First day on my own in Korea

Here we are, my first full day on my own in South Korea.

Bharati went to work and suggested I stay in the apartment in case I got lost.  Ya, like that was going to happen, either staying indoors or getting lost.

I had already made breakfast at about 4:30am.  The bed she has is just too hard to sleep comfortably on so I gave up and got up.  Made breakfast and did some stuff on the computer.  Bharati couldn’t sleep either so we were up for a bit then tried to get a little more sleep.  When her alarm went off we both got up. She got ready and left for work and I prepped for my day.

I made sure I at least had her address (and that of the middle school nearby).  Why would I bother with the middle school address?  Well, it seems that addressing in South Korea is handled somewhat differently.  See, her building is less than a year old and as such, no one ‘knows’ about it.  I’m still trying to grasp the whole concept but it’s more like ‘building name’ in ‘area of town’ is what people use to get around.  Street addresses are purely secondary.  It’s kinda like saying ‘Union Station’ in ‘downtown’ in ‘Toronto’.  Everyone reading this post, with the few exceptions, knows exactly where Union Station is.  If I told you to go to 65 Front St West, Toronto, ON, you’d be wondering what the heck is there.  That’s about as close as I can describe how the general mindset is about places and directions.

The taxi driver who brought us from the Uijeongbu Station bus stop brought us to the Middle School(building) that he knew was in Milak-dong(area of town).  The actual address confused him as did the name ‘Ji Yong Village’ (name of building).  He also took his sweet time getting here but that is to be expected when you are a non-native in almost any non-caucasian country.

I had planned to go to an electronics store that might carry the power cord I needed for my Netbook to plug into the local outlet.  Bharati got one 3 years ago from her co-teacher.  On laptop power supplies, there are two cords.  One goes from the wall to the ‘power brick’ and the one that includes one brick that goes to the laptop.  Bharati said she thought it might be better if I waited till next week.  Ha, fat chance.  My battery life is damn good (8hrs used lightly) but not _that_ good.  Fortunately the cord is standard and will plug into my power brick, just means she can’t use her laptop for more than 5 mins as the battery is rather shot.

Ok, I head out based on the directions she gave me, which were close to the same area we went for a walk in last night.  Straight forward enough and I found the ‘digital plaza’, which was just one store I think.  It was a kind of small Future Shop.  Think: some household appliances, TVs, computers and such in store the size of a typical fast food restaurant.  Nice enough sales people, he followed me everywhere just waiting for me to ask a question.  I asked about the cord, they didn’t have it but he gave me the phone number of a place that would.  I checked out some of the local computers and routers.  I am lucky I bought my Netbook back home.  Now, you might be thinking that it should be cheaper and you just may be right.  The MSRP for this Netbook was around $450.  I bought the last one in Ontario, clearing them out for the next wave of Netbook hitting the market.  I paid $320 for mine and I saw the same unit selling for about KRW650.  Current exchange is $1 CDN = 1181KRW (or 1000KRW = 0.894 CDN).  That puts the Netbook I bought in the $550 CDN range.  $220 MORE than what I paid.  Then again, it’s still selling here and not back in Canada.  An interesting observation I thought.

After I was done at the store, I really wanted to find a coffee place.  This proved somewhat problematic as there wasn’t any blatant English advertising for breakfast/coffee shops and I, of course, couldn’t read Korea (yet).  I did see a sign for LotteMart.  A kind of WalMart type of store.  (Sidenote: there was a Walmart in Korea but it was closed down.  Presumably on poor business practices and inability to compete).

I got to the store around 9:58ish.  The store wasn’t quite open yet and I was politely directed to wait in the lobby area.  That was fine by me.  I did get to observe a strange morning staff ritual.  There were all kinds of female staff standing about 5ft apart along one of the long aisles.  The store speaker system was saying something in Korea and they repeated it.  There were also some actions to go with it, mostly involving a thumbs up and a kind of movement to ‘pointing to the back with thumbs seemingly symbolizing something in history or in the past’.  I don’t know about you but that kind of thing works fine in the Military (and works in cults but usually not in the best interest of the individual) but to be use in retail?  Seems to go rather far to garner loyalty and higher sales for any corporation.  Then again, at this point in my life, I want to be inspired because I am really contributing to the world and not simply making a daily living so that some CEO gets his pool cleaned every week or the business expense listed as ‘theraputic massage’ while in another country.

Once the odd little ritual was done, we were allowed into the store.  I wandered the first floor, mostly clothes.  Prices seemed fine for most things with a couple of expensive items (think Sears where you have your average reasonable prices and then the odd $500 items on display).  I found a Lotteria on the second floor serving breakfast.  Think of Lotteria as a complete and utter rip-off of Burger King.  I’m talking the colours, the layout, the menu even.  3 years ago when I was in I absolutely swore it was a BK until we went back the following day.  In any case, I got a coffee (Americano they call it) but only sugar, no cream or milk.  Well, it was not the most pleasant to drink but it was at least coffee.

I went and checked out the electronics.  A reasonable selection, pricing in line with the ‘digital plaza’ store I was at.  Nothing overly special to write about but they had more accessories.  Oh, they did have more routers and some fairly cheap ones (around the low $20 range).  I was tempted to get one but thought to hold off as we are going to Itaewon tomorrow.  I’ll fill you in then on that.

After I was done with LotteMart, I simply continued on my way, kind of making a large square in my walking pattern.  There’s a new subway line being built above ground.  And when I say above ground, I mean 40ft in the air.  So having a reference point wasn’t that hard.

Saw a couple of neat stores, and I should mention the French influence here.  It’s rather bizarre, even when you find out that the French occupied Korea at some point in the past.  I’m not talking minor stuff, although there are a growing number of French type of bakeries (Paris Baguette and Tou Les Jours) are quite plentiful.  I mean one of Hyundai’s flagship cars is called the Grandeur.  That’s right, a Korean company has a French-named car.  In North America it’s called the Azera.

I made it back to my area and decided to hit the local Paris Baguette for a snack.  I settled for the same odd one I grabbed yesterday.  This bread-pastry that had slices of sausage, ketchup, mayo and corn.  Very odd but it tasted good and was only KRW1200(just over a buck).

I came back to the apartment, tried to get some comp work done until I got hungry for lunch.  I decided to hit my new favourite restaurant that is a whopping 60ft from my front door :)  I don’t know it’s name yet but they have breaded pork cutlets (Yental Dongas, pronounced ‘yen-al don-gus’).  It’s really good and a whopping $4.  Comes with rice, some little salad and veggies.  They’ll even deliver it at no extra cost.

Now, I got the oddest of stories for this place and it happened last night.  Bharati took me to this restaurant last night and I really liked it.  While we were there the place got a call and the owner(?) called Bharati over.  It sounded like someone (another foreigner) was asking something and the owner was hoping Bharati could help her understand.

Now, let me back up a little.  Bharati had met this South African girl and became good friends a few months ago.  This girl told Bharati about some great Dongas place.  Bharati asked her if she could get her friend to grab a copy of the menu so she could keep it on had.  Ok, back to the story.

Bharati goes over to the phone, hears that the person is asking about a menu.  Well, as you should have guessed, it was her friend!  Her friend was calling at the time we were there to get a menu for the person who was helping the owner understand what was being asked!  Freaking bizarre.  Suffice to say, a menu was no longer necessary.

So, back to my day.  I finished the Dongas and the rice, brought the rest back for Bharati and wrote up this post :)

Bharati should be here in about 30mins, we’re heading out to a noreabong (Karaoke) tonight with a bunch of friends.  Should be a fun night!