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Tag: itaewon

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.

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The Weather Outside’s Delightful

Snow TowersSnow GirlAs of December 1st, 2012, Seoul has become a Snowy Place To Be. This fits with Benjamin Robins nicely, and he has sought to shed as many years of maturity as possible in the last week. Given that my first reaction to the snowflakes was to rush outside the school and frolic merrily, I believe this has been accomplished. Moi In The Snow

There’s something about catching snowflakes in your mouth, tongue lolling out like a brain-damaged Golden Retriever, which makes you feel that much more like an eight-year-old. The now-concerned students who may have seen this act are concerned.

Meg in NarniaThe timing of my camera repair, as it turns out, couldn’t have been much better; the snow teased us for the first weekend or so, abandoned us entirely on Tuesday and fell with a mighty whumph on Tuesday. As if I weren’t already giddy with prepubescent meteorological madness, Wednesday brought something approaching a blizzard: sadly, the school had to remain closed for the day and we were bereft of what to do…

This is what we did: we had dinner in Itaewon. Talk about 'responsible grown-ups'...

This is what we did: we had dinner in Itaewon. Talk about ‘responsible grown-ups’…

To Work In The SnowThis, to me, is proof enough that my 6-year curse – never to see snow wherever I may live – is only specific to England. Call it my Christmas present to the homeland that I decided to leave.

Meg gets into the Christmas spirit.

Meg gets into the Christmas spirit.

Also, amidst the delirium of Christmas songs (good and bad), newly acquired Bailey’s and Marmite (oh my god) and tree decorations (only three sets of lights broken so far), our friends the Ryus have included our typically confused selves in their shop display, albeit in miniature form. We were sufficiently amazed.

How ADORABLE is that?

How ADORABLE is that? Note Billie the Dog also.

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.

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’.

Chance Encounters of the Third Kind

Seoul is big. To quote Douglas Adams on the subject of space, ‘Space Seoul is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space Seoul.’

Part of the constant construction work around Seoul – like Lego meets Minecraft meets Sim City.

It is a megacity (a title I had only previously been aware of courtesy of the dystopian Judge Dredd comics), and the world’s 4th biggest city – yet, in true fashion for foreign travellers, you still seem to manage to bump into people you actually recognise. (see also: fellow photography geek Chris Brown and Swedish/Chinese couple Kris and June, who told us where H&M is much, much earlier in the day).

Well, I’m enticed.

Perhaps more poignantly, it is a megacity which Meg & I are, on some basic and culturally-disabled level, able to traverse without getting lost or suffering loss of life nor limb nor wallet. As a child born in London I feel this is something I should have adjusted to by now, but what do I get instead? Verdant, lush countryside for the last decade+ of my life. ‘Thanks, Mum & Dad.’ (expressed sarcastically, but in fact meant with conviction)

We have survived the expedition to Itaewon, but are left craving a little more in the way of actual Korea; Itaewon is the most culturally diverse area of Seoul, and as such everybody rips/is ripped off. Or indoctrinated into a ‘real’ American Baptist Church for ‘real’ Bible preachers. Tempting as such a proposition was, I refer to the ‘religion/penis’ dichotomy (don’t whip it out in public, don’t force down people’s throats unless in the appropriate registered building) for my unspoken, imagined retaliation. On the bright side, Meg got a poncho.

Not to say we didn’t explore thoroughly; there is an unbelievable range of antiques shops, country-specific restaurants, leather retailers and tailors, usually crammed into their purpose-specific streets around Itaewon.

I don’t know, either.

The most engaging/heart-wrenching point of the venture would be the battle of sense/longing we experienced when told by a RSPCA (or Korean equivalent) street petition group that we could adopt any of the wagging dogs milling around, as they needed new homes. I suspect that, if we’d had any idea that we’d actually be allowed a dog in any way, we’d be the joyful owners of a three-legged Pungsan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pungsan_Dog)  called Tripod by now.

On a shorter note, I have been the victim of polite paparazzi (could I photo you thankyou?), and an unashamed shopkeeper politely inquired of Meg, you with baby? Meg was not impressed. I was in hysterics.

So they tell us.

I type this as I wrap Meg’s birthday presents for the morning (she won’t see this until then), so do feel free to convey any love not transferrable via Facebook. If the cake’s in the same state I’ve been all day, it’ll have to be eaten with a straw.