Monday, July 25, 2011

Living In Korea

Korean Adventure (June 7, 2002 Chautauqua)

A foreigner, coming to Korea to teach English, is a bit at sea on first arrival. It's a foreign country, where people speak a different language. If you don't know anyone, there's only the staff at your school (or "hagwon") to rely on. Sometimes this can be a blessing, as I have met some really good people over here.
I remember when I first got off the plane, I was met by my director and his assistant, who oversaw the teaching staff. They loaded my luggage into the car, and took me for a drive through the nighttime streets of Taegue. Korean cities at night remind me of Las Vegas somewhat. It's not quite that gaudy, but it's close. Koreans like a lot of signage on every available space. The neon lights and banners with the strange symbols are everywhere. It's pretty, but you don't know what they mean.

The street entrance to my second con-apt building.

Eventually, we arrived at the apartment I was to share with another teacher. I was so tired after travelling, I just hit the sack for a couple of days. Most hagwons provide their teachers with housing. Some of it is shared, and some teachers are provided with a place of their own. The apartment I was sharing had an entranceway, where all shoes are left. Koreans only walk around in special house slippers, and leave outside shoes by the door. It's very bad manners to wear your shoes in the house.

The courtyard inside the street entrance. The door into the building leads to a hallway. My door was the last on the left.

The common areas of the apartment were the bathroom, the TV room, and the kitchen. The bathroom had a sink, a toilet, and a shower attachment on the wall. There was no tub, and there was no shower curtain. There wasn't even a drainpipe attached to the sink. The water just emptied onto the floor, and down the same drain as the shower water. I had to get used to not keeping my feet well away from the sink when I returned to Canada.

The door to my con-apt from the inside. The "kitchen" is to the left.

In my last two apartments, I have not even had sinks, just a combination tap and shower sticking out of the wall. It's a bit odd at first, but you get used to it, and even enjoy the space that a whole "shower room" affords. There are even separate slippers that you wear in the bathroom, just to keep your feet out of the water that's there after your shower.

The door into my bathroom. Just a toilet and a tap/shower attachment.Note the fan in the lower right corner. This was just before they installed an air conditioner (my first in Korea).

Sometimes the washing machine is installed in the bathroom. I haven't lived in an apartment like that yet, but I know people who have. One girl even had an electrical outlet almost directly beneath her shower head. Yikes!

The door to the storage room at the rear of my con-apt.

Inside the storage room, with the washing machine in the foreground.

The modern Korean dryer, the latest in technology!

The television is an adventure, as well. There are about 70 channels. Most of them are Korean, naturally, but there are a few movie channels that show English films. There are also American sitcoms shown on various channels. "Friends," "Third Rock," "Seinfeld," and "Married, With Children" just to name a few.

The TV in my second con-apt. The bulge on the top is a VCR. This is before my first computer and the joys of downloading.

There is also the Armed Forces channel, which shows all the regular programming available back home. There are no paid commercials, just service announcements that the GIs film themselves. Some of them are fairly amusing in their amateurishness, and we all get a good laugh at the (unintentionally funny) antics of the American Army.
The kitchen area has a fridge, some counter and cupboard space, and a two-burner gas range for all of our cooking. One of the things I have missed over here is baking or roasting some of my favorite foods. But Korean cooking is very good, and I have no problem with the local delicacies.
Now, the school looks after the rent, but the teachers are responsible for their own utilities. This means TV, water, electricity, and gas for the cooker. There is also a fee for the oil heater. This heats up water for the underfloor heating system (called "ondol"), and the sinks and shower. Unless the school's troubleshooter instructs you on its proper use, you can have trouble getting enough hot water. I remember we had that problem until we figured out which buttons to push, and what dials to turn. Since then I have had no trouble with getting enough hot water.
The only rooms left in the apartment were the two bedrooms. My first roommate had the bigger of the two, which I got when he moved out after one month of our sharing the place. I got another roommate a few months later, and he was a good guy. We really got on well, shared the cooking, and hosted some good parties. Since then, I have had only single apartments for myself.
Next time I will talk about shopping, cinemas, and beer. Mmmmmmm, beer.
I remember that first nighttime drive. It seemed everywhere I looked, there was a flourescent orange cross. I wondered just what I was getting into.


  1. The apartment size, and quality at times, always seemed to leave me shaking my head. The living room of my apartment now, in Canada, is pretty much the same size as my only room in my last apartment.

    Then again, living as a single person in Korea did I need much more in size? Well, yeah, a little bigger would have been nice. Maybe not necessary but nice.

  2. I got used to it, but like an idiot, I kept accumulating shit that threatened to crowd me out of my own house.