Thursday, October 14, 2010

The situating situation

Home sweet home
Originally uploaded by shelbs1988
I moved into my apartment three days after I arrived and I quickly re-acclimated to living in a closet-sized living space, similar to my dorm-days in Turck and Bigelow doubles at Macalester. After four years of cohabitating, I was happy to be living solo, for once not having to worry about another’s shower schedule, mess tolerance, or personal space preferences.

The first week was full of technical difficulties. Not sure how to use the sink-to-shower apparatus (and unaware of the location of the on-button for the hot water heater) I took cold showers for the first several days. Unable to read Korean and daunted by the Hangeul-covered, many-buttoned contraption that is my washing machine, my laundry sat soaked in fabric softener for several days until I could find someone to translate for me. (Yes, I said fabric softener. Just because a bottle looks like detergent and smells like detergent doesn’t mean it is detergent. No wonder my first several loads of laundry were soft but not clean.) The real kicker was when I had to use my best handy-man skills to fix the toilet so that it would flush reliably using only my bare hands and a very strategically twisted paperclip….welcome home, right?

Of course, figuring out my apartment wasn’t the only matter of business to attend to. First, I needed to get my ARC – the Alien Registration Card that is necessary to open a bank account, start phone plan, get into clubs, and of course, to live and work in the country. All this required was a hospital check up. Pretty standard, yet one of the strangest doctor’s visits I’ve ever had. There’s nothing quite like being shunted from one room to another in an assembly line of medical tests: height and weight, blood pressure and fluids, eyes and ears, lungs and heart, guided by only grunts and a few pushes in the right direction. Though slightly humiliated (I gained a new appreciation for what refugees go through), I was no worse for the ware and had the go-ahead to become legal.

When all that was said and done there was still the matter of getting oriented – physically and culturally. I needed everything from groceries and a subway card, to a cell phone and a gym membership, just to name a few. Luckily, several veteran Seoullites from my school took me under their wing and helped me get set up with all the basics. They showed me where to find an ATM that accepted foreign cards and had an English option. They recommended a cheap yoga studio and gym and helped me set up a pay-as-you-go cellphone. I was taken to the nearest Emart and Costco for major grocery needs and the local supermarket to restock the fridge with eggs and milk. Finally I was pointed to the nearest pharmacy with an English-speaking pharmacist and shown the ins and outs of the subway system (including the handy T-Money cards).

Finally, even though I was not entirely settled, I had the basics down. And although am still a foreigner to Korea, Korea was quickly becoming less foreign to me.

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