Monday, September 26, 2011


Usually, when you arrive in a foreign country you're obliged to email the masses back home to tell them all about your adventure. Or, you, know, start a blog. I shall now combine the two practices by publishing a few emails I sent when I first arrived in Korea in February 2010. As I said before, this country is crazy, but it's mostly the same crazy for everyone! It's quite strange to read these 18 months later, and reflect on how much things change, people change, in such a transitory environment.

21 February 2010, a few days into orientation, meeting the Allstars

Hi all!

So I thought I'd send you a quick update about life in Korea so far. I'm sitting in an internet cafe, which is super fancy. They give you free drinks, you can spend hours here and it only costs R7 ($1) per hour, and you can do whatever you want! Most people play games for hours.

Blake, me, Tom, Sean and Libby
Anyway, I've been having a great time so far. It's been four days of lectures and beer. Oh, and Soju, which is Korea's national drink. It's kind of like vodka, except sweeter and not quite as strong, which makes it dangerous! They mix it with strawberry juice, which resulted in yesterday being a miserable one!. The people I've made friends with are party animals, which has its perks, but oh my word. They are at the pub right now waiting for me. Libby is my roomie, she's from Wisconsin, Tom is from London, Blake is from Dallas and Sean is from Glasgow. We're quite a motley crew but have bonded really well, almost to the exclusion of other people!

I still have no idea where I'm going to be placed, or what age group I will be teaching (probably little kiddies though). We've been having lectures about how to make lesson plans, how to communicate with the kids, etc, which have been super helpful and interesting. We've also been having Korean lessons, which I've loved. I can say quite a few basic things, and I told the taxi driver that I love him last night, which he found most amusing. And no, I wasn't even drunk! The kids here are so cute, we spent today doing touristy things and there were so many toddlers all over the place. The people here are fascinated by us, they stare without any shame, which is quite fun.

That's pretty much it for now. I will find out my destination on Thursday, and go there on Friday. I hope someone I know is going to be there too, I can handle being the only gay in the village (which seems to be the case so far...) but being the only foreigner would suck!

Must be off to the pub now! I'm taking advantage of being social before I get shipped off to the middle of nowhere.

8 March 2010, a week into the new job. Everything's still new and exciting!

Hi all!

So I’ve just finished teaching three classes of Grade 5 kiddies. It wasn’t too strenuous, I just had to show them a Power Point show of myself and then we played games. I played a game with them called chiggle chiggle chuck chuck, which is something they all learn as little kids so it was rather competitive. We managed to turn it into a drinking game at orientation but it’s actually rather innocent.

I teach grades 5 and 6, and then I have after school classes too where the kids sign up for extra English classes. I also have to do one hour a week of looking after the little kiddies, which should be fun. Damn, these kids are cute! I’m still getting used to the fact that they all stare at me ALL THE TIME! I half expect a paparazzo to pop out from behind the door at any minute. They walk past my office at every opportunity, and when I look at them or smile they screech and run away! Amusing.

Otherwise, all is well. I’m getting used to very few people understanding me, which was more difficult to deal with initially than I’d expected. It’s infuriating, and I have to remind myself where I am: a little town in Korea . Why would they speak English? So yeah, that’s getting better to deal with. The food, on the other hand, is not improving with time! I just can’t get used to it, and I’ve never eaten so much spicy food in my life! Every day with the chilies in everything! I do like some dishes, but they tend to be Chinese in origin. My absolute worst is a dish called Kimchi, which is the national food. It’s fermented, spiced cabbage. Yeah, it’s disgusting and they eat it with EVERY meal!

My apartment is now nicely kitted out, washing machine and all. I don’t know what the settings mean, so I did laundry last night on blind faith that the automatic setting was correct! And now my jeans are all laid out on the floor as the under floor heating is a very efficient drying system. The wee smell is also pretty much gone now, which is a relief.

Western fooooood!
This past weekend a bunch of us went to Daegu, which is the closest big city. We went to a bar and played Billibow. It’s a combination of bowling and pool. You shoot the cue ball down the long alley with a cue and try to knock the skittles over.

I think after this month things will begin to settle down properly. I only start teaching proper lessons next week, where I have to teach “How are you?” to the grade 5’s and “Where are you from?” to the grade 6’s. I can do whatever I like with the after school kids, which could result in numerous games of soccer outside…

As for cell phones and skype, I’ll sort that out once I get paid at the end of the month and have my alien registration card (oh yes, that’s what I am. I’m a prawn!) I can’t really do anything until I get that card. So proper communication will start next month, I promise!

23 March 2010, after a month of exploring and very late nights!

Annyong Haseyo! (That means hello/how are you/general greeting)

I'm sitting at my desk at school, voiceless and powerless in a country that doesn't understand me at the best of times, so I thought I'd swing y'all an update. You're excited, I can tell:)

So yes, I am without a voice. Everyone is getting sick this week, as four weeks of non-stop partying and hectic acclimation seems to have caught up with us. I was sick last week, and then I thought I was better and went away for the weekend. On Saturday morning, having gone to bed at 5am after singing at the Noraebang (karaoke bar), I awoke to discover a lack of sound coming from my mouth. Since then it's been a case of hand signals and whispers. The frustration of not being understood is double now, which is making me take deep breaths. Bizarrely, Koreans are very good at reading and understanding English so a notebook is actually working out quite well and I might keep using it once my voice is back!

Anyhoo, so the past three weekends have been spent exploring our province. It (Gyeongsangbuk-do) is the biggest region, so there's lots to see even though there are relatively few people. I told you about the trip to Daegu on the first weekend, which was awesome. Two weeks ago we went to visit Tom and Jack in Gumi, where quite a few of us foreigners are based.

In Gumi, which is lovely and nestled in some mountains, we decided to get some exercise in. So we climbed Mount Guemo, which is taller that Table Mountain and takes about five hours to summit. The most upper reaches were pretty icy, so most of us didn't go up that far. God, we almost died. Everyone else in my circle of friends smokes, so I've been second-handing it all month long (and you know how much I LOVE that!). We sounded like wheezing old men after about two hours, it was pathetic. But there was a Buddhist temple halfway up, which provided a stunning rest stop, and there was also a waterfall and a cave. After the hike we undid all our hard work by eating Pizza Hut and going to a bar called Waegook Cook till 5am. The bar was disgusting and sticky, but they showed Six Nations rugby, which was the main reason for the trip in the first place.

This past weekend Libby, Sean and I went to visit Blake in Gyeongju. (Our little group, aka the Allstars, consists of myself, Libby, Sean, Tom and Blake.) Gyeongju is the oldest city in Korea, and was the capital for much of the country's history. It's a world heritage site, as much of the city is classified as a museum without walls. We saw burial mounds of ancient kings (huge hills, like pyramids in concept), a fortress, the oldest observation tower in Asia and a pond surrounded by temples. We also went to Korea's number one tourist spot, called Bulguksa Temple, which was beautiful.

So with all this culture and history, we felt we deserved some frivolity. As some of you may know, karaoke (called Noraebang) is HUGE here. Seriously, eveyone does it and there's no shame in being terrible. You don't do it in front of a big group though, each party gets their own private room so it's brilliant if you're shy. Anyway, so we went to a western bar for some beers and a live band, then to another westen bar for tequila, and then to the noraebang. Oh dear. When you start singing 'Just the two of us' to a beer bottle, you know things have gone pear-shaped! That wasn't me though, that was Sean.

And that is how I came to be here, mute and emphysemic. You only live once, baby! As for the actual reason I'm here, the teaching kids bit, that's great fun. It's very rewarding, I didn't think it would be this cool. It's like acting on a little stage every day, albeit VERY slowly and with lots of hand gestures and miming. We've noticed that even when we're not teaching we use some of the motions in general conversation:) But I enjoy it and I'm really bummed that I won't get to teach some of the cool lessons I had planned this week.

This coming weekend I'll be staying home, obviously, and then the next weekend we're going to Seoul for the weekend.

6 April 2010, a recap of a mad weekend in Seoul


So I’ve just finished teaching some five year olds how to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and thought I’d swing y’all an update while I still have a vocabulary of more than “Very good, excellent!”, “I like pizza,” and “Today is Tuesday”.

When last I wrote, I had just been to visit Gyeongju and ended up losing my voice. I then went to the doctor, who said I had to not speak for a week. Yeah, that went well. I didn’t teach for five days, during which time I sat at my desk and checked Facebook sixty five million times a day. I was so bored! I did manage to avoid smokey bars and such, which helped a lot. So I recovered, and am full-voiced right now.

This past weekend the Allstars went to Seoul. As with any other major city, it was ridiculously expensive, but it was a lot of fun. We went on the Friday night on the KTX, which is the bullet train that goes at 300km/h, and arrived in Seoul at 9pm. Plenty of time for a quick drink. What a joke, I don’t think I’ve been to bed before 2am on any weekend night since I got to Korea. I’m not kidding.

Allstars and Japanese girl, at Ho Bar
We went out for a quick bite, and then moved to the university area, where there are a lot of bars. We started off at Ho Bar, which amused us no end. We seem to be very restless when we go out and very rarely stay in the same bar for an entire night. We then went to some other place that sold crap yet expensive beer, and when next I looked it was nearly 4am. I have no idea where time goes!

The next morning we got up at around 10am, ate noodles and went out to see some sights. We were staying in a dorm room type place, which also contained two Japanese people, a girl and a guy. So the night before, in a fit on international diplomacy, we invited them along with us. Big mistake! The guy seemed to feel the need to protect the girl’s innocence (Wahaha! What a joke, the hussy!) and ended up nearly punching Jack for holding her hand on the way home. So the next day he apologized and left the hostel, bags and all. Oh well, more space for us.

Anyway, we met up with Dani (fellow Rhodes person) for lunch. Shame, she was sick but came along anyway. We ate some very expensive food (four times the price of our little provincial town) and then went to see a palace. It was called Gyeongbok Palace and was built in the 1300’s. Massive! There were uniformed guards in front ala Buckingham Palace, and everyone seemed to be posing with them as they stood impossibly still. What a kak job! We wandered around there for a few hours, and then went to find an ancient stream in the middle of the city. It used to be underground, but the current president dug it up with he was the mayor. Very pretty in the sunset.

We then went to find the giant pillow fight at city hall. We hung around in the cold, waiting for Tessa to arrive (she was supposed to meet us at 1, it was nearly 6pm) and for the fight to start. Suddenly, the square was filled with foreigners holding pillows and at exactly 6pm all hell broke loose. Fluff flew everywhere, heads were bashed in, locals stared in horror at the stupid Waegookins (foreigners). We then went to the western area of Seoul called Itaewon, which is close to the US military base.

Itaewon is like walking into the USA. It’s bizarre to see NO Korean anywhere. We went to an Irish bar called the Wolfhound, where you can have bangers and mash, burgers, fish and chips or a full English breakfast. I had the latter, it was delicious! I drank beer and proper tea simultaneously. The bar was cool, but some of the clientele left much to be desired. The Army guys were there, Jarhead haircuts and all, wearing t-shirts saying ‘Fuck this shit’ and playing darts. Libby and Blake were horrified, being from the USA themselves. At this bar we also hung out with some of Tess’s friends from Suwon.

Blake, far left, fascinated by out cross-dressing friend
After this bar we went to a place called Scrooges, which shows SA rugby and Premier League soccer, so we watched Man United lose to Chelsea while eating biltong and filling in rugby raffle tickets. Tess won a kilo of boerewors, I’m so jealous! We left there after a while and went to the gay area of Seoul called Homo Hill. Yeah. It’s overrated, I’m not gonna lie. But we did find a cool little place called Trance, which showed a drag show at 2am, which was amazing. Seriously, you had to remind yourself that the performers were men, and Blake said, “Oh my god, I’m so confused! Is it wrong that I’m turned on right now??” Sean, Tom and I went home at 4:30am but the others went to sing Karaoke and got back at 7!

Libby, Laurie and I with our Yong Moo Do instructor, 'Beast'
We took the slow train back on Sunday afternoon, arriving back at 7pm. I was so tired! I still am. It’s not helping that Martial Arts classes are nearly every night and carry on until past 10. It’s fun though, I have a green uniform and it has my name on the back and down the pants leg. I’ll send a picture soon. Three of us are doing it for free (Libby, Laurie and I) and for the most part we spend the class teaching them English. It’s a very nice bunch though, and it’s good to socialize and interact with Koreans. I’ve actually picked up quite a bit just by going to class, and a lot of the stuff I did as a kid is coming back to me. Oh, they gave me a black belt and it has my name on it in gold, it’s so cool!

And now, seeing as my desk has been moved into the staffroom (I was not impressed!) I’m being called to eat rice cakes. Not the hard crunchy kind, the kind that’s sticky and disgusting. They LOVE them, I hate them. It proves to be an exercise in diplomacy every time they serve them. Ugh.

1 comment:

  1. Oi! This does not count as a blog entry, Miss Luigat :)