The Journey and our first few days...

Katie in italics
Dave in normal
Folding, packing, weighing, unpacking, refolding, repacking, reweighing, removing, rereweighing, rearranging, zipping…sigh of relief…4:30pm, pack the car, drive to London. Saying goodbye to the house was weird, very strange to think I won’t see it for at least a year…but knowing the speed at which any DIY or decorating gets done in that house I’m sure it will be just as I left it when I return J

Both families arrived in Ealing for a farewell meal at Café Rouge at about 8pm. Our starters are just arriving when Ivan gets a phone call… it turns out, my house has been burgled. Fantastic! Luckily everything of value that I own was on my person but my parents’ room was a bit of a shambles. Needless to say, we ended up getting to the luxury Travel Lodge room much later than expected and both struggled to fall asleep due to nerves / uncomfortable luxury bed / anger towards bastard motherfucking robbers!!

Anyway, it was a new day with new drama (fortunately all anticipated). Up we got at 4am to head to the airport. While Mum and Dad had their own mini (or should I say Bongo?) adventure trying to park the car, James sat and watched Dave and I manically rearranging our luggage to comply with the size and weight restrictions…well, almost comply. We were both very concerned that everything would be too big and heavy and we’d be faced with the dilemma of having to remove things at the check-in desk or worse – pay extra! And when you have overweight bags and a Jewish outlook on paying baggage fees – it’s a real worry! But we were fine, and after our final goodbyes at The Point of No Return, off we went into the belly of Heathrow…

So now it’s security check blah blah boarding blah blah take off blah blah land in Munich at lunch time. 2 hour stopover (the airport was very posh!) then blah blah security check blah blah boarding blah blah take off. The next 10 hour flight was when the excitement really started setting in as the flight was full of a lot of white faces, looking equally as thrilled as us at not paying excess baggage fees. They gave us 2 meals and then lots of drinks and some pretzels. The first meal was shortly after take-off and we were given a choice of 2 meals: beef and rice or pork and noodles. Dave had the beef, so I got the pork and I definitely got the best one! The lovely German steward gave us chopsticks and a wry smile before leaving us to tuck in. I’ve labelled the picture of the tray so you can see all the goodies that came with the meal. Anyway, the second thing we were given was breakfast, which consisted of a cheese and spinach omelette, yoghurt, bread, jam and fruit. All in all it was a lovely dining experience and the main meal was an exciting start to our pending culinary adventure.

So anyway…we landed in Seoul and took our first footsteps in Korea…to the security check, then around a high tech airport like no other (Worlds Best Airport since 2007) which we hardly saw any of so can’t really comment too much on…then blah blah boarding blah blah take off. The plane was now half empty (I thought of it as half full) and the remaining passengers consisted almost entirely of Brits who were all heading to the same place as us. By this point, everyone was at the climax of overexcitement coupled with being overtired and over-security-checked.

So we landed and finally arrived at the end of our 20 hour journey. We were in BUSAN (henceforth referred to as Pusan coz that’s what the natives call it innit!)! I wanted to get the adventure started ASAP so volunteered to make our first purchase in Korea – 2 of the most foreign looking drinks I could find! After much deliberation I returned with my bounty as was greeted by a less than impressed looking Dave. Imagine my horror when a smug-looking Katie came bouncing over with my worst nightmare, a corn drink. This yellow monstrosity tastes like a mix of weetabix, popcorn, toilet water, earwax and the foulest parts of a camel’s sweaty testicles – I had experienced this horrorcaust in Thailand 18 months ago and had recovered slower than Britain’s economy. My first taste of Korea was not a pleasant one. I on the other hand, am over the moon to have already achieved my challenge for 2011 of finding a foodstuff that David does not like.

After this epic fail, all these red eyed Brits boarded the EPIK (Engrish Program In Korea) shuttle bus and we were taken to Pukyoung University where we’d be living as students in halls of accommodation. That’s right, just when you thought we were making an actual grown-up step in life, we wind up back at uni…We got to see a bit of the city on the drive (I didn’t, as my travel sickness finally kicked in on the coach so I wasn’t looking out the window) and the first thing that struck me was how damn tall all the buildings were and how much taller Koreans are compared to my expectations of tiny Asians – damn their plentiful food supply! When we arrived at the uni we were given welcome packs by overly flirtatious Korean girls (the sleep deprivation had clearly made Dave delirious at this point) and we were forced to take our first test – who can read and speak Korean? Considering I hadn’t slept for 2 days and could barely read Engrish, I managed to read the words and was put in the intermediate class while Katie, the slacker, was put in the idiot, I mean beginner class.

We were then taken to our rooms in the separate male and female dorms, and used our electronic keys to swipe in. The unusual things about the room from a waygook’s (foreigner’s) perspective is that there are no shoes allowed and there is under floor heating, which saved me having to worry about piling on the socks! Right now I have a warm fuzzy feeling on my soles, which is great after a shower as well... The shower, by the way, is just a hose attached to the sink (see photo), which isn’t as bad as it sounds and I got used to it pretty quickly – haven’t soaked the toilet roll once yet! I’d like to add that I really like this method and it makes showering without washing your hair so much easier than in a cubicle!

We have a balcony and check out the views from it – wow! I love concrete jungles!
Pu-saaaaaan! Concrete jungle where we’ll eat Kimchi – a new home for Dave and meeeee! Let’s here it for Pusan! Pusan! Pu-saaaaaan!          Sing it will ya!

After arriving, dumping our stuff and eating the free cafeteria food, we headed out to explore life outside of the campus… Like a fly drawn to a turd, my first exploration of Pusan led me to my home away from home – Dominos pizza. Their shrimpi pizza looked delicious. I then got lost for several hours but managed to find my way home eventually. The university campus is off a very busy main road, lined on both sides with shops and places to eat. It’s hard to describe just how much there is going on so I hope the photos will help but basically there are lights and bright signs everywhere, and the side roads are just as brightly lit and full of life as the main road is. Anyway, we headed to a couple of bars with a few other teachers and had a few beers. We had been told not to eat or drink after 9pm in preparation for our medicals the next day, but we bent the rules a bit, in favour having a good first night in Korea.

The next day came with a new test in the form of the medical. We had to piss in a cup (which we then put on a table with all the other cups and let me tell you – some of those samples were just scary! One was in a whole different Dulux colour range altogether! It looked thicker than snot.) Then we had to be weighed and heighted and then came the blood test. The woman stuck me with the needle then proceeded to have a conversation with someone else whilst I was being needled. She then decided she didn’t have the vial to collect the blood so had to get someone to go get her one. Massive bruise…The next test went a lot better and I found out I have near perfect vision – my left eye let me down very slightly – I plan to gouge it out with a spoon. Why a spoon? Cos it’s dull you twit, it will hurt more. The final test was a chest x-ray. Very odd thing to do with a bunch of strangers/potential new friends – we hopped on a bus and one at a time went to the front where the X-ray machine was while the rest of the people (one technician, one doctor and about 4 other teachers) all stood and passed judgement on the image of your insides, which came up on the screen for all to see! One guy even commented that my spine was “a bit wiggly” – the cheek of it!

So, medical check done, lunch eaten and it was off to the opening ceremony. This consisted of a couple of super cheesy videos about why EPIK is so fabulous and how we’re all so lucky to have the opportunity to live and work in “Diverse Korea!”, followed by some very interesting performances. One involved some badass drumming that made me long for a bit of DnB, another was a lovely dance with small paper drums and long floaty dresses, and the final performance was a dance to represent the life of a butterfly. Later on in the evening we had out “welcoming dinner” and then I totally crashed out and slept from about 8pm!

Why Katie was getting some much needed rest, I was getting some much needed beer. The first of the four bars us lads went to was situated in a basement and was a rock and roll bar that seemed to play only wrist slashing music – maybe they wanted to get rid of us so the only other 2 Koreans could enjoy their drinks... Well we moved on and went to another bar on the second floor of a tower of bright lights. You get given food with every drink and we were given what looked like crisps but were actually really soft and melted in the mouth and then some sweet seaweed that I’m not a huge fan of...yet. Then we tried soju. Soju is a rice wine that’s 20ish% and costs under £2 for about 750ml. Imagine watered down vodka and you have soju...

The next bar we went to was above the previous bar and involved walking up a narrow staircase to get there. We walked in and were immediately greeted by several KILFs and it was clear what sort of bar we had walked in to. The drinks were more expensive (trust it to be my round - grrrr) and it’s the place where Korean businessmen go to sit down and have a chat with a nice looking Korean lady. I took this opportunity to brush up on my Korean with one charming barmaid and was informed about her favourite bar called Thursday Party...

So, on we went to Thursday party, this time to be greeted by electronic darts, table football and beer pong. We had found our new home for the next 12 months! The bars on top of bars on top of bars seems to be a theme in Korea. Up to 10 storey buildings each with a different bar on every floor (photo). Bar crawls could soon become bar climbs or bar abseils. But that’ll be for another time when we don’t have a midnight curfew. Although the excitement of darts meant that we were an hour or two past curfew that night but oh well, we weren’t caught!

I awoke several hours later and I was 24. Considering a week before I had been 22, I felt like I had been in a coma, a very drunk and lumpy mattress coma at that. In Korea you are born aged 1, so I aged two years in the space of a week, I felt like Robin Williams in that film “Jack”, except I’m called Dave and I can make people laugh...apparently.

To be continued...