Friday, 30 December 2011

Look to the future now...

...It's only just begun!

Fun and games at camp

During camp last week, I was sitting in the Korean teachers class. She taught the students about 'Western' customs at new year (by western read: American, which she did in fact mention many times in Korean). Then students were instructed to make new years resolutions, because according to her this is what ALL Western people do, while at their family new year dinner. I always consider making resolutions, it is such a good time to think about breaking old habits and starting new virtuous ones. But as with most people, I give mine up after about a month and slowly slip back into a familiar routine. Last year, I rolled into 2011 in a poor state of mind, starting the year with doubts and worries and confusion. Needless to say, the rest of the year didn't pan out too well, and those doubts and worries overshadowed everything that happened.

Messing around with my brother

This year I look to 2012 with great anticipation. Although I haven't made any specific resolutions, I have one thing I will remember for whole year. Focus. Focus on why I'm here, what I want to achieve, how I want to deal with difficult situations.

This year I have many things already that I am focusing on;

Travels around Asia, starting with an (Essex) girls break to Thailand with Nic. August will bring the end of my second Korean contract and one I don't intend to re-sign. Which means I will be leaving Asia, although I have some dreams to fulfill, places to see and adventures to embark on before I leave. My summer plans are still in their infancy but incredibly exciting already!

Next September is completely unknown to me at the moment, plans include either further teaching abroad in Europe (or Turkey), or a homecoming to Essex, where I haven't lived for 4 years. 

Day-tripping to London with my mum

And what plans for when I do get back to England? After many an evening (or deskwarming day) watching 'Who do you think you are?' I've set my mind to explore my family history some more, particularly my mum's very unknown maternal side. A couple of books focusing on the second world war have piqued my interested, so a visit to the Imperial War Museum should be interesting. In fact 2 years away from London make me want to soak up as much time in the fantastic museums and art galleries in the capital city as possible. Making a trip with my mum to Scotland is in the very near future too, and if there is room within the year also an adventure to Istanbul, which I missed out on just before coming to Korea.

St Pauls

All in all, 2012 is bursting with possibility and adventure and promise. I simply can't wait to get started and experience all it has to offer!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

'Tis the season

Christmas is a difficult time to be away from home. It's the ultimate celebration in the west of family and together-ness. My family, as I've mentioned before, are scattered around the globe. So in the past 6 or so years we've only had one Christmas where everyone was in the same place. Christmas is the ultimate time for homesickness to strike, and this year will be the first Christmas morning that I wake up alone (my previous two Christmases abroad I've been with the people I'm spending the day with). Christmas abroad, in Asia, is strange. It's not totally ignored, there are lights around the place, and Mariah Carey blaring out from shops left, right and centre, but the atmosphere isn't there. There aren't hundreds of people in all the shops, Christmas gift packs, seasonal adverts on tv, christmas special of tv programmes to watch (except for after the event online), hundreds of boxes of chocolates around my house that I'm not allowed to touch until Christmas eve.

Having said that, one thing that I really like about Christmas abroad, is missing all of those things. Realising how much I do enjoy this season, and how much more special all those little details will be when I am able to experience them again. When I was in China, I realised that something that really made me feel Christmassy was sitting on the sofa with my dad in front of the fire him either cracking nuts or peeling one of those massive oranges and me trying to steal a segment or nut because I can't be bothered to crack/peel my own. And then I began to think of more and more things that I missed; making mince pies, or being dragged to Candlelight carols at my mum's church, or Noddy Holder screaming Merry Christmas out of the radio every day, and my mum moaning about the rediculously big fake tree my dad bought years ago that takes ages to assemble, and driving though Abridge looking at all the lights adorning the houses (and the house round the corner from mine that has cornered the market in Christmas lights). I'm very lucky to have great friends and family at home who send cards and gifts out to me to make sure I'm not forgotten. So although it's not a traditional celebration I'll be gathering with friends this year, eating and drinking too much. I want to make the most of this Christmas abroad, because like the one I spent in China, I want it to be one I can look back on with fond memories.

At the beginning on November we returned to Lotteworld where we witnessed their Christmas parade, so I've been delving into the pictures and videos from that day to get into the spirit. Preparations are already in place; I've decorated my apartment with tinsel and fairy lights, sent my special post home already, have paper chains hanging from the ceiling of my English classroom, received my first Christmas card from a student and will stop at the post office this evening after school to pick up my first Christmas parcel. So here's to a wonderful Christmas in Seoul!

Christmas arrived curtesy of my friend Amanda :-) 
I actually squealed with delight when I opened this card! (thanks Nic!)

My mum's trademark smiley face

Can't catch me...

Oi Santa!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Seoul Forest

I don't know if I'm more aware of Autumn this year, or if it is a particularly good year for it but I've begun to realise that I love this season. It's been chilly in Seoul for a few weeks, some days are warmer than others but we're not up to bone-chilling cold yet so going out to experience the colours of the trees, the crisp weather and crunchy leaves has been a pleasure! Last weekend I ticked another thing from my list and went to Seoul Forest. Less of a forest than a large area of parks and sections with animals it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours. As with most of Seoul there was a coffee shop near-by where we sat for a while watching the wind pick up and leaves swirl around. Seoul Forest in a short walk (signposted) from Ttuksom Stn on the green line (number 2). You can feed the Deers, watch the rabbits and guinea pigs, play on the slides or just wander around. Highly recommended!

Deer food

Sand Diggers! 

There's also some art sculptures in one area of the park

Saturday, 19 November 2011

An Autumn Sonata

Last week we went on a teachers trip with school. I was quite excited because I've never been on a proper trip with school. Once a month we have a wednesday afternoon where each grade's teachers go out together to 'bond'. This usually means we go to the cinema, or out for a meal. Every now and then the teachers are busy and can't spare the afternoon off and I usually get to go home early. Once a year the school's budget is stretched to a big trip away somwhere. Apparently it used to be for an overnight trip, but as teachers with children couldn't participate in that one, and the district office cut the budget for teaches social events, now it's just an afternoon/evening thing. So we were taking our big trip this year to Nami Island. It is a small island in the bukhan river. It's a popular place for tourists (particularly the Japanese) because it was the setting for popular K-drama 'Winter Sonata'. All around the island there are pictures and signs showing screenshot from the show and what happened on each spot. The most famous part of the island is an avenue of very large trees which also appears on the ticket to enter the island. 

In 2006 the Island 'officially' declared it's a republic and the ticket declares itself your 'entry visa' which you have to show when passing through 'immigration' onto the ferry. All very cute-sy. Our trip started with a coach ride from school. Sometimes I wonder how Korean's keep their svelt figures because, at school at least, there are so many snacks dolled out constantly! This trip was no exception as about 10 minutes into the journey a box of clementines began being passed around (ok so they're not fattening, but...), following that was boxes of popcorn and bottles of water. Shortly after that the teacher organising the trip came round handing out small goody bags packed with twix bars, chewy sweets, sweet and savoury biscuits, chewing gum and tissues (very handy with the cold I've now caught!). Also on this goody bad was a small sticker with a number printed on it. This was my raffle number. Korean raffles are not like ones in the UK, everyone gets a prize... We found out what we'd won on the way back and I was the lucky recipient of a dish scourer, Handy I suppose.

It was a pleasant journey, and it's always nice to get out of the city centre and away from the sky scrapers. So away we headed into the countryside. I'm very used to making journeys out of a city and into the countryside, as with Essex's proximity to London we pass from rolling green fields in Ongar (in the car) to Epping (onto the underground) and into central London through stratford. Something I've become very aware of since moving and travelling around Korea is just how green it is at home. In Korea the colour of the coutryside is grey and brown. Even the green that is there, grass, leaves, bushes, are a faded colour. I assume this is due to the climate, so next time you're cursing the random downpour in summer or rain at your BBQ remember that it's the rain that makes our countryside so vivid and beautiful.Anyway it is still nice to get out to a place not be surrounded by buildings.

When we arrived we took the ferry over to the island and after strict instructions (be back at 'Mr Dokgalbi' by 6 or else no dinner) we headed off to explore and wander around the island. It was a lovely day, the autumn colours were everywhere and as it was mid-week there were hardly any other people about. The scenery was great and the only negative thing about the afternoon was having to run away from the crazy wild ostrichs who live on the island. They're not contained and wander where ever they want. They are also not freindly, one of our 5th grade teachers got pecked by one while waiting for the ferry back to the mainland!

As Wendy and I had found out on our earlier trip to this area of Korea, the famous dish in these parts is dak galbi. A chicken dish which gets cooked in front of you. It's a little bit spicy and that was what we had for dinner. After we'd finished eating, we had a school quiz. Obviously everything was in Korean so I couldn't answer any of the questions, but regardless we all received a free lottery ticket (correct quiz answers afforded an extra ticket). On the way home we listened to the lottery draw but there was not a winner amonst us! Overall this was a great trip and one that is well worth it if you're looking for somewhere to go out of the city.

Coach snacks

A little train which goes around the island
The famous avenue of trees

People stacks stones on top of one another and make a wish

The characters in the story made a snowman before their first kiss, so there is a model snowman to recreate the scene, come rain or shine!

Site of the main characters' first kiss

Din dins
chopsticks are great, but here's clear proof that sometimes a knife would work better.
Naughty Ostrich