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Bamboozled

IMG_9189Invigorated by the previous expedition to the tea-filled tea-fields of Boseong, the following (ie. last as of 14/01/2015) weekend we decided to pack up and nip out to another of Jeollanam-do’s uber-cultural spots at Damyang: the Damyang Bamboo Forest, or Juknokwon if you’re a cool kid. As I’m essentially a professional tourist by this point, it seemed only proper that, having spent a very cultural weekend looking at green tea, I should follow this up by spending a very cultural weekend looking at bamboo.IMG_9182

This is why we can't see nice things.

This is why we can’t see nice things.

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After succeeding in leaving the house before mid-afternoon, we once again fled Gwangju from our trusty Gwangcheon Terminal (we later realised a similar, possibly more ideal route exists from Gwangju Train Station if that’s more your thing) for a brief-ish 45 minute trundle to Damyang. Rather than being Those Guys and getting a second bus from the station to the forest itself, we ambled through the town for a bit and arrived at the sprawling, impenetrably green body of bamboo – approximately at the same time as coaches upon coaches of like-minded local adventurers.

Meg always manages to find an animal to befriend.

Meg always manages to find an animal to befriend.

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Paying the less-than-exorbitant ₩1,000 (50p) entry fee gave us passageway to a winding maze of towering bamboo and violently-brandished smartphone -selfie sticks (sel-ca bong) – a phenomenon which seems to have fully permeated the country, and which makes the simplest of scenic walks a dueling match when every family you pass has to thrust their iPhone-on-a-stick in your ear. Within a minute’s walk into the woods, we came to the first ice cream/bamboo souvenir stop; after a brief investigation of the flutes and wind-chimes on offer, we were driven away by very serious-looking ajummas bashing themselves in the back with loudly-clacking split pieces of foliage. I have yet to understand the purpose of this.IMG_9192 IMG_9173 IMG_9168

The forest is spread over 2km of hillside, punctuated by occasional pagoda-like rest stop and alarming statues of pandas. Working our way through the solid foliage, we managed to scramble to the peak of a clearing above the bamboo canopy, which – after a brief queue of selca (selfie-camera)-wielding couples, paid off with a 360° view of Damyang and its surrounding farmland. In a fit of hypocrisy, I held up other people whilst taking my own couple-selfie (though I have yet to acquire a telescopic narcissism-rod yet), then fled like a perturbed panda back into the safety of the woods.IMG_9222 IMG_9236 IMG_9224IMG_9323IMG_9312IMG_9316 IMG_9249

After devouring a lovingly-prepared and wholly British cheese-and-Branston-pickle sandwich (thanks to Meg for having the foresight to buy some in the UK) in the sunlight of a temple garden, we attempted to plot our route to the ‘Slow City’ of Changpyeong-myeon – which, after closer inspection, was a 2-hour bus ride away. This idea swiftly removed from our minds, we instead set out to find the Metasequoia Road, a scenic, serene, tree-lined path through nature – which, after an hour’s hiking along the river, turned out to A) charge more than the forest for the pleasure of a roadside walk, and B) be totally packed with similarly-inclined walkers. Rather than heading down this path, I instead took a few illegally-free photos and ran away before anyone could object.

Sandvich Time.

Sandvich Time.

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Not that our briefly-defeatist backtracking was in vain, however. While retracing our riverside steps, we came across a slightly ramshackle bike-rental tent, offering normal bicycles, tandem bikes and something which can only be described as a tandem-bike carriage – essentially two bikes welded together side-by-side with a roof. As such an opportunity should and could not be wasted, I thrust my hard-earned cash into the beaming businessman’s face and we hijacked the bike-carriage with glee. I’m fairly ashamed to say it was the closest thing in my life so far to being in control of a four-wheeled vehicle (Meg could apparently not be trusted, as her separate steering wheel had been disconnected) – we plowed through sucking mud-patches and screamed down badly-concreted paths in our weird machine, all the while amazed that I hadn’t run us into the (alarmingly close-by) river or the ditch on either sides of the road. Pausing only briefly to purchase and devour an entire tray of traditional, honey-filled tteok (rice cakes), we left Damyang in relatively good condition.IMG_9336 IMG_9352 IMG_9356 IMG_9359 IMG_9361

Honey-filled tteok, also known as 'oh my god we ate the entire pack'.

Honey-filled tteok, also known as ‘oh my god we ate the entire pack’.

 

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(Green) Tea Time

Definitely green.

Definitely green.

It’s felt very odd since I moved back to Korea. Not because of any (non-existent) regrets, or feeling alienated – quite the opposite – but because it’s felt remarkably normal to be here. The first time around, we reached the airport and didn’t have the faintest bloody idea what to do next. Now, we know how the transportation works, we can (poorly) muddle by with our infantile grasp of hangeul and we know what to expect from the country in general. It’s a weirder sensation not feeling displaced – but it does make it a hell of a lot easier to buy groceries.IMG_8788

Mandu, or Korean dumplings, also with green tea.

Mandu, or Korean dumplings, also with green tea.

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The flip-side of our too-cool-for-cats familiarity with Korea is that we’ve been absolutely rubbish at Getting Out There since we got settled in Gwangju. We’ve popped out for a stroll in the mountains with our school and we nipped up to Seoul for a laugh, but we hadn’t really Done An Adventure until last week – when I threw down my Playstation controller and demanded that we leapt into action.

[note: some artistic embellishment may occur RE: pivotal action roles in this scenario. Meg may have expressed enthusiasm while I was hunting Templars in the Caribbean]

One of the problems we faced whilst near Seoul was that, although conveniently close to the country’s capital, there wasn’t much else to be discovered in Gyeonggi-do; almost everything worth seeing seemed to be on the southern half of the country. Now that we live in the southern half of the country, we should really live up to our latter-year resolutions.IMG_8918

So, after a brief brainstorming session where I outright refused to walk up the bastard great mountain Mudeungsan (surely a blog-to-come later in the year…), we settled on Boseong, the celebrated traditional green-tea fields on the southernmost edge of the country. One of the destinations we never quite managed to get around to before, Boseong is on most online lists of ‘Top 10 Places To Take A Selfie In Korea’, ‘Top 5 Edible Places In Korea’ and/or ‘Top Korean Tea-Related Destinations’, and so on.

Meg likes pine trees.

Meg likes pine trees.

One of the many upsides of our location is that we’re within a 5 minute scoot of Gwangcheon Bus Terminal, from where we can get pretty much anywhere on the Korean mainland. Hopping on a (gloriously empty) coach to Boseong proper, we then hitched a further taxi ride on the other side to the Tea Fields themselves. A note to wary travellers: regardless of how alluring the violet, fuzzy lining of the taxis waiting outside the bus station, I’d opt for a local bus to the fields instead; 10,000won is enough to get to the other side of Gwangju, so a 10-minute saunter for 13,000 didn’t come off as a good deal.

The Boseong Tea Fields are contained in a reasonably small area – maybe a square kilometre or two – but what it lacks in expansiveness it makes up for in sudden altitude. After a peaceful stroll through lines of pine trees, the ground suddenly takes off and shoots up a hundred metres. Tattooing this drastic slope are rows after rows of violently green tea crops, ripe for the picking by peckish tourists. I can’t vouch for the actual raw edibility of the plants, but the elderly ajummas and ajushis were cackling around us while chewing leaves, so presumably it’s delicious and/or that’s just the sort of thing ajummas and ajushis do.

Meg can't quite handle the sheer quantity of tea.

Meg can’t quite handle the sheer quantity of tea.

The pinnacle viewpoint for the fields – and for the surrounding countryside, which drops two hundred green-hilled metres onto a distant valley floor – is spectacular. Owing to the masochistically steep incline of the mountain, most of the initial shots might be blurred or feature other heaving, sweaty adventurers, but there’s usually a break between couples’ selfies where you can get a shot for yourself.IMG_8884

Simply not enough selfies in the world.

Simply not enough selfies in the world.

As seems to be typical of any kind of exploring in Korea, the second we stepped off the obvious beaten path, we were entirely alone. Rather than backtracking down the mountain-ladder, we instead wandered further round the landscape – rewarding us with another of those ultra-rare, gloriously Silent Moments. Surrounded only by forest, away from the crowds, the sensory-depriving silence was enough to make the blood in my ears louder than the world around me. The loud, ecstatic greeting from (presumably) the groundskeeper sweeping a muddy stone staircase moments later served as a fine reintroduction to Korea.

'What's that sound?' 'Your heartbeat.' 'Oh.'

‘What’s that sound?’ ‘Your heartbeat.’ ‘Oh.’

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In favour of heading straight back home after circumnavigating the fields, we instead took the bus to Yulpo, a nearby beachside town, offering a Pine Forest Beach to explore. This decision cost us 1,200 won (about 60p) and bought us the single most spectacular mountainside-road spectacle I’ve seen in Korea. Huge mountains wrapped around tiny, distant fields on the valley floor stretched out into the water, and (owing to our disgustingly late departure in the first place) the setting-sun light blinding us on each left turn around the mountain burnt everything like fire. Excuse the poetic waxing: it just describes the experience as best as I can, and I owe it at least that.

Unbelievable and, thanks to the direct sunlight - entirely unphotographable views whilst moving.

Unbelievable and, thanks to the direct sunlight – entirely unphotographable views whilst moving.

Bright sunlight selfie.

Bright sunlight selfie.

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#likeomgsophotogenic

#likeomgsophotogenic

In the short time between arriving at the orange-lit Yulpo Beach – with a (well-timed) folk concert blasting out strangely off-key melodies and people dancing on the beach – to us waiting in the freezing cold for an ultimately non-existent bus back to Boseong, we ambled along the sandy stretch to the pier, (Meg) did a few cartwheels in the sand and I bought a sausage. It was a good start to this year’s exploration.

PS. Sorry about the beard, Mum.IMG_9042

The White Stuff

IMG_8556Time for a (slightly) more up-to-date update.

Reviewing much of my earlier ramblings, I realise that, given particular weather conditions, I am an angry little man. In the summer of 2013, I sweated, fumed and swore as I squelched miserably through crowds of un-moistened, calm people both above and below ground as I barged about the country. I couldn’t possibly have identified more with the ‘rubbish weygook’ stereotype if I’d actually wanted to: I was cranky, vague from the heat (the only Hangeul my memory permitted me was either offensive or unrelated to any given conversation), and I offended more passers-by than I could hope to apologise to. Summer is not my friend, and vice versa. [stay tuned 5 months from now, happy readers]IMG_8561 IMG_8672 IMG_8639 IMG_8666

It seems only fair, then, that the polar (so to speak) opposite of Korean weather transforms me into an infantile, happy moron who likes to grin at the sky whenever white stuff falls from it. I came to Gwangju preparing myself for a disappointing show of snow this winter; nestled in Jeollanam-do, among the southernmost provinces, the city usually has a more mild climate, ie. hotter summers, fewer winters. (This only occurred to me after I’d signed the contract.) That being said, I’m happy to boast that we’ve had no shortage of ice-lined socks and snowball-sodden wool gloves since December.IMG_8624 IMG_8726 IMG_8733 IMG_8545 IMG_7567

Arguably the best part of the weather is the wondrous sight of tiny dogs losing their tiny minds in snowdrifts, charging about with brainless abandon until their pitifully tiny feet are frozen and the snowflake-donuts on their noses have completely obscured their faces. Millie always regrets snowbounding afterwards, yet manages to forget before every new walk – helpfully.IMG_8336 IMG_8360 IMG_8367 IMG_8406 IMG_7561 IMG_8450 IMG_8757IMG_7456
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I only managed to partly cripple myself a few times on the ice, and both times were either heading to, or returning from our Dalk Galbi local so it was a fair trade.

Pre-snow mug.

Pre-snow mug.

Backtracking: Autumn in Gwangju

IMG_7369I believe The Doctor once said something about wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ‘stuff’ making up the universe, so by that logic I’ll now cram in a few vague observations of autumnal Gwangju, 2014. Spring and Autumn are the two most lauded seasons in Korea, and with good reason; winters here are to be reckoned with and the summers can kill a pasty Englishman on sight, so it stands to reason that the climate wouldn’t half-arse the seasonal vestibules in-between.IMG_8139 IMG_8122 IMG_8102

Arriving in October, we’d optimistically assumed that we’d be missing the wafting tail-end of summer and be welcomed by orange foliage and cool breezes. Sadly, we miscalculated; the seasons were a bit tardy last year, and the heat didn’t give up until well into November. By that point, I’d all but renounced my cool-weather wardrobe and was sulkily preparing for the temperature shock of a capitalised WINTER as soon as December came about.IMG_8128 IMG_8105

Sometime around mid-November, however, colours other than GREEN and SHINY (being a prevalent colour in Korea) started to pop up. On our first joint-school outing with the entire staff, we went on a professional jolly to the multicoloured Gangcheonsan County Park – a local(ish) mountain range, the lofty heights of which were achieved only by our fellow weygooks and our manager Sean – despite having to traverse a 50m-high, creaking suspension bridge with at least one acrophobe in our midst.IMG_7374

The Hans Teachers meets Reservoir Dogs.

The Hans Teachers meets Reservoir Dogs.

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Front to back: Molly, a deeply enthusiastic Perry, Sean’s ear, and Greg.

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The school/s in their entirety.

The school/s in their entirety.

In a further fit of foot-itching wanderlust, we (briefly) went on a nostalgic trip to Seoul – which, reassuringly, instantly filled us with the twitchy English rage we’d missed so dearly. We’d somehow totally missed the Christmas lights around the city when we’d lived right next to it, so on the upside we had new scenery to admire in standstill human traffic. Meg and Molly both bought socks, to ensure the 6-hour round trip wasn’t wasted.

Seoul Subway. We'd missed you.

Seoul Subway. We’d missed you.

Meg's worthwhile socks.

Meg’s worthwhile socks.

Molly's worthwhile and meaningful socks.

Molly’s worthwhile and meaningful socks.

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A very enthusiastic Mario.

A very enthusiastic Mario.

Despite our relocation to the opposite end of Korea, familiar faces followed us; our briefly-met fellow foreigner Mark just so happened to have moved to a school in Yeosu, a local(ish, again) seaport town. Home to the 2012 Yeosu World Expo, the city is a weird blend of close, bustling, typical Korean alleys and great, shiny, hi-tech monoliths left over from the Expo. Sadly, while spectacular the event cost significantly more than it made, so now the whole area is almost totally empty – leaving one with the impression of a post-civilisation, dead city (see: Serenity, Fallout, The Last Of Us etc.) but with shinier edges. The centrepiece of the ‘city’ is a great, arched hall, the ceiling of which is one great 218-metre long digital screen with life-size whales, sharks etc. drifting around; the hall is flanked by escalators and conference halls, which – to my great disappointment – were all sealed off and thus unexplorable. Still, for an overimaginative child of a fictionally-post-apocalyptically-obsessed media generation, I could happily find a stick and flail about on a zombie-hunt for hours.

Meg, yours vanity-struck truly and Mark, all devouring rice-burgers.

Meg, yours vanity-struck truly and Mark, all devouring rice-burgers.

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While a slightly abbreviated season, the punchy colours around Gwangju – a noticeably more floral city than Seoul – are exactly how Lonely Planet et al. advertise them. Sadly, the elegant, swaying, vibrant colours have since been obliterated by a mighty shit-ton of snow. We remain optimistic that Korea will make it up to us on the other side of the contract.IMG_7352

Deck The Halls with Bowls of Kimchi (Fa La La) – Also, Happy New Yesterday

IMG_8689[NOTE: This was intended to be uploaded before New Year. To summarise: it was good and I’m still alive.]

I helpfully documented the cooking process.

I helpfully documented the cooking process.

I type this in the post-joyeux glow of Christmas in Gwangju. I’m on the bus, fiddling with the volatile nature of IOS Autocorrect as we speed away from our token remaining workday this week; while Christmas is a given holiday, nobody East of Dorset seems to have heard of nor gives a fig about Boxing Day, so our festive celebrations have been sandwiched between obnoxiously normal work days.IMG_8690 IMG_8701 IMG_8704

Not to say that Christmas has been compromised. Granted, a few ingredients have been a bit fiddly to come by – our gammon steak was achieved masterfully by Meg pickling the hell out of a block of processed ham, and our options of dead-and-cooked bird included ‘with’ and ‘without’ head – but enough greed has been fulfilled, enough food has been et and enough booze has been quaffed to qualify as a Successful Christmas.

A battle for the ages.

A battle for the ages.

Perhaps a brief summary of events between this and the (shamefully distant) last blog would be considerate. We’re well, truly and properly settled into our big, shiny base of operations, we like our routine and we really like our city. Looking back – much as we loved Namyangju – we made a fair few compromises living in the distant wildlands between Seoul and North Korea, interspersed sporadically with wrath-inducing trips to the most impatient city west of Tokyo. Here, we’re close enough to greenery to feel like we’re breathing actual air whilst having enough access to civilisation that we don’t have to mount an expedition for the weekly shop.

Molly with her miniature polar bear.

Molly with her miniature polar bear.

Our school is absolutely wonderful – more detailed outline surely to follow – to the extent that we haven’t once begrudged actually acting like adults and doing our job. It’s tiring and sometimes feels like it’s turning my brain to soup, but compared to the working hours of our Korean colleagues we have nothing to complain about. Plus, I got a jar of Nutella for Christmas (route to a man’s heart, etc.).
IMG_8038 IMG_8432I suppose a fairly significant side-note: once again, Millie The Slightly Weird Dog lives with us in Korea. As above RE: our school, will expand on the chaos of her transportation in a practical post shortly (something of a blogtacular back-log happening here) – but I’m overjoyed to report that our freakish little Border Collie-like-thing has the daily company of our friends Molly and Perry’s equally minute Pomeranian, essentially removing most of the guilt of going to work for hours. I will be getting home to the sounds of brainless joy and vigorously-sucked underwear shortly.IMG_8061 IMG_8367Rest assured, recent radio silence is a result of overwhelming creative disorganisation and comfort, rather than for a lack of positive things to say. My intention is to put up a few detailed/practical posts concerning Gwangju and Korean bits and bobs; if it happens before 2016, I’ll call it a win.

Homelandpia.

The big blue beautiful bastard. Like a shiny TARDIS.

The big blue beautiful bastard. Like a shiny TARDIS.

I’m writing this after a long, sweltering October summer (!? – still in the Northern hemisphere and thoroughly confused) day of exploring the local sights – by which I mean discovering as many recognisable supermarkets in the city as possible. It’s a very, very tedious hobby.IMG_7295

We’ve had our first week of work, and have our feet up in our brand-new, still-really-messy home in the 22-storey Landpia Officetel.

[Quick appendix: an ‘officetel’ is an example of the Korean/Konglish fetish for dual-word contractions – see also: Chimek = chicken & maekchu (beer), Menbuk = mental breakdown (also a cheery euphemism for tongue-tied conversational brain-farts), Remocon = remote control. In this case, an officetel is a combined office/hotel whereby workers can avoid the tedious commute to work by actually living in the same building – or, live in a residential space which can also accommodate an office. A terrifying but undeniably practical concept.]IMG_7154

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There’s a serious kink for socks in Korea.

Landpia, only a few years old, is big and shiny and exciting and has lifts which go very fast. I’m enraptured. We live on the eleventh floor, so can relax with a sense of aerial superiority over the common folk below (and a sense of awe at our 12+ floor social superiors); and, while our house has a total of two doors – ie. the front door and the bathroom – it still feels like a full house, rather than a big, tiered room. I’ve heard the word ‘mezzanine’ used but feel nowhere near qualified to successfully use it in a sentence.

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The running route, resplendent with bloody-minded fishermen.

The running route, resplendent with bloody-minded fishermen.

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On a more professional note (one does occasionally forget one’s purpose when working as an ESL teacher abroad), this new teaching experience is a huge contrast to our last position in Namyangju. For starters, we live and work smack-dab in the middle of the city, so no ajumma-fields to squelch through when we take a wrong turn. Our lessons are only 30 minutes long, which means that even the most horrific of student ennuyeux can be escaped swiftly; however, so far all the students have been wonderful/rambunctious/slightly sarcastic but in a good way. We actually have breaks in the day. We have our own room. I found a jar of apple sauce belonging to a previous teacher which I haven’t eaten yet but might when nobody’s looking.

The school!

The school!

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Yum.

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As we’ve only had the one week so far – which, honestly, entailed two days of shadowing other teachers, one national holiday and half the students off for midterm tests – a more detailed Life & Times will have to follow later. We’re really excited about working at Han’s School, and are eagerly anticipating not having to nestle in our own clothing while slipping into TV comas in future.

Meg had the artist's treatment at a street festival - results pending...

Meg had the artist’s treatment at a street festival – results pending…

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Also, we’ve discovered Dak Galbi restaurants in the area and will return to England fat as holy hell.IMG_7348

 

Just a bit of extra shameless self-publicising – Fell Out Of The Nest is now connected to Bloglovin’ in order to inflict myself on as many people as possible.

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A Cross-Countries Trek

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We’re actually in Gwangju, South Korea. Finally.

Four-year anniversary breakfast.

Four-year anniversary breakfast.

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This would normally be the point where I’d use a cocky expletive to proudly declare our arrival at our destination – however, as it stands I’m just bloody glad we’re in the right hemisphere. Who knew, suitcases with broken handles aren’t much fun to pull?IMG_7140

We’ve been staying in a rather fabulous little hotel (not a love motel, as it turns out – either that or we just haven’t found the expected ‘vibrating bed’ function yet) for a few nights now, kicking the final throes of jetlag by totally escaping sunlight and accidentally sleeping until midday. We’ve managed to make a bit of a Korean tour up until this point (appropriately, our hotel is the Hotel Food & Tour, whatever that actually means), the timeline for which started as such:

Meg's reaction to being woken up for this photo.

Meg’s reaction to being woken up for this photo.

Step one: Actually succeed in claiming seat/s on Etihad’s aeroplanes. The journey was essentially successful, save for the vast majority of things which seemed to go miserably wrong.
*despite best intentions, my suitcase was STILL too heavy and I had to throw away two beloved pairs of trousers. RIP, light blue scuffed jeans and tan chinos
*an Abu Dhabi security machine ate my credit card

Abu Dhabi's bafflingly shiny airport interior.

Abu Dhabi’s bafflingly shiny airport interior.

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oh my god dak galbi I missed you

*we intelligently bought FOUR LITRES of classy-bastard alcohol without considering the weight implications for the rest of the journey across the world and then Korea
*we were stuck for (not exaggerating) a full decade at the passport booth with slowly-dislocating collarbones under the weight of baggage
*due to aforementioned passport delay, it took so long for us to get to baggage claims that they’d declared our bags as ‘abandoned’ and would have incinerated my socks (and everything else) had we not stopped them
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IMG_5519*upon finally succeeding in crossing onto Korean soil, we discovered that our solitary remaining credit card didn’t work abroad and prepared to make a life for ourselves within the airport à la Tom Hanks in The Terminal (soon rectified by the fourth attempt at Skyping the bank; danced like insane people and scared a family)
*laboriously pulled ourselves through what felt like every single Seoul subway station we managed to avoid the first time around, and managed to break off my suitcase handle (nearly causing a human avalanche of surprised Koreans when it got stuck on a moving escalator).

Familiar directions...

Familiar directions…

Meg's tactical coat-baby (like a clothing turducken)

Meg’s tactical coat-baby (like a clothing turducken)

However, I list these purely because misfortune is more entertaining than success. To make use of our gleefully-gotten free days before teaching, we opted to push ourselves on our lucky friends and colleagues in Namyangju to see a few familiar sights before Korea 2.0 began. Armed with our duty-free rum and wild, jetlagged stares, we usurped fellow Osan Crew member Hailey’s old room while staying with likewise Korea veteran Lori; in the space of two days we managed to see our old stomping grounds at the lake, briefly meander through the lichen-tastic Jinju Apartments, gorge ourselves to the point of masochism at my desperately missed Dak Galbi restaurant and scared the hell out of our old school director whilst baffled ex-students milled about us. It was wonderfully surreal to see our old workmates, getting soju-slurred with Eric and caffeine-twitchy with Monica respectively – however, one does not marinade in nostalgia when one is expected elsewhere.IMG_5428

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Lori sees you.

Lori sees you.

Ceremonious lakeside gibbon-run.

Ceremonious lakeside gibbon-run.

IMG_5498Fast-forward a day of relative success discovering and figuring out the cross-country KTX bullet train, we left our comfort zone and ventured to Korea’s southern half. Immediately, Gwangju feels different to Seoul; most notably, there’s green stuff lining the streets and you can actually see the sky without branded buildings reflecting it back at you first. Our area, Chipyeong-dong, has everything you need from a built-up commercial district while also being a few minutes’ walk away from long river walks and marshy horizons along the outskirts of the city.

Fleeting doorway shot at Kangs.

Fleeting doorway shot at Kangs.

As it turns out, we have.

As it turns out, we have.

IMG_5478From our (non-pornographically clandestine) hotel  we’ve ventured out to our home-to-be at Landpia (details to follow once we actually move in), and met up with four of our fellow colleagues-to-be at Hans School (same promise as above). Due to self-inflicted terrible timekeeping, I’m actually writing this after our first day of work – however, (see above two addendums) on that note.

Our non-clandestine hotel.

Our non-clandestine hotel.

My Portable(?) Life

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Complete with sentimental message from Dad.

The digital and actual paperwork is through, and we are officially (going to be) On Our Way! To Korea. Again.

The best way to make friends with your neighbours is to play musical instruments constantly.

The best way to make friends with your neighbours is to play musical instruments constantly.

After a few days of convenient weekend getting in the way of actually telling the agency we got our visas, I woke up this morning to a +82 number shouting out of my phone. A very friendly Korean lady tells my bleary and underwear-clad self that our flights have been confirmed, and that we’d better get the hell out of Blighty by 9:25 tomorrow morning (note: some paraphrasing). It’s now 3:30pm the same day, and the living room is a chaotic sea of cables, slippers and knickers – which, on a normal day, might be less stressful.

In a fit of self-indulgence, and because the caffeine’s worn off, I’m using an ill-earned break to remind Future Me what he actually needs to bring with him when he has to carry his entire life abroad for a year, having already decided against a good percentage of my original booty for the sake of packing. As English expats, we get but a single suitcase to take in the plane’s hold (I gather some of our more fortunate Western colleagues get two bags, which doesn’t fill us with murderous jealousy one bit).

My personal haul is as follows:

A whole bunch a’ clothes – which, owing to the fact that Korea actually has seasons (and how) have to be suitable for both blizzards and heatwaves. As such, I have socks ranging from itty-bitty trainer things up to inch-thick Chewbacca feet protectors, and jackets to match:

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Ranging from cool-weather to death-in-the-snow weather.

Ranging from cool-weather to death-in-the-snow weather.

Day-to-day Zombie Apocalypse messenger bag for all situations – for when I have no idea what I’m doing (ie. most days) and need to know that I’ll have something to do wherever I am. Pictured:

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1 – my beloved Scaramanga Leather bag, worn smooth by bashing into my backside for a few years

2 – my wallet, feigning wealth by cramming itself full of receipts from the last decade or so

3 – the single reliably living USB drive I own; a novelty DSLR keyring thing

4 – one pair of abused sunglasses, carrying on the accidental ‘brown’ theme

5 – Meg’s old iPod (so-named Orangensaft), thieved from her while she wasn’t looking

6 – my iPhone 4; not actually as battered as it looks thanks to the invincible case (given to me in Korea last time by a very, very generous Hailey)

7 – because I’m lacking brown leather things, one notebook for ‘ideas’ (ie. surprisingly violent stick-men doodles and bad Hangeul attempts)

8 – my trusty Victorinox penknife, which will NOT be going in my hand luggage (note to self)

9 – iPhone/iPad charger, for when I just can’t get enough Angry Birds in one day

10 – a battered Zippo lighter, because shiny

11 –  SD card reader for my iPad, for when I have to impress people in coffee shops with my incredible artistic ability

12 – Amazon Kindle ebook reader; my phone has about 8 hours’ battery life but this baby has 8 weeks on it. Used to give the impression of intellectualism while reading Terry Pratchett in secret

13 – iPad; slightly douchetastic but 100% essential if I’m running the risk of actually making conversation with people on long journeys

14 – Canon Powershot G15, my backup baby when it’s far too silly to carry an SLR about the place. Good for stalking friends when they don’t realise it.

Meg bullies the luggage.

Meg bullies the luggage.

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And, last but not egotistically least, the ever-present and indispensible camera gear. Very sad to be leaving the battery grip and flash triggers behind for a year, but streamlining must occur somewhere and I’m already down to a single pair of underwear for the year (colleagues-to-be: this is not actually true, please don’t avoid me in the corridor).

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1 – personalised wrist-strap (an alternative to a neck strap for more acrobatic shots), as given by my headteacher Eric last year which I love with all my heart

2 – Canon Speedlite 430EXII; a VERY nice flash irresponsibly gifted to me by my overly generous mother

3 – an all-rounder, slightly antiquated 28-105mm f/3.5 lens, with the slightest of chips in the glass from when I nearly fell down a bloody mountain last year

4 – one variable Neural Density (ND) filter for landscape/sky shots

5 – a slightly tackily-packaged lens cloth I forgot I bought in Korea last year

6 – my beloved 10-22mm f/3.5 lens for when I have to stalk everything in the room in the same moment

7 – one long-loved Canon EOS 60D, which I couldn’t possibly love more if it were my child

8 – the aforementioned backup Canon G15, because it IS a camera after all

9 – after much deliberating, the most practical of my camera bags to bring; the straps don’t really work but it IS stylish

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So, now I’ve publicly stated exactly how pickpocketable I am for the coming few days, I’ll get back on with actually packing. One 4-5am wake-up call and an 18-hour journey to go, and we’ll be jetlagged and confused in Namyangju for a few recuperative days before travelling to the uncharted territory of Gwangju.

Faintly interesting exploits to follow – if you’re really lucky, I’ll get Meg to take a photo of my uncomfrotably pretzel-like form as I sleep ignominiously on the plane.

 

 

 

Married in Odin’s Eye

IMG_1183While we’re preparing for another trip across the planet, I’m going through the multiple-tens-of-gigabytes taken at a friend’s wedding in Sweden a little while back. This being a blog dedicated to photography and travel in all its indulgent forms, I can’t help but feel such an adventure is worth a mention.

I’ve been snapping away at people, performers, gigs and groups for a while now, and I’ve been edging myself slowly towards the glamour of actual professional photography as much as I can. One of the main hurdles most professional photographers overcome (or, in many cases, remain atop throughout their careers) is the dramatic field of Wedding Photography.

imageI love ‘people’ photography – I’m fascinated by different personas and quirks and madnesses which come naturally to ‘normal’ people. No one wedding is the same as no two people are, and my short experience with weddings so far lend to that belief.

imageOn August 9th, my close friends Dan and Emy – the groom coming from Stoke, near Manchester and the bride being Swedish herself – finally became Mr. and Mrs. after a ten-year engagement. Not to do anything in half measures, they decided to have the ceremony in the Scania region of Southern Sweden, staying in a huge traditional house next to Söderåsen National Park. Rather than having a church-based ceremony, Dan and Emy chose to exchange vows in the national park itself, on wooden pier floating atop Odensjön (Odin’s Lake : fabled to be the eye of the eponymous Norse god).image

imageimageNow, I bloody love travel – and I bloody love taking photos. Events like this make me feel seriously lucky with my lot, and I have every intention of having more experiences such as this. It’s an exponential curve; the more weddings I cover, the more people I meet, the more engaged couples I might have the opportunity to work with. While teaching in Korea, we’ll see if there are any opportunities to be had…image

I know ‘dream jobs’ can occasionally suffer the prefix ‘pipe-‘, but this is a job I’m going to sink my teeth, claws and tripod into. If I have to start forcing marital bliss on strangers, then so be it.

Your writer and his long-suffering girlfriend, destroying any ounce of ceremony.

Your writer and his long-suffering girlfriend, destroying any ounce of ceremony.