A Travellerspoint blog

A (not-so) Precarious Gait

Day 24

61 °F

I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch --
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Honestly, my days are increasingly predictable and not very precarious at all. I have been working 10 hour days this week at ECC: arriving at 9am to greet the arriving kindergartners ("What day is it?" "What did you have for breakfast?" "How's the weather?" "Are you awake??"). Fueled by instant coffee and a traditional Korean school lunch, I've been trying to crank out my lesson plans and get really familiar with the material. The books and lessons are very structured but we've got some freedom with supplemental material and games. A couple of my classes can be trying--the foreign teachers are not as strict as the Korean teachers and I don't think we command as much respect and the students really push this. But I'm learning to channel their energy into productiveness.

Because I'm eating at the school and I'm pretty occupied with learning to be a good teacher, I don't make it out of the building much unless I am coming or going. However, today I shopped at the Lotte market and made a fantastic discovery: the Orga "Organic" section of the market. There are several imported items...peanut butter, honey, mustard, grains and juices. Mmm. It's outrageously expensive but nice to know it's there. In the general grocery section I found broccoli, red leaf lettuce, bell peppers and almond/walnut salad dressing. I think I can find these at my local grocery but the shininess of the store and my waning enthusiasm for instant meals made them particularly appealing. Lotte is a huge (literally huge at 12 or so floors) marker of the consumer culture here: it's a very chic shopping center and we're not even a particularly wealthy suburb, let alone downtown Seoul.

I bought my first item of clothing here: a Clovis v-neck knit sweater from HomePlus's clothing floor. At 14,000 W, it's a bargain. Ah, speaking of "Homeplus": it's also a huge shopping center...akin to a Target, Fred Meyer or Walmart. My first experience was pretty comical because I could't figure out how to get to the merchandise floors. I took the escalators up after I couldn't find the home goods but got stuck on the parking garage floors. I'd take an elevator down and then get stuck up in the garages again. Grr. Turns out that the grocery and home goods floors are below ground.

The most unusual thing I saw today: At the Lotte Department store, drivers are directed to available levels by attendants in stark white uniforms and caps, who gesture with wrist flourishes and very deep bows to each vehicle as it enters the garage.

This weekend: Jarasum Jazz Festival!

Posted by H Kingrey 20:47 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Photo Albums: Korea, First Four Weeks

View 365 days in South Korea on H Kingrey's travel map.

Part 1: Fresh Off the Plane

Part 2: Changdeokgung Palace

Part 3: Sanggye, Suraksan, Dongdaemun

Posted by H Kingrey 07:11 Archived in South Korea Tagged photography Comments (0)

First Four Weeks of Food Foraging: South Korea

What is this food called?

64 °F
View 365 days in South Korea on H Kingrey's travel map.

Cuisine has been one of my favorite aspects of Korean culture so far: I've found my meals healthy (if not a little on the humble side), tasty and satisfying. I haven't been able to eat vegetarian when dining out, primarily because I'm not completely saavy with the menu--even when there are color photos--but it's be possible. It seems to me that there is often tofu, fish or chicken available in lieu of red meat but in my first month here I've just tried to be game (pun intended!) and try all the classic dishes. This is in no way meant to be comprehensive or a guide to Korean food. Just an expression of my experiences so far.

For a daily digest of Korean culture, this is an exquisite blog: wanderlust

CHICKEN & HOF When I arrived in Sanggye from the airport, my manager, Mr. J took Elaine and I for a dinner of fried chicken and beer. This is a popular scheme I've since found: Hof (beer) and chicken joints abound where our fast food or bars might.

COFFEE & TEA My first morning in Korea--in a haze of newness, I knew that all I wanted was coffee and maybe a pastry. I encountered Elaine, who had earlier than me, and was feeling a little more adventurous having landed herself some dried squid for breakfast. There are several French-inspired bakery chains in Seoul, i.e. Tous Les Jours and Paris Baguette, and we were staying not far from one. I was going to settle for a chilled coffee drink--these I have also found to be extremely popular, in lieu of the token Starbucks cup--but was offered a hot Americano. It was very weak despite having come from an espresso machine. No matter--with a soft chocolate pastry I was a happy camper.

I'm no 'bean snob but I have to say, having arrived from Portland--home to many a small coffee shop where I usually get a cup of hot drip coffee, no cream or sugar--coffee drinking has been an adjustment. When I arrived in my apartment, I found the cupboards full of small tubes of instant coffee. I usually drink two in the morning and try to filter out the cream and sugar for the coffee granules. There is the option of coffee bags (a la tea). Meh.

Green tea is by far the most common tea beverage but it is not usually served along with the meal. Rather, a pitcher or bottle of water is set out. There is often grain in the tea and it can be strong but strangely satisfying.

CLASSIC KOREAN Bulgogi. Gimbap. Galbi. Japanese Shabu Shabu. Bibimbap. Kimchi. Kimchi Jjigae. Dumplings. Ramyeon. Seaweed/Lavar. Mushrooms (pine and shiitake). Bean sprouts. Boiled rice (bap). Noodles. Chili pepper. Pickled everything.

I think I'm still overwhelmed by the many dishes so more here later.
Photos of various culinary samplings

COOKING AT HOME Even though there are several good restaurants in the apartment buildings around me, I tried to get myself cooking at home as often as possible. This required some exploratory shopping trips: first the convenience store, then the corner grocery and then the larger corner grocery store. Then, there was the matter of being able to use my stove. When it wouldn't light right of the bat, I thought perhaps I needed to use a lighter...so I purchased one...and then someone informed me that the gas must be turned on. It made me very anxious, the whole gas element. Nothing blew up and I was able to use my stove but it would have put my mind at ease to be told from the outset. Ah well.

Photos of my forays into Korean home cooking.
Maybe it's more impressive that I manage with a strip of countertop, two small burners, one sink, and a butterknife?

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Next Food Issue: Fresh Fruit, Food Carts, Fish!

Posted by H Kingrey 21:03 Archived in South Korea Tagged food Comments (0)

The ㅏ (a) ㅂ (bieup) ㅅ (siot)s of hangul

Korean language lessons!


Jun is a fantastic, clear teacher and this video series is a good introduction to the basics of Korean. I hope to borrow Elaine's Rosetta Stone lessons for speaking skills but for now, it would be such a relief to be able to read.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Other information:

About Hangul

Since I am basically a child coming to a new language...

Posted by H Kingrey 16:59 Archived in South Korea Tagged educational Comments (0)

Settling into Suraksan and Sanggye

Week 2


Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 8

Mr. J got me moved into the apartment just before the weekend started and so began a new phase. I had seen some photos of officetel apartement rooms so the small size and compact studio nature of the room didn't surprise me though i had hoped for a balcony of some sort (thank goodness for the latch window which equals, fresh air!) My only disappointment was that the room was so grimy. It was hard to sleep in the bed the first night though I was glad there were linens and pillows. I began laundry right away but resisted the urge to move furniture. I really was exhausted.

Views from my huge window:
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The second day of teaching was already much better than the first (which makes it a real shame that we've got a holiday starting tomorrow!). I had a much better grasp on my schedule, was prepared for how many classes and new students there would be and had a chance to really look at all the materil. I even had time to put together an art craft for the 6-1s! They are awfully smart and will be amazing English speakers with the start they are getting.

On Thursday, my first full day in the apartment, I cleaned and was on the internet a lot since I have a solid connection now. I was sorely disappointed because I couldn't figure out how to work the gas stove and even now, I don't have hot water unless I boil it. A little strange but perhaps understandable, I was the most reluctant and uncomfortable stepping outside since I got here. Perhaps it is because I am on my own or maybe because I wanted to get nested into my room. I made the mistake of trying to buy foods, tp and laundry soap at the convenience store because later I remembered an actual grocery store right behind it where things were much more reasonably priced. There is also a very nice hair salon, a couple of restaurants and a bank on the first floor. I was able to get my room in better shape before I left for the evening.

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I made a first solo trip into Seoul--the Hyehwa district--to meet a new acquaintance and other foreign teachers. They are all employed by SMOE, or the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education which may be a good way to go if I choose to teach public school next year. I met some fantastic people--lots of British folks and several other Americans. After really lite beer, we ate galbi with kimchi, onions, roasted garlic and sauce, all wrapped in a green leaf. Oy! It was good. Really good. Chased 'er down with a shot of soju and a nice bowl of rice. Our waiter was super cool (strangely happened to be a student of one of the teachers) and managed all 15 or so of us very well. I was really glad I'd made it out and I was only eager to leave because I wanted to catch the subway home (having had to run to catch the last train last time I was out)
Huge benny to the evening was that one of the girls, Sarah, clued me into how to use the gas in the apt.: you have to actually turn a valve (and remember to turn it off every time too). Still made me ill at ease but got it working and was able to have a warm bath!

Coming soon: thoughts on Chuseok, grocery shopping and first meals, and hiking Suraksan.

Posted by H Kingrey 05:38 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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