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Taxi’s in Korea are Bizarre!

8 Aug

It is rather ironic that the day I begin to write this happens to be the one day I don’t actually get a taxi to work as they are on strike. Why they are on strike, I don’t know, but to be honest a lot of things that these taxis do makes little sense to me…

For example in about 90% of the taxi’s I’ve been in, seatbelts don’t exist, in the rest they are almost frowned upon.One taxi in particular refused to drive me unless I stopped attempting to put my seatbelt on! This particular crazed taxi driver took it to such an extent that that he pulled over, got out, took the seatbelt from my grasp and preceded to tut and shake his head. Maybe he was offended? Maybe he is a very experienced, incredibly safe and efficient driver with every interest in keeping his passengers safe without the discomfort of a belt pulling at your waist. HA!  No, no, no, no, no; This was to test my steel! You whimpish yongooks (english foreigner) with your poncy seatbelts and your untangled electricity cables is probably a closer estimation of his reasoning. Maybe health and safety is just another eccentricity we English possess? As with most things in Korea, it has to be done FAST. A taxi ride is like being in an unofficial race that your always losing.

Also, is it my naivety? You see, I presumed traffic lights had the same meaning everywhere in the world? In Korea however, particularly for taxi drivers; green is go very fast, amber is go even faster and red is slow down, take a quick glance and if the chances of being hit are relatively low instantly speed up again. I can only assume this is again down to the pace of life  in Korea. Interestingly, I have never seen any taxi or car being pulled over by the police for doing this, they just seem to accept it

A typical taxi ride for me consists of getting in, not fastening my seatbelt (if there is one!) for fear of offending, checking whether the driver is using his sat nav as a navigational device or to watch a baseball game, (yes, Korean taxi drivers drive around watching TV via their Sat Nav. I find myself questioning whether or not this is legal but there I go again with my eccentric English ways).  I sit holding onto my seat discreetly but with claw-like vice grip. Sit tight, I say to myself, let’s hope we make it to the destination in one piece. At least on this roller coaster journey the admission fee is incredibly low and like all paid services in Korea you aren’t expected to tip.


Weekend (from hell)

8 Aug

Our first weekend in Korea was going to be three days long as the Monday was Buddha’s birthday. So after asking other foreign teachers, the one place most mentioned as the place to go was Busan in the South of Korea, (South, South Korea). After being told about beautiful beaches and a relaxing atmosphere we were sold. We decided to get a bus down on the Saturday, admittedly we slept in longer than we’d have liked, so arrived at the bus terminal around half 2. We were told that the next available bus wouldn’t be until 7. In hindsight, we should have decided there and then not to go as the bus takes 3 and a half hours, but we thought if we stay until Monday it would be worth it. So we bought our tickets and waited, and waited, and then waited for the bus to arrive. When it came it was the most comfortable bus I have EVER been on, the seats are what I’d imagine they would have in the first class area on BA flight. In fact, the bus was the undeniable the highlight of the weekend.

We arrived in Busan at around 10:30pm, the next task was to work out the subway to get to the beach area. The subway it turned out had a lot of signs in English and was suprisingly easy to get around on. So it’s now 11:30 and we’re there. Armed with a phrase book and a guide with hotel names in we look for a taxi to take us to a hotel. After a good while waiting we got one, got in and pointed to the name of a hotel in the guide. The Taxi Driver says ‘no’, so we point to another, ‘no’ again. We look up hotel in the phrasebook, again we get a straight forward ‘no’. Does he just not like us? Confused we got out and went to the beach area on foot as we were told this is where most hotels are.

On our way to the beach we notice a lot of drunken rowdy people stumbling about, this doesn’t seem that relaxing after all. In fact, if I had to compare it to anywhere, it would be the Korean Magaluf. We reach the beach after dodging taxis and drunks to discover ALL hotels are fully booked. After about an hour of walking around being rejected we bumped into some other foreigners who have given up finding a hotel and plan to stay up until 5am when a spa opens and sleep there. (Recent Edit: we had no idea at this point about the overnight option of Jimjilbangs, oh if we’d known). So after being confirmed we won’t be able to find a hotel we decided to find somewhere to eat. After spotting a restaurant that looked nice we decided to sit down (on the floor). Now most restaurants in Korea are very friendly, this wasn’t most. We attempted to order through the method of pointing, which the waitress somehow took to mean we want 3 courses despite there only being 2 of us. Tired, and unable to find words in the phrasebook to argue, we accepted this as were starving. The food was okay but very filling, and cost 67,000 won, which we had come to learn works out as quite expensive by Korean standards. We paid, left looking for a late bar to spend the night and got the first bus home.

We then decided to get a taxi to anywhere with a hotel. Again, armed with the phrase book, we found a taxi, who unfortunately can’t understand anything English or Korean we say. Thankfully, a passerby stops and takes pity on us and offers to translate, we didn’t catch his name but this good Samaritan may have just saved our weekend.

However, after a 15 minutes in the taxi to the next area we still had no luck in finding a hotel with a vacancy. EVERY hotel in Busan appeared to be booked, we would have at this point willingly stayed in a stable if any hotel had one going spare. Our only hope was to find a bar for the night and promptly leave in the morning. We found a bar, had a few beers, played the longest game of name-a-celebrity-beginning-with-the latter-letter-of-a-previously-said-celebrity, (does this game have a name? If not I’m now calling it The Celeb’ Name Game), and tried to look on the bright side, (we’re in South Korea – not North Korea!) After 2 hours of The Celeb’ Name Game the sun was coming up, so we grabbed a hot chocolate, got the subway, hopped on the bus all by 7:30 am. The rest of the weekend was spent sleeping and trying to forget about our trip to Busan.

Jonathan and Tamsyn


Our Scary First Week in Korea

8 Aug

We arrived in Korea Sunday 20th May at about 11:30 am. We then briefly met our recruiter at Incheon airport who then put us on a bus to a place called Cheongju. This apparently cost 8,700 won each, which at the time meant absoloutly nothing to us. Tired and weary from travelling, which including the time difference had taken 24 hours. Tamsyn slept as I was taking in the sites of what would be our new home for the next 12 months. Incheon airport is on an island just off Korea connected by a massive bridge. The journey to Chengju was 2 and a half hours but not very scenic.

We were then met off the bus by representatives from each of our schools, mine including ; a Korean teacher, the foreign teacher i’m replacing, his girlfriend and the director of my school’s husband. Tamsyn’s consisted of just one Korean teacher from her school. We were then taken out for dinner and got told about life in Korea and what to expect in our new jobs. We were also told something our recruiter had failed to mention in our conversations over the phone. I would be living in a place called Cheongju, Tamsyn would be living in a place called Ochang, which is roughly a 15 minute car ride away. Not too bad except we plan to live together, which we made very clear to our recruiter who led us to believe our schools would only be 30 minutes walk from each other. So first day, first disaster. As Tamsyn is also working Kintergarden 10:30 – 12:30 Monday to Thursday and I don’t start work until 1:30 every day we decided to live in Ochang and I would take a taxi or bus to work.

When we arrived at the apartment further disasters awaited. Second disaster; the internet didn’t work and the man who could sort this out was away until the Tuesday. Third disaster; the toilet blocked but I won’t go into details about that.

Then to top it all off, we were also told we would be teaching a class solo as soon as possible. All I could think was “I have no idea what to do”, I’ll talk more about the teaching in a later entry, as I feel I’m ranting a lot and there is still A LOT more to complain about coming up.

So that’s basically how our life in Korea started, not the best but they say ‘things can only get better’.

Jonathan and Tamsyn.

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