Since I have been in South Korea I have experienced many new things, some good, some bizarre, and all very interesting. A loquacious gentleman came by today and installed my internet service. After four days I am finally connected to the world. The technician explained to me many things, none of which I understood. I must have said “ne” which means yes in Korean a good twenty times. Hopefully I did not agree to any dodgy business. This post consists of things worth mentioning from my flight up to my arrival in Daegu.
A+ for Asiana
From Chicago to Seoul I took Asiana Airlines. All of the stewardesses looked practically identical and they also acted very much the same … they call this collectivism. I’m talking same hair style in a bun, same slender physique, same makeup, same smile, and yes, same gentle kiss… I call this poetic license. Typically flight attendants tend to be friendly and this I understand. Well this group took amiability to a whole new stratosphere. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that these young women appeared to be having the time of their lives. Non-stop ear to ear smiling for a 14 hour flight is no breeze especially when you’re concern is the comfort of a good number of people who don’t appreciate it. I don’t know how much they get compensated, what kind of benefits they have, or what kind of self-satisfaction is tied to the job, but as I ate my kimchi and rice I came to admire the energy and focus of these stewardesses. Asiana Airlines is the way to fly.
Sophie’s First Trip to China
On the flight I had the priviledge of sitting next to Sophie, a hair stylist from the Ivory Coast born in 1956. Currently, she owns her own salon in Cleveland. Sophie, who has immaculately curly hair and a figure built for power, is traveling to China to learn some new styling techniques that she will bring back to the city that is still grieving over their recent heart-wrenching breakup. I learned that Sophie does not like to be awakened during a flight so that one can maneuver by her to get to the toilet, she opened up the first African hair salon in Syracuse and that she is not willing to fill out a customs slip, which could pose a major problem when you are bringing hair products across the world. I completed her customs form for her upon her request…mostly out of fear. Sophie has a thick accent and she follows the doctrine of tough love.
Gate 10 Incheon Airport
I spot Jared, who is tall and slender with dark hair that is long enough that Sophie could probably style it in an array of different ways. Donned in khakis and a black leather jacket and a number of tribal-looking bracelets on his wrist my first thought (see Blink by Malcom Gladwell) is that he values eclecticity (I know that’s not a word, but it should be … doesn’t it sound better than eclecticism?). We shake hands, find a seat and in little time we are getting to know eachother.
My first impression of Jared is that he is serious and quietly confident. It turns out he knows four languages: English, Swahili, Spanish, and Arabic. I know English, very well. Who the hell knows Swahili? Apparently he spent a good amount of time in Nairobi, Kenya. Jared is aspiring to go to medical school to become a doctor and he is using this opportunity in Korea to experience the far-east, save money for school and ostensibly add another language to his repertoire. He is far ahead of me in learning Hangul because he already knows the entire alphabet. I know how to say thank you (ko-map-sum-ni-da), but not very well. Our conversation makes the time pass by quickly and before long a man is waving a sign that reads ‘Mr. Jared and Mr. Daniel’.
The thought that Mr. Kang would resemble Mr. Han from Enter the Dragon was horribly off course. Instead of resembling a power hungry, corrupt drug lord with a claw hand, Mr. Kang is more reminiscent of a high school lunch monitor.
Phone conversation with Ms. Kim
Mr. Kang called Ms. Kim the moment Jared and I met him at Gate 10 in the Incheon Airport. After a minute conversation he handed the phone to me. Mysteriously Ms. Kim’s voice was simultaneously scratchy and soft. She explains that we will be meeting Robin when we get to Daegu.
Seoul to Daegu
The flight from Seoul to Daegu is only 45 minutes and I spent virtually every minute with my face pressed against the window in order to take in as much of the country where I will be living for the next year as I can. The mountainous terrain provides for a beautiful view and from this vantage point the country looks like waves of green and when there is a break in the mountains a city can normally be found. South Korea has a population of roughly 48 million, is about the size of the state of Virginia, and close to 70 percent of the land is comprised of mountains, which means that there are some very densely populated areas. Daegu is one of these dense urban areas. We touchdown in the Daegu Aiport and Jared and I retrieve our luggage with no problems.
Robin, who is young and dressed like Kanye West picks us up. He says that Jared is going with him in his small SUV and that I am going to take a cab to Avalon School, where I will be working. I was under the assumption that I was going to drop my things off at my apartment and later go to a meeting at the school at 2 pm. It is 10 am now. I ask Robin about the game plan and he says that he will pick me up at the school shortly after he drops Jared off at his apartment. I am confused, but because of the language barrier and because I have fantastic jet-lag I roll with it. Robin arranges a cab for me outside of the airport and we take off.
I just want to live…
The cab driver doesn’t speak a lick of English. I glance at his taxi ID and he looks eerily similar to North Korea’s President Kim Jung-Il. I have heard that people in Korea drive very fast, especially cab drivers, and that you must be careful about crossing streets because pedestrians do not have the right away. None of this prepared me for this next twenty minutes of extreme anxiety. Driving at ridiculously high speeds and taking reckless chances he seemed to be saying ‘welcome to Korea you filthy American’. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was this scared for my life. I genuinely thought that my time had come and that this was it for me. At one point I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer and yelped out “slow down!” Either he didn’t get the message or didn’t care. My knuckles were white from desperately clutching the seat and arm rest and I hadn’t taken a full breath the entire ride. I was so relieved to arrive at the school that I practically leaped out of the Hyundai (which are 90 percent of the cars on the road). He unloaded the suitcase from the trunk and gave me a slight bow. I offered him my best death stare.
A young woman was waiting outside of the school for me and paid the cab driver the fare and we went inside. The academy is situated on a lively street in seven story building. Su-Gee speaks little English. She escorts me to a waiting room and says that Robin will pick me up soon. The school is clean and modern. I read the Korean Herald for thirty minutes until she comes out to the lobby and notifies me that Robin is waiting outside.
We drive about two minutes and take a right onto a small brick road and he says that this is the street where my apartment is. Suddenly, it has a village like atmosphere and we pull up to a building that Robin said is brand new. This is my apartment. I was impressed by the keyless entry system in which you simply type in an access code. Apparently this is very common in Korea. The best part is the little jingle it makes when you enter and leave. I find it soothing and uplifting. It’s also nice not having to ever worry about forgeting or losing a key.
Robin brings me to room 103. I ask him what room Jared is staying in and he laughs and says that Jared is working in another branch in a different part of the city (I am working in Wolbae). My place is a small studio apartment (even by studio apartment standards) and what is more disconcerting is that there is not one piece of furniture to be found. I signed a contract that stated the school will provide a fully furnished apartment. I ask Robin where everything is and he says it will all arrive on Monday. It is Friday now. He points to a turquoise comforter and says I can place this on the floor and use it as a mattress in the meantime. I hate turquoise. Normally I would be more agitated by this kind of shoddy practice but my excitement shields my perplexity and frustration. I’m in South Korea!
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