Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Banish those winter blues!

I wouldn't say I'm suffering from festive blues, obviously I'd like to be at home with my family, but I'm fairly fine with not being as well. What I am suffering from, is winter blues, it's positively freezing! It's recently been between minus 12 - 17. I don't want to go out unless I absolutely have to, my feet and toes are constantly chilled, even my hair freezes, and the cold steals my breath away. So to help me overcome this serious bout of winter blues, 2013 will now look something similar to this....

manila 550x355 Manila, Philippines 
Manila, Philippines
Boracay Beach White Sand
Boracay Island, Philippines
Kawasan falls, Cebu Island
Palawan Island, Philippines

Merry Christmas, and happy birthday to me!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Moviethon time

I feel like I should apologise for my ongoing weather updates, but being British talking about the weather is meant to be second nature. For example, I'm currently aware that England is quite sodden, because my mum kindly informs, and updates me during our Skype conversations. 
I knew Korea would be cold, but minus 17! I've never experienced minus 17 in my life! And nor have some Koreans, because it's apparently the coldest winter for 56 years. 

To quote my friend News beat "it's as cold as witches t*ts out there. I disapprove."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Four months since touch down.

I'm afraid I need to do a little back blogging again. Fortunately unlike some of my friends, I don't have any grand desire to be a writer in the future. My blog is simply a record of my personal thoughts and experiences. Some of my friends blogs are more informative, frequent and entertaining. You can find links to  them and others on my page, if you are interested in Korea, I do recommend you read them. 

I'm coming to realise that everyone's experiences and opinions vary greatly. With the EPIK program you really don't know what your situation will be like until you are here, it is a complete lottery (and it can change). I don't have the best of everything, but I know others have some things more difficult than me. I feel quite fortunate, in that my situation and experiences are generally somewhere nicely in the middle, with a few ups and downs now and again.  

Tomorrow is the last day of School for two whole weeks. Hopefully I will find some time to play blog catch up. Generally my School keeps me pretty busy, so by the weekend I'm pretty tired. Consequently, Korean classes are also on the back burner. They help(ed) me forge a good circle of friends, but come the weekend I find I'm presently lacking energy and concentrations levels. I've now reasoned that it took quite a lot of energy and effort to get here, so I figure I deserve some time to relax and reflect. 

Today, I went to research purchasing materials for my winter camp craft activities. I know, doesn't that sound interesting. In January, I have to teach three weeks of winter camp (morning lessons only). No textbook, I've practically had carte blanche on what to teach. This means more work, but it's great because rather than just teach set textbook phrases and expressions. I can be creative, try to improve their fluency, and have some fun. My co-teachers (COTs) asked about my craft abilities, I explained that I have some recent experience from being a youth worker, and summer school. I told them I've found when I demonstrate how bad my efforts are, it helps raise students confidence because they can probably do better than me, and often want to show me so. Earlier this evening, I went to Homeplus (I love homeplus for the Tesco brands I can get there) to buy my COTs some little Christmas gifts (Quality street chocolates nonetheless). Anyway, I think they might be slightly more concerned about my craft abilities when they see my patchwork attempted wrapping! I played 'pass the present' with my after school kids a week or so ago, and I used the left over scraps of paper I had from that. Whilst wrapping my COTs gifts, I noticed the paper wasn't quite the shiny red Christmas themed paper I thought I'd bought... 
Embarrassingly hilarious! Thankfully my kids didn't seem to notice, they were more interested in chastising me for wasting paper, and sharing the gifts amongst themselves, so that everyone got a little something or other. Note to self: must read the small print more closely, especially when it's in English.

Korea has been looking pretty festive since October, there were Christmas decorations on display at the same time as Halloween. This actually helped me be organised enough to send Christmas cards in plenty of time. Most have received theirs now, which means I can post this picture to illustrate how in true Korean style Christmas cards are super cute here!

I thought I would spend Christmas exploring more of Seoul, but it's too cold for too much of that. Seriously, I have never been so cold in my life, it takes a certain level of energy/mind over matter/intoxication to brave venturing outside. Plus, there's plenty of time in the coming months. It also means I can carry on planning my winter camp lessons, so they should be really, really good! You can tell I'm enjoying my job, when I want to do work over the holidays.   

Besides, my Christmas presently looks a little like this...
Ah, bless me. However, I'm actually feeling a little Christmas fatigued. I've been teaching Christmas related lessons for the majority of December, we've had snow already, and I participated in Santacon a couple of weeks ago, roll on New year! I feel the best way to not feel too melancholy about the turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce, roast spuds (potatoes), roast parsnips, sprouts, presents, and family games I'll be missing, is to not think about it too much. Obviously, this means that this present will be be opened before Christmas day. I've opened two parcels already anyway. Big thanks to my Mum, and my brother's family for your gifts. I've been wearing them xxx

This weekend, I hope to finally start planning my holiday for 'spring break', followed by more carols at a Norebang. Can you believe this Christmas classic is not that well known by my American friends?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I've always liked strange characters, too.

Red days on the School Calendar represent various national holidays, today's was for the national election. Shannon told me a little bit about it beforehand, but I mostly just listened and nodded. I'm not an avidly interested in politics, and I'm generally cautious about discussing with others. Hopkins is the only person I know, who somehow makes discussing politics enjoyable.

Anyway, I used my day off School to visit the Tim Burton exhibition at Seoul Museum of Modern art. I went with my friend Maryland cookie, yes she's hasn't dropped off the edge of the planet. She just doesn't use Facebook, she tweets. I don't get it either.

I've seen some Tim Burton movies, so I know they're quite distinctively macabre. I'm not a huge fan of all of them, however ones such as 'the nightmare before Christmas' and 'Sleepy hollow' resonate with me for personal reasons.

Previously, I had no idea that he was involved with one of my favourite Disney films ever! The fox and the hound.

It wasn't actually the blockbuster film memorabilia that really captured my attention, it was more his deliciously dark humorous sketches and absurd poetry.

I wish I could find some better examples. 
Unfortunately, I couldn't take pictures inside the exhibition. So, I guess you'll have to go and see them to fully appreciate. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Not a Scooby'

Last week, one of the key expressions I needed to teach my kids was 'I have no idea'. Whilst lesson planning and chatting to my COT, I told her that I'd probably say 'not a Scooby', which pretty much means the same thing. My COT then asked me if this is a widely known expression. I replied, "yeah, everyone knows what it means". Then, I broke it down for her. I explained that it's short for Scooby-doo, because he's a bit dim, and it rhymes with clue. My COT really liked it, she told me to teach this expression to the kids. So all week, I duly taught them 'I haven't got a Scooby'. However, when I mentioned this expression to my American friends, it turned out they really didn't have a 'Scooby'. Not as widely known as I thought then, oops! Consequently, my current mission is to raise awareness, and frequency of usage within AmE (American English). My American friends seem to love it when Brits use certain expressions, so I'm hoping it won't be too difficult to get this one to catch on...

I've realised that whilst I'm struggling to understand what my American friends are saying, they're also finding it difficult to follow me. I think this may have taken slightly longer to dawn on me, because people sometimes find me difficult to follow regardless of their first language. Whilst chatting to News beat and Lady PP, they admitted they've been wanting to ask me to explain a few things I've said. Such as:
  • PMSL - Seemingly a Brit acronym (who knew?!), which means p*ssing myself laughing. News beat commented that Brits seem to use p*ss in a much less angry or literal manner than Americans. 
  • Tea-time - Same as dinner time, just more informal.
During our conversation about language differences, News beat sent me this link about British problems which I found mildly amusing. News beat also told Lady PP to read it in my voice in her head, she said "it makes it funnier". Oh really, mmm?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bukchon Hanok Village walking tour

I arranged a small group walking tour through Visit Seoul's website. This was fairly easy to do as they have an on-line booking system. There are other free walking tours available from other guides/websites, but this was the only one I found which offered tours on Sundays.  

Our guide was an older retired Korean gentleman, he was extremely patient (ladies were late, but not me for once), kind and informative. He took us around Bukchon Hanok Village, this is an old traditional part of Seoul.

He showed us various Korean houses and explained how they are minimally designed to provide a balanced feel of nature inside. He told us about the secret, not so secret, secret palace gardens, the mountains, pagodas, the stories and conspiracies surrounding the suicide of the Hyundai companies chairman, and he showed us where the President resides. 

Bukchon Hanok Village was bustling with tourists even on a Sunday. It was a quaint traditional little area of Seoul, although you could see the modern expanse of the city rising up in the backdrop. This was a very pleasant afternoon stroll. There are 16 other walking tours offered on Visit Seoul's website, so we plan to organise another one in the near future.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


I was running late as usual, dithering, drinking, white wine, and dreading the prospect of wandering around outside in minus 12 conditions. When I suddenly had a spark of inspiration, but I'll get to that later.

Santacon is an annual worldwide event that I'd never heard of before. It basically involves dressing like Santa/festively, and singing Christmas carols merrily. My friends and I discovered there was one happening in Seoul, we'd purchased our chon won Santa hats from Daiso, and we were ready to join the festivities.

I haven't quite adopted the Korean 'hurry hurry' mindset. My friends now like to affiliate my lateness with the 'Cheongnyangni black hole'. This is partly true, Cheongnyangni station is one stop before mine, and it's the last station for inner Seoul. This means that the Subway doesn't run as late at night to my home. It also means Cheongnyangni can sometimes randomly (ok there might be an announcement in Korean) be the last stop on the line, so everyone has to suddenly disembark. Then, I have to wait a while to get another train to Hoegi.

Due to the 'Cheongnyangni black hole' and my usual dithering, I was running late to meet my friends at Sinchon. The Santacon revellers had already been drinking in that area for a couple of hours, they were due to gather on the platform from 8pm, and then take the subway to Hongdae at 8.30pm. Korea has free wifi on the subways. So I was Kakao-ing my friends to give them an eta, and tell them the corresponding platform number for my carriage, so we could meet as I arrived. There was a moment when we thought I might miss them, but thankfully I managed to time it superbly. As I arrived at Sinchon, my friends and all the Santacon revellers excitedly and purposefully boarded the train. The best part about the whole experience was watching the bemused reactions from Koreans, some of whom used their smartphones to capture pictures and videos. I also tried to quickly capture a few moments...

Following Ted's grumpy assertion that he wasn't drunk enough for carols, I reached into my bag to rescue my 'inspiration'. Ted exclaimed 'that looks suspiciously like you're about to drink a bottle of p*ss'.
I laughed and assured him that it was White wine I'd decanted into a water bottle. I explained I'd bought it to help numb the sense of cold. Sure enough, we were all soon swigging from my bottle, and singing some carols with the other Santa's.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Snow is falling...

Or it will be soon. It's regularly minus degrees here now, but I still haven't seen any frost in the mornings. At these temperatures in the UK, I'm sure I'd be having to de-ice my car everyday. It's a different kind of cold I guess...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Magic pants' made my Thursday

Today one of my Kids requested to change his name to 'Magic pants'.
I agreed, because I found it as hilarious as the other kids did. Following his name change, he was ever so keen to participate and answer questions in class, just so I would keep saying it. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Why so serious?

This is a phrase my kids say a lot. Initially I didn't understand it, I thought they were implying I was too serious. Although, I guessed that they were mimicking something, I just didn't know what.
Confused I thought to myself I'm your teacher, I can't be an entertainer all the time, I'm meant to be trying to help you learn some English. Then, I told myself to chill out.
I've now come to the conclusion that it's actually quite a good rhetorical question.
'Why so serious?' 

I've also since discovered it's a lyric.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I don't know what I'm taking....

I'm feeling a little snuffly, slight sore throat and I have a bit of head cold. Until now, I thought I'd been doing rather well at avoiding sickness bugs. This evening I decided to venture into a chemists near Hankuk University. The Chemist was really nice and helpful, he spoke quite good English, and he gave me these. He instructed me to 'take one, two times, three times a day'. 
Cautiously, I only took one. Lets see if they do the trick...

Other medication that I have, is for headaches and various other aches and pains I believe.

I think the bright red capsules actually look slightly scary.

Perhaps I'll have to start wearing a surgical mask like the Koreans do. Originally I thought they wore these to avoid getting sick, but now I understand they also wear them to try to avoid making others sick. Considerate, huh?

In true Korean style, you can get them in all sorts of colours, and cutesy themed styles.

You get the idea...

Ha ha!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Three months down, I live in Korea...

No really, I do... I've had my alien card for a couple of months now, but it's finally starting to sink in and feel real. Today was my three month anniversary! I finally know my home address, although I still don't know how to write it in Hangul. Actually, I'm starting to feel rather embarrassed by my limited knowledge of Korean. I really must try to study a little harder, but, there are always so many other things to do and learn that it tends to get put on the back burner. Not knowing Korean means that certain things take me longer, and life a little more difficult at times. For example, tonight I have spaghetti arms again, not from playing badminton this time, but from carrying my newly purchased microwave the 20 minute walk home. I can only manage to ask taxi drivers to drop me by my nearest subway station, and I figured it was too complicated to try to explain where I live, so I would just walk and carry. What a superb decision that was, please don't let there be spaghetti for lunch again tomorrow!

Teacher Shannon told me that Korean's actually count days and celebrate numerous anniversaries, with 100 and 300 being particularly poignant. 'How do they keep track?' I asked.
She said 'oh, there's an app for that'.
Der, obviously, silly me!
So next week for our 100 day anniversary, we (some fellow SMOE teachers and I) should hopefully be going to celebrate this very Korean, and important relationship anniversary. Perhaps we'll even buy some matching clothing! Joking aside, it feels quite symbolic in that I'm finally starting to feel like I'm making some good friends.

A lot could change in the coming months, but I've gone from contemplating coming home for Christmas to seriously considering renewing my contract for another year. Bearing in mind that I am thinking about this despite the challenging students, and sub-zero teaching conditions (it's minus degrees now, and my school still haven't turned on the heating). There are definitely some negatives to living in Korea, but there are also many positives. I keep meaning to write about some of the wonderful, touching and entertaining experiences I've had with some of my students, but I think I'll save those thoughts for a future post...

So many little things to smile about, presently watching the Spider-painter working on the apartments near school brightens up my morning/afternoon walks.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Can you tell me ten words that you'd use....?

My Idlewild nostalgia has been re-ignited. Roddy's voice still gives me goosebumps <3 
At the time, I felt ready for their hiatus, but now.... I can't believe there isn't a better version of this on YouTube, or that I may never see them again. I'm going to incorporate this phrase 'Can you tell me ten words that you'd use to describe......?' into my future lessons. Hopefully some of my students will try harder, or possibly not, but at least it'll make me smile.

Friday, November 9, 2012


A few weeks ago, I was describing how I was feeling a little down and slightly anxious, to the point of just wanting to be alone. 'Oh, you're feeling homesick' came the response and general assessment. Followed by assertions, that they weren't feeling homesick. I interjected, 'I don't miss or want to go home'. Then, I continued to explain that although I've been pretty busy, and I've made lots of new acquaintances, I don't feel like I've really connected with anyone. 'Oh, you don't have a best mate'. 'Well, I don't usually have a best mate, more like a few good friends'. The conversation kind of floundered there, I felt like they didn't really understand me, although I felt a little better for sharing.

Later, I had the realisation I'm probably feeling a little friendsick. You see now I'm far away and on my own, those connections are important to me, from them I derive some of my sense of belonging, identity and worth. For the first few months, I've been busy settling into my new life, but I haven't  forgotten about my friends and family. Particularly with the readily available access to Facebook, which amongst other somewhat irritating things does allow me to keep in touch with people I care about. However, there’s quite a difference between a 'Like' and a Skype call. So, recently I've made more of an effort to Skype and message people. I've also been buying little gifty things to post to them, which has helped me feel a little happier, and more connected to those I love.

Hopkin's astute analogy made me laugh this week. When I mentioned how I've been feeling, he said 'it's natural, like breaking up with somebody, I'm sure you'll get over it'. So although I was the instigator, I'm still experiencing some feelings of loss and separation.  

This evening, another teacher messaged me to say that she was now feeling similar, and she sought assurance that these feelings would pass. Being a confident and advisor is a familiar role to me, and it felt nice being able to oblige and assist.

So tonight, I am having a restful night in with my old friend LD, and my new friend makkoli :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shhh! Shhh! It's oh so quiet...

Today, I couldn't quite believe how quiet Seoul actually was... School didn't start until 10am, which meant I had a nice lie in. This was because the high school students were taking their KSATs, the equivalent of English A-levels or American SATs. All schools and government employees started at 10am to reduce the volume of rush hour traffic, so students wouldn't be late for these extremely important exams. 

In Korea, schools tend to be clustered together, there is a middle school and high school next to my elementary. Usually we have tinkly little tunes to notify us that classes are starting and ending, but not today. The children didn't go outside to play, and there was generally an eerie quietness throughout the city. 

I'd heard that a no-fly zone is enforced, so I asked my COTs about this. They said 'oh yes, during the listening test'. They also proceeded to tell me that the exam lasts all day, and if students fail they can't re-take their exam until next year. I explained this is similar in England, so they continued to tell me that apparently Americans can re-take their SATs several times. 

I asked them what the high school students will do afterwards, they told me they will probably go out drinking and celebrating, although the legal age limit in Korea is nineteen.
(It's oh so quiet, it's oh so still, you're all alone and peaceful until....).
I explained A-level students like to let their hair down after their exams as well. However some students will be of legal drinking age because this is 18 in the UK. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Combat cold

As mentioned previously, it is pretty, pretty cold here now. Yet still no sign of the windows being shut, or the heating being switched on at school. My co-teachers and most of my kids wear their coats inside. Due to the constant drafts, (and corridor gale tunnels), it's colder in the building than out. Honestly, I've actually seen people remove layers when they leave. Today, they actually asked me to turn off my computer so there was more electric to power the heater. Excuse me, but how does that work exactly? Then when it got warm, they opened the window, huh? So, tonight I went shopping. I bought some gloves and a scarf. Combat cold has commenced! All the smart blouses, dresses that I bought with me are about to get drowned in fleece, and woollen layers. Not quite what I envisaged pre-korea...

You see the different coloured tips on the glove fingers, only touch screen friendly aren't they, how cool is that? Perhaps these have been around for a while, I just never knew before. I figured taking a picture whilst wearing them was a good test of their effectiveness, haha!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Were you born in a barn?

The temperatures have started to drop. It's definitely cold in the mornings and evenings now, not just a little chilly. And, I've begun to notice something I really can't fathom or quite understand. A month or so ago, my co-teachers were shivering and saying 'brr it's cold' and they started wearing trousers, jumpers and cardigans. At that point, I was nonchalantly thinking pah, this isn't cold! Now that it is cold (I mean, even I think it's cold), they seem insistent on keeping the doors and windows open, to the extent that sometimes it's not just a little draughty, it's blowing a gale. We sit in our little teachers office with our coats on, and honestly the school corridors are like ice wind tunnels. Again, I'm wondering what'll be like in winter?! 

A friend who's lived in Korea before informed me that they'll keep the windows and doors open all winter, in schools, in restaurants, etc. She said she believes that it is something to do with removing the 'bad air'?

Monday, October 29, 2012


Sadly, yet somewhat amusingly at times, my knowledge of American English is increasing at a greater rate than my Korean.

I've previously mentioned schwasted and suspenders. 

A couple more superb quotes from Suspenders have been: 
'I'm going pants and sweater'.
'I got my bangs out at School today and the kids went crazy'.

Other Americanisms:
Cotton candy

Do you understand all of those? I didn't, and I'm sure they'll be more to come....

Saturday, October 27, 2012


At a recent Halloween party, my wee American friend 'news beat' introduced me to a new word for hammered. Schwasted! In true, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) fashion it incorporates the notoriously difficult schwa pronunciation, which becomes effortlessly easier with the more alcohol one consumes.

Somewhat humourlessly in character, 'Father Dougal' said that it sounded like a hybrid of sh*t-faced and wasted. 

Whereas it made me think of Garth, schwing!

Koreans like to work hard and drink hard, so getting schwasted is rather common. I wonder whether I will still see people like this when the sub-zero temperatures hit.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Between darkness and light ~ Steve McCurry

This evening, I went to view Steve McCurry's 'between darkness and light', photo exhibition at the Seoul arts centre. Wow! I saw some truly moving and vibrantly colourful images, the kind that stay with you. 

Particular favourites of mine were:

'Elephants always remember a good book' Steve McCurry

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I finally had my introduction to the school badminton club. I wanted to post on Tuesday night, but I had a dead right arm from playing for two hours straight!

I had suspected they'd take it very seriously (Shannon kept warning me they would) and boy, oh boy did they! When I told them that I haven't really played since school they called me a beginner, and rightly so. In the end, I lost track of the number of times the shuttlecock came to blows with my body rather than my racket (my left ear lobe took a particularly searing swipe) .

At first there was just Penny, Edward (not their real names) and me. Penny has been trying to coax me to join badminton for weeks, she was super excited and over-friendly with me when I said I would join. High 5's in the corridor, Korean drinks and treats, etc. Anyway her enthusiasm had waned, because one month into teaching I still hadn't attended. Did I mention that it took me 5 hours to buy a pair of trainers in Myeongdong the other weekend. Ok, so I'm picky and indecisive at the best of times, but shoe shopping in Korea, well that's another blog of it's own...

Penny made me warm up stretch Korean style (see previous blog). She told me that stretching is important, I agreed with her and mentioned the recurring problems I have with my Achilles tendons. She looked concerned, and then she told me that she has metal pins in her back due to a car accident. She lifted her top to show me a huge support band around her waist. She said she probably shouldn't play, but she's crazy about badminton!

So initially Penny told me to warm up with Edward. He's only 8 years old and his English is pretty limited, like my Korean. Still, we were pretty fairly matched, he is clearly good for his age, although I think I managed to beat him a couple of times. Some of the other students noticed me playing and immediately wanted to join us, so Edward and me teamed up for doubles. We won. So far, so good right. Then, Penny started to play with me, we weren't playing a game, more having a knock about, or so I thought until I realised she'd been watching me play with Edward to identify my weaknesses. She made me work on them, I joked about it, but I was still enjoying playing (she even complimented some of my shots), so I made an effort to reach, jump and run to make the returns like a good sport.

After an hour or so, three more teachers came to join us. At this point, I was warmed up and mildly sweaty. They suggested doubles and paired me with the strongest player (a male teacher and badminton tutor), because I'm a beginner. This was when the pace changed dramatically, when the game commenced we bowed to our opponents, and then I was encouraged to cross racquets with my doubles partner and say 'fighting' in English. I assume as in 'fighting spirit'.

The next hour of playing, things got a little blurry due to the speed and pace of the game. I listened to their guidance and tried my best, but my body wouldn't move quick enough. Plus the more tired I got, the slower and clumsier I became....  

After two hours they asked if I was ok to play another game or whether I had other things to do. I said that I'd like to, but I didn't think that I should. I raised my right arm to show them how much it was shaking from constant tense gripping of the racquet, my right hand and arm muscles aren't used to this!
Penny said 'oh' in a concerned manner, then she hugged me to reward my efforts, before saying she'd see me again on Friday. 

There are no shower facilities at school, so I had to walk home in my sports gear. By the time I got home, I felt weak and my arm was really beginning to ache. It felt like I had slept on it funny, I even had pins and needles in my fingers. I almost had lift it with my left arm to get it to move, so showering was more tricky than usual. Although my arm ached, I was tired enough to be able to fall asleep, so I went to bed early.

On Wednesday morning,  my arm still felt shaky, and like it wasn't quite communicating properly with my brain. Not fun, when I'm predominantly right handed. Putting on mascara was somewhat challenging and frustrating. Thankfully, I started to regain feeling. At lunchtime we had spaghetti, now what a cruel twist of fate that was, I love Italian food! Granted I'm not the most accomplished chopstick eater. I kind of have my own self taught and styled method which usually works pretty well, but not today. Not with my right spaghetti arm!

The teachers laughed but sympathised with my predicament. So much so, they sent me home with a doggy bag. Wish me luck for my next 'fighting' session on Friday....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Please teach me Korean!

I'm afraid blogging has fallen by the wayside. So, so many things I've done and seen already and so many more to come... But, tonight I'm taking some time to relax with this film.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How do you leave Hongdae before the first subway ride home?

Is something I've yet to discover.... 

Hongdae is an area by Hongik University., on the far West side of Seoul. Wow what an eclectic bohemian mix of crazy around there! I hadn't expected to find such fusions of freedom of expression and cultural creativity in Korea. I love Hongdae, it's a huddle of windy little streets which are filled with confusing, exciting and fascinating little shops, bars and restaurants. There's a huge mix of students, Koreans (and when I say Koreans, most notably I mean Koreans who look alternative, like skater kids, indie kids, goths, punks etc), foreigners, teachers, soldiers, tourists, etc. I also hadn't expected time to fly so effortlessly, and find it so easy to stumble onto the first subway ride home.

You don't have to go to a club, bar or restaurant because there's usually something happening at Children's park in Hongdae. I don't know what it's like during the daytime, but in the evening there's impromptu gigs, BBoy dance-offs, and street fights. I was a little apprehensive about the later because I don't really like fighting. However, I quickly realised that the people paying to fight the street hustlers are usually too drunk to be any serious threat, which means it's more often comedic performance art than anything threatening or aggressive.
These are a couple of videos I captured to try to give you a better idea, although I'm afraid they aren't the best quality. The park is dark a night...  
 I will write more about Hongdae in the future, and try to capture a sense of my new favourite place in greater detail. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bright lights, big city!

On Saturday I went to Seoul's international fireworks festival by the 63 Building. We watched for two hours from Wonhyo Bridge.

The firework show took place over the Han river next to the 63 Building, which is a skyscraper on Yeouido island. This Skyscraper was built for the 1988 Olympics, so it's gold cladded! As you can imagine, this and the river Han provided perfectly beautiful reflective surfaces for the fireworks. 

Fireworks show:
19:30-19:50 - Italy's firework display
20:00-20:20 - China's firework display
20:30-20:50 - America's firework display
21:00-21:30 - Korea's firework display

The displays were chreographed to various musical accompaniments, let me tell you the Italian team really set the bar. Their show was amazing, they had smiley faces fireworks! How could the other team's possibly beat that? America and China were impressive, mainly theirs were generally bigger and louder. Then, there was Korea! They were going to be the best right? Of course they were! They lit up the sky with Smiley faces, bunny rabbits, intergalactic galaxies, love hearts and huge flowers! Simply spectacular!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Beyonce 'glee-ed' up my Friday!

Now, remember how the kids all have pseudonyms  Well today Snoop, which I figured was in reference to Snoop dog, only requested to change his name to Beyonce!
So this popped into my head....

'Are you sure?' I asked him.
'Yes' he said.
'You know that's a girls name, right?'
'Yes' he said.
'You are sure you want to be called Beyonce?'
'Well, ok'. I said. Genius!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Not a Samsung then.

I'm mobile again! However, I've stuck with what I know, much to the derision of some of my students.
My old phone seems so tiny now.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

'I want to play a game.'

Remember my little 'gangsta' student. He's changed his name to, wait for it... Jigsaw! 
That's right, Jigsaw.
Curiosity killed me, and perhaps somewhat foolishly I asked him if he's watched the Saw films. 
He told me that he hasn't, but I'm not so sure... His name before? It was John, wasn't it. During class he then behaved exceptionally well, like the perfect student in fact. Is this some sort of test? 
He's definitely a very interesting character. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I'm an alien!

I'm also still playing blog catch-up, hence some post headers with a lack of content. I'll get there :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Caffeine crisis

I kept thinking to myself, 'I hope energy drinks have a lot of caffeine in them. It's the only reason I've been drinking them this week!'

Something had to be done, Korean coffee is not for tasting too often (it comes in ready-made sachets with dried milk and sugar). I was seriously lacking caffeine. I made a trip to e-mart and purchased a slightly expensive jar of instant coffee. I was apprehensive because the jar looks somewhat similar to 'dishwater' type coffee granules. I was extremely disheartened to discover that with one tea spoonful it tastes like it too. I've rectified the problem somewhat by using table-spooned sized portions, and adding semi-skimmed milk. Ahhh, coffee! :)

To blog or not to blog?

I've been toying with the notion of writing a blog for while, but the first few weeks in Korea have been pretty hectic and I've honestly struggled to find time. From the moment I landed, I lost track of what day it is, and I've spent the last few weeks in a generally pleasant sate of dazed bewilderment. 

I also find the notion of being open and candid slightly strange. Don't get me wrong, I'll happily share humorous anecdotes from my life with loved ones, but the idea of posting on the net evokes some feelings of self-consciousness and anxiety. I know everyone is generally an expert on themselves, so it should be easy. But I don't tend to share lots of details, I like to hold a little back and retain an air of mystery. Plus, I tend to get a little lost in my own dreamy thoughts and simply forget to mention things...

For those who know me, deciding which blog has naturally taken me a while. And, I still need a little time to properly acquaint myself with the features and settings. Since I'm already a couple of weeks into my current adventure, I will need to blog a little retrospectively. Well, at least I've finally started, so I'll try to gather my thoughts and add more soon....  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

He is wearing red pants.

The current chapter at school is called 'he's wearing a red cap'. This lead to me having to stand at the front of the class and drill the pronunciation "he's wearing red pants". When I think pants, I visualise something like this...

Oh, American English, I had to force myself to maintain a straight face. How old am I?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

'un pour tous, tous pour un'

I was very fortunate to do my CELTA with some lovely EFL trainees. They were all very friendly and supportive during quite a frantic and stressful time. I co-taught lessons with two others, who I became quite close to, both of them were, and have continued to be tremendously supportive and encouraging. So now, I fondly like to think of us as the three musketeers venturing off to conquer the EFL world. 
Aramis (the master swordsman who intrigues women). 
Athos (the caring, protective one). 
Porthos (the one who loves food and wine~me). 
And, I suppose that could be d'Argtanan in the background. 

Prior to coming to Korea, I taught full-time at Summer school with Athos in Bristol. That was hard-work, but we still managed to have some good times. 

Last February, Aramis left the UK to live and teach in Gwangju. He kindly gave me lots of advice and support before I arrived in August. He was in Seoul this weekend, because he was running at the DMZ as part of a peaceful protest event. So, we arranged to meet up. He took me to Itaewon which is a popular area for foreigners in Seoul. We went to the Wolfhound, an Irish pub. Where, I indulged in my pleasure for drinking cider, and treated myself to some slightly expensive bottles of the apple fizzy stuff.

Aramis gave me several tips, these are a couple I remember:
  • Yogi-oh = 여기오 which means 'hey, over here'. It can be used in restaurants (although there is usually a yogi-oh button on the table), taxi's, etc.
  • Be prepared to barge your way off the buses and subway without apologising. Aramis told me that I would increasingly find myself doing this. I've had to push a little sometimes, but generally I'm managing to duck and weave my way past people whilst saying shil-le-ha-ge-ssŭm-ni-da. 실례하겠습니다 which means excuse me.
It was lovely to see a friendly face, and get my first proper hug for weeks! Aramis entertainingly regaled tales of his Korean experiences, kindly introduced me to his friends, and invited me to visit Gwangju. I hope to take him up on this offer at some point in the future.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gangsta's paradise

As mentioned previously some of my children have adorable pseudonyms. They also seem to have some choice materials that they like to bring the the classroom...
Today, whilst I was checking students had turned to the correct page. I casually pointed to one student's book and said 'page 112'. He turned to look at me. Only then did I notice that he had a large unused syringe with the needle in his hand. He lifted it towards me and made a swiping gesture at my arm. I was slightly stunned, but I opted to calmly repeat 'page 112'. Since the syringe failed to prevoke a reaction, he delved into his pencil case and pulled out his Stanley knife (Koreans regularly use these to sharpen their pencils, what's wrong with a pencil sharpener I don't know). He made a cutting gesture in the air, and said something in Korean. From his manner and his tone, I figure it was something threatening like 'I'm going to cut you'. I was not impressed, this twelve year old kid was actually trying to intimidate me. I opted to continue to appear unperturbed and calmly repeated 'page 112'. He muttered something else under his breath, before huffily turning to the page. I said 'thank you' and then swiftly moved away.    

Later over dinner, I regaled this tale to some fellow teachers, they asked why I hadn't scolded him or sought assistance from my co-teacher. I told them I'd also been thinking about whether I'd handled the situation appropriately. I explained that I my co-teacher was dealing with two other boys who were fighting across the room. I said I'd been told this student has some (unassessed) behavioural problems, and I felt like he was trying to intimidate me. So, I opted to go with my gut instinct of trying to calmly placate the situation rather than freaking out. I'm still not sure it was the best approach, however I assured them that I'd spoke to my co-teacher about it afterwards. Shortly after this conversation, what song should start to begin playing?

How apt? Beer tower flowing, good food, good company, and we were in fits of giggles....

Monday, September 3, 2012

My landlady

My landlady is lovely, she gave me a heap of stuff from the previous tenants. I got a hair-dryer, straighteners,  iron, glasses and mugs, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans. Towels, bedding and pillows, that she'd also washed for me. With my co-teacher interpreting, she also told me which bags I needed to use for food waste, general waste and recycling. How to use my air-conditioning, heating and hot water and door entry system. Then, she told me that I mustn't flush the toilet paper?!? I smiled and nodded, whilst in my head...

I almost wanted to ask her to repeat it, but at the same time I didn't want to expose my sudden shock and horror. Needless to say I spent the first few days feeling like I was at a festival, without proper amenities. I also had to re-potty train myself out of the automated flushing process. I've spoken to other teachers, who've said they are just flushing anyway. I don't dare because I have a feeling I'm the only waygook (foreigner) in my apartment block, so if the pipes get backed up they'll be looking at me!

Posters from a nightclub in Itaewon.

My landlady is also worried about me living on my own (ah). She told me that I must lock the utilty room door from the inside to stop people getting in. Err, I'm on the 4th floor, so unless Spiderman has moved from Manhattan I'd be extremely surprised to find someone had climbed up the sheer wall below my window. Besides there are numerous CCTV signs in the streets in my area. Considering that Seoul has a relatively low crime rate, it seems the Korean's fear of crime is even greater than at home.