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Oh, I Remember You: Happy 2013…

Lake WalkI hide my face and shame in my hands as to the lateness of this post. The word ‘backlog’ springs to mind – and I blame the puppy entirely.

In true tradition of photography and the Internet, I have taken approximately as many photos of Millie as I have either Meg or myself since arriving in Korea – and then some. Lightroom’s ‘photo tab’ reaching 1,300 photos in need of editing has delayed any autobiographing far past the changing of the year.

So, in summary:

MILLIEConvincingly Innocent

Millie is, without question, the most ridiculous thing we could have acquired whilst living in Korea – and is the most irresponsible thing we could ever manage not to regret. She is under 6 months old, under 3kg, under a foot high and far more intelligent than the majority of dogs I have known. Within a week, she was housetrained, accustomed to being left at home for extended periods and was able to walk without the lead.Puppy For Christmas

The sight of her bounding and vanishing in the snow is justification alone for us saving her life – and we have given up any fantasies of fostering her off to another family. She’s coming to England, and she will see actual fields for the first time.

Apologies in advance – there will be a significant increase of animal photography from here on in.

WORKSanta, 'Cause

School continues in its oddness and wildly bipolar energy levels. Christmas Eve brought the Kang’s Christmas Party; a day devoid of anything resembling work, in favour of chasing sugar-crazed children around the school in full Santa Claus regalia. I have only myself to blame: not twelve hours previously, I made the fate-tempting mistake of saying to Meg, ‘I really, really hope they don’t make me wear a bloody Santa costume’. The fat-man trousers fit nicely, which was an added ego-crushing bonus.

PLAYTrees Lining Snow

For our treasured five days’ holiday, Meg and I had managed to reach Christmas Day itself without forming anything in the way of Holiday Plans. We eventually settled on an expedition to the as-yet undiscovered Songnisan National Park, bundling our wonky-tailed housemate off to fantastic dogsitter Bernadette en-route.

Barking Up The TreeSongnisan was a true revelation on many levels. Firstly, the weather was, for the most part, gloriously sky-blue. Any deviation from such weather was entirely in the form of heavy snowfall, resulting in a staggeringly beautiful mountainscape and real Isolated Mountain Town feel to the place. Finally – and perhaps most fantastically: not a soul could be heard. Since our arrival in Korea, we haven’t experienced anything so aweseomely quiet – so we proceeded to do the honourable thing of seeing how many obnoxious noises we could bounce off the distant slopes.Mountain Town

We almost – but not quite – managed to get up to one of Songnisan’s peaks before realising how laughably unprepared we actually were for the journey. As it transpires, snow + cold weather = ice, and ice + hill = hilarious scenes of foreigners grasping hold of any protruding foliage in a vain attempt to escape death. Next time we will bring crampons, partially so Meg can laugh at the word.

FESTIVE FESTIVITIESOur Card This Year...

Before leaving England, we resigned ourselves to the prospect of a quiet, potentially sad Christmas; we’ve never spent one on our own, and I was slightly worried about how the day would feel. I hadn’t taken into account The Americans, however.Let's Make A Noise Now

A short-ish while before Christmas itself, we all decided that one big, disorganised, obscene, alcoholic occasion would be infinitely superior to three or four sad alcoholic ones. Presents were planned, stockings were stocked and dinner (we thought) was doomed with only two hob-rings to cook for four.

It was a triumph anyway.

It was a triumph anyway.

Or, indeed, five, as we welcome the newest initiate to Team Obnoxious: Shawn Hewitt, fellow airman of Aaron’s and talented lyre bird of any offensive noises thrown at him. Never before have I seen a man so quickly accept insanity and bypass the usual social insecurities which precede it. We were proud.

True Love And ShawnNow, in England we’re a reserved lot. Christmas presents among friends – if, indeed, any – are usually a matter of ‘buying a drink’ or ‘getting a silly joke toy’, or ‘forgetting’ etc. etc. This Christmas, however, a certain amount of pre-planning went into it. So much so that, between our small group, both myself and Hailey each got an Xbox, Aaron got a THX speaker system which reduces sperm count in a three-metre radius and Meg got her very own fitness pole for Korea. Hooray for capitalism, and Merry Christmas to all.Sitting Patiently

I’m unsure if a belated New Year’s Resolution counts, but mine concerns the semi-regular maintenance of this here blog. I realise that such a resolution, including the acknowledgement of the resolution itself, is riddled with noncommitment and nonspecifics. An excellent start.

Night WalkAlso, our adored petit chien just stole practically an entire chicken breast from Meg’s plate without alerting either of us. We don’t know if we should chastise or compliment her.

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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.

RE: Visiting The Doghouse & Island Hopping

10 points to anyone who gets the RE: pun.

From left: Aaron (mid-grunt), Lori, Hailey & Meg

So, consistency isn’t going to be the word of the year. As a wholly self-motivated project, this blog will suffer greatly at the hands of procrastination and distraction until somebody pays me for it and, as I have yet to wake up as Stephen Fry, I suspect this is a vain hope.

By golly, winter comes with gusto in Namyangju. While we’ve yet to see any snow per se, I have had my inaugural public appearance in the RAF coat this week, and am now the proud owner of yet another pair of murderer’s leather gloves. Until I see Winter with a capital W (ie. with more white stuff blocking the way anywhere), I remain under the conviction that I am meteorologically cursed to never see snow, regardless of my location. For the time being, nadger-shrinking temperatures will suffice.

The Koreans gave us a wide berth.

Last weekend (he said, realising the heinous delay in his autobiographing) was a cultural and environmental Experience in many ways, both Korean and American; along with fellow foreigners Lori, Hailey and Aaron, we embarked on an adventure to Namiseom (Nami Island), an inland island of spectacular autumnal foliage and antisocial ostriches. More on that later.

Firstly, a revelation: when you’re on the other side of Those Loud Bloody Americans, ie. in their company, it’s actually very, very fun. That is to say, it’s fun to act like a twat with absolutely no social inhibitions. Aaron, stationed in a US Air Force base on the North/South Korea DMZ line, is a veritable artist of explosive noises, and both Meg and I found ourselves grunting along with Aaron and the girls before we’d reached Nami’s shore. The ferry took approximately five minutes.

Lori WAS going to eat that chestnut.

Nami is a paradise arboretum and cultural heritage and, as such, is clogged with the inescapable crowd found anywhere in the country. Of particular interest were the ostrich pens, whereupon one could watch well-meaning individuals trying to feed them skittles and crisp wrappers. The birds, it appeared, were keener on savaging any reachable leather items.

Aaron helped me when in need.

I can’t explain this statue, and won’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love the Korean Beatles.

Regardless of the disgusting amount of soju imbibed that evening, we kept our promise for the following day by returning to the Yangju dog shelter, despite the perpetual rain throughout the day. Major karma points, we felt. The main result of the Sunday? We now have up to three dogs we want to foster.

Happy the Parkour Dog greets us with enthusiasm

This week has brought little in the way of experiences, other than I’ve sent my beloved camera off to the shop for a spring clean (the rubber is all but gone from the grips, and I needed some lens focus tweaking); as a result, I am bereft of imagination and inconsolable at best. Cactus juice helps.

On History and Striking Children

I type this with a 90p-equivalent bottle of wine in hand, pondering miserably on today’s brats and fanatically following Star Wars: Clone Warsin an attempt at geeky escapism. In lieu of having had any semblance of teenage angst in my youth, I am now going to school in the fear of being picked on, hit, insulted unintelligibly and called ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’.

We love this lady. She keeps us fed on odeng and hoddeok.

Green pancakes filled with honey, sugar and love. On the subject of ‘weight’…

Thusly I defend the reference to casual violence toward those younger and smaller than myself: the school is in possession of a number of admirably-designed implements for striking fear into the hearts of children, if not for simply striking the children themselves. I don’t want to worry anybody that this is a corporal-punishment-endorsing establishment, so to clarify: the weapon of choice is a colourful hammer which squeaks on contact. In response to this fact, I have spent the majority of my employment history in Korea re-enacting key scenes from any Marvel Comics films featuring Thor.

My own thoughts on child abuse/infanticide vary from day to day.

Not to say that all of my students are necessarily the spawns of Satan. A handful of the boys are wonderful and comparatively non-violent, and all but a maverick few of the girls are, by contrast, absolute angels. Included among this number are my adults’ class – a group of four ladies who make the teaching process a dream by not only not physically or verbally abusing me, but also by actually wanting to remember the words I’m throwing at them.

This Thursday – otherwise one of the two weekly lessons I have with Belle, Kelly, Nina and Michelle – myself and Meg were invited out to a walk by a nearby Buddhist temple, ‘to take advantage of the leaves’ as they insisted. They weren’t wrong.

It turned out to be highly educational for all involved; they proved to have suitable English skills to fill me in on the history of the place, and I regurgitated what Buddhist history I remember from secondary-school PhSE (Philosophy & Social Ethics to the layman) for their amusement and enlightenment – if you’ll pardon the pun.

As if this weren’t enough, they also insisted on treating us to an unfamiliarly sumptuous lunch of mushrooms, beef, acorn jelly (slightly less weird than it sounds), seafood pancakes and kimchi. Always with the kimchi. I neglected my camera at the time for the sage of ingestion.

I apologise in advance for taunting you with the following fact as I have no worthwhile photos to prove it – but, upon departure, we saw an elegant driveway rising up the mountain lined exclusively with ornately carved penises. The mansion atop the path was crowned with the most impressive architectural phallus I have yet seen and, if we do not return to this place, I shall be sorely disappointed.

From left: Meg, Michelle, Nina, Kelly & Belle.

Halloween Hits Kangs

I received a call from Eric, our head teacher today, asking me to bring my camera to school. In a show of seasonal enthusiasm which would put your average apathetic British family to shame, Kang’s Academy cast aside the first four lessons of the day (2-3 hours) in order to throw a Surprise Halloween Party for the throngs of kids attending today – and the teachers get to join in!

As taken by Eric. Believe it or not, that’s not an artificial ‘hardworking’ pose.

I in no way claim to have an indepth knowledge of any other language than English. I can say mon chien c’est un papillon (French: my dog is a butterfly), wo ist das krankenhaus, mein hund ist kaput (German: where is the hospital, my dog is broken) and hola, mi perro es muy bueno con la cerveza (Spanish: hello, my dog is very good with beer), but  cannot converse with any semblance of normality or fluidity unless my dog is the subject.

Every damn photo…

Similarly, many of my students are unfamiliar with words such as story, but can happily reel off zombie, phantom and/or werewolf at will; this came in handy as they incessantly played ‘Ghost, Ghost, Zombie!’ (a variation of ‘Duck, Duck, Goose,), running trenches into the floor with the tiny pounding and slipping of their Angry Birds-socked feet. As Meg is still in possession of the voice of a lifetime chain-smoker, she was all too happy to take over at the face-painting station while I led the Activity Gauntlet – and her clientele were all too happy to assault me in waves of ghosts, spiderwebs and surprisingly artistic moonlight vignettes.

Blindfolds courtesy of whoever was wearing a scarf at the time.

On a more pressing note, I’ve been humming/falsetto-singing Adele’s Skyfall all bloody day. I’m not getting any more soulful, alas.

There’s always one, and it’s usually him.

Sneezing In Cinemas

What’s that? Having a cold and watching a film are hardly a suitable premise for a blog entry? Shame on you, unbelievers.
Indeed, we have overcome a major hurdle for our Western sensibilities and managed to both enjoy and comprehend a Korean cinema experience. Of the many varieties of geekdom I adhere to, among the top three would be that of the James Bond universe: as any like-minded fanatic and/or social outcast would understand, I couldn’t resist watching the recently-released Skyfall at the local Lotte Cinema.

One would normally assume that any kind of self-respecting movie theatre – let alone one under the Lotte banner, one of the largest multifaceted corporations in Korea – would be a relatively easy thing to find in the wild. Directions on a horizontal plane were of no issue; I’d already Google Mapped the place, not to mention double-checking with colleagues. Upon walking among the numerous skyscrapers, however, it remained veiled in shadow. Meanwhile, James Bond was doing something with motorbikes and Turkey, and had been for five minutes already.

It was only after a particularly thoughtful baker walked us outside to point upwards that it transpired our target was, in fact, on the ninth floor. Horizontal directions: check. Vertical directions: rarely an issue beforehand, but to be considered from this point onwards.

Watching movies in Korea is a surprisingly straightforward affair. Animated films, ie. those where dubbing is less of a crime against cinema, are almost always translated for Korean audio (I still haven’t seen Brave), whereas the cinemas have enough of a cultural bone in their bodies to know that watching a live-action film with subtitles is far preferable to a stranger’s voiceover. This time, we were the foreigners laughing at the language’s nuances while our neighbours just got the scripted facts.

Bella (so Meg named from afar), the entirely ineffectual guard dog at a local hardware store who we love.

Also, we’re both currently phlegm factories. Thought I’d throw in that bit of alarmingly offensive alliteration right at the end, just to spoil the whole thing for you. Meg sounds like something out of a smoky Raymond Chandler bit, but is less enthralled by the sound of her misbehaving larynx than I am. I blame it on a lack of cinematic appreciation.

해피 할로윈 , or Happy Halloween. Also, Autumn.

Firstly, to settle any optimism regarding my adoption of the local language – I do still have to use translation software for everything Korean. If the hangul in the title says something offensive, Google did it.

Once again, I have shamefully abandoned my post(ing) for something nearing a week and, again, this is due entirely to a mixture of laziness, preoccupation and phlegm – all of which I blame the pupils for. I shall, in future, attempt to manage the blog a tad more regularly, though I don’t want to fall into the Twitter trap of sandwiches and bowel movements for material.

Secondly but nonetheless foremost: we live in an unbelievably beautiful country. Over the last two-to-three-weeks our surroundings have done the whole Autumn/Fall bit by transforming colours, etc. – but there’s something about Asian countries and doing Autumn properly. Although very picturesque, I’m always a tad disappointed by the frequent combination of ‘orange leaves’ and ‘grey skies’ Britain offers around this time of year; in Namyangju, we’re surrounded by mountainous quilts of crazy reds, yellows, oranges and greens, and the trees don’t seem to shrivel and die with the leaves so much as have a fabulous makeover, darling.

Not to say we haven’t had our share of bucketing rain; rather than the gradual ‘dimmer-switch’ effect of English weather, it’s a black/white issue in Namyangju. If we wake up and it’s [sunny/rainy] outside, it will remain [rainy/sunny] for the majority of the day. This makes day-plans, or the lack thereof, significantly more straightforward – we’ve watched both Kill Bills, eight Family Guys and two David Attenboroughs this weekend.

In true spirit of All Hallow’s Eve, Meg and I edged our way to the Jinjeop Crew’s bash, rudely ignoring the faux pas of our self-isolation from anybody since our first week. There’s something to be said for the comfortable culture-shock between a world of noncommunication and a room filled with people who suddenly understand you; not to mention realising the increasingly Shakespearean gestures required for daily shopping are no longer necessary.

Being led primarily by American/Canadian expats, the party was fantastically different to anything I’m familiar with from home – in that it actually managed to maintain some form of structure without losing anything in the way of fun. In the spirit of the season, it was a Mad Men Murder Mystery party: a 60s-themed, alcoholic affair endeavouring to the period standards of misogyny and polite distrust (to clarify: this was the theme, not the actual atmosphere).

Think of something between Mad Men and Poirot; prior to the party, we had our own characters and stories to perform throughout the evening, which itself consisted of interviewing one another and forming intense character-oriented enmities. To demonstrate: a new face for me was a certain Sam Rios, with whom I got along famously. His alter-ego Melvin Ponce, however, I detested with a method-actor’s bile.

The key to the evening was that nobody actually knew if they were the murderer. My character, Cal Joyce, I knew to be having an affair at the time of the victim’s death. The murderer themselves? My beautiful wife, Juliet Joyce – as played expertly by Meg herself. Suffice to say, she was less than penitent.

Loathe though I am to be That Guy who thinks quoting Dylan is original (Bob, that is – not Thomas ), the times are indeed a-changing – as barely a month’s nature photography indicates. It’s suddenly impossible to find a wholly green bit of wilderness, and feels somehow like the year is carrying us away with it already. We’re meeting new people every week – while waiting for a (finally cancelled…) late-night bus we spoke with a Korean/Canadian gentleman, Joe, who reassured us with no uncertainty, ‘Hey, don’t worry. First time I try kimchi it tasted like s**t.’ Not that we are particularly averse to the stuff – it’s just comforting to know that we don’t have to like eating everything. Convenient, as the stores aren’t hugely picky about which bits people like to eat.

To pay respects to the rudely overlooked Mr. Thomas earlier, and to compliment any fears of insufficiency:

Don’t be too harsh to these poems [this blog] until it’s typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the thing’s bad then, it appears to be bad with conviction.

Where The Consumers Go Hungry

Holy cow, two posts in as many days! Don’t worry, I don’t think I have nearly as much to say. Rather, I feel I should maintain at least a vaguely consistent writing schedule (my Facebook history shows I can happily go for months on end without even attempting to communicate with the world). Not to say that I don’t check my sites every single day anyway, and/or moan when nobody has contacted me. Logic, fairness and a basic awareness of socio-interactive relationships matter not.

I suppose this entry is inspired mostly from the sad realisation that, while an amazing and blind-mowingly big place, the rumours of Seoul being a Golden Fleece in terms of cheap shopping are mostly justrumours. This is in no way an issue I take with the city; rather, one I take with the Western optimistic fixation on exploiting slightly less-developed countries.

Standard ancient/techno architectural schizophrenia in Seoul.

Take, for example: upturn all the things in your immediate surroundings (finish your ramen first, or you’ll ruin your computer) and the majority will have MADE IN CHINA scribbled on the underside. This is not a little-known fact to anybody who, as a child, demanded such China-made treasures as Power Ranger Mega Zord sets or Natural History Museum dinosaur figurines. EVERYTHING comes from China, and in response it is hailed as a Mecca for anybody wanting a cheap suit/camera/human being for general household chores/mobile phone. (to clarify: we fully intend to hop over to China sometime for some light Western exploitation in the form of cheap suits and cameras. Just so you know where we stand.)

It transpired in a recent conversation with my adult class at school that Samsung and LG, both South Korean companies (this in itself being largely news to me) make no grand statement about their origins – not because of shame or anything so silly, but because the companies are worried that being attached to South Korea will lower international respect for them and raise issues of product quality, etc. . I know for a fact that, if I could have any phone right now, it would be a Samsung Galaxy S3, and I have at least two LG computer accessories I have used on a regular basis. These are not ‘third-party’ companies; they make up about 80% of domestic and corporate appliances in South Korea (phones, air con, computers, kitchen devices etc. etc. etc.), and I’ll bet most of you own something made by either/both of them.

The sheer level of mirrored chrome is as confusing to the eye as it is in the photo, I assure you.

What other kind of douches are there?

As a result, it is both reassuring and, on an immature/spendthrift level, disappointing that most fashion and electronics  cost pretty much the same as anywhere in the developed world – which is to say, entirely out of my reach. Head hung low, I return home and try to fool Korean sites into believing I’m Korean so I don’t get ripped off by sellers. This is difficult when my level of Hangul is easily surpassed by your average household pet.

Having said that, I just got a fabulous haircut for £5 which included a head massage and a complimentary bottle of conditioner. It felt like having my head batted by an enthusiastic and highly trained kitten.

Class & Cuisine

Standard message on the board which the students now demand I write, or they’ll speak Korean intentionally. Note Ben Teacher illustration by said students.

As of three hundred minutes ago, we have now been in Korea for a whole month, give or take a few hours. This is cause for celebration, and as such we are masochistically torturing ourselves with ‘Puppies For Adoption, Or Else Euthanasia’ websites. Apparently Korean policy is only to hold ’em for 10 days before putting them to sleep, so we wish to save every single stray in the country.

But that’s (for our landlord’s sake, hopefully not) another blog’s material. Practicality, for the time being, prevails.

I feel that, as it has been the primary purpose of my expatriation, I should probably give some insight into the experience of teaching at Kang’s Academy, Yang Ji Ri, Namyangju, South Korea. It is (save for weekends) my daily habit/occupation and, prior to actually arriving here, single greatest source of fear/dread/insecurity – so I should probably clarify what it’s actually like to teach here, now that I’m relatively adjusted.

In a word, mad. Wonderfully, consistently, borderline-violently mad. Gone are the preconceptions of orderly, subdued/filial-fear-induced disciplined private school students – which is a relief because that would be tedious – and instead there are sugar-propelled armies of children charging down the corridor emitting war-cries or swinging around your waist as you try to wade through them. In the UK, a teacher must be careful not to physically touch the students for fear of unpleasant accusations, etc.; here, it’s impossible to shove them off you as they attempt to hug, hold hands, piggyback and/or spar with you en route to the class. It’s adorable and alarming in equal measure.

Lisa (or Sarah; identical twins who I’m sure are messing with me) does her weird eyelid thing. It’s kind of a craze with them.

Pictionary results for ‘Mystery/ Sherlock Holmes’. Amazingly, they guessed the answer from this.

This has more upsides than down, in my personal opinion. I’d rather have to tell a class to sharrup on occasion than spend the whole lesson tiptoeing around mute zombies, and I get classroom kudos from the fact that, while they insist on challenging me to arm-wrestles (at which the tiny girls actually seem to be better), I tend to win. Being able to quote Avengers and having a basic knowledge of Pixar/Mario/Pokémon gives me something of an edge as well.

As with any school, there’s a wide spectrum of enthusiasm towards education; some of the kids don’t give a toss and push erasers up their noses, others are model students whose hands always shoot up regardless of teacher bribery (mostly games at the end of the lesson and ‘merit’ teacher signatures). There are always the ‘grey zone’ students – I have one, Scott 2 (as he proudly emphasises), who spends the majority of the lesson engaging in aforementioned nasal-eraser experimentation or removing his socks and threatening his fellow students with them – and yet can, in a split second, usually answer questions correctly, regardless of if he was actually listening. I’ve started making up unrelated questions to mess with his tiny head as a result.

Conflict arises after cooked poultry crisis.

Key point: character spontaneously chunging into a chicken.

I should also mention that every student has an English name at the school, save for the clever ones like new girl Su, who imaginatively chose Sue as her English name. I believe this is in order to practice interacting with one another using English terminology and naming systems, but there’s something weirdly paternal about having to choose their name if they don’t have one already. With help from the class, I have named Eric, Tom and Gina (I have no idea who offered ‘Gina’, but she liked it): if my errant brother is reading, he has been brought to Korea in spirit.

You can’t please everyone.

The infamous Greg Davies (of Inbetweeners fame) aptly has this to say on the subject of working with schoolchildren:

“Kids’ behaviour is all of the following things: it is wonderful, it is horrific, and it is – my favourite – Really F**king Odd.”

I believe.

To draw back from the working environment slightly, Meg and I (primarily the former, if I’m to be honest) have been experimenting with Korean cuisine of our own, despite no definable oven facilities other than a questionably-functioning rice cooker. For the sake of originality, I have resisted Instagram-effects, but have nonetheless been snapping my food until it congealed aesthetically before my hovering camera.

With any luck, my next post (if a few days off) will consist largely of triumphant crowing after a 9/10-hour hike through the Seoraksan National Park wilderness; apparently we’ve got ourselves booked on a bus and will be losing ourselves in the craggy geography of Korea’s backwoods, despite having neglected to actually find somewhere to stay just yet. We’ll be the ones shouting from the mountaintops; not that anyone will understand what we’re shouting at them…

Crowds, Chaos and Recreational Rage

For better or worse, Seoul knows how to collect and transport human beings. Such an enormous space is nonetheless chocka with at least two people per square centimetre or so, and it appears that public gatherings are a true testament to such statistics.

I will apologise in advance, and draw particular attention to the latter part of the title; at present, Meg and I are merrily cursing and castigating the majority of the populace after a particularly intimate day with Personal Space Invaders.

There’s no escaping them, apparently.

I know that, as English natives, we are accustomed to a culture of social aversion to one another, never allowing ourselves to be in the same breathing space as another human. This has its upsides and downsides; while we are free to shuffle and scratch at our leisure, we lose something in human interaction (and are incapacitated when presented with a bus full of half-occupied seats). In Korea, however, space is a luxury, and personal space is relatively mythological.

This was particularly driven home as we embarked across Seoul to a fireworks show this evening. Being the well-prepared things we are, we aimed to be there an hour before the show itself, in order to get a good spot. As we reached the station, however, it became apparent that this was not to be: see photos for reference of the sheer scale of the similarly-minded crowds.

Getting on the train felt like the horizontal equivalent of crushing cardboard boxes with one’s own body weight, or – possibly more literally – like a rugby scrum. We tethered ourselves to a pole in the carriage and made ourselves as small as possible alongside hundreds of others who, quite contrasting with ourselves, seemed surprisingly content with their present lot in life. The heat was equivalent to the metropolitan pit of Hell, yet no shouting/swearing/complaining was to be heard from anyone but ourselves.

On a more positive note, we witnessed an amazing reenaction of the ‘safety guide’ videos otherwise ignored by commuters: a girl who, after failing to rugby-tackle her way into the carriage’s enormous brick of humans, trapped the handles of her bag in the closed doors as the train was about to depart. Two men on either side of her (in the five-second window before the secondary ‘safety doors’ shut on the entire bag/her arm) pulled emergency levers by the door simultaneously, then yanked the bag free before silently retaking their places waiting for the train. No words of exclamation or thanks were exchanged, they just did it. On the Tube in London you’d get laughed at before becoming a YouTube sensation.

Meg, enthused by the train journey.

However.

Arriving at the riverside park, it was obvious that we were not early. The park was swarming, miles across, with locals setting up for the fireworks show. We found a spot roughly 3ft x 4ft on the grass and claimed it for ourselves (ie. Meg passed out and slept on me while I tried to reach my Soju on her other side). An hour later – 35 minutes later than planned – the fireworks start…and we are instantly overrun by a mass of families who seemingly erupt from the earth behind us, kicking my camera out of the way and standing on our food and drink as they completely block our view of the fireworks display in a human Great Wall of Korea. The three minutes of pyrotechnics we saw before giving up and leaving were spectacular, though.

Despite the rabid love of air-con here, there’s a limit to its effectiveness underground…

The last laugh’s on us, though – they had to get home at the same time as two-thirds of Seoul.

There are photos here of our day in Insadong as well, but I’ve spent my energy and creativity ranting again, so am running out of adjectives. It was good. I saw a small dog, and a wooden sword which Meg wouldn’t let me get.

Brief as it was, we LIKED our patch.