Thursday, August 17, 2006

15 Getting around

So far we have met one expat who speaks Korean. He has been here for five years and has had some Korean girlfriends which has helped with fluency. Apart from that we have met, between us, over a hundred people and none of them have mastered the language.

This wouldn't be so surprising if it was actually easy to get around Seoul without speaking the lingo. You can catch the underground without needing Korean as signs are bilingual. Buses are out without it, and unless you are going somewhere well known by taxi drivers you must be able to tell them where it is unless you are clutching a map with the location written in Korean script.

Since places are tricky to find, most people will get close to their destination and then phone ahead and the hosts will find a korean speaker to guide you in by taxi, or someone will come down the road to the nearest landmark or convenience store and meet you. How inconvenient is that?

There is a dual issue with directions here. The first, as already mentioned, is the language which makes finding places very tricky if you don't have it. The second factor is that Korea, although it has maps, does not have a very easily followed system for numbering and road naming. There are very few road names given en route, and buildings are numbered according to when they were built rather than where they are. As you enter some districts there are large boards which direct you, say, left for numbers 412, 27, 18, 35, and 49 and right for 1, 99, 26, 14 and the supermarket!

So have I been busily studying my Korean Made Easy handbook? No, not really, being rather way laid with looking after a five and three year old and moving house. But will I? Well, I sincerely hope so because life is going to be bloody difficult without it, since people either speak good English, or absolutely none at all.

I went to our local supermarket the other day and established that they would deliver goods to my house (by saying " Itaewon - Day-Lee-Ver-Ree?", "Neigh, neigh, Day-Lee-Ver-Ree," said the woman at the check out - I know that "neigh" means "yes" so I was confident with this answer). So I loaded my trolley with a mountain of goods and went to pay. At the end of the transaction the lady asked for my address (by pointing at a form - and I used my incredible deductive reasoning to work out what it was).

Not only had I forgotten my address in English, but I still haven't memorised the address in Korean script. I phoned home and asked Husband who also couldn't remember what it was, and since the internet had not yet been connected at home, we couldn't look up the address in my hotmail account which was the only place I had it written down.

So we had a problem. I couldn't tell them where I lived, so I drew a map (in English) and embarked on a sign language routine to try and ascertain if the delivery would be made in a van, and if so, if I could travel with the deliverer and point the way. This seemed to be a great idea and was apparently agreed by all involved, so I sat next to my bags and waited behind the checkout. After about 30 minutes everyone in the supermarket was getting a bit edgy and looking at me as if they were wondering why I was still there. There was no obivous sign of my goods being loaded into a van and so I went to sign language to the lady again - in the end I set off on foot with the assurance (I think) that they would try to deliver it before 5pm. And just after I got home, a motorbike popped up with all my shopping and my map.

Hurray for that - next time I will take the Korean address with me, or even get our trusty realtor to tell the local supermarket where we live!

14 No more blues

My last rather subdued post was written just before we moved into our new house, and since then I have to say that things have significantly looked up. In fact, I don't know what I was rabbiting on about to be honest. Our move to Korea has been the easiest we have ever made - by miles.

The new house is excellent - not posh and not swanky but incredibly homely with bathrooms that work (!), electrics that don't make our fuses blow every time we use the microwave at the same time as the tumble dryer and much more space than we have ever had.

Moving in was pretty hectic - 357 boxes delivered in about two hours and then unpacked in a day. The result of this being that an awful lot of things are now living in the wrong places and there is much sorting to be done, but in terms of being up and running, we totally are. We have a telephone line and broadband internet, cable TV in a couple more days and while there are no pictures on the walls and all the cupboards are a mess, the whole place looks and feels like a working home, and a good one at that.