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The Trials and Tribulations Of (The Otherwise Beautiful) Siquijor

So far, so good: sights have been seen, beaches have been beheld and life-threatening diseases have narrowly been avoided. After a few solid days of being Very Pale Tourists up and down the twisting roads of Bohol and Panglao, it was once again time to set out for open sea in search of our next destination – Siquijor (pronounced see-kee-hor), a remote-ish island known for its coasts, its waterfalls and its ancient witchcraft.

Another OceanJet ferry took us from Tagbilaran port to Larena (around P600), due south of Cebu and Bohol. Siquijor Island isn’t huge – a determined scooter ride will circle the coastline in around 2-3 hours – but the towns are relatively far between, usually reached via tricycle. Our destination was Buco Beach, an isolated stretch of sand and palm trees situated not particularly close to anything else: the perfect antidote to a few days of crowds and neon lights.

Some determined haggling at the Larena port tricycle stand eventually got us on the road, and an hour later we started to realise that his initial rates (450-500P) were actually quite reasonable. Teeth rattled and bums numbed by the rocky journey (tricycles are basically houses welded onto ancient motorcycles), we spilled out onto the soft gravel of Buco Beach Resort and were instantly mobbed by an enthusiastic herd of resident dogs.

Buco Beach is the postcard Philippines spot. The restaurant area is an open structure of wooden beams and woven reeds set in the shade of a palm tree grove, which leads immediately to the edge of the water with an ocean view impeded only by a small mangrove thicket. The local dogs swim, play and hump with abandon throughout the day, and there seem to be two weather settings: ‘glorious’ and ‘apocalyptically dramatic’. On any given evening in the Philippines, look out to sea and you’ll see a wrathful sky-god bullying an island somewhere in the distance.

The writer makes an effort.

The point of Siquijor in our journey was to take a bit of a breather and explore a small area at our leisure. After a bit of trial-and-error picking out the local scooters (old Vespas are stylish but alarmingly erratic with two riders, one of whom is rather large) we got our ride and went off for A New Adventure.

The plan was to check out a few of the local swimming holes and see what a circuit of the island would yield. Our first stop was at Cambugahay Falls, a spot known for its shaded, deep blue pools – but also the most popular with tourists, resulting in lines up and down the steep, 130-step forest path to the pools below. We’re travelling in the off-season, but it was still pretty bustling; if you’re looking for quieter scenery (albeit with fewer jungle-swings) then Lugnason Falls can be found a short drive past the local town of Lazi at the end of a rough track – a favourite with the locals, and less broadcasted to the minibus masses.

Our circuit took us through each of the island’s small cities; we stopped for lunch at San Juan right next to its glassy coastline, whereby the barely-vaccinated Meg immediately made friends with (and fed corned beef to) a battered old dear of a dog, much to the amused bafflement of onlookers.

The coastal road through San Juan, Siquijor proper and Larena is a winding spectacle of overhanging jungle and blue horizons, broken only by the occasional suicidal dog or emphysemic honk of ancient tricycles. Dotted randomly but frequently along every road in the Philippines are wooden huts selling hot food at around 20 pesos a dish (about 30p), as well as convenient Coke bottles of bike fuel for when you’ve been a bit cavalier with your motorised adventures.

Alas, our Englishness was to rear its ugly head after six whole days in the tropics, and we ended up being totally floored by (we can only surmise) a nasty reaction to actual sunlight for about three days – during which we rode out tropical storms, hideously large insects and one verbose but otherwise friendly gecko from our little beachside hut. The managers at Buco Beach Resort did what they could to look after us, but after the third plaintive request of ‘plain toast with a bit of jam’ as our entire day’s caloric intake I suspect they assumed we were dead.

After putting off our departure for two extra days, we made our slow, careful way back to Larena harbour for the ferry to our next destination – the southern point of Cebu Island. Precious water bottles clutched in weak hands, we shuffled onto the only-slightly-rusty container ship that would take us off into another spectacular Pacific sunset. We were full of expectation, medication – and only a muffled dread that the bloody boat wouldn’t have toilets on it.

So long, Siquijor – bring it on, Cebu.

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How Not To Get Rabies, and Other Adventures in Bohol and Panglao

The journey has begun. After a heart-wrenching departure from life in Korea, we finally uprooted ourselves and set sail for the Philippines. Setting foot outside the aircraft was best described by the animated customs official: “In the Philippines, we have two seasons: hot, and hotter!”.

It was 10pm and the temperature made me feel, somewhat appropriately, like a piece of rotisserie lechon. We were swallowed by the humid labyrinthine backstreets of nighttime Cebu for our first night’s stay, scored by the local orchestra of blaring jeepneys, confused cockerels and chittering bats.

Our first stop was to be a revisit of an old haunt from the first trip a few years back, to the beachside town of Alona on Panglao Island. I guarantee that any Philippines travel photo you’ve seen and salivated over was taken on such an island; while cities like Manila, Cebu and Puerto Princesa have their chaotic magic, the ‘real’ Philippines (to quote any number of travel gurus) is to be found by boat. A short-ish Oceanjet ferry from Cebu City Port takes us to Tagbilaran, the provincial capital of Bohol and Panglao. Here can be found the area’s main/only supermarket, hospital and animal bite centre – but more on that later.

True to the nature of backpacking, we somehow found ourselves in an improvised crew of Europeans as soon as we arrived; when it comes to defending oneself against the armies of charmingly savvy tricycle and taxi drivers, it helps to haggle in numbers. Bartering a minibus driver from 700 pesos to 600 (about £10) for the four of us, we headed into the palm tree-lined violet sunset of Panglao. Instagram filters exist purely to emulate such sunsets; I instinctively tried to post-process my photos but realised that nothing I could do would actually be an improvement on the reality.

This first leg of the journey was actually a bit of a cheat: we *may* have gone over somewhat trodden paths for ourselves by revisiting Bohol’s bizarrely conical Chocolate Hills and Alona’s offerings of beachside swordfish and lomi soup, but we did manage to have one exiting new experience as a result of my travelling partner’s singular love of animals great and small. We were immediately informed upon arriving that malaria pills aren’t quite as essential as we were lead to believe – but, after one particularly ungrateful cat took a tiny chunk out of Meg’s finger whilst being fed table scraps at a restaurant, we quickly realised that a rabies inoculation may have been a wise investment.

After an evening’s thorough Googling of rabies (slightly more incurable and definitely-more-fatal than we had naively believed) we decided that Meg was definitely, 100% maybe going to possibly die because of the bastard cat if we didn’t get it sorted. The chances were low – it was probably the restaurant’s cat, it was young and seemingly healthy in a tourist-y area – but the whole ‘definitely fatal’ thing was enough of an incentive for us to try a whole new tourist experience: the local animal bite hospitals of South-East Asia. Hereafter lies a quick how-to guide if you, too, love animals more than pragmatism:

1. If you know you’re going to say hello to the pups and kits you meet on your travels, do yourself a favour and get a rabies shot beforehand. Unless you want to rely on your insurance or get lucky at a local clinic, standard hospital fees start around the 7,000 peso (£105) per vaccine mark – and you need between 3-5 separate shots over a two-week period. Note that even with the vaccine you’ll still need to get checked out – it just gives you a bit more time before the ‘certain death’ stage.

2. If you do encounter an ungrateful animal who gives you a bite or scratch – especially if it’s near the face/head – play it safe and check out your local Animal Bite Clinic. There’s loads across the Philippines and probably a lot of South-East Asia.

3. We tried the doctor at a major local hospital first, whose honest advice after a checkup/prescription was to try the clinic rather than going through the hospital – the clinics were designed for lower-income families who absolutely couldn’t afford the standard treatment and are therefore far cheaper.

4. The clinic doctor will sometimes give you a prescription to take to an outside pharmacy to purchase the rabies vaccine vial yourself, after which you bring it back and they administer it. I’m not sure why they don’t keep them in stock at the clinic, but it seems to be the way it’s done.

5. After your initial shot/s, you’ll be advised to revisit a clinic on set dates for vaccine updates; ideally it should be a clinic within the country for consistency, but we’re banking on finding one in Vietnam for the last shot. See following posts for if that’s successful or not…

In summation: there are so many Good Boys and Girls (also cats) deserving of love out here, but if you know you’re going to say hello to them then get vaccinated first. The chances of rabies are low, but the disease itself is positively terrifying.

With that I end the doom-and-gloom informercial and resume my impression of human bacon on the glassy shores of Panglao. It’s hard to fault the view.

Old Dogs, New Trips: The Korean Canine Exodus

It’s been a while.

As five-or-six years in Korea comes to a close, I figure it’s about time I become A Real Adult and do things that don’t wholly depend on escapism, ie. hiding in another country while people give me money to be awkward and English for half a decade. Of course, the best way to kick-start said anti-escapism is to already start planning the next adventure away from adulthood and go travelling.

I will get round to Life eventually. Really, I will.

I type this on the second floor of a Megabus in Leeds City Bus Station, awaiting the five-hour journey back home to the West Country. I leave here in Leeds one of my dogs (the other yet to be reclaimed from Korea after a particularly timely paperwork cockup), the perpetually ancient Hali (so named after 할머니; ‘halmeoni’, or ‘grandma’ in Korean; Meg wished to name her Nipples after her prominent teats but I refuse to name a dog anything I’m unwilling to shout across a park) who, after years of eating rubbish and being a decrepit nuisance in the Hwasun countryside is now greedily feasting off the dinner table and doing a remarkable impression of a happily moulting carpet.

The process of getting a dog from Korea is as follows: first, be a bonkers dog-person who’s willing to invest money, months and meticulous bureaucracy into your pup’s future wellbeing. Now that’s established, make sure to start the process at least four months in advance of travelling, more if (as in Hali’s case) your beloved beast is riddled with every bug and worm known to canine.

You will need:

* A rabies blood titre test: this is the most time-consuming part of the process as it requires blood to be drawn by a vet, sent off to a lab and tested.

* A microchip number for your dog – in Hali’s case she somehow shed her first chip after a week so make sure it’s still in there whenever you go to the vet.

* A pet passport with a clean bill of health covering rabies, parvovirus and heart worm. You’ll probably want this anyway so your best friend doesn’t spontaneously expire at an inopportune moment. You can get a passport from pretty much any vet – it’s just a booklet with spaces for the vaccination stickers and dates of inoculation. Especially for Rabies, make sure to keep up the annual vaccinations – even a day missed will invalidate the titre test and will start the whole process again.

PetMate animal crates – capable of withstanding damage and owners’ bottoms.

Now onto the actual flights. Unless you’ve got cash to throw around, flying directly into the UK is likely your worst option as our strict quarantine laws will add an extra few hundred pounds on top of your expenses. Flying via Paris or Amsterdam is the most advisable route, followed by either getting the ferry or, ideally, driving via rental car/loving family members on the Eurotunnel le Shuttle. Our journey last week took us from Seoul – Charles de Gaulle – (overnight stay at the shuttle Ibis hotel) – direct train to Calais Fréthun whereupon we were picked up by long-suffering family and driven back to the UK.

Rocking that ‘toxic Seoul air’ chic.

I can’t possibly recommend enough Perth Animal Hospital (https://www.facebook.com/perthamc/) in Haebongchon, Seoul. There’s a bunch of support groups on Facebook (check out Flying Pets Korea and Airborne Animals UK) that offer advice on the process and trustworthy vets, but if you’re in Seoul then Perth is your go-to.

I will also forewarn that this was the process pre-Brexit, when/if ever that actually happens. Predictably, nobody has any idea if or how it may affect animal imports to Korea via Paris/Amsterdam, so hopefully this article won’t be rendered totally invalid in a month’s time.

The journey is about to begin. Hali is vaguely aware that this isn’t where we usually go walkies.

Lufthansa’s VIP treatment trolley; only the best for mein Hund.

I knew I’d regret this photo if her old heart gave out…

We still have a living chien in Paris!

A little worse for wear and very moody but alive!

For a far more comprehensive and informed guide on what needs to be done, I’ve attached below a PDF written by one of the pros on the Facebook groups which outlines exactly what needs to be done. It’s a lifesaver and will be your bible throughout the process: taking-a-pet-from-korea-to-the-uk-finished.pdf

The writer shows a very uninterested Korean dog the French countryside.

“오마, 나 배고파” “Hali, we’re in England now.” “I am hungry, mother.”

A huge number of thanks to Lufthansa for looking after our puppy, Perth Animal Clinic for being so on-the-ball with Hali’s paperwork and to Leo Mendoza and all the animal nerds of Facebook for all their advice.

The perfect start to the last chapter in an old Korean dog’s story.

The Road to Sangju

Since my last post, Spring sprung over the course of three days and then descended violently into Summer. To summarise: I’m no longer wearing coats as a mortal necessity, I actually spurn full-length trousers until I need to hide my sexy-yet-hirsute shins for professional purposes, and I’ve been sunburnt. Twice.

Genuinely beaming because the tiny dog just belched like an old man.

Genuinely beaming because the tiny dog just belched like an old man.

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Porta-dog actually prefers her shopping bag to a dog-carrier.

Porta-dog actually prefers her shopping bag to a dog-carrier.

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In the gap since January, a few changes have occurred: due to one of our colleagues having to leave his position, Meg and I now work at separate campuses (somewhat lonely but conducive to my nesting habits in my new bachelor-pad at work), and we’ve successfully embarked on and returned from an expedition to the Philippines. Why is this blog post not *that* blog post, I hear you cry ? I’m writing a travel piece for an Australian magazine and don’t have the faintest bloody clue if I’m allowed to put it on here first. I could re-write the thing more personably for blogging purposes, but that sounds like a lot of work.

In place of that particular adventure, I think I’ll re-enter the foray of public diary-writing via a more recent and local story; our first (mostly) successful Korean campout of the year (and, indeed, our first Korean campout. Actually, our first campout together, full stop).

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While looking for suitable campgrounds, we were split between two choices, in the anagrammatic quandary of Namhae versus Haenam. Haenam is closer, but less beach-y whereas Namhae is a rolling, mountainous archipelago of beaches and forests, but is a hefty 6-hour total bus journey from Gwangju. Given that we were exploiting a precious three-day weekend for Buddha’s Birthday, it seemed prudent to get as far away from home as possible, so Namhae and the nearby Sangju ‘Silver Sands’ beach won.IMG_1583

Being the environmentally-conscious (/incapable) people we are, driving is not an option. We rely wholly on the mostly-fantastic Korean public transport to get us everywhere; unfortunately, due to the three buses required for us to get from Gwangju to Sangju Beach it actually took us roughly as long to get there as the same journey would from Seoul. Regardless, we’re pretty bloody-minded when it comes to these things and did it anyway. A quick breakdown of the journey from Gwangju to Sangju Beach:

– From Gwangju’s Gwangcheon Bus Terminal, take an express bus to Jinju (₩10,250, about 2hrs)

– At Jinju, make sure to wait until the bus stops at the Intercity Bus Terminal, not the Express Bus Terminal: we got off too early (at the Express Terminal, the stop before our destination) and had to get a short taxi to the Intercity station. Not a great tragedy, but a pain in the backside when carrying a big ol’ bag. When at the *correct* terminal, get a bus to Namhae from Gates 15-17 (₩5,700, 1.5 hrs)

– Once in Namhae, just go back into the station and get a bus ticket to Sangju (₩2,500, 30 mins)

– From Sangju, head towards the big wet sandy thing you can probably see on your right and you’ll find the beach.

Bus times from Jinju for Gwangju and Seoul, if you were interested.

Bus times from Jinju for Gwangju and Seoul, if that sort of thing interests you.

Word of warning: if your bags are under the bus, be as theatrical as possible to the driver in getting them out; we dragged ours from the bus and got the doors almost-shut with seconds to spare before it sped away, apparently oblivious to the still-slightly-open side panel.

Sangju is a tiny, coastal town with one convenience store, one chicken takeaway and a handful of Korean seafood restaurants with obligatory tanks of live cephalopod victims. The beach is surprisingly pristine – while our experience gave us the impression that it was regularly crammed with waders, volleyballers and daydrinkers, we were reassured by a local Canadian teacher that it’s usually peacefully deserted. For the campers among you: there is a dictated camping area, which is apparently emptier on a regular basis; due to the holiday weekend, the campsite we saw was turned into an impromptu shanty-town of claustrophobic tents and canopies, so we chose instead to camp slightly illegally on the beach and, later, in the nearby woods edging the beach.

Namhae is known for its garlic, and is locally known as the kissing county

Namhae is famous for its garlic, and is locally known as the ‘kissing county’ (half of this information is true)

Good points: the beach is spectacular, and was our very portable pup’s first introduction to both sand and the sea. Millie, for all her wonderful traits, has never quite got the hang of swimming or, in fact, anything to do with water – as such, her first introduction to the beach involved a lot of barking at waves and sprinting away from the approaching tide, followed by eating and promptly vomiting a large quantity of sand. She quickly learned the undrinkable qualities of seawater, which did nothing to either her regurgitating or the state of our tent as she took shelter shortly afterwards.

what is this place

what is this place

what the hells this

what the hells this

what smells funny

what smells funny

gonna taste this

gonna taste this

what the bloody hell is this

what the bloody hell is this

why is this wet

why is this wet

where are you going

where are you going

seriously, screw this

seriously, screw this

True to Korea, you’re never far from convenient facilities; clean bathrooms and food stalls dot the coastline, and judging by the displays throughout the night it must be fairly convenient to purchase fireworks from somewhere nearby. While we foraged for food on our newly-second-hand-bought camping stove, bonfires and hand-held fireworks displays illuminated the night – and continued to do so throughout much of the early morning.

Ham and udon noodles for dinner, because cultural

Ham and udon noodles for dinner, because cultural

Camping breakfast: five minutes to cook sausages, four minutes to cook beans and for some reason thirty five bloody minutes to scramble an egg

Camping breakfast: five minutes to cook sausages, four minutes to cook beans and for some reason thirty five bloody minutes to scramble an egg

well I for one am inspired

well I for one am inspired and feel like I’m possible

Less good points: in the eventuality of Shanty Town campsite conditions, a particularly keen professional jobsworth may come and jab at your tent in the early morning/evening if it’s a few inches off ‘correct’ placement. By our sociophobic British nature, we tried to avoid any other humans while camping, but this resulted in our tent being placed in an unauthorised spot under the treeline. Word of advice for fellow renegade campers: keep your tent packed up until after about 8pm, then go rogue and camp wherever the hell you like, keeping in mind that your breakfast may be interrupted by an accusing pointed finger aimed at your tent.

Shanty Town in its tentish glory

Shanty Town in its tentish glory

For some reason, a very appealing rock.

For some reason, a very appealing rock.

Nothing on our grey, near-fatal beaches back home.

Nothing on our grey, near-fatal beaches back home.

Less of a comment on the beach, more on our preparedness: our professional predecessors generously left the tent we brought with us, which I had set up at home to confirm its usefulness. In practice, however, it turned out that the size of it meant that I’m actually incapable of lying down horizontally: non-conducive to overnight camping, in hindsight. Gmarket will surely help us with replacement future camping equipment.IMG_1603

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Nothing like sandy Moscato in a plastic cup

 

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The lifelong loyalty of a dog who just heard the word ‘treat’

 

Sandy dog-vomit and crack-of-dawn social fireworks aside, this was a profoundly successful first attempt at Korea Camping. Future blogs – if ever they come – will surely tell tales of our upcoming rogue-adventures-to-be.IMG_1677

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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.

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.

Snow, Sun and The Point of No Return

Frozen BridgeFor fear of repeating myself, I’ll just stop apologising for the blog irregularity. I shall instead pine over what an epic it could have been, were I possessed with even the slightest degree of self-motivation.Representative Of My Focus

Snowy BoughsThe half-way point of my Korean indenture has come and gone, as of last Friday(ish); six months down, six to go. In a manner not entirely unfamiliar to a pathological videogamer, I’ve bypassed the ‘snow’ stage and have almost reached the bossfight – the ‘fire’ stage of Korean summer. We’ve still got spring to go yet, but the schizoid weather of late has me confused as to whether or not I’m experiencing it already.Lost Dog

Puppy LoveI’m starting to feel less like a fish out of water, so much as a bloated twat (see: pre-natal fish) in its natural slovenly environment. ‘Slovenly’ in this case being restricted specifically to kicking range of my Geek Desk, thus far impervious to any tidying attempts on either mine or Meg’s part.Snowed UnderSnowy Hills

In the early months, I could feel the surprising curiosity of bypassers on the street, or hear the hilariously un-sly ‘ka-chick’ of a Samsung Galaxy SIII’s camera as I joined the doubtlessly fascinating photo-archive of Westerners caught reading, breathing, picking their nose etc. in public; now, I’m either significantly less interesting or significantly more oblivious to such things. I may still sometimes be the object of fascination to an old dear bent ninety-degrees at a bus stop, but they’re part of my everyday now.

Also, I was totally staring back at the guys sat ON the lake.

Also, I was totally staring back at the guys sat ON the lake.

Seoul RooftopsAs for what’s changed – I now teach the newly-reopened Kindergarten class of Kang’s Academy, which is a refreshingly immature and chaotic break from some of the miniature sadists bestowed upon me otherwise. Basically, it’s my job to throw things at five-year-olds and herd them, screaming, under whatever shelter they might reach in time. Suffice it to say, lesson plans are fairly redundant.Dogs On Ice

Millie is still roughly the size, shape and colour of a bottle of coca-cola with Mentos stuck to it, and suffers from a similar reaction to oxygen every morning. While she’s picked up the ‘go to your bed’ instruction like a champ, Unconscious Humans are free game in the early hours. If I wake up to the sight of a puppy’s sphincter one more time, I’ll patch Velcro onto both her bed and her bum.Intelligent Leap

Public GatheringThe Americans still won’t behave, which is ideal; if there are any fellow Englishmen/women struggling to differentiate between work and ‘not work’, make friends with one of our louder cousins. You’ll find yourself not only buying, but actually wearing food, drink and silly hats within a matter of weeks.Hat Love

Noble BeastTime and schedule will tell how the next six months will go. As with any major reinvention of your life, it’s hard to tell if I should exclaim that it’s ‘already’ or ‘only’ halfway through at this point – but I’ve no particular worries to concern myself with. I’m actually starting to save money, despite my worst intentions; I’m part of a repellent horde of immediately loveable friends who I will have more than a little difficulty departing from this September; what’s more, I’m doing something not only fun, but remotely self-improving with my wicked little life.Wrapped Up

It may be another six months before I hear a crowd of English accents or see anything even remotely resembling a field – but, half a year in (that’s one two-hundredth of a century), I’m at least happy that this has been the right thing to do. If anybody can’t say the same for what they’re doing at home, I’ve got a few email addresses you might be interested in.Winter Scene

An Ode to the Old Gent Who Stole My Cigarettes.

Worn ShoesSmiling, open, evidently-fed,

An-yeong haseyo, he said.

In digital military camo clad,

Forwardly friendly, but possibly mad.

He did offer Oreo cookies, foil-arranged,

We did take food from person most strange.

‘Alas!’, he gestured, with miming at bags –

‘Your Korean is tragic, and I’m out of fags!’

As I am genteel, I withheld him not:

He inspected the packet, and pocketed the lot.

Baffled was I, though they cost but two-fifty;

To argument for its sake would be unsociably thrifty.

Instead I smiled, confused to the core,

As our incommunicable friend buggered off out the door.

____

True story. I never even knew his name.

I gather he was very impressed with my acquisition of Meg, who herself is under the strong impression he was complimenting my manhood. I haven’t dwelt on where his information came from.

Meg's name came next, but Millie ate it.

Meg’s name came next, but Millie ate it.

So, apparently my concept of diligence and persistence stretches as far as a bi-monthly posting. Future Ben will thank himself for this gift when he attempts to reflect nostalgically without having to put too much work into reading every blog.

My accomplishments since the dawn of 2013 have thus far included:

'Guilt' isn't a sufficient noun.

‘Guilt’ isn’t a sufficient noun.

– Long-term fixing the toilet with a now-unwanted hairband of Meg’s, thereby ensuring a relatively plunger-less existence;

– Successfully extracting a totally oblivious puppy’s internal reproductive organs, leading to a solid month of guilt induced by stoned puppy and the sad realisation that said puppy will not spawn further puppies a la the movie Gremlins;

– Purchasing a small, stuffed dog for aforementioned wombless canine which has instantly become an object of love, abuse and cannibalistic violence in our absence;Iced Lake

– Nearly losing puppy down the lake’s one ice-fishing hole while dashing across it;

– Discovering canine fellowship with local meandering hound (whom we’ve taken to calling Jin), with whom Millie goes entirely berserk and dashes tirelessly through the snow;The Most Graceful Dance

– Furthermore, discovering that, while loathe to damage any of our actual possessions (bar a slightly sucked slipper), Millie enacts scenes of carnage with any tissue-paper within reach when left alone;I Didn't Do It

– Acquiring promised Christmas Xbox from greatly loved noisy ‘Mericans only to discover that antiquated trigenarian of a TV suffers a stroke when attempting to link up devices, prompting me to scour Seoul’s own brand of Craigslist in search of justifiably cheap device;

– Almost managing to wriggle out of debts from home after discovering that expatriation is not a substitute for responsible finances;Rakkojae, Seoul

– Successfully managing to be a creative and/or mature photojournalistic professional shooting  a hotel review, two coffee shops and a clothes store for UK’s Cereal Magazine: http://readcereal.com/ . This basically means I drank my body weight in free coffee and ran around giggling for a while before falling onto a mattress on the floor. The fact that the mattress was a traditional Korean bed in a staggeringly elite traditional hotel doesn’t detract from the day’s childish indulgence.Meg's SaunaPatio Suite

I also now share my late bedtimes with Millie, as I carry her barely-conscious form up and down the goddamn blasted stairs every night before falling over in bed. It’s good to share routines.Royalty's Tiny Thrones

On Social Nuisances and New Arrivals

Ice DripsSo, we now have a third housemate. She doesn’t work, she doesn’t contribute and she rarely cleans up after herself – but I’ll get to that bit later.Snow Flowers

We’ve been enjoying/surviving the winter conditions with varying mixtures of excitement, tolerance and ice-induced pain; as it transpires, my most sensible of black shoes are entirely ill-suited to a frictionless surface, and Meg has had opportunity aplenty to marvel and/or laugh at my steadily increasing rage after the eighth slip.

Aaron StrikesThe Adventures of the Westerners continue with the newest episode in the series – Hailey & Aaron do Itaewon. In true form, I spent the majority of the day cowering behind my camera as the Americans presented themselves to the public in ways I could never manage whilst sober. The weekend brought much in the way of education and hilarity, as Aaron took Hailey & I on an epic tour of the War Memorial of Korea Museum, complete with statistical information and unbiased historical backstory. His otherwise rude gesticulations at the North Korean-fashioned mannequins were met with relatively little reprobation.Hailey Retaliates

Aaron IntrudesShortly before reuniting with the otherwise busy Megan Coast – see later for purpose of absence – we had the pleasure of encountering the usual chain of enthusiastic shop-merchants and publicists dragging in tourists from the street. Aaron had ample opportunity to test-drive his new Noise (O-OOHRGH! : a mix of the previously described U-UGH! and a chortling walrus) when confronted with an eager salesgirl outside Nature Republic (huge Korean skin-products chain: think Body Shop meets Marks & Spencers). The conversation went something like:

I think Hailey won.

I think Hailey won.

SHOP ASSISTANT: Would you like to try new skin lotion? Only 3,000!

AARON: O-OOHRGH!

SA: Also, 30% off all products!

A: O-OOHRGH?

SA: Free service products when purchasing!

A: [fading into distance past SA] O-Oohrrghh….!

Kudos to her professionalism – though Aaron was doing a marvellous impression of being On A Day Trip at the time, so perhaps he wasn’t the specific target market. I hasten to add that Hailey is nothing if not encouraging of such behaviour.

Now, for the Development. Despite the looming forces of Logic and Practicality, we have done exactly what a major percentage of travellers would recommend against.

Meet Millie.

Millie

I’m hoping your initial reaction is closer to oh my GAWD she is so CUTE I want to HAVE her for CHRISTMAS rather than a stern disapproval. I know she’s going to be a pain at times, and I know things might be a bit more complicated – but I also know that we literally saved her life from the Kill Shelter, and you can’t send THAT face back to be put down. Places like that prove that you can keep a good dog down, unfortunately.Tiny Dog

I am fully aware that the Internet is not lacking in pet photos, and that your darlings are never as interesting to someone else –but puppies are invariably more interesting/adorable than the young of our own species, so my apology is largely for show. Millie is four months old, and we have had her for three days of that – but she is (mostly…) housetrained, she can be left alone for extended periods without issue and is the single most affectionate being on the planet. Basically, she’s better than most people’s neighbours.Millie's Favourite

Millie's CoatI know I wouldn’t mind sitting on my soft bottom and watching crap TV all day while everyone else is at work.

This blog has been a warning to you: there WILL be more dog-photos to come, and I WILL assume that people actually want to see them. I will take your silence as assent.

Living & Leaving Sheltered Lives

When moving to another culture, a foreigner’s first impulse is to nest in his or her habitat; that is to say, one surrounds themselves with as many familiar things as possible. While the point of the experience is to experience something unfamiliar and exotic, there are days where you just want to slob around and watch The Lion King without requiring English subtitles.

For both of us, ‘familiar’ consists of the following: tomato soup (exists here but very rare), marmite (even if we found someone who’d heard of it, it’s nowhere to be found) and the presence of a dog on a day-to-day basis. We know that our situation prevents us from actually owning a pet with any kind of permanence, but have nonetheless found ourselves in contact with a local(ish) canine shelter on our days off.

Two of our closest friends in England are in the volunteer business of fostering dogs from shelters in their area, in order to find loving families for them elsewhere. To clarify:

Adoption = have a pet to own forever and ever, not just for Christmas etc.

Fostering = relieve a potentially overstocked animal shelter of adoptable dogs, cats etc. with the intention of independently finding homes for them.

You wouldn’t think he actually loved being picked up, would you?

Fostering is not so much a ‘responsibility-free’ adoption scheme (unless you’re a particularly lazy/awful human being) as a rewarding process of integrating unloved and/or potentially traumatised pets back into a ‘home’ environment. After being informed of the predominance of ‘Kill Shelters’ (the dogs have 20 days to be adopted before being euthanized, regardless of health or age), there was no way we couldn’t try to help.

After getting massively lost and flustered, we found our way to the Yangju Animal Shelter a little way north of Namyangju (our hometown, for the amnesiacs/English-speakers out there). In contrast to previous rants regarding my intolerance of the crowds thus far, we met nothing but wonderful people on our journey (with the exception of an especially intolerable girl who decided that shoving me into an elderly dear getting on the train was highly preferable to waiting 1.5 seconds); such wonderful people including a petrol-station attendant who took time off his shift to call a taxi for us when we got off the bus too early, and an employee of the Yangju Culture Centre who actually drove us down the road himself.

He seemed to like me. I now love him.

A kilometre or so down the road, there was no confusion as to where the animal shelter was; the open fields of the countryside seemed to carry the enthusiastic barking and yapping of over two hundred dogs. We immediately met up with Ula, our English-speaking contact and volunteer at the sanctuary, and the tour began.

Angel, another cyclops pup, also adorable beyond measure.

Firstly, despite the unbelievable efforts of the staff and volunteers there, it is a sadly underfunded and overstocked shelter; it spans roughly two acres, divided between the main house (for smaller dogs, eg. puppies and ‘toy dogs’ who would suffer from actual exposure to any kind of elements) and two separate areas for larger canines. Each pen usually holds two or three dogs chosen for their ability to get along, often consisting of one terrified animal and one ‘protector’ who seems to address the humans while the other hides in their kennel.

Within moments, our trousers were stained and paw-printed with enthusiastic greetings by the dogs – every time we left one pen, the neighbouring dogs went berserk with optimism because it was their turn with the humans oh boy oh boy. We met some familiar faces from the website, including adorable yet sad-eyed Lennon, Kang (one of the many apparently obliviously cycloptic dogs we met) and Floyd – who we will admit we do have our hearts set on, provided we are deemed suitable temporary owners.

Ball ball ball ball ball ball ball

Although requiring extensive paperwork and permits by the sanctuary board, it’s encouraging that they’re so particular with the prospective owners of their dogs. It would be far more convenient for them to throw care and caution to the wind – the shelter grows exponentially, as it takes in far more dogs than it gives away to families – but they actually care about the animals, a trait not necessarily consistent with many such facilities in the country. The ‘Kill Shelters’ have a death row of 20 days, whereas the Yangju Shelter has five-year-old dogs who were born there.

The toy dogs unite forces against Meg.

It looks sad, but Lennon just wanted a go with the humans.

Although we can’t spare much time to volunteer – the journey alone will prevent us from going up on a hugely regular basis – Meg and I are set on helping publicise and foster the dogs there. Expect considerable gushing over ad-aaaawable dogs over the next year or so.

Apologies for the unusual seriousness of this particular blog, not to mention the length. If it provides any remote comic relief, we properly stank of poo the entire journey home.