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Tag: Namyangju

Sneezing In Cinemas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Living & Leaving Sheltered Lives

When moving to another culture, a foreigner’s first impulse is to nest in his or her habitat; that is to say, one surrounds themselves with as many familiar things as possible. While the point of the experience is to experience something unfamiliar and exotic, there are days where you just want to slob around and watch The Lion King without requiring English subtitles.

For both of us, ‘familiar’ consists of the following: tomato soup (exists here but very rare), marmite (even if we found someone who’d heard of it, it’s nowhere to be found) and the presence of a dog on a day-to-day basis. We know that our situation prevents us from actually owning a pet with any kind of permanence, but have nonetheless found ourselves in contact with a local(ish) canine shelter on our days off.

Two of our closest friends in England are in the volunteer business of fostering dogs from shelters in their area, in order to find loving families for them elsewhere. To clarify:

Adoption = have a pet to own forever and ever, not just for Christmas etc.

Fostering = relieve a potentially overstocked animal shelter of adoptable dogs, cats etc. with the intention of independently finding homes for them.

You wouldn’t think he actually loved being picked up, would you?

Fostering is not so much a ‘responsibility-free’ adoption scheme (unless you’re a particularly lazy/awful human being) as a rewarding process of integrating unloved and/or potentially traumatised pets back into a ‘home’ environment. After being informed of the predominance of ‘Kill Shelters’ (the dogs have 20 days to be adopted before being euthanized, regardless of health or age), there was no way we couldn’t try to help.

After getting massively lost and flustered, we found our way to the Yangju Animal Shelter a little way north of Namyangju (our hometown, for the amnesiacs/English-speakers out there). In contrast to previous rants regarding my intolerance of the crowds thus far, we met nothing but wonderful people on our journey (with the exception of an especially intolerable girl who decided that shoving me into an elderly dear getting on the train was highly preferable to waiting 1.5 seconds); such wonderful people including a petrol-station attendant who took time off his shift to call a taxi for us when we got off the bus too early, and an employee of the Yangju Culture Centre who actually drove us down the road himself.

He seemed to like me. I now love him.

A kilometre or so down the road, there was no confusion as to where the animal shelter was; the open fields of the countryside seemed to carry the enthusiastic barking and yapping of over two hundred dogs. We immediately met up with Ula, our English-speaking contact and volunteer at the sanctuary, and the tour began.

Angel, another cyclops pup, also adorable beyond measure.

Firstly, despite the unbelievable efforts of the staff and volunteers there, it is a sadly underfunded and overstocked shelter; it spans roughly two acres, divided between the main house (for smaller dogs, eg. puppies and ‘toy dogs’ who would suffer from actual exposure to any kind of elements) and two separate areas for larger canines. Each pen usually holds two or three dogs chosen for their ability to get along, often consisting of one terrified animal and one ‘protector’ who seems to address the humans while the other hides in their kennel.

Within moments, our trousers were stained and paw-printed with enthusiastic greetings by the dogs – every time we left one pen, the neighbouring dogs went berserk with optimism because it was their turn with the humans oh boy oh boy. We met some familiar faces from the website, including adorable yet sad-eyed Lennon, Kang (one of the many apparently obliviously cycloptic dogs we met) and Floyd – who we will admit we do have our hearts set on, provided we are deemed suitable temporary owners.

Ball ball ball ball ball ball ball

Although requiring extensive paperwork and permits by the sanctuary board, it’s encouraging that they’re so particular with the prospective owners of their dogs. It would be far more convenient for them to throw care and caution to the wind – the shelter grows exponentially, as it takes in far more dogs than it gives away to families – but they actually care about the animals, a trait not necessarily consistent with many such facilities in the country. The ‘Kill Shelters’ have a death row of 20 days, whereas the Yangju Shelter has five-year-old dogs who were born there.

The toy dogs unite forces against Meg.

It looks sad, but Lennon just wanted a go with the humans.

Although we can’t spare much time to volunteer – the journey alone will prevent us from going up on a hugely regular basis – Meg and I are set on helping publicise and foster the dogs there. Expect considerable gushing over ad-aaaawable dogs over the next year or so.

Apologies for the unusual seriousness of this particular blog, not to mention the length. If it provides any remote comic relief, we properly stank of poo the entire journey home.

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…

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’.

It’s Working Out So Far

The running route. Hideous, isn’t it?

Before I begin, I would like to establish that this title is in no way any of the following:

A) a proclamation of my Herculean metabolism and/or proactive outlook on life,

B) an exercise of self-guilt by informing the world of my routine, thereby forcing myself to keep to it, or

C) even remotely indicative of my chemical inclinations or lifestyle choices.

It is, however, a desperate attempt to ingeniously focus on the ‘working’ of ‘working out’. Specifically, the narcolepsy-inducing combination of exercise and working with children.

This happens literally every time we attempt to wash clothes. Judging by the waterproof paint five inches up the wall, this particular water-feature is intentional…

To summarise the pre-shift morning today: wake up, swear, attempt to return to dream. Conscience overrides craving. Highly supportive Meg mentally preps me for first run in Korea/months, to which I respond with grunts and negativity (standard).

Run itself feels like I’m approximately two-thirds of a mile from the surface of the Sun, and climaxes spectacularly with me tripping on the pavement and crashing slow-motion into a vegetable stall, sending bags of garlic flying. Choe soong hamnida, choe soong hamnida, choe soong hamnida, I mutter as I restock the table and run with a hitherto unseen haste and athleticism.

However, I know as well/better than any the tedium of reading about another’s exercise habits; either I’m doing far less than you and it’s amateur (likely), or I’m doing far more than you (unlikely) and I sound Full Of It. I assure you, I do not work out with anything approaching willingness.

One of many neon crosses dotted around the area. I gather it’s not so much a ‘Church Here’ sign as a personal expression of faith…?

To refer to previous social experiences, we are now official friends with the Ryu family, which we know to be true as they told us so. When we dropped in to see them yesterday, they gave us (refusing payment) a glass surface, chopping board, packets of bizarre-yet-delicious blueberry energy drink (…?) and, while leaving, casually picked a pot of yellow daisies from the shop for our house. We’ve given up working out exactly how many favours we need to return, but are intent on taking them out to dinner, finances permitting…

Meg, admiring more antiques.

There’s something wonderful and strange about having lived in a country for two weeks and already being able to greet a familiar shopkeeper, be invited to sit in the corner and be offered tea while they run the shop. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before I give in to braces, chain-smoking and leering at women and weyguks(foreigners) from a plastic table outside. I can base my persona on a particularly wicked character in a restaurant yesterday who continued to grin, gesticulate and cackle at us in Korean as we ate his recommended (justifiably so) Korean stew. His gestures seemed to indicate our ‘couple’ status repeatedly and energetically; we’re still unsure if he was offering advice on wholesome nutrition or enthusiastically telling us it was an aphrodisiac.

Meg and myself cross the pond to Jess Neale, in all her wonderful Englishness. It means a lot.

 

 

 

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.