Sunday, February 26, 2012

Welcome to Korea

Well after a painful visa experience (that I'll probably talk more about later) along with a flight that was approximately 15hrs total coupled with a one hour bus ride -- where I, like a child, had to carry around the words saying Jeong Ja Station so the bus driver would know where to take me -- to my temporary living situation the Hotel Novios in Bundang South Korea. I'm finally here.

I was terrified with the thought of going in to customs. With all the issues I've had just getting a visa I kept thinking on that flight (because there's all the time in the world to dwell on minutiae) that I'm going to get there and they're going to find something in my bag, like a can of pringles or something dumb, and then kick me out of the country for trying to bring in salacious goods into their country. After waiting, no joke, an hour in immigration my visa was (thank God) accepted without a problem and I finally figured out the signs to pick up my checked baggage. To my dismay my bottle of laundry detergent had exploded in my checked bag making one side of the duffle bag sticky and discolored. "Oh God, now the customs people are really going to think that I'm bringing something weird into the country. I'll have to explain to everyone back home why I got sent back."

For a sticky bag.

I walk up to customs and hand over my card that I filled out saying that I had nothing to declare, kept walking waiting for some TSA people to spring out and strip search me. "Should have thrown out that Kashi bar!" and nothing. I was out of it. No one even searched my bag.

One thing that I can say about South Korea so far is that everyone is so nice. This is not to say that I wouldn't be on my guard constantly just in case, but from the airport to my hotel I had met people who were very eager to help me, the girl whose extensive Korean begins and ends with "anyong ha se yo." Being the last person to get a seat on the bus to Bundang (score!) and as tired as I was, I basically straddled this poor Korean man while pushing my monster of a backpack into the seat next to him, constantly apologizing the whole time until I finally finagled my way into it.

The issue at this point was how I was to meet with my contact Mr. Choi (pronounced 'Che' in Korean) at Jeong Ja station. I did have his phone number but that did little to help me as I do not have a phone. So the man I molested and I begin talking and I tell him how I'm here to teach English and he asked me if I knew anyone in the area and if I had a way of getting in contact with Mr. Choi. When I told him I did not have a way he not only called Mr. Choi that I would be arriving at such and such time, he also called him again when he got off on the first stop (my stop was 3rd) just so he would be positive that I would get picked up. I have also been invited to dinner with him, his wife, and his two little kids.

When I finally got off the bus and looked around me it finally sunk in that I was in a foreign city and as that bus took off I thought "Man, I'm really screwed if I can't find this guy." I was lugging my bags around trying to find exit 1 (where I was to meet Mr. Choi) of the Jeong Ja station and was at a loss so I asked someone walking down the street who was intently looking at his iPad.

"Excuse me, do you know where station 1 is? At JEONG JA" as I hold up one finger to denote what I wanted and then pointed to the sign to show where and mouth the words I knew I instantly butchered.

"Oh yeah, no problem," he responded in perfect English "it's right across the street." He was apparently from LA visiting his relatives in Korea. "Good luck and peace bro" as he tapped his fist to his chest and then peaced me out with his fingers. Why thank you kind sir!

Mr. Choi was not what I had expected. I was thinking someone older and a chauffeur looking man with a little hat would be picking me up. But as I crossed the street he looked at me with my bags and said "YBM LIA?" This guy was probably no older than myself and wearing a simple green jacket with jeans. Apparently he and I are both new to the company. He's only been working with them for 3 months. He took my huge goliath of a checked bag and we made our way back across the street and into my little hotel I now call home. He helped me bring all my stuff up into the room and also brought me groceries: some milk and cereal (Special K!), a big bottle of water, and some utensils which included spoons and chopsticks.

Ended my night by skyping with my boyfriend to the glow of Korean business lights through my window. Jetlag is definitely my enemy, but man do I love to travel.

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