Sunday, 23 August 2009

A permanent address

I have one!!!! An address that is where I live – not just where I'm staying for a little while. For the first time since I left the lovely flat in North Kelvinside in May, I live somewhere. Woop! Seems a good time to talk about housing...

I am told Yale teachers have nicer and bigger apartments than is typical. Not having been round other apartments, I can't say for sure, but I am very happy with what I've got. The new flat was recently vacated by a couple who've gone back to Canada, and they've left all sorts of goodies behind (English language magazines! teabags! herbs!!) The living room is really lovely and actually has a view – a real step up from the last one where all the windows looked out onto other walls. Biggest differences compared to home are in the kitchen and bathroom. Counter space does not seem to be very important as neither flat has any – even though there's definitely room for it – which means that the microwave is in the livingroom. I think, traditionally, Koreans would use the floor so maybe that's why. The Korean bathrooms deserve their very own heading...

Bathrooms -
Ok, so I'm going to have to talk about toilets now. Apologies for being uncouth, but it's hard to ignore such a fundamental issue. In the apartments, the toilet itself is normal, but there is no shower cubicle – the whole bathroom becomes your shower. This is actually awesome because you can simply hose down the bathroom to clean it.

Public toilets are sometimes also western-style, but squatting toilets are also common. One bathroom we used in Busan even had a mirror positioned so that you could see yourself when you were squatting to pee! (Koreans are very concerned about appearance, and routinely check themselves out in public) The other, and perhaps more troubling, difference is about loo roll. Apparently there is some kind of issue with plumbing here and loo roll blocks it. So. So all cubicles have a bin. For your loo roll. Yes, there are bins full of loo roll. That does smell pretty much how you think it would. Sorry to be gross, but it's one of the oddest, most foreign things I've come across so far.

Weather -
Not much to say here really, it's pretty constantly hot and soupy outside. It sometimes rains, which brings no relief from the high temperatures. Sometimes there's a little breeze, which is something to be savoured, and last night was actually a nice temperature, but I cannot wait for he weather to cool down. I was not made for this weather, and I finally understand why Mom used to talk about two shower days in Houston. That's being said, everywhere has airconditioning or fans, so it is tolerable. But I actually miss Glasgow's weather at the moment. I cannot believe I just said that.

Koreans -
Ok, after two weeks, I don't have any amazing insights, but I do have first impressions! So far, the only Koreans I've really spoken with are other employees at Yale. I know this makes it seem like I haven't made an effort, but really it is all about the language barrier. I can barely order steamed dumplings, never mind banter with the locals! Everyone I've spoken with have been extremely friendly, generous and welcoming. I have heard a lot of complaints from expats, and you do get stared at sometimes, but I'm going to stick to my own experiences, which have been universally positive so far. For example, after mentioning to another foreign teacher that I had managed to abandon 2 out of my 3 marker pens in classrooms during my first day, the Korean teacher that sits next to me offered me one of hers. A woman gave me a bunch of grapes for free because we'd got in such a muddle about how to buy them. My new landlady sent up her son with fresh tomato juice for me and Hong Jae (our 'Foreign Teachers Liaison' – in other words, a Legend) once we'd got everything upstairs. I don't mean to say that people at home are not generous, but it's really lovely when you're new to a place to have people be so nice to you.

Of course, I have also seen some rather odd sights. Koreans at the beach, for example. They are not like Westerners at the beach. The women generally avoid any kind of sun exposure, so you'll see ladies walking along the sand with long sleeves, gloves, a sun-visor and a scarf tied round their head. Also, the women wear heels All The Time. I was pre-warned of this, but I did not expect to see a mother playing with her child in the surf wearing a skirt and pumps. At one point, the water came up over her feet and left long tendrils of seaweed round both ankles. Definitely an image I will remember.

In general, it is obvious that appearance is very important to Koreans, and particularly the women. The fashion is more interesting than I expected, and they dress to impress at all times of the day. The whole 'conservative' thing is also less of a big deal than I thought it would be. There are plenty of hotpants and micromini skirts going around. Oh, and the ubiquitous heels. I'm told it's more about the shoulders here, which might explain why showing a lot of leg is no big deal.

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