Saturday, April 27, 2013

How Korea Made Me Love Shopping

Shopping in SA (or Mauritius): Try on lots of things. Nothing fits. Hate yourself. Find one thing that looks good but it's ridiculously expensive. Hate yourself and now you're broke. Eat chocolate. Ah well; most of the clothes look like they're aimed at teen prostitutes from Benoni anyway. But it looked so nice on the mannequin... Ooh, these pants look great... for the 5 weeks that they last before they start falling apart. Plus (specifically in Mauritius) everyone is trying to rip you off because they think you're a tourist... AAAGH! Run away!  You give up! You're going to hide in your room, rolled up into a little ball of sorrow because you're hideous and hate yourself. Wah.

Shopping in Korea: Think nothing will fit, and baffled by the strange styles. Can't try things on - shop owner insists it's one size fits all but your mammaries seem to disagree. Still, this beautiful dress costs the same as two cups of coffee, so why not? If it's too small you'll just have to join the gym, won't you? *stern look* Oh, but these shoes are only $10... And look at this FANTASTIC Konglish on this shirt! Oooh, socks with mustaches!

You throw your money at them, gleefully. If you run out of cash you can always just live on school lunches and maybe join a church (free lunch after the service). And even then, you're not spending THAT much money because It's Skin is having a 30% sale and everyone at the market keeps giving you huge discounts because you're paying in cash. So, what the hell? Just buy the stuff.

And when you get home, and try on all your loot... It looks fantastic. Your curves fill out those dresses the way Korean women wish they could. You love how the fabric hangs just so, and how gorgeous those shoes make your feet look.

Thank you, Korea. Not only do your children tell me I'm beautiful every single day, not only do your cosmetics work like a bomb and make me feel like a princess, but you just made me BELIEVE that I am beautiful by letting me see it for myself.

And that's awesome.

For the record, I'm a 72kg, 5'6", size 7 UK shoes, C cup nunganungas, round-bottomed woman. And every single thing I bought today fits perfectly. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ordering Delivery In Korea

Last night I decided to be adventurous and order delivery from one of the many magnetic take-out menus that appear on my door.

By which I mean it was raining and I was lazy.

So I flipped through the biggest booklet, and found a page with no pictures, but a lot more to choose from than fried chicken or chicken schnitzels.

I googled for the area code to phone them. In Daegu, you put 053 before the number on the menu. No one tells you this. You're expected to just know it.

Behold the phonecall!
Subtitles provided in italics.

Woman on phone: 유보세요.
Yo, 'sup.
Moi: Erm, um, annyeonghaseyuboseyo. kimchi mari baedal juseyo?
Er, um, hellohi. (meal) delivery please?
Woman on phone:  오옂단아이나니이도아누뵤자.
Sure. Where would you like it to be delivered to?
Moi: Er. I can't speak good Korean. Again please?
Annoyed woman on phone: 어딜아러나어러리너.
Where do you live? For god's sake, learn some Korean. I hate my job.
Moi: ????!!!
Woman: 집!집!집!
House! House! House!
Moi: Oooooohhh riiiiight. House. <address in Korean -
Woman (interrupting): sdlhfsjkdjsjkshdjf. Hangs up.

She'd cut me off before I could tell her my apartment number. So I wasn't sure if the delivery was coming, or what would happen. So I figured I'd go down and wait by the door until the delivery guy shows up, or get chicken if he didn't come within 30 minutes.

It was very cold, very wet, and it had now taken me over 2 hours to find a meal, phone and order it.

Well, he wasn't coming. It turns out the last bit of speedKorean was 'We don't deliver if the order is under 10 000 won.' Which I only discovered because my lovely neighbour friend called them to check.

And then she gave me wine and spaghetti instead. So, this time was a failure but it still felt like winning.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that Korea is not an easy place for people to live in, if they are living alone. This probably comes from the fact that most single people live with their parents. Min said that people who live alone walk to the takeout place and get takeaways there. So, next time she orders takeout we're going to do it together. Otherwise I'd have to order 3 meals to make it over 10 000, and then I'd have too much food.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Major Victories

When I started at this school, I had a really rough class. The lowest level boys refused to participate. One student, in particular, stared sullenly at his desk for the entire lesson. He didn't even open his book. He had floppy hair at that stage so for a long time I knew him only as this:

That day I swore that by the end of the year I would make him speak. And every week I'd give the class some sort of game, and he would say nothing. Every week I told myself, this is it! This is the one! And... Nothing. The other kids in the class are warming to me and starting to try harder, but this kid...


And then today he's all....

And on the inside, I'm going

But on the outside I'm just

How did I do it? The pass the pencil case game. Except in my class, it was a bomb (baseball), and we had a powerpoint thing that counted down with beeps and huge explosions. First the kid holding the bomb when it blows has to say a sentence about the picture on the screen. Then in round two, they have to say any sentence that we learned today in order to pass the bomb along. If they're holding it when it blows, they're dead and are out of the game. Anyone still alive at the end of the lesson gets signatures on their Katie, GIMME CANDY! charts.

The best thing about this lesson? I didn't just get this kid to speak.

I got ALL of them to speak.

I might just be a good teacher after all.

The ppt for the game is available here:,3718.msg19097.html#msg19097

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Day in the Life of an Epik Teacher

Loosely based on truth.

23:45 Start getting ready for bed
00:10 Realise you forgot to download the latest episode of Game Of Thrones. Torrent the crap out of it.
00:16 Download complete. You love Korea.
7:00 Hit snooze.
7:15 Hit snooze.
7:30 Hit snooze.
7:40 Race to the shower. Brush teeth in shower. Try to avoid spraying toilet paper.
8:00 Fall down 4 flights of stairs in your efforts to leave the building speedily.
8:02 Cycle at break-neck speed through crowds of small children. This requires ninja-like reflexes.
8:19 Stroll casually into the staff room, just in time. Open up spreadsheets and ppts, and look busy... until everyone goes off to their home room classes, leaving you alone.
8:20 Sleep/Facebook.
9:00 Look busy and try to remember where the classroom for your first lesson is.
9:15 Realise this lesson is going nowhere, the kids are asleep, and they're giving you nothing. They're exhausted from camping on Palgongsan for the last two days. Scrap the plan and play games on the board using vocabulary from the lesson. The kids love it.
9:45 A free period! Try to figure out what you last taught the class you have after lunch. Something to do with giving advice...Search the internet for pictures of interesting problems for them to solve.
9:55 INSPIRATION STRIKES. Create a complex ppt game involving PSY's latest music video.

Giving Advice: PSY's being a dick! What should I do?
10:50: Another class of exhausted first graders. Play games for the whole lesson, based on vocab from the chapter.
11:35 Co-teacher is concerned that the first graders won't finish the content in time for their midterms. Whoops.
11:45 Teach the 3rd grade lesson for the 9th time.
12:30 LUNCH! Pizza, bibimbap, toffee, kimchi pancakes. Poke at unidentified object on tray. Realise it's two slices of bread glued together with jam, then battered and deep fried. Oh, Korea.
13:00 Supervise 'English Time' in the English room. This means showing Doctor Who episodes to students, with English subtitles. Notice the number of students has doubled since yesterday.
13:25 Worry that you still don't know what you're about to teach to this class, and go to the co-teacher to ask in a roundabout enough way that she doesn't realise you don't actually know what you're doing.

The co-teacher smiles and interrupts before you even begin. She explains that these students are falling behind because their classes keep being disrupted by other events, and because they're a low level, so she has decided to have a catch-up reading class instead. She advises you to take a break.

14:00 Make vague gestures towards lesson preparation and self-studying Korean. Mostly faff around looking for amusing gifs to spice up your blog.
15:20 Last class of the day and you teach that third grade lesson for the 10th time, now having done it so many times that you can do it on autopilot, with OOMPH.
16:00 The cleaning locusts descend.

16:25 Flee!
17:00 Stop at Hansot for dinner. Point at something on the menu and hope it tastes good.
19:00 Meet people downtown for no reason other than to avoid the strange smells in your apartment
21:00 Try to remember where you parked your bicycle. Did you ride your bike here? Hic. Walk past the booze in a bag stand.
21:30 Hic.
22:30 Chat up some hagwoners who've just gotten off work, and consider hanging out with them until the early hours of the morning. Remember that tomorrow is Tuesday and you have to get up at 7...ish.
23:00 Home sweet home.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Seeing a Korean ENT

The first time I was sick, it was a public holiday, so the 이비인 across the street from my alley was shut. I trudged all the way up the stairs to find the door locked. I was very disappointed. But, it worked out in the end when a nice stranger drove me to a doctor and I got a jab in the bum.

Now it's yellow dust season, and I'm starting to get sick again. I think my body just isn't used to the cold, and the killer Korean germs. Yellow dust is basically chinese sand mixed with pollution that blows down over the rest of Asia and makes us all sick as dogs. When it rains it leaves chalky yellow marks on the ground, apparently. You can check the yellow dust levels online; right now they're still pretty low, so I think this cold I have is more a result of the sudden cold front that has hit us. 

The end is nigh! 

In Korea they have a saying: 꽃샘추위. My co-teacher told it to me when we first met. It means, "Winter is jealous of the flowers blooming in Spring, so it's cold again." Thus while cherry blossoms are blooming early, it's snowing in the countryside. And I'm a cheapskate who stupidly slept with my ondol turned off the night the cold front hit. 

So yesterday after school, I hopped on my bike and headed off to the 이비인 I hadn't been able to see before. Once again, I waited for the lift that never comes, and trudged up the stairs. This time it was open! The receptionists didn't speak any English, and looked terrified the moment I walked in. I handed over my ARC and had a seat. A little girl came in with her mother, and said hello to me. Seven times. Then I was ushered around the corner to see the doctor. 

I spoke to him in bad Korean and looked up 'flu' in my phrase book. I coughed, mimed having a sore throat, covered my ears and sniffed loudly. He said, "Would it be easier if we just speak English?"

He asked me all the normal doctor questions. Usually this is the point where doctors whip out the ear-thermometer. 

Oh, no. This is Korea. This is where it gets interesting. From a table next to me covered in what looked like gifts from a torturer's birthday party, he grabbed a sort of gun thing with a long, thin nozzle. He used this to spray inside my nose, before tilting my head back and peering up my nostrils. Then, with my head in a vice-like grip, he twisted it and peered inside my ears.

"Aha!" said the doctor.

"Errr..." said I.

He retrieved a long, slender, hooked implement. Usually the doctor says "Oh, there's a bit of waxy build-up" but does nothing and lets you go on your way with your gunk-filled ears. My dad taught me never to stick anything in my ears smaller than my elbow. 

This hook was definitely bigger than my elbow. In my mind. He ordered me to sit very still, because he was going to remove the wax from my ears.

This was a distinctly unpleasant experience. 

After removing Paris Hilton and a Buick from my ears, the doctor prescribed a cocktail of pills and regular saline rinses. No bum jab in sight!

get me out of here!
I headed on my merry way, suddenly amazed at the magical gift of hearing he had given me. 

On my way home I bought a kilo each of strawberries and melons from the guy in the truck with the loudspeaker. If you hear someone shouting things over a loudspeaker, don't worry. It's not the authorities ordering a mass evacuation. It's a guy advertising a discount on delicious fruit. 

Strawberries + melons: W15 000
Doctor and medicine: W15 000

I love Korea's healthcare system. I love Korean melons too - they're the yellow stripy things. They taste like sweet spanspek. :D

If you want to see this glorious English-speaking ENT yourself, go to Chimsan Junction (tell the taxi driver Chimsan Negiri), and stand facing the bank next to the big church. Turn 180 degrees and look across the road for a sign with an elephant on it that says  이 비 인 . The doctor is on the third floor of that building. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ticking off things on the bucket list

This whole being a millionaire thing is going to my head. I just dropped about $250 on a couple of weekend trips. It is WAY too easy to spend money in Korea, especially when you can do immediate transfers online. But then everything's so cheap, so I actually can't spend my money quickly enough! I'm considering paying extra into my debt-repayment account just because I can. And because banking online gives me some sort of sick sense of power and autonomy.

First there's Buddha's Birthday, which involves ziplining over the sea, an outdoor spa, hiking in Seoraksan, partying in Sokcho, go-karting, and buffet breakfasts at a swish hotel.

Then there's the Boryeong mud festival, which I've been humming and hawing about for a bit. 

Here's what my trip entails, with EnjoyKorea.Asia:
We have great pensions 1 minute from the beach, party buses taking you there and back and an awesome party on the Saturday night with live music from great bands and DJ’s from around the globe so we can keep the party going once the festivities on the beach have finished.

The Boryeong Mud Festival is for many the highlight of the summer, and with a weekend of slathering yourself in mud, catapulting down mud-slicked inflatable slides and dunking virtual strangers in murky communal pits, then running screaming into the sea to clean yourself off, it’s easy to see why. Those looking for a more laid back experience can opt for mud facials, body painting, and simply lounging on Daecheon Beach. Add to this the k-pop acts and firework shows in the evening it really is one of the events of the summer which will give you and your friends stories to tell for years to come.

The cost for this trip which includes; round-trip party bus, quality pensions and the awesome Saturday evening party is only 85,000 won from Daegu and 95,000 from Busan & Ulsan. 

Although it's on my bucket list, I've heard so many stories about it that are frankly off-putting. It sounds like a massive frat party. I had enough of that at university.

But there's a little part of me that wants it anyway.

And unfortunately, that's the part that just bought the ticket. Well, it's done now. I'd better sit back and enjoy  ticking even more things off my bucket list. So far so good! I'm over a quarter of the way through it. And who cares if I make bad decisions for the sole purpose of ticking things off? Like riding a disco pan-pan while recovering from food poisoning AFTER riding 3 rollercoasters and an upside down spinny thing.

It didn't break me. It made me stronger. So, bring it on, Korea.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Who's afraid of Kim Jong-Un?

For the past few weeks, the American contingent of our expat community have been receiving terrified messages from the folks back home. Apparently we're rushing to stock up on candles, bottled water and kimchi, and building bunkers under our apartment buildings. Apparently South Korea is absolutely terrified because North Korea is pointing nukes at us and planning to fire them any second.

Terrified Koreans. Photo by Theresa.

Panicking foreigners. Photo by Allie

I decided to take advantage of the hype and used it as this year's April Fool's joke. It seems I managed to trick quite a few of you with my story about an invasion and mass evacuation to Japan. Even though I sprinkled in comments about Kimchi being good for radiation poisoning, and asked you to send me money in order to secure a spot on the bus.

It was too easy. 

But some expats seem to have caught the fear bug that has gripped America. Their parents are suddenly sitting up and paying attention to South Korean news because their babies are here, and, well, you were raised to believe your news. 

Here is a soothing picture of  cherry blossoms.
Well, I've worked for a newspaper. And I studied history. And I like to think my level of paranoia is at the optimum setting; just enough to be suspicious but low enough to function in everyday life. 

Anyway, I watch the news. I also read it, and listen to it. I get my news from many different sources. So let me point out the first thing that stands out, to me. I did a quick little survey the other day. 

Mentions of North Korea on the Front/Home Page
CNN: 11
BBC: 1
Al Jazeera: 2
Korea Times: 2
On top of that, almost every article on CNN uses phrases like "crisis", "moment of explosion", "nuclear disaster", and "fear". If I didn't have better things to do like looking at cherry blossoms or trying to order a single portion of chicken for dinner (it seems to only come in HUGE) then I'd count the usage in each news source, but I'll leave that to the linguists and sociologists. TL;DR: CNN is doing some classic fear-mongering. They did it with Iraq, and now they're doing it with North Korea. But why?

With Iraq, it became pretty obvious why every other word on CNN was 'terror'. Apparently "terror" is American English for "oil". I get so confused with the dialectical differences sometimes. But North Korea has bugger all oil. They have a few more natural resources than South Korea, including fantastically cheap labour that they rent out to South Korea in the Kaesung factory park, but they really don't have much that the US could possibly want. Well, the US media pointed out the fact that Kaesung is basically helping the North Korean economy to survive because everything else has gone to shit. What has NK done? They've stopped production at the factory and are letting the South Korea workers return home. However, very few SK workers have actually done so. Most are staying put and waiting for the hoopla to blow over so they can get back to work. Thanks, CNN.

My thinking is that the US is using typical bullying tactics. First, you find the kid in the playground who no one really likes. He's not trendy, he's very emotionally reactive and he doesn't have many friends, except for maybe two well-meaning guys who are trying themselves to get in with the in-crowd, so they're not really supporting him any more either. So, this kid's an easy target.

You wind him up, pushing his buttons, and get him to make some pretty descriptive threats, mostly to do with oceans of fire. 

the key to this strategy is choosing a target who's mostly harmless.
Yes, NK (or Nork as they're being called by some expats) have tested some missiles. But they're not quite capable of delivering the kind of hellfire Kim Jong-un may be hoping for. And besides, I'm willing to bet they're not suicidal either.

So, basically, I think CNN is pushing a different agenda with this. There's nothing to fear right now. But America does have a huge, expensive army. And they do have an economy that's struggling to recover. And they have people gunning down kindergarteners, going on rampages, and violating our basic human rights by loving someone who happens to have the same wobbly bits as they do. Well, we can't have that! 

The country is divided by the religious extremists, gun nuts and the huge differences in wealth.The American dream is crumbling. 

So what do they do? They find a common enemy who's mostly harmless, wind him up so he makes interesting noises and maybe snaps, swoop in and 'save the day', looking like heroes to their allies and uniting their people in fear of one enemy.

Is the threat real? Well, the two Koreas have been in a state of war for decades, and Nork has been making these threats for as long as that's been happening. But, they never follow through on these threats. If you look at their patterns, when they did attack they did it without warning. Element of surprise and all that. And their threats seem to follow the pattern of anniversary of leader's death, leader's birthday, and election of new president in SK. 

Well, there we go. The US media is just trying to scare people into buying more newspapers, watching their broadcasts and supporting any kind of increased military spending, and North Korea are just planning to let off some fireworks to celebrate Kim Jong-Un's birthday. 

Meanwhile, the people of South Korea are preparing themselves for an invasion by sea.

Haeundae Beach, Busan.

Another joke, by the way. That's actually my friend Amy, doing what everyone else was doing on the beach that day. Not swimming or tanning or playing frisbee. Just staring at the ocean and taking photos of it. 

The threat of war looms constantly on the horizon, but it's so far away that people just aren't thinking about it right now, here in South Korea. They're accustomed to it because it's been going on forever. And if you're really worried, all you need to do is register with your embassy (or follow them on Facebook etc) and you'll get any important updates or info as it comes.

The latest from the US embassy:

"The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Embassy has not changed its security posture and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time. The U.S. Embassy takes as its highest priority the welfare of American citizens in Korea. Should the security situation change, the Embassy will issue updated information."

So relax. Have a beer. Put your feet up and let's talk about music, art, gay rights, teaching, life, creation and other interesting things. I'd even be willing to talk about golf. Anything but North Korea. I'm sick of hearing about it. I bet the journalists are bored too. Maybe someone should get some water pistols and take over Mongolia, and then the world. Just to give us something else to talk about. A robbery. A murder. Natural disasters. The bankruptcy of another cherished baked goods chain.

Who's afraid of Kim Jong-Un? Not me.

Monday, April 1, 2013

NK has invaded SK!

Typing on my phone from the school hall so bear withme if there are typos

David posted on FB this morning - NK has taken the DMZ and is heading south. I can't find the Korea Times article but the NK war declaration can be found here:

I guess the US's strategy of winding them up unnecessarily has worked, so their soldiers in SK don't feel spare any more, and they have an excuse to spend more money on their military. Ho hum.

The DMOE is evacuating us to Busan and then Japan. Buses are leaving from my school all day; I'm on the 1pm one so for now just waiting and trying to keep students calm. Some nice ladies are handing out hotteok and gimbap. So far we're safe but you could see the mushroom cloud from the Camp Henry area

There were soldiers running aruound helping us organise buses and they've been really good so far; very polite and professional.
I've managed to snag some spots on some of our buses for some hagwon friends. There are a couple of spces left but they'er going fast and it'll cost you. Email me for bank details if you're in Daegu and want in - it will cost about 50 - 100 000 won. Leaving every 15 mins from 9:30 til 2pm.

Stay safe and contact your embassies. They'll probably be quite busy today.