Of all the things I never expected to be doing in my life, coming home late from work and voluntarily preparing a dinner of seaweed, spicy, raw fish intestine, fish jerky, dried squid and anchovies with rice using nothing but a pair of chopsticks must nearly top the list. And yet that is exactly what I have found myself doing on a number of occasions lately. I am finding that I actually have a taste for all of those things, and don't mind them being my staple foods hereabouts, as long as I have plenty of yogurt and fruit in my day as well. It's surprising the things a person gets used to, and how quickly.
Food here is a bit of a challenge - although more for problems with communication, schedule and knowledge than for any great dislike of the dishes. Every meal, breakfast included, contains either rice or noodles (usually rice), and usually sea food as well (mostly squid). Also some type of kimchi - fermented pickled cabbage and red pepper. Typically everyone eats out of the same big pot, a rather charming exercise in communal living once you get over the lingering hygeine questions of dipping your chopsticks into the same vat of sauce on the street as 800 million other people. In restaurants, you almost always take off your shoes and sit on the floor to dine - it does wonders for the felxibility of legs, even as it takes a toll on tender knee joints. I love the places where you get to cook everything right at your table, and the vast assortment of side dishes with every meal is entertaining and delicious. I am only beginning to sample the wide array of food available, but it is a challenge I am enjoying. Especially now that I have had some local friends introduce me to some of the more common options and teach me where to get them and how to prepare them. My food bills are going down exponentially from the first couple of weeks, and I am enjoying eating more as well.
Suji is still a mass concrete jungle with no view and plenty of smog, but I am getting a feel for the rhythm of the streets and enjoying it more. I bought a bicycle last week (a used "Anne of Green Gables" affair with a sloping, blue flowered frame, bright green fenders, yellow chain housing and big black wire basket on the front...) and am much more familiar with what is in the neighbourhood. For some reason, people are much more friendly when I am on my new wheels, and so I am starting to feel more at home even outside of my tiny apartment (which has felt pretty homey from the beginning). I am beginning to know a few people in the community, and to develop some favorite haunts, and it's terrific not to take forever to walk anywhere now.
I have been spending most of my down time in Seoul at the church compound. Not only are there wonderful people (both Korean and western) there to visit and relax with, but also green space and a mountain hike within a matter of minutes from the front door. Many of the people there are roughly my age and I have made some good friends among them (they have been helping me with my Korean, which helps back in Suji where not too many people speak any English). There are also a couple of dogs to satisfy my pet longing, and plenty of entertainment nearby. This weekend 2 of the other teachers from school also went in with me (which makes it way cheaper to travel, as we can split the taxi cost between us), and they have pretty much adopted the space as their own as well. I have been SO glad to have that escape/support here, and am glad to be able to share it as well.
There is so much to talk about and describe day by day, but work has been pretty hellish and I haven't had the opportunities I would like to keep you all up to date on the wonders of this place. Hopefully soon things will calm down a little and I will be able to make a better effort in that regard. In addition to working very long hours here, I received a reprimand last week (ostensibly for being a "negative influence" on the other teachers, who no longer work 20 hours a day...) which has pretty much soured me on the whole working deal. The whipping session related to the reprimand was pretty brutal (more so because it was so absurd), and has coloured the relations of all the foreign teachers to the management of the school. Tensions are high, and it is a fairly draining atmosphere in which to try to accomplish anything. On the other hand, I am starting to enjoy my actual classes very much, so once I have survived the prep time each day, the rest goes fairly quickly and well. I hate coming in to work on Monday morning and wishing it were already Friday, but one way or another, things are bound to improve. And if they don't, well, I am only here for another 3 months before leaving for the south in any case...
This is exam week here, so I 'd better go and make up those tests now. This was an early day - in to work at 9am for a staff meeting and except for this small writing break I plan to be here until I finish teaching at 8:30 tonight. Should hopefully give me time to get most of the week prepared so that I don't need to do this everyday. I hope this finds you all well and happy, and I can't wait to hear what's up in your worlds soon!!