Tag Archives: animals

Dogs Don’t Like Boys, Dogs Like Cars and Money

20 Jul

Remember that time I went to the cat cafe? And I likened it to a brothel? And enjoyed mauling the captive kitties? Well, I found something even better.

First, a little background. I love animals. I especially love all the fuzzy kinds of animals, and for the most part they seem to like me back just fine. Cats, horses, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, ferrets… I have owned or looked after them all at some point in my life. I am, however, an unashamed cat person. I love their aloofness. I love scrambling for their approval. I love being treated like a lackey, ignored until it’s convenient, and woken up when they’re bored. I love the knowledge that they would probably eat me alive if they were tiger-sized. I love their blood-lust, and their laziness, and the way they do really stupid stuff at about 2am when they revert back to kitten-hood and the house is suddenly filled with crazy invisible gremlins that only they can catch.

Me with our family cat Jeffrey and my brother with the family dog (here just a tiny puppy!) Dexter. Yes, we have matching T-shirts because we’re just that cool.

As a proud member of Team Cat, it pains me to admit that the best place to get my fix of animal lovin’ in Korea was the dog cafe (and as this is Korea I should probably clarify that this is a cafe with dogs in, not a cafe that serves dog). Dogs, it turns out, make much better cuddle-whores. Which makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, what do dogs do better than give humans attention in the vague hope of pats, or food, or just some acknowledgement? To dogs, even being told that they’re stinky little idiots is glorious, glorious attention.

Sadly, I have to conclude that the dogs are better at showering paying strangers with affection.

Painted Jezebel – canine version. Yes, the dog has dyed cheeks. Photo by Caroline Quick.

The dog cafe I went to is in Jangsan. There were some larger dogs in one area, and then a whole bunch of little guys in the main cafe where you can sit down and enjoy the complimentary cake buffet. For my 8,000 won entrance fee I got access to the cake buffet, a free smoothie, and licks, cuddles and chews from at least four dogs.

Photo by Caroline Quick

This guy was my favourite. He was a sturdy little fellow with a snub nose and well trimmed moustache. I couldn’t figure out what breed he was, though. Perhaps some kind of shih tzu/terrier mix?

We nicknamed him “The Brigadier”. Photo by Caroline Quick

I was totally prepared for the place to be a little stinky with that many dogs, but the staff did a great job of swiftly cleaning up after the little guys and I found I didn’t really mind the over-powering odour of dog. I forgot it all in a haze of gleeful belly scratches and face nuzzles.

Cuddles! He insisted on being picked up before I could leave the cafe. Photo by Caroline Quick

Seeing as Korean apartments are often quite small, and that taking a pet home to the UK is costly and time-consuming, the dog cafe might be the only way I’ll get to spend some time with animals during my stay here. My mum can rest assured that for another week at least, I’ve managed to restrain myself from adopting a pet in Korea.

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Sad face

13 Jun

 

Last night my guinea pig died, and I’m feeling pretty sad about it.

 

He was living with my mum, and she noticed he was eating less, and behaving strangely, so she took him to the vet. To cut a long story short, she had to make the decision to have him put down last night.

 

I feel bad about this for many reasons. For starters, my poor mum had to make the decision alone about what to do. My guinea pig was in pain so there was a time pressure on the decision, and she tried multiple times to call me with no luck. She called my mobile phone – but here in Korea no one calls me who I don’t know unless it’s a nuisance call or a weird boy (long story), so I didn’t pick up to the strange number. My laptop keeps overheating lately, and it did so last night so I turned it off and wasn’t on Skype, or email.

 

To say I feel bad about that is an understatement; I feel horrible. I know how hard it is, and how terrible it feels, to have to make decisions for someone else about their pets. I’m grateful to my mum for taking care of the little guy for me whilst I was away, but I wish I could have eased the responsibility for her last night.

 

I’m also sad because – hey, my pet died. I got the guinea pigs when I lived in a tiny flat in London and was feeling pretty depressed about life. They cheered me up, and gave me something else to focus on. As I said in a previous post, I miss having animals around me here in Korea because I’ve always had pets at home. I feel wrong without a pet. I feel weird knowing mine died when I wasn’t around.

 

Merlin, as my pig was called, was a ridiculous creature. He loved to eat, and when he briefly lived with my mum he preyed on her ignorance about the appetites of guinea pigs and grew to a ridiculous size. One time I took him to the vet, and warned him that Merlin was a bit fat. When I lifted him out of his box, the vet laughed so hard he shook and then exclaimed through the tears “that is the biggest guinea pig I have ever seen!”

 

 

Merlin in his favourite “flashing her my balls” pose. Sadly, this is how I will always remember him!

 

Merlin liked to scare the vet by squeaking loudly whilst having his claws clipped so that everyone thought he’d lost a toe. He loved to make popping noises along to the Hollyoaks theme tune (he had terrible taste) and would purr when being snuggled in a towel. He loved to show me his balls in the summer, and climb into my armpits in the winter.

 

I’m taking tonight to mope around the flat and feel bad about it, because sometimes you need to do that. I’m also going to eat junk food and watch shit TV and knit because these things are comforting. It sucks to be so far away from all the people I’d be hugging if I were in the UK right now. Tomorrow I hope to be cheered up by spending time with some awesome people, though. Luckily I know plenty of those in Korea.


Teaching and Learning

16 May

I’m aware of how cheesy and cliché it sounds, but teaching and learning are two things I do pretty much every day here, with varying degrees of success.

When it comes to teaching, this week I’ve been struggling to learn how to discipline my classes. I’m not a very stern person naturally, and it’s hard to discipline children when you can’t actually say much that they can understand. One punishment that we do dole out a lot in my classes is to make students stand at the back facing the wall, and all my students know what a silent and angry pointed finger means!

In the last class of today, which was a particularly rowdy one, I turned around and caught one of my students firing a spit-ball at my co-teacher’s back. This infuriated me! I know this class is unruly because my co-teacher is unpopular and the students have no respect for him, but not speaking Korean, I am only as strong as my co-teacher. I immediately ordered this girl to the back of the room, but she apologised and begged me to change my mind. She’s a pretty good student, who I also have for after school class and who always works hard, so I nearly gave in and allowed her to stay put. At the last minute I decided to hold firm – I can forgive many things, but spitting paper at a teacher is not one of them. I didn’t tell my co-teacher why I’d sent her there – one punishment ought to be enough. I felt terrible about it when I saw her face though! I suppose I’m torn between wanting to be liked, and wanting to be respected.

One of my adorable letters!

 

Obviously some students like me, as I received a pair of letters for Teacher’s Day! Teacher’s Day is when Koreans honour and celebrate their teachers, often by visiting former teachers and giving flowers and other gifts. My school had a ceremony in the morning where the students sang to us (enthusiastically but not very well!) and gave us carnations. Some of the classes had decorated their classrooms with balloons and in one case a red carpet leading me up to the lectern. The students seem to enjoy Teacher’s Day more than the teacher’s do, I think!

 

Back to the learning… I’ve realised that a certain amount of homesickness has started to set in. I’m lonely. Not to a crazy extent – I have made plenty of wonderful friends here who I see all the time. I can share things with them and relax around them in much the same way as I can with my friends at home. The difference is hard to explain. Essentially it’s tactile. My group of friends and my family at home are all pretty tactile people – we hug and hold hands and link arms and curl up on the sofa. It takes a long time to get to that point with new people for me; I’m generally not that cuddly a person! I realised that I’d been skipping a few stages by just drinking a little too much which allows those barriers to come down. Problem is, I don’t actually feel any better for it in the long run, so I’m going to have to try and push through it sober, I think!

 

I’ve always been surrounded by pets, too, so being literally alone in my flat all the time is having an effect. I’ve always thought I could live alone, and I think that’s true, but I can’t live alone and pet-less! I have no idea if I’ll go straight home at the end of my contract or if I’ll be tempted to resign, but I’m worried that I wouldn’t be able to live here, by myself, for more than a year without getting seriously depressed. After all, I only survived the last three years or so in London thanks to these little guys:


My guinea pigs, Arthur and Merlin. Merlin is still with us, and currently wrapping my Mum around his paw.

In which I find where to get some tail in Busan.

4 May

Cat cafes are exactly what they sound like – a cafe full of cats. It’s a great idea for countries with a high-density population like Japan and South Korea. Most people in the cities here live in small apartments with limited space for pets, especially pets like cats which either have to go outside unattended (not a great idea in a busy city) or get all their exercise in a two room flat. Hmm… not ideal. So what do people who want cats, but don’t have the space for them, do? Well, they go to a cat cafe, of course!

As a cat lover with serious pet withdrawals I was excited to check out my local cat cafes. So far I’ve been to Yang Yang Cat Cafe in Nampo-dong, and a cat cafe in Seomyeon. Both times I only got some cat loving through grabbing a passing cat. The kitties are mostly in it for the treats, so if you don’t have any tuna you’re not going to get any tail. So to speak.

Many of the cats are beautiful purebreeds, so even just watching them hang out, play, and terrorise small Korean children was worth the 7,000 won entrance fee (for which you also get a cup of tea). When you arrive, you change into some slippers in the little anteroom, and then find a table. The staff are on hand to make sure the cats are safe and happy, and that the punters get some feline attention.

It’s basically a little kitty brothel. Is cat house a pun too far? Maybe. I loved it. At the place in Seomyeon we were passing a month old kitten around for cuddles. This is a genius idea if you ask me.

I was satisfied that the place was clean, and the cats well cared for. They seemed on the thin side, but not unhealthy. There was food and water constantly on offer, and plenty of places out of reach for the cats to retreat to if they were feeling harassed. Neither place smelled bad, and the staff were keeping an eye on everything to make sure the cats were happy. There were rules on the walls asking customers not to wake sleeping cats, or pull their tails, etc (I think – the rules were in Korean but there were some pictures!).

Next up, I’m going to have to try the dog equivalent! Currently I get all my dog loving by attacking passers-by whilst they walk their dogs on the beach…

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!

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Crabs!

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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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My first week and a bit in Busan

6 Mar

Oh. My. God. What have I done?

This is the question I ask myself, sometimes several times a day, but definitely repeatedly over the last week. There have been some definite holy crap moments as it dawns on me what I’m letting myself in for, moving to live and work in a country where I don’t speak the language, minimal English is spoken, and I have little grasp of the customs and culture.

As I’ve been lax and not posted for ages, I will try to summarise some of these holy crap moments for you below:

– I arrived last Monday in Busan and was collected by a teacher from my school, who informed me that she was going on sabbatical for six months and wouldn’t see me until September, and couldn’t really help me with anything. She dropped me off at my flat, stayed to get the heating working and answer some of my questions (rather impatiently) and then left me alone with the parting advice of “ask (the English teacher I’m replacing, who was popping by for lunch) tomorrow” and “the kids are terrible. They have mental health problems. See you in September!”

– She MAY have just hated me because I scratched her car trying to get my suitcase out of her boot. Oops.

– I went to school on Friday and was given some more information about teaching, but no school calendar, and a vague “maybe next week” on getting my compulsory Alien Registration Card.

– I went to a restaurant with some friends, where no one spoke much English, and none of the menus had pictures. We pointed to the table next to us and said “joo sey yo” (give me that, please). We ended up with barbequed pork fat. I’m not kidding, it was not fatty pork. No hyperbole here. It was JUST fat and skin, cut up and cooked in front of us. We were so embarrassed about ordering something we couldn’t force down (we tried, it wasn’t even tasty crunchy type stuff) that we hid the pork fat in a napkin, which I then slipped into my pocket.

– Korea doesn’t have a lot of public bins, like hardly any. You have to pay for rubbish here so that makes sense. BUT it meant I spent a good hour walking around with pork fat in my pocket before I found somewhere to ditch it.

– I have no clue how the rubbish works in my apartment. The security/maintenance guy (a little old Korean man who was apparently very rude to the woman who dropped me off) came up to do a demo for me with lots of different bags and some rubbish for me to practice with (adorable) so I know how to separate it… I think. But I have no clue what to do with it now! My flat is just full of rubbish waiting for me to get brave enough to try and throw it out.

– School is terrifying. Finding out any information is a weird game of interrogating determinedly, but smiling and trying to give off an air of patience and good humour. Those of you who know me in person will know how difficult I find it to sound polite and genuine even when I am feeling polite and good humoured. When I’ve just asked someone for some information and I’m getting the same thing repeated at me with increasingly exaggerated gestures, it gets even harder. My tactic is asking a couple of times and if I don’t think I’ve been understood, I smile and say thank you, and then ask a different way later. Saves embarrassment all round.

– I haven’t applied for my ARC (Alien Registration Card) yet. I need it. I need it if I get sick, or if I want to leave the country, and it’s going to take WEEKS (at least 3) to get to me after I apply for it. I can’t open a bank account (which I need so I can be paid on time) until I’ve applied for it. On Friday my co-teacher said “you’ll go with (another co-teacher) maybe next week.” This week I asked him, and he said “I’ll go with you. Next week maybe?” And I was like “yes, but tell me WHEN.” He agreed to next Tuesday. We’ll see. I asked if I could go alone, but that was a no go. I need some info from the school, and it will be much easier with a translator. Which is lovely, because it’s going to be dull as ditchwater, but I still wish we could go sooner!

– Seafood comes with everything. And by seafood I mostly mean tentacles (since it’s tentacles that I don’t like!). At home I complained about “stealth cheese” because I can’t eat dairy and even when it isn’t on the menu, it appears in your food. Here it’s stealth cephalopods. We ordered a “green onion pancake” in a restaurant and when it arrived… prawns and tentacles!

Can't see the tentacles and whole baby octopus in this? Trust me, they're in there.

– Teaching children itself is a rather steep learning curve. Holy crap moments abound, like when one of my tasks fell totally flat and I had to ad lib an alternative… which mostly involved me returning to the board and going through some common errors and drilling the corrections. Stalling until the bell, basically!

Despite the hundreds of “what am I doing?” moments, there have been some really good moments too, that make me excited for my year here. In the interest of balance, here are a few of my best moments in South Korea so far:

– The Korean maintenance man for my building LOVES ME. Since I asked him how to do the rubbish (and he was rude to the teacher who dropped me off) he’s been grinning and waving like a maniac at me every time he sees me. I don’t think Korean’s wave as a rule, so I suspect he’s developed the wave for the westerners in the building. It’s pretty adorable. He also keeps packages for me so I don’t have to have things sent to my school and then carry them down the steep hill home. He’s awesome.

– I met the English teacher who taught at my school and lived in my flat before me, and she was really helpful. She showed me where the school actually was and how to get there (yeah, no one from the school bothered to do that!) and answered tons of questions. She helped me get my Mybi (Busan version of an Oyster card) and showed me a great place to eat Korean food in Nampo-dong. Made me feel a lot less stressed out about my arrival in Korea!

– I like my area. Dongdaesin isn’t far from some fun areas of town, but is also far enough away that it’s pretty quiet. I like that. I’m exploring some good places to go out locally, and my school is only a ten minute walk (admittedly up a very steep hill) away. Plus the shopping in Nampo is insanely good. I know where my wages are going. If I get to the end of my year, and I don’t have to ship a massive box of adorable Korean clothes and tat home, I have FAILED, people.

– In Nampo station I had a lovely encounter with some young guys who were running a shop selling cute accessories. I bought some very Korean headbands, and they took photos with me and my friend, and then stuck them on the wall of the shop. Totally adorable, and extremely welcoming. Yay for lovely Koreans!

– I quite like a lot of Korean food. The soups and stews especially are brilliant for the tail end of winter. I’m also a fan of the pancakes… I seem to be coping well with the spice now too (although I try and keep it to a minimum and let my body build up to it, otherwise I might have an IBS fail) which is good. Fruit is super pricey, but I’ve never been much of a fruit fan. My general tactic is to try anything, especially if I have no clue what it is. It seems to be working so far.

– Eating out here is also super cheap, did I mention that? Cheap AND yummy.

– I met a dog at the beach. He was wearing shoes with bells on. See, Busan has beaches AND dogs in shoes!

Photo by Desmond Poon

– Generally speaking my co-teachers in the English department at school are brilliant. I’ve not taught with them all yet… and unlike some places, they take a back seat in my lessons and let me teach. HOWEVER that’s not to say they aren’t involved in the lesson – they do a great job keeping the class in control, helping monitor and encourage kids with tasks, and assist with translations when the kids just aren’t getting my instructions… some translate more than others, but they are all very positive, enthusiastic co-teachers and the kids really like them, which is so helpful!

– I found a couple of bars I really like. As a Brit abroad, I was really looking for places that suited my love of pub culture. There are a lot of what I think of as American-style bars – loud music, etc, not really designed for slow drinking and chatting. I have found two places I like, one of which is a chain called Beer Mart. At Beer Mart you buy beers and snacks at the front, like a convenience store, and then after you pay you can sit at a booth in the back. It was surprisingly nice and trendy, and populated by the coolest-looking Korean kids. You can even buy popcorn and they microwave it for you! Heaven. The second place is basically a tiny pub-style place which plays a lot of classic rock. A nice break from the onslaught of Kpop, and as a classic rock fan I was pretty excited.

– My flat is lovely! It’s super roomy, and I actually have separate rooms, which a lot of people here don’t have. I have a sofa which pulls out into a double bed, too, so come on you visitors! You can see a video tour of my new place here.

– One of the best things here has to be the support network. I’ve met so many fellow Guest English Teachers (GETs) out here, both new and old, and everyone is so friendly and helpful it’s unbelievable. We come from all over the English-speaking world, and  everyone is so generous with sharing their knowledge and experience. Even if that sometimes just means a rant over a beer. It feels good to have some like-minded people to explore South Korea with whilst I’m here.

There is so much more that I could say, but this post is getting freakishly long! Congratulations if you made it to the end! I promise to try and update more frequently so I don’t have to do these kinds of crammed catch-ups.

Oh, and friends/family from home… if there’s something you want to know about my first couple of weeks, or you saw on Facebook maybe and want me to elaborate, let me know!

Now I’m off to try some pineapple Fanta… I’ll let you know how that goes later…

Getting crafty in Korea

24 Feb

Just a quick update on my visit to the Hanok Traditional Korean Village. It was a place basically preserved as a traditional village for tourists to come and see, and we were able to look around and try out some traditional Korean dancing, drumming and paper crafting. Crafts! YESSSSSS! Now we’re talking!

The paper crafting involved a lot of pasting and folding and smoothing, and it was aided (or hindered) by the Korean experts who occasionally came round to offer advice (in Korean) followed by hand gestures, followed by impatiently doing it for you. Women I can relate to, after trying to teach so many people to knit in my time. The extra fun thing was knowing we’d seen a guy making the paper using the traditional methods just that morning! Okay, no, the fun part was the pasting.

My finished box, of which I was insanely proud.

The field trip was fun, but mostly for the activities, rather than the cultural sight seeing which was slightly fake feeling. There was, however, an couple of cute dogs. Like this one!

I know, I know, but it’s my first dog in Korea! And he was a very handsome dog! Alright, you want culture? How about this:

A traditional Korean building, which was part of a shrine we visited, which was extremely pretty. Want more?

Please note the traditional Korean theatre mask is accompanied by the traditional Korean flicking of the Vs.

This is a traditional theatre mask. We got a chance to try them on after learning some steps from a traditional dance, which is best described as Korean Morris dancing, I think!

I’m sorry this post is light on actual text. I’m still very tired from the goings on of the week. I also haven’t taken a lot of time to examine my feelings about all of this, and I think this is because my feelings seem to change every hour! I’m being collected by my Korean co-teacher and taken to my apartment on Monday, so I will be without the internet for a while, although not offline, as there are plenty of PC Bang (internet cafes) about. I will try to give a more thorough update on my new living arrangement as soon as I can!

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