Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Perfect Weekend

What makes a perfect weekend? Is such a thing even possible? Well I'm not sure but what I can tell you is that I had a close to perfect weekend this week and I thought I'd brag about...I mean share it...with you guys ;)

We travel a lot here over the weekends. Jecheon is only big enough to keep you entertained in small doses, and the need to break free strikes often. I'm grateful for this as it forces me to see as much of Korea as possible - and although we tend to frequent Seoul a little too often (the shopping, need I say more?) this weekend was beautifully different. In celebration of a special lady's birthday (no matter how much she said it wasn't for her) we (and by we I mean Esti, she did all the legwork) decided to spend Saturday and Sunday on Jawol Island. Here's how it went :)

We caught the 7.35am bus to Incheon, where we had some lunch before boarding an hour long ferry to the little island. It was amazing! I love being on the water and Su and I sat outside on the back of the boat soaking up the sun and fresh air. We were a little concerned about weather as although it's been as hot as hell here, it's also been overcast and threatening to rain. But this weekend saw clear skies the whole time, we could not have been luckier! We finally got to the island and were blown away! So picturesque and secluded, felt like we had the island pretty much to ourselves. Our pension (Oakfield Village) was up on the hill and we had the top rooms, which although heated up like ovens, provided us with lush views of the sea and beaches. We could not wait to get into the sea so changed, left our bags behind and hit the beach. As I've mentioned (can anyone tell I'm struggling with the summer??) it was too hot to function so we were lucky to find a shaded gazebo to leave everything under and we spent the rest of the day alternating between sea, beach and shade. The tides there were incredible - when we got there the tide was moving out and we literally had to walk for miles before we were even knee deep (waist deep for me) in the water. Koreans are not huge swimmers though so the lifeguards made sure we never ventured too far - the minute we felt like we could actually swim, we were told to come in. But never mind, we still made great use of the watermelon ball and frisbee we bought. Was so much fun just messing around in the cool, calm waters. There were no waves and I felt more like I was in the Vaal Dam then in the sea.

Unfortunately, on the way out to waist level waters, we hit a few rocky patches and some injuries followed. Although I cut my foot enough to make me uncomfortable but not seriously, Cola did a good job of shredding her foot on some shell covered rocks and was promptly taken to the local hospital but lifeguards in skimpy speedos (and lemme tell you they were TINY...the speedos...). On a quad bike. We weren't there but it sounds like quite the experience, and she came back with a bandaged foot covered in a surgical glove. This caused many laughs and really only she could do something like that. The story goes she told Estelle she wanted "a glove, but like for your foot" and Estelle's very logical response was "So a sock?". But no no, Nics meant an actual glove. Chop. This meant she wasn't allowed in the water so she had to make do with building sandcastles. *There are photos to follow at the end of the blog...for some reason I'm having troubles uploading them so it's easier this way.

We eventually tired of the sand and so head to the pension to clean up and get some food. The options were limited, being a tiny island and all, but we hit the luck with delicious  rotisserie chickens and samgyupsal which turned out to be RIBS!! Beautiful pork ribs!! YUM! We knocked all that back with the standard beer and soju mixes and then went to shoot some fireworks on the beach. It was the most awesome day and by 11pm we were all knackered and decided to turn in. The next morning we were going to wake up to watch the sunrise (again I use the term 'we' lightly...I had no intention of being up unless someone physically forced me up) but the weather wasn't ideal that early so we all got to sleep in. Once up and about we made our way to the beach for brunch and more sunshine - although this time Su was the only one really brave enough to soak up those powerful rays. All too soon it was time to shower and change and head back to the dock to catch our ferry home. Su, Nics and I stood on the back of the boat and really enjoyed the ride back - felt so rested and like we'd had an actual holiday! Getting home from there was an drivers tried to rip us off and then ignored us; all the buses to Jecheon from Incheon were sold out; the buses to Chunju and Wonju were sold out. We booked a train which we then didn't make, took buses that were an hour when we expected 30minutes and eventually, thankfully, got standing tickets on the 10pm train from Seoul to Jecheon. We used our elbows when boarding though and managed to snag us some carpet so we sat the whole way home. Winning!! We got home at around 12pm, all exhausted but happy. It truly was the most amazing weekend getaway.

A HUGE thank you to Esti for organising it all. It took numerous phone calls and Korean translation and research to sort it out and I know I speak for all of us when I say we really appreciate your efforts.

And to the birthday girl Su, the loveliest 25 year old I know...생일 축하!! I hope your weekend away was as close to perfect as they come <3

The beach

The foot glove

The sandcastle

The pension from the beach

Sunset on an island

Ferry ride

The lovely birthday girl <3

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1 part Saffa, 2 parts mud

** This post was written a week ago but I've been having some issues with posting it so I apologise for the lateness :)

Emma, myself and Esti. The only Saffa's missing here are Estelle and Yvette.

This past weekend saw me combining a few of my favourite things...SA food and wine, good friends, the beach and mud...yes I said mud. It's the annual Boryeong Mud Festival in Korea and after hearing all the hype, I just had to check it out. Mud fest is really just an excuse for a ton of Westerners and Koreans alike to get a bit merry on Korean beer and roll around in the mud. And it didn't disappoint. On top of Mud fest though, we had a Saffa themed night in Jecheon on Friday night...let me tell you about this awesome weekend :)

Esti was the host of Saffa night (aptly called 'Baby's on Fire' on Facebook, after the release of Die Antwoord's new song...word to the wise: it's not for the weak of heart) with the other 4 of us as co-hosts. We decided that the biggest apartment would be needed, so Esti and Su kindly opened up their place. We all invited guests to join in on the SA goodness, and before we knew it, we had a party. Esti created 2 trivia games on SA, with the winners receiving shots of Amarula with smarties! Delicious! Then we all contributed towards the absolute feast we enjoyed: We had - koeksusters, coconut ice, biltong (!!!!!), dried fruit, rice salad, cheese and marmite muffins, bobotie with all the bells and whistles, a green salad, mince and vetkoek. I made the vetkoek, mince and salad. It's the first time I've really had to cook something of value in Korea, and the first time I've ever used yeast, baked, or fried. So was pretty dam pleased with myself and Nicola with the way it all turned out. And having fashioned the salad after my mom's ones from home, it really did feel like home!

Esti created an awesome all SA playlist, and we spent the night laughing and singing along to some old favorites, and artists such as Mango Groove, Jessie Clegg, Mandoza, Karen Zoid, Just Ginger, some Afrikaans treffers...the list goes on. But it was awesome. It's really nice to have so many South Africans around, and to have friends from other countries who are interested in learning more about and experiencing some of my home. I know some people hate the term 'Saffa' but I've truly embraced it being here and love the feeling of belonging to a group of people who struggle to hide their pride for our country (this is of course a generalisation but let's stick to the positivity shall we).

I keep trying to add pictures and they just aren't working today, so you'll need to check Facebook out or Google the dishes to see pictures I'm afraid :)

The weekend was not over yet though, and at 9am on Saturday, 9 of us assembled outside GnB where Estelle had so awesomely organised us a bus and driver to take us to MUDFEST! It took around 4 hours, including lunch and bathroom breaks so we eventually got there around 13:00. It was overcast and a bit rainy, but we had expected that and with it being so hot (and us planning on getting covered in mud), the rain did nothing to lower our spirits. We were staying in a pension 5 minutes from the beach, and as soon as were changed, sun creamed, beer'ed up and ready to go - we hit the mud!

I brought my camera along but kept it in a water proof pouch once the real fun began, so unfortunately we don't have any of the epic photos some of the other people have of themselves rolling in the mud. But I did manage to capture some of the fun :)

David, Adam, Nics, Su and Myself
We started off at 'painting stations', but we had to walk about 15 minutes to reach the actual mud festival area. Along the way a few of us took a dip in the sea, until we finally got to the real mud. It was an enclosed area that we had to pay for to get in (a whole 5000\, really not expensive) and included buckets of mud, jumping castle type slides, mud prisons, wrestling pits and obstacle courses. The mud is not the brown, thick, dirt you typically think of, but was watery and gray and felt really good on your skin! It was packed with people, and the rain was doing nothing to dampen our moods (pun intended). We had a go on most things, got some mud in our eyes and mouths, and just had a lot of fun all round. After we finished up there we spent time in the sea, washing off and making the most of the warm water and chance to swim. It was then time to head back and get cleaned up properly before going for some delicious dinner.

We went for seafood and samgyupsal - the shellfish was so fresh it was still alive when you cooked it, and although I didn't have any, I heard it was amazing. We then went and got some drinks and played drinking games in the room as it was pouring with rain. Half way through we heard fireworks and ran like crazy people (okay some us did) to go check them out. We watched them from the beach and it was truly magical. It was then time for norebang, then bed. The day had finished us all!

On the Sunday, we got a late start and went to Paris Baguette and Angel in Us coffee for breakfast, before taking a nice long walk along the beach, back to the mud area (but stayed clean this time) where I managed to take a few more pictures. Along the way, Meabh got roped into learning how to do CPR and was filmed and interviewed. A real celebrity I tell you ;) I bumped into some other friends, and just enjoyed being by the sea. We were on the bus by 14:00, and arrived in Jecheon just after 18:00. It was so nice having our own transport - made for easy and fun traveling (no being worried about being too loud on the train...Nicola...haha). We decided to have one of my favourite meals, dak galbi, for dinner together, before going home and collapsing after a great weekend!

The mud fest area

Mud Prison

So all in all it was a really great weekend. I got to share a bit of my home with my friends over here, and then got muddy and absolutely loved it. These are the things I'm here for - the experiences that you just don't get anywhere else!

Just another fun, random weekend outing in Korea!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Smiths in Korea

Hi everyone!

I know it's been a while since I last posted. Time is something I always think I have a lot of, until Friday comes and I sit back and realise just how much I didn't get done during the week. The internet is bad for my procrastination problem - I do not have the willpower to fight the temptations I find on stumble, pinterest, imgur etc. But this week I vow to be more productive and so here goes ;)

I cannot believe it's been almost a week since my family left. They've come, they've gone, and we've created some amazing memories! It was the most special time having them here and being able to share with them a part of the craziness I now call my life. We all agree that it's really great for them to have seen where I am and experienced a bit of what I do everyday because no amount of explanation can truly convey what it's like to live here. I have posted a number of pictures on Facebook but thought it would be nice to write a little about their stay here too, as photos can only say so much.

At Gyeongbuk Palace, Seoul
They (my mom, dad and brother) arrived here on June 22. I took the day off school and met them at one of Korea's biggest airports - Incheon. I sat at the arrivals gate for a good 2 hours before they were even due to arrive, but I just couldn't contain my excitement. When I finally saw them walk through the gates and got to have real life hugs from them, I was over the moon. Mom cried a bit, we went and had some coffee to let them catch their breath before heading to Seoul, and I introduced myself to a girl they had met on the plane who was also coming over to teach. I tried my best to convince her that the daunting journey she was about to embark upon was going to be well worth it! Laden with luggage, we caught the subway into Seoul and to our hostel for the weekend - Choi's guesthouse. To try and summarise as best I can, the weekend was a whirlwind of Insadong, Gyeongbuk Palace, the Trick Eye Museum, Itaewon, Scrooges SA pub, N-Tower and Myeongdong. I tried to fit in a bit of everything and although they were low on sleep and high on culture shock, they pushed through until we could collapse on a bus to Jecheon. The heat was something else and I think we were all relieved to be leaving the smog of Seoul and headed towards the calmer vibes of Jecheon.I think they found Seoul hot, busy and overwhelming but also exciting and different in the best ways. 

Jecheon was not what they were expecting. I think they had heard me say the words 'small' and 'rural' and pictured me in a South African dorpie. So when they saw how relatively big Jecheon is, they were surprised. Like I told them - this is rural...Korean style! They stayed at a lovely little hotel 5 minutes from my apartment and their stay in town was very relaxed. They spent their days exploring, sleeping, reading and doing lots of walking. They left once to go to Danyang but other than that they were content in my little town. The locals were so amazing to them and that's one of the things that has stuck out most - just how kind and warm and welcoming Koreans can be. In the evenings we went for dinner to some of my favourite places where they were able to experience real Korean cuisine. They got to meet a lot of my friends here and it was really awesome being able to  spend quality time with them. Knowing they were waiting for me when I came home from school made everyday that much better.

On the Friday, a special effort was made by some of my teachers to bring my family to school. I had no idea what to expect, but my school really went all out. They were taken on a tour of the school, allowed to sit in on one of my lessons, taken to a nearby monastery which they said was an incredible experience and then to top it all off, we were allowed to leave after lunch so we could see some of Jecheon before heading to Busan for the weekend. It was a really special time for all of us and I'm really happy they got to see exactly where I work now. It has made me appreciate my school and my role here so much more. I feel genuinely cared for and accepted.

The weekend in Busan was awesome. We got there via 1 normal train and 1 ride on the KTX - Korea's speed train. We arrived around 9, made our way to our hotel in Haeundae and then enjoyed a dinner at a local Irish pub. The Busan weekend was much more relaxed than Seoul; we went on a Busan City tour, met up with some Saffa friends, watched a 'surfing' contest (there were no waves so I'm not sure how it was judged) and sat at Gwangali Beach, watching the sunset and bridge light up over beer and good food. Sunday we went to Beomeosa temple which was beautiful!! We came back feeling well rested and happy, and I'm pleased the bad weather didn't do anything to ruin out time at the coast!

Beomeosa Temple

The time they had with me was coming to an end, and the last 2 days were spent packing and shopping and making the most of their company. I was given Tuesday off to take them to the airport. I was dreading the goodbyes and when the time came it did suck as much as I thought it would. I tried as hard as I could to keep it together until I got home; I was semi-successful ;) I allowed myself to have a cry when I was in my apartment, get all the emotions out, but then knew I had to move on. Luckily I have the amazing support of friends here and back home and settling back into life without my family has gone smoothly. I miss them already and can't wait for the time to come where I can see them again and not have to say goodbye 10 days later but until then, I plan to make the most of the time I have left here.

My parents and brother got to see and experience things that I could never have properly explained. They are more aware of the challenges I face, the culture I'm confronted with and the daily routines of life in Korea. When I say "Oh so an ajumma burped in my face today while giving me change" (true story), they can laugh along with me and understand what ajumma's and ajoshi's are like here. They understand better when I complain about my apartment or the heat, or get excited about wonderful things this country has to offer. The first hand experience they gained here was priceless.

I know a lot of other teachers are having their parents or family or whoever coming over in the next little while - enjoy it!!! It is really special sharing this place with them and it broke up the long year with no family time. You will find that the Korean people are particularly sympathetic and open to families, and your loved ones will be very well looked after. 

Thank you Korea, for treating my family so well. 

In Busan with some other South African friends