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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

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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.

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.

Discerning Dinner and Strange Plaices

Octopus. ‘Yum’, I hear you cry.

I’ve had 24 hours to digest now, so I’m fairly sure I’ve escaped the grasping clutches of Tempting Fate.

The grisly remains: the mollusc-like things in the middle were apparently as ‘living’ as the undulating things in the shell.

Last night was an Educational Experience in many ways. Firstly, it is entirely the norm for the director to take out the whole staff (at great expense, I guiltily suspect) to a local restaurant after work. Secondly, it is also entirely normal for the entire group to drink merrily and continuously; I’m still not entirely sure who was meant to be driving, but everyone turned up hale to work today. Thirdly, such merry drinking is rarely, if ever, a good idea the night before teaching, especially when one is expected to live up to one’s energetic expectations in the classroom.

Fourthly and finally, it is apparently customary to ingest food which, over the course of the meal, appears to gradually require less actual heat to prepare in the kitchen. By this, I mean that the last thing I ate actually wriggled in its beautifully-prepared little grave – leaving me with a mixture of guilt, intrigue and hedonistic gluttony. I never even knew its name.

Relatively few worries about the mortality of this fish, at least.

Despite our phobia of consuming anything intestinal, tentacled or still-respiring, I took childish joy in slurrrrping several octopi limbs while Meg eyed me with disgust and rage, clearly having doubts about this man she was stuck with in Tentacleville. Nonetheless, I persisted in my carnivorous endeavours, gleefully downing shellfish with varying levels of consciousness and mobility. We were proudly presented with an enormous, somewhat belligerent plaice which made a heart-wrenching bid for freedom, flapping about the tiles at our feet, before being wrestled to the kitchens by its unsmiling executioner. When next we met, it was on a bed of (as it transpired, artificial and therefore inedible) noodle-like strands, raw and beautifully prepared. I can only hope to have a similar experience when I go.

A pot of, for pathetic English tongues, Unbelievably Hot Stuff.

Dining in Korea, especially with Koreans, is particularly poignant to observe – even if one observes in hindsight, with gochujang still smeared about the mouth. As Westerners, we are particularly prone to the defensive this is MY food attitude towards dining, regularly resorting to wielding utensils as a deterrent to reaching fingers. I know of one particular incident whereby a (otherwise peaceful and lovely) friend of mine defended her pizza from opportunism by burying her fork in her assailant’s tendons, thereby disarming said poacher and saving her dinner. I know that my chopsticks are a barely-discernible blur to spectators when presented with a group-size pan of dak galbi, but this is a result of both my own greed, and my culture’s encouragement of said greed.

(사진= Photo, I believe) – taken by Amy’s phone, featuring (left → right): Eric, myself, Amy, Jun, Meg & Sunny. The pictured beers show that this was the START of dinner.

When eating with others, I realise that is must be a relatively violent scene for them to behold: a smear of sauce across the table, a mumbling and smacking of lips and three people’s dinners are gone. And yet, I found myself defeated by two-thirds of the way through the meal, while the rest of the school hadn’t broken stride in their conversation. Apparently patience is not only a virtue here, it’s a recommended dietary technique. I’m taking notes.

Also, an entirely unrelated but nonetheless bizarre story to end on: yesterday morning, shortly before school started, the staff room was filled with the heartwarming sound of tweeting infant birds. This in itself was not entirely unusual – plenty of trees around – but for the fact that it was coming from a bag in the very confused Sunny’s hands. As it turns out, a young student had decided (without her parent’s knowledge, I gather) to purchase two chicks from just outside the school, casually bringing them in with her. We placed the entirely confused birds under a colander in the kitchen for their stay.

Terrified beyond reason, I believe.

I am duly informed that they were intended as pets, and choose to believe this to be the case.

* A note, for credit/information: the majority of photos in this particular post are mobile-phone pictures taken by either myself or colleagues. Had I actually brought my camera to the seafood slaughter, I would have taken more.

 

 

Palatial Wanderings

Another bloody Seoul skyline.

I slouch here at the keyboard, reeling (happily) from another enormous saucepan o’ Dak Galbi and trying to mentally piece together the last few days.

I notice that my posts have become less a form of travel-writing/long-term journalism than an excuse to cram as many photographs into a single entry as possible. Arranging these posts is a task which I’m sure I could make easier for myself had I the know-how concerning WordPress, but for now largely involves hitting the ‘preview’ button until it makes some kind of aesthetic sense. Anyhow.

A pigeon vainly attempts to imitate the carved column’s avian nobility.

We are once again the guilty/proud owners of yet another fine piece of home-improvement in the form of a replica Victoria Station clock, courtesy (once

Meg’s expression when she knows she’s said something wicked and has absolutely no intention of apologising.

again) of the wonderful Ryu family (who have, under cover of darkness, just left a bag of grapes by our front door and run away) and their shop. We’re hoping that such concepts as ‘passive/aggressive present hints’ are a more specifically English tendency, otherwise we will have to start actually succeeding in refusing such gifts. They’re all too aware that our guidebook says to refuse gifts from Koreans three times before you can confidently accept, and as such he ensures that they insist at least four times. All we had given them was coffee…

Homemaking is word of the week for us now, as we seek any means of making our nest ours – so far consisting mainly  of purchasing photo frames and a printer/hammer and nails/clocks/chest-of-drawers/artificial foliage for that George Of The Jungle homey feel/incredibly kawaii (look it up) toothbrush holders which we discovered in the cupboard. Photos to follow, provided I/we tidy the house before I finish typing this (ooh, antichronological authorship…). Note that this is a home still in progress.

We recline luxuriantly in the gardens of Korea’s ancestral nobility. Tourists.

In terms of our means of self-amusement/justification during these five days’ freedom, we’ve once again wandered into the capitol to see what we could see – in yesterday’s case, Gyeongbokgung Palace (main royal/governmental seat in Korea for the last half-millennium or so) and Namdaemun Market (oldest/largest market in Korea, home of gadgets, clothing and world’s least considerate human traffic). Both were an exercise in awestruck tourism, wish/lustful ownership and quiet rage toward our fellow man/women. I found a camera lens for significantly  less than I would in England and wept quietly.

Meg is drawn, magpie-like, to the shiny things.

I would like to pause this stream of consciousness to emphasise that, despite the blog’s apparent intolerance toward human beings this is not so. It’s simply that offensive human beings are significantly more fun to rant about.

Tourism and Voyeurism

It is a common psychological trait among blog-writers and Internet authors to assume that, not only are you unbelievably witty and insightful, but that everybody is interested and/or/in paying attention to you. There is a theory about people on the Internet which goes something like this:

THE INTERNET: ANONYMITY + FREE SPEECH = AWFUL PEOPLE

Unbelievably clean. It doesn’t even smell like the Tube.

Just like it’s easier to sound more intelligent in a text than it is when confronted with actual, spontaneous human interaction, it’s easy to come across as quick-witted when you have time to Think Before You Say. Perhaps the egotism of online geeks (myself enthusiastically and unashamedly included) is rooted in the comparative glory of ‘viewer counts’ compared to being largely overlooked by other people in the street; I don’t know. My greatest claim to fame on the ‘Net is a photo of me punching myself in the face.

Not so for a Westerner in Namyangju, it appears.

Being stared at is something we have become accustomed to, as Namyangju is  outside the metropolitan multilingual hub of Seoul and, while there are a damn sight more Koreans who speak English than vice versa in London, the language/cultural barrier is akin to the Berlin Wall. We can mumble hello, thank you, goodbye, where is the toilet but that’s about it in terms of social interaction. Being 6’2 (as my doctor tells me I apparently am, he said smugly despite not knowing it at the age of 23), Caucasian and somewhat bearded is enough to warrant people actually turning on the spot to stare at the back of my unkempt head; in Meg’s case we are told that having naturally wavy hair and sluttishly displaying one’s shoulders to the sun results in envious/outraged stares.

We’re lucky, apparently – while waiting to be called to our table at a restaurant in Itaewon we got talking with an African-American couple, the Williams, who have been living in the same area of Seoul for over a year but are still stared at every single day by the same neighbours, whereas we only receive passing glances for the most part. To quote Mr. Williams: ‘I mean, come on guys – we saw you yesterday, and the day before, and the day before – you know us by now!’

On Chuseok, pretty much the whole undercity is deserted – cue waving arms and running.

Not to say this even slightly prevents our flagrant and disgusting displays of Englishness wherever we go. I suspect I blind people in direct sunlight with my translucent skin.

Note the Cath Kidston-esque treasures.

 

 

 

 

 

I realise that the last few posts have become less a recounting of my experiences and more attempts at profound introspection, and I apologise to family members for this filial transgression. To summarise: we have gone for dinner at aforementioned furniture dealer family’s house and been subjected to smartphone photoshoots avec Chuseok fireworks; we have explored a (real) consumer heart of Seoul, Myeongdong; I have been subjected to round 2 of Boot Camp on the otherwise scenic lake and returned at night tonight for photos and carnivorous insects; we have raided the ‘sample electronics’ sale at Emart and wandered off with an otherwise pristine Canon photo printer for £15 with no small amount of pride.

Still ‘sploring at every opportunity, and picking up around 1 word a week. Slow progress, but on the bright side I now know the words for ‘(restaurant)bill’ – kyesanso – and ‘delicious’ – mashisseyo! Almost as helpful as the oft-used French expression je suis un papillon.

Tomorrow holds another venture into Seoul to try our hands at Namdaemun Market, which may or may not still be entirely closed for Chuseok. If not, I fully intend to smear the windows of as many camera shops as is physically possible, despite the fact that, were I even remotely able to afford said equipment, it would be ethically(/legally/medically) better-spent on repaying the queue of financial favours which got me to this point. One way or another, it should be an exercise in cultural wonderment and disappointment.

How British.

Courtesy of Mr. Ryu’s phone. Just to prove that we are capable of socialising.

 

– On Bigotry and Confucianism.

They guard those cellos with their lives.

Happy Chuseok, everyone! I know you’re all partying already: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuseok

You can feel Meg’s enthusiasm for yet another bloody photo.

So, it’s been another week of blood, sweat and tears in literal amounts; the school has intervened in three otherwise uncommon altercations between students (tears), I have managed to survive the first of my year’s exercise in blistering heat (sweat) – and one of my students absent-mindedly scratched his leg until it bled, prompting all of the other boys in the class to daub their fingers in it and paint themselves tribally (blood). The surreal scene felt a bit Lord Of The Flies, and no – I don’t understand it.

This has also been a week for quiet and completely unjustified rage at the state of the English language and holy s**t I sound like an English teacher. As a foreigner in another land, I would suffer greatly if I harboured any feelings of ‘superiority’ or pretentiousness concerning my own nationality. I do, however, feel my eyebrow pulsing slightly every time the teacher’s book tells us to make the students pronounce ‘fog’ faahg, ‘dog’ darg or ‘bob’ baahb. It’s a dichotomy of whether to teach them English English or American English, which wouldn’t be an issue were it not for the fact that I don’t sound like that when I teach them.

A particularly cropped/fuzzy pic of same heron.

What I believe is a Korean heron zooming about the waterways.

I’m not going to launch into some prehistoric, spittle-fuelled rant about the ‘origins’ of the English language or if anybody in the world speaks it ‘well’ or ‘badly’ – but I had to choke down the pedantic arsehole within me when I held up three different pictures of turtles, tortoises and terrapins and ensured that the Korean students would spend the rest of their lives lazily conglomerating all under the name turtle. It’s a tiny point, but as a tortoise owner it’s one close to my heart. This wrath was not abated by Meg’s discovery of a particularly repulsive article concerning the ‘eventual and inevitable conquering of the flawed English language by the superior American dialect’. Grant Barrett can go headbutt a moving train, in my personal opinion:

[…]The point that Americans are ruining English is enough to puff a Yank up with pride.

Soon we’ll have Sainsbury’s to ourselves! Our victory over English and the English is almost complete.

(-seethe seethe seethe.)

Doesn’t that mean ‘sorrow’?

Hence, bigotry (myself included). I would like to emphasise that I in no way generalise anybody as having such views – merely that I am slightly disappointed in the human race after reading that. The sheer number of (I hope) incorrect red lines under words in this post saddens me; all because I don’t have a fetish for the letter ‘z’ in ’emphasize/generalize…

Aha- there’s ‘joy’.

On a more relevant, less ranting note, last night we had the surprise and privilege of coinciding with Sunny and Amy at a local dak galbi restaurant (oh my god, it was good), which (in true English fashion) promptly led to hours of drinking and bad language skills – on our part, anyway. Sunny, Amy – I’m so sorry for your 3:15am departure. Our colleagues will be very disappointed in us.

Meg has gleefully discovered a Korean variation of rosemary growing with abandon in the area.

To clarify the latter part of the title, my adult morning class (all wonderful beyond a teacher’s dreams, as they basically teach themselves) eventually spiralled into a discussion on Korean/Asian culture, heritage and spiritualism, culminating with a unanimous apology for their ‘bad’ English skills. At this point, we had been discussing Confucian doctrine, ancestral spirits and less-than-positive relationships with in-laws. I remain convinced of their English ability.

A particularly bad shot-from-the-hip photo, but I had to. It’s got pink ears, for god’s sake.

To finish, I would like to apologise for the sheer length of this, and to anybody ‘cross the pond for my rants. I don’t give a hoot about accents, expressions, colloquialisms etc. (for God’s sake, we have Ireland, Wales, Scotland AND England to contend with) – but, as with all aspects of life, I can’t tolerate somebody inflating their opinions to prohibit another life, culture or experience. I don’t want to use the ‘Nazi’ cliché, but I did anyway.

Also, there’s no ‘z’ in ‘apologise’.