Tag Archives: fun times

Hello, 2014.

6 Jan

Wow, 2014. I feel like the last year went whizzing by in the blink of an eye. My 2013 was split into distinct little chunks, which helped it go faster. Until the end of March I was in South Korea and Japan. Between April and September I was living in a tiny village near Oxford. From September until today I’ve been living with friends in St Albans and commuting into London. I’ve also had three different jobs, been in four different countries, and dealt with a lot of firsts – first time living in a village, first time buying a car, and first time watching a grown man eat a watermelon without using his hands (don’t ask) to name just a few.

I bleached my hair and rocked a fringe in 2013. Like you cared.

It was an unsettled year, I suppose. I haven’t felt quite like myself for a lot of it. It made me quite nostalgic for my time in South Korea, where I knew how I fit in. That might seem odd, but getting back the huge number of choices and possibilities I’d missed when I was away actually turned out to be a bit overwhelming.

Still, it’s gone now and 2014 is here and looking more settled already. I have a new full time job, and soon I’ll be moving into London (and saying goodbye to suburban commuter trains! Thank God!). I also have a few aspirations for the new year. I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I know they get a bad rap but I have no clue why – why should people setting goals for a new year be a thing worthy of derision, even if they don’t keep them? Goals should be reassessed, anyway, in my opinion. I tend to look at them again in the summer around my birthday and adjust them. Self-improvement is always a good thing!

Last year’s resolutions were 1) to see more live music and 2) to learn a new skill. I saw four or five bands live this year, some of which were bands I really love and wanted to see. I also went to Download Festival again and rocked out to some great metal legends. Success! I also started taking ukulele lessons – my repertoire at present includes Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again and, er, Moon River. Oh, and Slade’s Merry Christmas Everyone. Second resolution down!

See – you CAN keep resolutions! Admittedly there were definitely more of them that I don’t remember because I didn’t keep them. Shh. Let’s move on to this year’s:

1) Read more books. I use Goodreads to log my reading, and the site revealed to me that I had only read 12 books last year. That seems quite pathetic, especially since I know I read most of those in the summer when I was reading on my lunch break, after work in the garden, and for hours at weekends. I like to read in the sunshine (I’m quite cold-blooded and I don’t do well in winter in general) but that’s really no excuse. My aim for this year then is modest – 24 books. I’ll aim to double last year’s total, and read more before bed and instead of watching TV.

2) Knit more and learn to crochet. This one kind of contradicts the first resolution since I can’t read and knit at the same time. I love TV – I think that good TV is an art form that’s as worthy of my time as reading. Plus I can knit whilst I watch TV. I aim to try to incorporate some audio books which I can knit to, and not allow myself to watch TV idly – without performing another task at the same time. I also want to learn to crochet which will count as this year’s new skill!

3) Write more. I struggle with this because it feels like work sometimes to sit at the computer and create. I used to love it, so I don’t know where this lack of motivation has come from. When I was a teenager I wrote with every spare minute. That was probably before the advent of all the TV streaming sites – perhaps I need to be limited my TV intake to achieve this one. But then that contradicts my other resolution! I think I’m going to be a bit more realistic and try to write for one full hour a week and see if I can wean myself back on to it. I might also try varying projects – a novel seems like a mamoth task, but if I intersperse that with shorter fiction projects and blog posts then I might be in with a chance of keeping this one!

4) Run a 10k. I plan to run the Bupa 10k this May. As someone who is not a born mover (I’m a world class sitter though) this will take the most will power. However I have done some regular running before and started to enjoy it. I also noticed how good it was for my general well being too, so I really need to get back into it. I figured that committing to a race would be a good way to motivate myself – I’ll be so ashamed if I can’t do it!

Sadly "hang out with cute dogs and eat cake" is not one of my resolutions. Maybe it should be?

Sadly “hang out with cute dogs and eat cake” is not one of my resolutions. Maybe it should be?

That’s plenty I think. Two “do more things” and two “achieve new things”! On top of that I want to keep up my ukulele playing which is turning out to be really fun and relatively easy compared to other instruments I’ve tried to learn. Although I suppose there is some danger that with knitting and the ukulele I may become so twee I explode.

So how about you? Any resolutions or goals for the new year?

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6 Trivial Ways Korea Has Changed Me

1 Mar

1- I talk to myself all the time.

I’ve always done this to a certain extent because I really am that nutter you cross the street to avoid. In Korea a combination of living alone and not speaking the same language as 99% of people on the street has resulted in a rapid escalation where I have even separated my personality into “sensible” and “impulsive” so as to have better conversations with myself. I vary from running commentary: “oh so THAT was the bus I wanted! Oh no, it’s okay small child, you just hang onto my leg, that’s not inconvenient..” to arguments: “we should cross the road here and take the bus. Oooh, no, if we take the subway we can get a coffee on the way! Yeah, but coffee is expensive, do we need it?” I am a crazy person.

 

Hodduk!

Hodduk!

 

2- I got fatter, and I’m obsessed with food.

I was running three times a week before I came to Korea. This may shock some people who know me, because I hate to exercise, but I was. I have run zero times in Korea. In my defence, the pavements in my neighbourhood are very uneven and often being driven on by cars and scooters. The local running track opens at 6pm, and I get home from work at 5pm, so that’s just enough time for me to sit down and lose all motivation.

Dak Galbi

Dak Galbi

I also LOVE Korean food. And the Korean attitude to food and eating (it’s a huge obsession and a massive part of Korean culture) has rubbed off on me, so that I’ve become kind of fixated on food in a way I never was at home. This combined with a lack of exercise means I’ve put on half a stone. Which isn’t too bad, but it’s all in an unhealthy, bulgy tummy, getting tired when I run up stairs kind of way. 

My favourite Korean restaurant.

My favourite Korean restaurant.

3- My attitude to modesty is warped.

I have become so used to Korean standards of modesty that tiny shorts or skirts that probably don’t cover your vagina when you sit down don’t seem obscene, but collarbone or cleavage is horrifying. I saw an old photo of myself wearing a strap top and was appalled at the amount of chest – not boob, but chest and shoulder – I was exposing.

 

Check out those guinea pigs.

Check out those guinea pigs.

4- I shout at waiters in restaurants.

This one is going to be hard to shake when I get home. In Korea, most tables in bars or restaurants have bells to summon the staff. If they don’t, it’s perfectly acceptable to shout at them to get their attention. How will I ever readjust to the British way of subtly catching someone’s eye and wiggling your eyebrows, or perhaps raising a finger if you’re really in a hurry?

 

5- I speak with a weird semi-American accent.

Most Koreans learn American English and speak it with American accents. To help Koreans (especially my younger students) understand what I’m saying, and also to help them learn the pronunciation that they will need to speak American English in the future, I often speak with a slight accent. Unfortunately over time this has begun to erase my natural Southern British accent and replace my British vocabulary. I regularly say “soda”, “trash”, “eraser”, “sidewalk”, “apartment” and “store”. I pronounce the number 4 with two syllables.

I must be stopped. 

Even my students noticed my British accent slipping!

Even my students noticed my British accent slipping!

6- I love posing for photographs

Koreans do seem to love taking selfies, or otherwise posing using a bunch of stock “I’m so cute” hand gestures. It’s sort of rubbed off… although sometimes the photo opportunities provided by Korea are just amazing. The Trick Eye museum was basically the Take Cute Photos Museum, but boy was it fun.

I've always wanted to kick someone off a cliff face. Ever since I saw "Cliffhanger".

I’ve always wanted to kick someone off a cliff face. Ever since I saw “Cliffhanger”.

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. 

Tents, Fires, and Cherry Coke.

25 Sep

I have some free time at work this week, as my students have midterm exams, and then we all have Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). Bad for them, great for me, as it means I have nothing to do but teach some review lessons and prepare for the next lesson I have to teach in two weeks time. Which means YOU get a blog update! Exciting, right?

Essentially I’m a woman who enjoys quiet, simple pleasures. I’m never happier than when I’m knitting with a feline friend, or curled up with a book and some Cadbury’s (oh Cadbury’s, how it pains me to be so far from your sweet delights), or lying in the sun listening to the wind or the waves.

It was with a fervent desire to unwind and cut myself off from my computer and the time-suck that is the internet, that I took myself and two friends off to Goeje island for a camping trip last weekend.

Gojura beach in August

Goeje is a smallish island, about an hour by bus from Busan (catch the bus in Sinpyeong, across the road from exit 1. Buy tickets from the woman in the hut for 5,700 won). Shipyards and rock formations seem to be the major selling point of this place, where Koreans seem to speak less English than you generally experience in Busan. This was our second trip to the island, and our first time staying the night.

We stopped in at our local Kimbap Chonguk to devour a hearty lunch and clear them out of kimbap before jumping in a taxi to Gojura beach – a pleasant stretch of sand and rocks with a lovely, empty view and a relaxed attitude to campers.

Kimbap dinner – om nom nom! Photo by Jayna Brede.

Our borrowed four man tent. Successfully pitched thanks to a combination of experience, lateral thinking and teamwork. Note the expertly tied knots – thanks Dad for all that sailing training!

The worst tent EVER, but in weather this fine, who cares?

After teaching the gang how to tie a bowline, we chilled out on the beach for a bit in the sunshine. Now, Busan is full of beaches. I only have to spend 20 minutes on a bus to be sprawled out on Songdo beach, listening to the waves and devouring kimbap. What’s extra special about Gojura beach is how quiet it is – even during high season there was no blaring K-pop music, or lifeguards on jet skis patrolling the roped off swimming area. It’s a laid back kind of beach, and it feels wonderful.

Alex and I get busy chilling. Photo by Jayna Brede.

Alex and I had just watched Resident Evil 4 the night before (in preparation for seeing Resident Evil 5 on Sunday) so we had survival after the inevitable zombie apocalypse on the brain. Clearly, even without electricity, we had to survive the apocalypse in style. Who wants warm Cherry Coke?

There, chilled by the sea and safely anchored by a big stick. Ray Mears would be so proud.

As the sun went down, we decided it was time to collect some firewood and start building our fire. This was my first time building a fire in the open like this, but thankfully fire expert and pyromaniac Jayna was on hand to give instruction and approve my use of the pokey stick.

Jayna – Queen of the Fire.

It was kind of a high, and it wasn’t long before I was yelling about “The Monarchy of Fire”, and cackling as I stoked the flames. Oh dear. Later we heated up some beef kimbap in the embers, which was a stroke of genius as it turns out that barbequed kimbap is completely delicious. All we were missing was marshmallows to toast!

Trainee fire starters. Photo by Jayna Brede.

The best part about camping on a beach, is waking up to a stunning sea view and a morning paddle/beach-comb.

Alex and I admire the view. Photo by Jayna Brede

We lingered on the beach in the morning just long enough for my poor nose to burn, and then we headed off back to the main bus terminal, and back to Busan for a shower and a nap before more zombies.

Relaxing weekend – accomplished.

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:

Four months and counting.

20 Jun

Today marks four months that I’ve been in Korea (okay, yesterday, but I didn’t finish this post in time). For the curious, the only person who has sent me something in the post has been my mother. Where are my Crunchies and packets of strawberry laces, people?

Ahem.

This last weekend was one of the best I’ve had in Busan. It wasn’t perfect – I’ll plot my perfect weekend for you all soon, I’m sure – but it was pretty close. Let me explain.

Friday lunchtime – I’ve now finished classes for the day. Afternoon classes are cancelled one Friday a month so the students can spend the afternoon on their “club activities”. These seem to be as varied as visiting museums, practising traditional drumming, or learning Japanese. I join my contact teacher and her group – the bowling club. I spend the afternoon at a bowling alley entirely populated by students from my school (there are three or four bowling clubs in total) where I bowl with some of the girls who offer tips, and share celebratory cookies. When you’re sucking at something in Korea, people will raise their fists to you and say “fighting!” in encouragement. A lot of that happens. The girls also teach me how to say “well done!” and we accompany this with high-fives. Bowling club is awesome.

Friday evening – I head to the cinema in Nampo-dong, my nearest “centre” of the city (Nampo-dong is the old town, crammed with shops, cafes, restaurants and bars) to see Prometheus. The film is so unexpectedly and probably unintentionally weird and confusing that when it finishes, the audience bursts into spontaneous, confused laughter. Luckily I’m with a fellow geek, so we spend the evening dissecting the mess before moving on to other, equally geeky subjects (if you were going to reboot the X-Men film series, and do it right, what would you do? Is Once Upon A Time any good, even if it is feminist friendly? Does everyone worth caring about die in A Song of Ice and Fire?). We go home when we realise that it’s nearly 4am.

Saturday – I roll out of bed at 11am to stuff down a bagel before heading over to the Boys Town orphanage. I don’t know what you imagine when you read the word “orphanage” but my mind goes to a very Dickensian place. It’s always reassuring then to arrive and see kids playing on a Wii in the entrance lobby. The building has a hospital/school vibe – vaguely institutional, but not forbidding or intimidating.

Photo from Laura Teague

I join the group of younger boys (elementary school age) who are doing arts and crafts. Today we’re making shapes out of pipe cleaners. Some of the boys are very shy about speaking to foreign women, but most enjoy playing with us after a while. The kids confiscate smart phones and cameras and run around taking photos of each other. Later the visitors produce sweets and a feeding frenzy takes place – the orphans don’t get access to that much of these kinds of treats, so they get very excited about snack time.

Photo from Laura Teague

Sunday – I went to explore the UN Cemetery and the Peace Park, and the Busan Museum. The UN Memorial is a very peaceful place, dedicated to the memory of the UN troops who fought and died in the Korean war, a war which is officially still ongoing. The accompanying park is filled with families enjoying the sunshine. A stroll around was the perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, and made me feel that I’d really managed to accomplish something cultural with my weekend for a change!

So there you go, my awesome weekend. Now I just have to find a way to match it again in a few days time!

Seoul vs Busan

10 Jun

Wow, it’s been far too long since I last posted here. What have I been up to?

I went to Seoul for Buddha’s birthday (which is a long weekend here in Korea). It was my first time in the capital and I was struck by how big and sprawling it is. 10 million people live in Seoul and it feels like it! Whilst I was there I visited Gyeongbuk Palace and was given a tour by a cute first grade middle school girl who was part of a student volunteer programme. It was nice to get some information from a student who had been studying the palace and its history, and I think she was lucky to get a group of super encouraging English teachers prompting her to practise her English!

Image

Image

Our student guide suggested the Namsan tower as a good place to visit, so we wandered around Insadong in the afternoon and then trotted over to the tower to watch the sunset. Sadly it was a hazy day and view wasn’t wonderful. I did love seeing all the padlocks attached to the railings.Image

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Korean couples come to the tower and lock a padlock to the railings and then throw away the key, symbolising their endless love or something. It’s another adorable example of Korean couple culture! My guide told me she put a padlock up here with her best friend, so when someone suitable comes to visit I’ll be making them do this with me so I can join in on the fun. Image

My overall impression of Seoul is that it is a very cool, very trendy city, especially close to the art university where we were staying – young people here are embracing individualism in fashion and western culture in a way that I haven’t seen as much in Busan. There are so many westerners in Seoul that it feels more international and accepting – I felt like anything went in terms of how I dressed, as opposed to the effort I make in Busan to limit how much chest I show and when I show my tattoos. That said, people in Seoul are used to foreigners being obnoxious and misbehaving in public and so we encountered a few rude or reluctant Korean taxi drivers, and I don’t think I spoke to many Koreans out and about either. Image

In Busan westerners are still enough of a novelty that people are curious about you and want to strike up conversation. I felt Koreans in Busan are friendlier and less judgemental, despite being more conservative. As soon as I arrived back in Busan an elderly woman tried to feed me rice cakes on the bus, and that’s pretty representative of my interactions here. Plus with the beaches and the sea breeze here, we lack the stifling heat and humidity of Seoul. Basically my time in Seoul made me so glad I live here in Busan, and I couldn’t wait to get home!

Since then I’ve had a lot of time off work as my students were on a school trip. The weather has been lovely of late, so I’ve been spending most of my time on the beach! This is really and truly why I haven’t been updating my blog – I’ve been busy out and about having fun and making the most of the sunshine before it gets too hot, in every free minute I have. I’m exhausted now though, and quite thankful that next week is back to my normal schedule!

Other things I’ve been doing that I forgot to mention:

– the Buddha’s birthday parade and lantern festival

– the Sand Sculpture festival in Haeundae

– crab hunting on Dadaepo beach

– conducting and grading speaking tests for my students

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