Saturday, February 27, 2010

My First Week Summation

I have been in Daejeon since Wednesday, and I have already learned so much about the city and about myself! I have already experienced so much! On Thursday, Director Kim came by my apartment to bring me to the school. I observed some of the classrooms, and I ate lunch there. I learned that the students are very loving and that I cannot use chopsticks! Hahaha. I get teased now about whether or not I will use chopsticks to eat. I try to use them everyday so that hopefully I will learn. I do not use them in restaurants though because I am afraid that people will think I am disrespectful.

On Friday, I decided to walk to school from my apartment. I did pretty well for not being in the city long. I got to the bus stop where I was dropped off the night of my arrival. Thankfully, Director Kim and the Assistant Director, Vicki, were waiting at the bus stop for one of the other new teachers. Vicki told me that if I wanted to wait with them, they would take me the rest of the way to the school. So I waited with them for a few minutes for the new teacher, Janet. While waiting, Vicki explained to me that two new teachers had arrived Thursday evening, but only one of them, Mariana, was able to catch the bus to Daejeon. So Janet had to sleep at the airport because the guest house was full, and there aren't any other hotels in the area. Janet's bus arrived, and she informed me that her luggage was in San Francisco due to a last minute change in her flight. We drove to the school, and Janet went to her hotel room for a bit to freshen up before coming to the school for lunch. Since it was the last day of classes for the semester, the classes were having parties; so there wasn't much to observe. The other two teachers and I decided to go to EMart (much like a Super Walmart) to get a few things. I bought cleaning supplies for my apartment; as well as a few mats and a pair of slippers to wear around the apartment. We all stopped by the school once more before they went to their hotel rooms and I walked back to my apartment. On my way home, I received the second lesson about myself this week, I have no sense of direction. I got seriously lost!!!! Hahaha. I figured that if I kept walking around I would eventually figure out where I was. But no. After over an hour of walking while carrying my purchases from EMart, I decided to call it quits and catch a taxi. Luckily, I was near a Taxi Stop. In Daejeon, they have places to go if you need a taxi much like the bus stops back home. Thankfully, I had asked Vicki to write down my address so I was able to show the taxi driver the address of where I wanted to go. When I finally got home, I was too tired to do anything so I went to bed.

Today, Saturday, we had orientation for the parents of all the new students. We had to dress nicely. I had decided to try to find my way once again so I wore tennis shoes with my dress and packed dress shoes in my bookbag. I looked at the time and realized that I didn't have the time to get lost again. At that time, a taxi drove by and honked asking if I needed a ride. I figured it was fate telling me to take the taxi. After asking Vicki for my apartment address, I had asked one of the Korean teachers to write down the address for the school in Korean. So once again, I showed the taxi driver the address of my destination. When I got to the school, I decided to ask Vicki for directions. However, she is bad with directions as well; so she told one of the foreign teachers to take me home using the best way for me to go when I walked to the school. She told him to make sure that he pointed out the turns.

Before going home, all of the teachers had to go to the orientation. We sat in a separate room while one of the foreign teachers presented the necessary information for the parents. At the end of her presentation, we were escorted into the room to wait for the Director's presentation. During the Director's presentation, he introduced each teacher and explained a bit about each teacher's professional background. Everything was spoken in Korean of course; so none of the foreign teachers new exactly what he was saying about us. We just bowed and tried to smile. After the presentations, a couple of the mothers came up to me and talked to me about their kids. It was so sweet!!! Of course they are concerned about their kids well-being, and they wanted to make sure that I would take care of their kids.

After the orientation, John, one of the foreign teachers, drove us to our apartments and pointed out the turns as he was instructed by Vicki. When I got back to my apartment, I decided to change clothes and try my hand at my newly found directions. I walked to EMart to purchase more cleaning supplies and some food. EMart is by the school so I figured if I could get to EMart then I can get to school. My trip to and from EMart was a success! I made it home with no problems! What a difference good directions can make! Hahaha.

I have two days off this weekend, tomorrow and Monday. I am going to try to explore the city, finish setting up my apartment, and take some pictures of my apartment and the city to show everyone! Tuesday and Wednesday, I only have afternoon after-school classes. Thursday is the first day of the new semester, so my morning classes will start then!

It has been a great first week, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the school year holds for me!!!


John from Daejeon said...

The city website: Has a great English Tourist map that you can download and then magnify.

Melanie Chastain said...

Thank you so much! You are so helpful! I have been sharing your tips with the other teachers that are starting with me! Do you mind me asking where you are from and what part of the city you are living in?

John from Daejeon said...

I'm from the U.S. and currently live near Costco (5 minute walk in good weather) in Taepyeong-dong.

The best advice I ever got was from my boss, who went to city hall to get me a city map when I asked if he might know where I could get one on my first day in town (it pointed out the main tourist office where I got some even better maps and more information), was to buy a bicycle to truly enjoy the city and the surrounding areas while helping to keep in shape.

I just wish he would have told me to buy a better bicycle than the lowest price hunk-of-junk that I first purchased (99,000-150,000 won) instead of the better mid-range ones I bought in the last couple of years with more gears and of better quality for those long rides along the city rivers and up and down the mountains (330,000-560,000 won). He eventually bought a bike off the internet (after buying my cast-offs as I upgraded and giving them to his kids) and joins me every couple of weeks from March to November to ride out to the lake and fish (1 hour from Costco), the Reservior (a little over an hour from Costco), and to the dam in April to look at all the cherry blossoms (2 hours from Costco).

In four years, I've yet to take a taxi or bus around town, so the bicycles more than paid for themselves and the health benefits have been an added bonus. Oh, yeah, you can see much more of the city by pedaling around and over it than zipping along only the main streets in a car or bus. It still amazes my co-workers and boss that I know the city better than they do having grown up here.

Another great website that I use to plan for my rides (and what I should wear each day) is and the city is Taejon (the previous Romanized spelling of Daejeon). The ten-day forecasts also really helps me plan my weekends and days off. Speaking of days off, I believe most native English teachers who work at hagwons will have the day off on March 17th as owners (and Korean English teachers) are required to attend some type of conference. The next holidays will be in May on the 5th and 21st, that's if your hagwon observes them. Most do, but a few don't.

Melanie Chastain said...

That is good advice! Currently, I am walking everywhere that I go. I have only called a taxi after I got lost. So I probably see the city even slower than you! Hahaha. I believe that I am on the other side of the city from you. I live in Mannyun Dong. I don't think our school is taking the 17th off but we did have Independence Movement off. So it's not like we are in desperate need of a day off. Hahaha.

Do you teach English as well?

John from Daejeon said...

Yes, I teach English, but I also have a couple of other jobs back home thanks to the speed of the internet here (and the T1 line back at my old job). It seems my old boss and co-workers can't find young people who actually want to work, so they pass on projects to me that I can do while overseas.

When I first got here, I walked about 20 miles round-trip to Wal-mart from my place here just to look at it. However, it was gone in a month as South Koreans didn't take to it. Currently, it is now an Emart. A lot of other Western establishments have also left the country after not finding a foothold. Luckily, Costco is still around; however, it used to be about 80% Western products versus 20% Korean, but it is now closer to 30% Western products and 70% Korean.

From my home, I can reach your neighborhood in between 15-20 minutes depending on traffic on my bicycle. Your neighborhood is where my boss and his family live.

Well, I need to go to Costco now before they run out of frozen Green Beans and Eggo Waffles (both are in short supply back in the U.S. thanks to severe cold weather destroying the winter bean crop and the Eggo plants are not in operation as they upgrade to better facilities over the next few months).

Melanie Chastain said...

That's pretty cool that you still work back home too! One of the other teachers that works with me has a Costco card so we were planning on taking a trip after we get paid...haha.

So what brand of bike would you suggest?

John from Daejeon said...

The brand isn't as important as the quality. If you don't plan on riding often and will only be in South Korea for a year, I'd just get a cheap hunk of junk from HomePlus or Emart for about 99,000 won. These are great for staying along the river pathways and exploring most of the city, but not so much for climbing and heavy wear and tear.

If you plan on riding for exercise (more than once a week) or if you are staying for longer than a year, I'd definitely move up to a bike with more gears (24 or 27) for around 330,000 - 400,000 won as it is a much better ride and easier on your legs as you go up and over the hills and mountains around town.

You can also find "used" bicycles at most bicycle shops around town that can lead to good deals. There are tons of shops all over town, so make sure you are happy with the offer and bike if you decide to go this route. Also, when you buy a better quality bike, you can usually recoup about 1/3 to 1/2 of the price you bought it for when you leave by selling it to another foreigner or selling it back to the bike shop.

I learned the hard way that I should have paid for a better bicycle the first time around. Just make sure you get a couple of bike locks/cables no matter the type of bike that you buy. My boss bought two of my old 330,000 won bicycles and had them stolen in your neighborhood; however, he only had a single chain and lock on them and had them out at night. I always keep my bicycle in my apartment when I am not using it.

Before you leave back to the states, you might want to get your own Costco card here. They are 35,000 won (about $30), and they are good at Costcos worldwide. The cost is $50 back in the U.S. You only need your ARC to fill out the application form and it is done in a matter of minutes at the store.

Melanie Chastain said...

Wow! Thanks for all of the information! You are very helpful!