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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.
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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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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’.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Jeju (2): Divine Sex Ed

Halla TreesOur third and fourth days held the promise of either/or climbing Hallasan, swimming at Jungmun or daring the erotically artistic Loveland, and we had company – the bafflingly inexhaustive Pete, whose Wednesday plans we completely ruined by coercing him into joining us instead.Loveland I

Loveland is a miracle of Korea; in a country where sex and sexuality are pretty taboo subjects, it’s only a little baffling to be presented with an ‘art sculpture park’ completely devoted to vivid displays of every conceivable sexual position. As mentioned before, Jeju-do was and is the traditional honeymoon spot for Korean couples – and also used to serve as the Sex Education Island. The ancestral dol hareubang (‘grandfather stones’) dotting the island aren’t accidentally phallic, apparently. Loveland is basically an opportunity to act as obscene as possible, and does in fact encourage such acts by making the statues interactive. My apologies for any/all of the following images.

Loveland IV     Loveland II   Loveland III

Seogwipo BeachJungmun Beach demonstrates much of the essence of Korean tourism: it’s beautiful, exciting and completely crowded. The waves (for an Englishman of tame seas) are clothes-destroyingly strong (as certain people found out – but Meg would kill me for mentioning it) and the weather is fine – but, for the sake of the lifeguards’ ability to maintain order, the entirety of swimmers are restricted to a 100m stretch of the beach, meaning that personal space is a purely theoretical concept.

Above The CloudsFor the gamely traveller, challenges are always a plus when it comes to exploring hitherto unknown lands. The volcanic island currently in question has one, very obvious, geographic challenge – the volcano itself. Hallasan (‘Halla Mountain’) is the tallest mountain in Korea at 1950 metres, and – spoiler alert! – we went ahead and climbed it, along with mad Australian Pete.

CHAMPIONI say ‘mad’, as the walk was a tough one. Around 30-35 degrees, on a humid island, walking up another bastard hill, the travel guide predicted a walking time of 9 hours. We were very proud of ourselves – we made it in around 5-6 hours (Meg reaching the top slightly before me, because she’s a machine)…but Pete spent a little under two hours in total waiting either at the top or bottom of the mountain for us to arrive. I don’t understand how a human being can manage the whole thing in 3-4 hours, and have yet to determine his actual species.Halla Caldera

Crowded DonnaekoOur final day, while sad, promised relaxation at Donnaeko Waterfall – in contrast to Cheongjiyeon, an actual swimmable watering hole and river. Admittedly, our first impression was less than positive – the narrow river was hugely overcrowded and the rocky crannies and nooks were stuffed with rubbish and nappies – but, in a fairly sizeable river plateau between the bottom and the waterfall itself (as the river ran in large, wet steps), we could claim for our very own a peaceful 50-metre stretch of aquamarine water, forested sunlight and actual cold water. After a spectacular few hours of not doing much other than appreciating the environment, we dove into the waterfall, admired the mountain-goat ajummas clambering in their visors over and under the falls and – sadly – embarked for the airport.

Donnaeko Sunlight     Donnaeko

Jeju-do is well-deserved of its popularity; it feels like a completely different country, rather than simply a separate province. Having never been to Hawaii, I can’t comment on the accuracy of ‘Hawaii of the Orients’ – but I can see where they’re coming from.Leaving Sunlight

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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