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Tag: Seoul

Towers, Bears and Geese

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Under this mystique of sophistication, wit and impeccable gramm(er)ar, it may surprise you to learn that, deep down, I can, on occasion, be profoundly lazy. I’ve never been one for footing balls or chasing steeples – anything where there’s the slightest chance I might embarrass myself in front of large groups –  but have come to love the rare, glorious moments where I can experience the suicidal joy of snowboarding. If ever I were to find myself plummeting down a sheer mountainside, I’d like to at least be strapped onto a fibreglass spatula. On the slopes, I can at least be assured that falling over and embarrassing oneself in front of large groups is a commonplace event.

Living in the green low(ish)lands of Somerset, mountains are a bit sparing to come by – so this pastime, while immensely fun, has had a habit of occurring roughly once every two-to-four years:

2006: Lapland, Finland; -25° in the Arctic Circle, with the Aurora Borealis above and a swearing, pre-bearded Benjamin falling over a lot under the watch of an ex-military snowboard instructor

2008: Wanaka, New Zealand; having already blown the backpacking budget on skydiving and hostels, went all-out on the Treble Cone slopes in Wanaka. Got stuck in a white-out on the mountainside, managed not to fall off the mountain

2011: Ehrwald, Austria; never one to actually pay for anything if I can get away with it, managed via Mum/’s magazine to blag a travel-piece on Ehrwald & Mt. Zugspitz. Brought brother along, drank weissbeer, managed not to fall off the mountain

2015: Bear’s Town, Namyangju, South Korea; two years after I’d previously lived 20 minutes away from Bear’s Town ski resort, I travel across the entire bloody country to finally get there. Confidently avoided any potential falling-off-mountain scenarios.IMG_7572

Swallowing the guilt of leaving Millie in the care of our fellow dog-addicts for one whole night (pathetic, I know), we occupied ourselves for the 4 hours to Seoul on the now-familiarly-far-too-hot bus – Meg by sleeping 80% of the journey and myself by discovering Banner Saga on the iTunes store.

After a now-familiarly obnoxious reunion with Lori (the only remaining Namyangju-based member of the obscene Osan Crew of 2012/13), we detoured back to Jinjeop via the astonishingly shiny and alarmingly tall Lotte World Tower – the name given to the work-in-progress tower we watched grow in Jamsil when we’d pass through on a weekly basis. I remembered it as a wee bairn of a building, all scaffolding and catherine-wheel blowtorch embers in clear view of street level. Understandably, I feel, I initially failed to recognise the looming, perspective-distorting behemoth of a skyscraper sticking out of the ground when we arrived. Already 94 storeys high, it’s still got another 29 to go – and will be the fourth tallest building in the world, after the Burj Khalifa, Shanghai Tower and the Abraj Al-Bait – and will be the single tallest building in the OECD (ie. Western economic world).

It's a big 'un.

It’s a big ‘un: still another third to go.

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I’m throwing out these statistics to try and convey the whoah, cor blimey, f**k me effect the place had on me. Of course, being Seoul, the bottom seven or eight storeys have already been devoted to a top-class, glass-plated, esculator-bound shopping mall with no possibility of convenient escape. Giving in and lending our custom to a Hard Rock Cafe on the top floor, we ate our burgers, experienced all-American (read: incessant badgering) treatment by an entirely bilingual and very lovely pan-cultural staff, considered self-harm while waiting outside H&M for a full hour and finally, somehow, managed to get back to Lori’s home castle.IMG_7632 IMG_7639 IMG_7636 IMG_7631

Hard Rock Cafe - just in case you accidentally find yourself abroad.

Hard Rock Cafe – just in case you accidentally find yourself abroad.

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I’m already over-budget on words and I haven’t even got to the cold bit.

Bear’s Town was a surprise in a number of ways. Firstly, the journey from Lori’s to the slopes took a total of twelve minutes (a fact which I would have exploited far more beforehand, had I known). Secondly, for three of us to get everything – snow jacket/salopettes, boards, boots and lift pass – cost a total of 170,000 won, or 50-60,000 each: about £35 for all I needed to go snowboarding for a day. For anybody not familiar with ski prices, that’s laughably cheap. Thirdly – and best(ly), the nature of ‘slow mornings’ in Korea meant that for practically the entire day we could slide around the mountain with relative freedom from crowds, and nip back up the mountain lift in no time at all.IMG_4352

Seriously damn stylish.

Seriously damn stylish.

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Meg always finds a new friend.

Meg always finds a new friend.

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Before I describe the day, I’d like to point out that Meg is now not only willing, but suggesting we go back for Round Two. I emphasise this point in contrast to the stream of profanity which flowed from my beloved girlfriend’s mouth as she passed through the inevitable ‘falling over and swearing a lot while you hate everything’ phase of snowsports. However, less than an hour into the experience, thanks in no small part to Lori’s expert guidance and my ability to not fall on Meg while I helped her balance, she was braking and manoeuvring like a star. I took this as my cue to try out the full stretch of Big Bear (comprising both the smaller Little Bear slope and the remainder of the immediate mountain) – which, I’m egotistical enough to admit, I managed well enough without actually falling over once, and somehow succeeding in doing that quick ‘zig-zag’ thing (shop talk) which speeds the board up but, more importantly, looks cool. The girls would have been so impressed but, sadly, had been diverted by churros and chocolate dip by this point.IMG_4355

It wouldn't be Korea without some form of dwarfish mascot.

It wouldn’t be Korea without some form of dwarfish mascot.

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'F#@k.'

‘F#@k.’

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It’d been a long day’s slipping, sliding and swearing, and we were all feeling the après-ski, pre-galbi glow of a good day’s farting around. We’d been waiting at the highway-side bus stop for a while when we heard the group of jindo guard-dogs barking at something interfering with them behind our shelter and, upon peering through the scratched plexiglass pane, it became apparent what was riling up the previously silent hounds.IMG_7684 IMG_7689

'You from round here, stranger?'

‘You from round here, stranger?’

Murderer's eyes.

Murderer’s eyes.

I wasn't the only victim.

I wasn’t the only victim.

I like to think I normally make a point of avoiding unnecessary profanity in this blog, but trust me when I say that these feathery sons of bitches were goddamn mean. Two rough-as-arseholes geese seemed to be making a point of harassing the guard-dogs, hissing and honking, for no apparent reason other than their own avian satisfaction. I made the fatal mistake of leaning round our transparent hut to try and get a shot of them, and the bastards rushed me. I wasn’t the only one – a fellow Korean Bear’s Town-goer tried to get a few snaps but was himself harangued and honked at as we both tried to get away from their jabbing faces. The bus miraculously arrived just as I was wondering if geese somehow had teeth as well as beaks, and we left the flapping psychopaths to further torment the poor canines.

Shaken and terrified.

Shaken and terrified.

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I can't do Dalk Galbi's food-pornography justice.

I can’t do Dalk Galbi’s food-pornography justice.

We consoled ourselves with the somewhat predictable choice of dalk galbi (how I love thee), gathered our stuff, bid adieu to Lori and found our way back to Dongseoul Bus Terminal. One sauna-bus and The Grand Budapest Hotel later, we were back in Gwangju; aching, goose-traumatised and tired, but home.

hur hur hur

hur hur hur

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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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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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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.

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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!”

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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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Snow, Sun and The Point of No Return

Frozen BridgeFor fear of repeating myself, I’ll just stop apologising for the blog irregularity. I shall instead pine over what an epic it could have been, were I possessed with even the slightest degree of self-motivation.Representative Of My Focus

Snowy BoughsThe half-way point of my Korean indenture has come and gone, as of last Friday(ish); six months down, six to go. In a manner not entirely unfamiliar to a pathological videogamer, I’ve bypassed the ‘snow’ stage and have almost reached the bossfight – the ‘fire’ stage of Korean summer. We’ve still got spring to go yet, but the schizoid weather of late has me confused as to whether or not I’m experiencing it already.Lost Dog

Puppy LoveI’m starting to feel less like a fish out of water, so much as a bloated twat (see: pre-natal fish) in its natural slovenly environment. ‘Slovenly’ in this case being restricted specifically to kicking range of my Geek Desk, thus far impervious to any tidying attempts on either mine or Meg’s part.Snowed UnderSnowy Hills

In the early months, I could feel the surprising curiosity of bypassers on the street, or hear the hilariously un-sly ‘ka-chick’ of a Samsung Galaxy SIII’s camera as I joined the doubtlessly fascinating photo-archive of Westerners caught reading, breathing, picking their nose etc. in public; now, I’m either significantly less interesting or significantly more oblivious to such things. I may still sometimes be the object of fascination to an old dear bent ninety-degrees at a bus stop, but they’re part of my everyday now.

Also, I was totally staring back at the guys sat ON the lake.

Also, I was totally staring back at the guys sat ON the lake.

Seoul RooftopsAs for what’s changed – I now teach the newly-reopened Kindergarten class of Kang’s Academy, which is a refreshingly immature and chaotic break from some of the miniature sadists bestowed upon me otherwise. Basically, it’s my job to throw things at five-year-olds and herd them, screaming, under whatever shelter they might reach in time. Suffice it to say, lesson plans are fairly redundant.Dogs On Ice

Millie is still roughly the size, shape and colour of a bottle of coca-cola with Mentos stuck to it, and suffers from a similar reaction to oxygen every morning. While she’s picked up the ‘go to your bed’ instruction like a champ, Unconscious Humans are free game in the early hours. If I wake up to the sight of a puppy’s sphincter one more time, I’ll patch Velcro onto both her bed and her bum.Intelligent Leap

Public GatheringThe Americans still won’t behave, which is ideal; if there are any fellow Englishmen/women struggling to differentiate between work and ‘not work’, make friends with one of our louder cousins. You’ll find yourself not only buying, but actually wearing food, drink and silly hats within a matter of weeks.Hat Love

Noble BeastTime and schedule will tell how the next six months will go. As with any major reinvention of your life, it’s hard to tell if I should exclaim that it’s ‘already’ or ‘only’ halfway through at this point – but I’ve no particular worries to concern myself with. I’m actually starting to save money, despite my worst intentions; I’m part of a repellent horde of immediately loveable friends who I will have more than a little difficulty departing from this September; what’s more, I’m doing something not only fun, but remotely self-improving with my wicked little life.Wrapped Up

It may be another six months before I hear a crowd of English accents or see anything even remotely resembling a field – but, half a year in (that’s one two-hundredth of a century), I’m at least happy that this has been the right thing to do. If anybody can’t say the same for what they’re doing at home, I’ve got a few email addresses you might be interested in.Winter Scene

An Ode to the Old Gent Who Stole My Cigarettes.

Worn ShoesSmiling, open, evidently-fed,

An-yeong haseyo, he said.

In digital military camo clad,

Forwardly friendly, but possibly mad.

He did offer Oreo cookies, foil-arranged,

We did take food from person most strange.

‘Alas!’, he gestured, with miming at bags –

‘Your Korean is tragic, and I’m out of fags!’

As I am genteel, I withheld him not:

He inspected the packet, and pocketed the lot.

Baffled was I, though they cost but two-fifty;

To argument for its sake would be unsociably thrifty.

Instead I smiled, confused to the core,

As our incommunicable friend buggered off out the door.

____

True story. I never even knew his name.

I gather he was very impressed with my acquisition of Meg, who herself is under the strong impression he was complimenting my manhood. I haven’t dwelt on where his information came from.

Meg's name came next, but Millie ate it.

Meg’s name came next, but Millie ate it.

So, apparently my concept of diligence and persistence stretches as far as a bi-monthly posting. Future Ben will thank himself for this gift when he attempts to reflect nostalgically without having to put too much work into reading every blog.

My accomplishments since the dawn of 2013 have thus far included:

'Guilt' isn't a sufficient noun.

‘Guilt’ isn’t a sufficient noun.

– Long-term fixing the toilet with a now-unwanted hairband of Meg’s, thereby ensuring a relatively plunger-less existence;

– Successfully extracting a totally oblivious puppy’s internal reproductive organs, leading to a solid month of guilt induced by stoned puppy and the sad realisation that said puppy will not spawn further puppies a la the movie Gremlins;

– Purchasing a small, stuffed dog for aforementioned wombless canine which has instantly become an object of love, abuse and cannibalistic violence in our absence;Iced Lake

– Nearly losing puppy down the lake’s one ice-fishing hole while dashing across it;

– Discovering canine fellowship with local meandering hound (whom we’ve taken to calling Jin), with whom Millie goes entirely berserk and dashes tirelessly through the snow;The Most Graceful Dance

– Furthermore, discovering that, while loathe to damage any of our actual possessions (bar a slightly sucked slipper), Millie enacts scenes of carnage with any tissue-paper within reach when left alone;I Didn't Do It

– Acquiring promised Christmas Xbox from greatly loved noisy ‘Mericans only to discover that antiquated trigenarian of a TV suffers a stroke when attempting to link up devices, prompting me to scour Seoul’s own brand of Craigslist in search of justifiably cheap device;

– Almost managing to wriggle out of debts from home after discovering that expatriation is not a substitute for responsible finances;Rakkojae, Seoul

– Successfully managing to be a creative and/or mature photojournalistic professional shooting  a hotel review, two coffee shops and a clothes store for UK’s Cereal Magazine: http://readcereal.com/ . This basically means I drank my body weight in free coffee and ran around giggling for a while before falling onto a mattress on the floor. The fact that the mattress was a traditional Korean bed in a staggeringly elite traditional hotel doesn’t detract from the day’s childish indulgence.Meg's SaunaPatio Suite

I also now share my late bedtimes with Millie, as I carry her barely-conscious form up and down the goddamn blasted stairs every night before falling over in bed. It’s good to share routines.Royalty's Tiny Thrones

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.

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.