None of this really hit me until I finally was waiting to board the 747 out of Los Angeles to Seoul, surrounded by a bunch of Koreans talking (surprise) Korean. Then it REALLY hit me when we were flying up the west coast and I looked down at Alaska fading away as we went into the ocean, and realized that was the last time I was going to see America for a whole year! Needless to say, 10 hours later as we were descending over Korea, I was questioning every reason I had for going to Korea and wondering what the hell I was doing. All I wanted to do was fast forward through the first week hoping that things would work themselves out. And that's exactly what has happened. I have long way to go before I'll be totally comfortable here, but I'm definitely enjoying myself and appreciating just how great of an opportunity this is.
I had a driver who spoke little English greet me at the airport and take me to my new home in Bucheon. It's about a 30 minute train ride into Seoul, but its part of the metro area. Driving from Bucheon to Seoul you wouldn't notice the end of one city and the beginning of another...Seoul is huge! Addresses here in Korea are notoriously bad, I don't even know my address yet. Neither did my driver, as we spent 20 minutes trying to get into apartment #312 in the building that turned out to be right next to my building. Once we realized this, I was quickly shown to my place. I'll have another blog post up on that later..
But my location here in Bucheon is great! Everything I need is basically within 1 or 2 blocks of me. My school is a 5 minute walk away, and between the school and I is the entertainment district of Bucheon. Tons of restaurants, bars, shops, everything! American food places near me include: Cold Stone, Dunkin' Donuts, Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks, Baskin Robins, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, Bennigan's, and even an Outback Steakhouse! So comfort food is never too far away. I haven't become too adventurous with the Korean food yet, but I'm slowly getting there. But today (Sunday) I went out to Itaewon here in Seoul, which is near an American base and is a pretty big foreign district. I went with Steve and his wife Cindy, two other native teachers at the school I teach at (much more on the school in another post later too). I basically just browsed all the shops, keeping in mind what I saw so I can come back and grab it later when I need it. They have an international grocery store with things you can't quite find in the local grocery stores. After I decided to go on a tour of my neighborhood and take pictures to share. So here goes:
So this is my apartment building, Each square window area equals one apartment, to give you the idea of the size of my place. Not huge but it's enough for one person. I'm on the third floor, but my view is just looking at other windows on the inner courtyard. So the windows are frosted for privacy.
The streets and walkways between my place and the mall (called U-Plex) and the Hyundai department store look like this. Just a lot of restaurants and hangouts spots. The blow up sign there is for one of the two foreigner bars right next to me. A 100 yard walk for me, and yet I met people there that take about a 45 minute bus ride to get to it.
This is a small park right next to me. More of just a nice place to walk through on your way to the main street. Across the way in the background you can see another mall and department store. There's a water park on top of it, and to the right you can kind of see the green netting on the roof. That's the driving range. Golf courses are very expensive here, so everyone just goes to driving ranges with nets or video golf places are everywhere too.
Looking back the other way, you can see the Hyundai department store. Its 8 or 9 stories, and the U-Plex next to it is about 6 stories tall with a movie theater on top. If Hyundai sounds familiar, it should. It's the same company that makes the cars in America, but they make everything here. Department stores, escalators, cars, appliances, glasses...etc. EVERYTHING!
This is a picture on the walkway between the mall and the department store, to give you more of an idea of the entertainment district that splits my apartment tower from the department store.
And just on the other side of the department store and across the street is my school. It's the green sign on the building about 5 floors up, with the RT (Reading Town) to the left of the green writing (might be too hard to see).
Here's a picture of E-Mart, one of two grocery stores right by me. Notice it looks just like a parking garage? The ground level and 3 basement levels below it are the grocery store, the rest is the parking for it about it!
A bout two more block from here is Bucheon's city hall, the big white building. This is a huge outdoor inflated movie screen, and there's banners everywhere advertising Bucheon's International film festival in July, so that's something I have to check out!
Across from this a good sized park. It's exactly 1 mile around if you run the path that goes around the perimeter. Here's a bunch of pictures from there. It was Sunday so some of the streets were closed down for the kids (and enthusiastic parents) to ride bikes and four wheel toys cars that can be rented. There's an amphitheater in the park, little ponds, and lots of recreation things. A lot of Koreans bring tents (kinda weird) and set up for the day in the park, and many more just bring a blanket for picnics. Lots of delivery scooters will zoom through it as well as people call up places to deliver right to the park.
So today's been a long day and I'm pretty exhausted. I was able to load up on some used books in Itaewon so I'm going to read a little then get to bed and get ready for my first 5 days work week. Last Monday was Korea's Memorial Day, so my first day of work was paid vacation! I'll get back on here soon to tell all about my job and the kids I teach! My internet still hasn't been set up at my apartment and its going to be a little while before that happens. Once it does I'll be able to call with Skype and such. Until then I have to be in a coffee shop. Sometimes I get a wireless connection in my place but it comes in and out. I miss everyone a lot already, but I had a great first week and I'm looking forward to many more of them! Feel free to email me, Facebook me, or do anything necessary to get in touch with me!