Tag Archives: nampo-dong

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.

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!

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…

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