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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Seoul in September
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | South Korea | Hong Kong | Macao | China | India | Pakistan | China, Again

In South Korea Skip to:   Seoul in September | Cycling South | Circling Cheju-do | Mount Halesan | Back to the Mainland | Goodbye South Korea

September Seoul, Korea

Hello Korea! I arrived about three hours ago at 10 PM and decided to try riding my bike into town. I figured if it was really dangerous, I would either store it at the airport until daylight, or catch a taxi. Fortunately, it wasn't too bad, but very different from Thailand. There are very few two-wheeled vehicles, bikes or motorcycles. I am back in the industrialized world again of cars, cars, and more cars. I am also back to riding on the right side of the road. It was much easier to go back to riding on the right than I thought it would be since it has been six months since I last rode on the right in Tahiti.

Korea - another new country and culture. Yet another country where the script is indecipherable and the sounds are completely unfamiliar: just another day as a world traveler. With a phrase book and a few maps, I will figure it out as it comes.

The flight was uneventful, the best kind. I read the Taiwan newspapers and found lots of ads for English teachers there. This is very encouraging. If things don't work out here, I can always try Taiwan.

I am staying at the Inn-Daewon in downtown Seoul. It is a basement operation with a cozy close-in atmosphere. The rooms are tiny and typical of Korean low budget inns of having no beds, only mattresses on the floor. The owners are friendly and try to make you feel at home. In fact, the smallness of it makes it impossible to avoid meeting people.

After arriving, I met Pat (also a Yank) who has been here for two years teaching English. He mentioned that there might be a week of part-time work next week of three- to four-hour days at 12-13,000 won per hour. This sounds very encouraging. Pat is a bit weird, however. I hope I didn't make a mistake talking to him before Mories contacts.

I am also very excited about getting my mail. Can't wait until morning. I have a good feeling about being here.

I saw an ad in the Taiwan paper for a courier to go to LA. It might be a good way to visit home briefly. Another thing, I am back in a cool climate again. How refreshing!

2:27 PM

I spent a frustrating morning walking around Seoul. It was not that bad, but the Koreans intimidated me. They are aggressive and unemotional on the street, maybe a bit like New Yorkers: big city attitudes. I was frustrated by the inability to find an ink pen so I could make some phone calls. I also got disorientated several times, as all the major intersections have no street-level pedestrian crossings. They are all underground, unlike Bangkok where they are all elevated. I was also disappointed because my Thailand baht cannot be converted to won in Korea. However, a guy at the inn said he would change it for me.

On the job frontier, I made some calls for English jobs. One place where George works has five-week classes starting today, so maybe there will be something in another five weeks. But I am thinking it is a long time to wait. I'll make some more phone calls a little later.

On a more positive note, I got my mail. This time there were 15 pieces with a package from Elizabeth with another 7 pieces. Great! I love getting mail. I just read Elizabeth's letter and got very homesick. Damn! Sometimes I feel like packing it all in and heading back.

11:40 PM

Much later and a lot has happened. I met Mr. Nam Choi from the Young Elite Language School this afternoon. He took me to a coffee shop and filled me in on the details. He offers 200,000 won for 24 to 30 hours per six-day week with classes in the afternoon and early evening teaching young students between the ages of 8 and 12. We then went to the school and I sat in on a few lessons. The classes had both American and Korean teachers with a lot of repetition. Twenty-five students per class set up in 25-minute periods with five-minute breaks run from 3:30 PM to 8 PM. I wasn't too impressed, but thought I could do it if I had to. The money was very low. Pat said he would never work for less than 10,000 won per hour. I have decided to pass it up and look for greener pastures elsewhere.

I will contact Ron at Yonsei University and maybe some recruitment offices about engineering positions. It may take me a while, but it is probably better to take my time and get something good to start with than to jump around.

September 18

Korean Cargo Bike

My mood swings are extreme these days. I am disoriented, confused, anxious, concerned about money and not sure what to do.

I am intimated by the language most of all. Maybe I should concentrate on functioning in Korea on a basic level and then worry about getting a job. I can take this temporary work next week and then there is a holiday the week after where there is nothing.

Or then again, maybe I should go to Pusan and set up base there. With a climate like San Francisco, a population of 3.5 million and the ocean right there, it seems like a good alternative.

The weather has turned decidedly cool, quite a change from SE Asia. I hope I can adapt to it. Actually, it feels invigorating. Fall is a great time of year.

I have been reading some more mail. It has the effect of making me feel very lonely and so very far from home. Sometimes I feel I ought to head back, pack it all in. I think this feeling will wear off, though. Hope so. It is great to hear from friends again. Oh how I miss them!

September 19 Seoul

I am going to bed very late these days, after midnight and waking up late. Last night I sat around and talked or rather listened to the traveler's tales of trips to China, Japan, and Papua New Guinea. After about six hours of this, I went to bed. It was nice to socialize for a while, but again I am feeling dissatisfied, like I don't belong here. Yesterday I was thinking about bagging the teaching idea at least temporarily, get on the bike and tour for a month or so down to Pusan and maybe Japan and then deciding when I get back whether I want to stay in Korea or head back to SE Asia where I really enjoyed myself. I need to evaluate my situation particularly with respect to finances and to see where I stand.


I am at the National Treasure Number 1 where I want to evaluate my situation and come up with a plan: for money, living expenses, etc.

I am getting to know my roommate, Dan, a little better. We had dinner last night and he has been very generous with advice and information. I need to tell him how much I appreciate his help. He has been here a month and plans on staying another four weeks before going to Japan. We have similar temperaments and seem to get along well. He encourages me and he may give me the desire to stick around for a while.

Yesterday, I met two potential employers: Mr. Hwan Kim, who runs a school at Aphujong south of the river. He said he has classes beginning on Oct 15 and would pay 8,000 won per hour. Both Don and Pat have been working for 12-20,000 won per hour which is about 17 to 28 US dollars. Don is working eight hours a day making $140 a day between two jobs. Not bad. He also said he wants to save $3,000/month from working. The enticement of money here is pretty strong. That was my original reason for coming here. From what I have observed of the people and the culture thus far, I am not impressed. But that may have to do with the fact that I have been in Seoul, the world's fifth largest city with ten million people, the entire time. I can recall Bangkok was somewhat the same compared to the rest of Thailand. I knew I couldn't live there for long.

Korea, or rather Seoul, feels like I'm back in the first world where big money rules. The people seem stressed out. It is such a stark change from Thailand with respect to interpersonal relations. The Thais, Malays and Indonesians are so warm and friendly. Everyday is a joy to mingle with them. Here people seem indifferent about me and each other. Granted I get my share of looks or rather stares, but no smiles. I think I have become like my friend Uli in that respect. I really enjoy and appreciate the friendliness of others. Perhaps it is also because I am lonely that it is so important.

Brief interruption: I met a young Korean man about 28 or so, who is an electrical engineer. He offered to show me around the museum. He told me about Seoul and his company. It is just like people said: you meet people just by hanging out.

Now for the expenses: I figure I have about $5,500 left in my account for this trip and if I don't work I have about seven months left at US$25 per day. Indian and SW Asian will be a bit cheaper, Europe, Korea and Japan will be a lot more expensive. I have pretty much given up on spending a year here, unless I fall into something quite good. The travelers form Japan say it is quite easy to get work there, but also very expensive to live. Always that trade off. And I know my own temperament well enough to know that I hate to spend money senselessly. I am tight and I know it. I enjoyed SE Asia so much in part because it seemed like such a bargain. Food/transportation and accommodations are all relatively cheap compared to the US. I understand India, China and Pakistan are much the same. So if I want to lengthen my trip, I should earn some money. If I don't want to, I can return to SE Asia and then head to India for two to six months and keep heading west until I hit the US. Decisions, decisions.

Assuming it costs me $14/day in Seoul to live at the Inn Daewon, it works out to $100 per week or $400 per month. Travelling would probably push the cost up to $20 per day because of higher accommodation expenses. In that case, it would cost $140 per week. A trip to Pusan would run me about $300 by bike. The weather is great during the day, but getting cold at night. I would have to buy some more clothes.

9:20 PM

Another frustrating day. I met with John Valentine again and found out that my roommate Dan is in a heap of trouble because he didn't show up for a class he said he would teach. I also met the manager of the Korean Herald Language School who only hires full-time people for a period of a year or more. This is longer than I am willing to commit. I went out to Yonsei University to find Ron with no luck.

Seoul's Heavy-duty Traffic So I am thinking I ought to jump on the bike and ride around Korea, go down to Pusan and maybe to Japan for a bit. The only problem is that it would cost me about $20 per day.

I just gave up an opportunity to earn over $200 with substituting for Pat's buddy next week. I didn't feel right about it, maybe I am not meant to do this. I feel SE Asia calling me, or possibly Taiwan.

I know, however, that if I get on the bike it is going to be a lonely ride, with few people to talk to, probably a lot like NE Thailand. I hope I can do it without cracking.

Note: I have sprinkled a few poems in these pages that I liked from a book
by Kim Unsong called Classical Korean Poems (Sigo).

"Living Natural" by Anonymous

No calendar in the mountains
And no need to keep track of time
Flowers announce the Spring day
And fallen leaves, Fall time
If my children ask for thick clothes
I can tell it is wintertime.

I just read Margarite's two letters. They are so appropriate it is scary. She seems to be tuned into my wavelength. Living in the moment "now" instead of the future or past. Also relating her experience with working on the road at a dude ranch.

My own reaction or feelings is that I ought to just continue with my travels and save work for when I get back to the US. I think I am getting the feeling my heart is not into teaching English. The work I enjoy is Civil Engineering, and there will be plenty of time to do that when I get back. I should just relax and enjoy myself here and forget about working.

I just finished reading the rest of my mail, a total of 23 letters. What a treat this is. I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to my generous friends. It is so nice to lose myself in their world while I read their letters. But it has the deleterious effect of making me feel very homesick. Now I have a big task in front of me: answering them!

On to:  Cycling South

In South Korea Skip to:   Seoul in September | Cycling South | Circling Cheju-do | Mount Halesan | Back to the Mainland | Goodbye South Korea

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