Monday, December 26, 2011


People who know anything about South Africa will know that we don't really get snow in winter. Sure, sometimes the Drakensberg will get some fluff, or the mountains near Ceres in the Cape will go a bit white, but for the most part it's not a place where you'd take up skiing. So you can only imagine the hilarity when a bunch of Saffas (and an assortment of other nationalities) attempted to stay upright on skis and snowboards in -5 degree weather.

Muju, freezing cold!
We decided on a day trip and went to Muju, about 3 hours from Daegu. It's apparently not the fanciest of resorts in Korea, but given that most of us had never touched a ski pole, it was perfectly adequate for our meagre needs. I decided to ski rather than be 'cool' and snowboard, mainly because I didn't want to risk breaking my wrist a month before going to Thailand, as a friend of ours did last year. I think I made the right decision, after watching my boarding friends' attempts to stay upright!

We left on a tour bus at 6am and arrived at Muju just before 9. It snowed along the way, which was delightful as it meant there would be real snow on the slopes and not just fake stuff. We were given our very sexy rented ski gear (mine was all blue so I looked like a Smurf) as we got off the bus, and were sent to change, get boots and skis, and meet the instructors. The package we booked (through Daegu Tour for 110k per person for everything) included a lesson for 2 hours, which was a god-send!

Snowboarders went one way and we went another. They got a pretty and relaxed girl who spoke decent English, we got a drill sergeant man who shouted at us, made us stand in two lines and did most things through the dramatic method of mime. I'm exaggerating slightly, but not by much. He was a young guy but very serious about his duties, and made us do the same things over and over again. He taught us how to fall (cross your arms, fall sideways and land on your bum) and shouted if we put our hands out. "No! Nonononono!"

Fay and Teacher discuss standing up after falling.
The most amusing part of the lesson was learning the 'frog position'. We're not quite sure if that's really what it's called, but Megan was doing some vague translating and caught the word frog, and we just added 'position' to it. So anyone who learns from this guy in future and he says 'frog position,' think of me! Anyway, this technique involves putting your skis in a V shape, with the close ends in the front. But your skis can't touch, the tips must be 10cm apart. If they're 9cm or 11cm apart, you'll get a stern "No! Nonononono! 10 centimetah!" from Teacher! So we went down a tiny hill over and over, practising the Frog Position, and anything other than "No!" was taken as a compliment. In the video you can hear him giving detailed instructions, and then saying "No!" after Tim's attempt.

Preparing to go down a little hill.
There were a couple of falls, but none from me, thank the lord. I was terrified of getting hurt, so I concentrated hard all day and stayed on my feet even when doing down the bigger, faster slope. Well, to be fair, there were 4-year-olds going down this beginner hill faster than we were, but when you're on it, it feels like lightning! It's so smooth and slippery, and my skis kept going straight/parallel so I'd go even faster. I couldn't stay in Frog Position! I just breathed as if I were going into labour and focused on not letting my skis cross, and made it down to the bottom without incident.

The only time my bum touched the snow was when I was at the top of the slope, putting my skis back on after the lift to the top. The left one wouldn't go on, so I kept sliding down the hill on the attached right ski and eventually fell on my ass. The Lovely Gen found this hilarious, and only after regaining her breath after laughing did she check if I was ok. Nice, babe! Nice! Shame, she took an almighty tumble a few minutes later though, the poor little thing. Thank god for Myprodol!

Most of us continued to play in the snow for the rest of the afternoon, while others cut their loses and went for some apres-ski coffees at the bottom of the big slopes. The snowboarders joined the skiers in the afternoon and I was very grateful I chose the skis. I don't know how much I'd enjoy not being able to move my feet independently of each other... And they spent more time on their bums than standing upright, and my back isn't in the greatest condition at the best of times. I did try the snowboard near the end of the day, mind you. I sat on it and went down the hill as though on a toboggan!

TLG and Smurf!

Rodney on his snowboard, waiting to go down the hill.
So much pretty in one picture should be illegal.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Before I begin my rant about how I punched the internet in the face, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not a Luddite by any means. I love my smart phone, I have more than one camera, my laptop and I will get married as soon as the law allows. Technology in general is my friend, and for the most part that includes the baffling, massive, incomprehensible world of the interwebs. But sometimes, it makes me want to crawl into a cave with a book after throwing my computer out the nearest window.

This is never more true than when having to make travel arrangements online. I remember, back in the day, when people used travel agents. A nice lady in an ugly blue/red/yellow blazer would sit you down, hand you some brochures and calmly help you book some flights. I miss actual plane tickets, in a plastic envelope with a luggage tag, as opposed to a printed email. I know they charge commission, but lord above, it's so much easier!

Take out most recent saga while booking flights to Thailand for our holiday in January. The Lovely Gen is much better at this than I am, because I get so annoyed that I lose all focus and go make a cup of tea instead. First, we spent hours looking for cheap flights, using every conceivable website. Skyscanner, bookingbuddy, expedia, etc. Eventually we went directly to the Thai Airways website, which was a mission and a half. I almost took up smoking.

After trying to book the same flight 65 times, TLG eventually called the sales office in Seoul, who said that the booking system was down. Awesome. So we gave them all our info (only about half of what was required on the website, mind you) and they booked the tickets directly for a small fee. I mean sure, the emails got lost for a few days and we had to call a few times to find out what was happening, but it worked out. See? An actual person helped us! Tip: If you book with another person's credit card, they have to appear with it at the airport to check you onto the flight. Avoid that.

Fine, so international flights booked. Next: domestic flights from Bangkok to Krabi and back. Again, a nightmare. Searched for hours. Flights are bizarrely expensive considering they last for an hour. We eventually found return tickets for $140 on Air Asia, which we thought was a bargain. Not! While going through the booking process, they add on all sorts of shit, from luggage fees (anything over 7kgs has to be checked in, and you have to pay per bag), seat assignment fees (if you say no, you might not sit next to your travel buddy), food costs, travel insurance, etc. You don't choose all this, they give it to you and then you have to know to uncheck it.

Eye on the prize. Eye on the prize!
So our $140 bargain flights went to a lovely $180 by the end of the day. The frustration was compounded by the complicated payment process, with passwords and verification numbers and other crap. Gah! I know, we could have used cheaper transport, but an hour-long flight vs 15 hours on trains/buses? As I'm sure you've gathered by now, I like things to be quick and convenient, especially when I only have 13 days!

Yay, flights finally booked, $800 later. Next: accommodation. Doing this online takes a lot of time. I think I spent around 10 hours just looking at places in Bangkok, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi. You have to do this, because while might have great prices initially, once they add on all the other fees it's not so cheap after all. You have to do your research, and eventually we used agoda, (excellent, no random fees, but not as much to choose from) and

Also, who the hell takes the pictures at these places? They look like Annie Leibovitz popped round to shoot a few snaps when you look on the internet, but when you actually arrive at the place it's a different story. And! In the very small print at the bottom of the last page, it tells you that the bargain prices put you in rooms without hot water. Tip: read the reviews of a place on a variety of sites. Some booking sites only post the nice reviews, so a hotel with an 8/10 drops to 6/10 on a more honest URL.

Me in January
The budget is not looking good, people! We're going to lie on the beach, drink water and eat noodles for two weeks. Maybe we'll snorkel. I'll read my Kindle, while lying in a hammock. Come on, January!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This past weekend, The Lovely Gen and I joined some friends for a few frames of gay bowling. It's like regular bowling, except the ball doesn't go as straight. Ha! Sorry. We went bowling with some fellow gaymos and I had a great time! The others? Maybe not so much...

As mentioned before, I love me some bowling and will miss how cheap it is here when I go back to Cape Town. Also... I'm really competitive. Annoyingly so, I'll admit it. I go outside my body when I'm being obnoxious and tell myself to cut it out, but alas I cannot! I find going to bars without pool/darts/beer pong quite boring, and I take great pride in the fact that TLG and I are a pretty great beer pong team. Well, we were before our month-long no-drinking hiatus in November, but I'm sure our mojo will return during this month of December partying!

This competitive spirit carries over into bowling. I hate being bad at it and I get really annoyed when the ball goes into the gutter or hits less than 5 pins. I'll grab my thumb/wrist and make a face, claiming pain or that the ball 'slipped'. Well it did! Stupid lane oil! Everyone else, friends who are normal and don't treat bar sports as though they are life or death situations, smile and nod, scared to poke the bear. They're all, "Whoo hoo, I hit the pins and the ball didn't go in the gutter!" But I'm annoyed when this happens, it makes me sad. It's why I quit golf. My dad always told me, " Don't try and be Tiger Woods, just play the ball properly and stay calm." Yeah right. It didn't work when I was 10, it doesn't work now.

When I do get a strike I'm insufferable and smug. I bow, wave, high five everyone, and then shrug my shoulders as if to say, "Meh. No biggie. Happens all the time." Thank god my friends like me! Or maybe they just put up with me to spend time with TLG... So anyway, this weekend we were bowling with some new people from Busan, so I tried to behave a bit better so they wouldn't hate me and run away. It worked for a while, I was demure and humble after the first strike, but after that I was just too amazing to stay calm!

Seriously, I was on fire, it was like the pins and the ball were magnetically connected. In the final game, I got 154 points (I know that's not really a lot, but for most people I play with it is) which was a personal best and it included the elusive Turkey. A Turkey, according to, is "bowling lingo for three strikes in a row. Probably, the most famous score for amateur and professional bowlers alike." Yes indeed! I got three in a row for the first time ever, and took a photo as evidence!

The fact that the next sentence is, "This is partly due to the fact it has an unusual name, and partly because even a beginner can get one," is immaterial. Whatever. Maybe I should invest in one of those fancy gloves that make your arm look robotic... Maybe I should join a league... Maybe I should get a shirt with my name on it...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


It's not often I'll travel the length of a country, and pay a lot of money, merely to go to a restaurant. But given the very specific nature of South African food, and the fact that a kilo of boerewors (SA sausage) costs nearly R1000 in Korea, I went to Seoul this past weekend to eat at a new Saffa restaurant called Braai Republic.

Look for this sign!

I had very high hopes. The place is owned, run and cheffed by South Africans, so I anticipated boerie rolls of the highest order. To say I was excited is an understatement, and never in my life have I been so thrilled to see Ceres fruit juice. We were like children, the six Saffas in my party. Oh my god, look at the biltong! Ah cute, a stuffed springbok! Hey, look at the Lion brand matches on the wire sculpture tree! OMG, AMARULA CHEESECAKE!! *takes photos of everything*

I had been hoping for a nice, cold Castle, but alas, no Saffa beer appeared on the menu. This was a good thing, given that November is no-drinking month for me, but I was still a bit bleak. Apparently the Hunter's Dry is stuck at Korean customs, so if you go soon you might be able to have some apple cider goodness! So ya, coke it was, while other people had some lekker litchi Ceres juice.

As for the food, if you're a vegetarian or someone who doesn't eat red meat, you're going to struggle. This was not all that shocking, given the name of the place, and there were a few veggies on the menu, like creamed spinach, sweet potato mash, garlic potatoes and a bean soup. But still, it was all about the meat! Lamb chops! Boerewors! Lamb potjie (stew)!

My pap and wors, with carrots and cream spinach
I ordered pap and wors, which came with spinach and coleslaw. Yoh, but that boerie was lekker! It was slightly dry, but not too bad, and had bags of flavour. The pap was krummel (crumbly) which I don't really like, I prefer it when it's sticky and hard. Erm, I mean... stywe pap! So ya, the problem with pap is that it takes ages to cook, so it's not like you can make a fresh batch for every order, so that probably explains why krummel pap is the easiest one to serve.

TLG's boerewors roll
The spinach was yummy, but the 'coleslaw' wasn't really all that. Given that we live in a country obsessed with cabbage in every way, shape and form, you'd think that coleslaw would have cabbage in it! But it was just carrot with some mayo on it. Maybe they'd run out? I dunno, but I missed the cabbage. I did like the tomato relish/gravy on the pap, but The Lovely Gen did not like it on her boerie roll. She said it needed more flavour. The roll was fresh and whole wheat, which was a plus.

Our other friends ate a variety of things, including lamb chops (which were all a bit on the rare side, more so than you'd usually find), spare ribs (smelled just like the ones at Spur! Tasted great and had lots of meat) and lamb potjie. An American mate had the potjie (pronounced poy-kie) and liked it, but said it needed more sauce, and he didn't like the pap because it was dry. But the lamb itself was great and fell off the bone it was so tender.

American Tim and his potjie
So all in all I'd say it was a successful trip. I think the novelty of it was enough to overlook some of the errors, which I'm sure will be ironed out with time. You can also buy biltong there for 10 000won per 100g (I think) and it's worth the trip if you're in the area and want a taste of home. It felt like being inside a Free State pub, actually. Nice and comfy, not too fancy, some animal heads on the wall and a flag over the fire. It's not cheap, but it's Seoul, and the ingredients aren't what you'd find at E-mart so I guess it's worth it.

Located near McDonald's in the foreigner hell that is Itaewon (I think of it as Burgers and Prostitutes), it is very easy to find. Ish... If you get to Micky D's (on your left), reverse and go down the first side street, down the winding hill, and look for the green awnings. Or, you know, look on their Facebook page.

Lamp chops, spinach and sweet potato mash

Die manne wat braai!

Eating some ribs


Monday, November 21, 2011


A cool, Autumnal Saturday morning, in the recent past.

The Lovely Gen: Can we pop into the market? I want to get some short boots. (Fake Ugg boots, ankle height)
Me: Sure... (not excited at all, hate shopping)

*Bus to Daiso, buy random crap, cross the road to the market*

TLG, looking at boots: What colour should I get?
Me: Um...
TLG: Do you like them?
Me: Um...
TLG: Ok fine, I won't get them. You hate them.
Me: No babe, get them! I don't have to wear them! The brown ones!
TLG: No, it's fine. I don't want them.

These aren't the boots she wanted!

*walks away, further into market*

Me: Ooh, look at all this garlic! (Whip out phone, take pics with camera)

Garlic breath!

TLG: Let's get tomatoes! (Buys a big bag for 2000 Won/R14)

*Continue to take photos of everything, mostly stuff I'll never buy/eat, ever. Like Kimchi and rice cakes. Bleh!*
Smile and say kimchiiiiiiiii!

More pickled/spicy things

Rice cakes. Very pretty, but too chewy/tasteless for me

TLG: Gross, this fish smell is making me naar (Afrikaans for nauseated)! Can we leave now?
Me: Ok, sure. (Continue taking photos, Koreans annoyed/amused)
TLG: Ok... let's go...

What do you call a fish without an eye? Fsh!

Instant allergic reaction, just looking at this!

Octopi, non-moving ones

Meat-on-a-stick, kimbap, ddeokbokki

Pillows. The kids' section was further down.

Hand-made noodle man

Ajummas and flowers

Radishes. It was a huge bunch, the photo is deceptive

A colourful array of veggies

Yummy fish! Custard-filled heart attacks!


Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Rice, in all colours

*Walk past shoe shop again*

Me: Babe! Here are your boots, let's get them!
TLG: *silence, walks towards bus stop*

Friday, November 18, 2011


For the past week I've been showing my students the pilot episode of Modern Family, as part of a lesson about bonds, changing  family definitions and modern relationships. I've shown it to 15 classes and I still find it hilarious every time Phil's hand slips on the bannister, or when Cameron comes into the room, holding Lily above his head, Lion King music blaring.

I've wanted to show Modern Family to them for a while, given its status as one of the top TV shows in the world and winner of numerous Emmy Awards. But I've also wanted a way to break into their narrow world view, and it's the perfect show for that. The ideas of divorce, second marriage, gay relationships, step-families, teenage relationships and international marriage are pretty normal for most of us in the west, but for Korean children (hell, adults too) these are baffling concepts that blow their minds!

I often feel like Korean society is still in the 1980's in many ways, and I underestimated how many things they'd consider astonishing. Even foreign adoption (the fact that Lily is from Vietnam) was amazing to them. This should not have surprised me, given that the Korean government is cracking down on foreigners adopting Korean babies, and that Koreans consider adoption to be a bad thing. If it's not blood family, it's not real family, according to my co-teacher. So, adoption: Brain explosion.

I didn't tell them what the show was about before I pushed play. I wanted to see their natural reactions, especially to Cam and Mitchell. It took them a while to click what they were seeing, and when they realised what the relationship was, most of them let out a big 'GAY! TEACHER, GAY!' Funnily enough, they settled down pretty quickly if I ignored their reaction, and they seemed to almost forget about it. In fact, they focused more on how cute the baby was, and how funny Cam was. Afterwards, when explaining the family tree, I told them that I have 'many gay friends' and they found this fascinating! So, The Gays: Brain explosion, but quick recovery.

Oddly, the thing they seemed to have the most trouble with was the fact that Jay and Gloria were married before, to other people, but these people were not dead. I said, when explaining stepfathers: "Imagine your mom and dad are not married any more. Your mom marries a new man. He is your stepfather." Lord above, the protests! "Teacher no! Where is my dad?!" Me: "Your dad is still alive, but not with your mom..." Her: "But why? No." I'm not advocating divorce by any means, but I was surprised by how foreign a concept it seemed to be. Apparently kids who have divorced parents often leave school because of how humiliating it is/how badly they are teased. So, second marriages/divorce: bigger brain explosion than The Gays.

The funniest parts of the episode for them were also the most physical. Phil slipping down the bannister greased in baby oil. Phil having to shoot Luke with a BB gun, but then shooting everyone else, including himself, by mistake. Phil destroying Luke at basketball. So... pretty much everything Phil did. Ty Burrell does such an amazing job as Phil, he totally deserves his Emmy. His acting is probably the closest to Korean comedy, the physicality and slap-sticky humour is perfect for these kids.

Afterwards, a lot of kids came to ask where they could watch more episodes, which I thought was great. I know I'm not changing the world, and that it's just a TV show, but it's unlike anything they usually watch. Anything that opens their minds, gets them to see outside the bubbles they live in, and they get to laugh a bit during a tough school week is fine by me! Also, come on, how funny is this show?!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Last week I posted a collection of quotes I'd jotted down while marking High School speaking tests. My brother told me I was mean for taking the piss out of my kids, but I don't think I was. Do you think I was being mean? I just found a lot of the things they said amusing because of the sometimes inappropriate words they used, or how simply adorable or funny they were. So, with a guilt-free conscience, I present a few more quotes, followed by some insights I gathered in the two weeks I listened to them battle with a complex language.
  • "I want to go to New Zealand. There are lots of beautiful mountains and tasty animals."
  • "I want to go to German. I like sausage. I go to beer festival. Left hand beer, right hand sausage! *demonstrates with alternating eating/drinking motions*"
  • "I like Harry Potter. My first kiss, watching Harry Potter. Harry gives me wizard feeling. Expecto Patronum! *makes spell/wand-waving motion*
  • "I would eat poison. People say eating is the joy of life, but eating one dish is a horrible life. The pleasure of taste would disappear. I would rather die than live in this agony."
  • "I want to see the Colosseum very much. It is broken a little, but it gives me a magnificent feeling." - I loved her way of saying it was a little bit broken, like it's no big deal, just some minor damage!
  • "I will choose without hesitation my mother's kimchi fried rice. It has a unique flavour and aroma, and when I eat it I taste her love and devotion."
  • "I want to be a social worker, and care for poor people. My boyfriend and I will build a village and become very rich!" Me: "In which country will you build a village?" Her: "Africa." Me: "Ok, but which country in Africa?" Her, confused: "Africa?!"
  • "I want to go to Japan because I love sushi. I want to eat many kinds. Also, I want to tell them that Dokdo belongs to Korea!" - Dokdo is an island between the two countries. Each country claims it as theirs. Koreans get violent if you even tease them about this issue.
  • "I want to be a bodyguard. I am strong and I like Tae Kwon Do. No, I LOVE Tae Kwon Do! Girl bodyguards are *thumbs up*" - 17 year old girl
  • "My favourite food is cheese." Me: "Cheese?" Her: "Yes. No. Pizza!" Me: "So you choose pizza?" Her: "Yes. No! Vegetables! Um... (topic) change?"
  • "I want to be the boss because I don't like working under anyone. I want to command my subordinates. I will target their respect." - So serious, I got scared.
  • "I choose to eat soup. It has many nutrients, and nowadays people live a long time so when I am old I can eat it easily." - Love the logic
  • "I think I will be living a single life. But I will not be lonely. I love cats, so I will have my lovely cats. I will enjoy my freedom." - 17 year old girl. Aw!
  • "I want to go to England because I love soccer. I love Man U. My favourite player is Javier Hernandez because he is cute and a good player." - 18 year old boy. Koreans LOVE Chicharito, they think he is adorable!
  • "I will win American Powerball lotto. Very rich man! *stands up to indicate on his body* Armani suit! Gucci sunglasses! Rolex left hand, Breitling right hand! Hermes belt! *shows me his belt buckle* This one is imitation, but soon real one. Big house, beautiful house, many cars in front of house!" - hilarious, super-cocky boy
  • "I want to go to the USA. It is home of black music. Hip hop...*can't think of more examples* I like black music."
  • "I wand to be a 'raijer'. I like animals, they are cute and fun, so I want to be a 'raijer'." - If you know Korean pronunciation (swapping R and L, saying J rather than Z) then this could either be 'laser' or 'eraser'. I couldn't figure it out, so my co-teacher and I tried to think of what it could be. Raiser! Someone who raises animals:)
When one teaches so many children (nearly 600), and only see them once a week, it's difficult to get to know their names, let alone their innermost feelings. While I wanted to shred my own eardrums by the end of it, I did enjoy learning about my kids, and Koreans in general. These are some things I learned:

  • The gaps between job choices (nurse, social worker, teacher) and financial expectations were hilarious to me. So many kids said they want to do a fairly low/average-paying job, but then followed up with, "and be very rich". The quote above about Africa is a prime example of that. They are going to be very disappointed! At least some of then said they'd win the lottery, or marry a rich man.
  • Given that Korea is still a pretty patriarchal/gender unequal society, and that it's a big deal if you don't get married, I was surprised by how many girls said they didn't want to get married and have kids at all. They wanted to focus on their careers. To be fair, they were the top-level girls, with high career expectations. Their facial expressions were comical when I asked if they saw themselves getting married. Utter horror!
  • Despite always professing their love for western food like burgers, pizza and spaghetti, the majority of kids chose Korean dishes for that question. Kimchi Jiggae (stew) was the most popular, followed by kimbap (kind of sushi roll), bibimbap (google it) and chicken. The girls usually thought about the question a lot, but many boys just said ramen because it was easy. Quite a few boys said they'd choose their mom's cooking, but neglected to pick a specific dish. I imagine in 10 years they'll be sitting on the couch, playing Nintendo and eating Kimchi Jiggae their mom made.
  • If I have to hear the word 'delicious' ever again, I will cry. Every single kid used it to describe their chosen food. "I choose xxx because it is delicious!" I'm going to do an entire lesson on ways to describe food! The worst part is that my vocabulary has shrunk so badly that I don't bother to use anything else either.
  • Don't interrupt them to clarify/ask a question, they lose their train of thought and panic! This is especially true of the lower level kids, who have learned their responses like a parrot. Wait until they're finished speaking, then ask follow-up questions. Them; "My favourite movie is Twilight." Me: "Oh yeah, do you like Edward or Jacob?" Them: "Uh... Twilight is... um..."
  • Almost every single kid, when asked to choose a second country to visit, chose Japan. In fact, I don't think there was a single kid who didn't say Japan. Most of them want to go there to see Disneyland, mind you, and because it's close to Korea. First choice countries include the USA, England, Australia, France (Prangs!) and the Maldives (?!). Also, there are only two cities in the USA: New York and LA. Also, Africa is a country.
  • The most popular job choice was nursing, especially for lower level girls. I found this odd, and even thought they were deluding themselves, until my co-teacher told me that nursing is the easiest university course to get into. Odd! Other jobs included teacher, chef, vet, banker, accountant, interior designer, fashion stylist, soldier, model and public servant. Also, more girls than boys wanted to go into policing, with one saying she wanted to be Korea's top detective.
  • Bibimbap is a favourite amongst students when they are studying, because it's the quickest thing to eat. Unlike other meals with side dishes, it's all in one bowl and they can shovel it down and get back to the books!
  • This is going to sound really evil but by the end of the second week I didn't try to prod them along if they got stuck. I sat and watched them squirm, especially the kids I knew could do better. I just thought, stuff it. You've had three whole weeks to prepare, two weeks longer than the kids who went last Monday. Suffer!


On the first Thursday of every month, the (mostly foreign) English teachers in my town gather to drink Makeoli* and compete in a pub quiz. (My team, Three chicks and a Dick, usually wins. That's not important to the story.) Anyway, sometimes when we're feeling creative we have a theme night or get up to something silly, and this month was no exception for two attendees.

Some back story: During the Rugby World Cup (boooo!) semi-final between South Africa and Australia, four friends made a drunken bet. Rodney and Shaun (SA) and Megan and Jarrod (Aus) bet that whoever's team lost the game would sing the other two's national anthem at the next makeoli night. Um... So, to clarify, South Africa lost, so Rodney and Shaun had to sing the Australian anthem in front of everyone because the referee was a 'doos'. Google it.

They practised their Aussie anthems, with video links helpfully provided by Rodney's girlfriend (aforementioned Megan), and a few weeks later had to stand and deliver. They painted tank tops with Aussie-flagged hearts declaring their love for wombats and platypuses, donned board shorts in freezing weather, and did this:

As a South African, I would like to apologise to all Australians who may have been offended by this mangling of their national song. The boys really did try to learn the lyrics, the lesser-sung second verse included, but the moment was too much. The glare of the fairy lights blinded them to the majesty of the words. If it makes you feel any better, the damn song was stuck in my head for the rest of the night!

*Makeoli = Korean traditional rice wine. Tastes like fizzy milky beer.

PS: The voice at the end saying, "That's going on my blog!" = me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


In my previous post, I listed the things I will miss when I leave Korea in February. I've thought of a few more things, like underfloor heating, aloe juice, Jajangmyeon and free bar snacks, but I've also contemplated my reasons for leaving. The time has come, according to the Walrus, to speak of the many things I will not miss, in no particular order! Let the bitching begin!

1) The job. Let's not lie and say we come here for job satisfaction or to advance our careers. We come here for the money, predominantly, and to experience adventure and another culture. That was the case for me, anyway. On the list of things I'd be sad to leave, you'll notice I didn't mention teaching. While I do enjoy the actual lessons, teaching is not my passion, and sitting at a desk doing nothing for much of the day drives me insane. I miss being a journalist, and I can't wait to get back to Cape Town and get my writer on! All that being said, my schools have been good to me and I don't regret the time I spent in the classrooms of Korea.

2) Hand-held showers. Permanently wet bathroom floors, which mean wet socks in the middle of the night if you get up to use the toilet and are too asleep to switch the light on/find the bathroom slippers! Also, could apartment builders please latch onto the idea of baths?! In winter, having a shower is almost the worst thing ever, especially when the pipes are a bit frozen so the water doesn't get very hot. At least with a bath I can heat it up with a few boils of the kettle. Also, thanks for the wet toilet seat/towel/clothes after showering, and the spray in the face if you forget to switch the shower back to regular tap! Also, a hand-held shower does not make for a relaxing experience, it just makes you more tired.

Porno hand soap.
3) Public toilets. Will there be toilet paper, or not? Will it be in the cubicle, or on a big roll outside? And if you forget to grab some from the big roll, do you have tissues on your person? If so, and you're using a squatter, can you reach your tissues in your bag hanging above your head without messing wee on your shoes? Though who cares about that, your shoes are probably covered in wee anyway, from the people before you who didn't know how to aim. Also covered in wee? The bottoms of your trouser legs. And those gross, kind of pervy, blue soap holders that you have to give a hand job to? Sexy.

Mekju chuseyo!
4) Crap beer. I have yet to find a Korean beer I like. They're all sweet, taste like chemicals and look like watered-down piss. If I have to choose, it'll be Max, because Hite ('Shite') and Cass ('Ass') are truly horrible. They're cheap, so I'll drink them if we're playing a drinking game or if someone buys be a draft, but if I have to spend a bit more to get a decent beer then I will. It still makes me sad to fork out 6000w/R36 for a bottle of Heineken though. The silver lining is that I drink less, because it's too expensive to drink bottles all night! I cannot wait to drink an ice cold Amstel!

5) Lack of greenery/grass in cities. For all the mountains and rivers in this country, it's pretty much a concrete jungle. There are so many people here that even small towns are a mass of apartment skyscrapers and cement block schools. Only small areas have trees lining the streets, and finding a patch of grass is nigh impossible. Even parks are patches of sand/gravel rather than lawns. Schools rarely have grass playgrounds/soccer pitches, though the wealthy ones will have plastic grass to make things look a bit brighter. One thing I love doing on a Sunday is taking a drive around Cape Town and looking at all the beautiful houses and gardens, and it's very rare to find anything like that here because there just isn't enough space for gardens. We;re very privileged in South Africa to have the space we do.

Gyeongju, my favourite Korean city.
6) Cookie-cutter towns. Following on from the above point, the lack of aesthetically pleasing architecture is very depressing and something we foreigners comment on quite often. I don't know why, but Korea does not seem to bother about this kind of thing. Perhaps it's a waste of time/money/labour? Considering apartment blocks are erected in mere weeks, it's not surprising that every town looks exactly the same. "Just get the thing built!" Every now and then you'll find an interesting-looking building, but they're mostly square and grey until the neon signs light up at night. The exception to this is Gyeongju, which is gorgeous and has lots to see.

7) Strong hierarchical structures and changing schedules. One thing that irritates me the most about working in Korea is the complete disrespect for someone else's time or opinions if they're younger/less experienced than you. We jokingly call it 'Dynamic Korea', meaning everything can change at a moment's notice, and nothing you say can change it. Classes are cancelled after you've prepared for them, a co-teacher asks to use your lesson period because they haven't finished their curriculum on time, you get told at the last minute about a function you have to attend, etc. Then, having to go through three people just to get permission for something small is beyond me. I can't ask the principal for anything, I have to ask my co-teacher, who must ask the head of department, who must ask the vice-principal, who then asks the head honcho. "Yes, you can leave for 10 minutes to go to the bank." Well thanks for the answer, two hours later! I know it's the culture, but it's something that annoys most of us no end.

8) Living with one foot in the closet. In my Pro Korea list I said that I could kiss The Lovely Gen on a street corner and no-one would bat an eyelid. While that may be true to a certain extent, I still live my life half in the closet, which is very difficult for someone as out and proud as I am. This is mainly the case when it comes to my working relationships. In the two schools I've worked at in two years, I've told exactly one person that I'm gay. It took me six months to tell her, and I only did so because she kept asking me what kind of man I liked and when I was going to get married. I knew her well enough to assume she'd be ok with the news, and she was, but it's not something I'd risk while working in a High School. Korean attitudes towards The Gays are not the most progressive, so at school I'm single and share an apartment with my 'room-mate'. As a result, I haven't really bonded with any of my co-workers because I can't speak honestly about who I am.

9) Being stared at for being foreign and/or having short hair. I've written about the reactions to my short hair before, and it really is one of my pet hates. This past weekend TLG and I were standing on the subway platform in Daegu and an old lady started gesturing and miming about my hair. Not to me, mind you, but to TLG! I can only imagine what she was saying, but it didn't look complimentary. Even after TLG told granny she didn't speak Korean, the barrage continued until we stepped onto the train. I've grown oblivious to the "Oh my god, a foreigner!" stares, but it annoys TLG no end, mainly because she's blonde so gets it a lot more. Get over it people, there are a lot of Westerners in Korea.

10) Spitting/hocking loogies. I'm retching just thinking about this. It's one of the most disgusting things Korean men (mostly) do. You know what I'm talking about. That long, deep hock back, followed by a huge gob on the street, which is normally reserved for the privacy of your bathroom if you have a cold. Even then, it's disgusting. It's impossible to walk more that 50m without stepping on a ball of phlegm. I always give the people who do it such a dirty look! Also, put your hand in front of your mouth when you cough/sneeze, children!

Rice cakes with red bean filling. *dry heave*
11) Rice cakes. In soup, in curry sauce, containing red bean paste, filled with nuts and raisins. All rice cakes must die a sticky, chewy, tasteless death!

12) Summer humidity and mosquitoes. I'm breaking into a sweat just remembering the hot, sticky summer. Inside is gorgeously air-conditioned, outside is a sauna that makes walking a few feet feel like torture. It's like walking through soup. Smelly, sewage/rotting garbage-scented soup. It would be ok if there were public outdoor pools, but those are so hard to find if they even exist. Water parks are all well and good but having to pay a fortune to wear a mandatory life jacket in two feet of water is not my idea of a good time. And don't get me started on the mozzies! They're huge and leave bites that itch to high heaven and look like welts! 

13) Kimchi and other pickled/spicy foods. Yeah... not going to miss most Korean food. Why must everything be covered in 'spicy red crap,' as I like to call it? It's just my personal preference, I know a lot of people who love Korean food, kimchi included. I'm looking forward to a variety of food choices, like sushi (Japanese style, with salmon, at Belugas in Greenpoint), Turkish, French, South African braai meat, and so on. No more pasta that contains clams AND pork! And no more sweet corn in EVERYTHING! Though I will miss the variety of sweet potato products!

14) The language barrier. I'm not going to miss speaking... slowly... and... using... my... hands... to... explain... things...! It's exhausting. I want to walk into a shop/restaurant/office and be able to speak to pretty much everyone there at a normal pace with my hands in my pockets. I never want to use the word 'delicious' every again! Hellohowareyouiamfine! Korean is a cool language, I like being able to read it and it sounds pretty, but Englishee puh-lee-juh!

15) Being shoved by old ladies. Hands up if you've been elbowed out the way by a granny! Wow, so many of you! Were you getting on a bus? Standing in line at the ATM? Walking down the street with an entire sidewak free on either side of you? And it's not just old ladies, it's a common thing. Apparently lining up in an orderly fashion is not something taught in schools. And god forbid someone apologises for bumping into you/standing on your foot/hitting you in the stomach with their giant polka-dotted handbag! No, it's ok, I have another foot, you rude imbecile!

Phew! I'm out of breath after that rant! So you see, while I'll miss mostly monetary things when I leave here, there are things on this list that cancel out more than one of those things. Living my life openly and proudly, being respected as a person, and not being eaten alive by bugs are more important than cheap electricity. To me, anyway. Disagree with my list? That's ok too:)

Monday, November 7, 2011


Having been in Korea for two years, it was inevitable that I would come to love many things about living here. As the time draws near for The Lovely Gen and I to leave the Hermit Kingdom, I've started to get nostalgic and I've thought of some things I'll miss when I leave. Isn't that always the case? You always forget about the things that annoy or disgust you about a place when you're about to leave it. I cannot wait to get home to Cape Town, and there are a lot of things I won't miss about Korea, but I'm surprised to find that I'll miss more than I won't.

Annyeong chingus!
1) Having lived overseas before, I know that living in a transitory environment will always end in sadness when it comes to making friends. I've made some amazing mates, from all over the world, and I will miss them the most. Living in a very foreign country, you tend to open yourself up to people you might not befriend at home, and you become a better person for it. It opens you up to dispelling prejudices, being more open-minded and learning about people you might have dismissed in a more comfortable setting. You don't have a choice, or you'll be alone in a country that you don't understand and doesn't understand you. To leave them behind, or to have them leave you during the course of your stay, is devastating. For all the promises of keeping in touch, it's rare that you do, and the likelihood of seeing most people you meet again is very slim, unfortunately. But at least I have someone to call on for a couch to sleep on if I ever go to Glasgow/Wisconsin/Wellington/Manchester. To all my friends in Korea, past and present, Sarangheyo:)

2) One of the things I love most about living here, and something that could keep me here for another year all by itself, is the internet. It's the fastest in the world by a long way, and there are few places you can't get it. It's on phones, in airports, in shops, on the subway and in every single household. It costs practically nothing for unlimited broadband, and I will miss it insanely when I'm in South Africa. My dad, who uses the internet for his work, was telling me that it's not so bad in SA, the measurement is 10mb/s or whatever. I checked, and here it's 100mb/s upload speed. If you had to hypothetically download an hour-long tv show episode, it takes an entire day in SA. Here it takes 10 minutes max. Hypothetically.

3) Watching TV shows the day they air in the USA/UK/Australia. I have never watched this much TV in my life. I can't help it, the magic internet fairies deliver TV episodes to my computer every day! It will drive me positively insane to be a few episodes, if not seasons, behind in nearly all my shows when I go home. On top of that, I watch so many shows from countries not the USA, like Lost Girl and Rookie Blue from Canada and Masterchef Australia, that won't be on SA TV. What am I going to do?! What's that you say? Exercise and read books? Fine!

4) Cheap utilities. I've never paid more than 10 000 won for electricity in a month. That's not even R70. Usually it's closer to 5000. And we use lights, appliances and computers all day long. It's going to be a big adjustment turning all the lights off at home. And gas is so cheap, and we don't pay for water. It costs practically nothing to live here.

5) Living really close to all my friends, and being able to walk down the road to the pub. I love that I can call a mate and within five minutes we're sitting with a beer in hand. No drunk driving, and no trekking across the city just to have a cup of tea.

6) Being able to WALK places without fear of being mugged. At night. The feeling of safety is something I will really miss, not having to worry about my handbag or my life. To be fair, you can't walk around alone at night in pretty much any other country, so it's not an indictment of South Africa. Here we leave our handbags on a chair in the bars and go and do our thing, without anyone watching over them. It's just not a worry, and it's very liberating. We might be blase about safety, but so far nothing has proven us wrong. In fact, if you leave your phone on a train or in a taxi, someone will usually make an effort to get it back to you. Koreans don't generally keep things that do not belong to them.

Taxi driver reading and driving
7) Public transport. I can't wait to be able to drive again, but I really love that taxis, buses, trains and subways are so plentiful and cheap. We never have to worry about driving after a night out, or how we're going to get home. Taxis are super cheap, they all have GPS (even though the drivers are usually watching TV on them as they drive) and it's hard to find a place that isn't connected to a bus route. And yay for the KTX! Two hours and you're on the opposite end of the country in Seoul. But, as I said, I'm looking forward to being able to go on a drive in my own car.

8) Bowling alleys on every corner. I've gone bowling more often in Korea than in all 28 years of my life before living here, and it's one of my favourite things to do. I live in an area with four bowling alleys within walking distance, and it's super cheap. We played three games recently and it only cost us 6000 won each. R36 for 2 hours. Money for jam. In Cape town, if you go to Stadium-on-Main, you pay that much for a single game.

9) Service! I've never been given so much free stuff as I have here. I went grocery shopping the other day and got a free 2 litre bottle of orange juice. If you buy washing powder you might get a free pack of noodles. We went for dinner last week and got a free dessert. A lot of places, like doctors' offices and sports venues have free coffee machines. We went to a music concert and we all got free fleece blankets in case it got chilly. And we didn't have to give them back! I once got given a pack of kitchen paper because I posted some packages at the post office. If you buy cosmetics at Skin Food/Innisfree/Face Shop, you will walk away with a bag full of free samples/cotton wipes/hand cream. If you show loyalty to a shop/restaurant, you will be rewarded!

10) Having my bank balance in the millions. And being able to save half my salary. This isn't the real world as far as work and money is concerned, and I will miss being so carefree about money and monthly costs. It will be a bit of a shock to see a pay check in thousands rather than millions, it makes me so happy every month! When we first got our salaries, everyone made the obligatory 'I'm a millionaire!' joke. I fear I will never be a millionaire again, alas. Unless I win the lottery. I don't think I will have this much spendable money ever again, unless TLG has a vast fortune hidden away somewhere.

11) Being able to walk down the road holding TLG's hand without anyone batting an eyelid. Bizarrely, because Koreans in general don't have gaydar and don't even think people can be gay, we attract no attention. We're hidden in plain sight. Girls and women hold hands, as do males of all ages, and it means nothing more than friendship. I could kiss TLG for a full five minutes on a street corner and people would just think we're really good friends. So the irony of living in a country where they would freak out if they knew I was gay is that I can be as gay as I want in public because they don't know what they're looking at. It is a very strange situation indeed. But it will be nice to go back to Cape Town, so I don't have to travel to Seoul just to go to a rainbow bar!

12) Jimjilbangs and 'love motels'. I've never stayed in a jimjilbang (a kind of dormitory for travellers/drunks/old men, usually at spas, costs less than 10,000w) but I do frequent love motels when travelling. For those not in the know, a Love Motel is a place where people can meet up for a good time, if you know what I mean. Given that most people live at home until they're married, they need somewhere to canoodle, be it for an hour or a night. We tend to stay at the nicer places (60 000 for the room, still not expensive), because skimping on cost will result in bedspreads that glow purple under a black light. Gross! Also, love motels are often the only time I can have a bath, as Korean apartments rarely have them!

13) Very cheap health care. As mentioned in a previous post, I've undergone surgery in Korea, stayed in hospital and seen many a doctor. A visit for a check up, provided you have insurance (all foreign teachers do) will cost you around 5000w/R35. Seeing a gynaecologist, including ultrasound and a full exam, is only 30 000w. Where would you pay that anywhere else? And these are fancy doctors' offices, not crappy clinics. I went to a neurologist after my surgery and a consultation cost me 4000w/R25. My entire surgery, hospital and medication included, cost me literally a tenth of what it would have cost at home. Madness.

14) Koreans. The way they greet you so loudly when you walk into a store, and then everyone says bye and thank you when you leave. The way they're so willing to help you, and how excited they get when you speak even the most basic Korean. How well behaved the kids are, compared to other countries, and how they dress in identical clothing when they're part of a couple. Their quirky sense of fashion, their gorgeous black hair, and how they'll come up to you and say hi just to practice a bit of English, even if they've never met you before.

15) Mandu, sachet coffee from Family Mart, iced tea for 1000w/R7, cocktails in a bag, drinking on the street being legal, beer pong and free pool in bars, ramen, japchae, bulgogi, free lunch at work, travelling on weekends, autumn in Korea is so gorgeous, snow, Korean babies/toddlers, hundreds of kids being excited to see me EVERY SINGLE DAY for two years.

Remind me why I'm leaving again?