Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's a cultural thing

Coming to Korea has been eye opening in so many ways. I have been exposed to people from all backgrounds, from all over the world, as well as being immersed in Korean culture. It has been so amazing learning about cultures and traditions from different parts of the world - not just Korea but England, Ireland, America, Australia, New Zealand and the subcultures that exist within those countries, like Mexican traditions for example. Hours have been spent this year discussing culture, traditions, politics and things unique to our home countries and Korea. Often when faced with problems in Korea, the words "it's a cultural thing" slip out. Because how else can we explain most of what goes on here?

Coming from South Africa has been really cool for me (not just because I love my country) because of the reactions I get when I tell people where I'm from. Koreans will always assume you are American first - "migook saram?" they'll say. When saying I'm from Africa, they immediately act surprised and will either say "Mandela, good man", "Word Cup" or "Why you white?". I've had foreigners and Koreans alike ask why I'm white...

...what we eat, if there really are animals in the streets, what we drink, what our currency is, how the African language 'clicks' sound, and again - are there really white people there? It's provided me with many a laugh but also an awesome opportunity to tell people about South Africa and try to rectify some wrongs. We joke that I have to kill a deer from my window for dinner, and I know I freak people out sometimes when talking about the safety (let's be real, they don't need me to freak them out, they just need to Google South Africa). But it's been really great talking about my home; people are genuinely interested. I might even have convinced a few to come visit. And in turn, I've loved learning more about their worlds. Like how chav culture affects people in England, the dynamics within the United Kingdom and just how MASSIVE the US is (seriously though, it's huge). It's been a learning experience for all. It's also really made me think about myself as a South African, and what that means to me. This post might be a bit all over the place as I try to explain the thoughts in my head about this all, so please bear with me :)

As mentioned, I get a lot of questions about where I'm from. One of the first questions to strike me as a difficult one to answer was something really simple - what is a traditional South African food? Now in Korea, there are very specific foods that EVERYONE will eat. Korea is a mono-cultural country in many ways (let's not get too deep into this, it's a sweeping generalization I know, but allow it). Kimchi for one is famous for being a Korean food. In fact most things I eat in Korea, unless it's 'Western', are very Korean. So it should be an easy question to answer: the Koreans have their Kimchi, the English have tea and scones and the Mexicans have their delicious foods (more generalizations). What do I have? Now let me try and explain my thoughts here. South Africa is so diverse and has so many subcultures, religions, languages and traditions that there are a number of 'South African' foods. So do I say borewors? Do I say pap, chicken, potjiekos, koeksusters, bunny chow or fish and chips? What is symbolic of South Africa? I tend to say a braai then, because it's simple. But the truth is a braai does not mean the same to everyone in SA. What one person sees as authentic SA food, another may never have tried. I know this is the case for many countries as we live in a world where people are able to relocate to wherever they want, causing many cultures to live under one flag. For me this isn't the issue. The issue I'm struggling with is what about me? My roots?

I'm a White South African. My ancestors came from Europe most likely, and I know I have some Dutch, Scottish and probably English blood in me. But all I've ever known is South Africa. I consider myself to be African, and I'm passionate about this. So what is my culture? The traditions I celebrate because they are important to ME? This is what has been playing on my mind a lot as I struggle to answer basic questions like what is my traditional food. I feel a bit cultureless. And it's hard. Am I thinking about things the wrong way? I'd really love to hear some feedback from people. When it comes to traditions, I feel like I celebrate religious traditions, such as Christmas and Easter more than cultural ones. What do we do on big holidays? Things like Freedom Day and Youth Day? Days unique to South Africa, not ones like St Paddy's or New Years Eve. Well, I don't know. Is it enough to say I live in a multi-cultural country and so do a number of different things, I don't have any one cultural identification? That's good, and I'm so lucky to live around such diversity - I miss it, I thrive off of it. But it makes me sad that I feel a little lost within my own country. The Afrikaans population have their specific cultural practices within the scope of being 'South African', as do the Zulu, the Xhosa, the Ndebele etc. Their histories are rich in culture and tradition which are carried through to this day. Granted it wasn't always pretty and there is a lot of hurt and destruction in their history but they seem so sure of who they are culturally. I hope I'm making sense here. Traditions are different; they can be created within families, friendship groups, cultures, religions, or countries. They may stem from some kind of background or for a specific reason but let me separate that from culture, as it is culture that I'm struggling with.

I think that until this year, even though I'm a Sociology Major with an interest in everything social, me as having a culture was not something I really ever questioned. But being in Korea has made me ask a lot of questions, and really think about things. I'm not Afrikaans, I'm not Zulu, I connect to no other language rich in African history. I am English, and it feels like it means nothing. I know that often people who relocate to other countries, say the Chinese moving to South Africa, keep identifying with their culture even though they are living in a different place. They can tell you what their cultures is like, what they eat and do for special occasions. I have realised that a lot of the food I eat and things I do come from places spread all over the world. So where does that leave me? I feel a bit like a mixed-breed, like the pavement special dog with a bit of everything mixed in who is really cute but a few seeds short of a watermelon. I really do love my country, its people, the richness of the cultures that surround me. I just want to find my own place within it, where I fit in.

I could keep talking in circles but I think I should try wrap this up. This post was just about trying to voice my feelings about this matter in the hope that someone wants to discuss it with me. Maybe I'm missing the bigger picture, or have completely misinterpreted the meaning of culture. This is what living abroad does I guess...makes you change your way of thinking and forces you to see things differently. Maybe I should do a genealogy exercise and try to trace my roots, find out where I come from. I will always see myself as African but I'd like to know where my ancestors came from and what was important to them.

Eish but this post has been a bit odd. But this is part of my journey here, share it with me. Feel free to leave comments and start a discussion, I'd love to know if other people feel the same or if I'm just crazy ;)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Oh my Seoul

It feels good to be blogging again :) Was meant to write this post last week but time got away from me. I sit here with 2 and half weeks of school left and am not quite sure where the time has gone - feels really surreal that this is all coming to an end. Part of the 'lasts' was my trip to Seoul with Nicola which was my time to say goodbye to the vibrant city. Technically I'm going back this upcoming weekend to visit the DMZ but that's going to be very different. Seoul trips have definitely been a highlight for me this year; the city has so much to offer and is just so completely different to anything I have ever experienced. I never leave Seoul feeling refreshed and rested - weekends there are busy and packed with trips on the stuffy subways, but I love it. I say that after a weekend there I suffer from a Seoul hangover on the Monday, and need another rest day! But I'm really going to miss this crazy city. Anyway, let me tell you about my last weekend there.

Nic and I left Jecheon early, to make sure we could try and fit everything in. We had planned the weekend out completely which in hindsight was the best idea; we had goals to reach and that helped fit everything in! We started off in Insadong, one of my favourite places to visit. It's pretty and calm, filled with loads of little curio shops which abound in Korean trinkets, and I managed to get some last minute gifts for friends (and me). Insadong is a must see if you're looking for gifts or showing guests from home around. From there we made our way to the Gangnam area. Initially we were meant to have lunch there but I had an appointment we needed to make - my tattoo!!

I have one tattoo already and what they say is true - after your first one, you just want more. I love tattoo culture; the idea of your body telling a story. I've always been attracted to it and although I never thought I would get one, I knew coming to Korea that I wanted something done to represent my year here. So after almost a year of thinking and planning, I went ahead and booked with Tattoo Korea in Seoul, and arrived at their offices excited but a little nervous. I had a vague picture of what I wanted in my mind: I had spoken to a friend back home about designing something but I kept changing my mind and so thought it was better to take some ideas to the artist and let them draw it up. I had emailed the main guy, Aerok, to make the booking and had specifically asked for San Lee, who I had heard great things about. After re-confirming the booking, I thought I was sorted. When we arrived though, it wasn't quite what I was expecting. Aerok speaks fluent English but my impression of him wasn't all that amazing...he seemed a bit impatient and not all that involved. Which would be fine, except he hadn't booked me with San Lee, but deposited me with a young Korean guy named Memo, who spoke little/no English. At this point I started freaking out as he was told I wanted a feather, which I didn't, and started searching for feather images. I managed to put a stop to that and awkwardly got the pictures up that I wanted but the whole process could have been better facilitated had Aerok actually stayed to help. I understand I'm in Korea but I just expected to be put with someone I could talk with (from what I had read on the internet). I had to quickly accept that the whole design process I was hoping for needed to be thrown out the window. I was able to type the wording out, and he helped me choose a font etc, and we then sat at the computer playing around with an image until I was happy. As with everything, looking back on it I know this was the right thing to do...my idea was a little complicated and I might have ended up feeling pressured to get something I would later regret. And then it was go time - I was quoted a price (heads up, you will pay a LOT more in Korea than back home because they import their instruments) and we had decided on a position (Nic was very helpful here, I couldn't have done it without her), so I sat in the chair, ready to end my year in a symbolic way. The pain, as with the first one, was minimal; people have different experiences but for me, tattoos are not all that painful (keep in mind I got simple things done). Memo was such a cute guy, very helpful and professional - I'm glad I got him. The whole place was clean and warm - I really would recommend their studio, as long as you have realistic expectations. Their work is top notch as are their facilities ..it's just the design process that was a bit disappointing for me. Here are some pictures of the process (Nic was in control of the camera and got a little trigger happy haha).

Feeling nervous as I wait

The room where I was inked

Focus on both our faces haha

The finished product - the next day
Memo the cutie 
I am thrilled with my new ink - it represents my time in Korea and life in general. I feel like I've really learned to spread my wings over the past 2 years and the birds are symbolic of that. I would highly recommend Tattoo Korea, and I'm happy I went with them. It was all part of the experience for me :)

After that was done, we had some time to venture into Gangnam. We had hoped to take a picture with the Gangnam subway sign, but we came out at the wrong stop. No worries, we found the Rodeo Drive of Korea (in Cheongdam-dong) and stood gawking at all the branded stores. There is a definite swanky feel to the area - shops offer valet parking, there is very little trash around and all the cars seem bigger and more expensive. We had a funny experience outside Louis Vuitton where we saw a Rolls Royce parked and went up to it to try take some pictures, all the time exclaiming how we can't believe it's a Rolls etc etc...the shop assistants were looking at us like we were homeless people though and one came out to keep an eye while the other one walked up to the car, to hand a women's jacket to the man SITTING INSIDE THE CAR. The whole time we were messing around, there was someone inside the car. Typical. We had a good chuckle :)


Standing on Rodeo Drive, with Gucci in the background and awesome balloon lights in the trees.

It was cold and I was tired, so off we went to Myeongdong for a final shopping spree! We met up with some friends for dinner and took advantage of all the big sales going on. Myeongdong is my favourite place to shop here and I will miss all the clothing stores like Forever 21 and UniQlo. It was nice to be there at night, with all the lights. I managed to not blow all my money, something which is way too easy to do in Seoul! After that we had decided to go and try find somewhere to sleep in Hongdae, as we wanted to visit the Hello Kitty Cafe in the morning. We were banking on finding a love motel but what no one told us is that there are no love motels in Hongdae. Fail. By this time we were both really tired from a long day, so hopped in a taxi to the neighboring area, Sinchon, where we found a beautiful motel to stay in. It had a big flat screen TV, was so clean, a nice big bed (there is nothing worse than walking into your hotel/hostel/motel/pension at the end of a long day and seeing you have mats to sleep on, no bed) and a BATH! A hot bubble bath to rest my aching body was the perfect way to end my day :) We didn't rush the next day, so took our time waking up and watching some weird Kpop concert before trekking back to Hongdae to find the Hello Kitty Cafe. The internet lied to us, and so after walking around aimlessly for too long, we tried to find the cafe on our own. It's really easy to find: it's close to TGI Fridays in Hongdae - just up the road and right at Tony Moly and you can ask someone to direct you (sorry, I should be better at giving directions). I had read on a blog that it was quite disappointing so we didn't know what to expect...I was so pleasantly surprised! It's an overwhelmingly cute pink building, and the whole place is pink enough to make you sick. We got there close to 12, so it was open but not too busy...we ordered our coffees and went upstairs to take a bazillions photos. The coffee was god enough and came with Hello Kitty faces. The chairs had pink bows on them, Hello Kitty pictures and paintings were everywhere, it was all sweet enough to give you diabetes. If you are a Kitty fan - go there. It is TOTALLY worth it, and we spent a really nice hour or so soaking up the kittyness.

The outside
The coffee

Pink, pink everywhere! 


We grabbed a burrito from a little Mexican place before going to do some admin stuff for Nic, and that was our weekend. It was probably one of the best weekends I've had in Seoul. Although exhausted, we managed to fit everything in, we had some amazing experiences and I felt like I left Seoul on a high note.

On this note, it's time to say goodbye to my crazy China, Nicola. She is renewing and staying in Korea so leaves to go home this week for a months vacation, meaning I won't see her again before I leave. I know blogs aren't the place for too much mush but she has been a supporter of my blog the whole year so I think it's appropriate. I never expected to find someone here who would be as silly and crazy as me, and have really had the most amazing year getting to know Nic. I will miss her dearly, but she promises to come and visit SA next year where I can hopefully put to rest a lot of her totally absurd ideas of my home country ;)
This year would NEVER have been the same without you Nic, for reals. Thank you for everything.

And I'm out amigos - have a great week!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The awkwardness of Korea

I've been quiet lately, and I've missed having something to write about. As of late, the cold weather and need to save every penny for home has meant fairly uneventful days here in Jecheon. We did go to the local Winter festival at Uirimji to walk on the frozen lake which was AWESOME! I felt a little uneasy at first but soon got caught up in the magic of sledding and 'chair skiing' around the ice, watching the ice-fishing and taking lots of pictures :) I'm off to Seoul this weekend with Nicola, and we have a jam packed weekend planned as it's probably the last time I'll be there and want to soak up as much as I can. I also have an appointment with one of Asia's best tattoo artists, San Lee at Tattoo Korea to get some ink to commemorate my year here. I'm excited!

My 2 weeks of Winter Camp are coming to an end tomorrow, and it's also the last day I'll be spending at Baegun. This makes me sad as I've grown to love a lot of these kids, and hope I can pop back in to say goodbye before I leave. Both camps have gone relatively well and although I'm relieved they're over, the prospect of about a month of desk warming here on out is doing nothing to help my Winter blues. I doubt I'll teach again until I leave, and with nothing productive to do for the hours on end I spend at my desk, I can literally feel myself losing my mind. Don't get me wrong - a day or 2 of desk warming during term time is much appreciated and anticipated. But days on end spent trying to look busy get old very quickly. And if like me you have some friends who get to finish early or don't have to go in to school at all, it's hard to keep the optimism up as they nap away their afternoons at home and you're stuck trying to digest the river snails you had for lunch and reminding yourself that you're getting paid for this ;) Thank goodness for sites like Imgur, BuzzFeed, Thought Catelog, Stumble Upon and Pinterest - they are awesome time wasters.

I plan on writing a few reflective posts during the up coming weeks, and thought I'd kick that off on a light - hearted note with a list of awkward experiences I have either had personally or have heard about from friends in Korea. We all have to deal with a certain amount of awkwardness in everyday life but there is something about being in a foreign country, especially one like Korea with all its quirks, that makes some mundane experiences that much more cringe-worthy. I'm going to keep all the stories anonymous and will try my hardest to give these stories the awkwardness they deserve. If you have any stories of your own, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section :)

1. No matter how many times you say "I don't speak Korean" IN Korean, the person confronting you wont stop talking to you like you know what's going on.

2. Getting into a taxi which starts driving before the driver knows where to go, and trying to explain as best you can where exactly you need to be. This sometimes results in a Korean lesson from the driver or Vice Principal.

3. The "I love you"s and "wow, beautiful"s you get from inappropriate people. Like the school bus driver.

4. Forgetting that you're in Korea and flushing your toilet paper down, only to have the toilet overflow, causing you to flee school and call your friend once home for advice before going back to try and explain the situation.

5. When anyone tries to feed you.

6. Using squatter toilets.

7. This story I heard about from Waygook: a male teacher was called aside by his co-worker who told him he has a "handsome bulge" (groin area) and it's "very good" but it makes some teachers and students uncomfortable. This story is my best.

8. When a woman on the bus LICKS your hair.

9. Being around when an ajjoshi decides to let rip in a BIG way.

10. Being burped in the face by an ajjuma while getting change for your cola.

11. Wondering aloud to your friends about whether or not the shop teller is a girl or a boy, only to have them say "me? I am girl" while you try remove the foot from your mouth.

12. Having students give you a massage.

13. When your co-teacher stares at the hair on your arm for a while, before rubbing it and saying "beautiful woman".

14. Trying to find cream for your heat rash only to be asked if you are Russian by the Pharmacist (as a girl, being Russian is usually related to being a prostitute). In fact, add to this anytime you're asked if you're Russian.

15. Having people stop what they're doing, turn around in their chairs, stop their cars or pull out their cameras because you are a foreigner. Often followed by many exclamations of surprise and disbelief.

16. School dinners where you're like the white elephant in the room (like, literally) that everyone is trying to avoid while you watch the Principal get so drunk he needs to be carried out.

17. Having to address staff or parents when you know they don't understand you or getting long speeches from the Principal in Korean.

18. Using a YouTube video to explain a concept to your 5th graders, only to have an incredibly inappropriate advert for women's underwear pop up when you close it. This happened twice. My kids nearly died, and so did I.

19. Trying to play Volleyball in front of ALL of your staff when you suck.

20. When students dance and gyrate inappropriately because that's supposed to be 'cute' and it's what their k-pop idols do.

21. Having to eat anything gross in front of people while trying to keep a straight face and not offend anyone. Cue pork stomach and seaweed soup experiences.

22. Buying the things that women need only to see a coworker at the till in front of you which of course causes you to flee in the opposite direction.

23. When Koreans do what they do best: talk about you in front of your face but you have no idea what they're saying. It's worse when there's laughter.

24. Having the bus driver at school tell you constantly he loves you and you must take him home with you (to South Africa, not bed. I think). He has a weird finger thing which makes this more awkward, and more creepy.

25. When you drop your chopsticks at school. Don't let them see your weakness. For heaven's sake don't drop the chopsticks!

26. When girls are asked if they are 'cold', usually in Summer, implying that your neck line is too low. Or any comments on your body parts/clothing/love life/blood type deemed appropriate by the the offending (emphasis on the offending) individual.

For the OCD in all of you, I know there should be an even number of points and that would be great but alas I cannot think of anymore now. There are plenty other moments, like trying to order anything at a new restaurant, but these were my top awkward moments experienced or heard about in Korea.

If there's one thing this wonderful place has definitely given me, it's an endless supply of stories.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In other news

I realise that I don't often do general posts about what's been up lately - I usually only post when something I think is interesting happens. But today I've decided to let my fingers do the talking and type whatever comes to mind. This could get messy :)

So school officially ended on Friday. The kids went off on vacation, the teachers took a deep breath of relief and looked at me with pity as they said "you no vacation, aw" and left for their time away. Things aren't as clean cut as they are back home though. During vacation time, certain teachers still come in every few days to be in the office. My Vice-Principal hangs around too as do the teachers who run the Edu-Care classes. The kids will also come in for certain programs like my English Camp, or a ski trip, or by the looks of our office - badminton?! So it's not a months solid vacation for everyone. I get brought to school by whoever is the unlucky teacher on duty for the day. A lot of other foreign teachers will get to leave early, or leave after their camps etc during the vacation. But as expected, not with me. I am at school from 8.30 till 4.30 and all the snow we've had means I only end up getting home after 5. So it's fairly tedious but I plan on watching a bunch of series and movies once my camps are done. I'm running a 5 senses English camp at both my schools for a week each. That will help pass the time but no one could tell me how many students are coming so I hope I end up with enough to run the damn thing. It's quite sad to have my real classes all finished -  I doubt I'll teach my kids properly again before I leave, and just hope I'll get to say goodbye to them all. They really have found a special place in my heart and are often the reason I have made it through the day (although they are also responsible for any gray hairs I may have picked up). It's just testament to how quickly this year has actually gone: when I first arrived I remember thinking that January was going to be the worst because you're stuck desk-warming and are really just waiting to come home. But now I'm here, and am not all that sure how it came so quickly.

A lot of people mistake my excitement for going home as a sign that I haven't enjoyed my year here. There is sympathy in some messages/comments I get that I don't always understand. Let me set the record straight - although I am beyond excited to be going home, I have had the most incredible year of my life here and it's not easy to give this up. There are many things I'll miss (a post to come later) and many things I'm not looking forward to about going home (being broke is one of them, although my parents say they will happily embrace unemployed Bron...for now anyway haha). I know my situations are often used as examples of how tough things in Korea can be and we laugh at my misfortunes but I think that's what has made this experience for me. If I was unhappy I would have left Korea long ago. I don't know why but I really felt the need to clear that up.

I've learned a lot about my co-teacher over the past few weeks. I have bitched and ranted about her, she has made me cry tears of frustration and has pushed me to breaking point on a number of occasions. But I think this is where my biggest lesson this year has been hidden, and is something I need to try and communicate to the next GET should they have her too. Yes, she can be useless. I cannot always make excuses for her. But the number of times something has happened that has made me flip my lid, only to discover later that there was a miscommunication and all is well, outnumber the times she has genuinely just screwed me over. A lot of times, she tries to tell me things (like should there be a snowfall, I need to find my own way to school which is a MISSION because the other teachers think it's dangerous and all I can think is 'oh so you'll sacrifice the foreign teacher but not you') but because of her low English ability, it comes out a lot worse than maybe intended. Also, sometimes the news doesn't come from her. I had to fight to take my leave early and my school was being totally unreasonable but once I sat down and played some pictionary with her to explain the situation, I saw she was in my corner. I have been a huge source of stress for her I'm sure and although I'd be lying if I said I didn't resent her in some ways, I have also accepted that she isn't always the bad person trying to make my life difficult. I know I've said it before but I really think many GETs come here expecting some kind of special treatment due to their foreigner card and in many ways we do get that. But we also need to step down from our pedestal to realise that these teachers don't always ask to be our babysitters. It is SO difficult not to compare experiences in Korea...the friend who I came over with was placed in Daejeon and we might as well have spent the year in different countries - that's how different our experiences have been. And it took me sucking it up to embrace my situation instead of coveting every other teachers position. I guess I just want other teachers coming to remember that you never know what you're going to get - you need to be ready for it but also give your co-teacher a chance - there's often a lot more going on than we can ever imagine. I can't say that I think my co-teacher is going to be particularly sad when I leave but then she tends to surprise me so who knows. I'm just grateful for her in a weird way as she has taught me to stand on my own two feet and get on with it.

The weather here is frightfully cold. You know you're in the middle of a Korean Winter when you see the low for the day is -18 and you think that's normal. We've had a lot of snow over the past few days, and the roads can be a nightmare to try and walk on, let alone drive on. But it doesn't stop the Korean women from wearing them heels - they really are something else. I take my hat off to the super powers they must possess to keep up their appearances through rain and snow. I seem to be getting more and more like the Michelin man with all my layers as it gets colder but my coworkers look no puffier. I'm hoping to do some sledding and experience a snow festival in the next few weeks. When in Rome and all that. But really the cold is making me want to retreat deep into the depths of my bed and never have to leave. I still prefer it to the extreme Summer heat though.

So I can say I'm going home next month. I have 5 odd weeks left, and I know they are going to fly by. It's all pretty surreal and I'm just trying to soak up as much of Korea as I can before I have to leave. It's not somewhere I ever see myself coming back to for vacation so need to make the most of it. As for what lies ahead of me this year - who knows. I'd love to travel some more, and really want to do some NGO volunteering/interning in South Africa and maybe Kenya but at this point I'm content with a nice long holiday when I get home, and seeing where the wind takes me from there. If I sound blase it's because I'm trying to...inside I'm freaking out a tad ;) It's exciting though, knowing that anything can happen. I doubt I'll keep posting on this blog when I leave but maybe I'll start a new one for my new adventures :)

I think that's all really...hope you didn't suffer any whiplash from my subject changes. I'm really just procrastinating but should start finalising my plans for my camp next week. Seems no matter what I do or how much I grow up, procrastination will forever be my downfall.

Until next time... :)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

3...2...1... disappointment

Happy New Year everybody!!!!

I hope you all had an awesome time celebrating and that 2013 will be a year filled with only the happiest things. I'm sitting here at school desk warming and trying to get feeling in my fingers again, reflecting on the year past and the year that lies ahead. So what better than to blog about it :) *WARNING* It could get soppy up in here...

So let me tell you about my New Years Eve (NYE from now because aint nobody got time to type that out). As per everything this season in Korea, NYE doesn't appear to be that big of a deal. So Monday saw me at school, sitting through my first day of desk warming and thinking "oh ya, it's NYE tonight - who knew". We had decided to go to Seoul for the celebration...I had to work all day but some of the others set off early, and thankfully Nic waited for me, so we caught the 6pm bus outta here. Now I have to admit that I was less than enthusiastic about spending NYE in Seoul. I don't know why but that city can either be a brilliant success or an absolute disaster and in general, when it comes to nights out, it leans towards the latter. But I had begun to get excited and was looking forward to spending NYE in one of the most electric, vibrant cities in the world. We got in quite late as the traffic was mayhem and delayed our bus, and we still needed to catch a subway to Hongdae where out hostel was. We followed the internet directions which LIED to us and made us walk around the cold and icy roads (it's a skill not to fall) for too long before we got directions from our friends already there. I was starving and freezing and couldn't help thinking that this was exactly why I didn't want to come to Seoul - my sense of humor had totally disappeared. Once we got to the hostel though and I got some food in me I was feeling better and ready to face NYE!! Excitement was rising as we set out to go experience the famous 'bell ringing'. You can read about it here. After getting a bit lost and finding our way by luck, we saw the crowds and rejoiced at making it literally 10 minutes before midnight. They were tight on security and we had to speak nicely to some of the policemen to stay together (and by we I mean Jeanette who has a way of convincing people). There were some foreigners around and a really funny Korean man who kept trying to photo-bomb us, and although there were a ton of people there was none of the pushing and crushing that I would expect from home.

So the countdown started, in Korean, and we tried to keep up but got a bit lost and got to 1 when they were only on 2...but at the stoke of midnight, as the countdown ended there was a great burst of......nothing. We were the only excited ones it seemed, other than a couple of other foreigners who opened a bottle of champagne. No big hoo-ha, no fireworks, no confetti. Just a big fat sack of disappointment. Our Korean photo-bombing friend was the funniest thing - he turned to us after hearing us complain about the lack of fireworks and shouted "No fireworks? I know! What a *%#@ing disappointment!! Mother *%#@aaaaaaaaaa!" He was hilarious. And was expressing our thoughts exactly. After a bit of waiting around (we only heard the actual bell ring once or twice) we decided to try find the fun, and saw that behind us there were some Roman Candles (hand held mini fireworks/sparklers that Koreans love) going off, so those were our fireworks. The more people who bought them though, the prettier it looked (and scarier it became; I pictured myself being hit in the face with a stray shot) and I actually enjoyed seeing the small explosions. So I guess it wasn't SO bad. Afterwards, we had to catch the over crowded subway before it closed to get back to Hongdae where we had decided to party the night away. Cara wasn't feeling well so she went back and once we got to the hustle and bustle  of the craziness that is Hongdae, Nic and I decided to rather take a slow walk back and leave club "Naked" to the others ;) The next day we heard the stories from the night before (highly entertaining , trekked through one of the biggest snowfalls I've experienced and celebrated the new year with a meal at T.G.I Friday (the best ribs I've had in Korea) before heading back to Jecheon.

I know I make it sound like a disaster, and it was written a little tongue in cheek, but really it was a fun night thanks to the company we had and the way we made the most of the situation. We laughed a lot cos what else is there to do when your big NYE plans turn out to be a few random Koreans with Roman Candles :)

Nic and I
All of us awaiting the bell ringing 
2012 has been one of the most challenging but rewarding years of my life. I cannot believe that I made it this far: I have made a life for myself in a foreign country, worked my first 9-5 job in this country and made it work in a place where I have never ceased to feel completely out of place. This year has opened my eyes to what this world has to offer and just what I am capable of. It's allowed me to start this blog which I have loved doing and which has awoken my passion for writing which could lead to bigger things in the future. I feel like it has prepared me for anything that life might throw my way. I've learned how to cope with a completely different culture, to suck it up when times get tough and have realised just how much home and everything there means to me. 2012 has changed me forever - I will never be content to live an uninteresting life where I remain stagnant. I want to see more, do more, live more. I don't believe in New Years resolutions but hope that I will make the most of every opportunity given to me this year, and will remember to enjoy the simple things in life and stop taking things for granted. 2013 is the first year that I can honestly say I have no idea what is coming my way. And this is scary but exciting too. One of the biggest adventures of my life comes to an end next month but I know it's just one of many. Korea has given me so much, for which I will always be grateful.

The fact is though, I would never have made it through 2012 without the people around me. The friends I've made here are the kind I will miss dearly. I never expected to find people I'd get on so well with on the other side of the world. But I did and it's thanks to them that this year was what it was. I could not have done it without you - thank you for being my family away from home and for helping me make some of the most beautiful memories. And to my family and friends back home who have never ceased to support me from afar - your Skype calls, your messages of encouragement, the letters and emails are things that I appreciate more than you could ever know. It's difficult to keep in touch across time differences, but that never stopped you and I am so grateful. Needless to say I cannot wait to come home and catch up on all I've missed out.

So 2012 was real; it was growth and difficulty, adventure and learning. 2013 - I have no idea what you have in store for me - please be kind. But regardless of what comes my way, I'm ready for you and plan on making this year count. We're getting older kids, let's not waste what we have.

Peace and love.