Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fuel in Wasu-ri, South Korea

For some perspective on fuel costs, check this out:

The numbers, from top to bottom: car fuel (gasoline), truck fuel (diesel), and kerosene. Keep in mind that Korea uses the metric system. So: 1977 won = about $1.97. There are 3.78 liters in a gallon. 3.78 x 1.97 =  $7.45.

About $7.50 for a gallon of gas.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The first two days part 2

Funny enough, I came back to the PC Room with Gabe and Peter and I couldn't log in. I got it right the first time, but this time I didn't. After futzing with it for a bunch of minutes, I asked for help. The girl at the counter was helpful. Out here not many people speak English, but everyone seems respectful of foreigners. I've read (and have seen it firsthand) that if you make the slightest effort to speak in Korean or use Korean customs, the people will be accomodating. Such has been the case so far. I've gotten many smiles and nods of understanding.

Peter, Gabe, and I just got back from a short, but exhausting hike up to a Buddhist temple. Check it out:

The angle is off--Peter has the better shot of this one.

Me and Wasu.

View from the hill.

A shot of one of the streets in town.
Upon arriving here (as in Seoul) I was surprised to see that most Korean cars are full size. In fact, they drive the same cars we drive in the States, plus or minus a few models. Prior to coming here I'd formed a picture in my head about Koreans driving small cars because of the small country and dense population. I thought so since Korean (and Asian) cars have a reputation for being compact and economical in the States. It seems that's only the Korean cars marketed there. Here's something else: some cars here, like Mr. Park's Sonata, run on propane gas. A propane-fueled car has to have its ignition primed before it can be started. This was explained to me when we were loading the groceries yesterday: I'd asked about the big tank I saw in the trunk and Mr. Park told me that that's the gas tank. Since my dad drives a Sonata as well, I'd estimate that the propane tank takes up half the trunk space. [I should have asked about the gas mileage. Perhaps later]

A couple more bits about cars, since I'm on the subject:

Korean police cars look about the same as American police cars, but their lights are always flashing. Maybe they do that so people know they're there, I don't know. I do like the idea of the constant flashing.

Koreans have amazing creativity when it comes to parking. So far I've seen cars parked on sidewalks, half on/half off the sidewalk, on 45 degree inclines up and down, up against store windows. Koreans park in places no one I know would dare to park, haha. Evidently the parking laws here are lax or non-existant. What a change, coming from Waukesha and Milwaukee, where parking checkers are notoriously vigilant. Everyone I know has stories of getting shafted on parking meters and tickets.

Some other quick bits:

I mentioned earlier that there's a soldiers' station here. Earlier we found about 3 soldiers' stores, or Post Exchanges (PX's), I suppose. Back home they'd be called surplus stores, except here soldiers actively frequent them and they're open to the public. Like Army PX's, one can buy office supplies, and lots of other stuff, including some sweet looking Army gear. [DMZ Reconaissance Police t-shirts, anyone?] Earlier I bought a nice camo bush hat for about $7. Zippo lighters are quite plentiful here too, I might add. I haven't inquired about their cost though.

To my friends who smoke: please don't kill me when I tell you this: cigarettes are abundant and cheap here. They cost between 2 and 3 dollars a pack. And the smoking laws? Again, more relaxed than at home. Just a few minutes ago the soldier next to me was smoking. Last night I did a double take when I saw people lighting up in the bar because I'm so used to Wisconsin's smoking ban that I had to remember that I'm not in the US anymore. The Koreans have an easier time with smoking, it seems. But at the same time, as plentiful as cigarettes are, not many people smoke here. Curious.

Mr. Park and others have told me that cigars are largely unavailable here. It looks like I won't be getting a Zippo and sampling the local cigar fare after all. Oh well, no big loss.

Cass, popular Korean beer, tastes exactly like PBR or Blatz. Many people have told me they loathe it, but I'm enjoying it because it reminds me of home. I'm told Korean beer isn't anything special. Oh well again--beer's beer to me.

Miller Genuine Draft, Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, and Guiness are all available the the GS 25 convenience store. They cost about the same as they do in WI bars: $3-4. It's comforting knowing that I can buy an MGD here if I want.

The stuff I've heard about Koreans and how they love their online gaming? True, so far.

Since I've never been to an Internet cafe back home, I can't comment on their costs, but here ~1.5 hours of computer time cost me a 1700 won, or ~$1.70. [An easy way to convert American dollars to Korean won: Add 3 zeros, for $1=~1043 won. Everyone's helpful with money here.]


The first two days in Wasu

My fingers are jittery as hell with all the stuff I want to type, but suffice to say, yesterday the following things happened:

My group (Chuncheon) took the bus from Seoul to Chuncheon and met our respective co-teachers. My co-teacher's name is Mr. Park. He drove me from Chuncheon to my town/school/apartment. As it turns out, Cheorwon is actually a county; my actual town is Wasu. It's frontier town located 6 miles from the DMZ, but don't be fooled: there are, as Pete my British friend might said, all modern conveniences here thanks to a nearby soldiers' station.

Three other EPIK teachers live in my apartment building: Jeruscha, Gabe, and Peter.

Below are a few pictures that will better help explain things:

This is the view from my apartment window. I face northward toward the DMZ. Below you can see the small park that's next to the elementary school. That sandy area's a soccer field.
My street.

Left to right: Soju (Korean liquor. It tastes like tea mixed with vodka. 20% alc), Korean wine, more soju, Chilsung cider, Gatorade, Coffee.
I posted the two soju bottles to show the fun pictures on the labels.
The cider's basically the Korean take on Sprite.

Yep, we have Minute Maid OJ here. Each bottle= 1.8 liters.

Above and below: pictures from inside my apartment on the 3rd floor. EPIK provided it as well as all the furniture and appliances in it. It's technically a 1 bedroom thanks to the doors. The doors in the background open up to an enclosed balcony and laundry room. (Yes, that's right. An open-air laundry room.)


The kitchenette. Surprisingly plentiful storage room.


Bathroom. Note the switchplate on the left wall: it controls the lights. I've found that Koreans tend to put the lightswitches outside of the rooms they light up.

I hope this helps. Mr. Park tells me this place was built last year. So as you can see, although I'm in a rural area, we have the modern stuff here.

The intersection by my building. More pics of the town to come.

With Harris (left) and Ben (center), two guys who arrived late as well. Harris is in Jeju and Ben's elsewhere in Gangwon. Taken yesterday as everyone was saying goodbye to each other and boarding our buses.

More to come soon!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A busy corner of Seoul

Today has been a whirlwind of activity. I'd love to knock out a few detailed paragraphs, but those will come later. Below are some quick observations:

The freeways out of Incheon and into Seoul have no cracks or potholes in them.

Seoul is bustling with people and energy.

I arrived in Incheon yesterday at 4:30pm local time. My EPIK contact gave me a ride from Incheon into Seoul for the EPIK orientation. Since I came in late, I'm only here until tomorrow, as I'm going to my province then.

I'm in the Cheorwon District of the Gangwon province. You'll see on Google Maps that I'm ~20 miles from the DMZ. The proximity excites me.

The food, the food and the food: simply delicious! Try the squid. Seriously.

There are no open container laws here and beer is available more or less 24/7.

Soju tastes like wine mixed with vodka and it's dirt cheap.

More pics when the activity lets up and I grab the camera. I'm just happy as I can be right now. It's been wonderful meeting people from around the US and from New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, England, and South Africa.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Debut / preflight

The fun begins tomorrow. I'm flying from Milwaukee to Chicago to Seoul. The Time span Goes from 9:30am Central, 23 August, to ~4pm Seoul, 24 August. Once in Seoul, I'll spend a couple of days there until the 26th, when I leave for Gangwon.

This is a special day; I turn 25 and get to step aboard a plane to begin a new chapter of my life. To all of my family and friends, you will be missed. I'll do my best to stay in touch via these posts, Skype, email, Facebook, and snail mail.

Rock and roll.