Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Sachang-Ri and First Days of School

The bus left Seoul at 10:00am. It was hot and the sun was ablaze. The buses were split by region. At our orientation we had teachers going to Incheon (North East), Jeju (a beautiful tropical island in the south), Daigeon (a city south of Seoul) and Gangwon-do (my province in the North Western Mountains). The Gangwon-do buses were themselves split into four, all going to different locations in the vast mountainous province. I was on bus one which was bound for Chuncheon. The ride took about two hours and we arrived in Chuncheon. As we stepped out of the bus our new co-teachers awaited us at the Chuncheon bus terminal. After quite a casual meet and greet everyone on the bus went their separate ways.

I loaded my luggage into my co-teachers car and we left. There was a language barrier that wasn’t huge but enough to make normal conversation and communication slightly more difficult than I had been used to after spending a week around native English speakers. We pulled up at an Italian / Korean restaurant (no I’m not sure what that is either), and low and behold sat at the table are three other people from my bus all with their co-teachers. We all sit around the table and eat a weird spaghetti fish fusion dish with kimchi on the side (of course).

After dinner, we departed Chuncheon (with a brief stop in the Immigration office to apply for my Alien Registration Card) and an hour later we arrived at my apartment. The ride was good (for the most part) my two co-teachers talked Korean in the front and would occasionally ask me a question or two about this and about that. It was pleasant. We pulled up at my new apartment block in Sachang-ri. As you drive into town you can see our apartment block as it is situated on a hill smack in the middle of town. As we pull up (a drive up a small hill and around a corner through a gate) one of my friends from orientation, Nathanial (who as it happens was on my bus ride with me front the airport to the orientation site) was just leaving, his window rolled down I shouted across to him, “you in here?” he nodded, and I smiled a sigh of relief. I will not be alone.
We pulled my bags up one flight of stairs, dropped them off, and then got back in the car and left to go to the school. The drive to school is about fifteen minutes up one long windy road through a valley in the mountains. It’s a pleasant drive and doesn’t seem to take too long. When we got to school I was introduced to my principle who doesn’t speak a word of English, so the conversation was short. I assume he was welcoming. That’s what it felt like. I was then taken to my desk and I met the other teachers all of whom are accommodating and friendly but all of whom it is a struggle to communicate with due to the language barrier. Expectations of what I am supposed to do are still unclear, but I guess time will tell. At the outset I thought I was meant to be teaching at two schools (but as it stands right now minds have been changed and apparently that’s not the case.) A back and forth conversation ensued and once I was given my timetable and vaguely understood where I had to be and at what time I was given a ride home.

I got back to my apartment and checked it out. It’s not as small as I thought it would be, there is a small porch area where I keep my shoes, then the apartment opens up into one room, directly in front there is a table with three chairs tucked underneath it, a sofa sits in front of that next to a small cupboard and my bed. In front of my bed is my wardrobe, one side of that is my kitchen and fridge and the other side my balcony with my washing machine and vacuum cleaner. On the other side of the apartment is my bathroom. All pretty standard stuff.

I settled in, unpacked, phoned home, and I had my first moment of culture shock, my first realisation that wow I’m actually here. This was my first time since I touched down that I was alone for more than five minutes and I sat pensively for a while. Not knowing what was going to happen over the next few weeks. I guess nobody can truly know. Knock knock. It was Nathanial. I was wondering what room he was in but was glad he found me first. He said that everyone is up on the roof and asked me if I’d like to join. Turns out there were two guys from orientation staying in my building, Nathanial and Russell, there are also two girls who’ve been here for quite a while, and Ben whose been here for three years or more. That’s enough English speakers to keep me happy, and from that moment forth for the weekend I popped into an English speaking bubble, which feels rather safe and secure.

We hung out on the roof for some time, watching the sun go down over the beautiful mountains that are literally in every direction. At around 8:30 we went to one of the local bars, we all drank and talked and got to know one another before moving on to another bar. There are lots of soldiers in the bars here as we are in a military town, we are only around town miles from the DMZ so this is a natural location for them to be stationed. At the next bar we met some Koreans who took a liking to us, lets just say we didn’t pay for anything else for the rest of the night. They brought us drinks at the bar and then we went to a Nauru Bang (Karaoke Bar) and sang and drunk a bit more. We got home at 4:30am. I did not expect to stay out that late but it was a good time and important too feel settled in my new home.

Got up late the next day and went for pizza and water to recover from the hangover. Later that day Ben drove us to Chuncheon and we had chicken (a special dish whose name escapes me now I’m writing about it but its native to the Chuncheon area) Dak Galbi maybe? It was a great meal and then we went to play some pool, we eventually got back from Chuncheon at around 11pm and went to bed at a reasonable time. The next day we all got up (well me, Nathanial, Russell and Amanda) and we decided to hike one of the easier looking mountains just in front of where we live. A short walk and the trail is right there in front of you. We hiked for about an hour, up ropes on the side f rocks, over bridges, along trails and up stairs until we reached the summit at 541 metres. A great view. The Koreans put a gym on top of the hill. Crazy, I know. We spent some time at the top catching our breath and then we hiked down the side of a small waterfall, luminous frogs everywhere. Avoid.

We reached the river at the bottom and went for a paddle as it was hot as blazes and we were all sweaty and dirty from quite a difficult hike off the trail down the hill. We got back to the apartments and had a quiet night watching movies and uploading photos to face book. Early night. School the next day. Time to get nervous.

I woke up at 6:30am. I did not want to miss the bus which I had no idea how to get. I got to the bus stop by 7:30 and asked for a ticket to Damok-ri (where my school is). This wasn’t so bad. I got on the right bus and arrived in the right place nice and early. I got into school at 8:20am, which I will be doing most mornings until I buy my bike. I didn’t know what to expect from my day and I was increasingly more worried about the language gap. After about an hour at m desk without getting informed about much we went to an opening ceremony in the small gym hall. The principle gave his address and I introduced myself to a hall of about 40 students (that is all that is in the whole school). I was presented with some flowers by a student, which was nice. Still, the language gap loomed.

After this I went back to my desk without being told what I should do. A colleague showed me where the English text books are so I flicked through them for much of the morning and read some lesson plans that teachers had written before me. At 11am I had kindergarten class, I read the students a story about a bunny who played in the sun. Despite them probably not understanding much English at all they loved the story. This was the highlight of my day. They got excited, we all hopped around the class together and I felt like I had done a good job. Back to my desk for an hour before lunch. Lunch was good, much like the lunch’s at orientation there was rice, kimchi, a soup and two dishes of the day! The students were eating all of their meal so I felt like I should probably finish mine. Back to my desk after lunch which is where I’ll stay for the rest of the day. Teachers come and go and say a few things to me, one suggests that Tuesday night we will all go out and eat and drink together. I’m reluctant towards the idea but smile and nod and say ‘great’. 5pm rolls around and I’m back on the bus and on my way home. I felt like I didn’t do much. I didn’t really know what I as expected to do. I guess it’s my first day so maybe they were, letting me off lightly?

My day seemed to go better than the other folks whom I live with, there was an upheaval at one of their schools regarding hours and Russell got the wrong bus in the morning. All worked out though, and I guess everyone had similar days of confusion. Maybe Tuesday will be better. We talked and ate on the roof for a few hours and had an early night.

On one schedule it says that I should be going to this elusive second school today, but I haven’t been told to go anywhere. I assume that’s not going to happen. So, I got into work at the usual time this morning. My co-teacher arrived and told me that my class today has been cancelled. No surprises, right? I asked her what I should do, weather I should write some lesson plans or something? She said no. I asked again what I should do. She said “nothing” with a smile. So, I guess that’s what I’m doing right now. I’ll see if I get told to do anything else today but as it stands its nothing. I’ not sure if everyone is going out tonight or not. I guess we’ll wait and see about that as well. Everything is very last minute here. Go with the flow. Roll with it. I guess it’s best not to worry. We are hiking a huge mountain on Saturday. Badda bing, badda boom.

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