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A Belated Summer update

SOUTH KOREA | Tuesday, 10 October 2006 | Views [1072] | Comments [2]

Your latest update of all things Korean...

I think I left off last time as I was about to go to Jeju Island, Korea's 'Hawaii'. Like a lot of things in Korea, it wasn't 'number one' or 'world best' (they have a habit of attributing these labels to a lot of things, and most of the time it's unjustified!), but it was still a lovely, pleasant break away. We hiked up Halla mountain, around 5 hours of sweat and pain in what felt like 100% humidity. The views were stunning though, and you could see all over the island. It was made even nicer by the fact that it ws nearly all greeen, a wonderful change from our usual concrete surroundings. We also cycled around U-do, literally 'cow island', a tiny island a few km off the coast. It's still relatively untouched, and you can see farmhouses dotted all over the place, as well the the 'haenyo', women divers, in the bays diving down to get their daily catch, sometimes up to 20m without any scuba gear. Our last day was spent lying on a white sand beach trying not to think about the return to work the next day.

Summer in Busan is a sticky affair and mainly involves numerous cold showers everyday and a constant supply of iced drinks. From mid-July to the end of August, it is officially beach season, because everything has specific dates here, rainy season, beach season, Autumn folliage - and they will not begin a day earlier or a day later! This means that the beaches are literally rammed with umbrellas and the sea is an inpenetrable layer of yellow rubber rings for the duration. Haeundae beach in Busan, the main beach and the beach in Korea, takes things to a whole new level and turns over up to a million people a day. Thankfully, things calmed down immediately after the season was officially closed for another year, so, providing the warm weather hangs around for another few weeks, lazy weekend afternoons can be spent there - I haven't yet given in to proper shoes and socks yet!

My brother came out in the middle week of August for a week's holiday, with his friend Yin in tow. We spent the weekend in Seoul wandering around a palace and the arts district, and getting them slowly acquainted to the Korean staples of soju and maekju, aka beer. The rest of the week was spent in Busan, with Chris and Yin staying in a choice motel - with an interesting 'personal' vending machine in the reception that had escaped my attention when checking the place out the previous week. We spent the week eating, drinking (soju bars till 4am on a school night are not suitable for 5 lessons the following day...), playing pool, more eating, some hiking up to a temple and taking the cable car up a mountain, more drinking, some shopping in the markets, and some snatched sleep in between. It was of course fantastic to see him, as well as it being slightly bizarre to have a member of my family all the way out here on what is literally the other side of the world.

I've also been checking out some other Korean cultural staples - going to see a baseball game, exercising in public parks, and playing board games in a, wait for it, board game room. Baseball is huge out here, and after two games, I can only say it's not for the fast pace or excitement of the game, but more to do with the beer and fried chicken - probably similar to watching live cricket back home. But the home team, the Lotte Giants, also spice things up a bit with orange rubbish bags - which are to be worn blown-up on your head, with the handles tied around your ears for added security and/or comfort - probably one of my most bizarre 'only in Korea' experiences so far. All big parks have communual exercise areas where you'll find stretching and rotating machines, bars, weights and huge hula hoops, ranging from small to what can only be xxl (about 6ft across!). You'll also see elderly women throwing themselves backwards against trees for the apparent and extremely dubious benefit of spine alignment. Not so sure myself. And board bangs, as they are more commonly known, are basically big cafes where you can rent and play board games, and indulge in some fancy dress or plastic hammer bashing too if the mood takes you. They're really good fun, but I couldn't see it taking off back home as someone little bugger would only steal the playing pieces or worse.

Work is going pretty well. I finally feel like more of a teacher (albeit in the Korean private academy sense), and am enjoying seeing my students become more confident. I'm looking into setting up a penpal scheme with some classes, I just need to find some willing schools world-wide. Although, as some students have requested Togo as their choice country and others penguins in the Antarctic, this might take me a little longer than first anticipated! It really beats spending time in an office as you never know what they're going to say or ask next. I had one student, a very smart 13 year old boy, telling me that Pingu (yes, the moulded, animated penguin) is a genius because he can build his own igloo, inspired. I love having discussions with the older children, and seeing them get animated about arguing a point, and helping them recognise that there is a world outside of Korea, as in some respects, they still have very enclosed mind-sets. I started having them makes up stories about their weekends, mainly because 'I studied' and 'I played computer games' make up 99% of responses, and to give them a little light-hearted fun. So far, some students have been to the North Pole, been to Mars on a rocket, swam to Japan and, my personal favourite, been to Washington and killed George Bush. I've also got a few familiar names in some classes as some new students didn't have English nicknames when they joined. So far, I have two Lornas (one of whom keeps arguing with a Paul in class!), two Andrews, an Emma, a Helen and an Ann. So, if you would like a Korean alter-ego, let me know!

I'm still going to hapkido classes in the mornings, and managed, albeit after 4 months off and on, to get my yellow belt a few weeks ago. Even though it is only the first one, and there's still a long way to go if I'm going to be a brown belt by next summer (no kidding, it is possible!), I was still quite pleased with myself. So much so, that I'm going to start going every morning so I can get the next one, blue, by Christmas - so I should have an extended repertoire of moves to try out on you unsuspecting Cambridge folk in February when I'm back!

I've also entered some photographs in an amateur Korean expat competition, and a couple of them have been spotted by someone compiling a book on Korea to be published by one of the news agencies out here. I've submitted around 20 images for it, including a little mini-photo essay on hapkido, so fingers crossed at least some of them make it into print. Another image, of a geisha in Kyoto, has been reviewed as 'awesome', so I'll let you know if it wins anything or not.

The weekend before last, a friend's co-worker took us into the north of the country to a traditional mask/dance festival set in a traditional folk village. We had much fun in the traditional play area on the swing, standing see-saw and trying to throw sticks into big vases. And as last week was Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving), we had a whole 6 days off work, the longest working people here will probably have off in the whole year at a stretch.  The original plan of inter-railing around Japan went out the window as the total cost started to climb, so Abi and I decided to spend time exploring Korea while we had the chance, as I'm sure we won't be spending future holidays here. We went to stay with a friend in Geochang, a tiny town a few hours north of Busan with a foreigner population of only 20. The immediate difference between Busan-ites and Geochang-ites was that the latter were so much more welcoming and hospitable. My friend had bags of fruit, potatoes and seaweed (why not) left outside her apartment door by her teachers and their families because they knew she had people coming to stay, and I think we only paid for half our meals and drinks throughout the whole week. It was so refreshing to see a different pace of life in Korea, when so much of the country is all about building the highest, gawdiest thing in the quickest time possible. We spent the week having fresh tea at a riverside herb garden, hiking up to a small temple, walking around a lotus garden (complete with it's own 'reflexology' stone pathway), singing in a noraebang (kareoke room) on two occasions, the first time with a monk and the second with a group of Korean that drunkenly kidnapped us in a restaurant and insisted we go with them to sing the night away, bless them, we ruined more songs than we did the night before! The highlight of the week though was our big hike from Haein-sa (one of the oldest temples in Korea) up Gaya mountain. It was 10km in total, and was helped by the fact that the monk (the same beer swilling, singing one from the previous night) took us for a huge traditional breakfast before we started (7am, mushroom soup, gimchi, roast chesnuts, beans, pumpkin, fish...) and lunch and beers following.

This coming weekend someone has organised a 13bar/three-legged pub crawl, combined with pub golf as well which promises to be a comical and messy event, followed by a 5km charity run on Sunday. There is also talk of a trip up to Seoul, some more hiking, a ski trip and another hapkido school weekend outing, all of which should make the next few months go as quickly as the last. With regards to next year, the current plan is to come home in February for the month - the first weekend of which nicely ties in with my birthday, attendance will be expected! - come back out here for another 6 months at the same school and then go onto Tanzania for a 3 month vounteer teaching placement, and who knows after that!

Also, you might be able to text my Korean "cellphone" (darn Americanisms). Try 0082168530522 and it should come to me via the free wonder of Skype. Alternatively, if you have Skype, my username is, unoriginally, annielovett.

Anyways, that's about all from me for now. Hope everyone is well. Email or write soon - Yu Rim One Room, 204 ho, 1724-11, Daeyeon-1-dong, Namgu, Busan. 608-811. Republic of South Korea.

Lots of love,


Tags: People



Hi Annie,

That must have taken ages to write! My friend Junsang is impressed with your travels.

Good to see that you're still drinking!

I'll write back properly soon.

Take care.

Stu x

  Stuart Clark Oct 13, 2006 1:11 AM


Hi, Annie! I see this is dated October of 2006, but are you by any chance still in Korea? I'm thinking of teaching there, too. Please email me sometime if you can!!



  elizabeth Aug 14, 2007 5:12 AM

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