Tag Archives: winter

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. 

Advertisements

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.

270452_10151237576346773_1856281893_n

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!

%d bloggers like this: