Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Halfway Mark

It has now been 6 months since I've been in South Korea, almost 7. Wow, when they say time flies, they really mean it. It feels like I just started working, and I ask myself, What the hell have I been doing for the past 6 months?

The new school year (because the school year in Korea begins in March) promises to bring with it some new challenges. Whereas last semester, I had to teach 5th and 6th grade, with one great coteacher and one awful one, this semester I will only be teaching 5th grade. The awful coteacher that I would have to teach with is, fortunately, going on a semester-long training course. However, as a substitute they have brought in a new teacher, who has just graduated university. I assume this is his first job. I only met him once, briefly, and he seems very shy. Now, I only have one semester more experience than he does, so I hope he's not expecting that I will be a seasoned professional. I also have to have storytelling class again (which is a complete headache), but this time with another new teacher. Whether or not this is a good thing doesn't bother me as much, as that class is only once a week.

So what have I learned this past 6 months? Well, I can tell you that I will not be resigning at the end of this semester. I feel like when  you first come here, the foreigners are often portrayed as belonging to 2 groups: those that love Korea and those that hate it. I feel like it should be more along the lines of people that will stay in Korea for a long time, and people that won't. I get the vibe that people that leave after only a year are often viewed as those who "didn't try hard enough to appreciate things here," or "didn't try hard enough to blend in." You hear the horror stories of people who were rude, awful, and hated Korea with a passion, and left because they couldn't take it anymore. And then there's those who come back time and again, or who have been here for years and are buying cars and making other long-term commitments.

I don't really think I'm either of those kinds of people. I like Korea, I like Koreans, I like Korean, and I like Korean food. I have learned a fair amount of Korean, though nowhere near conversational, but I don't plan to stay here longer than August. One could argue, so what? It would be good to learn anyway. But, I'm trying to appreciate my time here through other pursuits. First one being dance. The dance studio I go to is all Korean, but dancing is what I love and I've found that I can make friends and connect with people through that. While there are plenty of beautiful things to see and do in Korea, I've never been much of a sight seer. I've always just enjoyed doing the things that normal people do, in order to connect with locals.

Being here has definitely improved me in a lot of ways, and that's a great thing. I've also learned that while it is "easy" (comparatively), this job is just not for me. Perhaps it's different in other environments, in different cultures, in different countries (and the money is good too), but I have several interests and passions in life, none of which include teaching ESL for a prolonged period of time.

So the next 25 weeks? I'll keep living, loving, and eating and ride out the rest of this wave.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spaland and the Beauty of a Jimjilbang

In a fancy department store called Shinsegae, there lies, nestled on the 2nd floor near the scarves and sunglasses section, an entrance to a magical land...
The pearly gates...
Like in other Asian countries, public bath houses are commonplace. Here they are called jimjilbang, and the greatest of them all (in Busan) is Spa Land. Of course, I'm biased because Spa Land is the only jimjilbang I've been to (so far), but oh how it's made a devoted follower. 

Basically, for the price of about $11, you can spend 4 hours in a wonderfully hot bath (indoor or outdoor), have access to several sauna rooms, an outdoor foot bath and for about $1.50 you can sit in a massage chair for 20 minutes and get worked. When you're ready to leave, you can dry and style your hair, apply lotions and creams, even buy new underwear from a vending machine. It is fucking incredible. 

If you're like me, then you love to pamper yourself and Spa Land is the place to do it. In the states, going to the "spa" is nothing like this and it is triple the price. Here you can get a facial and rub down for $20. This is perhaps the greatest place on earth. Where you can go and unwind after a long day (entrance is cheaper during the week, and early in the morning/late at night), and love on yourself just a little. If I could go to Spa Land every day, I would.

Now the etiquette is standard, you must wash (standing or sitting shower) before you get into the hot tubs and you have to keep your hair up. This hot tub area is separated by gender, so the women's locker room leads to the women-only washing area. And yes, in order to get into the hot tubs, you will be naked. I personally don't take any issue with this, and I feel like even if I were skittish about being naked around about a hundred other women, my fears would be quickly calmed by the fact that nobody cares. You will see little girls (ages 7+ allowed) and old women and women of all shapes and sizes walking around, just tending to themselves and their kids/moms/friends. As a foreigner, you may get one glance or two, but no one is going out of their way to examine you, because they don't really care, because this is totally normal. 

For someone like me with tattoos, some rather large, you may get a few more glances, because people are prone to staring in general at them, but you just shrug it off and go about relaxing yourself. Quick note about tattoos: The sign when you enter SpaLand says that people with tattoos are prohibited. However, if they are covered when you pay your entrance fee, you can rest assured that you don't have to worry about getting thrown out once you are inside. People stop caring once you're in the locker room and beyond. 

I don't know how often I try to convince people to go to SpaLand with me, but it must be a weekly occurrence because I love it. The thing I will miss most about Korea will definitely be that! So to all those visiting or who are living here, I advise you go to SpaLand or a jimjilbang every chance you get because it is wonderful.