UPDATE: Blogger dropped this post, and the lovely comments that went with it. I'm trying to put it back together from an earlier draft, but your comments are gone - sorry!
We have officially been in Korea for one month now. Here is what we have learned so far.
1) Don't come to Korea if you have a seafood allergy. If it doesn't have seafood in it, it has seafood on it or next to it. Failing that, it was at least stirred with the same spoon as seafood, somehow. This is, after all, a country in which "boiled fish paste" is a staple.
2) Don't come to Korea expecting it to be like America, but in a different language. Based on what we have heard about other ESL teachers, the "Ugly American" is alive and well in Korea. Here's a tip for those of you considering an ESL job - the food in Korea is different. So are the apartments. And the bathrooms. And, like, almost EVERYTHING. So if you are not amenable to change, stay home - stop making the rest of us look bad.
3) Don't come to Korea expecting it to be a third world country. They have some of the fastest internet in the world, well-developed public transportation in most cities, and two cell phone stores on every block (I think that one's a law or something...). Many of their social programs far exceed those offered in the U.S., and their education system is kicking ours in the pants on a daily basis. They dress better than us, eat better than us, and live a bit longer, too. Also, Koreans are not ignorant of the fact that some Americans see Korea as a backwater, and they get offended if you treat them as if it is. Believe me, they speak more English than you speak Korean, so be polite.
4) Small children and dogs are the same everywhere. They are a pretty consistent source of delight, and often the best avenue for first contact with adults. If you make friends with the dogs and the kids, the adults are more likely to chat with you.
5) Having a small face is a big deal in Korea. By any beauty standard Becky is easy on the eyes, but by Korean standards she is cuter than kittens in a yarn factory. Strangers frequently tell her in glowing terms what a small face she has, and she hears daily (literally, daily) that she is 예쁜("yep pun" pretty). In addition to a small face, pale skin, gothy wardrobe, and being a C-cup doesn't hurt...
6) Nascar should inport Korean taxi drivers. In the U.S. they say "rubbin' is racin'." In Korea, that's just a trip to the supermarket. I have a lot of windshield time, some of it at pretty high speeds, and these guys give me grey hair. When caught behind a line of cars at a stop light it's common for them to shift over to the parking lane, roll past all the cars waiting and then race ahead of them when the light changes. Left turns on red and splitting lanes are not unusual, and u-turns can be made anywhere, without braking. That said, I will give them credit for honesty - not one cab driver has tried to drive us around to run up the meter.
7) Koreans won't ask you if you want something to eat. They usually just hand you something and say, "here, eat this." They are generous to a fault. We feel guilty about how much our boss and coworkers feed us. In fact, our boss is worried that we arent eating enough, and she is constantly asking what we had for breakfast. She has no idea how much healthier our diets are here than they were in America - I've eaten more fresh, well-prepared vegetables in the last month than I did in the previous decade living in Laramie.
8) A 요 ("yo" Korean mattress) is the most confortable bed I've ever had. A yo is basically a pad that goes on the floor - no frame, no box springs, and it folds or rolls up when not in use. Ours is latex foam, but you can find them filled with a number of different things, from cotton to red soil (it's supposed to be very good for your health). What makes it so lovely is that it goes directly on the ondol (heated floor). On chilly nights your comforter traps the heat from the floor, keeping you toasty. Which leads us to #9...
9) Don't forget to turn off the heated floor before you leave for work. The floor is heated by the same system that makes hot water for showers and dishes. It's an on-demand system, so you turn it on when you want hot water, then turn it off when you're done. If you leave it on all day (like we did today) the floor and room get very hot, and you come home to an 85 or 90 degree apartment. Our cat thinks it's awesome - she was sprawled in the middle of the warmest spot like a puddle of fur.
10) Korean children find me fascinating. The kids here are generally very sweet, and like all children, they can be charmingly blunt. One of the first days I taught, a pack of litle girls (ages 5-7) surrounded me and started petting my arms while chattering loudly in Korean. One of them looked up at me while tugging gently on my armhair and said, "what?" This is how our littlest students usually ask "what is the English word for this?" Without much thought I said, "fuzzy." They found this word unbelievably hilarious, and almost everyday one of these little girls will pet me while saying "fuzshy" (they have trouble with Z and S sounds).
One of the boys I teach (about 11 years old) looked at my blue eyes very intensely one day and said, "wow, like the ocean!" This lead to all of the kids getting out of their chairs and surrounding my desk so that they could look at my eyes very closely.
Two nights ago I got the most amazing fried chicken on the way home (part of another post, soon). While we waited for it (because like virtually all food in Korea, it was made fresh when we ordered it - I haven't seen a single heat lamp since we got here) there were 4 little girls in the restaurant. They were the owners/employees children, and they all looked to be sisters or cousins, ranging from about 4 to about 8 or 9. We had our dog, Friday, with us, and they were all enthralled with her. While the older kids played with her and fed her treats, I sat down on the curb. After a few minutes, the youngest girl decided that I was ok, and came and climbed into my lap. She, too, petted the hair on my arms, measured how big my hands are compared to her own, and basicaly made me her personal jungle gym. When her mother (or maybe it was her aunt) came out to give us our order she refused to get off my lap so that I could leave, doing that dead weight thing that kids do, while giggling. So cute!
There was an 11th point on this list, but Blogger decided to lose this post and the only draft I have saved is this one. That bit of wisdom will just have to come up again in a later post (especially since I can't recall now what it was...).