Written by Paul Bacon on 24 Mar, 2006
Throughout the year I spent living in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula there was a massive contrast which I noticed in the local community that completely fascinated me. It was namely the division between young and old, modern and antiquated. The disparity between…Read More
Throughout the year I spent living in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula there was a massive contrast which I noticed in the local community that completely fascinated me. It was namely the division between young and old, modern and antiquated. The disparity between the technologically advanced present and the rural under-developed past, which can be seen over the shoulder of every computer-game obsessed teenager, was curiously hypnotic to me.In Seoul or Busan, Daejon, Suwon, and the like, the generation gap is somewhat blurred and does not appear to be anything like the giant crevasse that it is in the countryside. Out in the wilds of Chungcheognam-Do (province in the northwest) there was a line as clear and as imposing as the DMZ between young people and their older relations. The kids I taught were in the main bedecked in modern brand-named clothing, and were always to be seen with cellphones, MP3s, or computer dictionaries. Whenever I asked them what they had been doing on the weekend or the previous evening, I would get the standard response of watching either a DVD or playing internet games—the most popular titles being StarCraft and Maple Story, whatever the hell they were. They did, though, have a refreshing attitude to the foreigner in their midst. The majority of them were keen to learn and almost all of them wanted to play or chat.The difference between the kids with whom I spent most of my afternoons, and the older generation within Taean where I lived, was shockingly stark. I am aware that age brings many differences in personality and outlook. My own grandfather and I, who are separated by nearly 60 years are not always on the same page it has to be said. However, in Korea the difference is particularly marked. I always wondered as to why it was so and perhaps the best explanation is the stratification of society along age lines and the deference with anyone blessed with, shall we say experience, is treated.Once Koreans marry, begin to have children, and lose the first flushes of youth, they become known as ajima and ajoshi. The men, or the ajoshi, tend to carry on their lives as before, drinking copious amounts of soju—traditional rice based spirit—and spitting on the floor. For the women though, the change is far greater. After maybe their second child they chop their hair short and begin to wear hideous, dated clothing that previously they would not have been seen dead in. It is as though any youthful glamour is sucked right out of them. Once a woman reaches ajimahood she loses much of her vitality and independence and it becomes a slow decline towards becoming a grandmother or almoni.In Taean, the ajima and almoni represented everything that has changed in Korea over the past 50 years. Since the end of the Korean War, and the division of the peninsula, the South have come from being a ravaged one-time colony of Japan into one of Asia's most developed and technological astute nations. The young people represent the latter identity, whilst anyone beyond 45 is perhaps still anchored in the former and has been overtaken by the rapid progress.I remember my first glimpse quite vividly. It was September—my first week in Taean—and viciously humid. To combat the heat and my growing thirst I stepped outside for an ice-cream and Gatorade. At the entrance to my school were a huddle of middle-aged ladies. They were all dressed in the type of clothing that is synonymous with their status; it was polyester, ill-fitting and was decorated in hideous, garish patterns. They all also had short-hair that looked as though it had had one too many goes under the blow-dryer and too many set of bad highlights. Almost as one they turned towards me and stared indignantly. I was genuinely taken aback. Up until that point I had been greeted with nothing but enthusiasm. I was soon to learn, though, that despite being heavily respected by younger people, many older Koreans were just downright rude. I had countless encounters with ajimas where I found doors close in my face or walking sticks placed forcibly on my toes. It was particularly bad when trying to catch a bus as invariably I would always be forced out of the way, and see a flurry of heads covered in short frizzled hair surge in front of me.I have to admit that even as I left Korea I could not really understand how the country had come so far in so little time, to go from the ajima to the kids I taught, in just 50 years. For my entire year, every time I was bundled out of the way by some badly dressed ageing peasant woman, I consoled myself with the fact that I was heading to my air-conditioned classroom to teach kids with a bright future. Close
Written by Paul Bacon on 20 Mar, 2006
I was standing in the doorway of one of the classrooms in the school at which I made a living teaching English to Korean children. Through it I could see a female colleague of mine sat at her desk, powdering her nose and checking her…Read More
I was standing in the doorway of one of the classrooms in the school at which I made a living teaching English to Korean children. Through it I could see a female colleague of mine sat at her desk, powdering her nose and checking her eyeliner. A young Korean lady touching up her make-up is not a particularly unusual sight, it has to be said; it seems few of them would ever dare to venture beyond the doorway of their homes without their faces caked in 'beauty' products. However, in this case I was a little confused. M-Ran, my work-mate, was about to teach a class of poorly behaved kindergarten kids, before moving onto her timetable of equally misbehaved elementary schoolers. I wondered just who she was aiming to impress with her pristine appearance. So, I asked if she thought her pupils would be impressed by her impeccable foundation.
She was not amused at my little enquiry, and mumbled something in a mixture of English and Korean, which sort of sounded like she was saying something along the lines of wanting to look nice regardless of where she was, or who she was with. I wandered away chuckling, but soon began musing on how much time Korean women devoted to their appearance, or dare I say it her vanity, was almost a microcosm of the country itself.
In the 21st century, Korea is in many areas heavily developed and looks impressively modern. Seoul is the classic example of this: bright and new, almost in both appearance and outlook. However once away from the capital and the other major cities, things change. While even in small towns and villages there are still plenty of big, slinky new cars and enough neon to drown out half of Nevada, the covering is not as thick and the country's blemishes and imperfections are plain to see.
My adopted hometown of Taean was little more than a fishing and farming village in the country's northwest. Despite being out on the coast, nearly 2 hours from any city, there were plenty of signs from modern Korea: my office was air-conditioned, there were several western-styled bars, and the facilities in my school were exponentially better than at the school I had attended back in England some 10 years earlier. However, as comfortable as the modernity made my life, it was what poked up from beneath the painted visage of the community that fascinated me.
The side of Taean that gripped me was neither sanitised nor developed, rather it was the side where I could walk through the market and find fish being sold from a bucket in the gutter and pigs heads from plates on the floor. It was the side where just a mile from town I could find old women hunched over, tending to their rice fields, just as they had done for generations. It never failed to coax a smile across face when a brand new SUV skipped around an antiquated, three-wheeled tractor carrying a bundle of cabbages driven by an old man with a face so wrinkled his features would disappear into the creases of skin.
The way I saw it, it is as always the blemishes, the realities of a place that make it interesting. In Korea I found them particularly interesting when they were in such obvious contrast with the new coverings that are being created.
For the record when I eventually saw Mi-Ran without make-up in something of her natural state, I was shocked how pretty she was. I don't know if there is a metaphor there, maybe she stands as a symbol of Korea's deeper beauty, or maybe she is just an example of the modernity being a mask that covers a truer reality, make of it, and of Korea, what you will.
Written by michaelhudson on 24 Jul, 2002
Jinhae slumbers prettily for eleven months of the year, with only its militarily strategic position on the large bay of the same name providing any off-season sustenance in the form of the Korean Navy, which has its headquarters in the city. For twelve days at…Read More
Jinhae slumbers prettily for eleven months of the year, with only its militarily strategic position on the large bay of the same name providing any off-season sustenance in the form of the Korean Navy, which has its headquarters in the city. For twelve days at the end of March and beginning of April, however, Jinhae's estimated 70,000 cherry trees burst out in a transient riot of white blossom, and the black-shirted sailors on bicycles are joined by over two million domestic tourists for the annual Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Most people travelling to Jinhae will arrive via the nearby city of Masan, which serves as the transportation hub for the cities on Jinhae Bay. Five trains a day currently connect Seoul and Masan, with four express trains taking five and a half hours and one super-express taking an hour less. Masan's inter-city bus terminal is located a five-minute walk away from the train station, with regular buses to Busan, Gyeongju, Jinju and most of the cities to the north arriving here. The express bus terminal, which serves Seoul and Daejeon, is quite a distance away in direction of the ferry terminal.
Regular city buses connect all three stations and Jinhae. The most useful bus is the 302, which runs from the Hi-Mart store across from and to the right of the train station, continuing on to the McDonald's restaurant a hundred metres or so to the left of the inter-city terminal as you exit, before stopping just across the road from the main entrance to the express bus terminal. The bus journey to Jinhae takes thirty-five minutes and costs 1300 Won (exact fare required). As you enter the city, the bus will go over a level-crossing and turn right. Get off at the second stop and you'll be within a hundred metres of the small train station.
Trains from Jinhae ordinarily run to Changwon and Masan only. Commuter services, departing twice daily at 7.58am and 5.38pm (with an extra service at 1.25pm on Saturdays), cost less than sixty pence (1100 Won) for the thirty-six minute trundle. The train skirts Changwon, the provincial capital, for much of the journey, making four stops along the periphery of the sprawling, grim looking city, which is seemingly constructed of three parts concrete to two parts iron and steel. Look out for the giant Tesco store, rising in a hunk of red lettering and sales banners adjacent to Shin Changwon station. At Changwon Station itself the train backs up and veers right for the remainder of the short journey to Masan.
During the festival extra trains are laid on to Seoul, Busan, Suncheon, Daegu, Mokpo and Jinju. The first train to Seoul departs at 8.42 am, with the last service leaving at 10.15pm.
Starting from the train station, turning right will take you to one of the three main roundabouts regulating city centre traffic. A statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin gazes resolutely in the direction of Jinhae's main stadium, while the main Naval Base is situated a mile or so straight ahead. Alternatively, if you cross the road directly in front of the train station and continue in the same direction you'll find yourself at the main roundabout, and the scene of most of the nightly festivities. That would be getting ahead of ourselves, however, so I'd recommend you turn left, continuing past the long, white Woori Supermarket, cross the road and take the street directly opposite the front of Lee & Lee's Clinic in the direction of Jinhae Tower.
A concrete monstrosity tragically dominating the city centre, Jinhae Tower is not, as you may at first suspect, a miniature NCP car park, but rather an eight-storey observation tower built in somewhat vague reminiscence of a warship's mast. Whether or not it adequately captures "the dignity of the Korean Navy" is a matter of conjecture, but its planners definitely succeeded in obliterating any trace of the earlier monument built by the Japanese to commemorate their upset triumph over the Russians in 1905.
Reached by climbing 365 steps, which are spectacularly flanked by cherry trees and populated by vendors selling fruit drinks, candy floss and plastic guns, the ground floor of the tower houses a small museum (no English). A solitary lift shuttles old women in sun visors to the highest observation platform; a long wait or yet more stairs await younger visitors. There are some great views of the city on one side and the bay on the other at the top, although stern looking security guards ensure that no photographs are taken in the direction of the Naval Base.
THE CITY AT NIGHT
I'd recommend making two trips to the top of the tower, as it's infinitely more peaceful at night. Below, and in sharp contrast, sixteen rows of coloured lightbulbs illuminate the wide expanse of the road surrounding the main roundabout, while the circling headlights below keep time with the blaring Korean dance music. A series of firecrackers erupt somewhere in the distance, and the small-town sized array of red neon crosses and flashing shop fronts rolls silently down to the Naval Base, where only the faintest silhouette of a warship is visible.
Directly opposite the entrance to the stairs leading up to the tower, a small street lined with restaurants leads to the main traffic roundabout. At 3pm this street was almost deserted, at 10pm it buzzes with activity, noise and exotic smells. The roasted pig torsos and boiling silkworms which vied for hegemony of my nostrils earlier have been joined by half of the town, all sitting on red plastic stools and eating soup scooped from metal pots the shape and size of beer kegs. Three quarters of the pigs, which are decapitated, sliced in half and placed on two automated spits to slowly roast, have been eaten, and the man selling pirated CDs seems to have turned up the volume another five or six notches to drown out the sound of slurping.
At the top of the street I wander past stalls selling King Edward cigars and bubble guns. A man selling socks for 500 Won a pair talks with me in English over his microphone as I duck down the street to the right of the post office, which was beautifully built by the Japanese in a Russian-style, and into two covered aisles of market stalls. It's slightly claustrophobic under the canvas, as I survey mountains of clothing laid out like a scaled down version of Hong Kong's Stanley Market. A third aisle branches off back towards the silkworms and rotating pigs, while the exit at the far end leaves you in a no man's land of streets curiously devoid of street lighting.
I go back to the roundabout and join the throng of people waiting for the shrill of a policeman's whistle to enable them to cross the road. Everyone talks at a furious pace, sounding almost Chinese or drunk, or both, in an earthy, vibrant dialect far removed from the self-consciously rounded tones found in Seoul. The raucous surroundings form a perfect complement to the fluttering snowstorm of cherry blossom, making it seem almost magically ethereal. I sit for a while by the side of the road watching the white flowers fall to the earth as a fireworks display culminates in several explosions and a man in a grey suit orders the last of the pig.
THE CITY BY DAY
Up early to catch the first train to Masan, I wander back to the main roundabout where a small group of students are posing for pictures in front of the cherry trees. Next to the covered stalls, the road to the right of the Hyundai Motors showroom and the billiards hall above leads down to another roundabout from which a right turn in front of the church leads in the direction of the stadium (oon-dong-jang) and the Naval Academy. The left turning leads down to Seokcho Pier, from where regular ferries depart at ninety-minute intervals from 7am-5.30pm (last service 6.40pm) to Geoje-do, Korea's second largest island. The ferry terminal is a fifteen-minute walk from here, or you can take bus number 101, 103, 106, 107 and 111, which all run past either the train station or main roundabout and terminate one street away from Seokcho at Sukchon station.
The best place to view the cherry trees, which are of Korean origin despite their later appropriation as the national flower of Japan, is undoubtedly at Changbok Park. Located up in the hills on the way to Masan, the 4km road to the park is lined with 40000 cherry trees. Bus number 302 traverses this route and stops at the entrance.
Namwon is a slow-paced, provincial city tucked away in the south-east corner of Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province). Famed domestically as the setting of 'Chunhyang-jon', a classic love story much touted as Korea's 'Romeo and Juliet', the city remains almost totally unknown internationally-indeed, the Lonely Planet's…Read More
Namwon is a slow-paced, provincial city tucked away in the south-east corner of Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province). Famed domestically as the setting of 'Chunhyang-jon', a classic love story much touted as Korea's 'Romeo and Juliet', the city remains almost totally unknown internationally-indeed, the Lonely Planet's current guidebook to Korea does not have as much as a single sentence of text about the place.
There are regular train services to Namwon on the Jeolla Line, which connects Seoul and Yeosu. Saemaul (Super Express) trains take four hours and cost 23700 Won for first class seats and 19600 for second class. Mugungwha (Express) trains are more frequent, taking an extra half an hour and costing 17100 / 13500 Won depending on class.
Express buses run to and from Seoul's Express Bus Terminal only. The terminal is located in the north-east of the city.
Inter-City buses connect Namwon to Jeonju, Gwangju, Daegu and Hwaeom-sa. The terminal is located a ten-minute walk from the train station.
Hwaeom-sa is a great temple located on the western edge of Jirisan National Park. The bus from Namwon takes one hour, costs 2600 Won and leaves from stand number four.
There is a small booth located just in front of the train station. The staff here are friendly, speak decent English, and will furnish you with some maps and general information. A smaller tourist information kiosk is located at Kwanghal-lu Garden.
WHERE I STAYED
Tourist Information recommended the Ssangdongi Park Motel, which is located next to Namwon Land. However, as I wanted to get to a hotel as quickly as possible, I chose the Lotte Park due to its proximity to the station. To get there, simply turn left out of the station, cross the road, and head for the first big building you see. A sign in English says 'Lotte Park tel' on the door. The rooms, which cost 25000 Won, are spacious and have cable TV, towels, en-suite facilities and a fridge.
THINGS TO SEE
Maninui-chong Shrine, a ten-minute walk from the station, commemorates the heroic, yet ultimately unsuccessful, defence of Namwon Fortress by 10000 Korean soldiers and citizens against 55000 invading Japanese troops in 1597. The fortress fell after a siege lasting four days, the Japanese massacred the survivors and buried them in a mass grave.
The Norae (Song) Monument in front of the shrine was erected in 1995 to mark a musical concert given by the descendants of the ceramic artists from Namwon who were forcibly taken to Japan after the siege. The artists, who formed the backbone of Japanese development in the ceramics industry, sang a song called 'Today Be Today' when longing for their Korean homeland.
To get to the shrine, turn left in front of the station, turn left again at the first major intersection you come to, and continue on over the level crossing and bridge. Turn left as soon as you cross the bridge and continue on, past the school on your right, until you reach the Monument, If you continue in this direction for another 2km you will reach the remains of Kyoryongsanseong Fortress.
Alternatively, turn right as soon as you cross the bridge and take a left for the Namwon Confucian Academy, which was established in 1410.
Kwanghal-lu Garden is undoubtedly Namwon's major drawcard. It was here that Yi Mong-ryong and Song Chun-hyang, the protagonists of Chunhyang-jon, met and fell in love.
Chun-hyang, the daughter of a lowly Kisaeng (Korean Geisha), and Mong-ryong, a nobleman's son, fell in love and were secretly married in disobedience of the strict Confucian social code. Soon, however, Mong-ryong had to accompany his family to Seoul when his father was awarded an important government position. Namwon's governor decided to take Chun-hyang as his concubine, and when she resisted, had her imprisoned and beaten. Chun-hyang refused to yield and suffered great hardship until Mong-ryong, who had been appointed provincial inspector, heard of her plight, returned to Namwon, punished the governor, and publicly took her back to Seoul as his bride.
The story is of vital historical importance as one of the first works of literature to be written in Hangul (the then newly-developed indigineous Korean alphabet) rather than classical Chinese script. Perhaps more akin then to the works of Chaucer than Shakespeare, 'Chunhyang-jon' represents the discontent of the lower classes, with feelings, not social class, being seen as the most important factor in life.
The garden itself is located beside Yocheon River. Although the main pavilion is currently being refurbished, the 1300 Won entrance fee is still very good value. The garden features a small folk village, Korean swings, ponds, bamboo trees and the famous Ojak-gyo (Magpie Bridge). Until the main pavilion is unveiled in late-January 2003, the main attraction is Wanwolijeong Pavilion, first constructed in 1434. The present structure, which dates from 1638, was built so the local nobles could view the moon and is now used as the main stage for the annual Chunhyang Festival.
Also of note, there is a great market just to the left of the garden which sells bamboo products and wooden tableware. As Namwon produces 50% of Korea's wooden tableware, prices here are noticeably lower than in Seoul.
To reach the garden from the train station, cross the road in front of the station building and start to walk down the street running away from the entrance. Take your first right (about 20 metres down the road) and follow the street as it curves to the left in the direction of the Post Office. Keep on walking straight ahead through the city centre and you'll arrive at the back gate to the garden.
Incidentally, to reach the Inter City bus terminal (Shi-hway Terminal in Korean), walk down the same street leading away from the entrance to the station, and then follow the signs for the Bus Terminal.
Arching gracefully over the river in front of Kwanghal-lu, and illuminated at night, albeit nowhere near as spectacularly as the tourist literature would have you believe, the bridge leads across to a small pleasure boat terminal and the Namwon Tourist Complex.
The tourist complex is a five-minute walk to the left on the other side of the bridge. Boasting restaurants, cheap accomodation, Namwon Land (a fairground with 16 rides), the National Centre for Korean Traditional Performing Arts and the Cultural Arts Centre, the complex is worth some exploration. A pavilion situated on the hill above the fairground also has some great views over the city.
Namwon is officially themed as the 'City of Love' and this festival, held annually from May 5-15, celebrates the city's two most famous lovers. Notable events include a Beauty Pageant and cultural performances.
The best bars and restaurants are located between the Post Office and the back gate of Kwanghal-lu. Walking from the statio to the garden, take a left at the corner where the Korea First Bank is located and continue down until you see a shop called 'Mcguire' (sic). There is a good bar called Sachers directly above, while a side-street opposite leads down to a Dong Dong Ju (my favourite Korean alcohol) restaurant. To find the restaurant, look for the orange sign on the left just across from the church. The Dong Dong Ju costs 6000 Won for a huge bowl, pints of beer will set you back 1500 Won, and Pajon (Korean Pancake) costs 6000 Won. There is also a good pizza restaurant on the first floor of the building opposite the Korea First Bank.
Written by Miss Bels on 03 Jul, 2002
So I left you all just after the first weekend of the World Cup. Then an unbelievable transformation occurred- I TURNED INTO A FOOTIE?SOCCER FAN!!! Yes, this is true and not a single hint of sarcasm in that. So June 2nd I…Read More
So I left you all just after the first weekend of the World Cup. Then an unbelievable transformation occurred- I TURNED INTO A FOOTIE?SOCCER FAN!!! Yes, this is true and not a single hint of sarcasm in that. So June 2nd I went to Gwangju and watched the Slovenia vs Spain match and bugger me if I didn't find myself on board a bus the following weekend on my way to Daegu to go and see South Africa vs Slovenia. Again the stadium was shiny new but it was very different to be there for an afternoon match. I had gone up with a group of people and none of us had tickets- we managed to get these off a Slovenian tour guide outside of the stadium. Because we went straight from the bus station to the stadium we all had our overnight bags with us. These were searched of course and then a lady came and ran the magic beam over me personally. And the alarm went off near my pocket. She asked me to empty the pocket (using hand signals as she hadn't a drop of English) I was reluctant but put the contents inot her hand. She picked up the small item I had given her and examined it. I was a bit embarassed and was desparately trying to think of the Korean word for what she had in her hand. The final straw was when she held it up to show her colleague several feet away- I covered her hands with my hands and muttered 'tampon' at her at which point she understood and hastily gave it back and waved me through. And we were in another stadium.
Choosing to completely ignore the seating arrangements we headed straight for the Slovenian fans and a few reunions with some that we had met the week before. Slovenia lost but we had a lot of fun standing on the seats and yelling Slovenian chants ('If you are not jumping you are not Slovenian' and 'I am Slovenian'). The fans around us were so sweet and kept asking us why we were supporting their little country. They were so flattered and told us that they were really happy and touched by our support. It didn't help however and South Africa left as the victors. We had seen the team on the way to the stadium when we were on the shuttle bus. Not realizing who they were we waved our Slovenian flags at them and only sussed their identities when they stopped waving back and started scowling- oops!
That night we partied large and hard with the Slovenians before all disappearing in opposite directions with various people that we had met. We, eventually, found each other the next day and went back to Mokpo and the usual working week. But not that usual as something really odd was happening- korea were doing well. It seemed to be taking the World by surprise and the Koreans more than most I think. It worked in the teachers' favour as we didn't have to work during any of the Korea games. And lessons became an exchange of soccer chants and World Cup word searches. The foreign teachers all bought 'Be the Reds' t-shirts to wear on match days and the kids seem to be getting into too. But more was to come.
Ireland had also made it out of the first round and would be playing in Suwon the weekend after Daegu. We had gathered in our Irish friends' house to watch the match and the moment that the final whistle blew they were at the PC bang buying tickets. Being English and a new fan to the game I didn't want to pay the price so didn't buy a ticket myself. But on Saturday morning I found myself once more upon a bus on the way to one of the host cities. We spent Saturday in Seoul and I was reunited with the guy that I had met in Daegu the weekend before. Saturday was all about drinking and shopping and watching the excellent England match (by the way, don't ever believe someone who tells you that 40 minutes into a game is a good time to go to the toilet! I missed our third goal). Sunday we went to Suwon and found a quiet bar to watch the 3.30 match in. By now all of us girls were big into the footie and able to intelligently join in conversations about the tournament. I had even written all the games up on my calendar(!) So we watched the match and painted our faces and headed to the stadium for the game. Those of us without tickets were lucky enough to buy some outside at a reduced price (I love Korean ticket touts and their refusal to sell tickets at anything other than the face value!).
Those of you that watched the game will know what happened and I am not trying to bring back bad memories for you but I must tell the others. Me and Jon (guy from Daegu) were sitting with the Korean fans but not too far from some Irish fans. The game was nail-bitingly tense and I couldn't believe it when it went to extra time. Then to rub salt into the wound it went to penalties- something that I find unbearable at the best of times- which are just excruiating to watch live. Ireland lost. The toilets were full of girls weeping so much that the green and gold was streaming down their faces. And one of our teams were out of the Cup.
Written by Miss Bels on 18 Mar, 2002
Well it has been another hectic week here in Korea. Full of triumphs rather than downfalls so that is pretty cool. First achievment had to be the purchasing of trousers last week - hooray! Just when I thought that I wouldn't be…Read More
Well it has been another hectic week here in Korea. Full of triumphs rather than downfalls so that is pretty cool. First achievment had to be the purchasing of trousers last week - hooray! Just when I thought that I wouldn't be able to buy any clothes over here EVER I discovered that they do make clothes for the odd freakishly fat Korean. Most chicks have a waist about the same as my upper arm - my thighs are bigger! But I found two pairs of trousers last week and so am made up and was more than ready to wear out my new nastily checked trousers for Paddy's Day at the weekend.
But first I had to make it through Friday night. There was a right old gathering at the pub with a much higher percentage than usual of Koreans in the group - which made it even easier to order beer which was nice. Then we moved onto the soju and things started to go a little hazy for me. Just how confused I had gotten was immediately obvious the moment nori bang (singing room) was mentioned and I smiled and said that I would love to go. There was a pretty even distribution of foreigners and Koreans at the nori bang so we had a bit of a bi-lingual session. And I made my nori bang debut with no other than the first record I ever bought - 'Take On Me' Aha. Another proud moment in my life. We finished on a rousing chorus of 'My Way' and tumbled into the street. This seemed like a good opportunity to make it home before things got even more hectic so off I went - leaving the others to go off to the night club unchaperoned.
I got home OK and checked the window was still shut before entering and in I went. Time for a bacon sandwich and a quick chat to the goldfish before bed (have a strange memory of trying to stroke one of them at one point and wishing for a more interactive pet!).
Saturday morning I went down town for my traditional 'can't do anything more hectic than this' Saturday McDonalds. Then it was time to go home and pack my bag ready for the trip to Seoul in the evening.
A group of us met at the bus station. The guys all got completely eyed up by some bloke in the toilets who made a point of leaning into the urinals to get a better view. the girls fared much better, and off we went to Seoul. The journey was pretty quiet with only the odd worry about accommodation being voiced. Well, I guess that we had all relied on someone else sorting it all out and none of us did. Ho hum.
Still we made it to Seoul OK and met up with the rest of our mates in the pub (The 3 Alleys in Itaewon). We bought our official Paddy's Day pub crawl t-shirts and started on the green beer a day early. Once again it was weird to be in Seoul and so surrounded by other foreigners after all this time in Mokpo. I managed not to stare too much and because this was Paddy's Day weekend it was OK to say hi to everyone because there was a little festival atmosphere going on.
The night finished for me around 5 in the morning when I ran back to the motel to nab a space in the only room that we had managed to book between us. There was a condom machine on the wall in the bedroom and a communal brush hanging by a piece of string off the mirror in the hallway - lovely gaff.
The next morning it was Irish breakfast in the pub - which meant, of course, plenty of Guinness was being ordered. The poor Korean barman really had my sympathy and I had money on him having some kind of a nervous break down by lunchtime. He was taking orders for pints of Guinness and other bar staff were just giving them away. He even asked us if we would order something else! On 17th March - I don't think so buddy!
After breakfast we had to go to the main street in Itaewon for one of the weirdest Paddy's Day parades I have ever seen. And I marched in it!!! Surrounded by Koreans in their traditional dress and even a bunch of beautifully made up ladies decked out in full highland outfits playing Scottish bagpipes. It was surreal to say the least. I had a shamrock on one cheek and a green star on the other. We got separated and when my little group met up with the others again they had procurred a huge banner from somewhere and were marching in the middle of the parade proudly bearing it aloft. All of a sudden my little white flag didn't look as cool - though I was pleased when I read the Korean (I have been practising my alphabet) to discover that it said 'San Paturick'
But it was very weird to see all these Koreans with green hair and even a little baby with green smudges on his face. Definitely one of my most interesting Paddy's Days even if I was knackered yesterday after having gotten back to Mokpo around 5.30am!
And on that note I am sure that you will excuse me if I leave you here.
Written by Miss Bels on 11 Mar, 2002
Hello All Over the World type folk,
Here's Hels in Mokpo again to share my last week (or so) with you all. This might be a quickie but then I always promise that and then it turns into a long one and I have to…Read More
Hello All Over the World type folk,
Here's Hels in Mokpo again to share my last week (or so) with you all. This might be a quickie but then I always promise that and then it turns into a long one and I have to go back to the beginning again and delete the bit saying that it was going to be a short message. And in taking the trouble to explain that this has now become longer than a lot of the messages I have sent over the years!
No Korean class this last Saturday which all involved were eternally grateful for. I, for one, was way too hungover to even wake up enough to put my contact lenses in for quite some time. We had a bit of a soju party on Thursday night at Tim's and then led onto to the other side of town to continue until the wee small hours (I love not starting work until 3.35!!). Feeling a little fragile the next day, I hauled myself out of bed and to work where Tim had already been for an hour. Had to laugh when I walked in and saw an empty Red Bull bottle on his desk- hee hee! And you can't even get it here, he brought it back from his recent trip from the Philippines for whenever he is too hungover to make coffee so the other teachers couldn't appreciate the joke as much as me. Friday night was party night over at Trish's and despite promising myself a soju-free weekend (after much discussion with various folk about whether or not Thursday REALLY counts as the weekend) I was back on the lemon stuff almost as soon as entering the room. Highlights include falling over and breaking beer bottles. Well, you have to question the logic of a country where you aren't allowed to wear your shoes in the house(through tradition rather than strict law enforcement before you get the wrong idea) having really shiny floors in all of the residences! People, in this case drunk people, sliding around shiny lino covered floors in their socks- well, it is a disaster waiting to happen really, isn't it! But at least it is easy to clear up the beer, i guess, which wouldn't have been spilt if people had slid on the shiny floors, which are easy to clear beer off etc etc. I ended the night phoning Trish from the car park to let her know that I couldn't find my way out and that I was having a go on the swings and hoping not to throw up. Got home just in time to hear the cockrel on my neighbour's roof crow in the dawn.
So I was thrilled to bits (in an almost unconcious sort of a way) when Reb rang to cancel the Korean lesson. The reason?? The Korean teacher was too hungover to take the class. So it is a contagious affliction. At least this gives me more time to study for the test. I have learnt the vowels now and some of the consonants (I'll have 2 vowels and four consonants please, Carol!) and can count to the astronomical heights of 7 (10 if my kids help me!). Problem is that the learning over here is done by rote rather than understanding which explains why I understood nothing the first time. Tim told me two things today which will make learning the Hangal script really easy- apparantely it is written in the form that your mouth and tongue take when saying the sound. I will have to explore this idea further. But if we were told that from the start or that two lines make a 'y' at the beginning of the sound then we would probably be further on now. I guess that it is just different ways of learning. Me and Tim get very frustrated here that the kids aren't taught to sound outnew words when they see them (C-A-T etc) which means that they dont' know where to start when they see new words. Most of the time they won't even get the first letter right- they are just guessing. they can say 'bed' and 'room' but dont' recognise the word 'bedroom'. It's enough to make you spit (and swear sometimes which you can get away with if you use words that don't appear in Hollywood movies as no-one can understand even if the kids repeat it later!!!) but we will see what we can do with that one.
I am now a legal alien- I picked up the product of my fingerpainting, sorry printing, session today- my shiny new alien registration card- and there isn't one from Venus for the women and Mars for the men, much to my disappointment. And now I have my address written down in Korean which I assume is right after they read it off the form that I had to fill in! So maybe now I can get a taxi all the way back to my house sometimes instead of to the nearest landmark.
The Immigration Office is near a huge apartment complex that most of the other teachers here live in. The block in called Boo Young (which I read in Korean off the side of the building though I guess it is cheating a bit if you already know the name!). Did i tell you about the car park at Boo Young (yes, the one where I got lost) which gets so overcrowded at night that people leave their handbrakes off so you can push the car in case it is in your way. Failing that they have little embriodered cushions in the window with their phone numbers on so you can just phone them and tell them to come down and move the car! Near Boo Young there are a lot of my favourite machine in Korean- the Telephone, Can and Coffee machine! It looks like a normal can dispensing machine but half way down the front of it is a public phone. All it needs now is a seat and there are usually plenty of those abandoned on the streets (where else do you regularly see bus stops with three piece suites in them?) Fantastic idea- i can see the benefits of that even though I dont' drink coffee. So i thought that was one of my favourite things but it has been superceded even since this morning when I went into the bank. I dont understand the bank at all and while i was trying to work out where to stand and who was queuing and who was just starting at me I noticed the pens on chains- perfectly normal almost universal bank furniture. But imagine your irritation when you get to the bank and realise that you have forgotten your glasses and you have to go home and get them so you can read the forms you have to fill in- well, Korea has catered for that by attaching handy pairs of spectacles to the chain for customers use! Fantastic!
I just want to add a little something about taxis here too. They are plentiful and very cheap and have far less people on board to stare at you than buses. So I use taxis all of the time unless I am walking somewhere. I do walk to work though it can be quite hazardous since there are no pavements (and many pigs heads) on the way (imagine how you feel when you see an ajumma chopping up a piece of meat on an old fashioned wooden block when you realise that the bit she is holding onto to make sure that the meat won't just slip out into the road is an EAR!) and the drivers here are very fond of using their car horns. Now I thought that they were using them instead of brakes but I have sussed what it is all about now. Taxis want to use them and can't understand why you don't. If you stand still for more than thirty seconds, for instance if you are trying to cross the road, they will stop and try to entice you in- unless you are in a hurry and then it will be 'National Korean Catch a Taxi Day' and there will be none spare. But they are far more cunning than I previously suspected. They can't understand why you would choose to walk down streets that have no pavements and you are quite exposed. So they beep to draw your attention to your own stupidity and also to upset your nerves so much ('ohmigod all this beeping is scaring me half to death') that you decide to get a taxi for the rest of the way! If they can't entice you in they will scare you in- cunning so and sos!
Well I had better go now and delete that bit at the beginning of the message about this being a short one!
Last night something pretty exciting happened- we bought tickets to go to a World Cup game. We are going to see the brutal game of Spain versus Slovenia. HAving researched both teams on the internet last night we are still not sure…Read More
Last night something pretty exciting happened- we bought tickets to go to a World Cup game. We are going to see the brutal game of Spain versus Slovenia. HAving researched both teams on the internet last night we are still not sure who to support- the Slovenian team had the best website but the Spanish players were honeys! So we are going for both by sporting t-shirts with big S's on the front and covering both sides at the same time, Good thinking. It is costing 66,000 won (1,900 won to the sterling pound roughly currently) and the game is in Gwangju on the 2nd June. I know that I said that I wouldn't be going to any matches but I think that I got carried away after England's defeat (slaughter?) of Ireland in the 6 Nations on Saturday night. We may have been having a Mardi Gras party but it stopped for the duration of the match. Despite there only being three Europeans in the room I was still outnumbered 20 -1 by the Ireland supporters!
Now, what did I need to tell you all about? I have been having problems getting into my hotmail account in the PC bangs and the problem is not helped when all of the error messages come up in Korean- leaving me more clueless than ever to the cause! So I am in a different one today and apologise for the lack of response for the last couple of weeks.
Last week was Korean New Year and we all had three days off school to celebrate. The traditional thing to do over the NY holiday is to go to your grandparents house here. Obviously our director had decided that me and Tim weren't going for the traditional feel when he gave every member of staff a NY present except us! but then again, their presents were 2 litres of cooking oil so I am not too sure that I have really missed out. Six of us headed to Seoul for the long weekend and we stayed in Itaewon. It was weird to be in Seoul- it is much bigger than Mokpo(!). to begin with we were still saying hi to all the foreigners, as we do at home in Mokpo, then we realised that there were more of them than Koreans- at least in Itaewon. And I saw African and Indian people for the first time since leaving the UK- and I found myself staring at them like some yokel/culchie until I realised what I was doing and pulled myself together. We ate in Burgerking and drank in Irish pubs so it was really like a trip away from Korea for a few days. And I have to share with you my most favourite ever misspelling on a Korean poster- and it appeared in BURGERKING of all big US corporations to make such a mistake- here I quote word for word and the spelling is all BK"s not mine!----
'Try our mouse-watering chicken sandwich and take a lot of benefits along with it!'
We laughed for a long time at that and I have a photo of it on my wall. And funnily enough we were all duped into buying chicken burgers by this poster so maybe it was all deliberate! I can't really tell you much else about Seoul- it was mainly a drinking and shopping weekend rather than a cultural exploration of the city. I did manage to get a block of cheese though which is pretty exciting- cheese on toast here we come! I found yesterday that you can buy a cheese grater here in Mokpo but not the cheese to grate- interesting. We did visit the old royal palace though which was pretty cool if also freezing cold for most of our 90 minutes guided tour of the grounds. Our guide had the maddest accent too and seemed to slow down everytime she said any dates and waved her hand in the air.
So we got back to Mokpo at midnight on Tuesday night- the journey was fun since they sell beer on the train and we made the absolute most of that facility. We then went to Nerrissa's house for another eight hours or so on the soju- having discovered lemon soju I have become a bit of a fan it has to be said. The normal stuff is like straight vodka and even thinking about it makes me cringe but the lemon stuff is more like an alcopop but you still take it in shots. I mostly slept on Wednesday and made up to the fish for the neglect- though they still seem to be sulking and after a whole weekend of worrying about them not having enough to eat they haven't eaten a thing since i got back- the little sods!
Thursday was back to school and neither myself or the students really wanted to be there so it was a very painful day. We had our postponed Pancake Day on Thursday and we went for it Newfoundland style and hid things in the pancakes. I got a safety pin and a coin so I am having a baby and money- any chance of reversing the order on that??
Friday was a quiet night at the pub and Saturday we had a greek style Mardi Gras- which is Mardi gras with Souvlaki which was fantastic!
As usual, I had in mind a lot of amusing little anecdotes which fled my mind the moment I sat down- sorry! So I will stop here and get back to you when my head feels less fuzzy. I had my second Korean lesson on Saturday and it is beginning to make more sense and I now have a Korean name- Ee Hee-yun. Ee is the family name that most of the class took on- mostly because it was the easiest to write- just a circle with a straight vertical line down the right of it. And Hee-yun sounds a bit like Helen really!
More another time,
It is very noisy in the PC bang today- the computer games are woofing out of the speakers and there are three people playing guitar by the counter. Nevertheless I will try my best to concentrate as the guy next to…Read More
It is very noisy in the PC bang today- the computer games are woofing out of the speakers and there are three people playing guitar by the counter. Nevertheless I will try my best to concentrate as the guy next to me blasts his opponents into the next galaxy.
So it is Saturday and end of my fourth week here- only another 48 weeks to go. Not bad. Certainly having a good time so far. the kids are still fine- there are a couple of classes that I still have to sort out properly but we are getting there I think. Had a good lesson this week using some stuff that my friend, Heather, sent about London Zoo and the Tower of London so if anyone else has any flyers to send this way the kids of Hanlim Academy will be most grateful. It makes a change from using the books all the time too which is no bad thing. The books aren't bad mind. I use one called New Parade with the smaller kids which has lots of songs and colouring in , Let's Go is for the slightly bigger kids- deeper songs and no coloring in, and Fifty fifty for the teens and adults. Fifty fifty lessons follow a structure of talking tasks, lessoning tasks and reading tasks. Not a bad book but the kids really don't get the full benefit of how weird some of the tapes can be. There was one with a kid talking to his dad about how much better his mom was at doing everything, another had a woman in a car showroom looking at the cars and then stealing one and yesterday there was one about a man and a women comparing cars and how the woman has two so there is one for outings with the dogs. Some of them make me laugh and the kids don't know why at all!
So I went to Pusan last weekend as I probably mentioned but I forgot to say about the mounds on the hills. Everywhere I looked there were little mounds up on any available hill. I asked Tim about this and he said that they were graves, Most people already know where they are going to be buried. I find that odd. I don't know where I am going to be next week, let alone for all eternity. And if people don't stop dying soon they are going to run out of hills!
But at least there are plenty of people here to look after our immortal souls. Take for example a guy we met last week. He is a Seventh Day adventist and over here teaching English. We took him onto the party we were having. He is a bit of a rebel as he had sneaked out of his host parents' home earlier to watch 'Lord of the Rings'- something the Seven Day Dentists are against. He politely refused all alcohol and but joined in the games- I really don't think that he realised that when you play cards and use money at the same time it is gambling! And he told us outrageous stories of wild parties that he had been to back home where there was both girls AND dancing! Bless his innocence! No-one appeared to have warned him about the lack of deodarant over here either judging on his aura. Not sure that he will ever ring again!
But I cracked the other day and bought two goldfish on the way home- Fluff and Nip. they are very sweet and I have put them next to the TV as they seem to speak marginally more English that it does. The tank is a little bare right now- I put in a coffee cup but you try miming 'gravel' and 'No Fishing sign- it was not likely to happen really. And now ther other teachers have started asking where they came from and I sense a bit of a trend starting! And I have already found a brave volunteer for the flushing in case of disaster.
I am now truly Korean too. My cell phone has an ornament on it! Hooray- its nakedness was getting a touch embarrasing- so at least now it looks pretty even if it rarely rings. And when it does ring it causes chaos across the hall as the walls in our place are very thin and Tim's phone has the same ring. Cue him diving across the room this morning when Eric rang me to take me to the Buddha shop. Hee hee! And I went to the Buddha shop and bought a lovely wooden turtle keyring to give to Trish who gave me the turtle that now hangs from my phone. The woman in the shop liked us all so much that she gave us all little Buddhas on springs to put on the dashboard of our cars- I think that mine will live by the fish tank for a while- at least until I learn to drive and get a car! Though the fish will be long gone before that happens I am sure! people often give me stuff when I go into shops- I bought some notebooks the other day and she threw in a pen and before that I was doing my grocery shopping and woman at the checkout threw in an extra sausage. It is raining hard today and some guy walked me down the street under his umbrella. It is all very nice!
it is a good job that I now have the turtle though as yesterday was Tim's birthday and did he ever rake in the pressies- he must have about 10 things hanging from his phone- did I tell you that the phones have special hooks just so you can hang cute items from them? After school the director took us out for Tim's birthday. He invited me to his country home for the Solar holiday at the beginning of Feb which was very sweet but I think I am going to Seoul. he asked me if I liked drinking and how much I could drink. I tried to be all coy about it but Tim dobbed me right in and Mr Kim insisted that it was Korean tradition to scull your welcome to Korea drinks- it was the start of a very long night! There was a big party in the bar that brings us dried squid as a bar snack. And afterwards I got my first experience of Korean nightclubs.
But first I have to tell you about Korean ladies' foot wear. The shoes have big heels and they are so pointy that I can't even begin to tell you properly. Thin heels and big pointy toes which must go on for several inches after the foot has stopped. So the girls in the club were sporting their pointy finest which made it impossible for them to dance at all. When they did venture onto the floor it was to just stand and sway slightly. I am sure that our Western style moshing frightened the bejesus out of them. But the boys are something else. First off the DJ was in middle of the stage like some kind of a god in his suit and gold earrings. But the floor was where the real action was at. The guy giving it most was dressed in a not untypical outfit. He had on a crisp white shirt. this was covered by a baby blue v-neck cardigan which he had done the buttons up on. And the jeans had the most outrageous turn-ups you ever did see. And he was wearing the man's version of the pointy shoe which is a long slip on affair. we got quite a bit of attention ourselves- imagine being in your local backwater disco and a bunch of Koreans coming in and totally taking over the dancefloor- that is us over here!
There wasn't that much dancing- whenever we started to get really into it the DJ would bring it down a notch or two. But Barry (irish guy) filled in one of the long gaps by giving us an auld jig for a while!
And I have finally worked out the toilet ettiquette (though not the control panel). Everytime I went into a cubicle someone would come and knock on the door and I would shout hello- last night I learnt that you are just supposed to knock back. I was too intrigued at the notice in the jacks proclaiming a sexy dancing festival to notice at first but I soon got clued in and was knocking away like the best of them.
Here is another slice of Korean life for you straight off the Mokpo Hot Press ( and that is not the cupboard where you keep the towels for all those Irish out there). I am afraid that I have to address a slightly…Read More
Here is another slice of Korean life for you straight off the Mokpo Hot Press ( and that is not the cupboard where you keep the towels for all those Irish out there). I am afraid that I have to address a slightly unsavoury topic today so i hope that you will forgive me if I start this mail with a bit about the hygiene facilities here- that is to say the toilet, the bathroom, the restroom, the ladies, the smallest room, the bog, to put no finer point on it- the dumpster!
In my house (well, room but this sounds so much more grand don't you think!) I have a fine upstanding western-style pedestal toilet. With just the one drawback. It has a padded seat. Not a drawback in itself I have to admit but the shower head is right over the toilet (think of the time saving advantages of that in the morning) and so the whole contraption gets soaked when I shower. Again, not really a problem as it is water proof after all! But there is a split in the plastic cover of the toilet seat and some of the foam is exposed so when I shower it gets wet and every time I sit in my throne for the rest of the day it squirts water on the back of my legs- a clear case of toilet's revenge.
But there is more to this story. Moving from my house (there she goes again with the delusions of grandeur- just indulge me) to the school I encounter a completely different kind of beast. A squatter. Well, an experienced traveller like myself is more than used to this kind of thing but this is a little different. The rest of the squats that I have used in many different countries are more like toilets for idiots as they have feet plates so you know where to stand and 'aim', in Korea I guess they figure that if you can't work out where to stand then you don't really need to go. Hence a bit of shuffling up and down on my haunches and the occassional glance to make sure that it is all going where it should be. And of course the paper is desposited in an open bin (trash can) next to the slit pit itself. The smell is something very nasty too- try day two glastonbury festival if you need some kind of benchmark. All in all not a place to linger.
Which takes me to toilet type three which I came across for the first time last night. This one has its own cockpit and I am sure that there should be some kind of an exam to undertake before you are let lose alone with one. the first thing of note was the not entirely comfortable feeling when I realised that the seat was heated- unnerving! Having 'done the deed' I looked at the control panel next to the bowl and it contained no less than eight buttons- out of which at least seven did the same thing- squirted water straight up in the air so high that the ceiling in the cubicle was soaked by the time I left. I fought my way through the water and put the lid down- hit the off button (the only thing labelled in English) and ran away. Later someone took me back and showed me something that I had missed as I tried to dodge the Niagara that I had unleashed- behind the seat is a small and perfectly formed flush handle. I was more than happy to find that our next location had my old friend the squatter waiting there for me!
And now I have to tell you about that next place. I did the most Korean of all things that I have done since I got here and I went to a nori-bang- that is a singing room. Not Karoake for any old tom, dick or harry but a place filled with different size rooms depending on the size of your party, a menu of songs, two mikes and then my favourite bit- tambourines! I have to admit to throughly enjoying the experience, banging the tambourine hard on my knee (I had a beer in the other hand of course) even as I dodged the mike everytime that it was thrust under my nose. Proudest moment had to be joining in a rousing chorus of Take on Me- I am sure that Morten himself would have been proud of my effort. Some of the Korean translations of song lyrics that came up on the video screens were pretty funny too and I shall try and note some of them down next time to pass onto you all.
So far I am having a lot of fun. I am a bit freaked out because all my kids are great and everyone gives me a funny look when I say that here and they tell me all their horror stories. I am sure that things will change and they will give me new classes with monsters in them. I have mainly girls in my classes and most of them are adorable. I went into the classroom on thursday and the girls lept out from behind the door and plied me with candy- so much for losing weight (though I am sure that my beer habit has more than a little to do with that problem)! Biggest successes this week were 1. working out how to use my washing machine- all the buttons are, of course, labelled in Korean, I spent ten minutes pressing all of them in different combinations before realising that I just need to turn on the water at the wall! 2. getting my phone- it is a little white foldy-in-half thing and it is a Hyundai and it says Neomi on the front for all your mobile phone geeks out there. the school bought it for me so I didn't have to cope with all that. 3. buying some speakers for my CD walkman so I now have tunes in the house. 4. working out the way to walk home from work so that I pass through a traditional Korean food market and 5. knowing to avert my eyes from the stalls so that I miss the three pigs head hanging upside down from hook by a flap of skin on their necks and 6. passing my first solid in a squatter!