Tag Archives: dongdaesin

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.

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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!

Second tour of my EPIK apartment

23 Jun

I’ve spent today doing some much needed cleaning of my flat, which I’ve been neglecting lately. As it was looking pretty tidy for a change, I thought I would take the opportunity to film a second flat tour, so you can see how the flat looks now that I’m actually living in it.

 

 

Now I’m going to head out into Dongdaesin-dong and see if I can scavenge up a late lunch, then it’s off to the beach.

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.

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…

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