March 3, 2000
Yesterday we had to go to the President’s office, to get formal, bound copies of our contracts. At first it was intimidating, all those men in rows, like government officials. But then it was funny; instead of standing and waiting our turns, we all scooted along the benches. When my turn came, the President pointed to my name in English, and smiled at me. And he read Igor’s (the pianist who will be teaching music) name out loud, because he gets a kick out of those Russian names.
Then he spoke to the faculty, and he spoke warmly, like a father almost. His voice was soft and very kind. Once in a while there was, apparently, a little gentle humor. I understood nothing, of course. Afterward, I asked Professor Park what he’d said. He said to be kind to the students, that their parents don’t love them. Really? I said. Well, they are a disappointment, because they couldn’t get into the really good universities, in Seoul. I loved his attitude.
Culture shock list:
- In my apartment, there is a drain in the bathroom floor.
- In public places, often the toilets are in the floor. Sometimes both kinds are available, and you can choose. Also, toilet paper is a rare item in those bathrooms. On the plus side, stall doors and walls usually go down to the floor, giving more privacy.
- Everyone has a cell phone, everywhere.*
- Many girls wear fancy shoes with heels, even climbling a mountain.
- There are so many outdoor markets, with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, and various street foods.
- Coffee shops with odd English names–“People,” “Coffee and Tomato.”
- Driving is crazy, at least in my town. People drive as if there are no rules. Stop lights are not necessarily paid attention to. Pedestrians beware! If I see a monk crossing the street, I try to walk next to him or her. Drivers respect monks!
- Shoes off indoors, including in restaurants. People sit on floors, which are often the warmest places, due to ondol, the toasty heating system running under the floor.
- No tipping! This is simply wonderful. You don’t have to tip at restaurants, in taxis, anywhere.
- Newscasters on TV bow at the end of their show. So do train conductors at the end of the trip, and they wear gloves.
*In 2000, when they were rare in the U.S.