Tons has been happening here, and you know how bad I am at keeping things brief, but I’ll try.
The flights went about as smoothly as they could’ve. When we checked our luggage, both Alex and I were each 12 pounds over the weight limit (that translates to $164 EACH extra luggage charge on Singapore Airlines). Fortunately for us, our check-in lady must be related to Mother Theresa because she helped us rearrange our stuff into our other suitcases, allowed each bag to be about six pounds over the weight limit so we wouldn’t be charged, and even came around from the counter and helped us zip up the last bag (after Alex and I had been making a scene for about 10 minutes in the middle of the airport while he tried to zip it while I was sitting on it.)
The flights weren’t too bad, even the loooong one from San Francisco to Seoul. We got all kinds of cool free stuff (socks! toothbrushes and toothpaste! a Givenchy travel bag!); each seat had personal TVs with about a zillion movies and TV shows to choose from (along with a Learning Korean game that I didn’t learn much from); and even the food was good. (Seriously, they came around about once an hour with snacks and drinks — free beer! — in addition to a few full-sized meals.)
After we landed in Korea, it took three freaking hours for our shuttle to arrive to take us to our orientation site, which was a three-hour drive away. We didn’t get into Jeonju University until about midnight, Korea time, so we had been traveling for a solid day and a half, working on about six hours sleep in the past 48 hours. (We spent the final hours before we left trying to cram in as much crap as possible into our luggage, which explains the weight overage. We added it up and it turns out that, between the two of us, Alex and I brought a little over 300 pounds of luggage. Blergh.)
Everything has been going well so far, but even after all our preparation, I don’t know if I was ready for how mentally draining it is to be “on” all the time. Every single time we step outside of our room, we meet new people, have crazy conversations, hear new information, try new food and learn new words. It is really fun, but it also means there is really no downtime. I can’t just zone out and eat lunch — there’s always someone new to talk to. And you know (or you will) how I hate to talk to people.
This whole orientation should be, like, my worst nightmare, but it has been surprisingly fun. Even though I still only have about three conversation starters (“Where are you from?” / “So, what did you do before you decided to move to Korea?” / “What made you want to move?” I know, I suck).
It is 10:20 a.m. here, and Alex and I got back from our mandatory medical check a few hours ago. It was the most efficient thing I have ever witnessed. I am starting to love Korea already. In the span of about half an hour, Alex and I were both measured, weighed, given hearing, vision, and blood pressure exams, had blood drawn, gave a pee sample and had a chest x-ray. It was a pain in the ass (especially since we had to be there at 7:30 a.m.) but at least it was super fast.
For the first time since we arrived, we have a few hours of downtime before lunch, after which we’ll have our first round of lectures, followed by Korean Language and Taekwondo classes (!) and a Korean movie night. I am nervous for this Taekwondo. I can’t even toss a Frisbee; can you possibly imagine how ridiculous I will look trying to break a board with my foot?
Last night was the opening ceremony, which was amazing. We saw the Five Drum Dance, which is like 20 solid minutes of tandem drumming by women in traditional Korean dresses (hanbok). Then came a Taekwondo demo — it was insanity. The whole thing was jaw-droppingly awesome, until the very end, when they did this bizarre dance that looked like it might have been something John Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever — lots of shimmies, hip shaking, and finger pointing. After that was a Korean Fan Dance, which was really pretty but also sort of put me to sleep.
Then we went to the opening dinner — there was a spread like I have never seen. Ten tables filled with different kinds of sushi, salads, soups, barbecued meats, desserts, fruits, noodles and baby octopi. Unfortunately for me, by the time we got to dinner I was finally starting to feel the effects of the jetlag and constant commotion, so I didn’t eat very much. After dinner, Alex and I came home and fell asleep around 8 p.m., so we got about 10 hours of muuuuuuuuuuuuch-needed sleep.
It is insanely hot and humid here — even hotter than Florida, if you can imagine. It feels even worse because we’ve been walking our asses off. We took a jaunt yesterday morning after breakfast, then took a two-hour guided tour of the university, and then walked a mile or so up to the Lotte, which is sort of like a Korean Wal-Mart. I could’ve spend all day in there, but we were short on time. It is three floors of sensory overload and I made my first Korean transaction (a bottle of water for 340 won, or about 30 cents). I took *three* showers yesterday. I have never sweat so much in my life.
We tried kimchi for the first time and it is delicious.
P.S. It is true, the towels here are the size of hand towels. Also, there is no real shower or tub — just a shower head in the corner of the bathroom, and a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor. No curtain, no nothing. Korea is weird.