Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Baking Soda and Vinegar

A funky smell has been coming from my apartment's sink lately. Luckily, help wasn't far off (the internet is great). After reading various sites and blogs, one person recommended pouring baking soda down the sink and rinsing it down with vinegar. Easy enough, right? Well... not exactly.

Sure, baking soda is relatively easy to find. The Arm and Hammer trademark is easy to spot. Vinegar, on the other hand, is a challenge. The first store I went to only had baking soda. When I asked the clerk if he had vinegar, he said he didn't know what vinegar is? I began gesturing with my hands: "When baking soda and vinegar come together, they bubble." No luck.

I went to a bigger store and had a look around. I found a large clear bottle. But, when I tilted the bottle, the contents were much too thick. A smaller bottle next to it with the same Korean text, had "Korean corn syrup" below it. Whew! Glad I didn't buy a few litres of corn syrup!

After consulting with my phrasebook, I discovered that vinegar is pronounced sheek-cho. And, to say, "Do you have...?" (or, literally, Is there...?) you say innayo. So, putting the two together I asked the clerk at a bigger store sheek-cho innayo? (object comes before verb in Korean) and was taken to a whole selection of vinegar bottles.

Note to those who seek vinegar: Vinegar comes in smaller bottles here that sort of look like canola oil bottles. And, to make the whole process even more confusing, vinegar can be found among an assortment of oils.

Baking Soda and Vinegar in Korea (Doesn't the vinegar bottle look like oil

I would love to report that the smell is completely gone. It's better but I'll try this a few more times.

**Please let me know if you have a technique that has worked for you.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

High School Classes in Seoul

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (aka SMOE) placed me at a high school in Korea's capital. The teachers are all very nice and the students are respectful for the most part. I read on others' blogs that slippers are to be worn in the school. I learned that this is mostly true for the elementary schools, but high school teachers wear professional shoes (e.g., heels, fancy flats, etc.). Appearance is a big deal and you need to look your best. My school is also in one of the wealthier areas of Seoul, so... dress to impress. Heck, you will see women hiking in high heels! Dressing up for the workplace is not really different from casual wear here.

The room I teach in is equipped with a SmartBoard. One major difference compared to the States or Canada, is the common use of a microphone in the classroom. It does save your voice, but it is one more thing you need to have in your hands.

SMOE requires its English teachers to have 22 hours of classroom teaching at the elementary level, or 18 hours at the high school level. I teach 13 classes of grade 2 students and 5 afterschool classes (2X creative writing, 2X TOEFL and book club). In Korea, grade 2 in high school is equivalent to grade 11 in North America. Although I work in a coed school, I have all girl and all boy classes. Because many students attend hagwons or private schools in the evening, many students are so student that they fall asleep in class... not just in my class, but in others' classes, too. I walked past one teacher's classroom and saw half the class asleep! Not sure how much learning happens subconsciously...

I've included a picture of my classroom and of the lock on the classroom door (it was rather difficult to figure out the first few times).

High School Classroom in Seoul, Korea

Lock on a Korean Classroom Door

Friday, September 23, 2011

Settling in

So, you've seen the new apartment... but not much else! So sorry about that. A lot of things have happened in the meantime. Let's try to get you all caught up!

My apartment and school are very nice. I'm extremely lucky. On my first day, my co-teacher took me out to a gourmet-style Korean lunch. Completely unexpected and wonderful.  Other teachers in the school have taken me around Seoul to look for bedding and phones, and other household items that I can't find around my place.

There was a lot to do in the first few days of reaching my placement school. I had to get a medical check done (around 75 000 won, I think) in order to get my ARC card (Alien Registration Card). Without said card, getting a phone and internet is next to impossible, unless you have a friend/co-teacher to help sign off on a contract. Prepaid phones are available, of course, and cafes with wi-fi are available for the times when you get desperate for contact with friends and family. My school has internet, too, which comes in handy when planning get-togethers with other teachers.

A note on the medical check: Get it done ASAP, as it takes a week to get your results. Then, once you apply for the ARC card, you will have to wait at least 2 weeks. When applying at the Seoul Immigration Office, head up to the 2nd floor (?) before submitting your application and purchase a courier service to have your ARC card delivered when ready. The cost of delivery is only 4000 won, which is worth it when you consider the time and transportation costs (a combination of subway or bus, and taxi) to get to the immigration office. Why not save yourself a trip back... especially with business hours coinciding with school hours. Make sure you get to the immigration office before 6 pm, because that's when the delivery service desk closes. The ARC application area on the main floor was open longer. Get a ticket when you enter to make sure your application gets looked at. Officials will look at your passport, take 2 passport sized pictures (get those done in one of the subway instant photo booths--they're cheaper), school contract and your application. Check their website for the most up-to-date information on applying for the ARC card. It's government stuff... it's going to change from time to time.

Korean-style Gourmet-- look at all of those side dishes!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Apartment in Seoul

Okay, time for an update! After leaving the orientation, I was taken to my apartment. Aside from a roach and some caked on food in the microwave, my new home is quite impressive. I have a queen-sized bed, a stove, a fridge, couch, plenty of wardrobe space and even a rice cooker. There's a washer and drying rack too. Did I mention the TV? ... Of course, only 2-3 channels are available in English.

I did have to purchase a comforter and mattress cover. I had brought two sheets with me, as well as a pillow and pillow case. Somehow I assumed I would be given bedding, as most people do. Lesson learned... don't assume. Pack a mattress cover at least... a cheap one can be hard to find. I did eventually find one at E-mart (like a Walmart) for 19 000 won (approx. $19 US). The comforter was 29 800 won (approx. $30 US). Lots of comforters, including Korean style, were 90 000 won (approx. $90 US). It pays to look around for deals.

Tips for the Korean apartment:

1) To get hot water, you must turn the water heater on. However, turn the heater off right after you shower to avoid astronomical bills... I have been warned by the landlord that foreigners often face this issue. So, heater on, shower, heater off!

2) You need to purchase bags for garbage and food waste at your local grocery store. Keep in mind that these bags can only be used in your district, so chances are that you will not be able to share bags with friends (unless they live close to you).  

3) Roach spray is your friend. You may need it when you least expect it. The roach I encountered was small (thank goodness!). I'm glad I have yet to find a Madagascar hissing cockroach in my bathroom or kitchen... or eek, around the bed. So far so good :)

4) The Costcos in Seoul are huge-- several stories tall. Bring a friend to keep your sanity while combating the crowds. If you're missing oatmeal or your big boxes of cereal, Costco is worth a visit.

5) Itaewon (aka the foreigner pitstop) is mega expensive. Don't eat Korean food here unless you're willing to pay an arm and a leg for it. Make your way to Hweywa instead, where university students are able to find plenty of food options that don't burn a hole in your wallet.

Note for people leaving their homes in Korea and landlords: It would be nice to toss the old toilet brushes and sponges before the new tenants move in. Just saying...

My Kitchen in Seoul (no oven)

Bed corner of the apartment

There's a TV in front of my bed.

My bathroom in Seoul (shower head is connected to the sink)

Washing machine and drying rack (a balcony, too, but the doors can be hard to close)