Our original flight schedule was Monday, February 22nd from Portland to Seattle, then to Seoul and into Busan. The trip to Seattle, being only about 300 miles was a quick flight. Once there, we had some time to kill between 9:30 am and 1:40 pm when our flight to Seoul was set to take off. We paid some last minute bills, cancelled our cell phones, and pondered where to eat our last meal in the US for a year. We decided on Italian food. Once back at the gate, we discovered our plane was now delayed an hour. More time to kill.
Finally on the plane, we found our seats and our own personal TVs. After take off, we synced “The invention of lying” to watch together. It was a pretty funny movie. We were served lunch and dinner, and tried to sleep away the eleven hour flight. We had our first “Korean” meals, for Ryan, the traditional bibimbap (see link below), and for me, some Indian/tofu dish (the vegetarian option) with rice. We both tried to sleep as much as possible, and enjoyed some complimentary drinks to aid in the process.
After arriving at the Incheon/Seoul airport at local time about 8:30 pm, we went through customs and realized we had almost no time to connect to our flight to Busan.
We grabbed our bags and found a ticket counter, only to hear that our flight had already left. Our options were these: take a bus to Busan, or spend the night in a hotel with an airline voucher and take a flight the following morning. Exhausted, we decided a hotel sounded more enticing than a bus ride. We were directed to wait for our hotel driver, who told us that since we had so many bags (sorry Ryan!) we would have to take a van, but some of our bags would need to go into the car in front of us. We got in the van, reluctantly allowing our bags to disappear into the car. Then we began a windy journey to the hotel. It was so foggy that at times we weren’t able to see the car with our bags. I think we said goodbye to them at least twice.
Finally, after about twenty minutes of curving around strange streets and wondering where the hell we were being taken, we arrived at the hotel.
The woman who had driven the car in front of us also turned out to be in charge of the front desk, which was not very comforting. She was however very nice, and spoke English which helped immensely. She offered us dinner and breakfast, which is when I broke the news. “If you have any options without meat, that would help because I’m a vegetarian.” The woman looked at me and without missing a beat asked, “Are you sure?”
We took our first round of bags up to the room and quickly discovered it was shoes off here. The floors are heated, which was a nice surprise. We also discovered that we had no idea how to turn on any of the lights. On our next trip downstairs the woman at the front desk told us to put the hotel key in a little slot in the entryway to get the lights to work, which did the trick. The bathroom, like most here had no curtain, and a drain in the middle for the water to go down. There were slippers in the doorway, to prevent slips.
Dinner arrived, donkkasu, (panko crusted, fried pork cutlet topped with gravy) for Ryan, served with French fries, fish soup and a mini salad (pictured right), and basically battered and fried fish, fries, fish soup, and a mini salad for me (pictured left). Once we finished picking at our dinners, we welcomed the chance to sleep.
6:30 am the next morning, our shuttle arrived and took us back to the airport. We found our airline, checked in and went to the gate. Next thing we know, we were in Busan. The flight was about the same time as it took getting from Portland to Seattle by plane. We were glad we had decided not to take a bus the previous night.
The woman from the recruiting agency we got our jobs through met us at the airport and informed us that we were going straight to the school.
We took a quick trip through the city (the drivers are crazy here), and arrived at the school where we will be teaching for the next twelve months. We removed our shoes at the front door (so much for all the new work shoes we had purchased and packed, but oh well) and were led upstairs to meet the existing staff. There were some Korean teachers, and other foreign English teachers, and the director and assistant director. Everyone was very nice and welcoming. After spending a few minutes in the classrooms that we would be eventually taking over, and meeting some of the adorable kids, we were taken to the hotel we would stay in for the next few days. In order for us to move into our apartment, the current teacher living there needed a few more days to move out.
Our hotel was just a few blocks from the school, down an alley with a delightful smell of garbage. The garbage here is separated down to the smallest detail, plastic bags in one container, plastic bottles in one, metal in another, food waste and paper in two others. Very confusing, and ironic since there are no public garbage cans and a lot of garbage seems to end up in the streets.
After dropping off our bags in the hotel (more on the hotel later), we were whisked right back to the school and out to lunch with the director, assistant director, and the other foreign English teachers. Without realizing it, some of the guys convinced him to get donkkasu again, which he enjoyed. For me it was bibimbap, the traditional dish Ryan had on the plane, consisting of strange vegetables atop rice and finished off with an over easy egg and chili paste. Of course we were served lots of kimchi (pickled and fermented cabbage with lots of chili paste) and pickled radishes. They are big on side dishes here, which are refillable to no end.
We observed a couple of classes in the afternoon, Ryan in the classrooms he will be taking over, and me in the ones I will be taking over. We were both surprised how well the little ones, even kindergarteners, could speak English. Speaking Korean is not allowed in the classes, and there is a set and rigorous curriculum that the teachers follow, which seems to deliver good results.
After some more observing, we went back to the hotel and crashed.
More to come!