Tag Archives: busan

How to relax like a Korean.

27 Feb

It’s been a year since my contract in Korea started, and I’m currently surrounded by half-packed suitcases in my friend’s apartment waiting to leave for my trip to Japan (just a two week holiday before I return to the UK). Packing is horrible – stressful and emotionally traumatic (or it is for me anyway – I had to throw away clothes) so I’ve been trying to counter those effects and relax a little. And Korea is good for relaxing.

Does that surprise you? This is a major city in a country famous for “bali bali” (hurry hurry), that my visiting brother compared to Blade Runner (he needs to see Hong Kong before he truly appreciates that comparison, in my opinion).

Like this, but with less replicants. Probably.

Like this, but with less replicants. Probably.

As any foreigner working in Korea can tell you (and probably will, at length) this is also a country famous for last minute changes of plan and general disorganisation. Nothing will FORCE you to relax and go with the flow like a year of being told “oh, you are teaching this class twice today. You must teach next week’s lesson. Did you know?” on a semi-regular basis. You learn that your co-workers don’t have it in for you, nor do they have crazy expectations – this is just how things are done here, and a willingness to accept these changes will show you are a good worker far better than, you know, actually teaching a decent lesson at the drop of a hat.

Like Britta’s advice to Annie when she moves in with Troy and Abed (go watch Community. I’ll wait.) my advice to new teachers would be to go limp. Just limp enough so that a fall from a building wouldn’t kill you, and that the seemingly-deranged behaviour of everyone around you doesn’t drive you insane.

Loosey-goosey. Or is it goosey-loosey? Is it hyphenated? Nevermind - I don't need to know.

Loosey-goosey. Or is it goosey-loosey? Is it hyphenated? Nevermind – I don’t need to know.

A major tool in the relaxation arsenal of the average Korean are the jimjilbangs, or spas that cover the country. A weekly visit to a bathhouse is standard for most families (according to my students). As a foreigner, and a teacher, I opted not to visit any of my local jimjilbangs and suffer the embarrassment of having students say hi whilst we’re all naked in a big bath. Instead I hit Spaland – a haven of natural hot spring water piped up from 1000m underground to the third floor of the largest department store in the world. Oh, Korea.

spa2

Spaland is a magical place. For only 12k won (around £7) you can enjoy a plethora of baths. Personally I like to heat myself to near death in a bubbling sodium chloride bath and then drop into the cool one until my teeth start to chatter, then repeat until I’m hungry. By far the best baths are the outdoor ones. Dressed up in rocks with a fake waterfall for a back massage, you can sit watching the steam rise off into the cold air and imagine that you’re hanging out in the hot pools of Winterfell’s godswood (or you can if you are a massive geek like me).

spaland2

All the baths are naked baths. Being naked in a room full of naked Koreans is a weird experience, but on the whole I didn’t get stared at even with my foreign-ness and tattoos. The lack of kids probably helps here – youngsters will point at me on the street and shout “Omma! Waegukin!” (“Mum! Foreigner!”). At Spaland, under 12s are forbidden. It’s a veritable haven of grown-ups being sedate and returning polite and friendly smiles. The baths are all split by gender, so if you don’t fit a gender binary you might struggle, which is a bit of a shame.

The rest of Spaland is made up of steam rooms and saunas where everyone wears their standard issue pyjamas and pays for snacks using their locker key wrist bands. It’s like a futuristic Norwegian prison colony with fake bamboo. I really enjoy the warm steam room with folding beds, and spent a couple of hours in there yesterday with my book. It’s the only way to survive a cold, dry Korean winter – steamed and warmed to perfection.

b_supaland

I also like to pop into the various hot (and cold) rooms and sample the colour change walls, or pan pipes, or electrons or whatever other weird health things are supposedly going on in there. I pass out easily though, so I try to remember to stay hydrated, and not stay too long in any of the saunas.

My body’s inability to efficiently pump blood to my brain might also be why I prefer the outdoor baths – the juxtaposition of cold air and warm water in the winter helps prevent me from overheating. In the mixed section of Spaland there are some outdoor footbaths, with little padded jackets provided for the winter, so you can enjoy some mixed sex OMG-I’m-totally-a-Stark funtimes.

I would also recommend reading my friend Caroline’s blog post on her trip to Spaland which is far funnier and more thorough that mine.

Yesterday the combined powers of Spaland, a massive steak lunch, and an evening watching Casablanca relaxed me to a near comatose state. Today I’ve undone all my good work by getting wound-up by some confusion (again) over my final paycheck. I must remember to take my own advice – stay limp. 

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Getting crafty in Korea

11 Dec

So, winter is here and I’m sad about it. I hate the cold and the dark with a passion that goes well beyond the occasional annoyances of summer. Thanks to the weather, I spend my evenings bundled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle and an electric heater watching TV and dozing. It’s not the best.

One thing that winter is better than summer for, though, is knitting. Staying home and knitting is a bitch in the summer, when sweaty fingers make needles sticky and yarn squeaky. In the winter, I want to make warm hats, and gloves, and the extra layer of wool on my lap is a blessing. Plus it’s a great way to spend a weekend mostly snuggled under a blanket with the TV on and still feel like you did something productive with your time.

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Some wrist-warmers I knocked up which are getting a lot of use in my classroom right now.

Before I came to Korea, I worried that I would find knitting supplies hard to find. I tried googling “knitting in Korea” and came up with little outside of Seoul. I packed a suitcase full of yarn and needles, just in case. You see, knitting keeps me sane. I mean that quite sincerely. Whenever I notice that I’m feeling very stressed (you know that terrible, increasingly anxious feeling that no amount of to do lists or rationalisation seems to cure?) I also realise that I haven’t got any projects on the needles. Once I cast on, and knit a few rounds, I notice the anxiety just drop away. I can’t relax properly unless there are needles in my hands. Or unless I’m on a beach somewhere tropical with a good book. But often knitting is easier to achieve.

Totall relaxed and snug with my knitted bunting and ear-warmer/headband thingy.

Totall relaxed and snug with my knitted bunting and ear-warmer/headband thingy.

Busan is actually great for knitters, as it turns out. I can’t speak to the rest of the country, but for knitting fanatics heading to South Korea, I can reassure you that Busan will cater to your needs. Here are some tips about knitting in Busan (and by extension, quite possibly South Korea in general):

1) Circular needles are your new best friends.

I’d knit on circular needles before I came to Korea, but I also used double-pointed needles and straight needles a lot too. Koreans seem to knit exclusively on circular needles, which at first I found a little annoying when trying to buy needles for new projects, but now I’m a convert. Circular needles are longer for knitting big projects flat, they make it easier to transport your knitting, and you can use them to knit smaller projects in the round using the magic loop method (or the two needle method outlined here: http://www.weebleknits.net/twocirculars.html). Needles are also ridiculously cheap – about 500 won (or 30p) each.

Circular needles also allow you to try on your work as you go for a better fit.

Circular needles also allow you to try on your work as you go for a better fit.

2) Hunt down yarn in subways and markets.

I find most of my knitting supplies in shops in the underground shopping malls attached to the subway stations, or in the markets. In Busan, there are a good selection of shops in the mall connected to Bujeon subway station, and there’s one that I buy needles from near Nampo subway station (walk up past exit 7 and keep going into the subway – the shop is on the left and closed on weekends as far as I can tell).

When it comes to buying yarn, the best place I’ve been is Gukje Market (close to Nampo or Jagalchi subway stations). The stall holders have a pretty good selection at reasonable prices and are happy to get balls out of bags for you to poke at. If you’re a knitting novice you may want to bring a more experienced yarnaholic with you because the labelling can be a little lacking and I have had to guess weights and fibres sometimes.

3) Craft seasonally.

I noticed over the summer that heavy yarn was hard to get hold of, and the Koreans I ran into everywhere seemed to be crocheting with lightweight cottons. That’s not so useful for a girl trying to get a jump-start on her winter knitting. Plan ahead and stash-up is my advice.

4) Stationers are great for notions.

I’ve found the best notions (especially cute buttons) in stationers. My local stationer in Dongdaesin-dong is more like a craft and games warehouse – the guy has a floor dedicated to paint – and they stock a great range of cute crafting bits and bobs including some colourful acrylic yarn. I picked up some lovely buttons in a cute stationers attached to the bookshop in the Shinsegae department store. Keep your eyes peeled.

5) Daiso

Daiso is a Japanese chain of cheap shops that sell almost everything, kind of like Wilkinsons back home (fellow Brits should get that reference). They also sell a lot of basic craft equipment like material scissors, needles and thread, felt, and craft glue, plus some adorable craft kits.

Winter is Coming

12 Nov

It’s getting cold in Korea, and I’m not happy about it. I loved the summer, even when it was excruciatingly hot and humid and I got heatstroke and threw up for four days. That’s how much I love summer. Winter is cold, and dark, and windy. You wrap up warm, and then you get on a boiling hot subway train and sweat to death. Hat hair. Getting up on cold mornings. Showering in a freezing bathroom. Wearing your coat in the classroom. Catching colds. Paying a fortune for your gas bill. It all sucks.

I’ve taken the following steps to winter-proof my life:

1) The Korean underfloor heating system (the ondol) is great, but it’s expensive. So that I can keep it off as long as possible, I’m using a plug in electric heater and just move it from room to room with me. That and blankets. A lot of blankets.

2) My apartment is drafty. It’s like an actual barn. In order to latch the windows, you have to pull them back slightly and then the inner shutters don’t seal properly. To combat the cold I packed the space between the outer window and the inner shutters with cardboard. It’s a great insulator, and has the added bonus of making my flat look like a squat. Is that taking shabby chic too far?

3) My bedroom window has curtains, but they’re thin so I’ve hung a blanket on trouser clip hangers from the curtain rail to add some extra insulation. It makes a huge difference, but it does mean my room is almost pitch dark in the mornings, which makes getting out of bed a little harder.

4) I shelled out for a nice fluffy rug for my living room. No more cold laminate floors for me. Hell yeah.

5) I got a flu jab. A couple of winters back I got swine flu and it was horrible. I was sick for three weeks (as in feverish, bed-ridden sick) and felt pretty terrible for another couple of weeks after that. It was literally the worst. The next winter, I got my first flu jab! In Korea, the jab cost me 25,000 won. My co-teacher suggested a doctor’s surgery close to my flat, and wrote down what I wanted for me to show the receptionist. I had to wait for ten minutes or so and then a nurse gave me my injection. It protects against swine flu and some other common strains of flu for this year, and now whenever anyone coughs on the subway I can imagine the germs bouncing off the invisible force-field protecting me like a future evolution of humanity. YEAH!

6) I finished this glorious jumper:

Knit fast, die warm.

7) I should probably join a gym. Getting some exercise is great for beating the winter blues but I’m also really, really lazy. Ugh.

Any more suggestions for ways to prepare for a winter in Korea? Let me know if you have any tips!

I promise I’m still here

8 Aug

Summer is raging in South Korea and I have been so busy that I haven’t found the time to blog. Terrible, I know. Here is a taster of what I’ve been up to:

– planning and then delivering English Summer Camp

– going to the beach

– getting heatstroke

– playing Mario Kart

– attending the free Busan International Rock Festival

– celebrating my birthday with 3 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts (no really)

– eating delicious Korean food

– cuddling dogs at the dog cafe (I went back because it really is the best place on Earth)

– drunk-Skyping my family and friends

 

This is just a flying visit because I’m now off to Seoul for 3 days. Phew! I’ll update properly when I’m back, but in the mean time I instruct you all to watch this, the most amazing music video ever made:

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.

Anti-foreigner feeling in Korea

15 Jul

This weekend provided two very different run-ins with Korean strangers.

First, my friend and I encountered an aggressive Korean woman in a bar in Busan. We were in the bathroom, and she came in and started hammering loudly on the stall doors. When my friend came out of the stall, this woman confronted her angrily and demanded to know if we could speak Korean. She eventually stormed off after yelling at us in Korean some more. Essentially, this woman was angry because we were talking to each other in English in the bathroom.

A certain number of Koreans seem to genuinely hate foreigners. They get extremely angry at our audacity – hanging around places in Korea, being all foreign, speaking out foreign languages and being, you know, foreign-looking. There are some bars and restaurants that refuse to serve us. Sometimes people will shoot us evil glances, sometimes they’ll yell at us, and even push us around a little, and try to intimidate us.

Well, it’s pretty intimidating anyway, being a foreigner in one of the most homogeneous cultures on earth. We stand out, and we get stared at, and for the most part I don’t mind. I know I look different, and that people are curious about me, and often the extra attention is as harmless as that. Sometimes an old man will be staring at me on the subway, only to eventually come out with “I welcome you with all my heart” in broken English. I’m different, but not everyone hates me for it.

Then there are the people who get angry if they hear English being spoken. Another old man on the subway once punched the train wall in fury at the (quiet!) English conversation I was having with a friend. The woman in the bathroom on Friday night wanted us to shut the hell up or speak Korean. Feeling despised in the country you currently live and work is a horrible way to end an otherwise lovely evening.

Then on Saturday at a coffee shop in the BEXCO centre, a young Korean couple with an enormous cake decided they had way too much to eat alone, and offered a massive portion to my friends who were sitting next to them. Together we did our best to demolish the (delicious) dessert, whilst chatting as best we could in their limited English and our limited Korean. It was sweet. They were curious, and generous, and reminded us that most Koreans are extremely kind people who are interested in foreigners, but not hateful. Those two kids, university students from Daegu, had excellent timing.

Ten Tips on How to Survive Korean School Lunches

27 Jun

I love school lunch at my public school in Busan, South Korea. I stuff my face with pretty much everything on offer, much to the amusement of my Korean colleagues who I’m told “like someone who eats well, so they like you”. The self-serve buffet of steaming deliciousness is not without its pitfalls, though. Luckily for you, I’m here to give you the benefit of my wisdom. Bear this advice mind, should you ever find yourself working as an English teacher in a Korean public school. Complete with unnecessary footnotes.

 

1) Beware of unfamiliar foodstuffs.

It may sound obvious, but it’s an important thing to remember. When you’re starving and all around you children are stampeding* to get to wherever it is they eat like the herd of Gallimimus that nearly take out Sam Neill in Jurassic Park**, it’s tempting to get over-excited. You want to load up your tray with generous helpings of everything. This is a mistake.

Some of the unfamiliar items I’ve enjoyed at lunch include acorn jelly in soy sauce, some kind of fragrant leaves in red pepper paste, dried anchovies (more on these later) and some kind of root vegetable that looks like coral crossed with a slice of brain. These now rank as the most delicious things on the menu, but they taste unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten***. In the early days, you need to become accustomed to new tastes, and show your colleagues that you enjoy Korean food. The latter is especially important if they don’t speak much English, as food, and your enjoyment of it, will become your main form of communication with them. It’s best to take a little of everything, and clear your plate. This way you’ll look appreciative, and know what you enjoy and what you don’t when these things appear another day. 

Acorn jelly is actually quite nice. Photo from http://www.maangchi.com

2) Beware of familiar foodstuffs.

Every GET here has a horror story about a food item that looked friendly, but turned out to be something completely different. The obvious example to be cautious of is anything bread-crumbed and in nugget form. It might be delicious chicken. It might be prawn. It might be a fish-cake. It might be squid. It might be something totally unidentifiable. Don’t relax and load up your tray just yet, my friend. Especially if any of those items sound like something you don’t want to eat. Leaving a few leftovers is usually fine, but turning your nose up at an extra large helping you served yourself? Bad plan.

This rule applies to Korean items you think you recognise. Allow me to give an example. I hate squid and octopus (a big problem in Busan, whose streets are literally swimming with seafood) but I love vegetables. There is a dish composed of strips of a pale item in sticky orange sauce. This is variously cabbage, squid, or reconstituted fish. I can genuinely only tell which I have on my plate by the texture. It’s the Russian Roulette of food.

 

3) Beware the stealth tentacles.

As I previously mentioned, I don’t like cephalopods. Something about the texture of a tentacle upsets me. The idea of popping a whole baby octopus into my mouth makes me shudder. I’m not a fussy eater, and I enjoy fish, but these guys just squick me out. Since arriving in Busan I have discovered that people are actively hiding tentacles in my food. Often they appear in pajeon, a delicious Korean pancake filled with vegetables, sometimes prawns, and the occasional waving squid arm. Soup is another excellent tentacle hiding place. If you dare to stir up the sleeping miniature krakens at the bottom of your soup bowl, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

The terrifying waving tentacles of doom. Picture by etheralmoor on deviantART.

4) Kimchi is your friend.

Kimchi, the ubiquitous fermented cabbage**** smothered in red pepper paste, is an acquired taste, present at every meal. Literally every meal. I’ve recently learned to appreciate its angry red presence at school lunches, because nothing will hide or alter the taste of something gross better than kimchi. Soup a little bland and salty today? Throw in your kimchi, stir it up, and you instantly have a tasty chilli pepper soup to dip your rice in. Reconstituted meat patty complete with grisly bits got you down? Load it on your spoon with some rice and kimchi and you’re good to go. Nothing at lunch except waving purple tentacles, taunting you with their creepy little rubbery suckers? Rice and kimchi, kimchi, kimchi.

 

5) I hope you like rice.

Rice is the other thing, alongside kimchi, that comes with every meal. Rice stops the spicy chilli that often appears in Korean dishes from blowing my head off every lunch time. It’s a Korean lunch flak jacket, that protects you from all the fearsome foodstuffs aiming to tear apart your innards. Please excuse that metaphor, but as an IBS sufferer, sometimes that’s exactly what eating feels like to me. Getting used to a new style of cooking is difficult for everyone, not just those with already grumpy guts. Rice is a good way of easing yourself into Korean food. If you’re fussy, it’s your safe option. If it’s too bland, try dipping spoonfuls in your soup. Don’t worry about eating it with chopsticks – the Korean sticky rice is difficult to get OFF your chopsticks, so you’ll have no problem shovelling it down.

Oh yes, soup. That’s the other thing that comes with every meal. I love soup, even if it’s just as a flavouring for my rice. Keep your eyes peeled for the kimchi soup options – these are generally delicious.

 

6) I hope you like chilli paste.

Korean food is quite spicy. That’s not to say it’s always spicy – some days there’s nothing spicy on my tray but the kimchi. You do get used to it, and there is always a non-spicy option, even if it is just plain rice. Be warned though, if you hate spicy food you’ll be missing out on the best of Korean cooking.

If like me you don’t mind spicy food, then you can relax. Koreans will generally wave you away from anything they consider too spicy, or at least warn you before you shovel a great, heaped spoonful into your mouth. For many foreigners in Korea this can get pretty frustrating, especially when every time you eat anything spicy your Korean colleagues coo in amazement, or restaurant owners try to stop you ordering your favourite dish. Just shrug it off. Koreans are proud of their food, and they will be proud of you for enjoying it. The only thing to watch out for is the runny nose – blowing at the table is a no-no (in fact any indiscreet public nose blowing is frowned on) but wiping with a tissue is completely fine. Be warned that Koreans don’t tend to drink water whilst they eat, so if you have a spice overload, chomping some plain rice is the only fast relief available. With that in mind, always save some rice until you’ve tried everything on your tray. Trust me, it’s safer this way. 

Kimchi is your friend. Photo by Nagyman on flickr.

7) Try everything, no matter how disgusting it looks.*****

This was some of the best advice I received before I came to Korea to teach, and now I’m passing it on to you. I think Korean food is, for the most part, completely delicious. Sometimes it doesn’t look delicious. Sometimes it looks revolting. I suspect this is a trait of school dinners the world over. Try it. Try everything. You never know when some mulchy grey-brown goop is going to turn out to be completely heavenly. It happens. I recently discovered that pork feet are wonderfully tasty and tender, for example. The dried anchovies in particular seem to put off a lot of Westerners, who are not used to eating their food whilst their food is eye-balling them reproachfully. This is a mistake, as these sweet, crunchy, fishy little guys are really quite nice.

 

8) Don’t ask what something is until you’ve finished it.

On the same theme, if you’re eating something and you’re not really sure what it is, don’t ask. Whether you’re enjoying it or not, if you’re determined to finish everything on your tray, ignorance is bliss. My co-teacher has a tendency to lean forward with a smile when she sees me swallowing down something obscure-looking and saying with glee “do you know what that is?”. Chicken necks, pig intestines, the ever-present cephalopod threat. These things are all easier to eat when you don’t know what they are.

 

9) If you have allergies, you should probably ask what everything is.

I’m completely contradicting myself, I know, but this is important. A lot of Korean dishes seem to include some kind of seafood or nut. If you have an allergy to either of these things, you are probably better off opting out of the school lunches and bringing in your own lunch. Try it out for the first couple of days to show willing, but be prepared to eat nothing much more than plain rice.

On the other hand, I’m dairy intolerant (part of the aforementioned IBS) and I’ve found avoiding dairy remarkably easy. Following my rules about taking small portions of unidentifiable items has certainly helped, but there also isn’t the same cheese obsession here as there is back home in the UK. It used to be stealth cheese I worried about turning up in an omelette, instead of tentacles. Those were simpler times.

 

10) Monkey see, monkey do.

If in doubt about how exactly to eat something, copy your Korean colleagues. Careful observation will show how to de-bone a fish with chopsticks, or get a slab of tofu into your mouth in bite-size chunks without any ending up on your lap. Sometimes when I get particularly stuck trying to eat something, a Korean colleague will pitch in with her chopsticks and, sometimes, feed me like a baby bird. You might think this sounds demeaning, but as long as I’m eating, I’m happy to be babied.

Much of the meat served at my school is still attached to some kind of bone. This seems to be very common – for example, a lot of fried chicken pieces are just whole fried chickens hacked up. You’re likely to come across some unfamiliar bones whilst navigating your lunch. If you’re one of those people who is grossed out by bones, you’re really out of luck. Most of the time it’s impossible to prise the meat off, and you’ll see a lot of Koreans just popping the pieces in their mouths whole, and then pulling the bones out afterwards.

Your colleagues are your guide as to what is appropriate, and what the hell you’re supposed to do with these weird leaves or flimsy pastel-coloured pancakes. Smile, say “ma shee say yo” (this is delicious) and whatever you do, don’t ask what it is you’re eating.

 

Enjoy!******

 

 

Footnotes:

*I don’t use the term “stampede” lightly. I once saw my kids knock over and trample an older Korean teacher who my co-teacher had to rescue by wading in, screaming, through the tidal wave of hungry students. I clung to the wall, terrified of being flung down the stairs. Another reason why teenage girls are not to be trifled with.

**Yes, I am this much of a geek.

***Except perhaps when I was a kid and I actually ate an acorn on a dare.

****Usually, although it can be a variety of different vegetables. Radish and cucumber are the two I come across most often.

*****This doesn’t apply to steamed silkworm larvae. If it smells that bad, and some Koreans think it’s disgusting, don’t eat it. Luckily this is unlikely to show up in the school cafeteria.

******I should probably say that these are just my experiences, in my Busan public middle school. The quality of school lunches seems to vary wildly, as does the helpfulness of your co-teachers when it comes to navigating them!

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