Hello Korea

March 19, 2012


I’ve moved to Jinju, South Korea to teach English! Here’s a recap of my arrival in the country.

Arriving in Korea

I’d booked the 4am airport shuttle from Corvallis to Portland on Monday morning. I stayed up most of the night before cleaning my apartment, then slept for about two hours, but when I woke up at 2:40am Monday morning, I realized I still had a lot left to do. I scrambled to get everything together as quickly as possible, knowing that if I left my apartment by 3:40am I could make my shuttle on time. It was going to be close. I threw the final bag of trash and a few pillows into the sleeping bag I’d slept in the night before and, since the trash bin outside my apartment was full, hauled it to a dumpster at an apartment complex a few blocks away. If the residents of that apartment complex had looked out of their windows, here’s what they would have seen: a panicked-looking man dragging a large sack with a
 suspiciously-shaped lump in it through the drizzling streets at 3:37am. They would have seen him heave the sack into a dumpster and sprint off into the night.

Back at my apartment, I grabbed my suitcases, left the keys inside the door, and ran off toward the shuttle stop. I made it just in time, drenched with sweat, and then waited ten minutes for the bus, which was running late that morning. It was at this time that I realized still had the apartment keys in my pocket and had left my personal keys in the apartment. I paid $10 to mail the keys back to my landlord from the San Francisco airport.

The flight from San Francisco to South Korea took a little over 12 hours. I slept for about two hours and watched four movies: Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy (Great!), Warrior (Great!), Drive (Amazing!), and In Time (Abysmal!). Basically I just sat around for 12 hours and watched movies while friendly people brought me food and drinks. Through the help of many very kind Koreans, I figured out how to get through customs in Seoul and onboard my final flight of the day to Busan, where someone from my school would pick me up and drive me to Jinju. The Seoul airport is one of the biggest and nicest in the world, so I figured that the airport in Korea’s second-largest city would also have many amenities. However, it didn’t have three things I was hoping it would have: wireless (or any other) internet access, a place to exchange currency, and someone waiting there to pick me up. I had planned that in the unlikely event that no one was there to pick me up, I would call my recruiter who could contact my school. But his phone number was in my email account that I couldn’t access. I could take a taxi to a place where I could use the internet, but I didn’t have any Korean money. So I was in trouble. That’s when Mr. Kim took an interest in my wellbeing. 

I never found out if Mr. Kim actually worked for the airport (he wasn’t wearing a uniform or a nametag), but he really went out of his way to help me. He spoke just slightly more English than I speak Korean (none). He first offered to help arrange a taxi for me to Jinju, but when he realized that I needed to use the internet to get a phone number, he invited to drive me to somewhere I could do this. So I grabbed my luggage and followed him out to his Kia waiting in the parking lot, and he drove me down a narrow, cluttered street to where a neon sign said “PC Bang,” which is the Korean version of an internet cafe. Mr. Kim signaled to me that the entrance was at the top of a long, dark, rickety stairway. It didn’t look promising. There was absolutely no way my luggage could go up those stairs. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving all my worldly possessions with a stranger while I walked up that stairway. I was trying to think of a polite way to ask Mr. Kim if he could give me his driver’s license so I could be sure he wouldn’t steal my luggage. But finally he realized that I was too ignorant to use the internet in Korea by myself, so he came upstairs with me. The PC Bang was a dark and sad place, but I used the internet and retrieved the number. Since I didn’t have any won, Mr. Kim paid the fee for me. I called my recruiter on Mr. Kim’s phone and learned that my school contact was running a half hour late and that I should go back to the airport. So we drove back. For all his help, and for not kidnapping or robbing me, I gave Mr. Kim a $20 bill, which he can exchange for Korean won somewhere other than the Busan airport.

My driver was a Korean teacher at my school who goes by the name Pino (short for his nickname “Pinocchio”). He’s a really smart, interesting, and wonderful guy. Part of his job is to help the foreign teachers at the school. He is going to help me set up a bank account, move into my apartment, get a cell phone, etc. On the way back to Jinju, we stopped at a rest stop so he could get a drink, and when he came back to the car, he brought me a warm glass bottle of a honey and red ginseng drink. I’m trying to get over a cold and had a cough and congestion, and he said it would help. (When trying to get over a cold, it’s a bad idea to only sleep for four out of 48 hours.) It was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. 

Pino took me to a hotel in Jinju, where I would spend one night before moving into my apartment the next day. It was 12:30am. He said he would pick me up at noon. The hotel was very nice, but there was no clock. I knew that with no alarm I might sleep for 16 hours straight, but luckily I had brought my alarm clock from home! It was one of my most treasured possessions, and fortunately I had a plug adapter for it. Unfortunately, I forgot that I would also need a power adapter because the outlets here are twice as powerful as in America. My poor alarm clock worked for five seconds and then died in a small smoky fizzle. I still needed an alarm. There was a computer in the room, and I found an online alarm clock that promised to “wake you to the sound of the cockerel.” I set it for 10am. I didn’t sleep well. I still had a cough, and the computer screen would randomly light up from time to time, spreading white light throughout the room. I slept on and off for about five hours, woke to the sound of the cockerel at 10am, and took a long bath. Pino picked me up at noon and, because we had a few hours until we had to be at the school, took me to the famous Jinju fortress, where I took this picture.


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