Wednesday, 24 August 2011
As people know, I'm probably Korea's smallest fan (joint with my beloved). I don't think this is an unfair assessment as I gave this place and it's people about a million chances before I got fed up and became all bitter and twisted! It's a small miracle that I have lasted this long, and I'm not sure I'm a better person for it. You never know though, and only time will tell!
The whole year started out in the midst of hell up a mountain, in 'the Shack' in Ancheon. It's ended in Greg's one room in Buan, which I moved into in February, and comes via a frozen winter in the shack with no hot water and a frozen toilet bowl. It's not been a great year and I will certainly never return to this country (unless for like a million pounds), but hopefully it's not been all bad! I think now I've been through this I can cope with anything and it's also given me the balls (and the money) to finally do my MA after 6 years of procrastinating. It's also got me a fab boyfriend for the long term, and hopefully we can get through the rest of our lives now we've got through Korea! So, it's not been ALL bad! However, just because I'm a bitch, here's the list of things I'm definitely NOT going to miss!
1. The people (well 99% of them). I will not miss being glared at, gurned at, pointed at or yelled at when I am just going about the street doing my business.
2. People moving on the subway when I sit down like I have the plague.
3. The weather - whatever they tell you, this country doesn't have 4 seasons, it has 2 - FREEZING and BOILING :(
4. The job - my kids were mostly sweet but had no English level, and teaching them without any support was a nightmare!
5.BORSTAL - these kids were not sweet, and the teachers were a pair of bastards!
6. living in squalor not of my own making. (both in Ancheon and Buan). Sleeping against a wall for six months is not my idea of fun.
7. Having to smile when all I want to do is cry, and lying about my feelings for Korea, so I don't offend these Koreans.
8. The FOOD - it's dire, it smells funny, it's still alive, it's just gross and it makes me sick!
9. Having people take my hard earned money off me for absolutely no reason!
10. Having people tell me I'm wrong, when I'm soo right, and me having to smile and except it!
Ah, that feels better, anyway - farewell Korea and farewell blog, it's time for Suffolk and London and hopefully peace of mind - go England, I'll never criticise you again!!!
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
After a long flight from Korea for me, and an even longer 17 hour flight from the UK for Mags, we arrived at KL airport. on the Sunday. I had gone to the cheapo Air Asia terminal and Mags had flown to the nice one and my flight got in 5 hours before hers so I got to know the couches at the airport, which were surprisingly comfy - take note Heathrow!! We were soon on our way back to the crappy low cost terminal and on to Kuching in Borneo!! Mags was v hardcore and didn't actually die on the plane, I remember my first long haul flight and it was a massive disaster!!
After lots of flying and a loooong taxi drive, we arrived at the first centre of our 3 centre holiday (yes we are that posh!), the Damai Beach resort. It was in the middle of nowhere, about 40 minutes from Kuching, but it was perfect for us as we just wanted time to relax, unwind and get over jetlag! It also had a great pool and was right at the edge of the rainforest and so we got the authentic Borneo experience! We settled into the hotel and Mags was shocked to learn that my lifestyle of starvation in Korea had led me to be unable to consume a full meal - sad times! This was definitely rectified later in the holiday.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
1 - The weather. In Singapore it's hot but it's coastal so there's a cooling breeze. The sun doesn't melt your skin and the humidity doesn't sap you of all your energy. Buan is also apparently coastal but you wouldn't know it from the lack of any fresh air whatsoever.
2 - No hags. Old women in Singapore just look like old women. Old women in Korea look like gurning, sour-faced, nasty hags with their horrible clothes, stupid haircuts and evil faces. And the old women in Singapore just go about their business. The old women in Korea make it their business to disrupt your business by pushing you, shouting at you, loudly talking about you and pointing at you and just blocking the pavement.
3 - Decent public transport. The MRT system is a million times better than the joke that is Seoul Metro. It's actually possible to transfer from one line to another without walking for about 3 hours through a never-ending underground shopping mall/station. What's more, ever MRT platform has escalators. Not once did I have to struggle up stairs with my suitcase. Korea could learn a lot from Singaporean public transport.
4 - People actually have manners. When the subway train stops, passengers actually stand aside and let people alight from the train before getting on. And they queue to do this too, unlike in Korea where everyone pushes and shoves as though the building is on fire and they have to fight their way onto the train or they'll die. Similarly, if you walk along the street in Singapore, people don't barge into you or try to run you down with mopeds. And if someone does bump into you, they apologise instead of hissing or carrying on regardless like rude Koreans.
5 - The food. People in Singapore actually eat real food, not foul-tasting muck like the idiots in Korea. There's western food, Malay food, Japanese food, Cantonese food, Thai food, Indian food, every kind of food you can think of (I even saw a Korean restaurant, although God knows why). And it's all cheap and delicious. Korea, take note.
6 - Things to do. In Korea there's nothing to do. There's hardly any historic sights to visit because the Japanese burned them all down and the reconstructions that the Koreans have built are sterile, boring and aimed squarely at the Korean audience. Plus everything looks the same. In Singapore there's great shopping malls (that sell clothes that fit real people and that don't look like they've been stolen from the 1970's), lots of historic visitor attractions that are actually interesting and well-presented, wonderful beaches where people are left to get on with having fun instead of being herded around by fascist Korean lifeguards with ridiculous uniforms and whistles, trying to nanny everyone and prevent them from going in the water, fantastic museums (interestingly, the Asian Civilisations Museum highlighted the great civilisations of Asia, taking in Borneo, Java, China, India, the Middle East, Japan, even Papua New Guinea. Everywhere except Korea. Funny that!), a world-class theme park (Everland is NOT a world-class theme park, despite what brainwashed, nationalistic Koreans say), a world-class zoo that doesn't abuse and mistreat animals by shoving them into completely unsuitable and tiny cages then letting different species mix and kill each other, and excellent public transport to take you between all these sights.
7 - It's a cultural melting pot. People in Singapore come from diverse backgrounds. Chinese, Malay, Indians and Europeans all make up significant proportions of the population and yet they're all united by a genuine pride in and love for Singapore. There's mutual respect between all the cultures and backgrounds and, having attended the National Day celebrations, it seems that everyone really buys into the whole concept of Singapore. Koreans buy into the concept of Korea too, but unlike in Singapore, where a pride in their country means they want to show you it's best side, in Korea this manifests itself as an aggressive racist, ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic loathing of anyone and everyone who isn't Korean (especially Japanese, Indians and Africans). Not that the UK is much better. We're not racist or nationalistic like Koreans but we're not proud and patriotic like Singaporeans either. We're just disinterested, unenthusiastic and completely apathetic. Koreans might be horrible and racist, but at least they have a cultural identity.
8 - Matching Couples. Matching couples are one of the three things I actually like about Korea (along with sharing food and taking a number in the cinema queue). However, Singapore is full of matching couples too, proving that it's an Asian thing, not a Korean thing. Hopefully it'll be a British thing soon too as I intend to take the concept back home with me.
9 - Wireless Internet. Korea might have the fastest internet in the world (not in Jeollabuk hole though) but they have some weird, ridiculous aversion to providing it in the home. Whilst wireless comes as standard in the technologically backwards UK, super-advanced Korea makes me connect with an ethernet cable. And since the Korean ethernet cables are so cheap and crappy, they bend and break all too often, slowing my internet down to an intermittent snail's pace. Thankfully Singapore realises the benefit of wireless internet and it comes as standard there too.
10 - Architecture. Korean architecture is samey, boring and, disturbingly, much of it looks like it's been borrowed (or should I say stolen since intellectual property is a foreign concept in Korea and everything is stolen) from the 80's USSR. The stark, totalitarian looking apartment blocks that blight the skyline of every Korean city are a horrible sight. And all the shops and commercial buildings also seem to be built to some kind of identikit, cookie-cutter design that allows the building to be thrown up the quickest amount of time possible but pays no heed to the architectural impact on the surroundings or to the quality of the building, which will inevitably be torn down and replaced by another samey-looking replacement in 10 years time. It's surprising because some of the historic Korean architecture is actually really impressive. I think the curved roof style traditional Korean buildings are actually much more beautiful than comparable Chinese or Japanese architecture but Koreans have clearly lost their way. In contrast, Singapore is an eclectic mix of traditional Colonial-style buildings, restored Victorian commercial buildings and gentrified warehouses, modern, gleaming, unique skyscrapers and architecture that's clearly influenced by the many ethnic groups living in the city - Hindu and Chinese temples, Muslim madrassas and so on. Walking around Singapore is a feast for the eyes. Walking around Buan is like taking a walk through a lego town (or a wade through a swamp).
Thursday, 4 August 2011
The highlight of the camp was a visit today to the Buan Celadon Museum. Celadon is a pretty green clay/pottery thing that they've got going on here in Korea. It's actually really nice (relatively speaking - everything here is horrible so anything that's slightly less than horrible is really nice by comparison) but it certainly doesn't merit a whole museum dedicated to it. And what a museum this was. The building was MASSIVE and had multiple galleries and exhibition halls. The architecture of the building was actually the most impressive part of the museum to me, although the effect was somewhat ruined by the fibreglass rocks containing hidden speakers that were blasting out western pop songs strategically placed around the building.
Sadly, the contents of the building were predictably awful. There was a really high quality 4d cinema attraction in the "Special Images Room". Clearly no-one ever visits this museum (even Koreans aren't that stupid) so the cinema was looking virtually unused. The animation was really high-quality but the "story" was bizarre. It featured a young Korean boy who has weird fantasy dreams about floating through space and across fields and lakes in a giant celadon vase. The next scene cut to the boy on a ship when some Japanese pirates came and set fire to the ship and killed all his friends with burning arrows. And then it ended. I'm not sure what the message was other than "JAPAN = EVIL" or "CELADON = MAGICAL FANTASY JOURNEY". Weird.
After the special images room, I moved to the "Room of Experiencing Celadon" which had such wonderfully-named attractions as "Feel a Celadon", which involved sticking your hand in a hole and feeling bits of pottery, "Celadon Brain Survival Game", which was some kind of interactive celadon quiz and "Hand Stamp a Celadon" where you put a piece of paper under an ink stamp and stamp it. Koreans go wild for stamping things.
Upstairs there was gallery after gallery of samey-looking green pots and plates and a room full of celadon fish (Koreans also go wild for fish).
Unfortunately the "Celadon Experience Centre" (what's the difference between a Celadon Experience Centre and a Room of Experiencing Celadon? - looks like I'll never know now) was closed so I didn't get to experience even more celadon but oh well! I can always caress Kathy's celadon vase if I need a celadon fix in the future.
Monday, 18 July 2011
One of the weirdest things we have come across in Korea is the Korean's obsession with mouldy and rotting fruit. It's very very odd but Koreans seem to leave the fruit they buy until it is mouldy and falling apart and then eat it! Even worse, they try to get us to do the same! I had been offered mouldy fruit a few times at work, but thought nothing of it - thinking it was out of date (unbeknown to the provider). Poor Greg got a much worse deal! His lovely friend and English conversation partner, Won Chul, often bestows gifts on him. Sometimes they are useful - towels and ramyeon and sometimes they are just plain weird! In the spring, he gave Greg Persimmons every week. Now, we don't like most fruit so we never ate the permissions. Greg still kept turning up with persimmons week after week and to our horror we realised they were getting softer and softer and blacker and blacker. We kept just ignoring them and leaving them around the flat (as you do) but one day to our horror one just collapsed in Greg's hand. Unluckily for me he was chasing me with it at the time, so we ended up with Persimmon all over us, the table, the door and the bathroom! We received even MORE persimmons from Won Chul over the next few weeks unti Greg couldn't actually carry them. I think it is the grossest thing I've ever seen:
|Ridiculous indoor shoe/hygiene fashion|
|These cats just weren't arsed!|
The only highlight of the experience was that we got to touch a hairless (Sphinx) cat for the first time. It was a tiny kitten and was being manhandled by this horrid couple next to us. Luckily it escaped to Greg (he is an animal person after all) and also came to me - willingly - for a stroke. I am totally freaked out by these hairless cats usually but this one was so small and cute and weirdly felt like velvet! We hung out for a bit and then it managed to escape into a hole - go tiny hairless cat! Hopefully it got some peace for the rest of the day!
|Cute hairless cat!|
|Greg rocks the rocking chair before we escape the cat cafe!|
We also went on our favourite ride - the Flamingo Boats (it's our bird) and on lots of roller coasters that made me feel sick, due to the lack of queuing my tummy didn't have time to fix itself after each ride!
We even saw a crazy Korean show, which was using a Goofy rip-off to promote litter collection (I think!) What more could you ask for?
|Getting down with 'Goofy'|
Sunday, 26 June 2011
This weekend we were in Gwangju, and decided to buy a couple of bottles of wine and watch a film in the room (we really are the last of the big spenders) as there was nothing good on at the cinema. As we have had bad experiences in the past with wine - ie it's shit - we decided to just buy wine that we had tasted in the supermarket and liked. We even brought our corkscrew - how's that for preparation?! Luckily there were 2 nice bottles of wine to be tasted in the shop and we liked them both so decided to treat ourselves and have 2 bottles. The red bottle was a screw top, the white was a cork. The lovely assistant even gave us a free pourer and corkscrew - things couldn't be better!
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Amongst the advertising slogans that my students came up with were the naively optimistic "Buan: the new Seoul", the wildly ridiculous "Buan City of Heaven" and the plagiaristic "Buan - the Windy City", which ignores the facts that Buan isn't a city and that Chicago's already claimed that one. Other gems included "Buan - You Raise Me Up" and my own favourite, "Cow Dung Small in Buan" which was accompanied by a logo of a cow defecating bright red faeces in a field. Amongst the better posters was one which said "Seoul has smoke, Buan has fresh air and fish" which is rather accurate.
Meanwhile, one of my students seems to think that Spongebob lives in Buan, one chose Home Mart (a sub-standard supermarket) as the touristic highlight of the town and another chose Lotteria (sub-standard burger restaurant) to highlight the reasons for visiting Buan.
Days like this are what make teaching bearable.
Sunday, 19 June 2011
[Katherine]: When we were in Busan 3 weeks ago, we were walking on the beach at night and a group of 5 Korean teenage boys came running up to us shouting, 'Best Ugly! Best Ugly!' At first I was massively offended, and about to kick their arses, when I realised what they were actually saying, they wanted me to choose who was the ugliest out of their group of friends - random! It was a dilemma, as they were all pretty ugly, so in the end I took the cowards way out and chose the lad who was being pointed at by his friend. Upon hearing my decision the boys screamed and grabbed the 'Best Ugly' and chucked him in the FREEZING cold sea! We applauded at a job well done. Random times but very satisfying - ah, to be a teenager again!
Thursday, 16 June 2011
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
I knew at some stage in my Korean journey I would have to get a haircut. Its a pet hate of mine, even at the best of times - the awkward silences, having to look at my squint in a mirror for an extended period of time and having to put on a fixed grin and answer inane questions about imaginary holidays (I make them up, it amuses me!). I thought maybe having my hair cut in Korea would be the answer - they can't speak English! (Well, not if my students are anything to go by!)
My first haircut in Korea was in the TESCO spin off - Homeplus (see earlier blog entries). I thought it was a proper bargain at 7.50 pounds for a cut, and I didn't have to talk to anyone! Plus, Korean hairdressers usually have computers in them so you can go online while you wait for Greg to have his haircut (yes, we are the type of people to get our hair cut together!).
After moving to Buan, and becoming more confident in our surroundings we decided to try out the 'local' hair salon, as recommended to us by another native teacher. I was terrified that they would gurn at us and throw us out of their shop as everyone in Buan seems to hate us, so clinging to Greg for moral support we went to the salon. However, we couldn't have been more wrong - they were super overly friendly and charged us 4.50 for the cut! It was great! The only negative was that my hairdresser didn't speak English but kept trying to and speaking to me in Korean instead, cue lots of me waving my arms and going 'sorry, sorry' and lots of awkward silences. However, I would rather pay 4.50 for an awkward silence than 40 quid - bargain!
Last week, due to the intense heat which now beats down and blights our lives in Korea, I decided it was time to chop some of my hair off - plus I had been Chief Bridesmaid of the year so didn't need to grow my hair for a suitable wedding 'do. Again, we braved the Buan hairdressers. Unfortunately, this time it didn't go so well. We both had our hair cut by the owner of the Salon, who can speak enough English to talk but not enough to understand/properly communicate! So, she spent the whole time saying to me that brown hair was 'very very lovely' asking me if I'd married Prince William and expressing her shock that I was not married. She harassed Greg with the same marriage questions and many other things. For both of us she reserved the weirdest sales pitch ever! I'm used to hairdressers trying to flog me overpriced tat but have never received the Korean/English sales pitch before, which involved her waving a bottle and tub of hair gel in our faces, telling us it was a 'spa', it would 'cool us down' and generally rubbing it in to our scalps and repeating the same words over and over again. It was pretty intense and scary! Not a good thing but we survived, and vowed to never return! - the hair cut was a fiver this time and despite my initial hatred of it, it has grown on me. Still, back to Homeplus next time for some awkward silence!
Thursday, 9 June 2011
|Amazing comfy bed|
Speaking of mould, when I packed my suitcase for Busan I discovered that a pair of my shoes have turned rusty and mouldy from the air in our disgusting apartment. Nasty!
|Mouldy and rusty shoes|
We set off early on Saturday morning to ensure we'd arrive in Busan by lunchtime. We'd booked bus tickets the night before because we expected the bus to be busy. As usual, buying the tickets involved lots of pushing, shoving and queue jumping by rude Koreans.
We arrived in Busan at lunchtime and took the subway to Haeundae and checked into the Free Motel. Whilst not as good as the Carlton in Jeonju (or our other favourites, the Beast Motel in Jeonju and the A Motel in Gwangjui), the Free Motel was still nice. It had a decent shower and a jacuzzi bath which I flooded the bathroom with twice. And the price was excellent compared to other motels in Haeundae. And just in case we forgot that this was still a love motel, the computer desktop was suitably porny.
|Free Motel jacuzzi|
|Porny computer desktop|
The bank holiday weekend co-incided with the Haeundae Sand Festival. Woo! Needless to say, as with most things in Korea, it was rubbish. The sand sculptures were pretty good but the "parade" and "fireworks" were poor to non-existent and the other "entertainment" (eg the 'running with webbed feet race') were typically Korean and not very entertaining. But the cocktails were cheap and the food was good so there wasn't too much to complain about.
|on the beach|
|Korean dressed as a cigarette as part of an anti-smoking campaign|
The beach was absolutely packed. It was busy when we went in September but back then it was mainly westerners, presumably because Koreans were busy celebrating Chuseok with their families. This time, however, Koreans were well represented on the sand, alongside what looked like most of the ESL teachers in Korea.
We (briefly) braved the freezing waters on Saturday before going for food and cocktails, followed by Katherine dancing on the beach.
|Maybe paddling in the dark wasn't such a great idea|
When we got back to the Free Motel on Saturday night, Kathy was desperate for the toilet. We raced up to the 8th floor and put the key in the lock, only for the lock and the entire door handle to come off in my hand. Unfortunately, the woman at reception didn't speak any English and we've been too lazy to learn any Korean (in any case, even if we had learnt the basics, I doubt it would have covered "the door handle has come off in my hand") so there was a lot of awkward giggling from the woman, gesturing from me and leg-crossing from Katherine. Eventually, the woman invited us to sit in her private quarters whilst we waited for a joiner to come and change the locks. This was the first, and I expect the only time that we'll step beyond the tiny glass reception hatch and into a Korean love motel living area.
On Sunday, we discovered a new tv show, optimistically titled 'Korea's Got Talent' (it doesn't). It's exactly the same format as Britain's Got Talent and even has a Korean Ant and Dec presenting it. Weird.
|Korean Ant and Dec|
|No, it doesn't!|
All in all we had a great time in Busan, despite the horrible journey there and back, the sunburn, the crappy Sand Festival and the broken love motel door handle. Haeundae is a great place (for Korea) but it's not a patch on Blackpool.
|I make friends with a bottle of soju|
|Katherine does likewise|