2-3 March 2013
In Korea, March marks the beginning of the new school year. For me, this meant a new schedule, new students, and even new co-teachers. This also meant having to say goodbye to two girls that I work with, Anni from South Africa and Elaine from Ireland. By this point they are probably happily back and settled in their home country, but in the office we can still feel their absence and we miss them dearly.
During her last week at work, Elaine informed me that in all her time in Korea she had not yet been to Me World- the amusement park of Busan. So, as part of her last weekend celebrations, we decided to go there and check it out.
Of course, there was a lot going on- Elaine was moving out, the new kid-Josh from New York- was moving in, Lacey was switching apartments, and just about every teacher/friend we knew was moving into a new apartment as well.
So, while waiting for everyone to get their lives sorted I offered to show Josh around the neighborhood. We walked to our local outdoor market and got hotteok, walked along the Oncheoncheon stream by our flat, and then he said, “Let’s go to Homeplus!!” Sigh. What a newbie. J
We decided to grab lunch in the fluorescent-lit, cafeteria style elegance that is the Homeplus food court. For a newcomer to Korea it is quite the comfortable atmosphere because they have all of their menu items out on display (wax replicas) with the price and a reference number. So all you have to do is go up to the cashier, tell them the number (or show them the number on a piece of paper), pay, and then watch a screen to see when your number is ready. Josh and I decided to share a Bibimbap type item (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap) which is a very traditional Korean dish that is essentially just rice with a whole heap of stuff mixed in. As we sit down Josh mentions, “by the way, just so you know, I used to be really allergic to seafood when I was younger, but I’m pretty sure I’ve grown out of it now…but we’ll see…but, just so you know…”.
This kid has been in the country for less than 3 days and now he is telling me that there’s a chance that I (-still a newbie myself!!) might have to figure out how to get him to a hospital within the next hour. Then the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Do you have an epi-pen or something?”
Josh: “No, but I can just take some Benadryl or something if my tongue starts to swell.”
Me: “Do you have Benadryl?”
Our food comes and parts of it are more of a food gamble than usual- at one point I thought I saw something still squirming, but realized it was just a weird reflection from the fluorescent lights on an especially shiny squid bit.
After a few bites in I ask Josh if he likes it and if…uh…he is still breathing properly.
“Oh no, don’t worry,” he says, “if I was still allergic I would already be dead by now”
And so sums up my first impression of Josh.
Finally I get a message from the girls that they are finished with their errands and they are ready to ride some roller coasters. Josh and I catch a bus towards the beach and I attempt to point out various landmarks and such to assist him in gaining a better sense of direction. I look over to see Josh tightly gripping one of the swinging handles as he gets pushed around by the crowd of people falling onto him with every jerk and sway of the bus stopping and going and turning. His eyes are moving about so quickly, trying to soak it all in, they are practically spinning and they look as if they are about to fall out of his head. I feel bad because I realize that if he wasn’t here I would still be the “new teacher”- the one looking like a lost Bambi about to cry on the crowded public transport- and instead I’m putting on the acting role of my life pretending like I know what I’m doing.
We pass a traditional market that I’ve never been to so I suggest we get out and look around. Josh asks me if I know where I’m going and I have to admit that- no, I don’t- BUT I have a good sense of direction AND a smart phone- so we are set.
We wander through the alleyways a bit- it’s a Saturday morning, the sun is shining and there are hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of weird stuff from fruits and vegetables, to seafood (live and dead), spices, pastries, and even Hello Kitty knick-knacks. After some meandering we decide to head toward the beach again. Josh asks again if I know where I’m going and again I say, “well, not exactly, but we should head this way…oh look there’s the bridge!” So, rather than fuss with the bus, we decide to walk. After a few blocks, the wind starts to pick up and Josh admits that he’s hungry again. Seems like the bridge is farther away than it looked. So we pop into a café real quick to get him a bun to nibble on and we continue walking.
All of a sudden Josh gets upset: “What is this?!”
I ask him what’s wrong.
“There’s beans in this bun! Why?! Why does there have to be beans in it?! Why does there have to be something in everything?! Why couldn’t it just be a plain bun?!”
“you don’t like beans?” I ask
“NO! I don’t like beans! I just wanted a plain bun! Is that so hard to get around here?!”
He tried to power through and eat it, but couldn’t stand the beans and admitted defeat.
He stopped walking. We stood there, on some random, chilly side street, somewhere between Suyeong and Gwangan- Josh was holding the bun as if it were a dead animal, looking as if he was about to cry. “This is it,” he said, “this is my culture shock.”
I just about died laughing after that.
Because, if I went through culture shock here, I didn’t even notice it. And now, I was getting to witness someone else’s culture shock experience up close and horrible as if we were in some kind of cheaply produced, yet artfully quirky, Indy film.
Sigh, the poor guy.
I took his bun and made him run into the next convenience store we found to buy a rice triangle to eat and-guess what?!-it was filled with some kind of meat! So now I’m actually crying I’m laughing so hard.
And then. Josh is looking for a trash can to throw away his garbage. And I have to be the one to tell him that they just don’t have trash cans here. They just don’t.
But at least I did know where we were going and we ended up at the beach just as the girls arrived so it was actually perfect timing. We all spent the rest of the day at Me World- riding the world’s lamest roller coaster, eating ‘candy floss’, getting stared at by everyone, laughing, and having a jolly good time.
That night- I dragged Lacey and Josh with me to PNU (Pusan National University- a neighborhood to the north of Busan)- to a bar called Soul Trane because I had heard that there was live stand-up there on the first Saturday of the month. Turns out the comedy night is the first Friday of the month so we had missed it. BUT we were told there was a live band so we stuck around. And good thing we did because it was AWESOME. It was a ska/reggae/cover band called, ‘Ska Wakers’, that did mostly Marley covers and a few of their own. The lead singer had dreds and big nerd glasses and I wanted to ask him to marry me but never got the courage. After they played we stuck around because the DJ was great- playing a bunch of old alternative songs that we all knew the words to. Josh left to go to KSU (the other University area) with a Korean girl- pretty gutsy considering it was his 4th day in the country and he had no phone (and the worst sense of direction ever). So we said bye and sincerely hoped that we would see him again. Lacey and I met this guy named Coby- from Seattle- who used to teach in Crockett. It really is such a small world. He tagged along with us to KSU and put his foldable bike into the taxi trunk! Then we ‘celebrated’ Elaine’s last night in Eva’s- and finally decided to go home once we saw that the sun was coming up…