Sunday, May 31, 2009

Map: Not To Scale

My first weekend out of Suwon to a rugby tournament in Gumi turned into quite the adventure- which began when we got our train tickets from Suwon station and hopped on what we thought was the train to Gumi before being told it was in fact the wrong train.
The conductor was very helpful and said we needed to get off two stations down and RUN from platform 6 to platform 2 - we had five minutes to do so. Adrenaline was pumping as we rushed up an Everest of stairs with legs, hearts, eyes burning and getting to the top,running in circles a little before finding the right platform and being told we'd missed the train by about 10 minutes. And by some small miracle the next was delayed by 7 so we had enough time to exchange our tickets (and get an upgrade to first class, yuss) before we were finally on our way to Gumi.
It was great to finally see some countryside outside Seoul and it looked just as I'd imagined Korea, verdant bushclad hills and sinuous riverbeds. At times it looked like New Zealand, a little like Fiordland, a little like the McKenzie Country, but there was an "air" of Asia about it. Pretty cool.
After about 2 hours on the train we made it to Gumi. We'd been given a map to get to the soccer fields where the rugby tournament was being held, and had been specifically told it was not to scale.
We were intending to get a cab but suddenly on the map we'd walked half the way to the field and as it was such a beautiful day, we decided it was totally reasonable for us to walk. And walk we did... merrily down highways, then streets, then dusty roads, until we had walked all the way out of the city and were still only barely further on the map.
It was an amazing walk, the countryside was beautiful, it was so nice to be surrounded by mountains and rice paddys and farmland. It wasn't until we realised we'd been walking for over an hour and had little to no idea where we were that we started wondering how much further the fields actually were.
We passed a dog farm (heartbreaking, sounded like the SPCA, but we knew these dogs were not going to loving homes) which was on the map and eventually turned onto a semi-main road, off this dusty track we'd been on.
And this amazing Korean farmer stopped and picked us up with his ute and gave us a lift to the fields! It was the best, and saved us much much more walking.
The rest of the day was spent soaking up the sun, watching rugby (I love that I lived in NZ for 24 years and never went to a rugby game, been in Korea 5 weeks and that's where I was) and bush whacking to find places to pee (I avoided the longdrop toilet all day after the descriptions of the smells)
Home to our motel for showers before heading to a westerner bar for the most delicious burgers known to man and a shoeless danceoff - my favourite kind!
Here's a photo essay which is- as always - out of order

Laz and Sanders and the Chicken Dance, naturally

Dancing barefoot in Korea - scandallous

Kathleen and her best friend Cass

Laz, Sanders, Sara and I in the pickup

"We're on the road to nowhere"

On the wrong train

At some point on our long long walk, having a wee rest

So turns out you CAN get burnt through smog and ozone - who knew. So I embraced my newfound Korean-ness and whipped out my umbrella (ella-ella, eh, eh, eh) to shelter from the sun.

Back on the ute, happiness personified.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tomorrow, When the War Began

Feeling slightly uneasy all the time at the moment due to the rogue bullet of a leader not all that far north. I really hope it's all just a bluff but you never can tell and I have never been so close to possible war in all my life.
And almost the scariest bit is all the news here is in Korean and I didn't even know about the tests until I spoke to my sister back home - anything could happen here and I'd be none the wiser.
Since I arrived there have been massive loud speedy fighter jets flying around overhead, freaked me at first but got used to them but in the last two days I have seen an unbelievable increase in the number. Noone around me seems all that phased but I just feel slightly unsettled and really hope a resolution is met quickly and without bloodshed.
Apparently if the worst did happen the US army would round us up and get us out, which is reassuring but still think I would prefer to stay here happy and continue my lovely new pretend life (this is not the real world. It is some random parallel universe where everyone acts like hyperboles of themselves back home, everyone earns the same and does the same job and things are ridiculously cheap, the money is pretend and time moves in fast forward)

Anyway, today was our first field trip with the school, we went to an arboretum which was fun despite the fact the arboretum was pretty small and we walked around it twice in a very short space of time. We had a picnic - picnic food here is gimbap, Korean sushi, but they brought us foreigners some sammies, and the kids kept feeding us all their delicious treats - and played some games and despite the following photos, where most of the kids do not smile (as is the style of Korean photos in general I think) a good time was had by all.
This is Brandt - of the "I love your mouth" card - bless him but he is a weirdo, him and another kid spent so long trying to pick me up by my legs today until he declared I was "heavy teacher" - well yes, you're 7 and I obviously weigh more than two of you.

co-worker Carp using a child as a weightlifting machine, as you do

This is the prettiest photo I have ever seen of Abigail, who usually squints, winks and makes herself look very unusual in all photos.
My school - aren't they a happy looking bunch! But the cuteness, oh, the cuteness

Me with Kenny, who has a misshapen, slightly cone head.

Kai and Sam in full flight playing a game

LOVE this photo - William is midair! And I love how all the kids are running in across the fields, it's so the Sound of Music!

Sophie Teacher and her class enjoying some gimbap (which last week I started singing to the kids in the tune of "Mmmbop" and it seems to have stuck, they ask me to sing it a lot - despite it really being a song with one word)
Who's sick of photos of my classes yet?! I honestly can see why parents take so many of their kids, it's hard not to.
But the creepiest thing of the day were we must have been right by an airbase because the number of jets was phenomenal, they were constant, and low flying and unbearably loud (cue lots of squealing from the kiddies) and I had a moment where I felt like we were in a natural disaster/war movie, happy school playing in a field before being bombed to smithereens. Unsettling for sure.

Feeling nibbled at Dr Fish

The absolute terror at the thought of having small fish eat my flesh didn't seem to be enough to hold back the peer pressure of being taken to Doctor Fish in Seoul. For those who don't know, these wee piranaha-types love nothing more than to nibble away at your skin, taking off layers of dead skin and leaving things lovely and smooth after.
My first encounter was at an aquarium where you put your hand into a tank of them - these were the size of whitebait and I couldn't handle it, but besides intentionally eating dog meat, I'm prepared to do almost anything once while I'm here so away we went to this lovely looking coffee shop, where we paid about $5 for a cup of tea and $2 for the Dr Fish.
Here's a lovely view of some latching on to Kathleen's leg (they seemed to prefer that to her feet, understandably)

Pretty gross right? So we got our feet cleaned then plonked them straight into this little foot spa brimming with fish which I had expected to be itsy bitsy but were actually the size of regular goldfish - and there was another tank with larger ones too!

The first five minutes I could not control myself, I had to cover my mouth so as not to scream and scare off the other people in the cafe, and it was the most unpleasant ticklish experience of my life. I was prepared to pull out and write it off but I persevered and after that it was actually rather nice! After about 10 minutes I was actually able to handle looking into the tank and seeing why my feet were so damn ticklish.

Happier than the start

Just prior to the first plunge, the grossest bit was watching their little mouths hit the surface of the water almost begging you to give them some grotty dead skin to live on.

Yes, all these photos are backward - this is Laura in a fit of laughter at the beginning.
Afterward my feet were definitely improved and I almost wish I had a tank to keep them looking nice everyday - living in jandals does not make for pretty toes (nor does having my feet)Apparently you can also do full body, I don't know if I am ready for that though.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Korean Birthday Party

Yesterday I experienced my first Korean birthday party at school. They combined all the kids who are having birthday in the next couple of months into one birthday extravaganza. There were the usual suspects - pretty party dresses, birthday cake and whole lot of food for the children to get hyped up on sugar on - and the less usual - with kisses from their crushes. If my five-year-old self had had to do that (which would have been from the dashing Phillip from the Philippines) I would have freaked out. They start 'em young in Korea however.

This is Julie receiving some lipstick - I assume in case she was requested to pucker up from one of the birthday children.

This is Abigail and Sam. At six-years-old, they have found each other - some people look their whole lifetime for the man (slash infant boy) who wants to buy a house so he can live in it with the love of his life. But Abigail was lucky. They are engaged, and Sam actually has asked his father to buy him a house so they can live there. And doesn't she look thrilled at the prospect?! Actually, come to that, so does he.
So at this party, the birthday boy/girl picks the person to kiss them and everyone counts to five and that's how long they kiss for.

Olivia chose Ryan teacher - And I think she looked the most thrilled of any of the kids receiving their cheek pecks. Damn cute and I love Abigail laughing in the background.

These photos kinda go backwards, but this is them pretending to blow out the candles - which they had done in the seconds prior but the chief photograph taker wasn't ready and missed the magic moment.

And here are the happy birthday kiddies, Kevin, Amy, Olivia, Abigail, Andrew and Kyle, surrounded with pizza and fried chicken, deelish! prior to the kisses, they each came out in front of the table and said what they wanted to be when they grew up. There were three policemen (guess which), a singer, a cook and a nurse. Bless
I haven't quite figured out if this is a typical Korean birthday party or just what we do at ECC, but I can't wait for the next one!

Monday, May 18, 2009

On Tuesdays the animals get let out of the zoo

I am really loving my school - and the more I hear about other peoples (not allowed to sit down, not allowed to eat, not allowed to play hangman -my run-out-of-work fallback) I am more pleased with where I have ended up. The hours are awesome, start teaching at 10am and never work later than 6pm, but inbetween that I usually have several 1/2hr - 1hr breaks, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I finish about 4pm and on Fridays I don't start until midday. Can't complain. The other teachers are really nice, Sara started the same time as me which is cool and Ryan has been there for 6 months so knows the ropes, very helpful. We also have four Korean teachers, who all teach English too and I really like them (one less so, but she was very nice to me today so I'm hoping I've gone through my initiation with her and she'll be friendly now.. we'll see) On Tuesdays at lunchtime we get to take the kinder kids outside for 15minutes. That's all the fresh air they get in a week of school - I totally took NZ school for granted! But it's fun, we usually play duck duck goose (they have that here too!) and it tires the kids out for the afternoons, love! Here's the cuteness:

Sam, Olivia and Julie
Abigail cutting some mean shapes:

Olivia and Julie, BFF's

Sean - cutie!

-Last Friday was Teacher's Day, where kids bring their teachers presents. Because I am so new I didn't expect any but I was overwhelmed with presents! My most favourite was not the present, but the card from a boy named Brandt - it went a little something like this:
"Ms Sophie. Dear Sophie, thank you for teaching us. I love your mouth. I love you, Love Brandt"
It killed me! I love your mouth?! I can only assume he meant smile?! Very funny. Otherwise I got a whole buncha nice smelling moisturisers, body washes etc - I think they're trying to tell me I smell bad? And a fabulous towel with monkeys on it. Very cute.
-Yesterday a 6-year-old boy sat in my class singing "sexy sexy sexy" for some time - not sure whether he is aware of what it means, because he grins cheekily at everything, and he loves words with 'x's in them. Giggled inwardly though
- I also recently was marking a spelling test were several students misspelt "Counting" - most forgot the "o" - another inward giggle for that one!
- Lots of the kids are getting married, they're all engaged to each other, it's very cute, and so far I have had one marriage proposal, so I asked when we were going to get married and he said "When I am big. When I am 900 and you are zero".. I feel I may be a jilted bride.
-I've had my nose prodded and poked more times than I'd care to count, they are fascinated by its pointiness
-I have also spent a class being called fish teacher because I have big eyes - a rarity here
-A wee girl Cherry is convinced I am having a baby. On the second day she came and rubbed my belly and said "baby?" and I said "no baby" (I wanted to say food baby but I think it would get lost in translation) and then about a week ago, she did it again, and I rubbed her belly and said "baby?" and she said "Noo! No baby, you are a woman!". Bless her wee cottons, I think she's been learning about the birds and the bees at home!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A few of my favourite things

So there are a lot of differences between back home and here (as I'm sure you can imagine).. here are some of my favourites, my hates, and some very odd things


-K-Pop music - I sure didn't expect to but after a few short minutes watching the music channel on cable, I fell in love with K-Pop... Which is lucky really as they play it everywhere, all the time! Often the choruses are in English (usually Engrish) which stick in your head even if I can't understand the bulk of the songs (but they're ALWAYS about lovey) And some of the kids sing them a lot, and always know the dance moves so if I run out of work to do or am feeling lazy, I just get them to sing to me! GREAT!
-Now Bar - where all the English teachers from far and wide Yeongtong (and beyond) gather many nights of the week - Wednesdays and Fridays are huge.. Spent a lot of time there already, and I think the best thing about it is the owner Mrs C - she is amazing, super sweet and nice and she feeds us late at night (mostly so we stay longer drinking Cass - terrible but cheap Korean beer). She's fabulous! Love!
-Wearing slippers at school, home, everywhere. I heart slippers, and the ones here are so cute.
-Korea's LOVE of Neon. Neon everywhere, all buzzing and bright, I love it, and it totally changes the look of the streets from day to night.
-Grilled Cheese - American style - Not Korean, but I have been shown how to make REAL American grilled cheese and I LOVE! Rachelle, you know our love for toasties at lunch time, but honestly, these are amazing! I will have to show you how one day!
-Korean Plum Wine - delicious in the park in the sun, and only about $4 for a bottle!
-Deep fried kumara from street vendor after Now Bar in the early hours - Korea's answer to the pie, way cheap and way delicious
-Meat on a stick, yum, from street vendors all over, delish
-Galbi! Korean BBQ, with a little gas bbq on your table, a plate of meat and hundreds of different side dishes. You cook the meat until you like it then wrap in lettuce leaves, so good
-Matching couple outfits. It's true, all couples in Korea have matching outfits - some as simple as matching tshirts, others far more detailed from head to toe - it's flipping cute and often hilarious. -My kids at school - SO cute, even the naughty ones (often moreso the naughty ones)
-Engrish signs - also called Kongrish here - There are subtle ones everywhere, but I heard of one in Seoul in a store apparently called "Make Yourself F*cking Beautiful". Gold.


-No soap in toilets - sometimes soap on a stick, but often absolutely nothing, very grotty
-Padded toilet seats - WTf?! So unpleasant and unnecessary
-Having to put used toilet paper in the trash rather than the toilet so it doesn't clog the drains, revolting, and very hard to remember (SO my hates have a lot to do with toilets eh!)
-Hocking/spitting everywhere you go, you hear particularly men go in for a big hock and spit on the pavement. Makes me sick up a little in my mouth everytime I see/hear it
-Kimchi. Not as bad as I thought and I may be able to get used to it, but right now I'd rather have none - definitely better headed on galbi barbecue, but blegggh (For those who don't know, kimchi is a cabbage preserve type thing with chilli paste on it)
-Korean Beer - it's like wee, watery and not nice at all, but it's cheap as (about $13 for a massive pitcher that would fill about 6 large glasses, bargain)
-People not understanding my accent/mocking me for it. First day, funny, second day marginally funny, second week, give it a fricken bone eh!

Totally unusual

-There's hardly ever toilet paper actually in a stall, you have to grab some from a big roll outside the door - and too bad if you forget. This makes no sense to me at all... You're still providing the toilet paper! What is the benefit of it being outside?!
-No rubbish bins anywhere - you actually know where there ARE rubbish bins and could tell someone to meet you beside the rubbishbin in Suwon, that's how rare they are. Instead rubbish is dropped all over the place, often resulting in huge piles of rank rubbish by the end of the day, which is always cleared away, mornings are usually rubbish free. Apparently this creates jobs for Koreans (much sought after) but is totally inefficient individually picking up each piece of rubbish with a long claw. Stupid, no?
-My shower (which is how most of them are) is just on a wall in the bathroom, no curtain or anything, so everyday everything in my bathroom gets wet from the shower and I have to wipe it all down to dry it out. Why people?!
-The obssession with whitening products for skin and being more western in general. These people are beautiful just as they are, I don't think they need to worry about this, plus surely putting bleach on your skin every day isn't a good thing?!
-Sugar in toothpaste. Defeating the point entirely
-Having to wear a hat/cap at the water park Caribbean Bay - no cap, no swim, but everyone has their hair sticking out of them anyway and I really don't understand why.

What a nice rant! xo

New friends hanging at the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon

The amazing Mrs C - delivering us late night pancakes and maple syrup

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's Blog, It's Blog, It's big, it's heavy, it's wood

Hey All! So I've been in Suwon now for almost two weeks, and it's been great so far. Everything is so different to home and yet kinda the same in funny ways. Arriving was cool, it definitely looked very different, this is a culture that has totally embraced neon - all the churches have giant neon crosses on top, and advertisements in neon cover the buildings (at least, that's what I assume they are, so far my Korean stretches to "hello", "thank you" and "awesome"... so I'm definitely going to have to fix that.
School is fun, it's hard as the kids are mostly super young (our age 5) and are at school all hours of the day so they just want to play, and it's hard to get them to focus on any work except science and art, and even then I have to do 90% of the work as it's all too hard for them and they're total perfectionists. Very cute though, and most are very smart when they actually knuckle down to work.
I was pretty lucky as I had my first three days of school followed by five days of holiday, which was because of labour day, Budda's birthday and Children's day all rolled into one. So that was cool as gave us a chance to have a look around Suwon and beyond.
A Canadian girl Sara started the same time as me, and we live next door to each other, so it's nice to have someone who's as clueless as I am. We were also lucky that the Australian teachers were replaced were hanging around for another week, so they've been introducing us to everyone and showing us around the place.
We took a trip to the Suwon fortress, which was cool but we only had a quick look around, so will have to go back there. Also went into Seoul and checked out the Namsan tower, which was amazing, very high, you take a cable car on a wire up (a little freaky) then walk up further then an elevator to the very top for a panoramic view around Seoul. It was a bit cloudy when we were there so couldn't see heaps, but at night it was beautiful, all the lights were amazing. And there was a huge fence covered in locks which people write love messages on, pretty cute!
Also went to Caribbean Bay, a huge waterpark not far from Suwon. It was a fun day, although a lot of the big slides outside weren't open yet because of the time of year, probably in a month or so we will go back and go on them.
Some very cool people here, which is making the transition a whole lot easier, and I am enjoying getting to know a whole new bunch of people - all of whom have been giving me assholes for my accent, which I'm pretty fed up of! But they should get used to it soon (I hope!) So that kinda catches up to now - this week was only 3 days too, so I am looking forward to the weekend. There's a bar everyone goes to, the lady who owns it, Mrs C, is so cool, and she lets the people she likes take over the place. She's taken a warming to Sara and I (I think helped by the fact we're New Amy and New Claire, who she loved) so heading there after work (Wednesdays and Fridays are the big nights there apparently) other than that, unsure what the weekend holds.

Mrs C - The coolest lady in town

Sara, my Canadian coworker who began the same time as me

My 'hood - downtown Yeongtong at night, gotta love all that neon!