Tuesday, 31 December 2013

All about 2013

Although self-indulgent, I couldn't resist the old 'round up the year' post. 

In 2013 we took 22 flights.

The first half of the year was spent surviving Saudi. Hard to believe now that it was only that long ago.

In January a visit home, for snow and a belated Christmas of sorts.

In March a strangely timed holiday with three of our parents to Cyprus, at the height of the country's financial crisis.

Surviving the first year of being married was celebrated with a visit to Dubai's Burj Kalifa.

I challenged myself to get to the top of a climbing wall- and made it!

The summer was spent at home, chilling with family and friends and spending far too much time in Wetherspoons pub. 

In July a two week long house music festival in Croatia, to 'get over' Saudi.

Secret Garden Party in August reaffirmed my faith in new music and England in general.

I finally embarked on the second year of my masters course.

Lee was best man at his Dad's wedding.

Whilst the stay in Vietnam was short lived, we experienced some of Ho Chi Minh's beauty and history.

Then there was the crazy impromptu road trip covering some of California, Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

I got my first speeding ticket.

We went back to Vegas.

Time travel happened, taking us back to a job and a country we never thought we would.

And last but certainly not least, two of my nearest and dearest ladies brought lovely babies into the world, who I get to meet in the new year.

That's about it!

Farewell 2013, it's been fun.

And now the question is- what weird and wonderful adventures will 2014 bring?

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Culture of Couples

In Korea the 'couple' is a widely celebrated entity. On Valentines Day girls give gifts to boys, which means another day has been created for men to return the favour. Exactly a month after Feb 14th couples celebrate White Day, when men give sweets and chocolates to their lady friends. All very sweet (and unnecessary).
But it doesn't stop there. Christmas is also considered a couples holiday, which explains why we have so many children staying at our camp on Christmas Day. We have to look after the kids so parents can romantically celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our first year here we went to Outback Steakhouse on Christmas Day, which was full of other couples. We had fun watching the man and woman next to us picking daintily at a shared steak and lobster in the middle of their table. I seem to remember they had their food already when we arrived and it was still there by the time we left. Cold steak anyone?
At the cinema the other day we got the 'couples set' popcorn and drink combo, which came free with three coca cola flavoured chap sticks (vanilla coke, cherry coke and just plain coke) in a heart shaped tin. The perfect way to say I love you.

It still doesn't stop there. I now come to my favourite couple thing about Korea, and the reason for this blog post. 

Couples clothes. 

That's right. Out and about Seoul it's common to see girls and boys holding hands and wearing matching t-shirts, hats, bags or shoes, you name it. At the moment it's mostly matching jackets, which begs the question 'what do you do when you split up with your girl/boyfriend and consequently can't bear to wear your only winter coat?' 
And as if that wasn't enough, on my last clothes shopping trip I saw something so amazing that I can now die happy. Couples underwear. Couples silky leopard print underwear. Lee asked the shop assistant what it was all about, to which the shop assistant helpfully clarified which of the teeny tiny sized garments were for men and which were for women. If they were bigger I would've considered buying them for the comedy factor. 
After we left the shop I couldn't help wondering if anyone is actually buying them in seriousness. Is this now considered sexy? Did I miss something?

Merry Christmas, with love from Korea!


Friday, 13 December 2013

The Culture of Food

I like Korean food a lot: meat cooked on the bbq at your table; chicken cooked at the table with potato, spicy sauce and cheese; a vast array of soups and of course kimchi. I do, however, remember a time when I wasn't at all keen on these spicy, alien flavours. They are definitely an acquired taste and persistence is key in getting to like them.  
Koreans generally consider their cuisine to be the best in the world and are very particular about what goes with what. Restaurants often find the idea of switching things or doing something different mind-blowing. If you don't want radish in your egg, or you want milk in your Americano, your request will likely get the response of a confused look, tilted head or hands crossed in an 'X' shape. The other day we were told at a restaurant that we could have the chicken without the salad, but not the salad without the chicken.
At school we have many weird and wonderful salad-fruit combinations. It might be lettuce slathered in a tangy mayo, or with sesame seeds and spice, or blended pumpkin with melon (why not?), but one thing's for sure- it will only vaguely resemble the fruit or vegetable it once was. I used to think this was just a school thing, but I have come to realise it's a nationwide phenomena. We were recently served sweet potato pizza (seriously, how can you f*ck up pizza?),which is a replica of the popular Korean choice at pizza restaurants.
After a lot of perseverance and a fair bit of spitting out, I finally came  to love kimchi (which, for any of you who don't know, simply put, is cabbage fermented in peppery spices). It's weird and crunchy, it's good hot or cold, in soup or fried.
Kimchi Jjiage- my favourite
(but eat with caution for it will burn your face off)
But why do people eat it so much?
One reason is that it's supposed to be really good for you. According to studies it contains plenty of vitamins and has been said to lower cholesterol and help fight cancer.
I'm also convinced that it's addictive. I used to hate it and now I miss it when I don't have it. This theory is backed up by the fact that Koreans eat it at every single meal.

At the moment it's kimchi making season, so you see it all around the place in apartment stairwells being 'brewed' in big pots. I'm told that many homes here have a second fridge, solely for storing it. Koreans are known for taking it with them on holiday, so they don't have to face two weeks without it. A friend of mine once cooked a roast dinner for her friend's mum. All was going well and everyone seemed excited, until the mum-without any embarrassment at all- laid out kimchi and other Korean side dishes at the table. How unaware do you have to be to not see that this could be considered closed minded or rude? And not to mention ridiculous. It's the equivalent of going to a Thai persons house for Thai curry, sitting down at the table and pulling a jar of pickled onions out of your handbag.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

A little bit of Thanks

It's been a busy few weeks getting settled back into life here. I'm slowly but surely crawling towards this semester's hand in date at uni (hooray!). I've decorated the apartment and put up the Christmas tree. After a rather painful three weeks we've moved onto night shift, finally allowing me that peaceful, wonderful time in the morning to write, read and sleep. 
Work is as it ever was and the students are much the same. I've been surprised by their general low level of English, making me realise how good some of my other students have been since last time I was here. In stark contrast to the Saudis, Korean kids are so well behaved and conformist, sometimes to the point of freaky. Generally they are very sweet and enthusiastic about being here at English Village. It's great to be in an environment where the students are happy. I am especially loving them stopping to bow at me in the corridor!
Being back after so many other experiences both in and out of the classroom have made me view this job in a completely different light. I'm finding new and interesting ways to teach the classes and am basking in the glory of the non-existent planning. I'm finding the menial paper cutting tasks given to me during 'programming' lessons relaxing and fun. I'm pleased with the free food, even if sometimes there are squid tentacles swimming in the soup.

Perhaps as a direct result of my magical positive state, I'm noticing how much other people complain. I've come to realise that depending on how you choose to see it, there is so much to be happy about or equally so much to hate. I notice people saying things that maybe I would've said the first time round. I'm noticing arrogance and superiority and grumbling over nothing. It's making me laugh that people can be so openly lazy and sometimes rude in front of the bosses. At times the unprofessionalism (word??) makes me cringe. I'm seeing that being ungrateful and negative are not attractive traits.

Maybe I've just learnt to live with the shit, but I have to say I prefer viewing the job -and my life- through this new, happier lens.

Playing 'Pilgrims' at Thanksgiving dinner