A Day of Firsts

Since I’ve having so many connectivity issues with my wifi, I’m going go ahead and just start writing about the current day, instead of waiting for the next opportunity to catch up on last week. It’ll all be retrospective anyway, might as well do it later instead of missing out on the moment!

So today I made my first trip to Wonju, aka Downtown. I’m in Munmak-eup, which is technically part of Wonju-si, but it’s more like a suburb in the countryside. “-si” means “city” and “-eup” means something like “large village.” So I suppose it’s like a satellite town.

Munmak-eup is really small. I don’t know if I would use the word quaint, because a quaint village in the mountainside evokes old-timey feelings of the gold sun shining on thatched roofs, with golden rice waving in the breeze. Munmak-eup is definitely not that. Nor is it like the Quebec countryside near the border, where it’s sort of a hick neighbourhood with farmers living in bungalows and hanging out in that one restaurant/bar/strip club shed.

For a village in the countryside, Munmak-eup is surprisingly urban. Despite the ample space, people live in tall apartment buildings, blocks of them. It’s as if the village were a stray splatter of city, completely out of place. And the apartments all look the same: big slabs of concrete, drab with humidity. I don’t know what it is, but seeing the apartments in ordered clusters, with the building name and number painted in their sides, visible from the sky, is kind of disconcerting. Maybe it’s all of those cyberpunk animes that make future Tokyo seem so menacing.

Munkmak isn’t menacing, though, just to put that out there. The mountains are beautiful, and every morning the sun filters through the mist that lingers over the town, the tendrils of fog waking all the little people with its cool touch. That alone is enough to get me up every morning. That, and the jet lag. Oh, and the classes. It’s amazing how employment will make any night owl into an early bird.

As I was saying, Munmak is weirdly developed, while also being in the country. I guess you could say I’m in the Chambly of Korea. It has the urban necessities, but is surrounded by fields, and it takes about 30 minutes to get into town. There is one main street in my area, which has the school, a grocery mart, some small restaurants, and other little stores like a CVS (called CU here), etc. It also has a PC Bang (pronounced “bawng”), which is an internet cafe. You can rent computers there, but I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet.

ANYWAY, Wonju. Yes. Downtown. Today I came into school, quaking in little grey flats, because today was my first real class. Over the weekend, my co-teacher (let’s call her KT, short for Korean Teacher) told me to make a 15-minute powerpoint about myself and Canada as an introduction class, along with a short quiz. I must have spent four hours on that powerpoint, trying to make it COMPLETELY TOTALLY LIKE AWESOME, but also informative. You’d think that 5th grade material would be pretty easy, but it isn’t. It’s hard to get the perfect difficulty of language without being a complete bore.

Luckily for me, KT really liked it! 😀 After the first run through, I felt a thousand times better. Here’s how the classes went – we essentially run through the same script 5 times a day, as we cycle through all the 5th grade classes:

KT: Hello everyone! Please sit up straight and put your name card in the holder and point it toward the front.

Me: [our morning ritual] Hello everyone! How are you today? What day is it? What date is it? How is the weather today?

*My powerpoint

*Question period: kids were asking me things like, “Are you married,” “Pick the most handsome boy in the class,” “Why do you speak English so well if you’re Chinese,” “Can you say something in Chinese,” and one class in particular was completely fixated on the moose and asked no questions about me haha! They kept asking, “Is it tasty,” “Is it real,” “Are they easy to find,” and one kid asked, “Can you keep one in the house?”


*Part 2: Game time! KT made a second powerpoint with 8 riddles on it. Each riddle had 5 clues and the class was divided into teams. Each team was given a buzzer. Whichever team had the most right answers got candy. Oh my god IT WAS MAYHEM. Whoever bought these kids the buzzers deserves a special place in hell.

*Candy distribution while the losers sat and watched with either dejection or smoldering jealousy in their eyes

KT/Me: Everyone, put your name cards together and get ready to leave!

When the students were quiet, we’d dismiss them one table at a time. And that was my first day of classes ever!

After first period, KT came to me and invited me to join her for a free classical music concert in Wonju. There is some sort of festival going on there, and I had been itching to explore downtown all weekend, but was cooped up scrubbing my nasty ass apartment instead (the horrors of this apartment deserve a post on their own *shudder*). Plus, although there are only two buses in Munmak, both of which go to Wonju, and despite being armed with a print-out with the Korean sentences, “Please take me to Wonju bus terminal” and “Please take me to Wonju train station” (kindly provided by another Korean teacher), I was terrified of taking the bus. First of all, I knew which buses to take, but not where to take them (turns out the stop is across the street). Second, I speak no Korean. And third, I am TERRIBLE with directions, recognizing landmarks, or generally paying enough attention to remember to get off the bus. The thought of ending up even further in the middle of nowhere, with no phone or any way of getting back, was more than intimidating. So when KT offered to go to Wonju together, my answer was YES YES YES! Plus, I freakin’ adore classical music.

In the end, another Korean teacher (the one who wrote me the print out – let’s call her NH) came with us for the concert. The bus ride was beautiful! Gangwon might be the most rural province in Korea, but it’s also one of the most scenic. I wish I could have used my camera – the battery died, and I don’t have a converter. I lost my only one when I lost my pencil case at the airport 😦 But, I will be definitely taking the bus to Wonju again, so there are plenty of photo ops ahead!

Both the 51 and the 55 bus go to AK Plaza in Wonju. AK Plaza is one of their main shopping areas, and there is a cluster of restaurants and shops around it, including the Lotte Mart, which is their mega mart. Lotte Mart has a huge selection of EVERYTHING! The AK Plaza itself is like a high-end department store with 5 levels to shop in. I didn’t get much of a chance to look through the shops before the concert started, but we did go into Lotte Mart to buy some fast food and snacks for the show. The super markets here have a “delicatessen” section in the back, but instead of serving sandwiches and pasta salads, these delicatessens cook up hot noodle soups, fried mandu (dumplings), and other delicious things like pork cutlet! They also have display fridges where they sell pre-packed (but really fresh) foods, like sushi rolls and fried chicken skewers. I bought a salmon and eels sushi rolls pack. Mmmm! Then we took a taxi to the outdoor concert arena.

The arena was rather empty, but had a gorgeous view of the mountains. It kind of looked like a small sports stadium, with the stage at the bottom in the centre. One whole section of the audience was filled with Korean soldiers, on break, it seems. KT told me later that this particular festival had started out originally as a concert given by the military orchestra.

The concert itself was pretty good. Started with the William Tell Overture, and then went into the opera pieces and never went back to the symphony 😦 I personally find operas kind of boring, and after listening to the symphony, the added singing makes the orchestra seem really cheesy. They also decided to play the more cliché pieces, like la Donna el Mobile, and some Korean pop songs? Songs from Korean movies, I think. Poor KT was falling asleep by the end haha!

The concert finished at about 8:30, but by the time I made it home by bus, it was about 9:30 and I was dead tired. A combination of jet lag and wrangling a bunch of 5th graders. They have sooo much energy it’s ridiculous! Even though I’m repeating the same lesson for each class, it takes so much effort just to speak loudly, never mind organizing a game. Guess I’ll just have to get used to it!

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