Cold wet noodles

Tree House Naengmyeon

It was a frigid Monday and a holiday!  I timidly put one foot in front of the other and slid out the front door.  Slowly crawling into this strange world, becoming suddenly aware of the dark ocean around me.  Like black mops swinging and bouncing as they flowed by.  I looked closer.  It was the hair of many Asians.  My white Texas face shouted, “I’M NOT LIKE YOU.  I STICK OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB!”  The walls of my room could no longer shield me from the eyes of the passers by.  Like the points of needles, I felt their stares as I swallowed the discomfort.  I grasped my way into a small restaurant squeezing out the words,”nang-myun chuseyo.” as if their ears were made of delicate ceramic.  I poured into the nearest chair.  Time seemed to stop, until a smile greeted me carrying a spicy bowl of noodles and ice.  She called it, “Nang-myun 냉면”, meaning “cold noodle”.  The circular bowl was unfamiliar. Inside of it, I found sesame seeds floating on ice, slices of green cucumber, half-circles of Asian Pear topped with a slice of boiled egg and a strip of meat.  Underneath it all, strings of noodles wrapped in a bun keeping everything afloat.
My stomach was going to burst as I hobbled around the block and explored more of the neighborhood.  I could barely speak to anyone.  If I got lost, I didn’t know the address to my apartment!  I didn’t know the name of my school!  I walked down blocks of gray square buildings laced with neon.  I must remember the path I had taken.  Loud music playing and smoky restaurants open to the street.  Coffee shops on every corner.  Asian faces warmly bundled.  Occasionally seeing the familiar.  A 7-Eleven!  O thank heaven!  The 7-Elevens were 24 hour, just like the West.  Soon upon entering, the familiarity was gone.  Things like black bean milk and squid jerkey hanging in the isles.  The bean drink was known as “Kaman-kong (까만콩)”.  It was refreshing!
I found the road back to my apartment after navigating the high seas, but upon returning, I noticed rectangular buildings lit up like Christmas trees.  Some were castles, some looked like alien space ships.  These buildings were hiding a secret.  I could see myself in the lipstick red tiles, as I stood outside, pondering in the glow of their radiance.  What was the intention of these bright buildings?  The structures beckoned me to come inside, but I played it safe and stayed warm in my bed that night.

On the plane, on my way…

English: Road leading into Incheon Airport

Incheon International Airport, South Korea

I remember that night so well.  Driving off to the airport.  My family, standing in the drive way, saying goodbye.  As if they would never see me again.

I made it to the airport, boarded the plane and took a deep breath.  This was it and there was no turning back.  Could it really have taken me 2 years to make this decision?! Sometimes hurdles in life seem a lot bigger than they really are.  The biggest hurdle is our own doubts.

The flight was long and it gave me a lot of time to put my thoughts down on paper.  The plane finally landed in Incheon International Airport.  I grabbed my bags from the overhead cabinet and made it out of the plane and headed to customs.  It didn’t take too long and soon I was outside of the airport.  I noticed the ratio of dark headed hair to blond had changed and how the air was much cooler.  The school had already arranged for a taxi to pick me up from the airport and it was there waiting for me.

It was a long, quiet ride to the city with Korean radio softly playing in the background.  Occasionally my driver would attempt to practice his English.  I knew a little Korean as well, so it was a warm-hearted exchange.  Koreans are very ambitious to learn English, so they are taken back when an American knows how to speak their langauge.  Even if it is only a simple greeting, they are always pleasantly surprised.  So don’t be afraid, give it a try!

The school was eager to greet me.  It was night and my new boss and her supervisor had stayed at the school waiting for my arrival.  It felt so good to finally meet them.  I didn’t feel like I was an employee, but more like a guest visiting their home.  They gave me a tour of the classrooms I would be teaching in and the school’s amenities.  I was pleased.  Uncertainty turned to relief.  I had made a good decision.  It was going to be a good year.

After seeing the school, I was went to see my apartment that I would be living in.  It was an efficiency about 10 minutes by foot from the school.  Kitchen, drier, and stove were included.  The floor even had a heating system that used hot water running through tubes inside the floor, so the floor itself heated up from the inside.

The supervisor took me to the nearby bread shop and I loaded up, then went back to my apartment and got ready for the next morning.  It was a Saturday and tomorrow would be Sunday.  Monday was a holiday and work would start on Tuesday.

. . . . .