Awaken the taste buds!

I’m just about done with my time in Korea, and I’ve moved my blog over somewhere more location-neutral – http://planestrainsandchutney.wordpress.com/

Come see what I’m up to!

Toodles!

Toodles!

…and other things, of course. But this post is about the presents.

Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving. It’s a time spent with family and paying respects to ancestors. It’s also one of the two major gift-exchanging occasions (the other being Lunar New Year). This differs somewhat from Western culture, where we mainly exchange gifts on birthdays and Christmas.

Now, whereas back home we’d hit the shopping centres and search for the perfect gift, in Korea you don’t have to go any further than your local supermarket.

I took a few photos of the Chuseok display at the local Homeplus. As you’ll see, all of the packaged gifts are hampers of foodstuffs or toiletries. They’re very practical gifts, and if you know the exchange rate, you’ll see that they’re rather pricey. (For SA, drop the last three digits and multiply by 9, e.g. 50 000 KRW ~ 50 X 9 = 450 ZAR.) Each hamper comes in a bag, which will have the same design as the lid of the box. The bags have a nifty handle, seeing as they’re usually quite heavy.

Toiletries galore. Gift boxes usually consist of shampoo and toothpaste.

Toiletries galore. Gift boxes usually consist of shampoo and toothpaste.

All of the Spam! Koreans luuuuurve Spam, so there's usually an entire shelf dedicated to Spam hampers.

All of the Spam! Koreans luuuuurve Spam, so there’s usually an entire shelf dedicated to Spam hampers.

Fruit hampers, nut hampers, or hampers with Korean sweets. Those big green things with the apples are Korean pears.

Fruit hampers, nut hampers, or hampers with Korean sweets. Those big green things with the apples are Korean pears.

Oil, coffee, or, well, anchovies. Lots and lots of anchovies.

Oil, coffee, or, well, anchovies. Lots and lots of anchovies.

Mushrooms in all shapes and sizes. The round box on the left costs R900. That's quite the mushroom!

Mushrooms in all shapes and sizes. The round box on the left costs R900. That’s quite the mushroom!

If you’ve been lucky enough to receive an endless supply of Spam, here are some fun ideas to help get rid of it!

At most public schools (and most hagwons, for that matter), the principal (or manager) will buy gifts for all the staff, foreign teacher included. One of my friends has been gifted Dettol hampers by her employer – twice! She has been handing out body wash and hand soap for as long as I can remember to anyone who’s happy to receive. I was given shampoo and toothpaste for Chuseok last year, and a year’s supply of cooking oil for Lunar New Year. This year, for Chuseok, I was lucky enough to get a box with three bottles of fruit juice.

Colo(u)r Me Rad and The Colo(u)r Run (can’t help it, my British roots won’t let me leave out the ‘u’) seem to have taken the world by storm. Taking their inspiration from the Hindu Holi Festival, both are un-timed 5 km “fun walks”, where at different points, participants are doused in different colours. The colour is just dyed cornstarch powder, so although it smells just like farm, it’s harmless and washes right out. My sports bra begs to differ, but I suppose it’s all in the fabric. Everything else was clean after just one wash.

Both are for-profit events, so don’t let their claims of helping local charities encourage you to participate. I mean, participate by all means, but do it for the fun of it and nothing else. (What they do is compensate charities for providing volunteers. I haven’t done thorough research, but it would appear that this compensation is very minimal. But hey, anything to get a charity’s name associated with your event and attract more people, right?)

Korea has had three events, all through Color Me Rad, and it was my turn to join in the fun on the 14th of September. It was a rainy morning in Korea, but thankfully the skies cleared just before the first wave of participants took off, and other than stepping in lots of puddles, the rest of everything was about as fun as fun can get.

Here are some photos from the event:

Ever heard of a band called Ylvis? Me neither.

Well, that was until three weeks ago, when my Facebook news feed was suddenly flooded with their music video, “The Fox”. I didn’t watch it; avoiding getting on the viral bandwagon is my lone act of defiance, so I generally try and stick with it for as long as possible. So despite countless shares, and posts in just about every ESL-related page and group I belong to, I resisted the urge to see what the fuss was about.

The song came up in a discussion among some friends and I, and I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t listened to it, which prompted one of my friends to whip out her smartphone and pull up the video. And yes, I can understand what the fuss is about.

So, for those of you who’ve managed to escape The Fox until now, check out their official music video:

Here are the lyrics posted on their Facebook page:

THE FOX

Dog goes woof
Cat goes meow
Bird goes tweet
And mouse goes squeek

Cow goes moo
Frog goes croak
And the elephant goes toot

Ducks say quack, fish goes blub
And the seal goes ow ow ow

But there’s one sound – That no one knows
What does the fox say?

Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding
Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow
Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho
Tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff

Big blue eyes
Pointy nose
Chasing mice
and digging holes

Tiny paws
Up the hill
Suddenly
You’re standing still

Your fur is red
So beautiful
Like an angel in disguise

But if you meet
A friendly horse
Will you communicate by mo-o-o-o-orse?
How will you speak to that ho-o-o-o-orse?

What does the fox say?

Tchacha-chacha-chacha-chow
Fra-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow
A-hee-aee ha-hee
A-oo-oo-oo-ooo
What the does the fox say?

The secret of the fox
Ancient mystery
Somewhere deep in the woods
I know you’re hiding

What is your sound
Will we ever know?

It’ill always be a mystery
What do you say?

Youre my guardian angel
Hiding in the woods
What is your sound
Will we ever know?
I want to know!

Now that you’re properly WTF-ing, listen to their explanation of the lyrics (now it all makes sense!)~

There you have it. Apparently, marijuana is the Norwegian word for fox. :-/ Smoking weed is, essentially, taking a fox.

And finally, what would a youtube search be without the discovery of endless parodies?

Annoying Orange~

A slightly disturbing Minecraft rendition~

Wolverine makes an appearance~

(This one’s worth watching past the 1 minute mark. Trust me.)

Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding. Over and out.

Last Saturday, I had the unique and fortunate experience of attending a Korean game show. The 2nd Quiz on Korea was great entertainment and, well, about as quirky as all things Korea can get.

quizContestants were foreigners from all around the world with at least a basic command of Korean. They were asked a series of multiple choice questions, and if they got an answer wrong, they were out for a round. The last man standing over the course of three rounds went through to the final round. Here, there were no options, only questions. First person to get three answers right, won a car.

I quite enjoyed that for each question, a wee bit of background info was given, perhaps one or two facts. I can’t recall a single thing right now, but I remember thinking that a lot of it was interesting.

What made me frown, though, was the claim that those little instant coffee sachets, with the creamer and sugar already in there, were invented in Korea. I brushed it off as wishful thinking, and then I took to the googlez (as one does  for just about anything nowadays).

coffee mixAnd wouldn’t you know it, it seems that good ol’ 커피 믹스 (keopi migseu – Konglish for “coffee mix”) was indeed invented in Korea in the 70s. Coffee mix is very popular here, and there are several brands available. I should have known it’s a national pride issue. Although none of my friends like coffee mix, I’m quite the fan (I did a post on it last year), and when I visited South Africa over summer vacation, I got my mom hooked, too.

Turns out that we can thank Korea for quite a bit more than just coffee sachets. The most comprehensive list can be found (where else but) at Wikipedia.

If you’d like to read the full article, here it is.

Here are a few interesting ones that stood out to me:

Global brands Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai, Daewoo and Hankook Tyres all started in Korea.

BB Cream ~ well, technically. It was developed in Germany in the 60s, but took off on the global market after being introduced to Korea and Japan in 1985. After some celebrity endorsements it took off in the rest of Asia, and the West caught on in 2012.

Underfloor heating ~ We all know heat rises, so a wall-mounted air-conditioner isn’t the ideal weapon for temperatures that shouldn’t even be legal. The Koreans were the first to were the first to implement ondol heating.

Electronics ~

  • portable MP3 players
  • MP3 phones
  • touchscreen cellphones
  • LTE-enabled cellphones
  • Retina display (the technology used by Apple)
  • Coloring Ring back tone ~ you know how when you phone someone, instead of the normal ring-ring you sometimes here a sample of a song? That’s the one!

Other technology ~

  • contactless smart transport cards (swipe cards for the subway and buses)
  • Digital Mobile TV, which is made possible through…
  • Digital Media Broadcasting
  • WiBro (Wireless Broadband), a Korean-developed Mobile WiMAX system
  • Samsung provided the world’s first LTE service in Stockholm
  • If you ever find yourself at Seoulleung Station in Seoul, check out the world’s first virtual store, which lets consumers do their shopping using a smartphone app from the subway station, for delivery at their homes.

Internet-related stuff ~

  • Internet cafés
  • LAN gaming centres (PC Bang)
  • Question-and-answer sites (which Yahoo! Answers is modelled after)

Other interesting things ~

  • Taekwondo
  • A specific (and really nifty) method of finger counting, called chisanbop
  • Thundersticks (those plastic tubes used at sporting events to make loud clapping noises)

baseball

Well, now you know.

Many months ago, my friend Trevor and I went in search of Gusto Taco (and now I’m fighting the urge to tell you just how good the food is there), and on the way we came across a theme café called Mustoy. It was already late in the day, so it was decided that we’d return another time. And so we did!

It took me ages to decide on a design, which I then changed completely as I went along. Here’s some shots from that day:

Mustoy is a theme café where you, well, paint porcelain dolls. For 15 000 KRW you get a doll (which can be a “boy” or “girl” shape – the only differentiation being that the hair either points up or points down), a whole variety of markers, a planning card, and a drink.

So more recently – on my birthday last Saturday – some of my closest friends joined me for an afternoon of arts and crafts. And although some of us started off reluctantly, proclaiming our inability to come up with a good idea or draw it well, all our dolls turned out wonderfully. So wonderful, in fact, that I asked each of them to stretch their imagination even further and come up with a little story to accompany their doll. There were no clear instructions or guidelines, and I so enjoyed what they came up with.

FLTR: Cindy, Me, Trevor, Sarah, Thomas
FLTR: Cindy, Me, Trevor, Sarah, Thomas

 

THOMAS

Kusakabe Satsuki from the film ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988)

‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is an animated film by the Japanese company Studio Ghibli which was released as a double feature with ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ due to the moroseness of the latter; it became extremely famous due to its accessibility and, for many, nostalgic nature; eventually becoming the mascot of the studio.

The story deals with 2 sisters, Mei (5) and Satsuki (11) who move into the country with their father to be closer to their mother whom is in hospital. Whilst there the younger sister finds a secret hollow where 3 ‘Totoro’ (Mei mispronounces the Japanese for troll) live. The girls keep meeting the largest Totoro. When Mei tries to run to the hospital when she finds out her mother can’t come home Totoro and his friend ‘The Catbus’ (never realized how insane this movie was) help Satsuki to find her.

I decided to Draw Satsuki as the blank figure’s hair reminded me of her.

SAM_2795

SARAH

PSY was happy (mother-father-gentlemanly happy, actually) but it wasn’t enough. He wanted more out of life. While flipping idly through his Twitter feed one evening, one Tweet in particular stood out: “@psy_oppa u shuld cum 2 Canada lol.” “Hmm… Ka-na-da…” PSY placed his hand on his chin and his other hand on his elbow and, swaying back and forth, thought it over. The next morning, he had booked a ticket to the Great White North, and two days later, he had enrolled in the RCMP Academy, also known as Mountie School (it’s a real thing – look it up). PSY Oppa had finally found his true calling: a job that required that he had a horse to dance with. What’s more – he looked exquisite in red.

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CINDY

Привет!  My name is Stephanya, but my friends call me Stesha.  I live in Moscow, but love the summers I spend at my families дача (summer home) in the country.  My favorite meal, голубец мит сметана (stuffed cabbage roll with sour cream) is made by my бабушка (grandmother) every Thursday night!    I’m most excited though to visit all my Mustoy friends at our international convention this August!

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TREVOR

Damia’s a gigantic fan of Dexter’s Lab. Insists on going by ‘D’, just to be that much closer in spirit to the show. Unfortunately, D’s sister doesn’t exactly fit the bill for Dee Dee very well. It’s an ongoing dilemma. Not that there’s not plenty else to discourage D in this fandom endeavor – the D in Chemistry (thanks a lot dilation lab!), the dying drive with the archive of the show, and the deleterious effects on sleep and vision that obsessive rewatchings at 3am produce. The situation isn’t dire yet. After all, the cosplay’s worked out well. No, the big problem for D was much more dreadful than these. D spent days daydreaming: if only D’s Dexter’s Lab’s Club’s Directive’s Designations of Design and Durability of Fan Displays was more direct.

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LEANA

As creative as I’ve been in convincing teenagers that Maths is not the enemy (and for the record, I succeeded far beyond my wildest expectations!), I find that I’m painfully left-brained when it comes to actual crafts.

So really, my inspiration was a new take on primary colours (I do love them brights!). Naturally, I incorporated a rainbow (I don’t particularly like the things, they just keep coming up wherever colours are involved – check out the pants of my first doll). After creating my first doll, I knew that I wanted the next one to be more about colourblocking and simplicity.

The shop assistant told us that the facial expressions on our dolls revealed our personalities. I’m not so sure about that, but my doll’s happiness most certainly reflected my feelings about going home for summer vacation the very next weekend!

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Thanks to my friends for being such good sports! 🙂

Well actually, not just one airport. They all kinda sucked.

But we’ll get there.

Mid-February marked travel time. And, as described in one of my previous posts, this trip was long-anticipated and well-planned.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Travel day! Trevor and I headed for the airport in the afternoon. We were both freezing our butts off while waiting for the bus (and also during subway transfers) – we wore the least amount of warm layers we could brave, as these would just become unwanted extra luggage for the next 10 days. By a little after 21:00, we were on our plane and headed for Manila.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

We arrived in Manila just after midnight, and joined the many other passengers who settled all over the terminal to catch some shut-eye. Our next flight was at 7:00. There was some floor napping, after which we headed to the massage suite, where we had mediocre, but relaxing massages before dozing off in the comfy lounge chairs. When it was time to check in, we realised that the domestic terminal was in a whole different part of town! So in our exhausted states, we headed outside, only to be bombarded by taxi drivers. I’m not even kidding. People say that that’s what happens, but you don’t know what to expect until suddenly they’re all fighting over you and grabbing your bags.

Anyway, without any further thought, we got into one of the taxis and set off to the next terminal. Long story short, this guy saw some suckers coming, and made bank. We spent as much on the 10 minute taxi ride as one would to take a taxi from Hongdae to Paju at midnight – more than ₩60000 (a good R500). I was completely unprepared for this and didn’t think to ask how much he was going to charge until we were moving. But such is life, and I’ll never make that mistake again.

The domestic terminal was not what I expected, but very similar to places I’ve seen on The Amazing Race. I was most amused by the sign above the check-in counter with, get this, the “estimated time of departure” for our flight to Kalibo. This was over 90 minutes later than the time on the tickets. Sigh. It was hot and sticky, there was no air-conditioning, and there were people everywhere. It was more intimidating than I’d anticipated. We were hungry, but there were only kiosks with snack-type foods available. None of our devices could pick up the wi-fi that was advertised all over the waiting room. The seats were so uncomfortable. Urgh, it was a less than ideal situation all round.

Eventually, after a delay of more than two hours, we set off for Kalibo. From the flight, we had to still take a 90 minute bus ride to the ferry terminal and board a 30 minute ferry to the island. Thankfully we pre-booked with a charter company, as the bus/ferry booking procedure seemed even more intimidating than getting the taxi.

And then the tipping started. As soon as we started moving, someone would grab our bags and carry them to wherever we had to be next (the bus, then the ferry, then the shuttle), and then these guys would hover and wait for a tip. We were handing out banknotes like it’s nobody’s business. I think we just lost track of the exchange rate and we were too tired and overwhelmed to care. Living in a first world country can spoil a kid! Thankfully, I managed to sleep through most of the busride, which made it feel much shorter.

I’m glad I’m not scared of water or being on it, as the ferry would then have prevented me from ever reaching Boracay. But we were on it, and in almost no time (y’know, compared to every other leg of the journey so far), we were on Boracay. We made it onto the shuttle and got dropped off at our accommodation.

The accommodation, sadly, was a disappointing experience. A friend of mine recommended The Lazy Dog Bed & Breakfast, and that’s where we booked. Because the smaller rooms were booked out, we even shelled out to get a family room. However, when we arrived to check in, we had been moved to a self-catering lodge across the road. This was both disappointing and endlessly frustrating, but what can you do?

Trevor and I settled in, and in the evening, we headed out to explore D’Mall, an outdoor shopping complex on the beachfront. And finally, the weekend picked up! We had burgers, arbed around the little shops and found White Beach.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

This was the only full day we’d have in Boracay, and it was an easy decision to commit to spending a lazy day on the beach.

The morning started off with some souvenir shopping, after which we grabbed our beach gear and reading material and headed for the beach.

First, we took to exploring Bulabog Beach, which was practically right where we stayed. Bulabog Beach is on the “windy” side of the island, and it is famous for windsurfing and kiteboarding. After some photo ops and oohs and aahs at the impressive abilities of the surfers, we set off for White Beach, which is the quiet, white-sand-palm-trees-perfect-for-lazing-all-day kind of beach, over on the other side of the island (like, an entire 10 minute walk away!). On the way, Trevor was really amused at being able to find bottled Coke at one of the kiosks.

At White Beach, we walked along the shoreline until we found a spot further off that was a little quieter and less bustling. Many of the beachfront lodges have reserved areas on the beach, with deck chairs and umbrellas and lots of guests. These areas were busy, and noisy, and just not “island beach”-y enough. Now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, White Beach is named after the endless stretch of white sand, which perfectly complements the crystal clear waters. Once we found a spot, Trevor settled into some reading under the palm trees, and I worked on my suntan. I had no intention of swimming, but I couldn’t exactly go to a beach, on an island, in my swimsuit… and not test the water! And it was lovely. Even though it was hot out, it was nowhere near the sticky humidity I so enjoy complaining about in Korea. The water the ideal temperature to provide relief from the sun. And yes, of course I napped under the palm trees! Would you have it any other way?

Throughout the day, I was overcome with a sense of… happiness? comfort? invisibility? at the sight of all the different cultures, ethnicities and languages represented on the island. On a superficial level, it felt good to not be stared at for not being Korean, but on another, deeper level (one that I didn’t really consciously know I possessed), it felt… right. Coming from a “rainbow nation”, I’ve evidently taken for granted just how good it feels to be a part of something bigger. For the first time in almost a year, I didn’t feel like “the foreigner”, and it was a welcome feeling.

At the end of our beach day, we hung around long enough to watch the sunset (totally worth it!) and headed back to shower and change before finding some food.

Food. Of course, a big part of this vacation was about escaping Korean cuisine, and we made good on this. We had a buffet breakfast (thankfully the B&B still made good on feeding us)  and after much deliberation decided on pizza for lunch. And I hear you saying, “but there’s plenty pizza available in Korea”. Well, we wanted the good stuff, not the sweet, corn-laden Korean version. And we weren’t disappointed. In the evening, we opted for Spanish Tapas and lamb chops. Yum! (Who knew that during my time in Korea and surrounds, I’d try more different cuisines than I ever had at home?) In the course of the day I also tried some mango from a street vendor (I’m not a fan of mango, but this was something else!), and after discovering a bakery that sold ensaymadas, I ate as many as I possibly could. You would too at something ridiculous like 5 pesos a pop! That converts to roughly 125 KRW (1,10 ZAR).

Monday, 18 February 2013

I’d like to pretend this day didn’t exist, because it was just tiring and an entire non-event. We got up, got ready, ate, packed, and waited for the shuttle to come fetch us. Shuttle to ferry to land to bus to airport to some more delays to being cashless in a tiny airport with no card facilities to booking in at the airport hotel to braving downtown Manila after dark in search of food to sleeping to waking up to some more terminal confusion to freaking out when I thought I’d lost my bank card to yet another delay to finally (FINALLY) being on our way to Singapore.

So to get back to the title. There were beaches. There were ensaymadas. And there were some sucky airports (or more accurately, airport experiences, but whatever). As a newbie traveller, I made all the mistakes, but I’m ready for a redo. Next time, I’ll know what to expect, and I’ll have only good things to say. And that’s a promise!

Click on the photo below for a collection of photos from the weekend:

Click on the pic!

Click on the pic!

So it’s my birthday month, and what better time to talk about cake… birthday cake, to be exact.

Every expat will have at least one birthday in Korea. And although being away from one’s family and friends back home during this time sucks, there’s still plenty to look forward to.

My favourite part is the cake. I’m not entirely sure if the custom is Korean culture or just expat culture, thought I suspect it’s a little bit of both.

See, Korean restaurants don’t have dessert menus. And bakeries have an entire fridge full of ready-made cakes. Win! For this reason, it’s not unusual to take a cake along to dinner (no corkage!)

Among our little community, Baskin’ Robbins ice-cream cakes are by far the popular choice. In fact, it’s the exclusive choice, even for friends who aren’t particularly fond of ice-cream. One, their judgement can’t be trusted, and two, they should just take one for the team. Because these cakes are amazing. They’re made up of different ice-cream flavours, so you get to sample ones you wouldn’t necessarily buy, and really, who wouldn’t want to be spoiled for choice?

Whenever there’s a birthday to be celebrated, someone will coordinate getting a cake to wherever we’ll be getting together, whether it be a restaurant or someone’s house. After our meal, the candles are lit and we all join in to sing Happy Birthday.

On the topic of “Happy Birthday” – why on earth do Americans sing it so damn slowly? It’s ridiculously drawn out, and for someone like me who can’t exactly hold a note, it’s total torture. Back home, it’s a fast-paced, happy affair, and the singing part is over quickly.

Aaaanyway.

My favourite part of my favourite part is after the customary wish-making and candle-blowing. Because then we eat! And don’t think you’re going to be served your slice on a pretty little side plate with a pretty little cake fork. Oh no! You get a bunch of plastic spoons from Baskin Robbins when you buy the cake, and if you don’t have enough you just dig your disposable chopsticks out of the drawer and soon it becomes a free-for-all, dig-in-and-grab-your-favourite-flavour affair.

Mmmm, cake.

Here are some of the great cake moments I’ve experienced so far. Click on the photos to read the descriptions.

This is the second instalment in a yet to be established series about my observations of my first year in Korea, and this time around, I’d like to go into more detail about things I’ve got up to in Korea. This entry will deal with other provinces and cities I’ve visited. Gyeonggi/Seoul will need its whole own post!

Jeju

Chuseok is the Korean equivalent of American Thanksgiving. It’s a huge deal in Korea, as it’s a time when families get together, share food, and give thanks to their ancestors. Koreans will travel to their hometowns, and for this reason, the day before and the day after Chuseok are public holidays, too. Timed just right, and it turns into a five-day weekend. And while Koreans spend the long weekend cooking and family-ing, foreigners… travel! Four friends and I set off for Jeju-do, a Korean island just off the southern coast. It was early autumn, so the awful summer heat was gone and the weather was just perfect. Our days were jam-packed with seeing some of the wonderful things the island has to offer.

Ami, Cindy, Ali and I on Jeju-do.
Ami, Cindy, Ali and I taking in the amazing weather.

Here’s the nutshell version of things that stood out:

Haenyeo (해녀) ~ female divers

Back in the day, the local women of Jeju were responsible for gathering seafood. Although I didn’t see any “live” haenyeo, we did come across some pretty statues to commemorate these women.

Haenyo Statues
Haenyo Statues

Dolhareubang (돌하르방) ~ grandfather statues

These statues are just about everywhere, and as a result they’re one of the most widely-recognised symbols of Jeju.

Grandfather Statues
Grandfather Statues

Black pig galbi

This was for supper on the first night of the trip. I read here that the Jeju Black Pig is only found on the island, and the meat has a distinct taste. What’s far more interesting though, is that way back when (up until around the 60s), the pigs were fed on human waste. Thankfully, this was frowned upon enough for the practice to be stopped.

Udo Island

This was probably one of my favourite days, ever. We set off early morning and boarded a ferry to Udo Island, one of the smaller islands off Jeju-do. Here, we hired scooters and four-wheelers and spent the day traipsing around the island. The weather was perfect, and the ocean was right there. I didn’t swim (seaweed galore!), but it was such a nice, free feeling to be travelling along a coastline like that. It had also been a good four months since I’d been in control of an engine (after driving every day), even though it was only a little scooter. Also, suntan! ‘Nuff said.

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Jeju Love Land

Oh dear. I saw the pictures on google, but walking through the park is… an experience. I can’t (won’t) post the majority of the photos I took here, but I will tell you that it’s a must-see when visiting Jeju.

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Nature!

Jeju has lots of nature. And it’s impressive and pretty and all those nice things. Since 2007 Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes have been listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage. Jeju Island was also named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011.

We visited the following sites: Oedolgae Rock and #7 Olle Coast Trail, Jusangjeolli Rock Column Formations, Cheonjeyon Water Falls, Jungmun Beach, Seongsan Ilchulbong (Crater Mountain Peak), Manjanggul Lava Tubes, and the Sangumburi Lava Vent.

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Other things

Other points of interest were Sanbangsan Temple, Gimnyeong Maze Park and the Trick Art Museum.

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Andong & Gyeongju

GEPIK sponsored a group of Native English Teachers on a whirlwind weekend trip to Gyeongsangbuk-do. We hit the road long before sunrise one Saturday morning and set off on what was to be one epic bus trip. I took some photos of the wonderful things I saw, though it’s sad that no camera could capture the fun we had on the bus.

Gyeongju is historically significant because it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom for almost a thousand years – 992 to be exact.

It was a jam-packed two days, with lots of time spent on the bus driving from one destination to the next. The itinerary escapes me now, but I remember visiting Andong Hahoe Folk Village, Gyeongju National Museum, Cheomseongdae Observatory (the oldest observatory in East Asia), Anapji Pond (an artificial pond), Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju World Culture Expo (where we saw the performance of Flying) and…. somewhere else, where some of the teachers got to take part in acting out a traditional Korean wedding ceremony. On the Saturday night we ate at a restaurant where, apparently, royalty would go to to dine. There was so much food!

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Daegu

Let me first explain: Shauna is my token redhead Irish friend. Well actually, she’s just my friend. She’d be cool even if she weren’t redhead or Irish, though those attributes certainly add to her wonderfully colourful personality. Anyway, Shauna bought a car and named it Spuddy. Shauna also plays in an Irish band. And so it was that said band was invited to play at an Irish bar all the way over in Daegu. She invited Trevor and me to join her and use the opportunity to travel around Korea a bit. Another bandmate, Myvanwy, joined the three of us, and off we went on Spuddy’s first roadtrip.

We arrived late on the Friday night, hit the sack, and did some exploring on Saturday. When researching things to do there, I came across a blog featuring Suseong Lake and a cafe inside an aeroplane. It was decided there and then that that’s where we’d be going, and it was a brilliant idea. It was a beautiful day out! We were able to take in the springtime warmth good and proper, and there were some beautiful photos to be taken. In the evening, we hung out at the bar and watched the band play. Sunday morning involved breakfast, and then the long trek back. Thank goodness for millions of rest stops!

Suseong Lake
Suseong Lake

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Seonyudo

Every year during April/May, Adventure Korea organises a few springtime trips to Seonyudo Island, which is in Jeollabuk-do. We booked for late April, looking forward to a weekend of sunshine and island-hopping on a bicycle. Sadly, the weather gods had other plans. Korea was blessed with a cold front that left some parts of the country with snow, and other parts just… cold.

We set off on a rainy Saturday morning and had some more bus fun. I should mention here that we were a group of 6 friends, and all from different countries. Our group proudly represented South Africa, the US, Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and Canada. With so much diversity, there are always interesting conversations to be had.

By the time we arrived on the island, the rain had thankfully stopped, but it was an overcast and dreary day. This did not stop us, though. Everyone got on their bicycles and set off to explore the island. We were slightly under-dressed for the weather (it was supposed to be spring!!!), but still had a fun day giving our legs a workout.

The Sunday was much more enjoyable, with a clear, sunshiny morning to explore some more. This time around, we rented a golf cart, and our little group took turns navigating the dodgy roads and narrow bridges. Driving on the wrong side of the road didn’t appeal to me, and I was happy to be a passenger the whole time.

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Ah man, what can I say? It’s been a year of ups and downs, and although I can’t tell you which there were more of, I can confirm that I’m still here and standing strong.

I’m homesick to the point where I’m driving myself nuts. I’m sure my friends are just about done listening to me hate on Korea just because I miss my homeland so much. It’s not Korea’s fault, that part I can confirm. I did, very willingly and after some consideration, decide to renew my contract with the same school for a second year.

So in the spirit of cheering me up, let’s look back at some of the stand-out experiences I’ve had over the last year.

In this post, I’m going to focus on theater shows that I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to see while in Korea.

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~~Ballerina Who Loved a B-boy~~

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Being on Facebook all day has its perks. In this case, the perk was a free ticket giveaway. On a freezing (and I mean Siberian wind, colder than cold, hardly able to unshield your eyes long enough to look where you’re going kind of freezing) evening in the late winter, three of us set off to find the theater and indulge in some free front row seat entertainment. I remember that this was also the first time that I was *really* glad that I could read Hangul with ease, as the directions were in English, but the theater building was marked in Hangul only. Man, it was freezing. But the show was fun!

The story is built around a ballerina, all prim and poised and uptight, who starts noticing a b-boy (who of course, is everything opposite). The show is just a mishmash of mad skillz, with most of the scenes consisting of a stage full of b-boys. Every now and then there was a ballet scene, to remind us that there was, in fact, a storyline.

bboy03My favourite routine was the masked routine. Think Jabbawockeez – you know, those guys who dance with the white masks on. In this routine, the ballerina was having a nightmare, and these guys came out dressed in all black, and each mask had this pained expression. It was all so creepy; I loved it! One of the dancers jumped out from backstage and landed right in front of us. I got such a fright that I screamed, and from there on I was caught in a fit of nervous laughter for the remainder of the routine. It was amazing!

And yes, at the end, the helpless damsel, um I mean ballerina, sacrifices her disciplined style of dance and ends up with the boy. Duhhhh.

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Photo ops with the cast, and Trevor getting interviewed about the show.

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~~Extreme Performance Flying~~

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In late 2013, the local office of education sponsored the Native English Teachers in my province on a trip to Gyeongju, a historically significant part of Korea as it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom from 57-935BC (so, like, ancient history). As part of the tour, we got to see “Extreme Performance Flying”.

Flying is described as an extreme sports comedy. The show incorporates gymnastics, cheerleading, martial arts and B-boying and it really is a spectacular mix of stunts and tricks. It’s a uniquely Korean show and the opening sequence is actually set in Silla Kingdom time. The basic storyline involves an ancient warrior following a gremlin through a time warp into a modern-day high school. And of course, it’s the physical education class. The quiet cheerleader falls in love with the warrior, so of course, the warrior chooses to stay and get all loved up. The PE teacher, who is one of the comedy highlights, falls in love with the gremlin, and follows him back through the hole and off they go.

flying02My favourite part of the show was right at the beginning, where the main character (still way back in ancient times) is in a fight scene. What’s so great about that? Well… he’s the only one on stage. His opponents are all on the screen behind him in a most spectacularly choreographed sequence.

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~~Cookin’ Nanta~~

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Nanta is a uniquely Korean non-verbal comedy show that’s been running since 1997. There’s a back story, of course, and then there’s lots of drums and rhythms, based on samulnori (traditional percussion music).

The show is set in a catering kitchen, with three chefs getting ready to cater a wedding. Then there’s the strict manager who keeps reminding them that they’re on a time schedule. The manager also brought along his incompetent nephew to help out in the kitchen, which creates drama in the kitchen, and of course leads to plenty of disaster. Kitchen implements, like cutting boards, water canisters and kitchen knives are used instead of traditional instruments.

With food flying everywhere and the clock ticking, and with lots of physical humour and some really cool stunts, Nanta really did make for an entertaining afternoon.

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Having fun at the photo station

Having fun at the photo station

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~~Phantom of the Opera~~

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When Phantom toured South Africa, it wasn’t really an option to go see it. But when it came to Korea, I was once again reminded why I wanted to live close to Seoul.

In early February, we braved the freezing cold and made our way to the theater. The foyer was beautifully decorated with memorabilia and 25th anniversary banners. I was so proud to see that the cast was largely South African.

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It was my first time seeing it live, and it was magical. Of course I don’t have to tell you what the musical is about, so I’ll entertain you with my personal experience. 🙂

I remember that we went the week before leaving for the Phillipines and Singapore, so of course all my anticipation and excitement was directed towards that. Shortly before the show started, I leaned over to Trevor and admitted something along the lines of, “I’m not really that into watching this right now. I would have no problem just leaving right now”.  Of course, that all changed the second the chandelier was revealed.

Not sure what I’m referring to? Here’s the opening scene, with the magic bit at around 4:20 ~

The entire production was just amazing, and I’m so thankful to have seen it performed live.

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~~Africa Umoja~~

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OK, so this one didn’t technically happen in the first year, but it was close. And it almost didn’t even happen. When first I heard that this show was coming to Korea, I wasn’t all too phased. I mean, why pay for something I’m surrounded by (and often take steps to avoid) back home?

Luckily, some of my American friends were interested, and so we, along with a Brit, set off to Seoul so I could get my “African fix” (you know, cos “Africa” and “South Africa” are one and the same…).

Man oh man, from the moment I heard the marimba band playing in the foyer, my heart and soul were transported back home. I spent the entire show in a child-like glee, savouring every familiar sound.

Africa Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness tells the story of the development of indigenous South African music. This blog has a very accurate summary, and I couldn’t have done it better myself:

This energetic and colorful show basically tells the history of music and rhythm in South Africa. The journey starts with the gentle and harmonious humming of woman as they work at their traditional tasks, and breaks out into a furious warrior dance only to cascade into a breathtakingly sensual male and female dance. This stunning introduction is followed by a number of traditional dances which make way to more modern European influences such as gospel and acapella, swing and jive. The style of music may have changed but the rhythm remains unmistakably African. As the music moves to our present day, the modern sounds of Kwasa Kwasa, Kwela and Kwaito are eventually heard.

I sat there with goosebumps for most of the show. The familiar sounds made their way into my veins in a way I didn’t realise would be possible. I felt the pulse of each beat deep within my heart. Each drumbeat, each beautifully sung note made me realise that I do, indeed, despite all its troubles, come from one of the most amazing countries on Earth.

You can watch it on youtube if you’d like to get a taste, but it fades in comparison to feeling the beat of the drum resonate through the theater. Also, I’m going to shamelessly promote the official website.

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~~Black Watch~~

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My friend Cindy has a soft spot for all things Scottish. Well, Scottish men. So when this theater show was headed for Seoul, I thought it a great opportunity to indulge in what Cindy fondly refers to as “a brogue thicker than molasses”. Four of us set of to see the show, not really knowing what to expect. And I remember each of us being so moved and so overwhelmed by the story and how it was told. It was one of those experiences where, for a while after, you just kind-of keep quiet while you wrap your head around what you just saw.

The show portrays a group of soldiers in the Black Watch regiment of the black watch01British Army. Wikipedia tells me they were serving on Operation TELIC in Iraq in 2004.

There’s a very nice description here, with this being the basic premise:

Staged stadium style, with the audience on two sides of a long playing space, “Watch” interweaves the history of the regiment with its service in Iraq and with the story of the play’s creation. Scenes of an eager, uncomfortable Writer interviewing wary veterans in a pub slip into enactments of their service in Iraq’s Triangle of Death and bits of the regiment’s history.

In summary, Black Watch was unexpectedly amazing and a show I wouldn’t even have given a second glance back home (or before I met Scotsman-loving Cindy).

break01I’m beyond excited to tell you what I’ll be seeing next. In just over a month, I’ll be ticking something off my bucket list – watching Cirque du Soleil perform. And for this momentous occasion (and because it’s so close to my birthday), I went all the way and bought VIP tickets!

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