Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From packing ninja to ski ninja

I had my first ever ski lesson today. Ironically I had to ski to get to the meeting place for the lesson, so my dad gave me a crash course on the infamous snowplow. Literally a crash course; I immediately fell over.

That said, when I got to the lesson and explained that it was my first time, (cue "Oh merde" look from instructor) while everyone else had made it to the lesson the previous day, I wasn't too shabby at all. We had a little grading race, and the instructors kept pointing at me and saying "Superbe!" Well, I think they were pointing at me...

So we spent the afternoon snowplowing our way around the green slopes, and I pulled off some sneaky parallel turns whenever the instructor wasn't looking. Because I read books, and some books tell you how to do that. When he did catch me, he shouted, "Non, non! Do not make ze turns! Stay with ze lazy snow plow!" So I did. And I was a snowplow ninja, going along only slightly faster than an elderly escargot.

Even at that speed I overtook the instructor and he said, "Non, non! Follow me! Stay be'ind me!" So I did. And I perfected a technique I probably won't be using for very long... But we'll see. Baby steps.

I discovered one more thing. Apparently I'm a bit of a speed freak. And when you're trying to do a snowplow turn at high speed, it's just not fast enough. Pressing in alternate big toes, on the other hand, is much more efficient.

Booyah, mofos.

Yes, I am quite aware that the entire resort has written me off as a bimbo. 
In other news, our luggage has arrived! I HAVE PAJAMAS!!!!!!!!!! And, more importantly, my asthma pumps. HOORAY!

My dad's response to our luggage arriving:

Luggage is here, so shopping spree has ended. France will now return its economic downturn.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Tale of the Persistent Baker

I've been on a health kick lately and have figured out that my body and bread don't seem to like each other very much. So far I've been pretty good at skipping bread over the last two months. That is, until we decided to go to France.

On the plane, for dinner, they served us two bread rolls and some cake, as well as the hot meal. Then for breakfast there was cheese on toast, with two more bread rolls. While we were waiting for my dad during the Great Train Fiasco my mom went on a mission at Gare de Bratislava Lyon to find some lunch, and I asked if she could try to find something that wasn't bread. It took quite some time, but she returned with a salad full of croutons. It was the best she could do at a station with cafés called things like Beaucoup du Pain and Pain Delicieux. The whole experience was just... painful.

When we arrived, there was a friendly knock on our door, and there was a lovely English baker who's set up shop in the village. He offered to deliver bread to us, and we said we'd let him know, meaning 'Not bloody likely but thanks anyway.'

Anyway, this morning I woke up in our nice self-catering unit, gazed out at the blizzard that's been going on for about 3 hours now, listen to the sound of anti-avalanche explosions and set off on a mission to the bakery upstairs to get some more milk. But as I opened our door, I fell over not one, but three loaves of bread and a bag full of about 12 huge croissants.

France, you are mocking me.

We have no idea where this bread came from. I think the delivery guy got the wrong address, although we're the only door at the end of a long and very dark corridor. Mom thinks it's a freebie, although I have no idea how three of us are expected to eat it all before it goes off. Dad thinks it's some kind of ambush marketing and that they're going to charge us for it even though we didn't order it. Touché, Monsieur le boulanger.

 I was going to ask the bakery upstairs why this had happened, but this pain is from another baker, it seems. And I have no idea where to find him, and plus, I'd rather build a snowman while I wait for my luggage to arrive.

Huge, fat, floaty flakes of snow. Time to play!

Edit: The day after posting this, we received another, identical delivery of bread and croissants. They thought we could get through all that in ONE DAY? They must be insane. More annoyed phonecalls later and they told us to leave it on the door and that they'd stop.

Today I saw half a loaf of bread on one of the ski runs. It seems we are not alone in our suffering.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mauritius - Paris - Les 3 Vallees. What could go wrong?

I packed my bags (twice), quite cleverly packing so that my things for Seoul and Orientation were at the bottom and things for Skiing were on top. Lots of nice warm jerseys, long johns, and an infinite supply of deodorant and shoes, as advised by the internet.

One bag for Daegu, one for Seoul and Skiing. Packing like a boss.
I even used my ninja-like packing skills to fit all my dad's stuff into the smallest and most wieldy suitcase he's ever taken on a ski trip. Hooray!

Despite that, we still struggled to fit all our luggage into the car, and had to change to someone's bakkie (pick-up truck) instead. Finally we waved the house-sitter goodbye, and, sweating already in our warm clothes, headed off to the airport. Dad had said that I wouldn't need to dress very warmly (I was going to wear longjohns) as we'd only be exposed to the elements for about 10 minutes during our transit to the ski resort. I happily ignored this advice, mostly. At the airport I successfully claimed some VAT on some pretty jewellery I'd bought (via dad's credit card) for my mom, adding to my $ stockpile for Korea. Everthing was going very well. Short queues, etc.

But this isn't the Red Pen Of Everything Going Quite Well, Actually.

It's the Red Pen of Doom. And this time it started with a typically Mauritian send-off: as we checked in our luggage, there was a power cut at the airport. It failed for everyone checking in at the time. So the tags that went onto our luggage stopped matching the data on the computer system. We had a half-hour delay of take-off as the airport tried to sort out everyone's luggage.

While we were waiting for that to happen, I checked out our surrounding passengers. Particularly the one behind me. Because there is nothing worse on a red-eye flight than a toddler in the seat behind you. And... Yep, there was the curly-haired, big-eyed little cherub. Luckily there was a free seat next to me so I moved. Unluckily, the mother decided she'd move into that one too, and hold said Demon Child on her lap, giving him a bit of help to reach my chair, which he proceeded to kick for the whole flight. I watched a good Korean movie (All About My Wife), an okay US comedy, and a sweet 3 hour long Bollywood movie. And I think I slept for about 2 hours in total. On the bright side, the Air France food was delicious - cheese, baguette, gateaux, a bottle of Merlot, and so on.

We hopped off the plane and started making our way around Charles de Gaulle at a quick jog, as we had a connecting train to catch to Les Moutieres and about 20 minutes in which to clear customs, get our luggage, collect the tickets and hop on the train.


The luggage that made it to France: 1 suitcase, and 6 pieces of hand luggage. That is not my suitcase.
Apparently the missing 4 suitcases will arrive sometime this afternoon. We got into the 'wrong' line at customs (the one we were told to get into) and wasted 5 minutes by standing in a ridiculously long line. Cut into the other one by using chaos as a distraction and after a 25km trek through the airport via treadmill thing, airport train and sprinting, we got to the TGV area. Dad went to collect the tickets. But he didn't have the right credit card on him for the machine, so he joined the extremely long queue. He sent my mom and I to go wait for the train at the spot where our carriage would be on the platform. Moments before the train arrived, I saw him running down the escalator towards us, so I waved him over. He'd left his spare credit cards with us and needed them. He ran back up and disappeared. The train arrived, and my mom tried to ask them to hold it, but that wasn't going to happen. So it left without us, and we kept waiting for my dad.

And waiting.

And waiting.

I took some artsy photos.

We decided to try find my dad at the ticket office, but he was nowhere to be found, even with helpful Airport people helping us to look. Mom's phone was flat and we finally managed to find a place to charge it. In the meantime she'd borrowed a policeman's phone and called my dad. I had a cold smoothie while we waited. It was cold, but it was more warmly dressed than I was.

Apparently he'd decided to leap onto a train to Bordeaux. We were supposed to be going to Les Moutieres, near Lyon. Look! A diagram.

Dad didn't quite get to Bordeaux, but with some sprinting and leaping and train-catching he managed to get onto a train to Lyon, where we were to meet him. Mom and I were seated in the bar carriage, and we played 'count the castles'. Well, we tried to. Unfortunately it looked like our train was heading to Bratislava.

They'll sell your kidneys to buy spray paint.
On top of that, dad's super-fast TGV got stuck behind a guy on one of those things with the pump-action handles, so his train was half an hour late and we missed the convenient train to Les Moutieres. We found a pub and had some lunch. The specials, at Cafe Bratislava, were Wolf Soup and Rabbit Shanks. I had squished duck with lentils - surprisingly tasty.

We finally got onto a train to Les Moutieres, and messed around a bit with cameras before playing 'count the castles' again, this time more successfully.

Photo Inception

Mom and Dad reflecting on the day's tomfoolery.

The train was full of attractive French blokes. In fact, every train we'd been on had been full of them. Maybe Bratislava Lyon has some kind of male modelling college in it. I admired the view within and without and I spotted 13 castles. The poor taxi driver who'd been waiting for us for 2 hours was very friendly and he drove us up to the ski resort, which is the highest one in the alps. With 3 hours total of sleep in the past 24, I was beginning to look and feel like I was turning into a prawn.

On the bright side, my hand luggage is like Mary Poppins' handbag, containing all the toiletries and accessories necessary to make me look human. I had some soup, had a shower, and slept for 12 glorious hours. Human again, and I woke up to this view:

Dad's gone skiing, the smug bastard, and Mom and I are going to go buy me a warmer coat (which was planned anyway). Attractive snowboarders are doing some kind of aerobics below our balcony and I can't wait to hit the slopes. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

UMF Korea ticket discount!

Some very helpful people just helped me to get hold of a ticket to this year's Ultra Music Festival Korea. As a South African from the bundus, I had never heard of it until Lola posted about it on Facebook, offering to help people to sort their booking out in Korean.

I'm not a huge house fan. I don't really like crowds. I don't really know what I'm getting myself into, but you know what? If I wanted to spend a year sitting in my flat, watching youtube videos and counting my teeth, I could stay home.

Instead, let me propose a toast to a year of adventure, new experiences, and new friendships. And some freaking awesome parties.

There's a special on, described by Lola as follows:

It's originally 161,000 w (roughly $160) for 2 days, but it's on sale for 80,000 w! The site is all in Korean, but there is an English option. But in order to get the discount, you have to call them at 011-82-1566-1369 for SUPPOSEDLY English option, but they only speak Korean (or in Jeremy's case, they just hang up on you if you speak in English) and give you an English speaker only if she is available.
In other news, North Korea is once again threatening to throw nuclear mud pies around. Maybe if they had concerts like this, they could unwind and enjoy life a little.

Oh, wait...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Applying for the visa

My contract arrived this morning, during my mom's birthday lunch. As soon as we got home, I downloaded and filled in every remaining form that I need to fill out, including the SARS stuff for the tax exempt status.

Now it just needs to be sent off. Hooray!

My recruiter provides a very helpful guide for filling in the visa form, although the section numbers don't quite correspond because they just released a new visa form. A skype call later, though, every tangle was sorted.

Avoiding a false positive on the Epik Drug Test

According to the Epik Coordinator on Facebook, a lot of South African applicants get false positives at the drug test at orientation because South African flu/cold medicine and over-the-counter pain medicine contain small amounts of morphine and other such banned substances. So I did some googling for all the things that might cause false positives in a drug test.

The most detailed list I found was here.

The ones that jump out immediately to me are things like Vicks inhalers, ibuprofen (often used to treat menstrual cramps), nasal sprays, Ritalin, diabetes, tonic water, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (like Voltaren, which also contains ibuprofen), antibiotics, sleeping pills, night-time cold medicine, cough medicine,  poppy seeds and codeine-based pain-killers. This is not everything though, so I seriously recommend you check the ingredients in your prescription meds against the info at that link.

My plan is to just not take any medicine except birth control until after the medical check.

In the meantime, here are some non-medical home remedies:

Colds and Flu
Eucalyptus oil dripped in the bath or in a mug of boiling water, and inhaled, clears your sniffles. Don't ingest it. It has the same effect as vicks vaporub, and is one of the ingredients in vicks vaporub.
Honey and lemon in a mug of hot water soothes the throat and kills the germs.
A Polish friend of mine swears by orange juice spiked with vodka.
Fruit and veggies.
Probiotics as a preventative measure.
Saline nasal rinse - I get sinusitis and dust allergies so often that this has become my go-to for the sniffles, as it works out cheaper than popping pills all the time.

Treat the cause - tension, tiredness, dehydration... Avoid banging your head on things. Sorry I can't be more helpful here.

Inflammed muscles or joints
Wrap yourself in bubble wrap before leaving the house
Frozen peas to keep the area numb
A warm bath
Massaging the tissue with tissue oil or massage oil

Sadly I can't recommend anything for broken legs or pneumonia. And hopefully I won't contract either of those ailments in the next three weeks. If I do, well... Time to man up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Great Contract Debacle of 2013

My contract was apparently sent to me on Friday, and after being 'put in a bag' in Cape Town on Friday, the tracker has turned up no new info.

So I called the post office. I was put on hold briefly and passed along to another post-fairy, who gave me another number to call. That person gave me another number to call as well. The third number I called has apparently gone out to brunch or the beach and might be back later. Maybe.

I'm leaving the country in 2 days' time.

I think this might be the start of another debacle.

Once it does arrive, I'll have to sign it, throw in some other documents like my passport and a passport photo, courier it to Pretoria, wait for it to come back with a visa in it which will then be couriered to me at a small ski resort at the top of a mountain in France.

My nerves are completely shot.

Current count of people I have spoken to on the phone: 8

Finally spoke to a human being with some initiative who stood up and asked the guy who wasn't answering his bloody phone (21 attempts). My parcel is currently being processed by customs and should be delivered tomorrow morning. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Packing for Korea

I've got a tricky situation in that I'm going skiing with my parents right before I head to Korea. Then I have 5 days in Seoul before going to orientation. So, here's my packing strategy. It should also give you an idea of what sorts of things people are taking for the Spring 2013 intake. Well, what I'm taking. I have no idea if I'm taking the right things. I decided to do a trial run.

Bag 1 (Hardshell)
After spending days and days looking for hardshell suitcases with clips (and not zippers) because my dad is worried that Bad Guys will open the zip and stick drugs in my bag, leading me to be holed up in prison for the rest of my life without trial...

I'd sell her for a pack of smokes if she wasn't the only other English speaker here...
This bag contains:
  • winter shoes (hiking boots, trainers, teacher/smart shoes for orientation, flipflops)
  • long-johns (2 sets)
  • thick, fluffy and ski socks
  • tights (2 pairs)
  • smart-casual pants
  • suit 
  • jeans (2 pairs)
  •  scarves
  • coats (raincoat, ski jacket, denim coat)
  • jerseys (SO MANY JERSEYS! Lots of different kinds, with the idea of layering).
  • flannel PJs 
  • warm-ish gym clothes 
  • bras (SO MANY)
  • 3 large spray deodorants, and 3 roll-ons (they last a bit longer, I find)
  • ski jacket and ski pants (X2)
  • thick winter skirt
  • smart-casual skirt
  • hats and gloves
  • frequently used toiletries and makeup
Bag 2 (soft shell - to be wrapped in 8km of plastic until arrival in Daegu)

Ensuring that the dead bodies in the bag stay dead.

  • Swimsuits
  • more undies
  • shorts
  • jeans (x1)
  • summer dresses (X2)
  • smart-casual pants and skirts
  • gym t-shirts
  • smart-ish t-shirts/tops
  • some jerseys that didn't fit in bag 1
  • sarongs and other such beachwear
  • summer hat
  • sandals
  • high heels
  • infrequently used toiletries and medicine
  • small towel
  • handbags
  • teddy bear
  • scuba fins 
Hand luggage:

Mary Poppins' Handbag:

  • kindle
  • kindle charger
  • ipod
  • ipod charger
  • travel documents
  • camera
  • GPS
  • notebook
  • pens
  • re-spectacles
  • smaller clutch bag
  • sudoku book
  • extra hat and gloves 
  • flash sticks
Pull-on suitcase:
  • Orientation documents (certificates etc)
  • hairdryer and hair straightener
  • gifts for co-teachers, principal, etc
  • posters for class
  • books and resources for teaching
  • backpack
  • scarf
  • jewellery
  • scuba mask
Laptop bag:
  • laptop
  • cables
  • flashdrives
And on the plane I'll wear a pair of jeans, long johns, jersey, heaviest coat, scarf, and some winter boots. 

I think that's me sorted. I'm not that attached to any particular spices or foods so I don't really see the point in bringing them with me, as they'd add extra weight. And if there's anything I do desperately crave, my mom said she'll send them along to me. I am a bit sad to leave my wetsuit behind, but as I'll only be diving in the summer, that will be one of the things I will ask my mother to post to me.

I haven't weighed anything yet. To be honest, I am afraid to. I'd take photos of what my packing looks like, but I've lost my camera charger, terribly conveniently. 

Some tricks that I used to pack can be found in the video below:


From what I've seen on the interwebs, there are several items that they recommend you bring with you because they're either hard to find or very expensive in Korea. I've touched on that before, in this post.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pre-Orientation Course Fun

When it's taken an hour, thanks to slow internet, to watch the 20 minute video about something you've got a degree in ALREADY, and you close the lesson once you've finished it without clicking "The End"...

Good news: the fifteen minutes spent on the lesson don't need to be spent watching that video AGAIN.

My contract is in the mail!

Come on, come on...

You've got 9 days left to get to me, before I go overseas and things get unnecessarily complicated.

Edit: Spoke to my recruiter last night and he is couriering it to me today, which means it should be here either tomorrow or on Monday. YAY!

Time to:
 - Download and fill out the residency form for SARS
 - Check that I have everything I need for the visa application
 - Complete the pre-orientation course. I'm find it repeats a lot that I did in Linguistics 1&2, PGCE and TEFL, so it's a bit of a pain, but I'll be done with the boring bits soon and can move on to the Korean culture, history and language bits, which I'm more interested in.
 - test-pack my luggage
 - Work on my basic Korean skills, which I've been slacking on a bit
 - Buy gifts for staff and students at the school

I'm also doing pretty well on my diet and exercise plan - only 2kg to go before I'm the weight I said I was on my application. Being over it is not an uncommon problem, but I've heard of people being sent home because they lied about their weight. I didn't have a scale, so I guessed, and was off by about 5kg. I am quite keen to get in shape, so this seemed like a good goal to start with. If you're interested in stalking my health kick, I'm sweatywaygook on Fitocracy. And that's all I'm going to say about that, in this blog. I might talk about keeping fit in Korea when I get there, but less about me, more about the facilities or things I try.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Eating my Kimchi

After a few days of fermentation we decided to taste this concoction that I made. In my second attempt of the paste, I added soy sauce instead of fish sauce, by accident. So then I added fish sauce as well. Maybe one day I'll cook as if I can read, instead of like this.

Appearance: Not bad, for shrivelled old chinese cabbage and brown bits. Kind of like coleslaw that you forgot about in a drawer a decade ago, with a steady drip into it. The spring onion adds some nice non-rotten colour. I thought it would be redder. Maybe I should add cayenne pepper and not just chili powder next time. I can handle the heat...

Texture: Still slightly crunchy. The sogginess of the kimchi is freshened up by the crunchiness of the daikon. Mm. Yeah, I can see this working. I would even consider adding some more crunchy things to it to freshen it up, like celery or cucumber.

Smell: PEEEEE YOOOOOO! This stuff smells strongly, of garlic and... well, fermented cabbage. Not for the faint of heart. Not too bad if you're okay with the smell a sushi take-out box gets the next day; it's the same kind of strong, vinegary, soy-sauce smell. Possibly because I added soy sauce, which I'll leave out next time. My eyes were bleeding a little bit.

Taste: Mostly coming from the sauce, I can taste the fish sauce quite well. The soy made it a bit too salty but the ginger and daikon definitely save the day. Far too much garlic; the recipe called for 4 cloves. I think you could get away with using 2. But from what I've heard, Koreans like their food pretty garlicky. My mom and I like it, but it was too garlicky for my dad.

All in all, a success, although the recipe (and my reading skills) could use some tweaking.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making my own Kimchi

Ha, I don't even know if this recipe is real kimchi. The recipe book calls it 'Pickled Vegetables' but please. It's kimchi. Call it what it is. If that's what it is. I won't know til it's fermented. But as far as I know, kimchi is cabbage that's been fermented in chili, salt, fish sauce and stuffs. So... That's what I'm making. But this recipe book is basically full of asian recipes without hard-to-find ingredients. YAY!

Here's the recipe:

1/2 a small chinese cabbage
1 litre cold water
100g salt
4 garlic cloves
4 spring onions
2.5cm fresh root ginger
10cm piece of daikon, weighing about 175g
15ml chili powder or 5ml cayenne pepper
30 ml fish sauce
5ml sugar

1. Rinse the cabbage. Seriously. There were all kinds of weird insects in mine. I think they were evolving new species. Rinse that stuff. Rinse it good... Put the water and all but 1.25ml of the salt in a large bowl and


I put 1.25 ml of salt in the bowl and the rest in the paste. Well, less than they asked for, more like 3 tablespoons, but still... Oh god oh god oh god.


Maybe if I don't tell anyone, they won't know.


Anyway, stir til the salt has dissolved. Add a plate to weigh it down and keep it covered. Leave it to soak for 8-10 hours.

2. Set the flat side of the cleaver on each garlic clove; strike it with your fist. Discard the skin and finely chop the garlic. Trim the spring onions, leaving some of the green tops. Cut across and coarsely chop.

3. Scrape the skin from the root ginger with the cleaver. Slice the ginger, cutting across the fibrous grain. Crush each slice with the flat of the cleaver, then finely chop the slices.

4. Peel the daikon and cut it crosswise in half. Cut each half lengthwise into 3mm slices. Stack the slices and cut into 3mm strips.

5. In a bowl, mix the chili powder or cayenne with the fish sauce, sugar, and the remaining salt (1/4 teaspoon) using the chopsticks. (or, if you're me, a kak ton of salt. Oops). Add the garlic, spring onions, ginger and daikon strips and stir until the mixture is all red.

6. Drain the cabbage, rinse with cold water, and squeeze it between your hands to remove all the moisture. Place the wilted cabbage, cut side up, on the work surface. Beginning with the large bottom leaves, pack the daikon mixture between each leaf.

7. Fold the cabbage leaves and push them into the jar. Pour any leftover daikon mixture on top. Cover with the lid, and leave in a cool place to ferment, at least 3 days. The cabbage will wilt and produce liquid.

I really hope this isn't too salty. Good thing we don't know how it's supposed to taste anyway... *cough*

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Placement at last!

I've been placed in Daegu! I'm so ridiculously happy about that. I mean, I would have been happy pretty much anywhere on mainland Korea, but I was seriously thinking they'd place me all the way out in Jeju, and ruin my bucket list plans, which heavily rely on day trips round Korea.

Daegu baby yeah!

And my pre-orientation course email has just arrived in my spam folder. If only my internet was working properly, I could go and do it...

Maybe I should head to my dad's nicely air-conditioned office for the day and slog through it.

Feels like things are moving forward again. Yay!