Friday, November 28, 2008

Long time no write

Yes, I know I’ve kinda been slacking off on the writing. Steph! You’re supposed to be keeping me motivated – bad friend! Bad! Eh… who’m I kiddin? I forgive you… =)

The truth is that the newness is starting to wear off a bit, I guess. I mean – I have my apartment pretty much settled… well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t have any food, or anything to cook food in, should it magically appear in my fridge. Or anything to eat it with, should it magically appear precooked for whatever reason. I mean hey, the ways of wizards are strange and wonderful, right? Anyway, I’ve still been eating out for dinner every night – let’s see. I had tak kalbi (chicken, Korean rice cakes, veggies; then when most of the food is gone, they come by and throw some woodong noodles on the rest, for dessert-like) one night, which was especially delicious (mashi-so-yo… this is delicious!). Last night I had ja jang myun, which is like thin (rice? Maybe?) noodles with a black bean garlic sauce and onions. Also delicious. Those two were suggestions by the girls I work with, Mi Sun and Mi Jin. So they took me out and paid for dinner and everything – you’re fantastic, ladies! Thanks! Although, next time it’s my treat, so yeah… see ya next year! Ha… anyway. Tonight I had spicy chicken with bean sprouts and rice, but I didn’t catch the Korean name. Betcha can’t guess how good it was!

So, I started teaching (real classes, at the actual school) but I’ve had 4 classes all week and no more till Monday. They’re ok – it’s by far the easiest job I’ve ever had. Although, beginning next week I will start doing extra classes with each grade, bumping me up to 16 classes a week. And seein as how I’ve never actually put together a lesson plan before, or really tried to teach little kids to do anything at all, apart from play baseball, (Go Park Ridge Junior National Cubs! And yes, that is the last time you’ll ever hear me root for the Cubs) well, it should be interesting. If anyone out there has some advice for teaching beginner English classes to 6 and 7-yo’s, or how to start, um, yeah, hit me up. Thanks ya’ll.

So – here are some new things I’ve gotten in the last couple days.

1) My foreigner registration card! This was great! Arrived a whole week early! This allowed me to go and get
2) My bank account. Now, when I get paid, I’ll actually be able to get the money! And spend it! And
3) My cell phone – this phone is phenomenal. It’s got mp3, camera, video, TV and radio channels that I can watch for free, I mean, the list goes on. Oh! And I can make video calls with it – like, it costs a little more, but if I hit the video call button instead of the regular one, and if the person I’m calling has one of these kickass mobile devices also, then we can see each other while we talk. Talk about freaking genius. Korea shoots – it scores! 3 points! And the crowd goes apeshit! Hhhhaaaaahhh! Hhhhhaaaahhhhhh! Uh… yeah. And finally
4) A haircut; this was kind of an adventure, but it turned out really well. At least, I think it did.

One thing I’m starting to notice about Korea, and especially about the service industry, is that these people really know how to take care of you. I think that their lack of any kind of aversion to work is responsible. Like, when you go out to eat at a decent restaurant, they might dirty 15 or 20 little bowls on a table for 2. They just think that’s the kind of service you deserve, so you end up with a whole bunch of delicious little side dishes, most of which don’t get eaten because there’s just so much damn food on the table, and it’s no big deal. Or the massage place – it was the little things that made the experience so enjoyable – the little foot bath before the massage, even though they didn’t really rub my feet. It wasn’t necessary, except as a prelude, an entry into the experience. And the green tea while she washed my feet, and the juice afterwards. You don’t really get that kinda stuff in the states, and it’s a shame. The haircut was the same way – for literally, less than $6, I got a haircut, a shampoo with a hot towel over my face, a scalp massage, and then she starts styling my hair… which I think was a challenge for her since my hair has a much thicker texture than most of the Korean hair I’ve seen. But it was a necessary part of the haircut experience, for her, even if it wasn’t for me. I don’t know… I wonder if it has anything to do with the lack of tipping here. Like, back home, tipping is pretty ingrained behavior, but if you don’t do it right, or at least enough, then you pretty much guarantee yourself a bad experience if you ever want to go back. Because they remember. Oh yes… and they do mess with your food. Trust me. Cue the dark, foreboding music…

Anyway, the real focal point of service relationships here is not the financial aspect, but the personal. For Koreans, the relationship is everything; I even read that Korea is considered a relational culture, in that you can pretty much always tell where you stand with people by the way you are treated from day to day. They won’t say anything; there will just be a drop in service. It’s like restitution because from their viewpoint, if you’ve done something rude, or impolite, you’ve diminished the quality of the relationship; so they don’t feel obligated to strive for quality on their end. It’s a difficult system for a Westerner (where money talks) to understand, I think. All I know is, one day when I didn’t smile and say hello to the cafeteria workers, I got less food than everybody else. I didn’t say anything about then, but I was a little miffed, you might say. The next day I said hello and smiled, and managed to motion that it smelled great, and I got great heaping piles of food, plus one of them even brought a bowl of extra chicken to the table for me! So now, every day I am polite and friendly, and the service is great. At each new restaurant I try to do the same, because they’ll remember. I mean, hell, there’s like 3 white people in the whole town. So my walk from the bus stop to my apartment in the afternoon is becoming quite the parade. There’s me, the beauty queen, smiling and waving in windows the whole way because I don’t want to offend anyone by avoiding them or seeming unfriendly. It’s actually made for a much nicer walk, I gotta say.

And it carries over into retail, too. When Dave the Canadian was showing me around, he mentioned a little furniture store that he liked because the guy who runs it is really nice. So we swing by. Sure enough, when he told him I was looking for a desk, the guy starts showing me everything he has in stock, then moves on to catalogs of stuff he can order if I want it. Then we made sure to get his namecard – basically a business card – and he wrote the discount he would give me on the back. Apparently, this works for almost every business in Korea. When Jill buys her computer (from a place a friend recommended, thus ensuring that she gets a discount), she’s going to get me a namecard and the same discount. This referral business thing is really well developed over here, and I love it. I mean, we’re talking about ~100,000Won… which is like 20% off, just because of the referral. I guess I could just ask for the discount and see what happens… didn’t think about that before. I like the idea of the referral network better, I guess. It incorporates an element of personal responsibility into the business relationship that is (sorely) missing in our culture.

OK – like Forrest Gump, I’m pretty tired, so I think I’ll go home now. Actually, I am home, so I’m going to watch “The Office” episodes I downloaded and go to bed. Questions, comments, concerns? You know where to find me.


Shan said...

lol....make sure your pageant wave is perfected for your parade from the bus stop ;-)

I love the referral network they have going on....I'm sure that is a huge shocker.

Riley Bear said...

Hey man, I know the sights and experiences are cool, but don't do too much at once. I mean the country is the size of Massachusetts. Before long you'll have done everything!!!
Well, since I'm not there I guess you need to do it all at least twice (once for me). Say thankya