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My Portable(?) Life

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Complete with sentimental message from Dad.

The digital and actual paperwork is through, and we are officially (going to be) On Our Way! To Korea. Again.

The best way to make friends with your neighbours is to play musical instruments constantly.

The best way to make friends with your neighbours is to play musical instruments constantly.

After a few days of convenient weekend getting in the way of actually telling the agency we got our visas, I woke up this morning to a +82 number shouting out of my phone. A very friendly Korean lady tells my bleary and underwear-clad self that our flights have been confirmed, and that we’d better get the hell out of Blighty by 9:25 tomorrow morning (note: some paraphrasing). It’s now 3:30pm the same day, and the living room is a chaotic sea of cables, slippers and knickers – which, on a normal day, might be less stressful.

In a fit of self-indulgence, and because the caffeine’s worn off, I’m using an ill-earned break to remind Future Me what he actually needs to bring with him when he has to carry his entire life abroad for a year, having already decided against a good percentage of my original booty for the sake of packing. As English expats, we get but a single suitcase to take in the plane’s hold (I gather some of our more fortunate Western colleagues get two bags, which doesn’t fill us with murderous jealousy one bit).

My personal haul is as follows:

A whole bunch a’ clothes – which, owing to the fact that Korea actually has seasons (and how) have to be suitable for both blizzards and heatwaves. As such, I have socks ranging from itty-bitty trainer things up to inch-thick Chewbacca feet protectors, and jackets to match:

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Ranging from cool-weather to death-in-the-snow weather.

Ranging from cool-weather to death-in-the-snow weather.

Day-to-day Zombie Apocalypse messenger bag for all situations – for when I have no idea what I’m doing (ie. most days) and need to know that I’ll have something to do wherever I am. Pictured:

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1 – my beloved Scaramanga Leather bag, worn smooth by bashing into my backside for a few years

2 – my wallet, feigning wealth by cramming itself full of receipts from the last decade or so

3 – the single reliably living USB drive I own; a novelty DSLR keyring thing

4 – one pair of abused sunglasses, carrying on the accidental ‘brown’ theme

5 – Meg’s old iPod (so-named Orangensaft), thieved from her while she wasn’t looking

6 – my iPhone 4; not actually as battered as it looks thanks to the invincible case (given to me in Korea last time by a very, very generous Hailey)

7 – because I’m lacking brown leather things, one notebook for ‘ideas’ (ie. surprisingly violent stick-men doodles and bad Hangeul attempts)

8 – my trusty Victorinox penknife, which will NOT be going in my hand luggage (note to self)

9 – iPhone/iPad charger, for when I just can’t get enough Angry Birds in one day

10 – a battered Zippo lighter, because shiny

11 –  SD card reader for my iPad, for when I have to impress people in coffee shops with my incredible artistic ability

12 – Amazon Kindle ebook reader; my phone has about 8 hours’ battery life but this baby has 8 weeks on it. Used to give the impression of intellectualism while reading Terry Pratchett in secret

13 – iPad; slightly douchetastic but 100% essential if I’m running the risk of actually making conversation with people on long journeys

14 – Canon Powershot G15, my backup baby when it’s far too silly to carry an SLR about the place. Good for stalking friends when they don’t realise it.

Meg bullies the luggage.

Meg bullies the luggage.

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And, last but not egotistically least, the ever-present and indispensible camera gear. Very sad to be leaving the battery grip and flash triggers behind for a year, but streamlining must occur somewhere and I’m already down to a single pair of underwear for the year (colleagues-to-be: this is not actually true, please don’t avoid me in the corridor).

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1 – personalised wrist-strap (an alternative to a neck strap for more acrobatic shots), as given by my headteacher Eric last year which I love with all my heart

2 – Canon Speedlite 430EXII; a VERY nice flash irresponsibly gifted to me by my overly generous mother

3 – an all-rounder, slightly antiquated 28-105mm f/3.5 lens, with the slightest of chips in the glass from when I nearly fell down a bloody mountain last year

4 – one variable Neural Density (ND) filter for landscape/sky shots

5 – a slightly tackily-packaged lens cloth I forgot I bought in Korea last year

6 – my beloved 10-22mm f/3.5 lens for when I have to stalk everything in the room in the same moment

7 – one long-loved Canon EOS 60D, which I couldn’t possibly love more if it were my child

8 – the aforementioned backup Canon G15, because it IS a camera after all

9 – after much deliberating, the most practical of my camera bags to bring; the straps don’t really work but it IS stylish

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So, now I’ve publicly stated exactly how pickpocketable I am for the coming few days, I’ll get back on with actually packing. One 4-5am wake-up call and an 18-hour journey to go, and we’ll be jetlagged and confused in Namyangju for a few recuperative days before travelling to the uncharted territory of Gwangju.

Faintly interesting exploits to follow – if you’re really lucky, I’ll get Meg to take a photo of my uncomfrotably pretzel-like form as I sleep ignominiously on the plane.

 

 

 

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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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The Four Seasons of Jinju Apartments

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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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The Weather Outside’s Delightful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meg gets into the Christmas spirit.

Meg gets into the Christmas spirit.

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

How ADORABLE is that?

How ADORABLE is that? Note Billie the Dog also.