Aus Chap #1 – Sydney Saunter

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(
Aus Chap. = ‘Australian Chapter’ [of my life; of this journal; or Aus Chap = my bf.)

#1 /  SYDNEY SAUNTER /
May – Aug 2018

This blog post has been sitting in my drafts with a title, a few edited pictures and a blinking cursor since early-May. At the time of titling it, I was living out my two-month plan to visit my boyfriend in Sydney (from the end of March) with a flight scheduled home for late May. However, the title should rather stand as “Sydney Snowball” as things escalated pretty quickly since then to me pushing the flight back to July, applying for a long-term visa and booking a one way ticket back from South Africa in September.

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So that’s the low down if you’ve been sceptically following my seemingly never-ending holiday Down Under on Instagram (and now in SA, as it’s already August and I’ve delayed this post by a whole country…). Maybe you were thinking that I seemed way too comfortable and had
surely overstayed that flimsy 3-month tourist visa, and wtf…bought a car there?! Yip, yip and yip. (I’m on a bridging visa now btw – if any authorities are reading this).

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But to start from the beginning, this was my first time going to Australia. I left SA end of  March just a month after returning from my year in Korea to experience a new country, making it my forth country to be in for 2018 (Korea, Japan, SA and now Aus). 

^ at the time of that post, it was A$1=R9.08. Today (25/08) it’s R10.45. 😦

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^ The coin proportions feel so off. Cents vs dollars.

During my stay, however, no one offered me shrimp on the barbie, I hadn’t noticed kangaroo steak on any menu, I’d seen ONE man dressed like Crocodile Dundee (in the mall, and very out of place) and yes, a lot of people do say ‘mate’. And ‘fair dinkum’. And go to the ‘dunny’ to pee.

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Ah, Vegemite! This stuff has been around for 95 years, and I didn’t know it was such a thing in Aus thing till I got there. I’ve tried it, but Bovril all the way for me, thanks. Although the smoothie bar, Boost Juice recently released a Vegemite Smoothie . It also has banana, chocolate and yoghurt and other good stuff in it too though, so all good – I guess I’ll have to give it a go.

TOURISTY THINGS:Sydney-Opera-House

What’s Sydney without its iconic Opera House? Ok, quite a lot from what I’ve since found out but it’s obviously top of the list of the first things to see when you get there. Although it’s an impressive building, I was actually more impressed by its location at Circular Quay, with its flurry of ferries and the magnificent Harbour Bridge stretching across in the background. The Royal Botanic Gardens are right there too, offering a scenic and peaceful meander through the beautifully kept gardens right next to the water. I have yet to find Mrs Macquarie’s Chair which apparently is at the point that offers some of the best views of the harbour.

I arrived in Australia in March with a stronger idea of what the outback might look like than the cities, and when imaging Sydney I just saw the Opera House and Bondi Beach. Klaar. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the architecture (particularly in the CBD, older areas) is beautifully Victorian and Edwardian styled (and many more).

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The first time walking in the city while passing statues, parks, old-style detailed buildings and lampposts I felt like I could be in London. This style fades out the further you go from the city centre unfortunately, but it’s beautiful and impressive every time I go into the city.

ZOO ZOO KANGAROO:ZooIt took me over a month after I arrived to finally see a kangaroo for the first time ever. A MONTH! And we had to go to the zoo to do so. Guess they don’t roam the streets like expected (this is a joke). The Taronga Zoo is across the harbour from the Opera House, so you can catch a ferry to the other side, which I really enjoyed. This also allows for the zoo, in particular the giraffes (not just because of their long necks), to have an impressive view of the Opera House, the bridge and the city skyline from across the water. I also got to see some koalas, wombats, echidnas and Tasmanian Devils for the first time.
P.s. Almost R500 for a day ticket into the zoo…

PUBLIC TRANSPORT:

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I find figuring out an unfamiliar country’s public transport system rather exciting, but also a bit overwhelming and frustrating. In Sydney, the trains (which are double decker) are really reliable/on time, but I’ve found the buses can be a bit hit or easily missed. And not quite cheap either. 

ROADTRIPPIN’:COastal

One weekend we decided to take a road trip south of Sydney along the coast in a general direction and see where we ended up. We stumbling upon quiet and beautiful viewpoints above the ocean, whale watching points (the whales were on winter break though), a blow hole in the rocks and small holiday towns with quirky shops and paths along the water’s edge with pelicans and stingrays. On the return trip just before taking the road home, we found a detour along a “Tourist Drive Route 9”. And suddenly we were snaking along a narrow road among green rolling hills and farm lands filled with cows while the sun slowly began to retreat on our spontaneous day out of the city.

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VIVID SYDNEY: the light show
This is a yearly festival that lights up the city (in and around the Circular Quay area and a few places beyond) with light installations, music and food events. This extends to The Rocks which is the historic and touristy precinct with restaurants, bars and shops in the old buildings along cobbled roads and through old archways. Very English feeling.

vivid.jpgParticularly impressive (as well as the many tall buildings being lit up with moving colourful displays) is the whole of the Opera House’s exterior painted in light and moving images that change designs often. You can get a great view of it from the other side of the quay. Despite the rain on the night we chose to go, we saw a lot and enjoyed it. Because we live far south, we had booked a hotel a short walk from the main event so we could enjoy the festivities till late. And by late, we found out is only 11pm when bars start closing. 11pm. During a festival period in the main part of a huge city…?

INCREASED MOBILITY:
Living in the spread out suburbs means that running simple errands or going to the mall takes double the time and planning when you don’t have a car and need to rely on the bus which comes once an hour. And so, after much scouring on car sites online and used-dealerships in person, my little baby was found hidden among many cars. I’ve had a car crush on the Fiat 500 since 2011 when I first saw it in a series I was watching at the time. And now she’s miiiiine 😀
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FYI: I can drive with my SA license as long as it’s current and has no suspensions etc. 

CHAPTER #2 to follow once I return/move to Sydney at the end of September and get some adventures going. 

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 12

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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. 1

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 )
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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.
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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 Day4b
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!5

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.6
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:7
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…8

Thanks for scrolling!
This is sadly the final instalment of my South Korean Travel Journal.
New adventures are in the pipeline though…
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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 8

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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.41_Teachers-Dinner

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.52_MudfestThat 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? 53_Baseball.jpgWell 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:
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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.

CHUSEOK HOLIDAY
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. 55_Jeju-intro

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:56_Jeju-1

Day 3: Love Land
The sex theme park full of humour and pleasure…

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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. 
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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. 
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Namhae Oktoberfest:
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.

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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 dirndlsworst 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.

Thanks for scrolling! Part 9 to follow soon…

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 4

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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”.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. Aladin-Books-and-Geishas

I’ve found that bus trips are particularly fruitful when you take your book along for the ride.

Thanks for scrolling! Part 5 to follow soon…Follow-me.jpg

Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 3

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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!18-Jinhae-Blossoms_colour

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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

Thanks for scrolling! Part 4 to follow soon…Follow-me.jpg

Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 2

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…
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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.

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Coffee first(s).
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.

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 1

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Welcome to the beginning of my illustrated travel journal about living and teaching English in South Korea for a year. February 2017 – February 2018.

1-It-has-began

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!2-Or-Tambo_1

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.6-Orientation-and-overviews

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!

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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.

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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.

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