Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #4: Checking In - by Georgina Selander

Blog 4: Checking In

“Do you have any baggage to check in, mam?”

I heave my gargantuan suitcase onto the scale. I know I’m a few kilos off but what happens next I’m not expecting.

“Mam, you’re 16 kilos overweight. Please remove some items or pay in $60…”

“$60? Okay, I can do that…”

“No mam. $60 per kilogram.”

Oh god. That’s half of my savings. Don’t cry. Too late.

20 hours later I arrived at Incheon Airport. Following instruction, my first task was to contact my hotel to organise a pick-up. I locate a payphone, scramble for a handful of silver coins and dial the number. Instantly I’m greeted by a barrage of rapid Korean.

“Um, hello. Is this the International Guesthouse?”



“My name is Georgina and…”

“Oh, yes. I fetch you now.”


“Okay. Where shall I meet you?”

“Entrance six. 15 minutes. Bye.”

Wait – what?

I locate entrance six. Stepping outside is like walking onto the Alaskan plains. Barefoot. Ten minutes later I’m in a white sedan (heated seats, nogal) and on my way to the hotel. 

“Tonight you have roommate. She from America.”

Great. 20 hours on a plane and three different time zones. The last thing I feel like is a chatty yank who wants to know why (if I’m from Africa) am I white?

Turns out I shouldn’t have been so judgey. Shannon and I connected instantly and we’ve been friends ever since.

Fast forward a couple of hours and I’m on my way to Yesan – the small county which will be my ‘home town’ for the next year.

Driving through the countryside, I realise it’s a lot more rural – and industrial – than I expected. And although the thought of a remote area sparked an image of rolling greens and golden mountain scapes, the landscape is in fact dry and stark.

That being said, spring time is fast approaching – which means the area will soon be transformed by hundreds of blooming cherry blossoms and the abundant apple orchards for which my area is famous.

I was taken to my apartment by one of my co-teachers, Mrs Ha. Upon opening the door, I was met with a musty smell best described as ‘grandma’s closet’. Nevertheless, it’s a cosy set-up – and the previous tenant left behind a hoard of useful items – including a collection of classic novels, a large bottle of shampoo and a rusty razor.

After my co-teacher left, the first point of call was to go to the bathroom. All morning I’d been dying for the loo – but was too shy to speak up. Within minutes, a minor crisis ensued. Upon flushing, water began rising rapidly in the bowl – and soon started flowing over the rim of the seat.

Thou cream-faced loon! What do I do now? 

The basic Korean phrases I knew definitely didn’t extend to “excuse me, my toilet is overflowing – can you help?”

Eventually, after a number of vivid gestures, the problem was solved by means of a non-English-speaking Korean handy-man. Or was he the landlord??

It’s now been two weeks that I’ve been in this strange, magical land. And compliments of the welcoming locals, it’s been a smooth ride.

The culture of respect here continues to amaze and delight me. Simple things like a bow (when greeting) or folding one hand into the crease of the other arm (when giving or receiving something) is foreign to my South African upbringing – and yet so indicative of the courteous and kind Korean society into which I am slowly assimilating.

And the teaching aspect? Well that’s a whole ‘nother story! Next time shall we?