So mid-2001 saw us back again in Seoul, that little village of close to 20 million people. Last time here we lived in a flatlet attached to our previous boss's place and worked from 10 'til 8. This time around, we lived in our own flat in central Seoul and worked much better hours for a completely more professionally-orientated company. The economic crash that destroyed the dollar-value of our salaries last time was now a thing of the past, and we were able to pat ourselves on the back at the end of the day for a job well-done and well-paid. No complaints there at all. 


One of the most interesting things about living in cities like Seoul is the juxtaposition of the ancient and the new This is a picture which shows that very nicely, I think. Taken from a hilly compound of Chondong Buddhist Temple, this shows the temple roof silhouetted against the backdrop of the Korea World Trade Centre tower, which itself reflects surrounding hotels and other highrises.

Alone in the crowd

Seoul's got what's probably the world's best underground rail system, and the crowds are something to see (though not to Tokyo's 'cram-'em-in-by-hand scale). There are few non-Koreans to be seen, and when they DO appear, they're often completely ignored by the apparently-reserved locals, or else are almost guaranteed to be pounced upon and offered jobs as English teachers. Hilarious.


Familiar Faces

One of the first things we did was look up Laetitia's best friend in the country, Jung-Eun Lee. 'Julie' has spent the last couple of years in the U.K and had recently come back to Seoul where - as chance would have it - she'd ended up working with exactly the same group of people we were all working with three years before! She and Laetitia had not seen each other for almost three years and were happy to spend a few hours together on the first Saturday we were back in the country. 

WALKIN', WORKIN'. This is where Laetitia worked from Monday to Friday. It's the middle building and is a 20-minute walk from our flat, in the swanky area of Apkujong (known as the 'Beverley Hills' of Seoul) on the banks of the Han River which runs through the middle of the city. Her institute is on the 3rd floor, behind the large blue 'Direct English' sign on the window.  It's about one minute from a large cinema complex alongside the Apkujong subway station. It costs about US$5 for a cinema ticket here, as opposed to the nearly US$10 a ticket would set you back in Taiwan.  There's even a branch of Marks & Spencer just around the corner, and a brace of Starbucks outlets. where_l_works.jpg (22098 bytes)

Our New 'Burb

This was our new street, looking down the road up which Laetitia walked to work every weekday morning. Our building was the tall one on the right, just poking up from behind the trees in a street called Chong San Gil. The area's much more varied in appearance than our previous one in Taiwan and very hilly. There are also no way nearly as many scooters here - despite the fact that there's one in this pic. We were in a residential district called Nonhyeon-dong, which seems to be made up exclusively of hairdressers, dry-cleaners and women's boutiques - oh, and there's also no shortage of restaurants serving kalbi, the local version of grill-it-on-your-table meat dishes. Translated into English, I wouldn't be surprised if kalbi meant "Loosen all tight clothing - you're about to stuff your face in a surprisingly-pleasant way". 




Out of about a dozen places I'd checked out with the budongsan (estate agent), all of them were made up of a single large-ish room with attached bathroom and a built-in kitchenette fitting on one wall. Except ours. As you can see in the pic, OUR flat has a separate sleeping 'roomette' which we referred to as 'The East Wing'. There are no built-in cupboards so we had to do what most people here do and buy a clothing rack. Just to the left of the East Wing is a door which leads to our bathroom and that in turn leads to the enclosed balcony which is where we have installed our washing machine and our clothes-drying paraphernalia. Just out of sight to the left (past Laetitia's left leg) is our kitchen-in-a-wall  and where I'm standing is about where our little fridge sits humming to itself. You can also see our video-intercom on the wall, a bit of overkill considering that we'd have to walk further to look at the screen than actually walk to the door itself!



This is a shot of the outside of our building. Our flat was the one you can see on the first floor on the right - and the people you can see are whatshername and Jess Arndt, the Director of our company, who was showing us around our new neighbourhood. Like all Korean residential units, the place is double-glazed and centrally-heated with ondol, the ingenious Korean system which pipes hot water from the building's pipes under all the floors. This would be worth its weight in gold when the freezing Siberian-style winters hit at the end of the year. Oh - and the rent? US$10 000.00 deposit and US$700 a month. Excluding water and power.


Mapping It Out

For the geographically- challenged amongst us, here is a map of the Seoul area complete with the relevant additions to show where we lived and worked. The green circle lower right marks the area of Apkujong where Laetitia worked, while the orange one shows you where I did. Our flat in Nonhyon was right between the two. The heart of the city is across the river and slightly to the left, and the foreigner 'ghetto' of Itaewon is just southwest of the Namsan Tower. When we were here a few years beforehand, we used to live and work below the Yongdungpo-dong area (lower left of the map, about where the two red freeway lines meet) and you can refresh your memory on that front here.

(s)Training Sessions

Our first two days back in Seoul were spent at the Institute's HQ in Kangnam where we underwent our training and general getting-acquainted routine. Part of this involved sitting in one of the conversation rooms and watching the ENTIRE series of tuitional videos available to the people who study English through Direct English (the company we worked for). This took the best part of a day and also took a large chunk of stamina and endurance. Thank God the vids were good. The institutes we worked at were probably the best in the country and we were well chuffed to be spending our working weeks in this type of environment. Adults only, excellent facilities, and a completely professional and thoroughly-cohesive programme to use. Marvellous.


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