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Tag: Korea

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.

 

 

 

How To Cook A Teacher

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Us at Swedish wedding.

Hello! It’s been roundabout-almost-specifically-exactly a year since we left Korea. Blowing off the dust (sneezing messily in the process) from this blog, I realise that I’ve actually missed spewing my brain across the Web via inconsistent and rambling updates. However, I also realise that the purpose of a ‘travel blog’ can get a bit diluted when one isn’t actually travelling per se. Fascinating though app achievements and toe-nail pickings may be in certain circles, I blather on enough when I’ve actually got something to say.

So, Fell Out Of The Nest has laid dormant, waiting for its moment to strike/be taken down from WordPress due to inactivity. I’m happy to say it’s looking like the former; we’ve gone and found ourselves another bloody job in Korea.

A brief run-down, catch-up, filling-in and fleshing out of 2014:

* Not much happened

* I saw a woodpecker

* I found a week’s work as a labourer where I made the mistake of cracking an anti-UKIP joke among exclusively UKIP-voting workers

* I wrangled a month’s work as an ESL teacher to Italian students who were (almost entirely) not bastards, and who have reminded me that Instagram is occasionally amusing

* I got an iPad for Christmas 2013 and am seriously running the danger of destroying my relationship due to Family Guy: A Quest For Stuff

*I lived in a Spanish theme park for a week

* I went swimming naked in a Swedish lake with people who were fortuitously also naked

*I went running at least once without soiling myself

*I got another teaching job in Korea while reflecting on how thoroughly underachieving I’ve been in 2014

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Siblings in London.

Now everybody’s on the same page, I thought I’d like to take an indulgent minute to actually provide some faintly helpful information for any fellow emigrants looking to teach abroad. Please note that this IS specific to UK citizens looking to teach in South Korea; Americans and Canadians have a slightly different visa process, but God knows there’s enough blogs like this ‘un out there which could probably help you. Also, South Korea is a touch more anal about documentation, particularly RE: apostilled degrees – other countries often require a blessedly shorter process.

 

Us + 'Mericans in Yorkshire.

Us + ‘Mericans in Yorkshire.

 

An ESL Cookbook: How To Cook A Teacher (In South Korea)

Ingredients
You will need:

*1-2 English humans ripened to at least 18 years, preferably capable of formulating a native English sentence

*One genuine (or not, if you’re crafty) university degree in any subject (but extra points for English/Theatre/Education courses)

*One willing notary public (can be found growing in most good solicitor’s offices)

*One passport per human, whose faces and details should ideally match that of the passport’s.

*At least one teacher recruiting agency (not essential, but recommended) – for suggested companies, links are provided at the bottom of this blog page.

*One resume, or curriculum vitae (CV) with hopefully honest details of previous employment

*One criminal record check (previously CRB, now called DBS but otherwise the same damn thing); please note that any previous murder convictions may affect your employability

*One clothed photo of yourself/selves – Korean schools often like to know what the teacher looks like

* NOT ESSENTIAL BUT RECOMMENDED: I would suggest, at gunpoint if necessary, that you save up to buy a month’s intensive CELTA qualification course. It’s around £1,000 and a month of hella work, but it will make you more attractive than beer-goggles ever could in the eye of prospective employers.

Us + dogs + please don't drool on me

Us + dogs + please don’t drool on me

The Process:

1) Having let your human stew in their home country awhile, have them look at the Wikipedia/Flickr/Facebook/Wordpress/Blogspot pages relating to Korea. What looks good? Does megacity Seoul draw you with its shiny things and bright lights? Or the beach-city of Busan, right on the Eastern Sea’s coasts? Google ‘korea teacher blog’ and see what you find – make sure to choose http://www.felloutofthenest.com for maximum deja vu.

2) Find a recruiter. You can go it alone, but there’s no real benefit; it’s the school who pays them anyway, and you’re more likely to find a dodgy job if you don’t have professional backing.

3) Have a nice, shiny CV to hand – possibly trim down an all-round CV to focus on teaching experience (if any) and/or relevant skills. Send the recruiter your CV as well as a smug mugshot of yourself.

4) Say hi. Make them like you and smile to show you’re not a psychopath (frantic smiles might have an adverse effect). Let the recruiter know your situation – eg. your earliest start date, where do you ideally want to be in Korea, are you travelling with a partner etc.

5) Repeat stages 2-4 a few times with different recruiters: you can up your chances and be more picky with schools if you have a few different parties finding you work.

6) You’ve found a school you like! They’ll probably want an interview, either via phone or Skype; if you’re in the UK, prepare to get up for an 8-9AM (GMT) interview (4-5pm Korean time [KST]). Have a chat, see what the director/manager’s like. Most of the time, they just want to see what you sound/look like, so make sure to be friendly and speak clearly. If you’ve got any questions RE: holidays, working hours etc. then now’s the time. Also, be sure to ask for the contact details of current/past teachers – if the school’s happy for you to talk to the Western teachers it’s probably a good sign!

Us at (first) wedding in England.

Us at (first) wedding in England.

7) The school doesn’t think you’re a weirdo! Now comes the tedious bit. International employment is a bureaucratic pain in the bum, so I’ll expand the above ingredients. For this stage, you’ll need to get/print:

*Your CV/resume
*Your CRB/DBS: they cost about £26 from http://www.disclosurescotland.co.uk/basicdisclosureonline/index.htm , and take 2 weeks to arrive.
*Your original university degree AND a photocopy/scan
*Your passport AND another photocopy/scan
* A Korean visa application form (your recruiter will probably send you one): looks something like this  – http://www.teacheslkorea.com/downloads/Visa%20Application%20Form.pdf

8) A bit of legal fumbling now – you’ll be needing to find a notary public to glance at your degree and DBS for thirty seconds, stamp it with a metal thing and charge you about a hundred quid for it. However, this WILL allow to you to teach in Korea and you WILL make it back sharpish when you’re teaching. Just Google ‘Notary Public’ in your respective city and get a quote from them. Once you have your newly notarised documents…

9) …you need to send them to the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO); everything you need to know about posting it is (refreshingly) well laid-out on the site at https://www.gov.uk/get-document-legalised . It’ll cost you another £30 per document but THINK OF THE TRAVELLING

10) Once you’ve confirmed the job with your school-to-be, print and sign the contract they send you (make sure it matches what you were told about your job!) and cram this into an envelope:

– your signed contract

– your photocopied/scanned passport

– the Korean visa application form

– a Health Check form (supplied by your recruiter)

– Four passport photos of your beautiful face/s

– your CV/s, with your signature somewhere obvious on them

– your apostilled DBS & degree

Then, send all your hard-earned bits of very important but incomprehensible paper to the school in Korea. I don’t know what your address is, but you probably will by now. NOTE: Make sure you send by FedEx or DHL – they can get a bit funny about Royal Mail parcels overseas…

11) Eventually your school will get your stuff to their local immigration office, and will send you your very own number, which you then pass on to the Korean embassy in the UK, along with your passport (which you will NOT have lost by this point). After a week or so you’ll get your passport back with an exciting new visa stuck in the pages.

12) From this point on, your school will be rabid to get you and will aim to arrange a flight date for you. And so, you’re on your way! Try not to punch any schoolchildren in the face – it’s not very nice and most of them study taekwon-do.

I’ve regurgitated all this information mostly because we’ve had to do it AGAIN for our new position teaching in Gwangju, south-South Korea. We’re seriously excited, and not just because we’re going to be living in a building with a helipad.

I hope we get to take the helicopter to school.

Us + sister + friend in Spain.

Us + sister + friend in Spain.

For your info…

Korean Recruiters

Our personal recommendation, having found us great jobs every time in Korea – ask Dan Henrickson at http://www.teacheslkorea.com

Other companies who have been fantastic include:
http://www.flying-cows.com (a British company)
http://www.footprintsrecruiting.com
http://www.opportunitykorea.com
http://www.peoplerecruit.com

Another tactic which worked fantastically for us was to browse the job offerings and, more importantly, post your own CV on http://www.daveseslcafe.com and await responses from schools and recruiters in Korea!

 

 

 

 

 

After The End

An-yeong, OnamI’ve been writing this blog – erratically, I’ll, admit – for over a year. My very first posting I planned for before I even arrived in Korea, just to show my dedication to self-publication! True to human nature, my last posting comes with slightly less exact timing with relation to the end of my year in Korea; I’ve been in England for almost two weeks. But no matter! I can round off one adventure and still keep the story alive.

He said.

My last shot of (other) home.

My last shot of (other) home.

Last Galbi

I write this, be-robed upon the same bed I sought to terraform for a year before Korea, full of oblivious optimism, self-satisfaction and the most hideous English cold conceivable. It figures that, regardless of the East Asian proclivity for weather extremes, it’s vague English meteorology which bungs me up like a cork. Adjusting to England has been a strange process; wheras in Korea I was comfortable with the ten words or so I was capable of squawking at the staff in shops, I have no excuse not to communicate like an intelligent ape-descendent with my fellow Englishfolk. My first extended shop transaction, I forgot basic grammar, my name, how to use CHIP & PIN in the shop and where the exit was. I felt exactly as foreign as in Korea – but I think I’m getting the hang of it now. Also, I have found it’s more of a subtle art swearing at people who actually understand the profanities you’re using.

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The last known location of Josh & Chris.

The last known location of Josh & Chris.

Outta IncheonOur return-journey from Korea, I’m ecstatic to say, is OVER. Not because I’m glad to be rid of Korea – far from it – but, in the grand scheme of Enjoyable Adventures, this particular journey wasn’t. Our flight route took us from INCHEON – MOSCOW – PARIS [stay in hotel overnight] – CALAIS(train, then meet with Meg’s family + car) – LONDON. Now, to clarify: I try very hard not to adhere to cultural stereotypes. Some are funny – English people are insufferably polite, Americans are hilariously noticeable in a social situation, Korean people REALLY like their reflections etc. etc. – but generally I assume that, to quote Depeche Mode, ‘people are people’ regardless of what you expect of them due to their origins. However – every Russian staff member on Aeroflot scared the hell out of me, and almost every Parisian milked our wallets dry and made us angry (a €25 taxi fare for a four minute drive? Really?). C’est la vie.Under The Seat

Cup DrinkerOn the positive side, Millie was a star the whole journey. Of course we were sat within spittle-range of at least two bawling infants between Korea and Russia, but Millie remained horizontally invisible in her little bag under the chair or on our laps.

 

[NOTE: For anyone wanting to bring their smaller, harrier family members from Korea to England, fly with Aeroflot. The service is diabolical and the water is non-existent, but they will take any (obviously, rabies/tapeworm, etc. – inoculated) animal up to 6kg on the plane with you, saving a WHOLE lot of chaos and worry on your part! Flying to England itself, however, will cost you a hella fee in Heathrow to move your pet – so, as we did, I’d recommend flying to Paris and travelling by land. You’ll save THIS much money and your dog/cat/ferret/pig/flying monkey can stay with you the whole time.]

Parisian RainWe were in Moscow for a total of twenty-five very rushed minutes, and spent the trans-European flight chatting to a lovely bearded Frenchman about the merits of travelling. After this point, however, the journey gets a bit squiffy. Remember, we’re carrying three huge suitcases, three cabin-bags and a dog amounting to exactly 99kg between us – and, helpfully, the third of our enormous bags is naught but torn fabric and purely theoretical wheels by this point.Paris Boudoir

 

 

Spiral Stairs

The bags stayed PUT.

Carting that amount of luggage across the world is a Herculean feat, particularly when it comes to physically carrying the buggers yourself. Wobbling and sliding our ways through the labyrinthine Gare du Nord was somewhat undignified, as was attempting to lift said luggage up four floors of serpentine Bohemian staircases when we finally found our Moulin Rouge-esque hotel. Va te faire foutre, quoth we, and instead just took out whatever clothes we needed, leaving the behemoths downstairs.Armed Youths

Paris, yeah?Gare du NordIn the morning, we succeed in returning to the station (only €12 for three minutes’ journey this time), avoiding truant youths attempting to cheat money and cigarettes out of passers-by before themselves being chased, screaming, out of the station by enormous guards; navigating through the crowds of passengers and alarmingly fully-automatically armed soldiers, we found our train. All 18 carriages of it. Of course, due to the unwieldy size of our luggage and excruciating effort in carrying it, and to the general nature of the world, we were in the furthest conceivable carriage, a little under a kilometre down the platform, with five minutes until the train left. Those five minutes were, quite possibly, the worst of the whole bastard journey.

Frenchland

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Meg's LandFrom that point on, the journey’s effort and reflections we passed onto the family. Meg’s mum and brother, having just driven from London to Calais via the cattle-grid-esque le Shuttle, retrieved our weak forms from the train, squashed us into a slightly-too-small-but-bloody-comfortable vehicle and, thankfully, took over the rest of the navigation. I believe we were on a train under the sea at one point, but surely that’s delirium talking.

So, here I am, in England. I remember this place.Familiar Countryside

This Blog Took A Year To Make.

Seasonal Types

All The Seasons  I actually had the idea to do this blog a little while before coming to Korea. My style of photography – something which I’d like to change slightly, if I’m to imitate professionalism at all – tends to focus more on the spontaneous world than the staged wonder so many artists manage to capture. I’m fairly confident that, if there’s a big ol’ bird circling above, I can snap it before it dive-bombs into the nearest tree; I can usually manage to capture the gargoyle expressions of friends as they theatrically emphasise their foreign-ness in very public spaces – but the ability to actually plan anything eludes me. Premeditated, orchestrated photography – model shoots, actual art, patient nature shoots – is something I have wanted to explore for a while, but this year’s focus on educational professionalism rather than artistic has taken me back a bit.

That being said, low-level OCD has its perks. I wanted to start, carry out and complete a year-long project documenting the shifts and changes in my local Korean environment and geography; the schizophrenic topography of Korea means that, depending what time of year you visit, there’s a completely different country awaiting you, and I wanted to (try and) capture that.Lake Bridge

My plan, as scribbled onto the back of a 2012 Sainsbury’s receipt for Monster Munch and milk:

1)      Take a photo and/or panorama from the same spot, in the same way, every time I happen to be there.

2)      Make sure there are spots in the area I actually visit on a semi-regular basis.

3)      Make sure the photos are neatly arranged on my computer so I don’t spend a solid four days rifling through the bastards in order to actually do the project

4)      DON’T FORGET TO DO THE BLOODY PROJECT

Incredibly, the lust for Monster Munch throughout the year may have subliminally propelled me into doing it.Under Construction

Crossing View

catbridge

View From A Bridge

Many/most of these sequenced landscapes are taken from Onam Lake, the actual name of which still eludes me – the frequency with which I’m there with the hairy tongued beast (Millie, to clarify) and its proximity to the house makes it a no-brainer. In addition to the trees, however, I’ve included a few shots of the work-in-progress (and catchily named) Lotte World Premium Tower as, aside from its curiously Lego/Minecraft-like construction process, it will be the tallest building in Korea when it’s finished and we’ve watched it grow over 20 floors since we got here.

Now, a quick detail of Korean seasons and the accompanying weather, from a year’s veteran’s point of view:

September – October(ish): AutumnAwesome Autumn

Korean Autumn is spectacular. All of those movies with Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau (yes, I know they’re Chinese) where they duel dramatically under unrealistically kaleidoscopic foliage? That is precisely how it looks and feels to walk through woods while the trees shed their bright yellow/red leaves. Meg politely asked me to stop making ‘sword-swishing’ sounds with sticks in public. I politely persisted.

Autumn weather is ideal if you’re a pasty-skinned Englishman unfamiliar with direct sunlight; it’s just cool enough to warrant a light jacket, but not so cold that you have anything to mutter about while waiting at the bus stop. Unfortunately, for the aforementioned reasons it’s also the single most popular time to be in Korea, so be warned if you’re going to the more popular spots – although, as we discovered when hiking Seoraksan, sometimes the rage for one’s fellow man is worth the sights atop an orange mountain.

November-February(ish): WINTERWicked Winter

I really can’t capitalise ‘winter’ enough. I love the cold; any excuse to hide beneath an enormous coat, or wrapping up thoroughly enough to make identity, gender and/or species totally indistinguishable is welcome to me. However, the measly -5°C we’re used to in Blighty is poor preparation for the casual -26°C sprung on us mid-winter in Korea. However, the country does winter properly – with snow an’ blizzards an’ monochromatic landscapes an’ that – and it’s unnervingly exciting to take a stroll across the massively deep lake’s surface being supported by a slightly harder form of water.

March-May(ish): SpringSplendid Spring

Spring is rather like the anti-Autumn of Korea; the weather is similarly mild (if generally warmer), with the foliage performing an energetic reversal of Autumn’s natural disrobing by throwing on an enormous coat of green, pink and yellow. In contrast to the April showers expected by English custom, Korean Spring is surprisingly dry, making it fabulous for walks, Korean exploration etc. before THIS happens –

June-August(ish): SUMMERSodding Summer

I capitalised WINTER due to the excruciating temperatures experienced at the time, and I give SUMMER the same treatment for very much the same reason. My vampiric Englishness did not prepare me for the months-long feeling of being part-man-part-slime while cursing my past self for not bringing more shorts. If you like flammable weather, it’s great; bright blue skies (mostly), bright green scenery and the perpetual justification for throwing oneself into bodies of water have their perks – but, if you’re a sociophobe like myself, prepare yourself for the throngs of like-minded campers who set up seasonal residence with huge tents in every spot you might personally like to have had a picnic. Also, in contrast to my expectation of ‘summer’, it’s the wettest month in Korea – so, prepare thyself for moistness.

And so, I present to you the life and times of Korea. I’m going to absolutely pine for the Korean seasons and their bipolar conflicts with one another when I return to the ‘what season is it now?’ ambivalence of England –  but, if I don’t miss the countries I temporarily call home, then what’s the point of travelling?

Progressing Panorama

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Lunch At Michelle’s

IMG_1249I wanted to call it ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s Lunch At Michelle’s’, but the title wouldn’t let me use a strikethrough. First-world problems.

What’s this? Two posts in a week? I spoil you.IMG_1235

Normally, I would have a blog post to brag about a particular holiday/month/season in extended tedious detail, cramming as many photos in as is conceivably possible. This time, however, I’m going to describe the one-off experience of a luncheon invite from one of my adult students, Michelle. Ordinarily, this would be a matter of ‘coffee and bikkits’, or chimaek(Chicken + Maekchu[beer] –  they LOVE their contractions) – but this particular feast was an education on Korea in edible form.

If our flat had this view, there'd be SO. MANY. PHOTOS.

If our flat had this view, there’d be SO. MANY. PHOTOS.

IMG_1241My previous experience with Korean food is relatively minimal. I know the basics: gimbap, rice, vegetables and meat wrapped in seaweed not entirely unlike sushi; bibimbap, a big ol’ bowl of vegetables, rice and gochujang sauce; dak galbi, possibly the most delicious thing ever done with saucy chicken; pulgogi, a mishmash of beef strips, glass noodles and rice, etc. etc. I have eaten more food than I actually know the name of, alas.IMG_1253

A quick introduction to Michelle and her family. Michelle is one of my longest-running students, having been taught by both myself and my predecessor John (and, I would imagine, possibly before) at Kangs Academy. In contrast to many of the other students at the school, Michelle has an extra-Korea past; before marriage, she was a professional opera singer in Moscow for seven years (another man I teach was a tenor in Florence) and still teaches several of the students’ children. I have also taught her son, her sister and her niece/s throughout the year – no pressure to behave over dinner, then.

FeastAs it turns out, the event was joined by a total of seven of my students, all of whom apparently working to make an unbelievably sumptuous Korean feast. If I’m to be honest, I recognised about half of the spread, but enjoyed everything regardless. Michelle had made(from scratch, including the soy sauce) – beef ribs, pork with kimchi, spicy chicken and potatoes, unnamable boiled roots, bamboo shoots, kimchi chige(soup), kimchi just for the hell of kimchi, black-bean rice, glass noodles, dotorimuk(sesame oil over vegetables and acorn jelly), potato-and-octopus tentacle pancakes (less scary than they sound), seasoned soy sauce, sautéed vegetables and, for dessert, homemade fruit yoghurt. I’m certain they had Korean names, but buggered if I could tell you what they were.IMG_1295

Seating arrangements aside (I love the aesthetic of low-table Korean dining, but my bloody massive legs make it like trying to cram a gorilla into an eggcup), I was totally absorbed by the meal. Not ordinarily being a great campaigner of kimchi, I devoured the pickled cabbage with a newfound relish while Meg stared in shock and revulsion at my sauce-smeared features.

It was so thoroughly enjoyable that I condescended to doing the ‘peace sign’ thing with everyone afterwards.Peace Sign Thing

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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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Jeju (1): Visiting the Island of the Gods

Cheonjiyeon FallsBlowing the dust off the blog…

It’s been [INSERT QUANTITY OF MONTHS] since the last update, for which I blame (if not my own mutant ability to procrastinate) the unbelievable cooking-temperature summer which Koreans deal with so casually – while I spend most of my day peeling myself off chairs and pavements.Seogwipo Bridge

I am the unconventional proud owner of a coveted smartphone courtesy of the stupefyingly generous Hailey, which means that I can join the masses in zombified silence in public spaces. I’ve already unlocked the secret characters in Temple Run – don’t pretend you’re not jealous.

An upside of having such an unnecessarily advance device is that now I can surprise myself on a daily basis with my Big Day countdown app, which currently reads 28 days. That makes exactly three weeks before I’m back in the greenish-grey sanity of England, and ‘conflicted’ is the word of the day. I would be lying to say that I’m anything less than hyperactive at the thought of going home – but I’m starting to notice the things which won’t actually be there when I leave Korea. But sadness can wait for a later blog! It’s taken me long enough to post this bugger.

Woven HorsesFor the majority of Koreans, holidays are often spent within Korea itself; when you’re surrounded by either ocean or possibly-psychotic Communists your options are, alas, limited. Either families visit each other in Busan/Seoul/Gwangju/Gyeongju etc. etc., or visit the beaches in the neighbouring province of Gangwon-do – but the sought-after holiday spot (and, according to my classes, ‘abroad’ destination) is Jeju Island, a small-ish dot on the Korean map stranded in the southern sea.

Grandfather StonesHistorically a traditional honeymoon spot, ‘the Hawaii of the Orients’ (so I have been told) is chocka with exciting geography, history, exhibits, weather and food. Unfortunately our holiday coincided with the single most popular time of year to visit, so much of this was seen between shoulderblades.

You know what? I retract that last passive-aggressive statement: what we expected was to only see sights over the tops of crowds. In fact, we (mostly) had ample room to travel.

Jeju CoastJeju Island (roughly translated as ‘Island of the Gods’) is predominately divided between two places-to-be: Jeju City, next door to the airport and bustling with hustle and shops and nightclubs and other familiar things – the alternative being Seogwipo, a substantially smaller harbour-town with more countryside than cityscape to offer. We chose the latter in an optimistic attempt to minimise forced human interaction for a few days.Seogwipo Market

Seogwipo was a good bet. The city is thriving with markets, vegetation and a staggering number of restaurants of all different flavours. Typically, we managed to repeat-visit two places in the five days we had, but hell – it was a holiday.

Part of our reasoning for picking Seogwipo lay in the options to explore the area – while Jeju City has plenty of museums and hilarious sculpture parks (which I shall address momentarily), we wanted to see the actual, breathing volcanicity of the island itself. Our choices were:

(Days 1/2)

Meggit & BeanCheonjiyeon Waterfall – a very pretty spot, but ill-chosen for the first visit; the peak season was particularly self-evident as coaches spilled multitudes into the small canyon hiding the waterfall itself. Never have I wished to join ducks swimming so much; Jeju is even more equilateral than Seoul or even Daegu and the heat can be awesome. As in, the actual definition.

Seogwipo Bridge ThingSeogwipo – the city itself, although built on a bastard hill, has something to see at each level. On top of the hill (ie. our hotel) you can gorge yourself on any kind of conceivable food (we had the best Dak Galbi thus far tasted in Korea. Twice.) Further down, you can find arts & crafts, music venues, and street sellers such as a fantastically bohemian Nepalese couple we met at a street-stall; I am now the thoroughly proud owner of a hand-made bansuri flute which, while distinctly un-Korean, is possibly my favourite souvenir thus far purchased here.

Dak Galbi Mashita!

Meg Eats     Ben Drinks

Mr. KimOn our very first night there, we encountered a lovely, if initially odd, gentleman by the name of Mr. Kim. We went on a merry adventure about the city with him as our guide, clambering over coastal rocks in the dying light and drinking into merriment; apparently just having friends for the evening made him ‘very, very happy’, which was only a little heartbreaking for us when we couldn’t find him afterwards…Bright Trees

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The Four Seasons of Jinju Apartments

jinjuarches

IMG_2523Time for some long-term observations, I think. We’ve lived here for over nine months, and have seen our distributed share of sun, old leaves, snow, new leaves and yet more bloody sun. ‘So,’ I hear you cry, ‘what cave or warren do you ferret away from the weather in?’ My questionably proud answer would be: Jinju Apartments.IMG_7868

If I mention Jinju to my ever-socially/fashionably conscious students, the typical response is ‘Oh! Dirty.’, or ‘Oh! Old.’ While I can’t entirely refute either accusation, I’d like to do a bit on the merits of Jinju Apt., if only to be bloody-minded and contrary. Not to mention the fact that it’s my home.

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IMG_3499Truthfully, one of the more frequent nouns to be associated with the apartment complex is ‘ghetto’. Visually speaking, this is not entirely without base; we’re basically talking about a square kilometre or so of five-story (dwarfed by the newer, slightly more pretentious accommodation surrounding it) concrete bricks with homes egg-boxed into them. Aesthetics aside, however, it lacks the exciting criminal element of real ghettos; the most severe noted crime to date has been the opportunistic theft of one £1-equivalent laundry basket used for our recycling – pilfered from its ‘somebody take me’ hiding spot in front of the bins while I nipped to the shop. Other than this heinous act, it’s entirely devoid of misdemeanor, instead rife with old dears wobbling up and down backstreets, picking herbs from the verge or cackling wickedly over their allotments.

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IMG_5160Unlike the rapidly-mutating geography of Namyangju throughout the year, Jinju remains reassuringly consistent. Ok – sometimes we find snow outside the front door, sometimes a tarmac-sizzling fish head neglected by the amateur butchers down the road; but inside our little English space, the world outside seems surprisingly far away. Unlike the newer, hastily-built apartments dotted about Onam and JInjeop, the apparently vacuum-formed concrete of Jinju effectively soundproofs the entire house against even the most obnoxious of airmen.IMG_9729  IMG_4059

IMG_3799In pre-snow winter, it’s pretty much the same as the rest of Korea, or indeed the world: kind of wet, kind of grey. Throughout the rest of the year, however, it remains true to the kaleidoscopic schizophrenia of Korean seasons, cycling at speed through every available natural hue until settling on the ever-dominant green of summer. Millie, in her infant naïveté and general doggish madness, is confused on a daily basis by the unreliability of her territory, making sure to soil and destroy any maverick flowers growing from the previously barren earth.

IMG_0423 IMG_0414 IMG_5765 IMG_1484IMG_3962  IMG_9195 

As for the house/flat itself, to quote an amazed student upon inspecting photos of the interior, “Wow, teacher! Jinju is old, but your house looks like hotel!”

IMG_6147 IMG_6151 IMG_6153 IMG_6154 IMG_6155 IMG_6165 IMG_6169 IMG_6170

IMG_2047I’m unsure as to the precise accuracy of this statement, but it’s far from poverty; we’re very proud of our little space. It’s more than big enough for two (provided only one culinary genius is working in the kitchen at a time, for fear of slightly claustrophobic rage-induced spatulacide), and our living room/dining room/den/boudouir/gaming hub/pole club is possibly my favourite place in the country. In winter, the thankfully universal ondol heating takes care of you in the minus-twenties, while the solid concrete walls deter summer heat, oppressive as it can frequently be for English albinos.

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IMG_1491The Four Seasons it ain’t, but we won’t be moved from our Korean den. I wouldn’t trade our slightly decades-stained home for any of the generic obelisks spiking the countryside; we’re right outside our favourite dak galbi restaurant, we’re 40 minutes away from one of the world’s biggest cities and we’ve got Onam Lake within ten minute’s walking distance. This entry has been as much for our successors as for myself – speaking from experience, Jinju Apartments doesn’t immediately impress, but it’s a fantastic place to live and I love every fish-head and twisting alley in it.IMG_5154

Except the ones where the adoring stalker-children live. I avoid them.

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