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Second Summer in South Korea

SOUTH KOREA | Tuesday, 21 August 2007 | Views [2226]

I’m almost at my 6 month point which is exciting as it means I only have 6 to go, but also scary as it means I have to actually start planning next year properly and getting the funds to together to enable it all. At the moment, the rough itinerary is looking like this. Japan for 9/10 days in February, Nepal, Tibet and China from March to May, home for a while and then Tanzania to volunteer teach, hopefully from July or September, all on the proviso of saving properly over the next 6 months.

I’m also in the middle of a one month no-drinking challenge! This was a challenge set by myself for myself as the endless partying starts to take its toll after a while, so I decided to name a month and do it – and I even managed to recruit my friend Nicole into joining me. I have half a bottle of Bombay Sapphire in my fridge that has miraculously stayed at the same level for the duration thus far, day 17…

To go back to June…fifteen of us, mainly hapkido members and a few added extras, went to Jeju Island for the weekend. We took an early flight, and landed in drizzle which disappointingly continued all weekend. So, what do you do when you land at 8am in drizzle on barely any sleep? Get some coffee and breakfast? Try to calm down your frizzy hair? No, the answer is go straight to Jeju Loveland! It’s an outdoor karma sutra/sex statue/model park, with a little museum to boot…something beyond out-of-the-ordinary because Korea is still a pretty conservative country on the face of it all. Worded descriptions cannot suffice so the photographs speak for themselves.

We then spent a very busy day touring round what felt like every site on the island: a lava cave complete with flashing lights, a man-made water fountain and piped in salsa music (because you can’t just enjoy the quiet sounds of nature, no, no, no, you have to have a soundtrack!), a hillside temple, a shit-pig galbi restaurant (more about that in a minute), a noraebang, soju titantic (a battering drinking game), guesthouse party, a folk village, a waterfall, Korea’s ‘Giant’s Causeway’, and a rolling road, where it looks like you’re level but you roll backwards. The shit-pig galbi is Master Yoon’s literal translation of a marinated and grilled pork dish served on Jeju. Traditionally, the pigs were fed via a hole/squat toilet above their pen, apparently adding to the texture/flavour of the meat at the other end of the food chain…!

The following weekend my friend Thellie/Dave came to visit for a month. He’s currently on a temporary to permanent move to Thailand and around, and decided to see what Korea has to offer, and to see me of course. As a proper vegetarian, I was already concerned about his food options as just about everything has some kind of meat or fish included; the concept of vegetarianism is a complete anomaly here. So, despite his memorisation of ‘Chae sik jui ja’, he still had surprise helpings of shrimp and spam, because of course they’re not meat. Aside from the food issues, a lot of time was mainly spent hanging out with my friends and sampling the delights of the local bars and restaurants than anything profoundly inspiring. We did however spend a weekend in Seoul, staying at my favourite guesthouse, a traditional Korean wood house in the arts district, built around a garden and complete with its own outdoor tea room. Aside from camera shopping and meandering around the arts district, we also went to Seodaemun Prison. It was still in active use up until about a hundred years ago and was where dissidents and prisoners were held, tortured and killed by the Japanese. You can walk around the original buildings, including the cell blocks, torture rooms, complete with moving, screaming model displays, and the wood-built room for hanging where an indefinite number of people were sent to their deaths. The whole place has got a very eerie feel to it and makes your skin crawl at times. It also makes you empathise with Korea’s position and why so many people, including a great number of my school students, still say they hate Japan and the Japanese. It was good to have a familiar face here, and especially one that got on well with my best friends here. One really good thing to come out of his visit is our intended future travels to Nepal and Tibet with two good friends of mine from here, Tom and Dawn, a British couple who I met my first weekend in town last year.

The following weekend was the annual mud festival in Boryeong, a coastal town in the north-west. After initially booking two coaches, Master Yoon (tour director extraordinaire), increased this to four to cope with the demands from all us foreigners in town. Su, at 3am on Friday night, 160 foreigners in various states of drunkenness set off. Needless to say, with that many people, you were always going to have a higher than normal freak/rude/inconsiderate ratio than normal, enough said really. But moving onto the festival itself…It started out ten years ago as a celebration of the muddy natural resource in the area, but has turned into a week long beach party for one and all; mud painting, wrestling, obstacle courses, slides, free-for-all mud pit, a mini rock concert and a firework show were all there. It was hilarious to get painted up and wander about all day all grey and icky. Those of us participating in the hapkido competition the following weekend were under strict instructions not to injure ourselves.

On which note, we finally got our ‘bronze’ medals from the demonstration in Masan! The competition in Seoul at the end of July was an international one organised by the governing body and we were demonstrating alongside teams from Chile, Germany, USA, Belgium, Brazil and the Netherlands. Our mixed team alone represented England, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the US. Unfortunately I sprained my ankle in Seoul at the beginning of the month (sober, in flip flops, on a bottom stair, clumsy fool I know) so I wasn’t able to practice my tumbling or dive roll for the competition over the weeks leading up to it. I was hoping some more rest, repeated acupuncture, blood sucking (a combination of stabbing the injured area with needles and sucking the ‘bad’ blood out with a suction cup) and direct burning (a delightful, bed-gripping, f-ing and blinding mixture of red hot sticks being held next to the needles poking out of you…really!) would heal it in time but to no avail.

The night before we went to the governing body’s headquarters to have photos taken with the other foreign teams, pay our respects at the late Grandmaster’s grave and to have a final practice. We headed to the main stadium at 8am on the Sunday morning, all ready to go in our do-bok’s (uniforms). There were hundreds of people there, around 2/3rds from childrens’ teams, as well as student and adult teams and their supporters. It was really encouraging to see so many people showing their skills, a lot of which we already practice or do lesser variations of already.

The demonstration team however were simply awesome! Swords, fights, somersaulting, jumping and tumbling and kicking boards and balloons in one move, falling, throwing, dive rolling over a group of people, you name it. There was one technique in particular that us girls are keen to learn; fighting with a red fan. One woman fended off a series of guys coming at her punching and kicking, threw them to the floor and stood over them at the end shouting ‘YA’ and flicking out the fan – it looked very impressive at the time. There were also some jumping competitions for the children – both high and long, with some kids managing to jump-roll well over their own height.

In the opening ceremony, we all had to line-up behind our country’s sign, and there were only two of us representing England, myself and Marie – a small thing to brag about in the future we reckon; After a couple of false starts, we finally lined up after lunch, swords in hands, ready to go. Our demonstration combined a wooden sword routine, a tumbling routine, where Cheryl and I had to do a running-dive-forward-shoulder roll over someone doing a headstand, and a set of self-defence moves and kicks. It went well, and we felt proud to be showing off what we can do to a large audience – even though we were one of the only teams with coloured belts: the majority there were all black. We ended up receiving a team trophy, individual certificates and hapkido federation members’ cards so we’re now all official.

It’s now ‘beach season’ again, so time for everyone in the country to head to Haeundae beach to fight for umbrella space on the sand and tube space in the water, ugh. Literally, the beach is covered, and the sea is rammed with people on rubber rings, made even worse because you’re not allowed out further than 20m from the shore Seriously, the lifeguards spend all day blowing whistles, and just for good measure, the sea closes at 6pm. Yep, you read right, the sea closes, announcements are made, the police and coast guard come along and the sea obediently empties of people. What would Koreans do without their rules?!

I went back to Seoul again for my summer holiday (otherwise known as a generous five days free from work). I bought my new camera (a Canon 400d, and officially my current love!), and chilled out. It was nice to be out of town and back at the Tea Guesthouse again, drinking tea and chatting with the owner Xao and her baby daughter. I spent three days ambling, taking pictures, and sweating a great deal in the hideous humidity.

That weekend, I went back down to Geochang with Kelly to go to an outdoor theatre festival. Unfortunately, my ‘Day-5’ of no-drinking was broken and sent straight back to zero that night due to some government education workers. We met them after a meeting with the local public school teachers at the singing room, beers were immediately thrust in one hand, and a microphone in the other, which set up a few more hours with a bottomless beer glass. Usually, I welcome the culture here of sharing out drinks and it being rude to refuse an offer, drinking being a national pastime and the way deals are made and broken etc, but I didn’t want to accept it fo once that night! We met Nicole the following afternoon and headed out to the theatre site to camp for the night. It was set around a river, with the stages on one side and tents on the other. There were so many tents set up it was like a temporary city, and we had to walk around for a while to simply find space to pitch our tent. Because the festival is so popular, with acts from not only Korea but all over the world as well, all the performances for that night were already sold out. But, on the basis of us being white English teachers, and “having travelled all the way up from Busan”, we managed to blag extra tickets for a romantic/comedy drama/musical, with a few magic tricks thrown in as well. It was a really good show, and reminded us that there are many more things to be doing at the weekends rather than partying in Busan. Sadly, it then proceeded to rain all night and morning so despite our best efforts, we woke up wet on one side because of the inside puddle that had formed overnight!

This weekend I went to the very north east of the country to go white water rafting and quad biking. A few of us should be heading up to an independent music festival in a couple of weeks time (when my dry month is officially over, already pondering the wine I’m going to treat myself with), and another trip to Jeju is on the cards for the beginning of September.

But more perhaps more importantly, I'm also planning to put together my first solo photo exhibition for sometime in October, so pretty much all my spare time at the moment is being spent on my portfolio. I’ve found a really nice roof-top terrace bar that would be perfect for a one-night/one-weekend show –all wooden, views over the beach and bridge, and lots of wall space that is currently unused. The purpose of the exhibition is mainly just to show people my work, get some feedback, and maybe sell some prints too; something a little original and different from the Korean images sold in bulk on postcards and other prints. I’ll keep you all posted on how my first solo show develops over the next couple of months.

Anyways, I hope everyone is well. Feel free to write, email or facebook poke soon.

Annie xx

Tags: Party time

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