seems to have a Daewoo, Kia or other Korean branded car. It was later explained to me that this was partly a pride issue, but mostly a “100% Import Tax on Vehicles” issue. We’d probably have a lot fewer foreign built cars in America if it cost twice as much to buy one.

The people at Sunlin were really great, patient and nice. I suppose the rest of the story belongs in a post about being there, so I’ll end this here.

Categories: The Trip

Preperation : Few Days + Visa Conclusion

July 14, 2007 Leave a comment

I got my visa on Monday. Amid a flurry of papers I had to get done for the financial aide department, it seemed almost unimportant. I freaked out a little until I realized that the visa itself was just a sticker-like entry in my passport, with no external paperwork. But with that aside, it looks in order. And, the Chicago Consulate General was really helpful. As it turned out, it was about 5 days there and 5 days back (working, valid mail days, not weekends and holidays) to get my mail back, for priority, certified mail. The post office was quite disappointing for such a short journey.

I leave on Tuesday, and I haven’t finished packing. For me, packing has always been more of a mental pre-plan, followed by a last minute rush to get it done. I’m trying to be more organized, considering the length of the trip, but I doubt I’ll do anything much more than a day before.  As I said before, I doubt I use all my packing space, or, if I do, it will be because I’m brining stuff I had already assumed I could do without or buy there. The idea of buying things while there bothers me some, as I wouldn’t want to buy them here, again, but it seems like the only practical way to handle things like bedding, and possibly coats.

Categories: Preperation