Saturday, November 20, 2010

(Dis)Orientating Myself in Gunsan Day 3 & 4 (2 - 3 October 2010)

After sleeping for nearly 17 hours, I slowly convince my aching body to get out of bed and take a shower.  I can’t sleep away my first weekend in Gunsan. Besides, even with the ondol (central heating) switched off, my apartment still feels like a furnace –  I don’t know how I’m going to survive the summer here; the humidity is already slowly killing me.

A refreshing shower, followed by a leisurely breakfast of good old Western cereal – combined with the fact that my laptop battery has finally died and I still didn’t have a power cable that works in Korea – and I am ready to explore.  Summoning my inner lion, I confidently walk out the front door of my apartment building and into one of my neighbours.  A game of charades follows with no real winner and I’m once again on my merry way paying careful attention to my route as I still don’t know my address.

I walk along the main road knowing that, at some point, I’ll pass the Paris Baguette bakery that was pointed out to me yesterday.  Public telephones! I try to phone South Africa without much success.  This is when I realise that so unprepared am I that I don’t even know the international dialling code to phone out of Korea.  I continue in my search for a computer shop.  I pass several stores that say “PC” but don’t appear to be computer stores.  One looks particularly interesting and I decide further exploration is necessary.  Unfortunately, the neat row of shoes just inside the door presents an unexpected challenge.

I know that one is expected to remove one’s shoes when entering homes and restaurants and other places about which I’m still not certain but, wearing flip-flops, I try to work out whether or not I can enter a store barefoot.  After 10 minutes of careful consideration – and still no clear answer – I decide to end my explorations and return home.  I’ve been careful not to stray from the main road so I’m home sooner than expected and dread the thought of cleaning my apartment.

Still stalling

After another early night and late-ish morning, I convince myself that I cannot clean my apartment without certain supplies – namely, gloves! – so I once again venture out in the general direction of the bakery and the market next door where I find supplies with unexpected ease.

The bakery, as I’ve now discovered, is fantastic and produces food that I actually recognise!  A few croissants in hand, and I’m feeling slightly better about having to clean my apartment.  The road home leads to another strange encounter when a local stops me and starts chattering away in Hangeul.  I find myself shaking my head and frantically trying to recall the Hangeul for “I don’t speak Korean” since English, shaking my head and the dumbfounded look of utter incomprehension don’t seem to be communicating this successfully.  Giving up, he shakes my hand and bids me farewell – in English!  Walking away from yet another confusing round of charades, all I’ve understood from the encounter was something about Mongolia and the big scar on my throat from an earlier thyroidectomy.

Feeling a little braver, I decide to explore down another main road where I encounter a dog.  My first thought, I’m ashamed to admit, is Someone’s lunch? as I look around me.  The dog seems just as wary of me and we dance an awkward half-circle around each other before each continuing on our way.

My second venture leads me little closer to the sea: I can smell it, I can taste it, I can feel a sea breeze on my perspiring face and my hair is curling so much that I’m in danger of it springing off my head entirely but I still have not seen the ocean.  Reluctantly, I head home to tackle my apartment. 

Armed with latex gloves, I proceed to scrub what appears to be years of dirt from the kitchen cupboards and stove.  I can’t start a new week with everything still piled on my tiny table.  Three hours later, all that remains to be done is sweep and mop – if I can figure out how to fix the new mop I broke when opening it.  I’m feeling rather proud of myself at this point and relish in a hot shower, pasta and sauce and an audio book for the rest of the evening.

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