Wednesday, August 28, 2013

So you made it to Korea... Now what?

Right, newbies. If you're in EPIK, you've completed the training, got the certificates, maybe found some way to carry your weird wooden sculpture thing or polystyrene mask all the way from your orientation site to your new home safely. Hagwoners, however, have probably been unceremoniously dumped on the pavement and given a scrap of paper with their address scrawled on it in unreadable Korean handwriting. You've carried your bags up infinite stairs and are probably living out of them because the thought of unpacking is overwhelming. You probably expected your new apartment to come with cups, bowls and spoons, at least... But all you got was a dead cactus and the lingering odour of next door's plumbing. If you're like me, I bet you have already had a good long cry as the shock that comes with moving your whole life to Asia hits you like a chopstick to the eye.

But now what? How do you get on your feet? Where do you go from here?

Hey guys, I made you a helpful guide. I kinda wish there'd been something like this for me when I got here six months ago. Specific to Daegu. Hopefully someone in your area will make one for you, but most of the info should be fine for the rest of Korea.

Daegu 101

Pick up a free copy of the Daegu Compass (in many stores downtown). It contains maps. You can also download it here:

I have also made a couple of maps, linked here. They can be a little overwhelming though.  Maps

Important Phone Numbers: 
Criminal Act112First Aid Application1339
Spy Report113Lost & Found182
Fire, Rescue119Postal Info1300
Drug Report127Citizenship Reference1382
Illegal Import Report125Law Counseling132
Current Time116Volunteers' Center1365
Telephone Utility100Pension Counseling1355
Local General Info120Domestic Telegram Service115
Pollution128International Telegram Service00795
Water Supply121Drug Abuse Counseling080-767-5115
Electronic Power123Weather Forecast131
Transmitter's Number Service155Collect Call Service1541
Telephone Disorder110General Financial Info1369

Getting a bank account and phone: (I wrote a lengthy post about this here)
TL:DR - Bank: You need an ARC, and two other forms of ID (Passport AND National ID will suffice). So far KEB offers the best options for English services and sending money home. Go in person to a branch and hopefully you'll get one of their lovely, patient tellers who speak just enough English to tell you where to sign your name. Ask them for internet banking while you're there. It will save you a trip.
Phone: I used Eliza from AUI Korea to get my phone (also detailed info in that post linked above). You need an ARC and your bank info (Bank book should cover it) for this. Set up online banking by following this guide.

Medical Help: I was sick as a dog when I arrived here and struggled to find a doctor. Here is some Hangeul for you to match with neighborhood signs, as well as the names of some of the hospitals I've tried.

Ear, Nose and Throat: 이비인후과 (say eee bee eeen hookaaah)
Hospitals (byeongweon -  병원)
파티마 (Fatima - pronounced Patima) Hospital. This has an international section with English speakers who will go around with you.
(곽) Kwak's Hospital. Few English speakers but good for quick attention to trauma. I had a walk-in brain scan within 15 minutes.
피부과: dermatologist

Ordering food in a restaurant:
(food) (number) juseyo. 
Foods: bibimbap (rice and mixed vegetables) - 비빔밥
mul naengmyeon (cold noodles in icy broth) - 물냉면
bibim naengmyeon (cold noodles without broth, in a red sauce) - 비빔 냉면
kimbap (rice and veggies and sometimes meat, wrapped in seaweed) - 김밥
samgak kimbap (triangular kimbap) - 삼각 김밥
samgyeopsal (pork barbecue) - 삼겹살
bulgogi (stir fried beef) - 불고기
Dalkgalbi (stir fried chicken, sometimes with rice added) - 닭갈비
jjimdalk (chicken, potato, vegetable and noodle stew) - 찜닭
kimchi jjigae (kimchi soup) - 김치찌개
dwejang jjigae (non-spicy alternative to kimchi soup, made from some kind of bean) - 뒈장찌개
sundubu jjigae (tofu soup) - 순두부 찌개
galmeki sal (pork rib barbecue) - 갈매기 살
pajeon (korean pancake with greens) - 파전
ttoppokki (rice cakes in hot red sauce, sometimes with fish cakes added) 떡볶이
hotteok (donut-like fried street food) - 호떡
soon sal (boneless/deboned) - 순살
mepke (spicy)

Numbers: when ordering food, native Korean numbers are used.
1 = hana 하나
2 = dul 둘
3 = set 셋
4 = net 넷
5 = dasot 다섯
6 = yeosot 여섯
7 = ilgop 일겁
8 = yeodolp 여덟
9 = ahon 아혼
10 = yol 열

e.g. I want cold noodles in broth. I say: "Mul naengmyeon hana juseyo." 물냉면 하나 주세요

Ordering takeout:
If I'm lazy, I use the 요기요 app, available in the android store, along with google translate and image searching. It has been known to backfire; the image search pulled up something that looked like stir fried chicken. I got a bucket of seafood. It was still delicious.

Otherwise, follow this guide:
1. Write down your order in romanized korean if you don't know how to read hangul, as well as the address on the back of your ARC. Check that the menu page doesn't mention a delivery minimum (the minimum value of food they will deliver). Or just order enough for four people and you'll be fine.
2. Call the number on the menu, prefixed with 053.
3. Follow this script:
Restaurant: Yuboseyo. Restaurant's name imnida
You: Baedal juseyo.
Restaurant: Neh
You: (order) juseyo
Restaurant: address please/would you like anything else?
You: (address)
Restaurant (if successful): neh/algesseyo. (blah blah time it will take to deliver and total cost)
You: Neeeh. Gamsahmnida


Restaurant if unsuccessful: actually there's a delivery limit and you haven't ordered enough and our entire kitchen staff have been abducted by aliens. (Click. )

Wait and hope.

Getting around in a taxi.
I live in the North, and sometimes I want to go to a general area but I'm not sure what to tell the taxi driver.
If you want to go to the northern part of downtown (where the Uzbeki restaurant is), ask the driver to drop you off at Daegu Station and walk from there. If you want mid-downtown, ask for Novotel (Nobotel). If you want south downtown, ask for Banwoldang. Having the address in hangeul is always a plus, although some taxi drivers can't read. Showing them maps on your phone often infuriates them. Get to know the local land marks and aim for those, or find out the name of the nearest intersection. Asking for Jungangro can be tricky because only buses are allowed to drive on Jungangro at certain times of the day. This might also mean your taxi driver takes an unsettling detour through a bunch of alleys to get you where you need to be. Don't worry. You're probably not being kidnapped or swindled.

Learn Korean.
If you're an Epiker, the DMOE will probably organise free classes for you. While that's all well and good, I haven't heard great things about it, and judging from the korean spoken by friends who attended only those, I'm not sure how effective they are. No offense to those friends! You guys are awesome for trying. It will cost you a little more but if you're a fast learner and you're willing to put in the effort, sign up for some Korean classes at the YMCA. New courses start a week or two from now so this is the time to do it, if you can afford it. I do the intensive course, but the regular classes are just as good. The YMCA is near exit 14 of Banwoldang station.

Buy stuff for your apartment.
Daiso should be your first port of call. You may only be here for a year, so I wouldn't want to spend a fortune making my place a palace. Pink plastic is fine for me, and at between 1000 and 5000 per thing, it's a damn good store. Daiso is good for containers, pots and pans, plants, and many other hidden treasures. Other than that, homeplus and emart do the job, but check out your local convenience stores and that supermarket at the end of your alley. Supporting local businesses does wonders for the community and if they get to know you and what you like, sometimes they go out of their way to make things easy for you. Every second and fourth Sunday, Emart and Homeplus close so that local businesses can have a go at selling things. Remember: Two and Four, shut the door. One and three, let's go see.

Making friends with foreigners.
I was lucky in that our Epik group bonded pretty quickly, although it did get very cliquey. But as a friend mentioned on Monday, cliques are a natural part of social interaction. We can't be friends with everyone at all times in equal measure; that would be exhausting. Anyway. If you're looking for foreigners, go to Traveller's on a Wednesday night for pub quiz, or any other night. Thursday Party 1 and 2 are also good bets for finding foreign friends, especially if you want to branch out of the teaching community and befriend some army blokes. As you get more familiar with downtown, you'll find more bars and develop your own habits and preferences. Maybe you'll discover a bar that you keep secret, with your friends, as a quiet little getaway, or the dance club that puts all other dance clubs to shame. Go forth and explore. Get hold of the Daegu compass - freely available in lots of places downtown - and use it as a springboard. It has handy maps in the back. The Kyungpook University North Gate area also has some wonderful bars and restaurants, and a more Seoul-like feel to it, full of indie bands busking in board game cafes, and university students hooking themselves up to coffee IVs.

Making friends with Koreans.
This is easy. When I got here, I made a point of sitting with someone different every day. And office drop-ins also worked up the courage to speak to me. I made two of my closest Korean friends just through everyday interaction. As for non-work friends... Lots of Koreans want foreign friends so that they can practise their English. Join some language exchanges, like the one that meets at Buy the Book every Friday night. Go on group trips that aren't just aimed at foreigners. Be friendly and open, and it will happen.

I can't think of anything else. Here's a moving in checklist for you.

1. Translate the buttons on your air conditioning, washing machine and ondol.
2. Memorise all door codes.
3. Unpack; just do it.
4. Take daily walks around your neighbourhood to figure out where stuff is. Use google maps on your phone and mark home so you can find your way back. Memorise the bus numbers on the stops nearest to you so that you can find your way home without having to puzzle through hangeul bus route maps.
5. Learn to read hangul. A lot of signs are english words just spelled out in hangul. This will be useful. Do it.
6. Say hello to every foreigner you see. Maybe they're new like you,  or maybe they're old and can help you out. We're generally a friendly, helpful bunch of educated alcoholics.
7. Read blogs on Korea. You are not alone. I've linked to a bunch on the right hand side, there ---->
8. Join the infinite foreigners-in-korea-who-do-stuff-together facebook groups.
9. Get a bicycle. Try not to crash headfirst into a pole. Helmets are cheap and worth it.
10. Get to know your co-teacher. Build a relationship. You'll need it later when the going gets rough.
11. Get off the internet and go outside. It's a beautiful summer day and you've finally made it. You're here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Desk-warming Survival Guide of Doom

I know, I know, it's been months since my last post. Well, since then I've been pretty busy puttering along, getting my job done. I've ticked off some things on the bucket list, like getting onto an army base, hitting the Boryeong mud festival, and things like that. I've got a few ideas for this blog that are in the works, namely the long and gruesome tale of the disaster that is my skin and what the most famous dermatologist in Daegu is like (with photos) but those will take some time (and polishing) to complete. The good news is that for the next ten days or so, I have nothing but time. It's deskwarming season! So here's a handy survival guide. I've made it nice and long so that you can kill extra time just by reading it.

*And this wouldn't be right without some kind of doom and gloom - my original plan was to read books once I'd finished planning for next semester. And then, the night before desk warming began, I dropped and broke my Kindle. NOOOOOO! Boo hoo. 

What is deskwarming and why the hell am I sitting here in the office, all alone, during school vacation?

Well, you're considered a public servant, which means you need to work public servant hours. Sparrowfart of dawn to early evening, and at least in summer it's still light out for a good three hours or so after you leave work. Sure, the other teachers have all gone home. It's different for foreigners. A while back, if you had no work to do and there were no kids around, nice Principals would let you go home. Then, chuffed to bits, you'd crow about it on facebook. And the poor sods stuck at school complained, so they've made deskwarming compulsory. You get a certain amount of leave each year and it's significantly less than there are days of school vacation. Suck it up and get ready to enjoy being paid to do... Whatever you want.

Really? I can do anything I want? *strips naked and dances around the school*
 Waaait! Maybe not quite anything. Don't forget about the security cameras, and the odd wandering staff member who might pop their head in. Here's a list of the things I'll be doing over the next few days to kill time at school between 8am and the holy grail of 4:30. They're listed in order of most professional to least. I am not responsible for any maiming, funny looks, or accusations of impropriety that may result from following the advice in this post. Please don't sue me.

1. Do your job.

Being a teacher is not just about teaching. It's important to plan and make materials. Well, now's your chance to get ahead of the madness that was last semester, when you were flying by the seat of your pants. This is your chance to make the massive, time consuming powerpoint review games, or do some bad-ass cutting and sticking (especially if you teach elementary school) and colouring things in. Beware of tasks that require printing or photocopying - there's no one around to fix the damn machines and the odds are they're already out of ink and/or broken. Today I started working on a review game for last semester's work, because (after planning a rough outline of what will be taught when this semester (time killed with excel colour coding: 1 hour), I saw that I may have a couple of stray, pointless lessons right in the beginning). The game (Trivial Pursuit, downloaded off Waygook and available here) has space for 300 questions. Working my way meticulously through the textbook and having each A card set as "Advanced" and B as "low level" means that this has taken up a huge chunk of my day. And I've only made 50 questions so far.
Time killing rating: 5/5

2. Become better at your job.

Yes, we've all done our TEFL and suffered through the online training, and some of us were qualified teachers before we even decided to come to Korea. But maybe you've realised that you still have trouble with classroom management, or you're not entirely sure how to get kids to improve their speaking skills, or how to make them interested. Maybe you need ideas. Maybe you just like developing your skills to their fullest. Improving your professional skills through research can do wonders for your renewal and how your coworkers see you. Read education journals online, or other teacher blogs. Get up to speed on the latest strategies. I found a bunch of books on foreign language teaching in my English room's bookshelf. Another option is to work on improving your own vocabulary and grammar, to make yourself better at English so you can better teach it. Who knows, you might think of something new and be able to write a paper on it or something, which could be presented at conferences like those offered by KOTESOL. And that looks REALLY good on your record and CV. Do the grunt work now and enjoy the higher pay and better jobs later.
Time killing rating: 5/5 (but it can be boring at times)

3. Learn Korean

You've got a desk, the internet, and some peace and quiet. It's a great time for you to work on your Korean skills. I recommend doing the intensive course through the YMCA (I'm on the 1B level now and it's amazing) but if you can't afford it or aren't that committed to it, you can always just work through the Talk To Me In Korean website, and other resources listed elsewhere in my blog (and on the right hand side of this page).
Time killing rating: 5/5

4. Learn other stuff
Extreme Tea Pouring
I went for lunch with Theresa yesterday and asked her what she's been doing to pass the time. She said "Research" and I was very impressed until she explained that learning how to do anything counts as research. I think the example she gave was "Drying peaches in my apartment". Is there any skill you've been curious about learning? How about sign language? Or knitting? You can learn stuff through Open University or you can learn things off Youtube. Hairstyles? Makeup tutorials? Why not? But it's probably best if it's something that won't disturb other people in your office (if there are any) or things that don't look like you're just messing around. Lolly recommends learning to do that cup song from Pitch Perfect. Learn to photoshop. Get creative. Time killing rating: 4/5

5. Basic Self-Entertainment

Read a book. Watch a movie (but have another tab ready to alt+tab to if your VP suddenly pops out of a cabinet). Listen to music. Make 8tracks mixes. Stalk every single one of your Facebook friends. Beware of too much passive stuff though - if you're just doing nothing but watching stuff, or receiving stuff, you can be more susceptible to depression. Time killing rating: 3/5

6. Get fit

Check out Convict Conditioning for exercises you can do in a limited space with limited equipment. Become a superhero. Time killing rating: 3/5 (but beware of stealthy/concealed staff members)

8. Write lyrics the song your school uses as a bell
It's only day one and the bell is already driving me mad. There's a great video by Mike Aronson of a rap he made using the Seoul Metro song. Why not do something similar for your school bell? If it's really awesome you could teach it to your students and be the coolest teacher ever. Boom.

Then again, it may be awful.

  Time killing rating: 3/5

9. Write 

Keep a blog, work on that novel or knock out some poems. Studies have shown that doing something creative and productive (even if it's just for yourself) is more stimulating than passive entertainment like watching TV, and is better for avoiding the depression that comes with doing nothing day after day. Maybe write a travel article about that awesome place you discovered over the weekend, and submit it to the Daegu Compass or the Matador network, or Chincha. Time killing rating: 5/5

10. Devise a fully executable zombie/Other survival plan for your school. 

Find all the exits, store rooms, possible safe rooms. Think of every eventuality. Winter is coming. Time killing rating: 2/5

I'm sure you can think of more. Tell me in the comments! How are you passing the time?