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Tag: winter

The White Stuff

IMG_8556Time for a (slightly) more up-to-date update.

Reviewing much of my earlier ramblings, I realise that, given particular weather conditions, I am an angry little man. In the summer of 2013, I sweated, fumed and swore as I squelched miserably through crowds of un-moistened, calm people both above and below ground as I barged about the country. I couldn’t possibly have identified more with the ‘rubbish weygook’ stereotype if I’d actually wanted to: I was cranky, vague from the heat (the only Hangeul my memory permitted me was either offensive or unrelated to any given conversation), and I offended more passers-by than I could hope to apologise to. Summer is not my friend, and vice versa. [stay tuned 5 months from now, happy readers]IMG_8561 IMG_8672 IMG_8639 IMG_8666

It seems only fair, then, that the polar (so to speak) opposite of Korean weather transforms me into an infantile, happy moron who likes to grin at the sky whenever white stuff falls from it. I came to Gwangju preparing myself for a disappointing show of snow this winter; nestled in Jeollanam-do, among the southernmost provinces, the city usually has a more mild climate, ie. hotter summers, fewer winters. (This only occurred to me after I’d signed the contract.) That being said, I’m happy to boast that we’ve had no shortage of ice-lined socks and snowball-sodden wool gloves since December.IMG_8624 IMG_8726 IMG_8733 IMG_8545 IMG_7567

Arguably the best part of the weather is the wondrous sight of tiny dogs losing their tiny minds in snowdrifts, charging about with brainless abandon until their pitifully tiny feet are frozen and the snowflake-donuts on their noses have completely obscured their faces. Millie always regrets snowbounding afterwards, yet manages to forget before every new walk – helpfully.IMG_8336 IMG_8360 IMG_8367 IMG_8406 IMG_7561 IMG_8450 IMG_8757IMG_7456
IMG_7549 IMG_7550 IMG_7452 IMG_7451 IMG_7447

I only managed to partly cripple myself a few times on the ice, and both times were either heading to, or returning from our Dalk Galbi local so it was a fair trade.

Pre-snow mug.

Pre-snow mug.

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Deck The Halls with Bowls of Kimchi (Fa La La) – Also, Happy New Yesterday

IMG_8689[NOTE: This was intended to be uploaded before New Year. To summarise: it was good and I’m still alive.]

I helpfully documented the cooking process.

I helpfully documented the cooking process.

I type this in the post-joyeux glow of Christmas in Gwangju. I’m on the bus, fiddling with the volatile nature of IOS Autocorrect as we speed away from our token remaining workday this week; while Christmas is a given holiday, nobody East of Dorset seems to have heard of nor gives a fig about Boxing Day, so our festive celebrations have been sandwiched between obnoxiously normal work days.IMG_8690 IMG_8701 IMG_8704

Not to say that Christmas has been compromised. Granted, a few ingredients have been a bit fiddly to come by – our gammon steak was achieved masterfully by Meg pickling the hell out of a block of processed ham, and our options of dead-and-cooked bird included ‘with’ and ‘without’ head – but enough greed has been fulfilled, enough food has been et and enough booze has been quaffed to qualify as a Successful Christmas.

A battle for the ages.

A battle for the ages.

Perhaps a brief summary of events between this and the (shamefully distant) last blog would be considerate. We’re well, truly and properly settled into our big, shiny base of operations, we like our routine and we really like our city. Looking back – much as we loved Namyangju – we made a fair few compromises living in the distant wildlands between Seoul and North Korea, interspersed sporadically with wrath-inducing trips to the most impatient city west of Tokyo. Here, we’re close enough to greenery to feel like we’re breathing actual air whilst having enough access to civilisation that we don’t have to mount an expedition for the weekly shop.

Molly with her miniature polar bear.

Molly with her miniature polar bear.

Our school is absolutely wonderful – more detailed outline surely to follow – to the extent that we haven’t once begrudged actually acting like adults and doing our job. It’s tiring and sometimes feels like it’s turning my brain to soup, but compared to the working hours of our Korean colleagues we have nothing to complain about. Plus, I got a jar of Nutella for Christmas (route to a man’s heart, etc.).
IMG_8038 IMG_8432I suppose a fairly significant side-note: once again, Millie The Slightly Weird Dog lives with us in Korea. As above RE: our school, will expand on the chaos of her transportation in a practical post shortly (something of a blogtacular back-log happening here) – but I’m overjoyed to report that our freakish little Border Collie-like-thing has the daily company of our friends Molly and Perry’s equally minute Pomeranian, essentially removing most of the guilt of going to work for hours. I will be getting home to the sounds of brainless joy and vigorously-sucked underwear shortly.IMG_8061 IMG_8367Rest assured, recent radio silence is a result of overwhelming creative disorganisation and comfort, rather than for a lack of positive things to say. My intention is to put up a few detailed/practical posts concerning Gwangju and Korean bits and bobs; if it happens before 2016, I’ll call it a win.

This Blog Took A Year To Make.

Seasonal Types

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

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

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

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

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

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

4)      DON’T FORGET TO DO THE BLOODY PROJECT

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

Crossing View

catbridge

View From A Bridge

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

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

September – October(ish): AutumnAwesome Autumn

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

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

November-February(ish): WINTERWicked Winter

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

March-May(ish): SpringSplendid Spring

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

June-August(ish): SUMMERSodding Summer

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

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

Progressing Panorama

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Envious Winter and Sprung Spring, or The One Where My Computer Died.

Hongdae FameIt’s been a while, chums. I’d like to say it’s entirely the fault of someone else, but I’ve had Toshiba back for at least two weeks now.Sun-Squinters

RainlightUPDATE: Make that roughly two months. I drafted this WAY long ago, but have miraculously managed to procrastinate all this while.

There’s a rather fantastic Korean expression – 꽃샘추위 , or Winter Envies The Spring (the cold envies the flowers, if we’re being specific); the phrase referring to the schizophrenic nature of early-year weather in Korea, where a few days’ unexpectedly hot weather is violently punctuated by a disabling cold/snow snap, leaving you in the delirious state of wandering into town with shorts, an umbrella and thick socks – just in case.What's This?

Pink BlossomNow, however, it has been several months since my last post; the weather has changed from bipolar spring to the more predictable progression of summer, with the living-room thermostat climbing a digit every day or so. In true white-trash fashion, I’m finding vests to be an entirely suitable fashion statement while my rabid beast lolls up and down the apartment. We’ve had a few ominous thunderclaps to emphasise the weather’s confusion, but now I suspect we’re in for the long haul – and my quasi-albino complexion has a gauntlet to run between now and Heathrow.The Guys

A lightning-fast update for those who have nothing better to read – practically every weekend is occupied with some kind of inanity, so I’ll do my best to be concise.

Pre-Sprung WoodsBetween then and now, the predominantly grey topography of wintry Korea has apparently exploded, leaving white-and-pink fallout fragrantly drifting to the green earth. Nonviolently speaking, spring has sprung like a well-coiled Slinky, and it’s driving the dog apeshit.Oblivious

Speaking of the aforementioned minibeast, we’re proud to say that the pathetically tiny 2.4kg animal we rescued in December now weighs a whopping 4kg: that’s about the weight of a slightly indulgent bag of rice.

She Likes Ice-Cream NowA few weeks [months] back, we and the ‘Mericans ventured into Hongdae, douchebag central of students and nightlife in Seoul, wherein lies the exclusive percentage of the local population daring enough to show any skin from the neck down. I don’t mean to say that was the inspiration for going, but that it proves how wild they get here. I might have seen a bare collarbone at one point.Aaron The Gentleman

Shawn's SkillsOur accommodation for the night happened was settled at Big Choi’s Guest House, a discreet and completely welcoming hostel ferreted away in one of Hongdae’s quieter back-allies for the more discerning foreign traveller. Concerning our accommodation, however, we were initially presented with a guiltily dark and quiet room filled with already-unconscious late-night frequent fliers. Our group being who and what they are, conservative use of sound would be a problem. This is the point where our Ukranian, skateboard-toting friend Phil Makarenko (Crackachenko to you, quoth he while skateboarding into a moving bus) reveals the slightly tatty gem of Big Choi’s: an Anne Frank-esque hidden ladder in a tiny cupboard, leading up into the mysterious Attic Room. By ‘mysterious’, I mean ‘mysteriously cosy despite the emphysema-inducing mould apparently used as wallpaper.Manly Portrait

Macarenko's HabitatOn the subject of new discoveries; greet the newly-adopted member of the Obnoxious Crew (actual group name to be confirmed): Anthony Shea, our very own super-duper secret military secrets have-to-kill-you-if-I-tell-you American James Bond. We tend to attract the exciting types.Obnoxious Consumerism

Josh

Lineup

ShawnHowever, Anthony’s initiation coincides with a decidedly more mournful occasion: our pec-dancingly handsome friend Shaun has left us for the somewhat envious shores of Hawaii. Given such a destination, our sadness is entirely selfish and we can only have schadenfreude hope his job is very, very tiring so he can only go to beach every other day (if Shaun’s reading – we love you really. You have been, will be and are missed something fierce).  The leaving ceremony predominantly involved a surprisingly English stubbornness to have a barbeque despite the pissing rain, and the pleasure of having the EOD workshop’s enormous female bulldog, Shelby, enthusiastically humping everybody’s leg.IMG_2426 IMG_2396 IMG_2315 IMG_2337 IMG_2345 IMG_2262

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a more political note, I gather there’s been some hulabaloo with them familiar-yet-completely-different-and-batshit-crazy neighbours up North: Mr. Kim Jong-Eun said some very hurtful and completely pointless things which were, have been and are entirely ignored by the actual populace of South Korea. It seems the entirety of the world outside of ROK (Republic Of Korea, fyi) had been biting their nails in a pseudo-Cuban Missile Crisis fashion, but the locals honestly couldn’t have given less of a toss. A few of my kids expressed their wisdom in the form of such sentiments as ‘North Korea crazy, teacher,’ or ‘Kim Jong-Eun is dirty psycho and is very very fat.’ With such moral and ethical safeguards as these children, it’s no wonder Jong-Eun’s backed off.Checkertails' Crew

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

Oh, I Remember You: Happy 2013…

Lake WalkI hide my face and shame in my hands as to the lateness of this post. The word ‘backlog’ springs to mind – and I blame the puppy entirely.

In true tradition of photography and the Internet, I have taken approximately as many photos of Millie as I have either Meg or myself since arriving in Korea – and then some. Lightroom’s ‘photo tab’ reaching 1,300 photos in need of editing has delayed any autobiographing far past the changing of the year.

So, in summary:

MILLIEConvincingly Innocent

Millie is, without question, the most ridiculous thing we could have acquired whilst living in Korea – and is the most irresponsible thing we could ever manage not to regret. She is under 6 months old, under 3kg, under a foot high and far more intelligent than the majority of dogs I have known. Within a week, she was housetrained, accustomed to being left at home for extended periods and was able to walk without the lead.Puppy For Christmas

The sight of her bounding and vanishing in the snow is justification alone for us saving her life – and we have given up any fantasies of fostering her off to another family. She’s coming to England, and she will see actual fields for the first time.

Apologies in advance – there will be a significant increase of animal photography from here on in.

WORKSanta, 'Cause

School continues in its oddness and wildly bipolar energy levels. Christmas Eve brought the Kang’s Christmas Party; a day devoid of anything resembling work, in favour of chasing sugar-crazed children around the school in full Santa Claus regalia. I have only myself to blame: not twelve hours previously, I made the fate-tempting mistake of saying to Meg, ‘I really, really hope they don’t make me wear a bloody Santa costume’. The fat-man trousers fit nicely, which was an added ego-crushing bonus.

PLAYTrees Lining Snow

For our treasured five days’ holiday, Meg and I had managed to reach Christmas Day itself without forming anything in the way of Holiday Plans. We eventually settled on an expedition to the as-yet undiscovered Songnisan National Park, bundling our wonky-tailed housemate off to fantastic dogsitter Bernadette en-route.

Barking Up The TreeSongnisan was a true revelation on many levels. Firstly, the weather was, for the most part, gloriously sky-blue. Any deviation from such weather was entirely in the form of heavy snowfall, resulting in a staggeringly beautiful mountainscape and real Isolated Mountain Town feel to the place. Finally – and perhaps most fantastically: not a soul could be heard. Since our arrival in Korea, we haven’t experienced anything so aweseomely quiet – so we proceeded to do the honourable thing of seeing how many obnoxious noises we could bounce off the distant slopes.Mountain Town

We almost – but not quite – managed to get up to one of Songnisan’s peaks before realising how laughably unprepared we actually were for the journey. As it transpires, snow + cold weather = ice, and ice + hill = hilarious scenes of foreigners grasping hold of any protruding foliage in a vain attempt to escape death. Next time we will bring crampons, partially so Meg can laugh at the word.

FESTIVE FESTIVITIESOur Card This Year...

Before leaving England, we resigned ourselves to the prospect of a quiet, potentially sad Christmas; we’ve never spent one on our own, and I was slightly worried about how the day would feel. I hadn’t taken into account The Americans, however.Let's Make A Noise Now

A short-ish while before Christmas itself, we all decided that one big, disorganised, obscene, alcoholic occasion would be infinitely superior to three or four sad alcoholic ones. Presents were planned, stockings were stocked and dinner (we thought) was doomed with only two hob-rings to cook for four.

It was a triumph anyway.

It was a triumph anyway.

Or, indeed, five, as we welcome the newest initiate to Team Obnoxious: Shawn Hewitt, fellow airman of Aaron’s and talented lyre bird of any offensive noises thrown at him. Never before have I seen a man so quickly accept insanity and bypass the usual social insecurities which precede it. We were proud.

True Love And ShawnNow, in England we’re a reserved lot. Christmas presents among friends – if, indeed, any – are usually a matter of ‘buying a drink’ or ‘getting a silly joke toy’, or ‘forgetting’ etc. etc. This Christmas, however, a certain amount of pre-planning went into it. So much so that, between our small group, both myself and Hailey each got an Xbox, Aaron got a THX speaker system which reduces sperm count in a three-metre radius and Meg got her very own fitness pole for Korea. Hooray for capitalism, and Merry Christmas to all.Sitting Patiently

I’m unsure if a belated New Year’s Resolution counts, but mine concerns the semi-regular maintenance of this here blog. I realise that such a resolution, including the acknowledgement of the resolution itself, is riddled with noncommitment and nonspecifics. An excellent start.

Night WalkAlso, our adored petit chien just stole practically an entire chicken breast from Meg’s plate without alerting either of us. We don’t know if we should chastise or compliment her.