AUGUST, 2008 : World Without Strangers

This past month has been a  big one for me. Enjoyable as well, despite people dear to me having some troubles. Thankfully, all has gone well on all fronts! August started tough and is finishing strong. In the past month, Korea went from being a possibility to a reality, as i sit here writing in a PC Bang (internet cafe) in Incheon, South Korea.

I’ll start a month ago. I had become bored in the New York/ New Jersey area and I could not really explain it. I have good friends and I had been working all summer long while living at home, so I had saved a bit of money (well, more than usual) Still, something was missing. I couldn’t place it, but while at one time I had been apprehensive about coming to Korea, I began to count the days and hours until my departure. In the two weeks before I left the states, it began to dawn on me that each time i was chillin with friends, it could be the last time i saw them for a long time. That, in itself, was sad. However, i was still happy cos I was beginning to really appreciate my friends in the US more. I always wind up comparing my friends there to my friends in India, who i grew up with. That’s an unfair comparison as most of my friends in Bangalore are family at this point. It’s been fifteen to twenty years between us so it is unfair to expect the same kind of friendship from my U.S peeps. However, my U.S peeps are being missed now. That is for sure. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

A funny aspect of my journey was that i initially felt quite adventurous for coming to Korea. I always thought that this would be an awesome experience and some sort of test for myself. However, the world is so different now, so much smaller. I think there are a few places left that would be very adventurous to go to but Incheon/Seoul certainly doesn’t seem to fit into that category… i found out later that there are places in Korea that might be that wild…Still, the area I live in is more advanced than India so I had to accept the fact that I’m not exactly Marco Polo or Chris Columbus for coming here in 2008.

So, the day came to leave. I packed and went to the airport. As i waited for boarding, i made my phone calls, saying my goodbyes. The last call i made was to my mom. This was part of our convo.

Ma : You must be excited

sid : No, not really

Ma: Nervous?

sid : No, not at all

Ma: Well, how do you feel?

sid: Nothing, really. I mean , this feels routine. This has been a possibility for months so it’s kind of anti-climactic…

And that’s how it went down. I was leavin on a jet plane, don’t know when i’ll be back again. And I might as well have been picking up my laundry.

When I got on the plane, I met this guy in my program. He was very friendly and we shot the shit for hours on the plane, telling me about his days in the Peace Corps in Tonga, an island in the South Pacific. He lived there for 2 years with no running water or electricity and nobody who spoke english. Just read book after book. Grew his own crops. Ate off the land. Loved every day. I was thinking “wow, that sounds like an adventure”  I thought of that and of how my grand-dad (who passed away before i was born) went to Champange, Illinois in the 1950s when he didn’t even speak English. He did that in an age before phones let alone the internet. He taught himself English while studying for his degree and working at a gas station on freezing cold Illinois nights. I tried to imagine him the day he left India for that journey around fifty five years ago. I couldn’t help but think that I’ll probably never experience a trip that significant…because he did it for me.

When my plane took off, I looked out the window, and just wondered what lay ahead for me. I  didn’t even feel anything, which is very rare for me. Usually, i get a little buzz on takeoff. I began to think maybe I’m growing up or something. I certainly hope that’s not the case.

When we landed in Seoul, we all went and lived in Konkauk University for a week for orientation. That was a trip. I had promised myself I was going to learn 10 words of Korean everyday and so when i left, i would be able to get by on the street at least.. Well, i fell 10 words a day short of my goal. Hey, It happens…

Orientation was technically about taking classes almost all day long, but really it just offered you a chance to meet and chill with people from all over the world. THAT was awesome. I wound up chillin  with people from Cali, Chicago, Canada, Australia, Scotland, England and mad other places. It was a proper orientation to gettin drunk internationally. So, during the days we learned a lot about Korea and at night, we found out about bars and street food like deep fried squid, seaweed and awesome korean hot dogs. During the days, we occasionally had a great lecture that would give you enough pep to make it through the boring ones. Despite the long days (9am to 7pm average), we felt great all week and i’m happy that I used almost every single moment in trying to meet and learn about the other people there. Still trying to process it all, thank god for facebook!

Orientation came to an end two days ago. Although we were all ready to bounce to our final destinations, I couldn’t help but feel sad to say bye to my new friends who won’t be living near me. These kind of jobs attract people who are typically kind, fun, real and just chill.

Hopefully, we all stay in touch.

Next, I left on a bus for Incheon, my new home, it’s literally outside Seoul, same Subway line and everything. My co-teacher picked me up and we introduced each other. Her name is MeeYong and the first thing she said to me was “Oh, you are very tall. I don’t know if you will like your apartment. We were hoping you would be short.” I was surprised how perfect her English is. Turns out that she has lived in England and everything. Next, she told me that we were on our way to sign a contract for my flat. I said “but are you sure i can stand up straight in the flat?” She said “Yes, you can in the living room but not in the bedroom” Hmmm. I enjoy standing straight and this was getting a little Being John Malkovich for me so i asked if we could just check out the flat first and then sign the contract. Well, it’s a sweet pad, studio with a split level upstairs bedroom, kind of japanese style i guess. I can’t stand in the bedroom and in fact i can touch the ceiling when I’m laying in bed. Still, it looks awesome and I feel like I’m in a movie or something.

After my contract signing, I was late for a dinner where my school’s staff was waiting for me. Over here, when they go out, EVERY PERSON in the staff goes out and they sit in a Korean style restaurant where they eat all kinds of good food with a lot of beer and soju (Korean Liquor, kind of like a watered down vodka). I am not a fan of Soju but they told us at orientation repeatedly that in Korea, when you say “I don’t like drinking”, you are really saying “I don’t like you”. CLASSIC. I walked in late and when i walked in, everyone started clapping and people were yelling ‘Ohhhhhhh!!!!!!” and ‘Wowwww” and things like that. Haha, i don’t know what they were imagining but i’m sure it wasn’t me! A few shots of Soju later, I was tight with the Princy and Vice-Princy. Can you believe it turned out the party we were at was the going away party for my principal? I literally met him on his last day. He hired me, got me my sweet apartment and was a very cool guy. I hope the next guy is as cool, I’ll meet him monday. At dinner, the P.E teacher (It’s amazing how they are always the same in every country!) stood up, flexed and pointed at me. I must have looked confused because he said to me in perfect english “please stand up and turn around and introduce yourself to everybody in the school” Thank God for Soju because I was quite relaxed and i just said “Hello, my name is Siddharth. I’ve come here from the U.S. Everybody has been very nice to me since I have been in Korea. I’d like to thank you all for that. I love this place and I’m going to try to do a good job.”

Job starts tomorrow. I’m going to go in and meet the little hellraisers for the first time.

stern disiplinarian

stern disiplinarian

I can’t wait. I feel nervous. I feel excited. A friend was telling me it’s just Anticipation… My co-teacher warned me that the DongAhm middle school boys are worse than other schools and I might be a little dissapointed. I imagine that’s what our faculty told new teachers at my schools my whole life! I’m sure they are immature, impatient, naughty kids. Well, that’s how i always was and that is how I am. I would like to think I have seen all the angles on misbehaviour and can psyche these dudes out. Still, I think this will be an epic battle waged over the next year. Look for me to post the latest on here and thanks for reading if you are still with me! Peace!!

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