Sunday, August 31, 2008

ULSAN ARRIVAL (part one)

I decided to Write this PART ONE because it needed to get out there. I've been busy lately, but you can see why from the following.

By all accounts, the city of Ulsan is an industrial city. If the view out my hotel window is any indication, this is very well possible. Outside my window, from sun up until Sunday, a crew of construction workers is building a futuristic-looking glass monolith to better the Ulsan City economics. This new building is supposed to house some new company that is supposed bring all kinds of revenue into the city. I think this is probably a good thing, since all the other building on the same road look old school and run-down. I mean, it seems like most of the city was built in the 50’s, and the structures have been standing since: narrow roads; brick everything; and a layer of grime that’s become part of the actual color of the building.

In Ulsan’s defense, I haven’t seen the entire city, just the parts around my hotel, which appears to have built in the 1950’s anyway, so it’s likely that I’m just in the old part of town. My sheets and curtains look like they once hung in my great grandparents house, and the whole structure of the building seems like it’s old and cracking. Jim used to make comments about shoddy construction, and I’m not sure if that’s the problem rather than everything is just older than snot. That’s what it seems like to me.

Well, anyway, we arrived in Ulsan on Friday after receiving our certificates that stated we’d finished our 3 week orientation program. That should have been a big moment for all of us, but we were too excited about leaving, and we were too sad about leaving to really even notice. We took some pictures of leaving the compound, and then we crammed ourselves into the bus overly full with bags and people. It seemed like we were only on the road for a few minutes before we arrived in Ulsan, which caught most of us off-guard. Turns out, it was only like 45 minutes from Gyeong-Ju to Ulsan.

Anyway, we had the rest of the day off to orient ourselves with the city, which meant that most people went out drinking. I climbed to the roof and took some pictures of the city above, but didn’t leave the hotel room, which I now realize was a mistake. There is utterly nothing to do inside the building except each and sit your room watching Korean MTV. So I ended up roaming the halls until I ran into some friends, who were drinking and watching UFC on one of the channels. Ultimate Fighting is popular enough here in Korea that a couple of channels show UFC fights later in the evening, which is interesting. There is also a channel called “Super Action” which usually plays Hollywood movies, but sometimes also TV Shows.

So, Sunday came and I didn’t know what to do, so Geoffrey and I decided to walk around Ulsan, specifically around our hotel and see what we could find. So we traveled up and down the streets, and once again, the combination of old and new here in Korea messes with me. We walked down a street with people sitting on the ground selling vegetables they very obviously grew and harvested themselves, while tapping away on their cellphones. Okay, not all the old ladies were tapping away on their cellphones, but some of them were. That’s the part that truly shows how Korea is different than Japan. Japan has street vendors, but most of them have Card readers and stuff, everything has become modernized and computer, but here in Korea, they try to hold to tradition by keeping things old school, all the while being one of the major seats of the engineering.

Anyway, so we checked out Ulsan and noticed that there are a lot of rather old buildings strewn about, places that would have been torn down years ago. We decided to stop in to a McDonalds and found that their menu consisted of Bulgogi burgers and Shrimp fillets. Fortunately, we did find Big Macs, but since there was going to be food at the hotel, we decided to have a sundae and head back. It tasted just like a sundae in the US. I guess you really can’t get ice cream wrong when it’s really just a vat of chemicals mixed to taste delicious.

Anyway, Monday came and we headed out to Anione High School to start our training with the Provincial Office of Education. However, Thomas, Marie, Rochelle and I ended up spending the entire morning trying to get out paperwork and pictures filled out for our Alien Registration cards. But, with all that we had to do, we didn’t get done before the immigrations office shut down for lunch, so we ended up heading back to the high school to have lunch and meet up with our Co-teachers and University Volunteer teachers.

Well, the group from Chokkwa Elementary school seems to be pretty good. Mrs. Kim was really nice and drove both Do-Ran (my partner) and I out to the school, talking with us the whole way. I wanted to make sure that I got everything in order, so I asked about the school, the area around the school and the students while we drove, but I also got to know Mrs. Kim and Doran pretty well. It turns out that we all have similar goals in terms of what we want to accomplish with the children. It’s always good when everyone is on the same page.

But eventually, we got out to the school, I met the principle and vice principle and started going over the curriculum and the schedule. The only thing the principle was able to say to me was, “How old are you?” which was kinda disheartening since he is the students’ headmastery guy, but what can you do really? I mean, he is old and he’s from a rural area, so it’s just that way with him. But when we actually cracked the books open, I got on top of things and started writing down everything I could about the students, the class sizes, the curriculum, the texts, everything. I wanted to make sure that we got as much done as possible. And when the smoke cleared, it looked like things were going to be fine and dandy for our students.


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