SK bucket list

In no particular order…

  1. Learn to speak (survival) Korean fluently
  2. See a Korean wedding
  3. See Psy in concert
  4. See Banpo Bridge at night
  5. Visit Seoul world cup stadium
  6. Visit the five Palaces 
  7. Stay in a jimjilbang
  8. Get mucky at Boreyong Mud Festival
  9. Visit Jongmyyo Shrine
  10. Cook a(n edible) traditional Korean meal 
  11. Visit Caribbean Bay Water Park
  12. Visit Lotte World
  13. See a Korean baseball game
  14. Visit Seoul Zoo
  15. Do Angdong Mask Festival
  16. Visit Jagalchi fish market in Busan
  17. Sunbathe on Haeundae beach in Busan
  18. Complete the Han river cycle route
  19. Take the Namsan cable car ride over Seoul
  20. Go on the Everland Express rollercoaster
  21. Visit the ‘hospital on the hill’ in Hong Kong where my Mum was born
  22. See the cherry blossoms in all their glory at Jinhae
  23. Do a temple stay
  24. Visit a natural mountain hot spring
  25. Explore Jeju island
  26. Do an SK train holiday
  27. Visit the DMZ
  28. See the Boesang Tea fields
  29. Go to the sea parting
  30. Conquer the three highest peaks in Korea
  31. Visit Haeinsa Temple where the Tripikata Koreana is kept  
  32. Visit the Penis Park
  33. See the azaleas in bloom at Royal Azalea Festival, Hwangmae Mountain
  34. Spend a weekend in Tokyo
  35. Walk the Great Wall of China
  36. Go to the Inje Smelts Festival
  37. Go to the Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival
  38. Shop at Namdaemun market
  39. Visit Gam Wine Tunnel
  40. Do Holi Hai Festival

Six observations

1. Gassy grannies

The rule of three tells me that public flatulence amongst grannies is very much a trend in South Korea.

2. Korea cares

Cameron and co might claim that they want to cut down on the amount of prepubescent porkers and middle-aged coronary attacks but you don’t see the British government providing 100% free, fully-equipped gymnasiums on every available spit of grass or mountain top like good old SK.

3. Under is best

It’s true that we Brits do rather enjoy a good, orderly queue – our ability to wait ‘patiently’ for an inordinate amount of time for stamps marks us out as the most civilised and superior race on the face of the earth. But even we stoic Brits have our limits, or at least this one does. Seven minutes waiting (timed it) for the lights to turn red so I can cross the road every day? Not keen. I’ll just go under the road via the subway instead.
4. In-motion bows
Are possible – as demonstrated by my students en route to lunch today. They needn’t of hurried, the highlight of lunch was a fish and chicken cutlet combo.
5. Korean kids in Taekwondo suits
There are very few things on this earth cuter than a two-foot-nothing Korean kid walking down the street in a full Taekwondo suit practising his ‘hiyaar’s.
6. Aaron Johnson’s tache, and hair
Both are ridiculous in Anna Karenina
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Duryu Park

I’ve found in the past that acts of spontaneity involving ventures into nature usually pay off, and yesterday’s unplanned visit to Duryu Park was no exception.

Having failed to meet up with my friends at a local market I found myself at a loose end on Saturday afternoon and decided to capitalise on the clear skies and sunshine with a walk around my local park.

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Duryu Park sits conveniently behind my apartment – I can see the tops of the trees out of my bathroom window if I stand on my tiptoes. To get an idea of the place think parkland rather than park – its pretty darn spacious. The first thing you see as you enter the park at the southern entrance – other than the ever-present mountains looming in the background – is the Daegu Kolan Open Air Music Hall and a sprawling field – perfect for having a picnic and watching a concert. The field is dotted with unusual looking columns that are in fact speakers, which when I wandered around yesterday were carrying classical music across the heads of the sun loungers.

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The centrepiece of the park is a moderate-sized peak that rewards the committed climber with a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountain range, and a broad, tree-lined corridor, which will soon be transformed by cherry blossom, circles its base with paths branching off to the numerous park facilities. On my travels I came across an indoor and outdoor swimming pool; a number of cafes that showed no signs of closing when I left at dusk; a driving range; an outdoor gymnasium, which the city’s elderly population were putting to good use; numerous badminton and tennis courts; a series of lakes; and a traditional temple.

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ImageStanding at over 200 metres Woobang Tower is ever visible and as you wander around the west side of the park the roller-coaster tracks of Woobang amusement park snake into view above the treetops.

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There were kids and dogs everywhere, wearing all manner of cute outfits, including a Pekingese wearing a ballerina tutu which I sadly failed to catch on camera. About half a dozen different kids bounded over to me to say ‘h-e-l-l-o!!!’ and I ran into a group of my students who gave me a carton of grape juice and deigned to let me sit with them for a while.

ImageNever before have I seen so many couples in one place. It was as if every couple in Daegu had converged on Duryu park. And they all had tandem bicycles.

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In fact everyone had bicycles. Even the occasional bunch of teenage girls without boyfriends had cute bikes. I had to get in on the action.

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I’d heard from my co-teacher that it was possible to rent bicycles somewhere in the park, however, by this time it was early evening so I didn’t hold out any hope that the place would still be open but went along to see if I could find a price and opening times notice. To my surprise the shop was open until 9pm and to rent a bicycle for an unlimited time it cost a measly 3000 won – which equates to around £1.70 – so I hopped on my cute rental bike and pedalled off.

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Duryu Park is without a doubt my new favourite place.

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Soccer, soju & Psy

I’m not a football fan so I was an unlikely candidate to attend let alone enjoy the Daegu FC match this weekend. But I was offered a free ticket and I never turn down a freebie so I went along with my main co-teacher and her kids who brightened up the car journey with their detailed film reviews of the The Great and Powerful Oz and Wreck-It Ralph – delivered in near-perfect English. 

Daegu Stadium, where the match was being held, was one of the host venues of the 2002 World Cup so it’s pretty darn grand even without the mountain range would-be-casually hovering in the background. 

Everyone knows what European football fans are like so I’d prepared for the worst but turns out Korean fans are about as far removed from their Euro counterparts as its possible to be. Where European fans are commonly male, drunk, violent and cynical, Korean fans are all ages and sexes, drunk on life and above all, unwavering in their support of their team. 

Everything warranted applause – even when the other team scored or one of our players missed an easy shot the crowd jumped to their feet and clapped. In keeping with the festive mood each time one of our players entered the box a commentator would work the spectators up into even more of a frenzy to urge the player on to score, and throughout the entire match the whole stadium was part of a continuous Mexican Wave, so that every 2-3 minutes your conversation would be briefly elevated! 

I have officially been converted.

In addition to developing a latent love for football, this weekend I also

– Failed to buy a phone because of the devil soju

– Succeeded in buying some furniture for my apartment via a vaguely hilarious combination of sign language, terrible diagrams and face pulling

– Found and went to my local cinema which is so cheap that I may just move in

– Found my new favourite local coffee shop

– Signed up to a gym (lots of rice and beer is taking its toll)

– Made plans to see Psy in April

 

I heart Korea

Off the top of my head here is a list of stuff I’m currently loving about Korea

– The acceptance of open displays of affection between males

Today I was walking home from school and two of my 16-year-old male students walked by arm-in-arm sharing an after-school snack, it was the sweetest thing.

– The array of colourful trainers on display

Boy do Koreans love a bright trainer and they really jazz up the pavement.

– My cosy little studio

As I’ve mentioned before my new home exceeded my expectations and after a week I feel pretty settled. I have a surprisingly comfy bed and the underfloor heating is a revelation.
– My co-teacher

I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
– The Konglish everywhere you look

Literally everywhere you look. If I tried to document it all I would have my camera permanently glued to my hand. Hilarious.
– How cheap most things are

As a self-professed cheapskate I’m in heaven.
– The food (most of it)

However its usually best not to ask what you’re eating and just enjoy it because knowledge of the ingredients can often kill your appetite instantly.
– Kimchi 

The national dish of Korea deserves its own entry. We’ve had a rocky relationship kimchi and I but we’re now best of pals. Fermented cabbage may sound revolting and believe me at first it tastes it too. But the thing is, kimchi to Koreans is as chips are to Brits – it comes with absolutely everything you order. With this in mind I was determined to love it and after a fortnight or so in Korea I have developed a borderline addiction.
– Korean fashion

These kids are styled to the nines. And its the really little ones too. No Florence & Fred for these babies oh no!
– The cute tat

Any sane person would assume a business couldn’t possibly run solely on the sale of Hello Kitty clothes pegs but this is Korea and cuteness is king.
– The bowing 

Although its often hard to gauge the appropriate degree one should dip at any given meeting and whether or not to go for a bow/handshake combo.
– My principal ‘s diamanté tie

Enough said.
– The slippers in school policy 

So comfy.
– Receiving fist bumps and declarations of love from my students 

In Korea I’m cool.
– Korean hospitality

So far I’ve had three invitations to people’s homes for dinner, an offer of a piano lesson and a discount on ‘facial procedures’. So kind.

Rising to the challenge

It’s been an eventful few days. There have been highs – going out for dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant with my co-teacher and a lovely lady called Wen; there have been lows – getting locked in the staff room at the end of the day on my first day of school (among other things); and there have been out and out shockers – I attended church, of my own free will (sort of).

Although I’m certainly happy to be out of the orientation incubator, today as I battled with my first day of classes I did miss the security of being in a bubble surrounded by people who speak my language. Fortunately I have my fellow bubble-dwellers to turn to, and of course my oh-so-long suffering friends and family back home.

I can see that the teaching aspect of my time here is going to be a challenge – at least at first – but after all that’s why I’m here so I’m more than up for it.

Also I swear I will upload pics tomorrow from my school laptop!

I mean it this time.

Word from the ROK

This post is so long overdue but I solemnly swear to regularly update from now on.

Just in case you want to envision me while you’re reading this, I’m currently hanging out in my newly acquired apartment, chowing down on noodles and watching the Korean version of Eastenders while I wait for the longest wash cycle in the world to end.

I was actually pleasantly surprised when I was let into my apartment. I’d expected it to be approximately the size of a broom cupboard, but its at least twice that size. Mercifully my predecessor was more considerate than others I’ve been hearing about, he gave the place a good clean and tidy and left behind clean bed linen, an array of cleaning supplies, a month’s worth of toilet paper and four bottles of soju. What a guy.

The apartment building itself is clean, tidy and modern and its in a great spot, tucked away just off a busy shopping area. Its pretty quiet minus my neighbour’s violining (?). Anyone who knows me knows I’m keen on parks and I’m opposite a massive one that’s going to look lush in the spring when all the cherry blossoms are in bloom. There’s also a great little market just around the corner plus plenty of supermarkets, pharmacies, hair salons etc. I’m a ten minute walk a way from my school and the closest subway station and just four stops from downtown Daegu, so I’m a happy camper.

I start at school on Monday and am experiencing pretty mixed feelings. I’ve met my main coteacher, who is absolutely lovely, but I’m yet to meet the other eight…Also, whenever I tell a Korean that I’m teaching high school boys their eyes get really big and their eyebrows shoot right up their forehead, as if to say ‘good luck with that‘. I’ve also been told explicitly, by no less than three different people, that if I don’t fancy having my insides excavated via a kid plunging his finger into my rectum at high speed then I should refrain from wearing dresses.

In other news

1. I think I might return with an American twang. The orientation bubble was densely populated with yanks and I’ve found myself adding an upward inflection to the end of statements. I hate myself
2. I am always thirsty here. No matter how much water I drink I never feel hydrated, ever
3. Koreans don’t believe in cars that aren’t black, white or silver
4. I am a celebrity here, beloved by elderly women on trains and teenage couples in cafes both
5. Koreans like to spit, its pretty much their favourite thing in the world to do