Two days ago I my plane landed a world away from Nanchang, China on the beautiful island of Jeju. Jeju Island is located off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. I’ll be here for about a month to visit with good friends before returning to China for more travel and school.
I went to a bank today to exchange money. I wandered into the bank and the big electonic numbers clearly meant I needed to have a number. Where do I get a number? Which set of workers do money exchange? There was one worker who seemed to be some kind of greeter that I wanted to attempt in a sign-language conversation, but she was helping someone else. I stood around like a clueless tourist and started staring at a sign with todays exchange rates until a worker brought me a paper with a number on it and pointed to some seats where I could wait.
Korean banks seem to have a much more open layout than Chinese banks. Chinese banks have giant bulletproof glass to keep you and the staff apart. Canadian banks don’t have the glass, but they do make you stand around at the small counters where you are served. Here I get to sit in a fairly plush chair and show my best smile to make up for the fact I haven’t a clue what to say. As I hand the worker my passport and Chinese currency, she receives it from me by holding her right hand with palm up while placing her left hand on the right arm. I’ve learned a little about these customs from my Korean friends in Tianjin, but this was my first experience without someone guiding me. I can only imagine how rude I’ve been today in very small ways, but I’m sure everyone understands that foreigners don’t necessarily understand these customs. Jeju has a strong tourism economy, so I feel like I can count on an understanding community.
When I finish studying in Nanchang I plan to return to Jeju to study Korean language. I’m starting to see my Chinese language habbits really coming out strong. I’m always saying “hao” (good) in response to things, for example. I bought some kind of shrimp burger from a KFC and I even said to a worker “wo yao” (I want)! In China I had learned the Korean numbers from 1 to 10, but I’ve recently realized that Korea has 2 systems for numbers. One is a purely Korean system while the other is based on the Chinese numbers. Numbers are fun for me because I never know which system to expect, and it’s fair to say the system I understand is pretty slow for me to translate. What I hadn’t counted on was that Korean currency, the Won, uses high numbers. My green tea with pomegranate drink cost KRW$1,000. Maybe it’s nice that I can use the number one with both counting systems, but I didn’t have the forethought to study the words for ‘hundred’ or ‘thousand’.
I’ve ony been on my own for a couple hours, but it’s really a lovely place and I’m having a lot of fun. I took a walk by the ocean just to smell the salt water in the air and enjoy the clear blue sky. Looking toward the centre of the island is Hala Mountain, a volcano which is the major geographical feature of the island and is, of course, responsible for the islands existance.