It's been three weeks since I've arrived to the land of the morning calm and I think I'm getting used to life here, sort of. Every day has been one that brings new sights, sounds, and experiences. I think every person sees the world in their own way and so I'll talk about the things that have been most noteworthy and interesting, hopefully they are for you too.
As surprising as it is, I really don't miss driving. That may be because I spent an average of 3 hours a day in my car for my last job, but not having to deal with traffic and everything that comes along with it (i.e. road rage) is refreshing. I think I'm pretty aggressive when driving, but driving here would require some sort of mental preparation and a solid insurance plan. Rules of the road seem merely like recommendations of the road. Apart from all of the cars and buses on the road, you have these lunatic guys on scooters weaving in and out of traffic. If they can't get by on the road, watch out and get out of the way because they use the sidewalks too. Walking along on the sidewalks, as wide as they are, aren't wide enough for the scooters. What makes the sidewalks even more congested is that cars sometimes drive down them! Typically this is cars that park in front of buildings and need to drive down a section, since there are trees and barriers preventing them from hoping onto the road. A lot of this is very similar to Ukraine, except for the scooters.
Something else to watch out is the old Korean women power-walking down the sidewalks and walkways of Seoul. They have a word for these superhuman women, which is the Ajuma. I understand that elderly should have preference for seating on subways and should be respected, but if you somehow get in the way of her path, don't be surprised when you feel a sharp punch from an Ajuma's fist or elbow. They're treated somewhat like scooters, which is that they have the right of way and if you don't move, expect trouble. What makes it funny is the shoes they wear. I need to take a few pictures of these to fully make you understand what were working with here. Imagine taking the shoes the spice girls wore during their heyday and make them curved on the bottom, so that when walking, you bob up and down. Pics will be up as soon as I get a chance to snap a few.
An anecdote I find notable is what happens fairly often to the blond girls that come there to teach. There were about 10 of us sitting outside about a week ago near a restaurant a short walk from my apartment building, hanging out and talking. There were some new teachers that I just met and as I was talking with one of the teachers, we noticed an older Korean man screech to a stop on his bike and stare at all of us in bewilderment. We heard him manage to say "Wow! So many!". I guess it was a big deal for him to see so many white people together at the same time? He stood there for a bit and decided to come over to ask a simple question. He pointed to the two blonds in the group and asked "Russian?" We kindly told him no, we're all teachers. Now, this happens to blond girls here because there are Russian prostitutes that move to Korea and being blond is often understood to define ones way of making a living. The old man said thank you and went on his way. The blond girl teachers I've talked to say this happens to them a few times a week and is considered normal. I can't even begin to think of what kind of lawsuits these inquires would start back home.
I'm getting the gist of teaching (or at least I think I am) and my students are getting used to me. The way they refer to us teachers is pretty funny. "Vitaliy teacher! Vitaliy teacher! Hiiiiiiii!" But if its rushed, it sounds like "Bitari teacher, Bitari teacher!" The Korean language doesn't have distinct sounds for the English letters r and l, which is actually one sound (so I've been told). So instead of hearing the letter l, you hear the letter r. "Turtle Bay" was a story one of my classes read and teaching these 8 year olds how to actually say "turtle" and not "tultre" took more time that I expected.
I've been venturing out and exploring the city, which has been really cool and there is more than enough to see. Below are some pictures from Changdeokgung Palace, which was originally built in 1405 and served as the residential and administrative complex for the Joseon Dynasty. Most of the buildings were destroyed when the Japanese invaded the country centuries ago, but have been rebuilt since. I took an English tour of the area together with a few other teachers, but one thing that surprised me was the amount of international tourists that were on the tour. People from everywhere and languages I could not decipher.
The entrance gate to Changdeokgung
The cliche and ubiquitous peace sign
The underside of the entry gate
In front of Injeongjeon, which was used for major state affairs, the coronation of new kings, and receiving foreign envoys.
From what I remember, a lot of these colors and paints were considered royal because they were imported and only the wealthy could afford them. The Koreans traded a lot with the Chinese, and the influence still remains to this day. Koreans used the Chinese alphabet until Hangul (the Korean alphabet) came to be the dominant and native language.
A type of sun clock, dating back to the 15th century.
안녕히계세요 = annyeonghi gyeseyo = good bye