Sunday, 26 June 2011

What a Corker (not!)

This blog post is verrrryyyy old - I had to wait for photos!!

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!

Later on, we decided to have some white and went to remove the cork. Neither of us are particular adept at this, but we know how to get a cork out of the bottle... or so we thought! After about 20 minutes trying to open the bottle, cork was flying everywhere (all over the hotel room floor and floating in the wine bottle), and glass was also everywhere (the brim of the bottle had smashed too), but try as we might, we couldn't open the thing! I wanted to admit defeat and die, but Greg decided we should take it back to the shop and try and swap it for a new one. I thought this was a stupid idea as 1) We didn't have a receipt and 2) It was obvious that we had corked and pounded the bottle to oblivion. Greg, however, took the approach that this is Korea and so anything goes.
Smashed bottle top and really dirty floor!

Of course he was right and an hour later we were stood at the EMart customer service desk, waving a bottle of broken wine at them and yelling 'broken, broken'. This was preceeded by me having a face off with a Korean kid in a trolley who was looking at me funny (this place really does drive you INSANE!). The staff clearly thought we were mental but for some reason gave us a new bottle anyway - victory! (or so we thought).

Back at the hotel, we started again, we even got advice from the internet of the exact right way to remove the cork (the same way we had practiced earlier). Unfortunately, Korea/the World hates us and the cork started to crumble again, and again! I gave up shortly afterwards but Greg was hacking the cork with various corkscrews/knifes and was looking like he would fight it to the death! Guttingly the cork won and whilst Greg did get wine to come out, it was just a tiny bit of wine amongst a sea of corkage! In the end I made him give up and we threw the lovely wine into the stupid bin - we were gutted. Greg wanted to go back for a third time but I didn't, so that was that. I didn't know whether we were the blame or the wine, or a bit of both, but I like to think it was the wine.

Moral of the Story - Don't buy corked wine in Korea if you are a pair of unlucky buggers who do not work in a restaurant or something!


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

"Buan: the new Seoul"

[Greg]:  Today I taught a lesson on advertising.  I had my 1st and 2nd grade students create a poster advertising Buan - they had to create a logo and an English slogan extolling the virtues of this awful hole.  Some of my students have genuine artisitic talent.  And lots of them have a woefully misguided view of their hometown.

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

Best Ugly

Random aside blog post.

[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

Discount, Bargain or Sale?

We went to Gwangju last weekend.  Normally in Gwangju we visit Emart because it's next to the bus terminal but Kathy needed cornflakes so we decided to visit Homeplus (Tesco).
There's always good discounts and special offers at Homeplus and this time we were pleased to find out that the cornflakes and Coca Cola had big markdowns.  
Stupidly, we decided to use the self-service tills to checkout and later that afternoon as we sat in the Homeplus McDonalds (woo!) we discovered that we hadn't got our discounts.  Enraged at yet another slap in the face from Korea, we marched to the customer service desk, took a number and sat down waiting to be called, quietly seething.  Eventually we were called up and tried to explain to the customer service woman what had happened.  Once again our complete lack of Korean proved a major stumbling block.  After about 5 minutes of trying to explain using gestures, I got a pen and wrote down "50%", hoping that she'd understand, but once again we were met with "blah blah Korean blah blah family card blah blah blah".  By this point, we were both ready to explode at the perceived injustice of this faceless corporation stealing our 7,000 won (about 3 pounds 50 pence) discount when, as if by magic, it dawned on us both what the woman had been explaining for the last 7 or 8 minutes - that you need to be a family card holder to get the discount.  The shame!  The embarrassment!  That'll teach us not to learn any Korean!  Fortunately, the woman didn't hold our chippy foreigner thing against us and gave us the discount anyway and signed us up for the family card but we're now so shame-faced that we'll probably never set foot inside Gwangju Homeplus again.   

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Cheap (if weird) haircuts - Buan Stylee

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


[Greg]:  Last Monday was a public holiday (Memorial Day) so we decided to take advantage and spend a long weekend in Busan, the second largest city in Korea.  We've been to Busan once before, during our Chuseok mega trip in September and we really liked it.  Unfortunately, it's not easy to get to Busan from Jeolla buk hole where we live.  There's no direct buses from Buan so we had to go via the worst city on Earth, Jeonju.  On the plus side, this did mean we could spend Friday night in the Carlton Motel, probably our favourite Korean love motel.  It's got massage chairs, a 2 person jacuzzi, an in-room sauna, an amazing shower and the comfiest bed in the world (or maybe we're just easily pleased since we normally sleep in a springy, broken oversized single bed in our mouldy apartment).

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

Not impressed

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

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Korean Restaurant Experience - Part 3

[Katherine]: What Greg has neglected to tell you is that he told the Koreans my nickname was 'Skunky' first, hence they gave me the nickname 'Skunk'. The Koreans gave Greg the nickname, 'The Gentleman' all by themselves - grrr!!

(Ok -end of domestic!)

The Korean Restaurant Experience (part 2)

[Greg]:  What Katherine neglected to mention is that our Korean friends were talking about nicknames with us.  We had Pig, Mouse, Monkey etc.  They asked us what our nicknames were and I told them that I don't have one, so they nicknamed me 'The Gentleman'.  They than began calling Katherine and I 'The Gentleman' and 'The Skunk' for the rest of the evening.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Floored - The Korean Restaurant Experience!

[Katherine]: In a previous life I had no aching joints, back or general old lady style hobbling issues and would have been completely able to handle the Korean dining experience - alas that is no more, so when I go out for a meal in a traditional Korean restaurant it's always a bit of a challenge! I'm practically crippled anyway and sitting on a wooden floor for 2 hours kind of makes me actually unable to move - one of these days I'll be carted off in a stretcher!

Before I came to Korea I knew that people in the East (and I'm talking about Japan as I didn't know dot about Korea before I started applying to work here) ate on the floor and everything, but I must admit I thought it was a tradition and was only done on special occassions! Obviously, that was very naive of me (to be fair this whole year has displayed how important RESEARCH is when embarking on life changing journeys) and it's a culture that's very alive and well. It's perfectly normal here to just sit on the floor and have no couches in the front room or dining table in the kitchen. I'm not judging that -it's just it hurts my old lady bones so bad! The worst thing is, as Koreans are all super flexible (being used to sitting like this all their lives), I am always completely shamed by the old ajummas and ajoshis who can sit on the floor with their legs crossed behind their heads!!

Due to the fact that we don't like Korea food, Greg and I don't eat in Korean restaurants very often, but this week we were invited out for 'toasted duck' (duck barbeque) by Greg's friend and English Conversation partner Won Chul and his wife and friends. Won Chul is a nice guy and we didn't want to be rude and turn down a dinner invitation, plus we really like duck and with a bbq you don't have to put all the weird sauce on the food. Koreans eat A LOT and there are always about 30 side dishes with every meal. I usually stick to salad, corn and mushrooms and avoid the dead/live squid, fish eyes and various other treats! The Koreans we went with were very friendly and attended to our every whim - getting me and Greg forks despite the shame I'm sure it brought in the restaurant community!

As predicted, the restaurant was a floor sitter, but we got a private room and it was quite nice. I had 3 shots of soju, to be polite of course! Unfortunately, this has led Won Chul to believe that I am some kind of demon alkie so that's not good - clearly he never saw what I used to put away on a night out in Oldham/Lancaster/London! Anyway, I needed the booze to get me through 2 hours of total pain sitting on the floor of the restaurant. As always, I started off with my legs tucked under my body but within 15 minutes I had the inevitable pins and needles. So, I moved my legs to my left side for about 10 minutes until that became unbearable, then I crossed my legs for a bit and then swung around to the right side, kicking Greg in the process! This whole saga meant that there was no possible way for me to enjoy my meal as I was constantly just fidgeting, cracking bones, and being traumatised about the next possible 'leg option'. So, whilst I'm sure sitting on the floor is great for people have done it all their lives, I think I will have to pass from now on, another reason to cross eating Korean food off my, 'Why I don't eat Korean food' list!

Dog days

[Greg: ]  Last Saturday, Katherine and I went to Seoul to visit Bau Haus, a dog cafe in Hongdae.  Dog cafes (and their near relation, cat cafes) are a peculiarly Korean thing (or maybe not since I think they're found in other far Eastern countries too) where people can go and enjoy beer, coffee, kimchi etc in the company of a couple of dozen dogs.

dogs run wild

Katherine is terrified of dogs so it took a Herculean effort on my part to persuade her to go to the dog cafe.  Luckily, my nagging paid off and we finally got to play with some dogs.  I'm a massive (some might say obsessive) dog lover and ever since I've come to Korea, I've really been missing canine contact.  I sometimes skype my dogs back home but it's not the same as getting a hug from someone warm and furry (Katherine doesn't count).  So the dog cafe was right up my street. 

As with everything else in Korea, getting there didn't go smoothly.  We spent the best part of an hour wandering around Hongdae in the blazing sun and both of us were just about ready to give up and go jump under a subway train when we stumbled across the tourist information office who helpfully pointed us in the right direction. 

We were greeted at Bau Haus by a chorus of barking dogs which did nothing to help Kathy's nervous disposition.  We got a table next to the window, a little bit away from the main body of dogs, and we ordered 2 beers and some dog snacks.  Before long, a weird looking, bug-eyed dog came over and sniffed around us.  Katherine was, as you'd expect, terrified.  However, bug eyes was soon followed by an elderly red dog that looked like some kind of Spaniel/Setter cross.  It took an immediate liking to Katherine and promptly laid it's head in her lap and went to sleep.  Needless to say she was smitten and I'm happy to report that, thanks in large part to the affection of that dog, she's now a converted dog lover.  Woohoo!

bug-eyed dog
Katherine makes her first ever canine friend

We met lots of other great dogs at the dog cafe too.  There was a giant, wolf dog (brave, dog-loving Katherine played with it), a really friendly bulldog, half a dozen young Dalmatians who were incredibly curious but also rather nervous to be touched, presumably because they're so young, a funny little dog that may or may not have been a Maltese and had cotton-wool-like fur and, our favourite, a dog with a VERY long face.

fluffy dog

wolf dog

so brave!


spot the difference

loooooooong face
she's got it eating out the palm of her hand...literally
long faced dog trying to eat my shirt 

beagle mania!

We had a fantastic time at the dog cafe.  It's definitely one of the highlights of Korea, along with Lotte World and the international supermarket.  And we can't wait to go back.

see you again!

4 Seasons?

[Katherine]: This weekend officially marks the start of 'summer' in Korea. Korea is very rigid in it's use of the seasons - it has 4 - as I am constantly told by my coteachers/students. Apparently having 4 seasons is an amazing feat and Koreans are all shocked (and I think annoyed) when they find out the UK (and a hell of a lot of other countries) have four seasons too! So, June is officially the start of summer so now all my students are wearing summer dresses and telling me it's 'hot' instead of it's 'warm'. However, it's just all crap. For starters, it's been boiling since May and I even have my weird freckle/tan thing on my fact to prove it!
I'd rather talk about/ stay at this Four Seasons!
I'll let you into a little secret - Korea DOESN'T have four seasons, it has like 2 and then some weird bits imbetween! One of my coteachers even begrudingly admitted it in the car to me yesterday! SSh though, if you tell the Koreans this they will implode as everything they've based their belief system on is a sham! My coteacher says because of 'the global warmers' the winters are getting longer and colder and the summers are getting longer and hotter! Another thing to tick off on my, 'Why Korea Sucks' list!
4 Seasons - yeah right!

This year it seems that spring lasted for about 2 weeks, when the weather warmed up and I didn't have to wear my god awful puffa jacket (which made me look like that marshmellow thing from ghostbusters) anymore! The only feature of spring here seems to be that it's really windy and that we all get sick from the Yellow Dust. The dust is apparently blown to Korea from the Gobi Desert and proceeds to make ESL teachers who are too stubborn to wear that Korean wardrobe staple, the face mask, really sick and itchy. Unfortunately, the side effects of this last well into the summer and I haven't been able to sleep for weeks without scratching my eyes to death, nor can I wear contact lenses. So, I've concluded from this totally scientific evidence that spring and summer are the same thing (both yellow dusty, warm, relatively dry) and therefore the Koreans are wrong and their seasons are wrong and I hate them!! I love summer in the UK (because it lasts for about a week and hits a max of 25 degrees) but here it's just horrid, it's going to be like 35 - 40 degrees and then also be pouring it down all the time!!

The winter is bloody freezing too (especially when you live in a shack up a mountain with no hot water) and lasted for about 5 months. Summer here lasted until mid October, then we had less than a month of 'autumn' - a bit cooler but not freezing and 'beautiful leaves on the mountains' etc, which I didn't seem to notice was even autumn until it got REALLY freezing in November and then I wanted to Autumn back!

It seems that in it's climate (like most other things) Korea seems to give the worst of the worst extremes. For example a freezing winter and boiling summers. Most countries either have one or the other, or are equatorial climates and a similar thing all the year around. I'm not saying the UK is perfect but at least we don't (and I think this is my big bug bear here) have a MASSIVE obsession with it and go on about it like it's a unique and wondrous, or even true, concept!! Get over yourselves Korea and start relabelling your season calendars!!!