Korea is different


Okay, first off it is VERY WEIRD to leave the apartment without a key:  I keep feeling like I’m screwing myself somehow everytime I leave, knowing the door will lock down by itself.  I have to remind myself that it opens with a keycode and fight all the impulses to go and get the key.  There IS a key, only I don’t know why or when you’d ever use it.  I just have to recondition myself that my door is high-tech and to just let it go.

Second, it’s VERY WEIRD to open the door and not reach for a light switch.  The light goes on automatically when you open the door.  The problem is that it doesn’t stay on very long and there is no switch handy, so if you are struggling with taking off your boots or not quick about taking off your coat, the light goes out and there you are in the dark, and you have to position ourself under the motion detector and jockey around until the light goes back on.

The Vice Principal purchased bathroom slippers for me and I keep forgetting to use them.  I’m trying to train myself to always put them on but I keep forgetting.  I’m training myself so in the event I am ever a guest somewhere, I don’t look like an unwashed heathen.  WHY we’re supposed to put them on escapes me.  Maybe it’s because the bathroom floor is not heated like the rest of the apartment?  Or is it an over-preoccupation with preventing foot fungus?  And if that’s the case, how do you clean your feet when you’ve got plastic slippers on?  And then stupid me, I take them off in the bathroom as I’m leaving, and then when I return to the bathroom, the slippers are on the wrong side of the door – too far away to put on, since the door opens in.  So I guess you’re supposed to BACK out of the bathroom so you can deposit your slippers in the right direction in front of the bathroom door!  At the Emart, there are dozens of these bathroom slippers for sale.  There seems to only be one two sizes:  adult and childrens.  And of course, I am neither and they are just huge on me.  You can tell they are bathroom slippers because they have extra thick soles, and the soles have drainage patterns cut out of them in cute shapes.  I was watching some Korean housewives lingering/drooling over bathroom slippers and wondering what the big attraction was…or why they are even necessary.  Maybe if your husband is gross and has stinky feet…

Koreans don’t walk – they shuffle.  They don’t seem to walk heel first, so the head does not rise and fall like westerners as they rock forward from their heels to the balls of their feet.  It’s as if they walk as if they are wearing bathroom slippers all the time, even when they have street shoes on!  Unlike the Cuban shuffle, there is no maximizing the weight shift and none of the hip swaying which seems to naturally go along with walking flat-footed.  Instead, the body stays pretty tight and rigid.  It’s more of a glide, but a sexless glide.

Koreans have incredible balance.  So many of them don’t even hang onto any of the straps or poles on the subway.  They just plant their feet and sway with it.  Pretty impressive.  I’d be on my ass in a second.

Korean movies are always about human pathos.  Last night I couldn’t sleep and flipped through the channels.  Happily, I landed on a black and white movie from the 60’s.  It had all the cinematographic elements of our movies from the 60’s – the film noir feel, the crisp sharp contrast, the great use of light, the wonderful characters – but the every day life so depicted was just CHOCK FULL of traditional Korean-ness.  Like traditional clothes with a western blazer.  Traditional homes.  Traditional values.  Love amid the hay bales.  Squalor.  Scandal and desception in the city.  A con game and a loan shark.  Rape and murder.  But it was all such a vivid snapshot of what Korea once was.  No wonder my friend Kimmette cried when she returned to Seoul.  It now looks like some sci-fi nightmare of concrete housing blocks, engulfing everything.

However, Korean quality of life is sooo high.  Perhaps higher than American, even.  Innovations are around every corner.  At some of the stores I couldn’t open the door.  Silly me, the door doesn’t have handles and you don’t push them – you press a button and they slide open.  When you go to the Emart, the carts are all chained together.  You place a coin in this tray, you slide the tray in, and the cart comes free.  Instead of escalators, they have people movers which are sloped between floors.  I nearly freaked out when my co-teacher pushed our cart onto the people mover, fearing it would slide and take out the people in front of us.  But the carts have magnetic boots surrounding the rear wheels, and they lock down tight to the people mover belt, so there is no way to move the cart at all.  When you return the cart, you click the next cart’s chain into your cart, and the tray pops out with your coin.

There’s probably lots more I’m forgetting right now, but I’ll add later.

I can’t quite figure out how people socialize here.  Only been here a week, so who knows.  One answer might be what I found when I walked around my neighborhood again, and those buildings I took videos of?  Five floors of mostly bars.  Bars upon bars upon bars.  Stacked.  Stacks and stacks of bars.  I sat down next to a businessman about 11 am today, and he just reeked of Soju.  I got in the elevator about 9 pm to go down to the 5th floor to have a smoke in the deserted terrace, and the man in the elevator just reeked of soju.  The smell of man in Korea is cigarettes and soju.

Oh – and did I mention that I’ll be teaching at a private school?  My co-teacher turned to me the other day and asked, “Are you religious?”  No.  “Oh.  Because you did know this was a missionary school, didn’t you?”  Turns out that the provincial school district I am in also has some jurisdiction over private schools.  So I am a public school teacher for a private school.  Yeah, still scratching my head over that one.  Anyway, I get to sit in on an all school religious service every Monday as a result.  Yayy…

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