Friday was NZ2’s 40th birthday so we were invited around to his apartment for drinks. His apartment turns out to be the penthouse of his building. Indulge my envy for a moment…This apartment is about double the size of mine which I could live with quite easily were it not for the following: Unlike mine, his bathroom has a bath with a shower over it; a proper bath that you step into. The bathroom has a separate section for the loo, basin and shower area. Granted, it still has the drain in the middle of the floor but that’s standard in all Korean bathrooms. In addition, he has bathroom cabinets, a mirror that he can reach without getting wet and it’s clean! You can still smell the copious amounts of bleach that he poured all over the floor to clean it but it’s a proper Western bathroom.
I can live with the fact that his kitchen and bedrooms are bigger than mine or that he has more cupboard space in his kitchen that I have in my entire apartment or that he has a separate lounge area. I don’t mind that he has a built-in dishwasher and grill in his kitchen, four enclosed porches and, on a clear day, a view of the sea. I don’t even mind that his apartment has more modern finishings or a great desk and bookshelf. The point is: He has a proper bathroom that I would kill for! Now, don’t get me wrong: I genuinely love my apartment and it’s greatest selling point is that I can get from my front door to my desk at school in under two minutes without killing myself but, for the tiniest moment, I would happily have traded it for the apartment with the heavenly bathroom.
Somehow, I manage to conceal my envy and NZ2 explains a few local customs to me. He also explains our colleagues’ reaction to my meltdown the previous day. NZ1 confirms this later in the evening: Apparently the last two teachers (both women) didn’t stay for the duration of their contracts which explains why this was an urgent placement. One lasted six months and the other only three weeks so our colleagues are really trying their best to keep us happy and comfortable so that we stay for at least the year I suppose. My colleagues are great: It’s having to cope with the day-to-day basics in a completely foreign environment that are completely and utterly exhausting.
Things are starting to make a bit more sense as NZ2 fills me in on several points until NZ1 and his wife arrive about two hours later. About an hour and a half later, two more waegooks arrive. They’ve been in Gunsan for about two months, working at a local hagwon (private English academy) and are thrilled to be able to explain certain things to me. During the course of the evening, I learn several important things: Firstly, soju (a local alcoholic beverage) is the downfall of many a foreigner here – the white stuff that looks like spoiled paint is apparently fantastic though; Secondly, movies are shown in their original language with Korean subtitles so I can actually go to the cinema here; Thirdly, things might just get a bit easier at work when my vice-principal gets back to school since his desk is to the left of mine and he speaks French so we share a medium of communication; Fourthly, NZ2 tells me about a Korean tour company, aimed at foreigners, that organises various trips around Korea; and, finally, Koreans make very good cake but they apparently can’t make a decent pizza.
In the early hours of the morning, after many goodnights and comments about getting together at E-mart (the highlight of excursions in our town, it seems), I make the best discovery of all: it’s safe to walk, alone, in the middle of the night even when a little tipsy on the South African wine that was my surprise discovery at E-mart.