Archive | April, 2012

Teachers’ dinner in Ulsan

24 Apr

This week is kind of a cushy week for me. The kids have mid-term exams for three days, so Monday – Wednesday I desk warm in the morning (for the non-TEFL teachers, that means I sit at my desk and do whatever!) and then go home after lunch. I only have to teach Thursday and Friday, and because the other classes will be behind, I’m going to show a Wallace & Gromit short and give the kids worksheets based on that. It’s a light week.

Because of it being mid-term week, my faculty organised a teachers’ lunch this afternoon in Ulsan, a city about an hour east of Busan on the coast at the easternmost point of the South Korean peninsula. I haven’t had a chance to socialise with my co-workers yet, because my school hasn’t organised any social activities, or if they have it hasn’t been with the whole staff and I haven’t been invited. My immediate co-workers in the English department are mostly married or a bit older than many of my EPIK friends’ co-teachers, which I think explains why they haven’t invited me out socially.

I was naturally excited to spend some time with my fellow teachers outside of the office! I already knew that not many of them have a lot of English (other than the English department that is) and they seem quite nervous about using the English that they do have. I hoped that this little road trip would give them a chance to get more comfortable with me.

My main co-teacher and I got a lift out to Ulsan with another female teacher and two other colleagues. It was basically a car full of women, and it immediately had that relaxed, gossipy feel that a group of female friends together always has. It felt pretty good to be in that car, feeling kind of like one of the group even though I mostly had no idea what was being said. My co-teacher is very good about trying to include me, so a couple of times when something particularly funny and easy to explain happened she filled me in on the joke and I was able to contribute something, which was awesome.

We were the last car to arrive at our destination, which immediately caused some hilarity (women drivers, eh?) but also meant that we got to sit together. I was pleased to be able to build on the camaraderie that had started in the car, and rolled out my very basic Korean, saying “this is delicious!” when I started in on my barbecued beef. Again, my co-teacher and the others made efforts to include me when possible. Not everything is going to be translatable, but they actually asked me questions and tried to speak a little English, which I really appreciated. Also no one tried to make me drink any alcohol, which I was so relieved by! I’m not a big drinker and I really hate daytime drinking! I didn’t want to get embarrassingly drunk in the middle of the afternoon trying to be polite and not refuse drinks!

There was a nice ice-breaker early on in the meal when the kid serving us asked my Korean co-teacher where I was from. One of the Korean teachers with little to no English told him I was from England and he should practise his English on me! He obeyed this command first saying “Hi!” and then “I love you!” whilst my colleagues died laughing.

Koreans seem to really appreciate my eating skills, which I’ve often thought are undervalued back home. Often when I’m eating with Koreans they will prompt me to try foods and sauces and ask me how I like them. I thought that my willingness to try everything on offer in the lunch room at school had won me some brownie points, and today that was confirmed by my co-teacher. I was happily trying some traditional Korean soy bean stew and packing it away, as per usual, when I felt I was being watched… I looked up to see the somewhat surreal sight of the entire table of thirty-odd Koreans watching me intently!

Me: Err… did I do something wrong?

Co-teacher: No, they want to know if you like this? They think many foreigners don’t like soy bean stew, they say it’s stinky.

Me: No, it’s delicious! *thumbs up to table*

Entire table: Ahhhhhhhh!

Co-teacher: Koreans like people who eat well. You eat everything and try every food so everyone at Daeshin (my school) likes you!

I was pretty chuffed about that! Maybe that’s why I get some much food left on my desk?!

Some of the teachers I was sat with followed up their meal with “cold noodles”. When this arrived it was actually spicy wheat noodles with chipped ice! I couldn’t believe it – I’d never seen iced noodles before. Of course, this resulted in one of the teachers grabbing a bowl and spooning me out a generous helping to try! I was a bit nervous this was making me look like a rude fatty, but the teacher said (via my co-teacher) that Koreans love to share food so I shouldn’t worry.

After eating (and being grilled by the principal and other teachers on why I don’t hate the foods they’re convinced all foreigners hate!) we went out to the coast to stand at the point which is the easternmost point of South Korea (or rather, where the sun rises first on Korea and Eurasia). It’s not much to look at, although I’m still sad I forgot my camera because I realised that this is it! I’VE NEVER BEEN THIS FAR AWAY FROM HOME!

I got a lift back to Busan with a different group of teachers, including two of my co-teachers. On the way we chatted about my brother and his love of experimenting with strange foods, and brainstormed all the weird and, quite frankly, gross foods that we could get him to eat in Korea! Look forward to that, Tom!


Ajumas for a Friday

20 Apr

It’s Friday! My Fridays are actually one of my busiest days. I have three lessons back to back in the morning, which is no fun. Especially as it’s grade 2 then grade 3, then grade 2 again! I get so confused…

Anyway, I get a little break around lunch time, but it isn’t long enough for me to get stuck into my lesson planning (and it’s a light load next week anyway) but it’s too much time to be able to waste on Facebook, so I’m going to post about ajumas.

Ajumas are a phenomenon that every waygook (that’s foreigner) who comes to Korea will become very familiar with. The term basically means older married woman, but it becomes synonymous with Korean old ladies.

Korean old ladies all have the same spiral perm, and the same uniform of outdoor wear (usually North Face hiking gear from head to toe, sometimes in multiple clashing colours) and a visor. They’re little, and adorable, and also the bossiest, rudest, pushiest people on the planet!

In Korea, being elderly means everyone has to respect you, and no one can tell you off, so you can get away with anything. Mostly this manifests as pushing people about, especially on public transport. I mean this literally – if I’m trying to get off a packed subway train and there’s an ajuma behind me, most often she’ll wedge her forearm across my lower back and use me like a snow plough to barge her way through the press of people. I’ve come to expect it, and I now know exactly how much resistance to put up to make sure I stay on my feet, but get out of the way!

The ajumas of Dongdaesin-dong (my local area) seem to be a friendly bunch. One day whilst I was waiting for a subway train, an ajuma decided to chat to me. Undeterred by the fact that I didn’t understand a word she was saying, she babbled away at me in Korean until the train arrived, when she gave me a handful of hard-boiled sweets and a a huge grin for my trouble.

Recently in my local pharmacy, I was set upon by a gaggle of older ladies telling me (in Korean, but with miming) how beautiful and tall and thin I am (Koreans seem fascinated by my height as I’m about 10cm taller than the national average). When I said thank you in Korean (“gamsa hapnida”) they burst out laughing, repeating me and nodding and smacking me on the back. When I smiled and bowed they were even more pleased, and started patting me all over like a dog who’d mastered a particularly impressive trick. It was completely adorable.

So there you go! I’m sure I’m likely to have even more run-ins with Korean ajumas during my time here. Personally I enjoy their cantankerous old lady shtick, so I’ll continue to accept my sweets, pats, shoves, and tellings-off with a smile.

Korea in Spring is Beautiful Even When I Am Not

18 Apr

Spring has arrived in South Korea and it’s beautiful. Arriving in February, everything in Korea seemed kind of grey. There were no leaves on the trees, and no colour on the mountains. At the time, the drizzle reminded me of home (that’s the British for you) but I’m a summer baby and I was looking forward to the changing of the seasons.


Well, it hadn’t occurred to me that spring in Korea would be so beautiful! Thanks to the Japanese, who planted lots of cherry trees during their years of rule (er, thanks colonial oppressors!), spring in Busan means lots of cherry blossom. My neighbourhood was transformed! My school yard was no longer a cheerless, sandy, gateway to hell (I love my school really)! To really soak up the cherry blossom beauty, I headed to the nearby town of Jinhae for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Image

As you can see, it was busy, but beautiful.

Many Koreans seem to be expert posers. There was a lot of “Korean Vogue-ing” going on, which I attempted to join in on. Please excuse my face – I was also suffered from a bad head cold, hence the pallor.


For some reason, Koreans seem to enjoy approaching and taking photos of me. I’m always happy to answer university students’ surveys, pose for photos with Korean couples, perform the running man on demand (the question is usually “can you shuffle?” – they love LMFAO here) and wave at small children. On the whole, I’ve found Koreans to be welcoming, friendly, and polite, so I try to return the favour!


Street food at the festival was pretty special. I ate some spit-roasted pork, and a street waffle (so delicious, and made fresh!). I didn’t try some of the more… interesting-looking offerings though!


These guys look like whole fried ducklings on a skewer?


Apparently these guys are squid with the tentacles kind of tucked up.


This is a vat of silkworm (I think) larvae being cooked up. People get these in a little cup and eat them like a tasty snack. The smell to me seems pretty vile so I haven’t been tempted to try them yet. They seem pretty popular though!


God knows what this is, but I thought the fin poking out the top looked pretty cool!

I sadly didn’t get any photos of my neighbourhood in all it’s blossomy glory, because the cherry blossoms don’t last long here. One rainy day was enough to get rid of most of the blossoms near my school. I think the temporary nature of the blossoms makes them even more beautiful – they seem so delicate. It’s hard not to go all navel-gazing Lost In Translation-stylee when you’re walking under them. In a word: beautiful.

Jagalchi Fish Market

4 Apr

Jagalchi fish market is a famous market in Busan, which is… uh… full of fish. It’s CRAMMED full of fish, some of the largest, and most interesting-looking fish (and other sea creatures) that I’ve ever seen. I spent ages wandering about cooing at eels and octopuses and shellfish and all sorts of weird and wonderful things. The best way to describe them is to show you!




Most of the stalls looked like this one – and there are a lot of stalls on the ground floor of the market. They mostly sell all sorts of things, although a few are more specialised.


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