waking up at 7 a.m. today. I’m a strict nine+ hour sleeper, and with jet lag, etc., I was worried that I might sleep through my alarm. Not to worry! Skype decided to test call me (???!!!) at 3 a.m., and my overachieving body refused to return to sleep, so I stopped fighting at 4.00 – there’s nothing less productive than lying in bed trying to count sheep. I mean, I was literally trying to count sheep. I imagined a fence and counted each one that jumped over. Readers, this is a much harder activity than you would think. It’s hard to conjure a realistic looking sheep, and it’s actually hard to keep them appearing. (Also, my mind tends to throw its own non-sheep images in and things get weird.)
Anyways, so I hopped up, flipped my lights on, and got some Hairspray going. The music, not the product. I am writing this as a freshly showered, newly converted morning person.
So: I know what you’re thinking – Why no entry yesterday? I’m all alone in a new country with scads of free time on my hands, right? Well that would be right if I didn’t spend 6+hours trying to a) figure out a place to buy groceries/household goods (online I discovered E-mart, a Korean version of Walmart, and Costco – yes, Costco) b) figure out the closest location of one of the stores, and c) navigate the non English friendly bus system.
What I did yesterday
– Resolved to stop using 7-11 as an all purpose grocery store (as per the suggestion of my boyfriend). I have used it to buy water, milk, and soap. Actually, I bought a Dove “beauty bar” and hoped it was soap. Seriously Dove? I understand that beauty bar sounds more luxurious, but if I want soap, I want to know that it’s soap.
– Ordered Kimbop! It’s the Korean version of sushi, and I have a little local restaurant a couple minutes (walk) down the road. They sell the rolls for as low as 1,200 won, about a dollar. A dollar for a sushi roll? Yes please. Also, if you eat in, you get a side of kimchi and radish and a bowl of soup – all included. These are not Stockholm prices. The ladies in the restaurant kept speaking to me in Korean even though it was extremely obvious that I had none of the language. They were pretty delighted when I thanked them in Korean at the end though (that’s how you do life – set expectations low and reap the excitement when you surpass.)
– Saw one other non-local the whole day. Didn’t say hi as I was in a rush and he was looking quite standoffish, and also the teacher I’m replacing warned me that a creeper lives in my building (but she identified him as wearing a plaid hat all the time, which this guy was not.)
– Mapped my schedule on Google maps.My instructions looked similar to this:
Walk to 공릉입구
|About 11 mins (700 m)|
Bus towards 신성여객-영등포
|(23 mins, 22 stops)
Service runs every 15 mins
Unfortunately, I have not quite learned Hangul, the Korean lettering system. So I had to stare at the characters on my paper, create meaning for them in my mind, and try to match them with what appeared to be the bus destinations. Ie. – look for bus going to the place spelled: snowman with hat guy then backwards S, then head sitting on chair. This didn’t work too well for me as I didn’t know where the bus direction was listed. I would have asked the driver (or showed him my sheet), but they made me nervous as they drive like they’re carting pregnant women to a hospital. Also, I’m a strong, independent woman who has navigated many a bus system. (OK, like two and they were both in English/used English characters).
So basically I knew the number of the bus I wanted but didn’t know which side of the street to choose. One happened to be arriving as I did, so I hopped into that one, playing my reasonable odds of 50-50. Gambling is not for me. I spent over an hour on that little misadventure because I didn’t get off until I was good and sure that I had missed the stop. When I got off and crossed the street for my return trip, I realized that I happened to be on a bus that comes (at most) every half hour. This feels longer when you’re the only paleface in town and it’s chilly and you’re tired and there’s no place to sit. I watched at least 12 other buses pass before mine came. And boy do you have to be aggressive with buses here – none of the Swedish drivers who pull over if someone’s standing at the stop. You have to gesture.
Anyways, when I got back I realized half of the buses that had passed me would have taken me home. I spent the next few minutes writing down every bus that goes to my stop (there are a bunch).
I went up and took an extended nap. I then tried the bus thing again, only going the opposite direction. I counted each bus stop as Google didn’t seem to have all the names right (or I just suck). I got off at the 9th one – yes, the 9th one Google! This was incorrect. I finally talked to a bus driver (of a random bus), showing him the name of the stop I wanted to get to, and he looked at it, said something affirmative and gestured for me to hop aboard. I was the only passenger. We made a turn that I was pretty sure wasn’t in my directions (Oh, I have no phone internet yet, so there was no way for me to look things up once en route), and he pulled to the side of the street, made a phone call, and looked stuff up on his phone. Finally he started saying some apologetic sounding words, and pointed across the street.
No, Mr. Bus driver, I did not want you to take me to a random side street with random electronic stores. We are not “here.”
These were not my words. I nodded, thanked him, and hopped off. I then vaguely remembered reading that if Koreans don’t know where something is, they are too ashamed to admit it, and will point you somewhere random. As an American, I would only ever give someone bad directions if I deliberately wanted to mess with them. Ah cultural differences.
Long story short: I spotted a taxi, recalled that they were supposed to be cheap, and hopped in, saying “E-mart.” (I had also read that you could do this.) He said something incomprehensible to me and I showed him the Korean address of the E-mart I wanted to go to. It took about 15 minutes (?) and was 4,000 won (4ish dollars). Again, not Stockholm prices. Would I have gladly paid that amount originally and spared myself hours of buses and waiting and squinting at the clever little circles and lines that constitute hangul? Perhaps. On the way home, I used a taxi again, as it was dark and I was carrying pot, pan, dishes, hammer, nails – lots of stuff. Ultimately: day=success.