Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
114Trip End May 23, 2008
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· GMT +8:00 hours
It's not supposed to be like this anymore
We mailed some 9kg's of stuff the other day, so aren't our bags supposed to be manageable? Well, you'd never think so looking at us - two veritable piles of bags - making our way to Seoul's Express Bus Terminal yesterday afternoon. The culprits were our latest bag of laundry and a bag containing our shoes, two bags of stuff that would normally be in our main backpacks (the lighter than normal backpacks we had strapped to our backs). Yes, we procrastinated (again) when packing for this move to Jochiwon, shoving stuff into plastic bags rather than neatly packing them away into our backpacks, where they should be. We don't have to do a real repack until we're forced to do so, which will be when we're preparing to leave Korea for China in February. Another culprit adding to our bulk was the bag holding our Christmas tree & decorations, a tree that, being December 20th, was wondering why it wasn't doing what it was made to do.
After leaving Jay's apartment yesterday afternoon we had to make our way up the narrow, market-lined street we'd walked dozens of time in the past two-and-a-bit weeks (to get to the subway, which in turn would take us to the bus terminal..... the logistics are quite rudimentary really). Unknowns to ourselves we'd made a few friends in the Oksu neighbourhood of Seoul we'd called home since December 1st. The pizza man said goodbye to us as we wobbled by, as did the mandu lady and even a few of the ajumma's (old ladies) manning the stalls of fish, fresh vegetables and pieces of pig we tried so hard not to pull over as we passed by. But, mission accomplished - we made it to the subway station, made it to the bus terminal, made it onto the 6:30pm bus to Jochiwon and made it to Jochiwon itself. Next stop Korea University Campus, the location for the latest installment of Camp Korea (CK).
TIMEOUT - CK what?
Before we go any further we understand that some of you might not know exactly what Camp Korea (CK) is. So, let's just give a quick recap, especially considering we're going to be reporting from it for the next 6 weeks. It's a twice annual (January & July/August), 1-month long English camp for Korean kids aged anywhere from 5 to 14 (approx). They come here to be immersed in an English speaking environment for a month, the aim being that it will improve their English ability (I assume I didn't really need to state that oh so obvious bit). CK is the reason both of us first came to Korea - me in January 2003 and Meg in July/August 2005, the camp we actually met at (I was also here in July/August 2004 & January 2006). Between us we have attended 5 camps as teachers, enough experience, evidently, to enable us to be head teachers for this one. A head teachers role is basically to monitor and support the camp teachers. The role requires us to report for duty a week earlier than the teachers so we have sufficient time to do all we need to do to prepare the camp for their arrival. Finally, not only has our roles in CK changed from previous camps, but so has the location. This is the first time we'll be working in CK and not working in the dorms of Hallym University, Chun cheon, our usuall stomping ground. Seemingly the consistently bad cafeteria food served in Hallym and the less that ideal dorm conditions (neither of which we ever found a problem with by the way) neccessiated a change to a different location... and so with that said here we are in CK Jochiwon. New role, new location. We are a little bit sad that we're not going back to the dorms of Hallym University. It is, after all, were we met and this is our honeymoon. Where's the justice in that we ask you? Right, now that you're up to speed, let's get back to the entry proper.
Getting out of the taxi at Korea University yesterday evening we thought we'd landed on some distant, uninhabited planet. It was dark, the air was thick with fog and once the taxi had left there was no noise or sign of life. It was eerie. Only a few lights were on in the closed looking building that our bags were piled in front of, the building the taxi driver gestured was the building the piece of paper we handed him requested we be taken to. The closed looking building wasn't in fact closed and we waited by the security desk for some sign of life to appear. It appeared, it being the/a security guard, some 20 minutes later, sneaking up behind Meg as she was playing like a little girl with the monitors showing the images from the CCTV cameras dotted all over the building. He lead us to another part of the outpost... sorry, building (it might have been a different building for all we know) where we were greeted by the skeleton CK staff that had arrived a few hours before us. Pheww.... familiar looking people.... Koreans, but familiar looking Koreans nonetheless.
Settling in, temporaryly
We were then lead to our dorm-room, where we were requested not to unpack as the room would only be
9am this morning. Our first meeting, the first of many we'll have over the next 6 weeks (there is officially 2 a day). We were in a room with some 13 Koreans, all of them with varying duties that collectively will, all going to plan, pull these camps together. Everyone was jovial, ready for action. So were we. We were told the meetings would be held in English, with Korean spoken only briefly if getting the point across in English proves to difficult. We liked that touch. After all, we are only 2 of 15. Anyway, we got our immediate duties - look through the CV's (resumes) of the 46 hired foreign teachers (ELTs'), those arriving in a week, and assign them to a class based on their experience and class preference. No problem, but first things first - breakfast. The news wasn't good. No more of the toast, cereal or bananas that our systems have become well accustomed to. Nope, today it was some sort of pork based soup with rice. Don't get me wrong - it was nice and we did consume it. But you know by now our preference for consuming such food first thing, a time of the days that our systems are expecting toast, cer.....well, you know. We were told by Elaine, the on-site boss, that the cafeteria (we've heard great things about this cafeteria, one of the main reasons CK moved their camps from our old stomping ground of Chun Cheon to here in Jochiwon) will not be open again until Monday (today is Friday) but until then it'll be ordered-in Korean food - morning (not ideal.... I'm stopping short of calling it a 'problem'), noon (fine, as long as it's not raw fish) and night (fine, as long as it's not raw fish). Of course we were asked if this was okay, to which we replied,
"Of course, no problem..... don't worry about us westerners",meaning you guys obviously have enough on your plate so let us worry about how we're going to make it through the weekend. We've already lost enough weight over the last few months so a few more pounds won't kill us. Or will it?
We spent the rest of the day fulfilling the task we were given earlier and getting the impression that we'll be working long hours, 7 days a week for the next 6 weeks. But we kind of expected that.
The path of least resistance
Our schedule for tomorrow, the one we were handed in the meeting, states that we have to do 'Detailed planning for camps'. We're not sure what that means or will entail, but we'll report bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning and eager to do what we're told. That's what we're here to do - do what we're told. I had heard, and read, from others with previous experience in this role (you know who you are) that working with CK Koreans to run a camp is a frustrating experience, and that while they always appear to be open to suggestions for making this whole task, and how to go about doing it, easier they never seriously take any of them on board. In one ear, out the other. But that's fine with us. It's our first time in this role and we're not here to get frustrated or, more importantly, reinvent the wheel - after 7 years experience running camps CK is a well oiled machine and they know what they are doing. As I said, we'll do our jobs as told and, like water running down a hill or electricity flowing though a circuit, we'll adopt the path of least resistance approach to it all. With any luck that approach will leave us more time for enjoying each other (we're still on honeymoon after all), the wonders of our Christmas tree and, of course, leave me with more time to tell all you guys about our non-frustrating adventures here in camp.
Day 129 & 130 Observations (December 20th & 21st 2007)
· Getting above their station?
The Chinese embassy in Seoul doesn't like dealing with people anymore. We know that because before we left Seoul yesterday we paid a visit to the embassy to apply for my Chinese visa, the one I'll need to enter China when we leave Korea in early February (we'll figure out when to get Meg's visa when we get her new shiny passport from the Canadian embassy in a few weeks time). I'd gotten visas from this embassy before and the process never involved anything more than filling out a simple application form, paying the fee and standing in a queue a couple of times (once to submit your passport, once to collect it). But I knew there was something different about the procedure this time around when we were accosted by travel agent touts for visas as we made our way up the hill to the Chinese Embassy. The sign outside the embassy itself explained it all -
PLEASE APPLY FOR A VISA THROUGH A RECOGNISED TRAVEL AGENT
What? Another notice went on to explain that on August 17th 2007 the embassy stopped accepting applications for visas. It also gave a list of 20 travel agents in Seoul that the embassy have approved for accepting visa applications, the price you should be charged for the visa and, most importantly, the service fee the travel agent shouldn't exceed for providing the service of getting the visa for you. Having read the notices we then understood what the touts, the ones circiuling behind us like blood-thirsty sharks, were offering and we reluctantly went with one of them to a nearby travel agent. Once there I proceeded to negotiate a fair service price for the visa.
So the Chinese embassy decided to throw down the shutters, paste a notice outside and divert all and sundry looking for a visa to a travel agent. Interesting way for an embassy to do business, don't you think? Something tells me the Chinese are getting a bit big for their boots. All that money must be going to their head.
· DF Refund
Two wrongs do sometimes make a right.
Speaking of money, remember my little duty free purchase dilemma from a couple of entries back? Of course you do. Well, after our visit to the travel agent we paid another visit to the shop to.... well, do a bit of backtracking I guess. Once there I proceeded to explain, and thus confound my initial lie, that our departure details from Korea had changed and thus I would, unfortunately, have to cancel my purchase. I also made it clear that while I didn't need consoling about the fact that I had to cancel my purchase, I would be requiring a refund .... please. No problem, as it turned out. So you see, while lying does indeed get you into trouble, it can also get you out if it too. Just don't tell the children, okay?
Where I stayed