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!