Early Days

Brendan, if you read this, dude, I'm shamelessly ripping off your idea. But that's only 'cause I like it!

Play this and read on...


Getting an E-2 visa to live and work in South Korea is not an easy process. Especially for somebody as disorganised as myself. However, I am well aware of my personal foibles and so resolved early on that I would not leave myself in the same position as the last time I applied for a visa for Korea - booking my flight 48 hours prior to departure and having to sell my car to finance to trip, for example. This last part would be quite easy to avoid, since I had no car to sell.

Everything started off just fine. I took the initiative and contacted various agencies early, discussing with them our options and, more specifically, whether to apply for public school jobs or hagwon (private academy) jobs. The main difference between the two would be more money in the hagwon system, but more vacation and more free time in the public school system. We decided to go for public school as we would have more chance to travel, but also as we could take the housing allowance and it would look more impressive on our CVs. The agency we selected, Planet ESL, were more than helpful in the initial process and things were looking good. There was no way I would be leaving things to the last minute.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the application process took longer than expected, our Korean-American liason to our employers - the extraordinarily named Randy Hong - was a fucking idiot and the Foreign Office Visa Section at Milton Keynes is a shithole. Suffice to say, I found myself taking a National Express bus through the night to London for a 9:30am appointment at the Korean Embassy to collect my passport, before booking my flight on the phone outside, hauling my two huge suitcases, hand luggage and laptop on the tube to Heathrow, flirting with a 50-year-old woman in the hope that she would let me off the £300 she wanted to charge me for being 10kg over my 30kg baggage allowance (she did) and catching the 2:30pm flight from London to Dubai where I would take my connecting flight to Seoul. It was chaotic to say the least, but as I sank into the reclining seat of the brand new Airbus A380 on which I flew, sipping on the first of a number of complimentary bottles of red wine, I was able to finally relax and look forward to seeing Kendra and the adventures that lay ahead.

After 2 flights of over 8 hours each and an ill-advised McDonalds in Dubai, Kendra met me at Seoul's Incheon airport accompanied by a driver in a very welcome, air-conditioned, black people carrier that was provided by Planet ESL. As I was welcomed into the country by our recruiter, Jiyeon - who's help during this process had extended to putting down her own money in order to secure our apartment - and kissed on the cheek by my beautiful girlfriend, the midnight haul down to London and all the stress from the last few weeks dissipated. Out of the blacked-out windows of the people carrier I could see the 21st century skyscrapers and traditional Korean temples that make up the Seoul skyline and the bright blue, sun-filled sky that made the grey hue of northern England seem a world away. When, really, it was only half.

The next few days were taken up with exploring the local area, settling into our new apartment, getting re-adjusted to the great Korean food and sleeping! We're in Yongsan-dong which is most well known for Yongsan Garrison, the main US military base in South Korea. This means that the area is crawling with GI Joes and their (mostly Korean) girlfriends. The major benefit of this is the plethora of western amenities in the area and the local shops are filled with familiar products, herbs and spices that would be much more difficult to get hold of in other areas of Korea. I'm also hoping to get involved in some expat football but I haven't heard anything as yet. Our apartment is only 10 minutes from the subway station where I integrated myself into the local culture subtly by dropping my T-Money card (a plastic keyring type thing that I use to get on the subway) down a 50 foot drop, bouncing off escalators and missing the heads of commuters by inches. And, later, I fell on my face. On my first day.

I only really started to appreciate Korean food in the last few months of my year in Geoje so I'm determined to try more because there are some delicious dishes out there. We went out for galbi (marinated pork rib, barbequed) the other night, but we have also eaten Chinese, Mexican and American food in the few days that we've been here. And Italian if you count the pasta that I made. We've been shopping almost every day to spend the settlement allowance we are provided with on the essentials for the apartment. We also managed to pick up a bit of furniture to make the place look more lived in but we're still in need of a few pieces. I'll put up some pictures when it's a bit more finished.

So, all in all, it has been an excellent few days settling into our new home. The weather has been beautiful (30+ and sunny) and everyone we have met has been kind and friendly. We've also met up with some of our friends from last year - shout out to Hacksaw Jim Duggan - and just enjoyed being together again after a long summer apart. Kendra starts work tomorrow and I do later in the week - after our Government-enforced semi-quarantine due to the 'western evil' that is Swine Flu - so now the holiday ends and the real work begins. We're both really nervous about starting but excited as well and I think it will be a more rewarding experience than the work we did last year. Coupled with the fact that we get 4 big fat weeks of holiday to explore Asia and it's looking like it could be a pretty good year!

Love, Smithy x


Postman said...

I must try this whole flirting-with-the-baggage-check-staff-to-get-out-of-luggage-overage-charges thing. It really works, it seems.

So THAT'S an Airbus A380. You lucky dog. How was the flight? Apart from the wine?

I have discovered that falling on your face the first day is a marvelous way to break the ice. 'Course, I do it intentionally.

American food? Where can you get American food in Seoul? I only saw one bleedin' steakhouse the whole time I was there.

Four big fat weeks of holiday! You...you...YOU...

You'll do fine, mate, don't be nervous. Those are some gorgeous photographs. Keep 'em coming man, you just might convince me to come back (speaking of 'Western evils')...

Sue Smith said...

What a well written piece of news. I am so proud of you Andrew . Hope all goes well with your new job and hope that I will soon be able to revive the Korean Pen Friends club at Radcliffe Primary!
Enjoy teaching as much as I do !!

Smithy said...

Hey thanks Postman! I'm enjoying your blog very much by the way, keep 'em coming.
By American food, I mean a burger really! And, no, not McD's. Kraze. Remember?
The A380 was cool. I didn't realise it was a big deeal until I told my sister. She's an Air Traffic Controller so gets excited about these things!
Good looking out dude keep coming back!

Mum, I'll get the pen friends thing going asap!