Friday, December 31, 2010

Good lord, it's a bus full of teachers!

Hello all! Yesterday being the last day of school, today was the teachers' end of year 'picnic' trip. And oh boy was it a wowser! I can in all honesty say that I've never been on such an interesting and also possibly such an illegal business trip in my life. It wasn't that we did one particular thing that was spectacular, but rather, the whole day added up to .... well, something pretty darn memorable!

Lucy and I braving a taxi
 Ok so first things first. The lovely Lucy came to visit on Sunday last week and stayed with me for three days, discovering the joys of ondol heating (Korean underfloor-heating) and particularly, how awesome it is to sleep on when it's cold outside! Also, the joys of noraebang (karaoke), soju, Korean taxis, snow, snow and more snow. On our first night, in the space of a 20 minute journey, our taxi driver managed to only just miss colliding with a delivery bike and another taxi, and then dropped us off in the middle of the road, nowhere near the pavement, leaving us to splash through a pile of dirty slush.

Introducing Lucy to Cass beer
Oh and the snow... so yes, it's been cold. It was so cold that on the way to and from Incheon Airport, the condensation on the inside of the bus windows FROZE, even with the heating on. Luckily it started raining on Lucy's last day, so the snow melted a little and wasn't so bad... or so I thought. At about 12, the rain became snow. And more snow. And more snow. About 10cms later, it eased up a little.. needless to say, I am very definitely sleeping on my floor these days as even with a hoodie, trackies, three blankets and my heating turned up full blast, my bed isn't cutting the mustard any more. (If you want to see snow pics, you can have a look at my facebook albums - will post a link in a bit). Oh and hehe, I have a confession to make here - as previously confessed, I am not a fan of snow. But I don't mind it so much when it's as thick as this was, as it's way easier to walk on and more crunchy than slippery. As I was meeting Lara for dinner on Tuesday, I remembered that she had professed a wish for a snowball fight. Obligingly, I decided that a surprise snowball would be in order, that I would spring out with. Going for the surprise 'snow' factor rather than the 'fight', I decided that I'd only toss it, and throw with my left hand so there'd be a chance it wouldn't actually hit her at all. So I hid behind a car, and got ready to girly-throw my ball of powdery fluff...

Ba-bow. Failure. Not only did I manage to hit her, I managed to hit her right in the face. O_O

So back to the story. What with the cold and all, most of us had our fingers crossed that the teachers' trip today would be cancelled, as we knew we were going to Namiseon (남이선), an island in Gyeonggi-do famous for its scenery and for being the site for much of the famous Korean drama [Winter Sonata] ([겨울 연가]). (These days, apparently some famous Thai film has also been shot there.) But no, so we all turned up at school and hopped onto the bus at 9 and set off. Being in Korea, this meant, we immediately cracked open the food, so everyone got their roll of kimbap, as well as a bottle of water, a packet of songpyeon and sweet ddok (see earlier post for an explanation) and a little snackpack consisting of a packet of salted peanuts, two mini nougat chocolate bars (like Milky Ways), a small packet of Gosomi biscuits, two mandarines, some gum, some caramels and a cheese sausage stick. And of course, the alcohol. Most of the male teachers were sitting at the back of the bus, like where the tough kids sit, and three bottles of soju immediately found their way there.

Mohyeong Joong library entrance
Before heading to Namiseon however, we made a detour by Mohyeon Middle School in Yongin which is famous for both a high record of academic achievement and for it's excellent afterschool- and mentoring programs. It was amazing! Perhaps because it was kind of on the outskirts of the city, almost in a kind of small satellite town, the grounds and buildings were twice the size of ours with space for gardens and some small fields for their agricultural program. Once inside, everything was clean, well sign posted, very modern looking and brightly decorated. We peeked into a classroom, which looked to be about a third again as big as ours, and then went to the library to watch a short video on their afterschool program and talk to some of the teachers in charge of it.
It. Was. Amazing! The library was beautifully decorated, both structurally and by the students (presumably), and very inviting. Apparently Hankook University of Foreign Language Studies has a campus in the town nearby, which supplies their Mentoring (like after-school tutoring) programs with all their teachers too. My co-teacher Ms Shin (who is also in charge of supervising the afterschool program) asked their supervisor what their secret was to a successful program, to which they answered "it's magic!" Cute, but possibly somewhat smug? ... Anyway, it was a beautiful school, so any smugness would be well justified!

1/3 of the school building and a third of their playground

Another 1/3 of the total building

Handing out the Cass
So after Mohyeon, we piled back on the bus and started the 1 and a half hour trip it would take to get us to Namiseon. By now it was about 11.30, so obviously, it was beer o'clock. Since it was a more reasonable hour, some of the female teachers joined in, so I didn't feel so bad about sharing a beer with my bus-buddies Miss Cho and the tech teacher Mr Lee Soong-Gi, although some of the other teachers made surprised noises that I was able to drink. Even more surprising however was when the bad boy teachers at the back lit up and started smoking. Yep, you read that right - teachers, smoking, on the bus. Oh, sorry, smoking AND drinking, on the bus. Just like would probably happen if it was a school trip with the kids and one of them had lit up (probably without the alcohol though), soon the other teachers up the front noticed and started yelling at the smokers to put out the cigarettes and telling them off for the smell. The rebels tried cracking open the hatch at the back, but eventually put out their smokes, thank God.

Some six packs of beer later, we got to Namison, just in time for lunch. Keep in mind the food that we had already had, as well as two more boxes of mandarines that we'd been munching our way through, as well as the beer and soju... but this was barely an appetiser. Lunch was dak-kalbi (닭갈비), bing-eo twikim (빙어 튀김) and makguksu (막국수), a kind of broiled chicken marinated in a spicy sauce, deep-fried freshwater anchovies, and buckwheat noodles in a spicy sauce/soup served cold, like a mix between mul-naengmyeon and bibim-naengmyeon, but with julienned carrot strips, lettuce and kim (seaweed). Unlike the kind I'd tried before however, this dak-kalbi was grilled like samgyeopsal over a firepot. Of course, it was all delicious! Especially the bing-eo, which had really soft and almost creamy flesh, and wasn't crunchy like it's saltwater cousins, myeolchi (멸치) which is usually dried before it appears in dishes. And of course, there was more alcohol. Since none of the three teachers I was sittng with drank however, I didn't have anything either, which was lucky because I don't think I could have knocked back the three or four (or five or six) bottles of soju that ALL of the other tables were managing. Don't get the wrong idea (if you've never been to a Korean meal in Korea before), it wasn't a general lunch-time sot-fest. It was very convivial, with everyone pouring drinks and toasting each other, and as is usual for Korean meals, making sure everyone had lots to eat and sharing the best bits of the dishes with everyone else, in some cases force-feeding each other by holding it to their mouths and insisting "먹어! 먹어!" ("mok-o! mok-o!"/ "eat! eat!")

Soju bottle Christmas tree
After lunch, we sauntered onto the ferry and made the 5 minute journey out to 'The Republic of Namiseon', highly amused that our tickets were in fact 'visas' and that the boat proudly declared "We Are All Naminarians! Welcome!" on the front. Despite the snow, or maybe because of it, it was beautiful! Many of the teachers had been at least once before, so we just kind of wandered around the tiny island, looking at all the displays and trying not to make the resident wild ostriches and Muscovy ducks angry (if you know anything about either of these animals, both can be prone to rather violent anger) and taking lots of pictures. Despite the large crowds of tourists, many from Japan, Thailand, China and Vietnam, it was very serene and peaceful, and we saw various ice-sculptures (or rather icicle-sculptures made from frozen fountain jets), the UNICEF Hall of Peace, dozens of different artworks made of soju bottles, the Cheot-kisu (첫키스 or 'first kiss') place from 'Winter Sonata', Meta-Sequoia Lane, a strange kind of pyramid made of books, and so on. And there were periodic woodfires to melt yourself in front of, so it was very nice ^_^

Meta-Sequoia Lane

My principal and Mr Park having a snow fight

Ms Ha (?), Miss Cho, Ms Shin and Ms Park
**Sadly, I don't have any more photos after this point as my camera has gone kaput for some unknown reason**

After an hour or so of wandering around freezing our butts off, it was home time, so we putted back across the semi-frozen river on the ferry and gladly scrambled back into our warm bus. Once we were all in, the teachers began again on that consummate solution to the cold - more alcohol - and began shouting for another - noraebang! Others brought up the small point that karaoke on buses is now in fact illegal in Korea, to which the Principal, Mr Kim, responded that yes, and so was drinking alcohol. Twenty minutes of discussion later, as one of the teachers who is leaving next year to do his PhD moved down the bus pouring shots for everyone (Miss Cho, who doesn't drink, was very smart and took a very small amount, then discreetly spat it out while pretending to drink a cup of coffee), and the art teacher Mr Lee Kwang-Jae solved the argument by putting a song on, picking up the microphone, and belting it out, followed by four others, all male, and all most likely the biggest drinkers. Having warmed up the bus-mosphere, they then decided that since none of the women were singing, the best way to spread the trend was by making ME do one. I am by no stretch of the imagination a good singer, being mostly tone-deaf, but I can usually hit a few of the right notes (mostly by accident). So I wasn't exactly keen. Nonetheless, seeing that there was nowhere to run away to, I thought "why not? Better to embarrass myself having a go at something rather than falling over drunk at a dinner at some point", took a deep breath, got up and belted out "All I Want For Christmas" by Mariah Carey. Having been completely abandoned by Miss Cho, thankfully then EVERYONE (including the people who had been pretending to sleep) on the bus started clapping along, in some cases singing, and then my Principal, bless him, got up and danced along to the music. If you've never seen a short, stocky, slightly tipsy Korean man in his late fifties with a jolly face and a decided pot belly in a suit dancing along to Mariah Carey, pulling faces, pouting, cheering, and occasionally shouting out "WOO WOO WOO!" behind you on a moving bus while 35 other teachers cheer you both on, you've never done karaoke.

My martyrdom over, everyone politely cheered and I sat down highly embarrassed, and highly amused :) The singing and dancing, including the Principal pretending to pash one of the other male teachers, and at one point what was almost a six-teacher conga line in the aisle, continued for another two hours, and we finally reached our school once more at 8pm after what was possibly the most illegal and interesting bus trip I've ever had in my life. P.S. the cherry on the sundae (or even Thursdae, ㅋㅋㅋ) - I don't have to go in to work tomorrow. My school rocks!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Last Day of School

Firstly, I know I owe a blog on the wonderful Miss Lucy Lou's visit, but it will have to wait until I get home and upload some pics from my camera.

So just to tide you over I thought I'd put in a quick blog about something that I frequently forget to tell people about until it's too late - my apple weirdness. Anyone who knows me well will know about this, and has probably judged me for it, just a little. As my friend Coco (Chanel) says, "don't judge!"

Ok, a rundown. I have a few weird neuroses. One of them is not having dirty feet anywhere near my bed (I have yelled at people before for getting onto my bed in shoes), another is about touching the edges of pages when I read a book (thankfully I've mostly gotten over this one - I just like to run my fingers up and down the page edges as I read a book, but when I was younger I used to have a kind of OCD compulsion to touch the corner edges of every single page I read... and I read a LOT), another is that I like rubbing things against my cheek to feel how soft they are rather than use my hands (something my friend Sam CM Shin also does!) and another, the biggest, is about eating apples. Don't get me wrong, I love love LOVE the taste of apples, and some of my fondest memories are of eating roast pork with apple sauce at my Nana Hart's house for Sunday dinners (it never tasted the same anywhere else), but the feeling of eating apples or anything else really crisp like that is enough to send shudders down my spine. In fact just thinking about it is making me feel a little goosebumpy as I type.

So as you can imagine, this is something of a problem, first in a family that enjoys apples (the crisper the better) and now also in a country of crisp crunchy apples and pears that also likes to sneakily hide them in fruit salads covered in cream. My second problem is telling people about the first problem, since they invariably think I am mad, and give me a "are you serious??" look, sometimes accompanied by either mocking or incredulous laughter. I usually try to warn people about it in a non-eating situation, or at least a non-apple-eating situation so that it seems slightly less crazy and also less like I'm just being picky about the food, but sometimes I forget, with various results. Like for instance a couple of years ago while on exchange, when everyone was sitting around in the dorm kitchenette eating snacks, and someone brought out a huge apple and crunched into it before I could say anything. I flinched, hastily tried to explain, and then promptly ran away. Needless to say, they all thought I was making a really stupid and obvious excuse to leave, simply because I didn't like them, or, as one person told me later, that I had diarhorrea and was rushing to the loo.

Which brings me to lunch today. My school lunches are pretty good. I'd give a consistent 7 - 10 out of 10 every time. Everything is recognisable, we get a good variety of food, and the fruit is always fresh. However, an increasingly regular sweet course are slices of Korean pears. Like the Japanese nashi, Korean pears are kind of a cross between pear and apple, so they have the usual pear taste but are very VERY crisp and crunchy. Normally I eat with one of my co-teachers, all of whom know about my apple thing (but kindly reserve judgement), so they don't comment when I only take one small piece of pear and cut it up with my spoon, which I also hate doing, and eat it by gingerly spooning it into my mouth and chewing it with my back teeth so that I don't have to spear it with a chopstick and feel it make that awful scraping sensation, and also so it doesn't grate against my front teeth. But as today was our last day of real school and all the kids got sent home early, the teachers were the only ones having lunch at school and people were eating a bit more leisurely. Since it was the last day, we had a treat and as well as the pear, were also given  thick slices of persimmon (gam in Korean, or 감). I took a piece of each to be polite (you usually get harassed a little if you don't at least try a little of everything and then everyone talks about why you aren't eating it) and sat down between my co-teacher and a lovely admin lady named Ahn Dong-Mi who is awesome and despite speaking no English, did her best to chat to me whenever possible to keep me from being bored and to help me practice my Korean when we went on the school camping trip.

Everything was yummy as usual, and I did my usual discreet cutting and spooning when I got to the pear. However, having never eaten gam  before, I wasn't sure what to expect, and after careful poking seemed to indicate it was pretty solid, I tried to cut into it with my spoon and of course it got stuck, so in I went with a chopstick to try and extricate it. Oops. Not good. I immediately flinched and shivered in my seat and put it down straight away. The teacher sitting across from me noticed immediately and mistaking my actions for typical foreigner slapstick, suggested I try just eating it off one chopstick.

 I tried to explain why I didn't want to eat it (very badly) in Korean, and of course, once she'd figured out what I was trying to say, there was the usual incredulous look of "I can't decide which you are more of - a baby or an idiot" and then she said "you don't eat apples because they feel weird???" very loudly. Three of the teachers sitting on the other side of her heard and immediately began asking me about it and talking about how strange this was and discussing how young people's teeth are so bad these days because we eat too much sugar (none of them being over the age of 40 I'd say) and how foreigners seem to have a lot of dietary problems - there was nothing negative intended, it was just strange to them (let's face it, it's strange to everyone) and I was getting a tad embarrassed because I'm already a bit of a freak at the school for having a peanut allergy. Just when I was about to make my excuses and run away, the teacher sitting next to me piped up with "It's not strange, gam and apples have a unique texture when you eat them. My son doesn't like them either" and shut them up. If I wasn't so sure it would have freaked her out, I would have hugged her.

Ahn Dong-Mi, you are the best ^_^

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

 *★MERRY*•˚° •。•★*CHRISTMAS★ °* •。★* •。★*˚
° 。* •。˛˚˛★*˚*° 。* ★。EVERYONE!♥˚° 。 ° ˛˚*° 。˚*• °
° 。.°˛˚* _Π_____*。*˚° 。 ° ˛˚*˚° • 。 ° ˛˚*˚° • 。 ° ˛˚
˚ ˛˛•˚ */______/~\。˚ ˚ ° 。• ° ˛˚˚° 。 ° ˛˚˛˚˚° 。 ° ˛˚˛
˚ ˛˛ ˚ *|田田|門| ˚˚˚° 。 ° ˛˚˛˚*And Happy New Year*

So we ended up having a white Christmas here after all - it started snowing around 2.30 this afternoon, and by about 7pm, everything was coated in a fine layer of powdery white icing-sugar snow. And this time I liked it!... Because I was inside and keeping warm hehe :)

 Christmas in Korea is not really much of a holiday. Actually, it's more of a couples day than a family day, like a second Valentine's Day, so people might do something special for it with whoever, but things don't really shut down like they do at home. So shops stay open (although usually for shorter hours) and traffic is predictably terrible and because of the cold weather and it being a weekend, catching a taxi was tricky.

With Chanel at the C.o.E. dinner

So this is a quick run-down of what I did for Christmas. First of all, we had the Chungbuk Office of Education end of year (Christmas) dinner on Friday, Christmas Eve. As my friend Lara pointed out, not everyone is Catholic or Christian, so calling it a Christmas dinner straight out might have been a little exclusive. Our co-teachers were told it was a 'workshop' however, so I guess we were just told whatever they thought would make us want to come. It was kind of fun though - an ok buffet dinner with some pretty good oysters! and an orchestra, photo slideshow and Karaoke competition which was .. interesting... :) Luckily, after the dinner ended Lara (who lives a street away from me) and I cadged a ride with one of the co-teachers and didn't have to walk home in the minus 16 degrees or whatever it was.

With Lara and Teresah
Christmas day started with a morning skype home and opening presents with mum, dad and Fran at 7am (9am Wollongong time). Floss was in her reindeer suit as usual, and looked miserable, as usual, but looked slightly happier at the prospect of her and Henry's new doggie biscuit bottle. Cute! Needless to say, I was very jealous at missing out on the traditional stewed fruit, yoghurt and bagels. Next came a call to my grandparents, and I accidentally confused my grandma by telling her that I was coming home on the morning of the 18th and making her think that I was coming home TOMORROW morning - sorry nan!

MMMMM!! or as they say here "nom nom nom!"

Then, the big thing that so many of us Cheongju-ites were looking forward to - Christmas breakfast at Chanel's! Everyone brought something delicious - we had orange juice, cheesy scrambled eggs, crispy crunchy bacon, sausages, french toast (with mandatory maple syrup), croissants, fruit salad, kiwis and strawberries, yoghurt, nougat Christmas pudding, tim tams (thanks mum, dad and fran!), bread that turned out to be cream-filled... YUM!!! It was all delicious ^_^
We also watched 'Love Actually' too while we ate - the perfect Christmas movie to watch with a group of your best girlfriends ^_^

Getting home turned out to be a bit more difficult than we thought though - I read the bus route map wrong, so the bus Lara and I caught ended up at the Eastern bus depot (동부종점) with no taxis or information on buses in sight, but luckily the driver of the bus we were on helped us out and helped hustle us onto a bus that was going our way and luckily was the only one that went right to my front door. A quick dash inside to drop off my stuff and then I was back out into the cold again and off to the Cheongju Sports Complex(Chaeyukgwon or 체육관) to see "B,Boyz and Ballerina". My co-teacher Ms Shin had an extra ticket so she was her usual awesome self and invited me to come see it with her, her son and her school friend Ms Kim. And it was awesome! I thought it was going to be a kind of stage version of one of those fancy ballerina meets tough street boy love stories with some speaking, and it was, but today it seemed like a kind of dancing pantomime because there was Christmas bit where they threw presents (candy) into the audience (I actually hid because some of it was being thrown quite forcefully). And I love pantos! Haven't seen one since I was in year 9 or something, and Ms Shin really enjoyed it too so we clapped and cheered and had a great time. Luckily we were in the centre, about ten rows back from the stage so we had a great view, and when they asked everyone in the audience who was "solo" (meaning single) to put their hands up and then picked people to come up on stage and be a couple or dance with them, we were far enough back that neither I nor Ms Shin's son got picked, even though Ms Shin tried her hardest to get them to choose me by yelling out and waving at them. It was so much fun! And completely worth going outside for on this chilly minus 14 degree day, even having to walk through falling snow dropping into my face. I was actually supposed to drop by and see Super Onni and her family today too but when I got home I ad a quick nap that ended up lasting until 10.30, so I think I kind of missed that one. Luckily they are Buddhist anyway, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to be anything especially Christmassy.

So that's about it. Oh, I have one more Christmas thing to look forward to! Lucy is coming to see me! Yay fo stopovers! ^_^ So hopefully in a few days time I will be adding a post about what an awesome time we'll have and the snow won't be too much of a buzzkill.

****P.S. All photos here from Lara's much higher quality collection and ability at photo-taking than mine :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Sick again. My nose is full of gunk and I almost passed out into my lunch because I took too big a bite of food and couldn't chew it AND breathe at the same time. Seriously, I started seeing black spots in front of my eyes, and I couldn't even discreetly spit it out because it was red-bean rice-cake and had glued itself to the roof of my mouth. Needless to say, when I'd finished chewing furiously, and gasped a huge breath (luckily there weren't too many people around at the time and most of those who were were too polite to say anything) I made sure to take much tinier mouthfuls.

Grossness aside, the rice-cakes were very interesting. This particular kind is called ssiru ppat ddok (시루 팥떡) One of my co-teachers told me that because they are covered in crumbled red-beans (ppat or 팥) and red-bean powder, and the colour red is believed to keep away demons and bad spirits, Koreans believe that it is very important to eat them around the New Year. The red-beans are a little sweet, but not prevalently so, and you get occasional chunks of whole red beans too.

There are lots of other types of rice-cakes too, all of them delicious! Well, delicious for people who like rice-cakes anyway :) For those of you not familiar with Korean ddok (rice-cakes), they are made out of glutinous rice pounded into dough (which is a fun thing to try if you ever get the chance to do it at a Korean folk village) and there are lots of different varieties made with lots of different ingredients. For example, they can be made with things like ssup (숲, a kind of fragrant Korean plant that looks like chives), made plain but rolled in different grain powders, made with chunks of pumpkin, sultanas and pepitas, made into balls filled with honey and sesame seeds (called songpyon 송편), and of course made and filled with a sweetened ppat paste - the list goes on. To me, they are much better than Japanese mochi because they aren't as sweet or soft, so they have a much more satisfying and really unique consistency and you can eat them sweet, savoury, spicy, hot, cold or even kind of frozen with ice-cream.

Ok well that's about it for today. No funnies from my students, but I did see a bizarre performance n a music dance show. Korean pop-stars try weird mixes of cute and sexy with varying results - see James Turnbull's entry on his blog The Grand Narrative on an excellent article on the Lolita image in K-pop. One of the best examples of this is Orange Caramel's "A-ing! (아잉!)", the main dance of which is so cute it's slightly sickening (as well as slightly disturbing, even if you didn't read James' blog first) and also featured on the music show today. Here it is below if you want a gander.

seriously. what the?

Anyway, the weird thing I saw today was by Seo In-Yeong (서인영) of her new song "The Rhythm Within (리듬 속으로)" on an MBC music program - hilarious because it was one of those "I'm sexy, you're sexy, look at me be sexy, let's dance sexily on the dance floor" songs but she was wearing this weird kind of fairy outfit complete with epaulettes. It looked weirdish but ok with a black corset and a pink skirt and no epaulettes in the music video with all her back-up dancers wearing something similar, but her blue version with a yellow tutu in full-shouldered glory while her dancers wore simple black with various shiny pants was just weird.

Hot? Who, me? Lee Gi-Gwang
To end on a positive note, I'm glad I watched the whole show because the last band was B2ST, pronounced as "Beast" (2 in Sino-Korean is pronounced as "ee") which I love 1) because of the name which tickles my pun-nybone (lol, sorry : p) and 2) because of Lee Gi-Gwang who is a beautiful beautiful man... and perhaps co-incidentally also totally ripped ^_^

But really, the reason why I love him is actually because he's a complete dork. He's been on a few tv shows, one of which is a comedy program called "Hot Brothers (뜨거운 형제)" and another is a kind of reality show where a female comedian gets sent to basically babysit B2ST (Korean pop stars usually live together with their band mates) who are all in their late teens or early 20's, and in both of these, he is the token himbo of each group. For example, in "뜨거운 형제" there is a section where they are all given a clue and they all have to whisper the same answer to the camera. Gi-Gwang is inevitably the one with the wrong answer, which sometimes isn't even anything to do with the clue, and the look of innocent bewilderment he gives as they all yell at him is pricelessly adorable ^_^

I don't care that you're so silly, I heart you anyway Gi-Gwang!

(P.S. I just realised I made the title the wrong day. Must have had a Gi-Gwang moment ^_^)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uh... really? Just... really???

I know it's the done thing (or rather was when she was the flavour of the month) to be harsh on Susan Boyle, but I really couldn't care less about her. Not necessarily in a bad way - she just registers zero interest on my radar of mildly entertaining things and has never even blipped, much like many overrated fads. Nevertheless, after opening an email from Transworld Publishers and seeing that she's already published her auto-biography, the first thing that came to mind was "Really??" What can she really have to say that is worth justifiying the death of a hundred trees to publish? "I was born unfortunately a little on the ugly side with a moderately beautiful voice (which surely would have been less lauded as beautiful had she not been so aesthetically unpleasant), was 'discovered', unsurprisingly was not ready for the fame of being thrown into the spotlight (basically as a freakshow), lost it all, had a nervous breakdown, and am now trying to ride what novelty fame I had by squeezing some last profit from the gullible few even more boring than myself that even I can't believe find me interesting". There, I said it for you Susan. Personally I agree that she was unkindly treated by the media, and it's not necessarily her fault that they seized on her and ran riot with it and she was very human and tried to go for the fame, but... really???

By the way, the Futurama episode "Attack of the Killer App" did a mean but funny take of Susan Boyle which is the only reason why her pointless excuse for the kind of book you buy someone who's so bland that you don't even know if you don't really like, but suspect you would willingly throw to the zombies because it would actually make them more interesting even caught my eye ㅋㅋㅋ

(sorry it's so low quality, it was the only clip I could find that I could embed. A higher quality clip can be found here.)

A mostly good day...

Yes, I am cynical and prone to occasional bouts of - shall we say a dour grumpiness? So really I shouldn't head what I intend to be a mostly upbeat post with something that hints at more of the same. But that annoying vein of combined honesty and literalism and an inability to ignore niggling wrong details stops me from changing it.

So first things first - last week I was pretty busy. As you may have guessed from my whingey Friday grouse, I was busy and tired and then on top of it all, freezing my butt off, so all in all not a happy camper. A pair of wellies, a chilled dinner and drinks after buying an extra super thick (electric purple too!) blanket helped me de-stress a little, just in time for a busy two days of travelling all over to see a lot of fabulous people. Don't get me wrong - I was happy to do it, and really, I did manage quite a lot of snoozes in between. But it was a bit weird finally getting home on Sunday night at 9.30pm and realising that I had another week in front of me of more of the same craziness that I'd just recovered from and then it would be Christmas. Where does the time go?

Nat enjoying her birthday :)
 Ok, a quick summary of where mine went: Saturday saw me in Busan to celebrate my lovely and entirely awesome friend Natalie's birthday and help her age noisily if not gracefully. Happy Birthday Nat! We love you, even if you piked early (our fault really for letting her lapse between drinks in favour of beer pong and allowing tiredness to get there before drunkeness). After 5 hours of sleep it was up and off to brunch and then a dash to Busan station, where thanks to three wonderful compassionate people who allowed me to cut in front of them after waiting in line for an unproductive seven minutes got us nowhere, I made my train with literally 1 minute and about 10 seconds to spare. A screaming child (excited screaming not crying screaming) for most of it made it slightly less restful than it could have been, even after asking the mother to keep her kid quiet. (I put up with it for a good 15 minutes. Enough was enough and really, if your four year old child is STILL excited at the prospect of a piece of gum, even after it has chewed and discarded the other nine pieces in the whole packet, I should not be the only one wondering what the hell.)

Me, Hema and Sonali

All of this was worth it though because it meant I got to see Hema!! In fact, one of the things that has made this such a great year so far is all the old friends that I've managed to see again, and Hema makes it doubly-great because I got to see her twice! I was lucky that she had time really, on her whirlwind tour around the world from NY to Korea, to Mongolia, and then back to Korea before going onto Finland and home again. And of course that meant I got to catch up and hang out with her sister Sonali too, so the three of us had a great time chatting in this weird coffee place in Myeongdong. (Seriously, awful drinks, awful service, awful attitude. Between exit 7 at Myeongdong Station and Caffe Bene with the outdoor seating. Don't go there!) It was sad saying goodbye, but Hema had to go home and find a way to stuff all of her shopping into her suitcase! :p

Bus back to Cheongju, home, did some washing and tidying, ate something and crashed. Up again early this morning to another pea-soup fog type day for my health check to extend my contract next year. Doctors and nurses were ok, but am definitely not keen on their methods of taking blood. Not that I am at the best of times, but here they've been so bad I wouldn't even volunteer to do it to give blood, which apparently they have to bribe uni students with extra credits to get sometimes so it mustn't just be me who thinks it's bad. (Actually, it's weird, but everyone has been great at injections!)

 And then classes. Was watching the rest of Home Alone 2 in the two of them, one of which I did lesson plans in and the other I played omok (오목, like Korean connect five - also known as gomoku in Japanese apparently) with my co-teacher on a set that she'd confiscated from one of the students so they were good. The other was with one of my worst first year classes - lowest level boys. We were finishing their class Christmas tree (made out of their hand silhouettes) and letters to Santa (paper decorations) and also making Christmas cards with paper snowflakes and paper chains. I wasn't sure how they'd like this since the tree making had met with mixed success the week before, but they LOVED IT! It was weird, but apparently Korean kids don't learn how to make paper snowflakes (or at least none of mine have yet) so they thought it was all new and intriguing. None of them got up to making a cut-out Christmas tree or paper dolls, but they had a brilliant time experimenting with cutting out the snowflakes and sticking them onto paper cards so we had a great lesson. Part of this might have been because I gave them all little Christmas tags and candy at the end though ㅋㅋㅋ

  I have to say here - not all of the students in this class are low level. Some of them are really bright, and up until exams I had actually split the class into low and high (about 2/3 to 1/3 respectively) with my co-teacher and the high stream kids had been doing fantastic work, even with just me and no co-teacher to occasionally translate. But until then it had been a struggle trying to find stuff that appealed to everyone and was achieveable for all the students, so it was really great to have a lesson that they all enjoyed and got into. Which brings me to what I think has to be the highlight of my Christmas decorations so far - Hyeong-Nae drew me a special Christmas picture. Here it is on the right... Yes, apparently Alien celebrates Christmas too.

Letter to Santa (from one of the girls)
 So another bright spot in my day is also the Christmas letters that my kids have been writing to Santa. I've done a post about this on Facebook, but I've definitely noticed a bit of a gender divide in terms of material, although they all pretty much come down to the same bottom line - give me a present. Here's one from one of the girls. If you can't read it, it says "Dear Santa. Hello Santa. My name is Ye-Jin. I love you. You are children's Rome (?). Every one hopes your prasent! Others: Santa doesn't exist. But I believe your exist. So you will give a present to me! Love you Santa. To Ye-Jin." Other letters from the girls have included "Dear Santa. Please bring me a dog for Christmas. Because I want a friend. I love you! Hannah.", "Dear Santa, please bring me new cloths and i-pot.", "Dear Santa, please bring me MBlaq for Christmas!" (a K-pop group. I think she meant their album.. but then and again maybe not)

In the meantime, the boys have been much more.. shall we say, direct? Here's one I particularly liked. It says:

"Dear Santa
Hellow, Nice Christmas,
How old are you? I want to know your age.
It is mystery to all the people. Why didn't you die?
Please, tell me about your secret.
Bye bye, Hun-Min

Others have been "Dear Santa. I hate you. Just give me a present. Jeong-Bin.", "Dear Santa, show me the money! Give me lots of money. Then give me more money. Love Tae-Hee." and today "Dear Mr Ha. You is so foolish."

Lol, great stuff ^_^

But onto the final part of the day, which is what made me hesistate before claiming today was a great day. Dinner. I was meeting Lara for dinner and I felt like haejang-guk (해장국), a kind of yummy savoury Korean soup that you usually add your rice to and mix up to eat, so we decided to check out a haejang-guk hole in the wall type place in our area we'd seen but never been to and grab some kong-namul haejang-guk (콩나물해장국) made with bean sprouts. We walked into the restaurant, sat down and ordered from the slightly deaf old lady running the place. There were only two other people in there (it would have only fit about ten people in the whole place), two ajosshis (old men) drinking and talking loudly, so we continued our conversation in our corner until our food arrived, at which point the one closest (and drunkest) decided to get chatty, saying that they'd been listening to us talking English. Which was fine, and we chatted for a bit, me translating as best I could for Lara, and then turned back to our food. A few seconds later, ajosshi #1 started telling me how pretty I was. Seeing that he'd embarrassed me and I wasn't translating this to Lara, he turned to her, pointed at me and said loudly in English "Miss Korea, eh?" We all laughed and seeing that we were trying to eat, his friend told him (in Korean) to shut up, stop bothering us and let us eat. Which we managed for a good five minutes or so, before ajosshi #1 began yelling at the ajumma to order something else and started getting a wee bit rude, (with his friend telling him to shut up and stop swearing). And then since he was pointed that way moved on to trying to talk to us again, asking us where we were from and trying to explain that he wasn't being rude, it was just that the ajumma was deaf and Koreans were naturally noisy and energetic but very sincere (all the while insisting periodically that I translate for Lara). His friend once again tried to get him to leave us alone, but then the lady brought out their food (a plate of meat) and they decided to give us half, saying they couldn't eat it all themselves. We thanked them and tried to get back to eating it. Five minutes later Mr Drunk was back . His friend left, muttering about how the other guy was drunk and telling me that he gets so drunk he "falls out of his room" (meaning he must live alone, and unmarried ajosshi's living alone are invariably drunk, angry and usually have some sort of social problems) and the old lady retreated into her kitchen. By this point I had very little or no idea what the guy was talking about, but trying to translate as best as possible for Lara, and trying with very little success to occasionally actually eat. It was obvious we weren't going to be left alone by now, and Lara took out her phone to check the time. Mr Drunk did not appreciate this and started saying how rude she was to talk on her phone (which she wasn't). I then said to Lara that it was probably time to escape in as cheery a fake tone as I could muster, and then apologised to him and said we had to go, as we had another appointment. I don't know if he'd understood what I said to Lara, but man was he pissed! By the time he'd started yelling at us to get out ("그냥 가!") amidst a variety of other abuse, we were wrapped up and jumping into our shoes. A torrent of abuse continued as we paid and left (the old lady was very apologetic) and we thought we'd escaped. Since we hadn't finished dinner, we headed for some ice-cream to cool off. This proved a great comic relief as we were highly amused to discover that the cookie ice-cream sandwich I'd bought was literally a sandwich made out of bread and cookie ice-cream. Standing on the street laughing over this and various other things before parting ways however proved to be a mistake, as Lara noticed drunk ajosshi coming down the street who had unfortunately noticed us and was glancing over his shoulder to glare at us angrily. Solution: we jumped behind a huge blowup balloon advertisement pillar and hid until he'd turned the corner.

What a weirdo. But now that I'm (presumably) safe and warm, hidden in my apartment that I'm 98% sure he didn't see me go into, and hopefully Lara is the same, it's kind of funny. lol, I guess I'm weird too... but not as weird as he was! ^_^

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Goddamnit.

It's snowing. I don't like snow. It's very pretty, when you're sitting inside somewhere warm and cosy, and there's nothing making you have to go outside in it, but when it's something you actually have to experience, it's cold, wet, makes everything slippery and dangerous and honestly, it's just bits of ice falling out of the sky. What's so magical about that? I get that some people find it enchanting and whatnot, but I'm not one of them. Unless I'm actually at a snowfield for the specific purpose of playing in the snow (fun for about 10 minutes until you get soaked) or snowboarding, etc, I can't see snow as fun.

I realise as I type that I sound like an awful sourpuss about it all, and I'm sorry to be making my first post in a long while so down, but really, I don't know why the snow is depressing me so much today of all days, but it is. Maybe it's because of the cold (this week we have had an average of minus 14 degree days). Maybe it's because I'm not a morning person at the best of times, and after seeing the latest Harry Potter film last night (which was awesome!!!!) and then making myself shower and wash my hair because I knew there was no way I was going to actually get up and out of bed in the morning at 6.30 when it's not even light outside to do it then meant that I didn't get to bed until 1am, so am very tired. Maybe it's because I have five regular classes today in our seven period day, one after-school class and have not really voluntarily given up my lunchtime to help the English club make paper decorations (which is my own fault for getting them started on it on Wednesday when I actually had the energy to be excited in a serious lack of foresight). And even though two of those classes are some of my sweetest first year girls, and we're only watching a movie in the others, the sheer number of students I will have seen today is an exhausting thought. Plus I've already watched the first 40 minutes of Home Alone 2 seven times this week and really can't be excited about either the prospect of watching it three more times or studying my TESOL coursework instead. But really, more than anything, or maybe in combination with the utter exhaustion I face the rest of today with, I think the snow is making me feel down simply because it's yet another reminder of how far away I am from home. It should be summer now dammnit!

Even though I've been here before around the same time and been in cold countries over (their) winter, I still don't really have the hang of dressing properly for cold, so I usually end up freezing, then slowly cooking in the over-heated classroom to a chorus of whiny teenagers whingeing "쌤!추워~~~~~ (teacher, it's cold!)" with a "쌤! 너무 뜨겁다! (teacher! too hot!)" accompaniement from the few kids sitting right under the heating air flow. I know it's cold, and I've already turned the heating on and it's at 30 degrees so what else do you want me to do??? Maybe if you don't want to be cold you shouldn't be outside having snowfights and stealing each other's shoes in the break. You can either enjoy the magic and wonder of being a kid or you can be warm and sensible and stay inside, not both.

Anyway, so students aside (usually they are more or less great, but sometimes they just drive me up the wall) the snow has more or less stopped for a break about now. I'll post photos later when I get home so you can see for yourself how utterly negative or spot on (depending on your point of view) I'm being about the whole thing. It's cold, it's weird, it's not home. Therefore I am sad. Actually, not sad, just in a bit of a black mood. Also, I think snow doesn't make me feel particularly happy because in Australia, when you see white stuff floating in the air during December, it's usually ashes from a bushfire. Bit hard to explain that one in Korean to my co-teachers when they ask why I'm not gushing about the pretty snowflakes. Also, seeing it now makes me think that I'll be doing this all over again at the same time next year too. Another black thought on a day that makes me homesick that also makes me wonder why the hell I signed up for a second year. Hopefully my trip home and quality time Down Undah will help me through this :)

Ok, so I guess I should try and end my rant on a positive note. Things that I'm looking forward to today that will make me feel calmer if not happier:
  • class 2-8. Although they are also something that I am not looking forward to because they are so noisy and exhausting, they are also my last regular class for the day and they always say something offbeat to make me laugh.
  • going home after school, knowing that I have a whole two glorious days before I have to be back again (even though I'm not really going to have any free time to actually appreciate them).
  • having a drink tonight with my mate Sueji at a friend's place. And then another. And then maybe a few more.
  • sleeping in tomorrow. I am a bit of a masochist in that on days I can actually sleep in, I like to set my alarm for 7 (the usual time I get up) just so I can wake up, look outside and see it's still dark and cold, then turn it off and go back to sleep.
  • going to the gym tomorrow because it will be in actual daylight. Haven't been in a week because it's cold and dark by the time I get home and now I feel like a slug.
  • going to Busan to celebrate my lovely friend Natalie's birthday!! Yay!!!!! ^_^ oh and crashing at Christy's because she actually gives me a pillow to sleep with as opposed to SOME! lol~
  • zipping up to Seoul on the KTX (there is no super fast train between Cheongju and Busan so I always have to bus it) to see my favourite Gokhale girls Hema and Sonali! DOUBLE YAY! Hopefully I won't be too hungover from Saturday night to appreciate them, although if Natalie is even conscious by the time I leave Busan I will be sorely disappointed :)
So yes, although there is also a list of other things that I have to get done that I don't face with any particular relish, and although today is a bit of a bummer, it heralds good things as well as bad. Namely, the miraculous ability of friends and a little alcohol to make you feel better :)

**edit: snow photos. eurrrrrrrkkkkkk.
starting to snow (actually the first snow about a week before this post)... grrrrr

about 3 minutes later

yes, those white things are snow. that's how big the flakes were.

the kids having their P.E. lesson in the snow on the actual day of posting while i take sneaky photos from a warm staffroom. hehe~

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thoughts of a Dying Atheist

.. not really. just thought i'd throw that song title in anyway because i love muse.

not quite dying, but i feel like i should be. got a horrible cold from SOMEONE... I'M GLARING AT YOU CHANEL! but actually it's been going around so it was only a matter of time. then and again, pretty much everyone who had contact with her last weekend seems to be ill... hmmm... :p luckily i don't have it too badly in that i'm not coughing up any blood or throwing up like some of the others. evidentally i look terrible enough to warrant a sick day from school though (although they are in our contracts, they're virtually non-existent in Korea) because as soon as i walked in to the staffroom today, my co-teacher took one look at me and started organising with my other co-teachers to take my classes for me, then got the vice principal's permission to send me home after a whole 26 minutes of being at work. seeing as i am also losing my voice, i probably wouldn't be able to run my classes very well today anyway. i have to add here that i love that she takes care of me, without me even needing to ask. last time i was really sick in may, she took me to the doctors, then looked up a recipe for chicken soup on the internet with my neighbour the school nutritionist and they made me a pot of it.

so here i am at home now, on the first of many cups of lemon tea i plan to subsist on today (seeing as i have no appetite and eating makes me feel gross and a little nauseated right now) in between some much needed sleeping. hopefully i can snooze this thing off.

Friday, December 3, 2010

세상 누구도 혼자가 되지않는 날, 크리스마스

"Christmas, a day when no-one in the world should be alone"

Saw this ad for Christmas cakes at Paris Baguette (a Korean bakery) on tv. A mix of funny, slightly weird and hopefully not prophetic for those of us away from home for Christmas this year :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back to Blog

death-nut-less nasi goreng
First of all, sorry for the long silence between posts. Just to reasssure those of you at home - I have not been nuked to death or forced to flee south ahead of the advancing North Korean forces or been shot and left lying and mangled in a ditch somewhere as American forces rationalise collateral damage. I will be home soon but not because of the DPRK's little temper tantrums - last time I was here they were testing the range of their nuclear weapons by firing them into the East Sea and I was in Seoul, so I am more than ok hiding away in Cheongju. It's kind of like Canberra in that respect, but with even LESS political and strategic importance.

my partner in cholesterol crime, Lara, eating her beef fajita
So what have I been up to be so niggardly in my updates? Well to be honest I don't really remember - things have kind of been a blur as the year rolls to a close like a giant cartoon snowball. One thing I can say is that this has been a big food week. Yesterday was some sort of Northeastern (I think) Chinese lamb shish kebabs, roast potatoes and roast eggplant at a place in Chungdae, and Tuesday was a Korean side-dishes cooking day (I'll do a post later about recipes etc), and Monday was a pretty good Nasi Goreng at Noritas downtown that was delicious but so spicy it made me sweat a little. Oh and I also felt bad because they had to remake it for me without peanuts, but seriously, who puts peanuts in nasi goreng???

family photo from our Japan trip in Takayama
And of course there is one important day that I can never forget - November 29th. So here I would like to say a proper (i.e. published!) and big Happy Special Day to my mum, dad, sister and the rest of my much-loved family. For those of you not in the K-Club posse, what our families call our Special Days, or Australia Days or our Gotcha Days are the anniversaries of the days that we were adopted and for most of us, came with our parents (and in my case with my little-sister-to-be) to Australia for the first time. So it's a very special day that reminds us all more than any other of how lucky we are to have been brought together. I love you all very much! ♥

And the day is always doubly special for me, because it also usually co-incides with the release of my favorite author's newest book :D But lately Terry Pratchett's been getting a bit ahead of himself, so mum and dad had already sent it to me and I'd already read it (many times over!). Luckily, Stephen Fry proved a great alternative and his wordy honesty and self-deprecating wit made me feel a little less sad that I was so far away from home on that particular day. At the moment, I'm trying to pace myself with it so that I have something to read during exams while I desk-warm, so I've only allowed myself to get about halfway through in the two weeks that I've had it now. Those of you who know me will know how hard that's been for me!
Wine - the perfect appetiser ^__^

But being in Korea with a lot of American friends, it also happened to co-incide (more or less) with American Thanksgiving!  Apparently this is different from Canadian Thanksgiving (which makes sense if you ever felt like thinking about it) but the one thing both of these days had in common was that they united Canadians and Americans in their almost zombie-like en-masse craving for turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. So off we went to Suji's in Itaewon in Seoul and spent the evening hassling the cute waiter there to show us his tattoos and severely embarrassing him in the process. Don't worry - he got a good tip out of it :)

And then on Sunday, we came back to Cheongju and went to the Outback Steakhouse (as close to something 'Straaaaaylian as I could get, even if it was Faux-stralian) and ate our body-weights in steak and chocolate brownies with ice-cream. DELICIOUS!

lamb yum-ness!
Apart from the food, the rest of the week has been busy but uneventful... until today. Continuing in the Australian theme of things, today I was due to start a chapter in the textbook (made by Americans) on Australia with my 2nd year conversation class, so I'd promised to bring them some Australian food. Yep, you guessed it - this meant vegemite. MMMMMMM ^_^ But seeing as it is the week before exams, some of them didn't turn up - two of the boys told me that they also had exams at their hagwon (학원 or tutoring academy) this week so they couldn't come, although their friends ratted on them and said that they'd actually "run away" to go to a PC bang (internet cafe) to play computer games. But really surprisingly, NONE of the usually committed girls turned up. Since they form 8 out of the 13 regular students in my class, and two of the boys had already bailed, this meant we had a VERY small class. In fact, only two boys came - Paul and Wilson. Wilson then called up one the other boy Seokju and made him come (I think he felt a mix of scared and bad for me which is sweet). I bet he regretted coming by the time class was over! Paul and Wilson are great students, but Seokju is HILARIOUS, and a bit cheeky, so he's not shy about saying weird stuff to make everyone laugh. Basically, he loves to milk a situation for all its comic worth. Anyway, we had a riot going through homework because I encourage them to be competitive and give them sticker points for correct answers to extra questions I ask them. Consequently, when they try to say (or shout) the answer first, it's not always right, and when it is they love to rub it in each other's faces. Seokju was in his element with no girls around to be shy for and on a roll, despite not having done his homework, and declared himself a "lucky guy".

But then we tried the vegemite. As everyone knows, Vegemite is quite overpowering when you eat it by itself, so I'd brought crackers and some butter that had melted a little because of how hot the classroom was by the time we got around to eating it. The boys were not impressed by the smell, but were game enough to try a Vegemite-cracker sandwich each with some butter and didn't mind it. After this, there was a bit left in the jar. So, of course, they wanted to play a game of rock, paper, scissors, ending with the loser eating ALL of the rest of the Vegemite heaped onto one cracker, no butter and no second layer. You can guess who lost. Poor Seokju. There was seriously about a tablespoon of pure Vegemite on that tiny little cracker. He tried to be brave - he really did - and ate half of it in one bite. The facial contortions he then went through were priceless - I really regret not taking my camera with me to class! He must have done agony, disgust, betrayal, despair, heartbreak and every other dramatic emotion he could express. He even tried bargaining with us all to make us eat it instead. Needless to say, we all laughed our butts off and refused ^_^ Since there were a few crackers left, by the time he'd nibbled his way down to a tiny corner with a huge chunk of Vegemite still left on it, I made another one with about half a teaspoon of semi-melted butter on it, and said he could eat it with that to dilute the Vegemite. Unable to force himself, he then tried bargaining again, and we all felt sorry enough for him to agree that we'd play again, and the loser had to eat the butter-Vegemite pile. It got down to Paul and Seokju. Fourvery tense rounds of calling the same thing later, we finally had a loser .... Seokju.

And then, the cherry on the terrible Seokju cake he'd made himself. He asked for candy to take away the taste of all the butter and Vegemite, but I only had 2 in my pocket so they rock paper scissored for it and... yeah, you guessed it. Seokju lost O_O