I awake in my empty room of Eden Villa Apartments on Saturday morning. It’s a nice room and quite spacious since there are no appliances or furniture except for the twin bed pushed into the far corner. I lay still and just move my eyes about to determine and realize where I am now. I am in “my” apartment in “my” new city, Daejeon. Ah yes, time to get out there and take it all in.
I fling off the blanket I bought last night at a local discount store and put my feet on the luxuriously heated floor. I shower and dress, load up my backpack with computer and camera and head out onto the street. My neighborhood is called Nae-dong and within a half a block from my apartment is every kind of shop and restaurant imaginable.
But today, I want to expand my horizons and explore other unknown areas, so I hike up the street and over a bridge (overpass) and into downtown. The whole jaunt takes only 30 minutes and I find myself in a place so reminiscent of Times Square, it’s hard to believe. Huge buildings covered in signage line the streets, buses and taxis and Hyundais and Kias are weaving among each other like bumper cars, while a sea of dark-headed Asians dressed to the nines and beautifully made up are dancing and prancing down the sidewalks on this bright and mild morning.
I spot “Holly’s Coffee Shop”– the perfect spot to stop for a spot of tea. Sitting in the window watching the action outside I decide to join in this weekend revelry. So I pay for my green tea latte and step outside into the warm wave of people. Just then, bus #301 comes to a heinous honking halt right in front of me. The people pooled together at the curb start flowing onto the bus and so I position myself at the back of the line and step up to pay my fare. I have no idea of where this bus goes, but I don’t have an agenda and I need to learn the system some time! So, for less than a U.S. dollar, I take a 10-12 minute bus ride into a different section of the city and hop off into a new adventure.
I am due to meet the rest of the “Daejeonites” (EPIK teachers stationed in Daejeon) at 7pm in front of Time World Galleria where we are anxious to share our stories of our first 24 hours out of orientation. I have no trouble finding this massive mall. It is a 12-story building with a gigantic TV screen on the outside wall. Inside are 10 floors filled with nothing but big name designer stores selling haute couture and elite accessories. The basement level is a gourmet grocery store and the top level is a smorgasbord of high-end restaurants. I am enthralled by the number of people actually shopping there. So I find my way to the lobby where there is absolutely nothing to buy if you are a starving instructor, and wait for my fellow teachers. About 25 of us gather to make a plan on how we intend to “do downtown Daejeon”.
Out on the streets, the neon lights flash and cast a colorful glow on my yellow hair as we pass by, and shop after shop is blaring music and touting their sales through PA systems. The two most popular items being sold are cell phones and pizza. And although all my colleagues still need a cell phone (as it is the #1 communication device in Korea. That is, if you are of the age that you have learned to speak, you have a cell phone!), we opt to communicate our need for food instead, and hit the nearest pizza joint. So, with slice after slice and story after story, we while away the night bonding and sharing, and planning and daring to have regular and frequent English events together. Ironically, the first activity on our collective docket is FREE Korean lessons this Saturday from 2-4pm. It will do us all some good to put the shoe on the other foot and become the kind of foreign language learners that our students already are. It’s been a dynamic day, and there is more to discover tomorrow, so I mark my calendar, and bid my adieus, and hail a taxi back to Nae-dong to call it a DAE(jeon).