As of today, I’ve been back in Korea for a total of 2 weeks and one day. And they’ve been a busy 2 weeks, let me tell you. I’ve been on overtime, teaching about 7 to 8 hours a day instead of 6, which is normal. But that is supposed to change in March because that’s when the new school year starts in Korea. So I’ll have a different schedule, with different students and different books. In other words, lots more adjusting to be undergone before I’ll begin to feel as if I’ve got a handle on things. In the meantime, I finally had a chance on Saturday to go to the closest Homeplus to me. Homeplus is a big grocery store/department store. It’s kind of a combination between Walmart and the mall, if you can imagine such a thing.
There are at least four Homepluses in Cheongju, and this one is about a 30 minute walk or a 5-10 minute bus ride from my apartment, which is pretty handy. It’s the same one that I usually went to when I was here last year, but from my old apartment I wouldn’t have dared attempted a walk to it because it was rather far away, even by bus it was about a 30 minute ride from me. Now to explore the many levels of Homeplus.
The ground floor is the mall part of the building. On the right is a makeup counter, and in the background you can see several small boutiques.
This is the food court, not super impressive, I know, but it serves its purpose. In the background you can see Lotteria, which is kind of like McDonald’s but greasier, from what I understand. They do burgers (including a shrimp burger), fries, sodas, and soft serve ice cream cones. But that’s only one part of the food court. Off to the left you can see a couple of other counters, and they serve up the rest of the food, which is more typically Korean fare. I even have a picture of it for you.
Koreans are quite clever and thoughtful, you see. At food courts like this, they have all the dishes they serve made up in some kind of plastic and put on display for hungry patrons to peruse, complete with prices. Those numbers are the prices in Korean won. 1,000 won is a little less than a dollar, so the 6,000 at the top left is about $5.30, which is a pretty good price because you get quite a lot of food. The more expensive dishes are for couples or families, from what I understand. At least, Sarah and Andrew would share a larger meal between them when they were here. It’s good food, too, in my opinion. Looking at the dish in the top left corner again, it has a rice and sauce mixture wrapped in a sort of an omelet (left side of plate with a red squiggle on top), a pork cutlet (front of plate), and a small shredded cabbage salad (back of plate). Cabbage is pretty popular here. But enough about food for this post, I’ll have to make an entire edition (if not two) about that sometime in the future. Let’s move on to the next floor.
Now because this is Korea, where millions of people live in a relatively small space, they don’t sprawl buildings out like we do in the States. You may have noticed in the previous picture of Homeplus that it is several stories high. The ground floor I’ve now explained, but those two upper floors that you see are actually the levels of a parking garage. The rest of the store is underground.
Trust those clever Koreans again. How can you fit a cart on an escalator? Why, make the escalator flat, of course! And add little ridges in the belt that will catch corresponding ridges in the wheels so they will be stuck fast and not run amok throughout the store.
The first floor underground is electronics, clothing, shoes, stationary, toys, bedding, basically everything non-grocery. I didn’t get pictures of much of this because I didn’t really need anything on this level. Although I did take one quick snap.
Koreans like anything with English on it, especially if it has a recognizable name of some kind from America. This can sometimes be disastrous, however, when there is a lack of understanding of what is actually written on an article of clothing. This example isn’t too bad, but just so you know: the top hat is not endorsed in any way by Indiana. I have no idea where they came up with the reference to jeans, nor do I have a clue where the year 1679 came from. Indiana wasn’t a state at that time, nor was the U.S. even in existence yet! And finally, the bottom hat is not endorsed in any way by the companies it is attempting to represent. Most especially because the two companies, Aeropostale and Abercrombie & Fitch, are actually direct competitors. Not a disaster, but definitely humorous. Anyway, onto the next and lowest floor.
This is the grocery store floor of Homeplus and it’s pretty much like big grocery stores in the States, except that the food choices are a little different. They have a lot more seafood and a lot less beef. The cereal aisle is quite a bit smaller, but the rice and the red pepper paste aisles are quite a bit bigger. The ice cream section is miniscule, but there are tons of fresh veggies. If you expect to live like you do in the States, you’ll never be satisfied or content, but if you can embrace the differences and welcome similarities where they occur, you’ll find that there’s a plethora of new tastes and experiences to be had.
Now onto the most stressful part of the shopping trip, in my opinion…checking out. It reminds me a little bit of going through security at the airport. Most people in Korea use either reusable shopping bags or they box up their groceries at a little station a few feet from the checkout aisles. The cashier does not bag your groceries for you at all. He or she just scans them, gives you the total, takes your money, and starts scanning the next shopper’s purchases. And looking at the sheer volume of people being checked out, can you blame them? What this means for me, though, is that I get my bag(s) out as quickly as possible when it’s my turn and as soon as my groceries are being scanned, I frantically shove them into the bag(s) in a moderately organized fashion so as to be out of the way when my order is concluded and the next round of items begins to slide down the counter.
Once I’m finished at Homeplus, I walk back to Sachang-dong (pronounced sah – cheong – dohng) and my apartment. A “dong” is just one small area of a city in Korea. Last year I lived in San Nam-dong, which I think is a couple of dongs over from where I am now. It was a newer dong (or area), so there was a lot of construction going on and it wasn’t quite as built up as other parts of the city. Sachang-dong, on the other hand, houses Chungdae (pronounced choon – day), which has quite a bit of nightlife. I’m a 5 minute walk from a lot of popular bars and restaurants, but it doesn’t affect me at all. My little street is pretty quiet.
This is the main intersection that is close to me. It’s fairly well-known, enough so that I can tell a taxi driver the name of the intersection (in Korean, of course) and he’ll take me there. I’m afraid this picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it is always quite busy.
Here it is in Korean with English underneath, which is how most official road signs are over here. Oh, I almost forgot! I should probably put up a picture of my school.
It was hard to get the whole thing in there, but most of it is visible. The school is called BCM Language Centers, and it takes up three floors of a building. My classroom, where I teach elementary and middle school students, is on the middle floor. I also teach at several schools away from BCM, but again, all of this is subject to change in March.
I think that this is enough for one blog post. I hope it provides a little information about what life is like here, and I hope that it was also relatively entertaining. More to come in the future!