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?

Friday, November 4, 2011


I spent the past week conducting speaking tests with my High School students. It was mind-numbing and they mostly butchered the English language beyond recognition, but there were some funny moments. Some tried to be funny, so I laughed. The others were unintentionally hilarious so I had to hide behind my marking book as they spoke because I was laughing so hard. Here are some examples of what I've listened to this week, they're not all bad. Some are just sweet or poignant, or just plain interesting. I learned a lot about my kids, which is the silver lining!

Q: Where do you see your life in 10 years?

  • "I want to be a nice police woman to help people suffer from murder." Dexter, anyone?
  • “I want to work in a hairline as a fright attendant.”
  • “I will be a microbiologist and make a vaccine that cures everything. I will win the Nobel Prize for science and live in New York City, drive a Lamborghini and have a hot girlfriend.” – All with a big grin on his face, clearly taking the piss.
  • “I want to be a police detective because I have the sixth sense. I will try to be honest. Lindsay, I have to report you to the police!” Me: “Why?” Him: “You are too beautiful! Give me many points.”
  • “I am interested in playing with children. I will be doing love with my husband.”
  • “I will win lotto. Win money, and buy a car, apartment and a school. I want to be a school president.”
  • “I will be a CEO because it has a high salary. I will buy a Lamborghini, because it is sexy and I can hunt girls!”
  • “I want to be an accountant. Keeping a money record book is my favourite hobby. In 10 years I will organize a school reunion, and there I will tell the boy I like about my feelings. Right now I am too busy studying.” – Favourite student, SUPER smart.
  • “I want to be a public official and serve the citizens well. But mostly because public officials work less hours and have public holidays off. I will go scuba diving, horse riding a shooting in my free time.”
  • “In 10 years I want to be on the catwalks of the top 5 fashion capitals. I am a model now, and when I walk the runway I have a mysterious feeling. Everyone is watching me and I feel happy.” – I’d never noticed her before, but she’s tall and really beautiful, so maybe I will be able to say I know a supermodel in 10 years!
  • “In 10 years I will be the CEO of Pineapple, which will be my company name. I will be the most famous CEO and everyone will have my products. They will forget Steve Jobs.”

Q: If you could go to any country for a week, where would you go and why?

  • "I want to go to the prangs. I want to see the paree and visit the apple tub. The apple tub is a beautiful buildings, and its head is 300m." Translation: I want to go to France, I want to see Paris and visit the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful building, and it is 300m tall.
  • "I want to visit the USA to go to Nike stores and the big McDonalds, so I can have hamburgers." Right, because Korea lacks those things.
  • “The life of developed countries is not more important. People don’t usually care about developing nations. I want to see their real lives, and if they are treated unfairly then I will reveal that fact with my words.” – Talking about going to Ethiopia. She was the only student to mention doing charity work or choose an African country.
  • “I want to go to India! I want to see the Cannes Film Festival!” – He was so excited, shame. Hope he figures it out before he buys his ticket to Mumbai…
  • “I want to go to LA to see a Justin Bieber concert and get his sign (autograph)” – 18 year old bully boy
  • “I want to go to Italy. Pasta is my favourite food, maybe it tastes better there. Also, Italian men are taller and more handsome than Korean men. I want to watch Italian men.”
  • “I want to go to Brazil to see the Rio Carnival. There are 60 000 dancers doing the samba *does a shoulder shimmy, giggles*.” Me: “Do you dance the samba?” Him: “No, I just like to watch.” Me: “You like the girls in bikinis!” Him: “Of course! I am a man!”

Q: What is your favourite movie and why?

  • My best student, talking about her favourite movie: "It's a really cruel movie. I like that the main character kills, like, 10 people with a hammer. I like cruel things!"
  • “My favourite movie is Wanted because Angelina Jolie appear. The end. *huge grin*”
  • “My favourite movie is The Devil wears Prada. I don’t love it for the handsome men or the beautiful women, but for the fashion! It makes my eyes very happy.” – 18 year old boy, who does not have an easy time of it because he is so camp. I am very protective of him.

Q: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

  • "Apples are very good for health and help you lose weight. Nowadays my bowels have stopped, so I need apples to help me with my constipations." Entirely serious. No embarrassment on her part.
  • "I like ramyeon. It is delicious. Ramyeon forever! The end." Ramyeon is Ramen/cup noodles/2-minute noodles
  • “I love bread. It is soft and delicious. I don’t like pizza bread but I love cream bread! *Shrieks loudly and shivers with excitement.*” Disturbing.
  • “I don’t think you should ask this question. It is not good advice. Eating only one thing is unbalanced and not good for health. But if I must choose then I will, rather than starve! *glares at me*”
  • “I choose space food. It is little volume nutrition energy supplement. It is small and light. End.”

Q: Describe your city.

  • “My shit is very small but it has many important functions.”