I know I’d been counting down my time left in Korea since about 6 months in, from then already dreading the impending end. And soon those 6 months quickly became 3, then 1 month, and that became 1 week, then suddenly 1 day. And now I write this after a blur of almost 3 weeks post-Korea from my bed in South Africa wondering where my year in kimchi-land actually went and if it all even happened at all! So, while I fend off the already-present nostalgia, here is my final chapter from my last month in SK.
Mon 05/02/2018 – This one time I was sick. For like a day.
Okay, so I’d only really been sick once in Korea and it was just a couple months into my contract and I should’ve gone to a doctor but things were still rather overwhelming back then so I didn’t. Fast forward 10 months to winter, a sore throat and last minute curiosity, I decided to use this as an opportunity to visit a Korean doctor. And an ear-nose-and-throat doc no less. But more for the experience than the meds.
With a recommendation from friends for a nice doc, I rocked up with no appointment and waited about 10 min to see Dr Park. Less than 5 min, a quick chat, check, scope down my throat later I was done and given a 3 day prescription and an invoice for W5000 (like R50!). At the pharmacy they then individually package your pills into morning, noon and night packets per day (fig. 1). So easy and inexpensive! Overall review: unnecessary – maybe. An experience – worth it!
Wednes 14/02: Galentines Day
When you’re single or can’t be with your bae on Valentines Day, you can have a Galentines Day with your besties and go shopping, beer drinking, curry consuming and beer ponging. On a week night! Yay! ❤
(P.s I miss you guys already! </3 )
Mon 19/02: The final week
My last week in Korea only had 2 days at school luckily. Monday was my final teaching day (ever!) and I had 5 classes of gr 4 so I drew a tree on the board, gave each kid a leaf-shaped sticky note and I told them I was “LEAF-ing” so they could write a little goodbye note and stick it on the tree. The joke was 90% wasted on them. Sigh. But I got a few creative or cute notes worth keeping and some soppy goodbye hugs. Sweet, man.
Tuesday, being the closing ceremony day, meant we left at lunch time for our final teachers’ dinner/farewell for a large number of teachers changing schools. This as always, was filled with a lot of food (marinated BBQ pork this time – SO good!) and soju (mostly thanks to my gr5 co, Minkyung/my soju partner in crime over the year with Ms Min (crazy, fun and mother of 2) close behind if not the instigator as well as pourer-of-her-own-drinks. Of course my luck in the seating arrangement was me being placed right next to the principal and vice with the “higher powers” around them. A couple of hours and soju later, I had to say my final goodbyes to 2 of 3 of my co-teachers as we parted ways for the last time.
Friday 23/02: Ms Kang’s lunch
2 days before departure.
As my main co-teacher, personal co-ordinator, Korean translator and teacher of gr 3-4, Ms Kang and I spent the most time together over the year and she kindly invited me to her house to cook for me as a farewell. I got to meet her 7 year old daughter (who was super cute but got frustrated that I couldn’t understand her speaking in Korean) and her husband. My last dose of Korean hospitality.
Sunday 25/02: Departure Day
It arrived. And so at 9am I left my apartment for the last time, with two bloody heavy bags in tow to the airport for my flight at 12:45. Yes, I was early. Very early. But the inevitable had to begin at some point, so I’d rather be early than to be left behind. I’d expected the whole leaving thing to feel a lot more final. But it felt so normal. So unexpecting of the finality of it all. After a 2 hour-ish flight I landed in Beijing ready for an 8 hour layover – only to find the wifi would not let me connect. Thanks, ma’China!
In that time I bought some Yaun (¥), some coffee, drew a bit and walked in circles for 8 hours in preparation for my impending 14.5 hour sitting test on the flight to Joburg.
One hour into my longest flight (ever!) and I was already questioning how I was going to make it through this! Luckily I managed to sleep through a lot of it thanks to my packed necessities:
My exhaustion was then met by an awful experience in OR Tambo at Joburg with delayed bags, rude staff and nearly missing my connecting flight due to the short layover time… and some tears, but I made it to PE in the end! Finally home in South Africa after 32hours since leaving my Korean home, and I miss it already…
Over the course of just six weeks, I will have traveled to Phuket (Thailand), Seoul (Korea) and Tokyo (Japan). Somebody pinch me!
It’s also been my first Christmas spent away from home, but also the first one spent with my boyfriend, and in winter! And although we’ve welcomed in the new year together a number of times already, it’s the first year it’s been just us two. Aww.
Sat – Mon 16 – 18 December 2017: Phuket wedding weekend
When a family wedding is taking place at a stunning beach resort in Phuket, you make sure you get your butt to Thailand, even if all you can get is one day off work. What an amazing whirlwind of a weekend adventure though!
SUMMARY: Friday: leave from work to fly for 10 hours, arrive at the hotel by 2am Saturday. Sleep a bit, then a reunion with my family after 10 months apart and enjoy a beach and beer day. Sunday wedding, Monday afternoon fly back to Korea, 10 hour transit. Tuesday: rush from the airport at 7am, catch a train home, toss bags and catch a bus to make it in time for school at 8:30am while running on 3 hours of sleep. Done. Not to mention enduring the temperature change from Korean 0°s to Thailand 28°s and back again.
Sat – Sunday: chill time
What better way to catch up with your brothers and parents than drinking beer by the pool? A reunion with family, and my old friend Chang (we met in August, remember?). Quite unreal to suddenly be in shorts and being able to swim again and not be buried under multiple layers and scarves. We went kayaking out to an island off of Kata Beach, swam a LOT, sipped on coconuts, ate Thai green curry, walked along the beaches and paths and ambled through the street markets with my mom.
Sunday: Wedding day
The afternoon came with looming clouds on one side of the sky and sunshine and rainbows on the other, as the 50-odd guests arrived for my step-brother, Simon and Anni’s ceremony. With a 3 piece band playing in the background, the bride and groom were soon standing in front of their beautiful beach backdrop. The reception to follow was just as gorgeous, light-hearted and fun with every bit of amazing Thai hospitality and catering too. The most stunning and special wedding I’ve been to yet. Congratulations to the new Mr & Mrs/Dr Cloete! No pressure for the rest of us siblings…
Tuesday: Hong Kong layover
Getting back to Busan involved reluctant family good byes, an hour taxi ride, two flights and a midnight layover in (an impressive) Hong Kong International. But all I wanted to do was sleep before having to deal with kids in the morning. I also had to do a wardrobe change from a t-shirt back to thermals and a padded jacket.
Saturday 9/12: Dog cafe
Back in Busan… The bucket list frenzy continued. One weekend I got to tick off two more things: going to a dog cafe (for petting, not eating – just to clarify) and getting a Korean manicure/gel nails.
The dog cafe was an interesting experience. We were surrounded by a mixed collection of dogs of different breeds and sizes but all had a rather spoilt attitude. They clearly know everything is centered around them and you’ll find that the humans are the ones desperately seeking attention. The dogs basically amble around with the attitudes of disinterested cats. Until, however, someone new comes into the cafe. Then suddenly there is barking and frantic running to the entrance. This often takes away any of your hard-earned efforts to seduce a pup to come and cuddle with you as they fly off your lap (and sometimes, the table) to inspect the new intruder. We also had a little show by the owner who gave the giant fluffy dog a piggy back around, and later pushed a collection of dogs around on a trolley.
Sat 23/12: Songdo cable cars
With my boyfriend here from Australia for two weeks, it was a good opportunity to tick off going on the fairly new (June) cable cars together. It was worth the effort of the train and bus transfer to get to Songdo Beach, which is scattered with sculptures above the water and a sky walk snaking over the water too.
The queue was almost nonexistent to go in the regular cable cars, while the glass-floored cars had a queue that’d make you consider scrapping the idea. A lovely afternoon date, which I’m sure is even better by night.
Mon 25/12: Christmas
Instead of spending Christmas eve in my little flat, we decided to treat ourselves to a penthouse hotel apartment in Seomyeon with no less than a pool and hot tub outside. We heading out to see the Christmas lights in Nampo-dong but were unfortunately met by hoards of other Christmas-goers and could barely move so we decided to tap out early and go to Galmegi Brewery instead.
Sat – Thur 30/12 – 04/01: Seoul New Years Adventure
Probably the coldest I’ve been in Korea. Man, Seoul was icy and it seemed to enjoy playing in the negative digits, down to -8° often and a bit of snow on the first night. But it didn’t stop us from doing most of our exploring by foot and only catching the subway a couple of times – the advantage of our hotel’s great location near the historic city center.
Sunday: I couldn’t believe my luck to find that The Seoul Illustration Fair fell on the weekend that I’d be in town! A bit of a sensory overload with so many stands of local illustrators with so much cool work to look at and business cards to collect while trying not to want something from everyone.
Highlights: We adventured around a lot and got to see much more of the city than the first time we were here and happened to stumble upon cool spots as we went along.
Places we went: Myeongdong shopping street (in search of the Hello Kitty Cafe – which we found had closed down – sad face), Changgyeonggung Palace, Insadong Art Street (one of my favourite areas), Ihwa mural village and Gangnum Station. We also attempted Lotte World but the lines to the roller coasters and rides were just too long.
New Years Eve: Braving the cold, we left our cozy hotel room at 11:45pm and headed down the street to watch the Bosingak Bell-Ringing Ceremony at midnight. The streets were closed off, there were some performers and large crowds but the countdown was anti-climatic and the crowds dispersed straight after it into a mini stampede.
Friday 05/01: The great depart
(Back in Busan) Goodbyes in a long distance relationship are the worst. But it was also the last one for us in Korea as new and interesting things lie ahead. But for now, it’s another 3 months apart. Meh.
There is definitely a mid-year slump that comes after the initial excitement, when that need-to-explore-at-every-opportunity settles. You slide into a routine. A comfort. You start maybe meeting up for lunch with friends or go shopping once a weekend and the rest of your precious free time you just blob away at home on Netflix (although, around that time of year the extreme heat and humidity is keeping everyone indoors). But then a few months later you wake up and realise you have 3 months left and it’s back to that tourist-frenzy!
I recently started a bucket list of everything I want/need to do in Korea before my time is up. But the number of available weekends left to get all of these things done has been quickly ticking away. Cue slight panic. But since making this list a top priority I’ve managed to get most of my wishes granted so far and it’s been an exciting time of adventures once more.
Sat 21 October: Seaside temples and abandoned railways
Probably the windiest day in Busan this year, but plans were already set for Bucket List entry 1: To visit Haedong Yonggungsa (해동 용궁사) – the temple by the sea (which is uncommon as temples are usually found in the mountains).
We (a friend and I) decided to brave the wind and take on the +-8km walk from the temple along the coast, past Songjeong Beach, past a number of lighthouses and toward Haeundae Beach. Half way there our path joined with the abandoned railway (another tick off the bucket list) and we were blown along the scenic track along the coastline passing many other walkers, murals, couples with tripods and a tunnel, and eventually the end of the track.
Sat 28 Oct: Halloween Party
Halloween was actually on the following Tuesday, so parties were planned for the weekend before. Our choice was a bar-hopping opportunity in PNU. Five of us kitted up as zombie tourists dressed in brightly-coloured banana shirts from Vietnam, Thai T’s, sunglasses, fanny packs and plastic binoculars around our necks. We did our zombie make up and stuck tattoos of scars and cuts on our faces. The looks we got while on the subway though…
Sun 29 Oct: Spa Land and getting naked
This one was more of a personal dare than a “fun one”. Going to a Korean spa means going butt naked in public baths and soaking alongside Korean contemporaries, saggy ajummas and probably the worst – other foreigners. This includes getting naked in the change rooms and showering in open showers (and all the walking around in between).
Going to the spa also means lounging in mixed-gender sauna rooms (in baggy spa robes thankfully), and if you go to Spa Land in Shinsegae it’s basically a sauna theme park. There are 13 different sauna rooms with different temperatures and themes (including: a Finnish Sauna, Roman Sauna, Wave-Dream Room, Roman Room, Milky Bath, Pyramid Room, Bali Room and Ice Room.) This was my favourite part and I’d happily go back for this relaxing and warm experience. I’m not in any rush to take my clothes off in public again though, despite the hot spring baths being pretty great.
I also pushed my boundaries and opted for an additional “seshin” session – a full body scrub given by a scrub ajumma dressed in a black bikini with seriously abrasive mittens on. You lie face down on a plastic covered table with your bare bum exposed as you get scrubbed down till it feels like your meat is exposed. She then pours a bucket of warm water over you before you waddle out to seek refuse in the hot baths again. This is how baby skin is made.
Tues 31 Oct: My first Kpop concert
A friend got us free tickets to see the closing ceremony of the Busan One Asia Festival (BOF) held at the BIFF outdoor stage. I’ve never been to a Kpop concert before and I was very impressed! The singers are great dancers, most groups are big enough to be an extended family, there are fireworks, flames, confetti and a lot of loud music, screaming fans and fun times. We also got a goodie bag of free branded stuff… so Korea!
Sat 04 Nov: Busan Tower and the Trick Eye Museum, Nampo-dong.
It was not just a trip up Busan’s iconic landmark to see the city from above but there are also several photo booth opportunities at the base of the tower of mini cities, moon scapes and black and white city scenes. This was just the beginning of one long day of photos and posing…
On to the next photo stage: the Trick Eye Museum:
This was a lot of fun, but it was a trap! It felt like it’d never end. There are just SO many photo stages and opportunities, it’s like a production line. You just can’t do all of them. By the end of about an hour, we finally made it to the end of the maze, exhausted and with full memory cards. There’re some impressive artworks though and it’s all a good laugh.
Sat 18 Nov: Gyeongju gallivants
High up on the bucket list was to visit Korea’s iconic and historical city of 경주. I fortunately made it in time to see this beautiful city (“the museum without walls”) during autumn before the leaves started fading. This however came with the price of being the first real cold spell and we spent the day exploring everything in 4°c. This surprisingly added to the magic of one of my favourite days in Korea.
Sat-Sun 25-26 Oct: Daegu – A Girls’ Weekend Adventure
What does one do for a weekend in Daegu? Go to Eworld to ride a bunch of roller coasters, scream your lungs out and maybe shed a fear-tear or two, then party by night in town with far too many foreigners around… That’s what.
I hadn’t been to an amusement park since Gold Reef City in Joburg 2014 where the lines were disgustingly long and the ride selections were modest. Eworld, however was an absolute joy ride! Maybe going in late-autumn helped, but the lines were pretty short and the rides were abundant and some admittedly too scary to even consider. After our 5 hours there I got my fair dose of loops and being turned upside down to last me for a while.
Winter Wear and the Walking Sleeping Bags
Now that the temperature forecast is struggling to count to 10 these days, the serious winter fashion is starting to roam the streets. A popular outfit at the moment is the Walking Sleeping Bag, which I kinda wish I had one of too.
And lastly, a delightful hoodie spotted in class:
Ok so it’s already October, that means only two more firsts of the month for 2017, let’s not panic. I luckily (or lazily) have a couple of stories that happened in early months that have yet to be told, so let’s distract ourselves with some dinners and festivals that happened back in July before getting into what went down over the October holiday on Jeju Island…
Thur 20 July: Teachers’ Dinner
Sharing meals and drinks is a significant part of Korean culture. This applies to work life too and makes for quite anticipated dinner events among the teachers at my school. So far this year we’ve had a pork BBQ Dinner, a Hike + Duck Galbi Dinner, a Shabu-Shabu Dinner and last week we had a Hike + Raw Fish Dinner (that was an interesting one). But because this is a belated post, we’re skipping back to the July dinner which was probably the most delicious and “eventful” one: Shabu-Shabu. This meal is “a Japanese nabemono hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water,” and also includes (to my demise) a buffet of everything from sushi to fried chicken and pizza.
The main hotpot soupy dish sits bubbling away in the middle of the table (with crab legs sticking out of the broth) and you add in all the veggies and interesting things, then dip the really thin slices of meat in with chopsticks for a couple of seconds only. You can use the round rice papers soaked in water to make a little meat, sauce and lettuce package which you shove in your mouth and try deal with the size and deliciousness of it. All this plus being fed beer and soju by colleagues and later the principal and vice.
It never ends there either, there’ll still be a post-dinner dish served, which should be the dessert course, but is a soup and rice serving of sorts instead. And more drinks. And then… you might just land up in a noraebang i.e. a karaoke room which involves singing, more snack foods (including fruit and dried squid, which is the Korean biltong of choice) and more beer and soju. And mind you, all of this on a school night. On vocals for a number of songs was the principal, a dignified 50+ man. Alongside him stood the vice principal, a similarly aged and mannered lady singing Korean ballads with my one co-teacher as the backup dancer and tambourine player. I unfortunately got coaxed into singing an English song for everyone, by myself. We’ll leave it there.
Sat-Sun 22-23 July: Mud Festival
Just days after our teachers’ dinner, I was off on a bus with a bunch of friends to Boryeong (about a 4 hour bus trip) to go and get covered in mud, go on mud slides etc at 보령머드축제. The mud is said to have beneficial minerals for your skin, so basically it’s an excuse to go wild for the good cause of skin enrichment. However, the event was packed. The queues to the mud slides and all the fun things in the mud park were too long and we ended up only doing mud wrestling, during which I got tackled too enthusiastically by my friend. We did leave the area fairly muddy, but it’s a rather watery covering which isn’t unpleasant. Luckily the mud park is right next to the beach so we joined the many others taking a natural bath in the magically warm sea, while floating a large plastic beer bottle amongst our group.That night included the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen. The ships were anchored off shore, shooting off the fireworks of different designs to the rhythm of the music playing, the lights reflecting on the water while we stood in awe on the beach. This was the definitely the highlight of the trip. There were also Kpop performances on the main stage on the beach and other festivities going on.
Tues 19 Sept: Baseball
This was possibly the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday night in a long time. I’m not much of a sports fan, but it was the end of the baseball season and when next would I ever get the chance to watch this very non-South-African sport? Well to be honest I spent very little of my time there watching the game. It was way more fun watching the cheerleaders and mascots in the front while chanting the individual player’s chant with the crowd when they scored. One of the chants was for “Andy Bonzoo” (the American playing for Busan), which I only found out the next day that his surname is actually ‘Burns’. Ah, Korean pronunciation! But our pronunciation of the Korean players’ names was suspect too and we relied on the big screen to try decipher how to say their names during the chants.
Near the end of the game, orange plastic bags are distributed to the audience for trash collection. However, it is customary to take the bag, catch air and tie a knot then put the bag balloon on your head and hook each handle over your ears to make a nifty head-piece while everyone sings the Lotte-Lot-te-Lott-tehhh-Looooooooooh-teeeeh song.
I left the stadium without realising that I didn’t even know who had won.
Fri 22 Sep: Just another day in 6th grade
I’m now used to the kids throwing pencil cases around, tackling each other, erasing things off the board, knocking over chairs, ringing the desk bell and going through the papers on the teacher’s desk. But this story will beat all the other incidents of them being wild between classes:
Disclaimer: They are better behaved during the lesson, but in the 10min between classes, these types of behaviours can be expected, especially with this grade.
Tue-Sun 03-08 Oct: Jeju Island adventure
Who wouldn’t love a 10 day holiday to look forward to? So after a few free days to play around in Busan, a couple of friends and I went with EnjoyKorea , a great English tour company (free advertising right here) to the honeymoon island of Jeju – a mere 9 hour, 2 bus trips and a ferry worth to get to this large island south of Korea for 5 nights.
Might I add that we left at 1am in the morning from Busan to get there by 10am, which we used the rest of the day to lie on the beach, eat chips and nap. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite warm enough to convince me to swim as I sat there in jeans and a hoody, I mean it is Autumn here. Our hotel was pretty sweet with a lovely big pool (once again, no swimming for me) with the ocean in view. We were in a room of 4, but luckily there were two single beds, and only 2 “floor beds” ondol style. Beds are a bonus in Korea!
We had a really decent itinerary over the 6 days, which included enough sightseeing to let us see what Jeju has to offer (things are rather spread out over the island though) and balanced with a lot of down-time to chill or explore or find restaurants (and craft beer shops). We also played a lot of cards on this trip, just FYI.
Day 1-2: A temple, Gold Buddha, little Holland, 3 waterfalls and a tequila night with water slides and ball pits:
Day 3: Love Land
The sex theme park full of humour and pleasure…
Day 4: Craters and Caves
We missed seeing the diving ajummas that day because of the bad weather but we did get to hike up the stair-cased mountain to see the large crater and then later go into the volcanic tube caves.
We did a good few hours on the bus that day and I can say Jeju has a lot of horses. Random fact. And it’s known for its oranges. And the many dol haraubang stone statues that look like penis men.
Day 5-6: Free day, beach day.
We spent a lazy day wandering around the nearest town (Hyeopjae), looking at hippie shops (odd for Korea), and chilling on the beach. We also found a rather hipster container yard of shops and restaurants.
After an early start of bus-ferry-bus and about 6 hours later, we made a slight detour to Namhae and its little German Village for the Korean edition of OktoberFest.
What a random and magical little German-themed town kitted out with beer stalls along the streets selling great German drafts, people in lederhosen and dirndls, worst and of course Korean music for the occasion (?). The closest we can get to Europe right now.
We got home around 9pm and still had the Monday off to recover the next day. A fantastic Chuseok break, I’d say.
I’m not sure which is better, just the thought of a holiday (i.e. a proper break from work) or the thought of an adventure to a new country. But on the morning of 14 August, it was finally time for our 8 Thai-night adventure to begin! With bags and boyfriend packed, we were Phuket bound and excited!
*HEADS UP: There are a lot of beer references coming up…
Mon 14 Aug: Busan > Kuala Lumpur
Our first flight that morning was a 6.5 hour sitting test, but with an extra seat open next to us and the approaching adventure, the time went fairly quickly despite no on-board entertainment.Bam! In Malaysia with 5 hours to kill, filled with coffees, curries and delayed flights (helps when you have someone to spend it with though). By the way, they use Malaysian Ringgits here. I’d never heard that word before. Ringgit.
We had booked and paid for a taxi to pick us up in Phuket at 10pm, but after the delays we were surprised and extremely relieved to see my name still held up by a tired driver at midnight. It was pouring with rain, but we were happy to finally be in our new room by 1am (3am Busan time = more tired). Sleep.
Day 1: Tues 15 Aug
We woke up to the strong continuous rain. We had prepared for this though, I’d been watching the weather forecast for a week prior, annoyed as persistent rains were exacted for our entire stay. After a big-ass hotel breakfast we put on our rain-friendly slops, grabbed the umbrella and went exploring.
Once we got to the beach, the winds were trying to turn my umbrella inside-out so I succumbed to the weather, closed it and was soaked in no time. Prefect excuse to seek refuge in the beach bar and get some cold Thai-brewed Singhas. I also got to fulfill my green curry cravings and go to one of the many markets down the street to buy couple’s matching Chang Beer shirts so we could look like proper tourists from the start.
Naturally, we had to earn the right to wear these Chang shirts and made sure to stock up with lots of the beer to drink on the balcony while watching the rain, reading and drawing.
Day 2: Wed 16/08: Putt-Putt and Patong
This was a busy day. The rain had pretty much subsided, although still overcast it made our missions much easier and enjoyable. We decided to just walk in the general direction of the next beaches, along the way we found the Dino Bar (something out of the Flintstones, made out of rocks and open nearly right onto the road) and a dinosaur-themed mini-golf course. Yes, we played and yes it was fun (and yes, I may have won…). I’ve been really wanting to play it for months now as I have yet to find a putt-putt course in Korea.
We walked next to the road to Karon Beach, along very narrow and often non-existence side paths, dodging cars and dodgy dangling wires before deciding we needed a tuk tuk to get to Patong Beach. We found out during the ride that it was separated from our current location by mountains – good call.
Arriving at lunch time, we spent the whole afternoon exploring the Patong Beach area and its streets, the food and beer and as the sun was eventually thinking of setting, along with our energy and patience (from all the walking, crowds, no paths and the heat), we stumbled upon “Soi Bangla” or Bangla Road. Suddenly we had energy again. A long party street, an-almost-red-light-district that is closed to vehicles at night and is made up of impressive bars with stripper poles, and bars within bars, neon lights and people, more people, Aussie people and sales people trying to sell you suits, glowing toys and infamously… ping pong shows (ask Uncle Wikipedia about that one rather). Once we were finally tired and all beer-ed out, we caught a jamming tuk tuk the 10km back home – with neon lights, wind blowing our hair around in the open-air back seat, blasting some Sia’s Cheap Thrills etc while we took in the lights and energy of night time on holiday in Phuket.
Day 3: Thurs 17/08: Beach day
We spent this day enjoying the much improved weather (and now uncomfortable humidity) on the beach with blue skies and water, swimming in our awesome hotel pool, sipping cocktails, eating lobster for the first time and exploring our area of Kata Beach.
Day 4: Fri 18/08: Big Buddha and Wat Chalong
Definitely one of the key adventure days, a lot of walking, a lot of melting (my boyfriend may want to add “grumpiness” on my part) and a lot of catching tuk tuks and taxis to get to places the map made us believe were “close”. We started off by catching the slowest, surely-not-roadworthy Blue Bus for 40฿ which supposedly stopped at many various points all the way to the north of the island. It didn’t. After half an hour in the direction of our destination it stopped, and we seized the opportunity to stumble over the other passengers to get off quickly. Just us two. With some broken communication with the driver, we left and carried on with our journey by foot.
Fast forward the heat and walking along busy roadsides for way too long, we made it to the base of the path up to Big Buddha.
Luckily there was one tuk tuk available at the bottom who took us up the mountain (walking clearly not an option), waited for us for 40min while we enjoyed the scenery at one of Phuket’s main attractions, and then took us down again for 700฿. Big Buddha and the stunning views of the bays far down below were awesome!
“Close by” was the other site to see: Wat Chalong, the largest temple in Phuket, so we made another tuk tuk stop there and wandered around the temple grounds, but by then we were hot, bothered and ready to just be back in our hotel pool. So we did just that, grabbed a taxi and relaxed the afternoon away with piña coladas in the pool because… pool bar!
One lesson learnt today is that tourists don’t really walk long distance here because they ride scooters everywhere and we missed out on a lot by not renting one: energy, money, fun and sightseeing! There are so many hidden gem restaurants, shops, elephant places and viewpoints along the roadsides that your taxi speeds past.
Day 5: Sat 19/08: Snorkeling
Another item on my Phuket bucket list was to experience the turquoise water of Thailand by boat and snorkeling. Phi Phi Island was too time intensive, so we opted for an afternoon trip to Raya Islands to snorkel.
We were picked up at our hotel, taken to the port and suited up in life jackets for about a 35min boat trip before getting to jump off and snorkel in a designated area next to the island. The fish had also apparently gone away on holiday and there wasn’t much to see, but it was a nice experience. Oh, and despite being given sea sickness pills before leaving, there was one dude parting with his guts all the way to the island (just keeping the story real here). We were then dropped off at a small beach around the corner dotted with other tourists, few amenities and an hour to sit unimpressed.
We awarded our adventure efforts that evening with pool swims and a big Thai dinner then beer on the balcony – our evening ritual.
Day 6: Sun 20/08: Beach and beer
I’m that person who sits and peels off beer labels because I really enjoy collecting them and filling odd pages in my journal with them. By Sunday I think I can say we had sampled all the Thai beers we could find and successfully documented them in my book forever. Chang took most of our money, so they win hands down as the best. And I’m a big fan of their logo too.
ANYWAY! Sunday was another designated beach day, but first we went on a mission to Karon beach to go parasailing. You know, that thing when they strap you in an uncomfortably tight harness, hook you to a large sail with just two clips so your whole body dangles in the air once you’ve had the 5-4-3-2-1-run moment before lifting up to a scary height above the water towed by a tiny boat far down on the sparkling turquoise ocean below. Yes?
Well. It. Was. Awesome!!
I was holding onto the straps near my head for dear life, it was hard to make my hands just let go to put my arms out and trust the clips keeping me suspended. But what a thrill! We celebrated our experience afterwards by sipping on a fresh coconut with a straw in it, and later I had mango sticky rice for the first time. Tropical, much?
Day 7: Mon 21/08: Last day blues
Today’s objective: enjoy the last day to its fullest. How? Watch the sunrise and set. Then just blob on the beach, swim and eat while the sun plays above.
We also did our shopping for curios for little Thailand gifts, elephant-print pants and the likes. I made sure to get my last Thai green curry fix before going to the beach to watch the sun set slowly and gloriously golden over the ocean to end our last day in Phuket. A spectacular ending.
Day 8: Tue 22/08: The end? Not so fast!
Flying day. You sit alone with your packed bags and itinerary in hand after the seriously hard good byes are over and you think you’ve got it all planned out from this point on. Cue airline disruptions. It’d been 7 hours sitting around at Phuket International as a teary-faced lone traveler holding onto the thought of my boarding time soon approaching, only to find my flight had been delayed by 2 hours! Argh!
With a 5 hour layover at my next destination I luckily had extra time to compensate for this. Time ticks by. WHAT! From 17:10 to 19:10 and now delayed till 21:00!! In between this, there is uproar with fellow travelers who are now going to miss their connecting flights home. We are moved to an empty boarding gate at the end of the airport. The discarded passengers. Time ticks by. You have got to be kidding me. Further delay to 22:00. And then to 23:00. One has to laugh at the absurdity.
I’d been at the airport for 12 hours before we finally departed, and fortunately an hour earlier than expected, at 10pm. I knew I would have to ruuuuuun to the next boarding gate in Kuala Lumpur to make my connecting flight back to Busan. So I did. We landed and I ran. When I got to my gate… delayed 2 hours. Oh. My. Tired soul. And at 3am, at a chilly and somber boarding gate in Malaysia we eventually boarded, finally I could sleep and know that I’d be home before lunch the next day.
Bingsu (빙수): A popular Korean shaved-ice dessert, especially during the summer season, with sweet toppings that may include chocolate, chopped fruit, condensed milk, fruit syrup, and red beans.
And what did you take from that besides something about dessert and condensed milk? SUMMER!! But, not the happy-it’s-time-for-beach-and-sunblock kind of summer. No. Korean summers are not that happy-go-lucky. These summers are hot and humid. And it’s just July… Already the amount of joy you get from the great outdoors quickly melts into a sweaty puddle on the floor and your sanity can only be found beneath the air conditioner, while hiding indoors (thankfully this includes public transport). But, if you do venture outside, I do highly recommend treating yourself to bingsu!
Weekly night club runs
I joined the OVD Running Club a couple of months ago who meet every Thursday night at 8pm to enjoy and explore Busan while running past some really lovely sights lit by stars and streetlights (and a small boombox for jams on the move).
As much as we run, we photograph. Sometimes I think the lines between running club and photography club are blurred with a good number of photo stops for group shots posing with our club flag and some impressive site behind us. The pace is fairly quick so often these stops are needed though.
09 June 2017 / Fri: Bottomless Beer Fest
Okay, so just a ₩10 000 (R115) entrance fee into a little land of unlimited beer for a few hours? Of course I’d be
It was just Hite beer (one of the popular local brews), but once you got a beer mug/cup upon arrival you could literally pour your own beer from then on out.
We did well. I’d like to report.
24 June / Sat: Lost on the Run
Some context to this image, at the time I had a commercial illustration project with weekend deadlines and a very particular style I had to adapt to and obsess with over a short amount of time. So it consumed my thoughts and my weekend (and this illustration). By Saturday evening I hadn’t left my house or done much else other than sitting in front of my computer.
Having lived in Korea for 4 months now, I had yet to go for a road run by myself. It’s one thing to get stared at as a foreigner walking around normally in public spaces, but it’s another to be a running and sweaty foreigner thudding along the roadsides with no other joggers around, ever.
Anyway! I set off around 7pm to beat the heat (if that’s possible), and after a good few km’s and dwindling light I found myself running in circles and coming back to the same start of a highway with no pedestrian paths. After some more time, slight panicking and more running, I managed to navigate back to the known.
25 June / Sun: Burgers & Bingsu
Maybe I’m just looking for things to draw, but being reunited with avo, my love (and on the best burger I’ve had here) combined with a chilled Sunday lunch with friends – it just seemed drawable. Topped off with a trip to the bingsu cafe afterwards and my weekend was complete.
As with most Korean dishes, it’s meant to be shared so you get a huge bowl piled with the shaved ice base topped with chocolate brownies, cheesecake and a side of condensed milk and two or more spoons. Are you sold yet?
03 July / Mon: Summer Nights
Too hot. Beep. Too cold. Beep. Buzz. Buzz. Slap! Toss. Turn. Buzz. I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!! 3am. Toss. Turn. Alarm. Damn.
I really shouldn’t say anything bad about my aircon/life support, but it blows directly onto my bed so it’s either Antarctic blizzard when it’s on or Sahara Dessert when it’s off.
And when it’s off, the mosquitoes make sure to use the opportunity of not being blown away anymore to come buzz around and sit ON my face. So I end up semi-consciously slapping my face in the hopes of killing those bloodsuckers! Mozzies: 1. Amy: 0.
How much is that doggie in the
I live quite close to Busan’s main dog meat market at Gupo Market and unfortunately I drive past the alleys with the red cages holding these poor fluff balls on my way to work every day.
09 July / Sun: Sunday Strolls
Since I’ve found that the closest park to me is a manageable 3km away, I’ve started making a Sunday strolling habit out of it to have a nice end of weekend walk. I get to watch people roller blading, kids riding bikes, and old people working out on the equipment. People-watching hot spot, I tell you!
This Sunday included taking the tools and opportunity down to Hwamyeong Eco Park to have a quick sketch on damp paper, thanks to the humidity.
As things have started settling in the land of foreign-going-on-familiar for me, I’ve started to spend more evenings and weekends at home, or doing things I’ve done/ seen before. This is usually most apparent when I haven’t had anything ‘newsworthy’ to add into my journal for a while. Although I may be slowing down, I’m not stopping. Here’s what’s been happening in June-ish…
27 May 2017: Buildin’ sandcastles, buildin’ buildin’ sandcastles
For the Sand Festival over the weekend, Haeundae Beach was transformed and remolded into several huge impressive sand sculptures.
There were scenes built around themes like family (apparently The Simpsons is a good example…?), travel, love, smile, couple and passion (cue a sandy Elvis on guitar here). There are also areas to sand board, build sandcastles and dig for treasure.
15 May: Teachers’ Day
This is teacher-appreciation day in Korea and it can be expected that your kids will flower you with love and maybe some gifts/sweets etc. While many of my teacher friends at their schools were posting pictures of their bounties on Facebook, I sat with nothing. Sad face. The next day my co-teacher brought me a teacher-love note from one of my gr 3s. It wasn’t in person or on the day – but this one goes out to you, little dude 김ㄱㅣ완 (I hope I typed that right). Thank you!
06 June: Rainy Tuesday off
Whoop! Another public holiday (Memorial Day this time), and it was raining. So… off to the movies with friends I went to watch “Get Out” (great/suspensy movie by the way). A mega popcorn at Mega Box followed by some post-movie beer.
P.S. All the English movies have Korean subtitles.
8 June: It was a Thursday evening
Yup, basically just some or other Thursday evening in my apartment. Except that I was feeling really upset about the devastating and still raging Knysna fires back home in SA at the time, so I decided to draw to take my mind off of things.
The sun was setting over my area of Deokcheon as I stood looking out over it from my kitchen window. Korea in its tangled beauty.
10 June: Saturday outing for one
Korea has an amazing stationery-&-more store chain called Artbox (which has taken a LOT of my money already haha), but I’ve needed to find a proper art supply shop for some time now. Enter Jisung Plaza in the PNU area – 3 stories of arty stuff. 1st floor is a variety store, 2nd floor is for the stationery lovers (hold me back!!) and then 3rd floor has all your oil paints and specialist art supplies. So yes, I had a lot of fun! I didn’t just find the watercolour paper I was looking for…
Turns out the PNU (Pusan National University) area is pretty darn cool too, so I ambled around for some time afterwards, browsing and shopping until it was time for lunch.
It can be very intimidating going into a restaurant here by yourself. You have the issue of the menu being in Korean (so you sit there like a twat taking photos of it to decode it in Google Translate), sometimes things are self serve (like, do I just go and take out a drink from that fridge by myself? Right?), or you see a picture of food on the other side of the room and try pointing at it when the waiter comes. And also, what if you don’t actually like what’s on the menu but you can’t leave cause they’ve already dealt your table with all the “service” (free stuff/side dishes). Oh, and often all the items are big and meant to be shared (because Couple Culture be strong). Ok – so that’s the grounds for why I’ve never done it by myself before until this Saturday. I looked at some pictures on their outside menu and decided I would gingerly make my way up the stairs and deal with whatever came my way on the other side of the door. I awkwardly sat down and to my relief, was handed a menu in English WITH pictures too. “Oh, English? English! English! Ne!” is all my waiter said. The menu included various salad options (a rarity, or way over priced usually) and everything was pretty cheap too. A great day out for one.
Sunday 11/06: Igidae Coastal Walk
I took myself for this beautiful walk/hike along the water’s edge, up and down stairs, through the trees, and often stuck behind/in groups of hiking ajummas also enjoying the scenery.
I happened to come across a snake near the beginning which was definitely an unexpected shock. A lovely Sunday morning worth the +- 2 hour commute time though.
Kimchi: How do I love thee
I’m not particularly a fan of this spicy cabbage side dish staple, but I eat it every day at school because you know, do as the locals do! So I wrote a silly poem about it based on “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Gumboots, Gallivanting and Green Tea!
April and May graced us with a number of long weekends and public holidays to break the routine with and go adventuring. It appears Korea is a nonstop festival thrower and over the past month I have enjoyed: The Jindo Sea Parting Festival, The Beosong Green Tea Festival, The Busan Canola Flower Festival, the nationwide Lotus Lantern Festival, The Yeosu Turtle Ship Festival and recently the Haeundae Sand Festival.
29/04 – 28/04/2017: Gumboots and green tea weekend
Day 1: Jindo Sea Parting
With the Monday being a holiday, it was perfect timing for a very busy weekend of two festivals in two towns over a one night trip to the west coast of Korea. We (having gone with Enjoy Korea) left Saturday morning for a 4 hr bus trip to Jindo. When we finally arrived we grabbed a pair of sexy orange over-the-knee plastic boots for W6000 from an ajumma at the entrance for that evening’s main event… the “Miracle Sea Road”.
At 6pm we, and the fast growing crowds, strapped on our boots and headed to the water’s edge to wait for this annual natural phenomenon where the tides cause the water to gradually part and become shallow enough to walk/wade to the island on the other side.
It was exciting when we were given the signal to start making our way into the water. However, there is a time limit before the tides start to change and after walking for about half an hour the return signal is given to turn around, quickly. At that point you are standing in the middle of the ocean and can feel the tide starting to come in again, and your panic slowly rises with the water, threatening to lap over the top of your high boots… P.S. There are marshals and no one will let you drown, obviously.
After dark we traveled another 2 hours to our next stop and hotel. But wait… beds not included! I was not prepared and not impressed to have my first “ondol room” experience of sleeping on a blanket spread on the floor.
Day 2: Boseong Green Tea Festival
The hills are alive with smell of green tea! It’s the kind of scenery from postcards with all the striking green combed hills surrounding you.
After an interesting traditional tea-pouring ceremony and tasting (still not a fan) we had over 4 hours to explore the mountains, walk through the rows of tea bushes, take our next profile pictures, eat way too much green tea ice cream (a sufficient disguise) and get some form of green tea infused food.
28/04: Samgwangsa (삼광사) Lantern Festival
In celebration of Buddha’s Birthday, temples across Korea are adorned with lanterns strung everywhere. At Samgwangsa, there were also giant light sculptures of animal guards (or gods?) at the entrance, including a huge elephant with a moving head making mournful noises.
Going at night was magical. All bright colours, seas of lanterns and people lighting candles as the sounds of drums and chanting fill the air as you walk under the fluttering tags hanging from the lanterns – it’s spectacular.
04 -07/04/2017: Yeosu of Soju. AKA The Long Weekend in Yeosu
Thanks to a lucky arrangements of dates around Buddah’s Birthday (Wednesday) and Children’s Day (Friday), we got Thursday off too for a super long weekend, which 5 of us friends used to travel across to the west coast.
Day 1: Suncheon
We arrived along with consistent rain which cancelled our outdoor activities planned for this apparently beautiful town/area. So our one night stop ended in drinking festivities around a long table with all the other Korean guests at the hostel we were staying in. Everyone sat on the floor sharing food, beer, soju and gin. Upon arriving we were made to introduce ourselves in Korean too – laughs.
Day 2 – 4: Yeosu
More rain, but it didn’t stop us. I was happy once I found a rain poncho though, not much before then. The first day, we enjoyed the Turtle Ship Festival on board a ship replica with wax sculptures inside, we then walked along the water edge to the Hamel lighthouse, we drank a lot of beer and we enjoyed the scenery. And found a Mexican food spot.
The next day there was a lot of waiting around for buses, on the buses and in long queues to the cable cars. The cable car trip to the island across the water was worth the hour wait, especially since the sun was back in our favour. After (eventually) catching the bus all the way to the bottom of the island (a rather harrowing journey of sharp turns while standing in the bus) we adventured up to Hyangiram Temple. Hidden among the rock faces high above the expansive ocean, this is the best temple I’ve been to yet, stunning views!
It was late afternoon when we caught the bus and took a detour to a pebble beach. Eventually, we hopped off with our bags of now warm beers and found some large pebbles to sit on and watch a spectacular sunset. With a slight lingering fear that we might miss the final bus and be left in some rural place, we managed to get back to where we started, grabbed some more beers and walked across the main bridge connecting the island to the mainland to enjoy our final night in Yeosu.
14/05: Back on track
Three months in Korea and I’d successfully abandoned all active exercise – it’s all fun and games until you try get back on track. I signed up for gym at the end of April and I hadn’t felt so unfit (at least not in the past year)… #deathonthetreadmill. The next day I over-ambitiously signed up for a 10km race in less than a month’s time. I had a lot of running to try catch up on…
Finally the Sunday came for the 1.5 hour train ride down to Dadaepo Beach on the far side of Busan. It was fairly hot by 8:30, but the atmosphere was great and I managed to push through the 10km without stopping, definitely not my best time but I needed this. I’ve since joined the running club I met on the day. Whoop.
20/05: Saturdays are for reading
I’ve not only got back into running (I say this lightly), I’ve also got back into reading. After finally finding a secondhand book store – one which not only stocks English novels but also happens to be in my area (Aladin Books in Deokcheon) – I picked up some good reads, including Memoirs of a Geisha.
I’ve found that bus trips are particularly fruitful when you take your book along for the ride.
Spring is here!
As April rolled in, so did warmer weather and the first shy appearances of the much anticipated cherry blossoms. Every new day awakened more pale pink blossoms until bam, one morning while walking to school you realise without a doubt that you are experiencing the South Korean cherry blossoms in full bloom. Glorious.
However, once the cherry blossoms are out, it’s a race against nature before they disappear into a new mass of green leaves. So, when there is a limited 2 week frame for the best blossom viewings, you best get yourself to Jinhae for this iconic cherry blossom festival!
Despite the threats of rain, we caught a bus (about an hour and a half ride out of Busan) before 8am on a Saturday to soak up the beauty along the river, over bridges, taking photos, enjoying the abundance of quirky love-centered sculptures and wire frames decorating the path below and framed by cherry blossoms.
07/04 – 09/04/2017: Seoulful Adventure
Spoilt not only by having my boyfriend come visit me from Australia, I also got to go to Seoul for the first time for a weekend away! It was… an adventure.
Best parts: Gyeongbokgung Palace (beautiful and expansive – my highlight!), our accommodation and area we stayed in (Amare Hotel, near Jongno 3-Ga Station – central, cherry blossoms, nice restaurants and pubs), Myeongdong shopping area (gigantic Artbox, the Myeongdong Cathedral with the views of the N Seoul Tower) and beer and soju is still great wherever you go.
Lesser parts: KTX train (DO NOT book unreserved seats!), Seoul is huge (too huge) and with too little time, too many foreigners (despite being one) and Itaewon is overrated (it is Foreigner Town after all – we found Braai Republic while wondering around though).
Back to Busan.
Travelling helps make you appreciate your home situation more! Busan > Seoul (although I’ll be back to give it another chance).
Back on home ground, I got to play tour guide and tourist with my BF around some of my favourite spots in Busan (like Haeundae Beach, Nampo-Dong and Deokcheon-Dong) and ones I’ve been excited to visit (Gamcheon Culture Village) with lots happening in between.
21/04: Zip it.
This was an interesting, uncomfortable and bizarre moment. Dressed in sports clothes, I stood on a street in my area, leaning against a wall, waiting for my friend to go running when I saw an ajumma approaching. I quickly looked down at my phone, hoping it’d put her off talking to me (presuming she wanted to speak English, as often happens with some locals). She kept coming closer, so I greeted her awkwardly. She greeted back and looked me in the eye as she slowly raised her hand to my chest where my zip rested. With crusty nails, she slowly zipped up my jacket >10cm to the top. And with a nod of satisfaction, she walked away.
22/04: At the chop shop.
When you live in a foreign country that’s written in symbols where everyone speaks a different language, things like getting a haircut feel particularly overwhelming. Where should I go? Will they want to cut a foreigner’s hair? Do I have to make a booking? That one has English in their name – maybe they can speak it? But will we be able to communicate enough? And so you start coming to terms with maybe just letting your hair grow wild for the year to avoid all this uncertainty!
But at some point you decide there’ll be safety in numbers and you go with 2 friends to a place a friend-of-a-friend has been to (even if it’s not in your area). You find the hidden elevator, pluck up the courage for one of you to walk into the salon first, find out the hairdressers are suited-up Korean men (with little-no English) with no booking required… and there’s a resident bull dog inside.
We each had a turn to have our hair dry-cut by the men with mad scissors-skills and about an hour and a half later we each walked out with a great haircut for only W10 000.
27/02/2017: Alone, at last?
On the last day of Orientation we stood like hopeful orphans on the side of the road with our bags waiting to be adopted by our soon-to-be co-teachers. One-by-one, we were separated from our newly acquired comforts and friends and taken away to our new homes.
My co-teacher was welcoming and organised. After dropping off my bags, she took me on the subway (so daunting!) straight to the immigration office to get my residence card, she showed me how to work things, was my translator, took me to the bank and even helped organise my phone plan. On my first day of school she met me at my bus stop to go together so I’d know how to get to school – something much appreciated during a particularly overwhelming week of aloneness/reality.
However, one of the things I’ve been looking forward to about moving to Korea is having my own apartment again! My space. My mess. And fast internet! I am happy. A small grumble about the very Korean all-in-one bathroom though.
04/03: Into the depths of Gupo Market.
At the end of my area you’ll find Gupo Market (구포 시장). This very ‘authentic Korean’ market is particularly infamous for being the dog meat market… So maybe a bit too authentic for me in my first week of living here. The market is a maze of alley ways of stalls selling everything from kimchi, fresh seaweed, to raw meats, live octopi and terrapins, and often right next to a clothes stall.
The pungent smells became even stronger the deeper I went in (underground in every sense) but when I stumbled upon the dog alleys with the cages I knew it was time to retreat. Well, that and being spurred on by an angry ajumma as I tried to take a photo for evidence.
Home comforts, where are you??
There were a few things that took me a good few weeks to finally track down. I either had to venture out to bigger, better grocery stores (like Lotte Mart or Home Plus) which are a good few Metro stops away, or find my goods online on Gmarket (Note: setting up payment accounts and Korean online banking in general leads to absolute frustration, and 80% of everything is in Korean). Some of the random home comforts in particular that I had to find were (and celebrations when I did): strong black tea, oats, sweetener, diet shake and wine. And if anyone finds salt & vinegar chips here… YOU PHONE ME!
11/03: Oryukdo Skywalk and Igidae Coastal Walk.
The skywalk is a +-15m long glass horseshoe-shaped structure 40m above the sea. Before walking on, you must put on the sexy black material booties provided over your shoes so you don’t scratch the already very scratched glass flooring. You can see through to the rocks and waves beneath you, but the views around are more beautiful. The ocean spreads out in front of you and you can also see the neighbouring Daemado Island just off the coast.
We then headed off up the mountain along the Igidae Coastal Walk route (I only found the name out later). This was my first [accidental] exposure to the popular Korean pastime of “hiking”. We hadn’t planned to hike and weren’t suitably dressed for the earthy inclines and steep narrow downhills parallel to the the vast ocean. The trail leads all the way to Gwangan Bridge, but we turned back halfway. But I’ll be back. Sans winter dress-coat and non-sport shoes next time.
The hiking efforts were later paid off with my first Korean seafood BBQ in some small coastal nook of Busan (I have no idea where it is, but we needed a taxi to get there. Here’s to having knowledgeable friends!). We had abalone, clams and mussels with garlic and mushrooms warmed up over the coals, then steamed in the large shells. We followed the shellfish up with some eel, all partnered with good ol’ soju along the way.
12/03: The never-ending hike.
The day after going to Oryukdo, we caught the cable car up one of the many mountains in Busan and hiked to the beautiful and impressive Beomeosa Buddhist Temple. But due to detours at the beginning and a lack of better planning it turned into being a pretty hectic hike of over 4 hours. There were many moments I thought I’d got myself into a possible Ultimate Survival episode – lost in the vast Korean mountains with stunning views but with water and hope levels on empty. I’ve been reluctant to go hiking for a while after this one…
28/03: It was a Tuesday.
I teach 21 classes per week, each class has about 22 children. That makes for a lot of kids to say and do amusing things. The typical answer to the ‘how-are-you-today’ question at grade 3 level is often, “I’m happy!” (which is super cute), while far too many of the grade 5s and 6s I teach have the awfully ambivalent response of, “I’m so-so” most of the time.
The confidence of this particular little girl was one to remember though.
Starbucks… Starbucks… bucks… bucks… Ching… Ching. Expensive brand coffee that’s just kinda a rite of passage as a coffee lover. Read: ‘lover’, not ‘coffee snob’ – my coffee consumption is generally cost-based (unless it comes in ADORABLE packaging with a hat-lid like Paris Baguette – see below) so it was quite a deal to fork out W5900 for a coffee. And W5900, in the midst of the recent South African economical turmoil, cost R84 that day (today it’s down to R69.78) – which is damn expensive for coffee regardless! But hey, it was my first Starbucks AND it was the pretty pink cherry blossom edition.
And so, on the 17th of February I stood ready-not-ready at the airport with my parents close and a year’s worth of selected belongings in two large plastic-wrapped suitcases on a trolley. The time had come. After two years of dreaming and 6 months of applications and admin, the time had finally and suddenly arrived. It had begun, four flights and 25+ hours of traveling into the unknown for the biggest and most exciting adventure yet! South Korea, here I come!
First stop: Joburg
And wow, the nerves. The headache. The nausea. I ordered Rooibos tea at Mugg & Bean to try calm down during my layover. My hands wouldn’t co-operate while I tried to draw, shaking from the impending flights to far far away.
Second stop: Dubai
After a long 8 hour flight (plus an unexpected extra hour frustratingly spent chilling in the air), I walked around the Dubai airport at 1 o’clock in the morning to stretch my legs and try prepare myself for the next long leg of the trip. A lovely 7+ hr flight with a very short layover time in Beijing lay ahead – one in which I needed to wait for, collect, check in my luggage and clear customs in time for boarding. I was doubtful.
Third stop: Beijing
Due to rains in Dubai (yes, in the desert) our plane had been grounded for almost an hour. The hour I needed to transfer at my next stop and grab my bags. I sat there panicking, convinced I was not going to make my next flight, not going to make my hotel, not going to make it. Not a great way to spend 7 hours, stressing.
I flew out of the plane in China as fast as possible, clouded by panic. Somewhere in the clouds of worry and running, I bumped into equally stressed passengers at the right desk with an airport official who made it his mission to fast track us through everything, shouting at us by the end to run faster than possible with minutes to spare before the plane closed its doors.
18/02/17 – First night in Busan: AIRPORT HOTEL
Finally. I made it to South Korea! Pity my luggage wasn’t so lucky as my precious cargo (which held my credit card to pay for my hotel…) found itself left behind in China. But wow, this hotel! I’d had to book accommodation prior to leaving because the only flights from SA landed a day before Orientation. But getting in the day/night before and being able to rest in this most magnificent room after a long and stressful journey was the best decision ever! My room included a glorious and comfortable huge white-linened bed, 2 computers (excessive but noteworthy), WiFi (FINALLY!!!), a bidet toilet and of course a huge bath with water jets.
Lying in the huge glittery black tub at midnight with jets and pink bath salts bubbling away my troubles with a TV just above it was the most amazing reward after a 29 hour journey and the best way to prepare for the next day’s excitement of Orientation.
19/02 — 27/02/17: EPIK Orientation
A very busy 8 days of meeting 100s of people, long crash-courses during the day in teaching and in Korean life, little sleep, strange food, cold winter days, hills and stairs, being late for class and sharing a tiny room with a stranger (soon-to-be-friend) from equally far away (hey Bekah from New York #Roomie!). And hard beds. But all on a stunning campus in the hills – Busan University of Foreign Studies.
P.S. My bags were welcomed with very open arms two days after landing. Yay fresh clothes and all my belongings!
Money is great. Money in a foreign currency is good. Money in a foreign currency but all in the largest bills they offer, not so great. And there are so many zeros in won (₩)! One day though, I plucked up the courage to buy coffee down the hill and whipped out a ₩50 000 note (thanks to Forex) to pay for a ₩5000 drink. Without the language to say please, let alone to apologise, I walked away with a hot cappuccino and a chunk of their cash register in change.
On a couple of rare occasions during orientation, somewhere after late classes and between WiFi catch-up sessions, longing for warm bed and sleep and with an 11pm curfew, we managed to go out (and down the steep hill) into town. We found a small discreet pub of sorts and had a few of the local brews and picklings. I made my soju debut one night, with grapefruit flavour of course.