Two Small Victories, One Giant Frustration and a few Tiny Observations

For being the self-proclaimed “most wired country in the world”, it sure is a pain in the ass to get a wifi signal in Seoul. I had better access last week in the middle of nowhere. At least the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” not only lives up to its name, it could kick Korea’s ass in a free wifi competition. Even Yawnsville, USA has two coffeeshops with free wireless. There are internet cafes every hundred feet in my Seoul neighborhood and they are filled with cigarette smoke, zitty teenagers playing videogames and no wifi. I can use a computer for approximately $1 per hour, but I cannot skype, I cannot load photos and I cannot access anything from my own computer.

Throw me a bone, Korea. I’m in the isolation/need-contact-with-the-English-speaking-world phase of my acclimatization. I thought you were “wired”, dude. I feel so duped. I trusted you.

But the worst part is that I can’t get in touch with anyone I know in Seoul…none of us have cell phones yet and are all dependent upon skype. And we are all crawling around our apartments with our laptops to find the one corner on the floor with one bar of a wireless signal. Email is the only way anyone has of contacting me at the moment aside from showing up at my front door. I like to be alone, but this is ridiculous. The plus side is that I am reading a lot of books.

On a jollier note, I jumped two hurdles today. First, I purchased tampons. That should help explain my rosy demeanor. This was harder than one would expect. I mean, really, how do you even know that you are buying tampons, let alone the right kind? The biggest problem I am finding with trying to read & learn Hangul is that it’s like I am totally distracted with how pretty it is that I am making no effort to actually try and read it. It’s one of those moments I wish Janelle was here to catch me in the act and smack me. “You’re just staring at the pretty pictures again, aren’t you?” Guilty as charged.

Second, I opened a bank account through broken English and lots of hand gestures. Good thing I have lots of practice with hand gestures. This means I can get paid, reimbursed airfare, etc. It also means that I signed a form I cannot read. That is an exceptionally comforting feeling especially when it involves one’s money.

This whole living in a foreign land thing is a giant exercise in faith and trust. I trust that I will not die. I will not die from the overstimulation of my brain in doing the smallest of tasks. That opening a bank account will, in fact, not kill me. That I will not die from malnutrition because I cannot identify anything at the market other than the noodles that Mary’s mom always packed in her bag on trips to Massachusetts. That I will not die if I get on the subway and get off at the wrong stop. That I will not die if I have to wait a few more days for reliable internet at home.

I do want to share some tiny observations I’ve made since my arrival.

* Koreans drive on the right-hand side of the road just like we do in North America, however all foot traffic is opposite. I noticed quickly that I was fighting the flow of traffic as I walked down the steps into the subway and people seemed irritated that I was on the wrong side. Same goes for walking on sidewalks, through subway tunnels, grocery store aisles. It is a difficult habit to break and I keep finding myself bouncing all over the sidewalk, naturally gravitating back to the right side.

* There are so many people wearing face masks when out walking in public you’d think we were still in the middle of the SARS epidemic.

* It seems the form of exercise most favored by the older set in Korea is walking backwards. During training we saw a man across the river walking backwards slowly down the hill; twenty minutes later we saw him walking back up the hill backwards. I have seen this nearly every day since arriving in Seoul; in the public parks and on small side streets there is always someone walking backwards.

Tomorrow I am off to Japan for two days to retrieve my work visa. There is apparently excellent shopping near the consulate. I am praying for wifi.

4 Responses to “Two Small Victories, One Giant Frustration and a few Tiny Observations”

  1. eshu says:

    oh sweet Steph, you crack me up.

    i am glad you were able to buy tampons and not die.

    i am also glad that you are going to Japan, i’m so jealous… i’d like to go to Japan.

    can you take lots of pictures of people wearing their SARS masks? that made me literally laugh out loud.

    be safe and be patient, all good things come to those who wait.

  2. meeralee says:

    Steph, I knew you were a talented photographer and a kick-ass designer. I am ashamed to say that I had gotten so distracted by both of those things in recent months that I’d forgotten what a wonderful storyteller you also are. These posts are full of so much honesty, insight, and humor… I know I’m going to be checking daily for updates.

  3. Alyssa says:

    I wish I could say something insightful, humorous or even the least bit intelligent, but, alas, I think you got all those genes–not to mention that I now know it’s a fact that having a baby, while entirely worth it, makes you stupid. So all I can say is das ist gut, but please know that in those three little words is so much more. Thank you for giving me yet another reason to smile! I love you.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your new world with us! I will be here, in my not-Korea normalcy, obessively checking for updates! Besos~

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