Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day…Or Not (14 February)

It’s that dreaded time of year again or maybe it’s only dreaded by singletons and, being perennially single, I dread it every year.  As usual, in the days leading up to this day of love, the stores have been packed with Valentine’s Day gifts – mostly candy. 

Valentine’s Day is celebrated a bit differently in Korea.  Without going into too much detail about holidays here, Korea has a love associated day on the 14th of every month.  As a result of this plethora of holidays, Valentine’s Day is a day for girls to give gifts (usually candy) to their boyfriends or boys whom they like.  White Day, on March 14th, is when the boys are expected to reciprocate this gesture and I’ve heard that the White Day gifts are generally expected to be more expensive.   I decided to forgo the entire holiday and didn’t give any candy to anyone – not even Six-pack or cute doctor – much to the disgust of many students. 

I arrive at school rather peacefully only to discover that it’s been a rather eventful start to the day.  NZ2 arrived at 8:30am to find one of the Korean English teachers collapsed on the floor in front on our office while Six-pack attended to her and helped paramedics get her to the waiting ambulance.  Apparently she was still talking and was fairly coherent but didn’t have enough strength to stand up by herself.  This particular teacher has been looking really stressed out and overworked since I arrived at the school.  The frightening part is that she is only two weeks older than me.  The details of what happened are rather vague and I later hear that this teacher had low blood sugar which is what caused her to collapse.

The rest of the day provides far less excitement than it’s start as I have little to do at work but catch up on blog entries which permanently seem to be four to six weeks in arrears…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh, To Be A Korean Fly (11 February)

Despite following a regular timetable this week, classes are currently little more than glorified babysitting.  My first grade lessons are fairly easy considering I only see the students twice a week and genuinely like the classes; my second graders, while generally more of a challenge, have four lessons a week.  They’d already presumably given up on the English classes with me back in late November already and have just been biding their time with me until they are officially third graders and no longer subjected to classes with the foreigner.  Unfortunately, I’ve been biding my time too so this unexpected week of classes is just too much.  I’m happier than words can describe when my fantastic co-teacher tells me that it’s okay to just let the students watch a movie in this week’s lessons – enter NZ2 and his array of comedies. 

I settle on Get Smart which the boys seem to really enjoy despite our inability to get the English subtitles working in the lesson.  As a result, the movie is played without subtitles and despite unexpected valiant attempts from most of the class, it’s too much for many of them to cope with and they resort to doing other tasks – I’m not going to fight them on this point this week and, in all honesty, I’m impressed they last as long as they do.  That was yesterday.  Today, it’s a struggle just to get the dvd to actually play. 

Who's There?

As I wrestle with a computer more stubborn than my students, I become aware of constant movement outside of the classroom in the corridor – just beyond my current visibility. I see a couple of my students apparently communicating with someone outside the classroom and a few of them call me with big grins as they point to the person outside the room.  All I can see is someone wearing a brown jacket who keeps moving behind the pillar every time I look up.  Some students call me over and as I walk over to their side of the room, they start telling me not to worry while watching the person in amusement.  I’m confused.  Still struggling to get the dvd to play, a student finally offers to do it for me and curiosity gets the better of me.  As I head to the door, curiosity seems to get the better of the other person too as he peers through the window panel of the door, grins a familiar cheeky grin and rushes away leaving me more confused than ever as to what Six-pack was doing for the last 10 minutes and what my students are saying in hushed tones about “English teacher” and “waegook”.

Hello Again....and again and again

The lesson passes quickly and I soon find myself back at my desk.  It seems today is a day for running into Six-pack though as I step out of my office to find him arriving for his next class which is directly opposite my office.  He rushes into the safety of the classroom, a sanctuary where he can hide comfortably behind students.  I don’t think much of this coincidence as I go about the rest of the period doing things I need to do.  However, when I again see him at the beginning of the next lesson (when he doesn’t actually have a class of his own), milling around outside of my next class, I can’t help but start to wonder if I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone by mistake.  I’m doubtful that the last three encounters with him in three hours have all been lucky coincidence – particularly as he ducks into various rooms whenever he sees me in the corridors. 

Despite having seen him so many times already this morning, I’ve yet to greet him today so this is precisely what I do when I bump into him again on the stairs.  He greets me with the familiar cheeky grin and a low bow, looks me up and down with a grin and then continues on his merry way for the day.  As I head back to my office, I can’t help wishing for perhaps the thousandth time that I could be a fly on the wall that understands Korean and Korean culture – maybe then I’d understand the peculiar encounters I seem to have with so many of my colleagues.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hello International Office... (10 February)

I’ve finally made it to the third floor office!  When I first arrived at my school, I was given a desk in the main office on the ground floor since there was no desk available for me in the international office.  This meant being in the same office as the vice-principal of my school which, to be honest, was a little bit uncomfortable but not unbearable.  Fast forward four and a half months and I’m finally able to move to the International Department which is on the third floor.  This is the office where all of the foreign teachers at my school are based.  Being a foreign language high school, we have native speakers in Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and English – all of the language offered at the school.  Of course, this also means that there are five different languages being spoken in my office at any given point in a day.  Something tells me that the ground floor office may start looking more and more appealing rather quickly….

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Graduating With Robert Pattinson (9 February)

My desk calendar and diary both record my school’s graduation as Friday 11 February.  After all, graduation is the reason that I couldn’t change the dates of the second half of my winter vacation in order to go to Thailand with Catfish who leaves on Friday 11 February.  Therefore, when I arrive at school this morning, I’m a little upset to discover that graduation day has been changed and no one has told me.  When I dressed this morning, my gut instinct was to wear my black suit but I didn’t feel like wearing a suit just for deskwarming so I went with jeans, a casual top and sneakers instead.  Lesson 5: Always listen to your gut instinct.  Despite my colleagues’ reassurances that I’m fine as I’m dressed and it’s not necessary for me to nip across the road to my apartment and change, I feel self-conscious and awkward.  After all, when the PE teacher, who (understandably) lives in sweatpants and a hoodie, arrives at school dressed in a suit, you know you’re severely underdressed for the school day!

Since there’s no way to get out of going to the graduation ceremony, even though I don’t teach or even know any of the third grade students, I settle for hiding in a seat at the very back of the auditorium as the parents file in dressed smartly and bearing bunches of flowers for whomever they’re supporting today.  However, these are no ordinary bunches of flowers like we buy back home – no simple bunches of roses, mixed flowers, carnations, gladiolas, etc.; these bunches of flowers have all been Koreanized.  Since I didn’t have my camera with me for graduation, I’ve borrowed some of Catfish’s photos from the graduation ceremony at her school.

All together now...

I always find school gatherings in the auditorium entertaining to watch at the very least.  Since I clearly don’t understand anything being said, I pass the time observing personal behaviours instead.  It’s funny to watch Korean teachers falling asleep in their seats, students playing games, the younger teachers running around and taking photos and the prompt responses to any instructions made up front regardless of what everyone has been doing until that point.  Koreans bow in greeting and no exception is made even when they are seated: I love the synchronicity of it all.  The MC gives an instruction while the principal stands on the stage facing the school and I think that this is the preparation time for the bow.  Once ready, the MC says something else and the entire school bobs their heads in perfect unison while the principal bows on the stage.  At my last two schools in South Africa, we could’ve practised that for months and we probably still wouldn’t have achieved anything close to the synchronicity that these students have achieved with minimal practice. 

I’ve never seen our auditorium filled to capacity but this is an important occasion for the third grade students who have finally completed the three year endurance test that is passes for high school in Korea.  Following the head bows and formal greetings, the actual ceremony starts.  First on the agenda is singing the national anthem.  Catfish has already experienced a graduation ceremony at her main school and has told me about it so I actually have some idea as to what is going on right now.  A moment’s silence in remembrance of everyone who died in the Korean War and, I think, includes every soldier whether he has already done his military service or is currently doing his military service follows the national anthem.  Since military service is compulsory for all healthy men in Korea, it’s safe to say that all of the male staff and all of the men present today have done military service in some form.  The pride they place in their military service is incredible but that’s another post entirely. 

And Now for Something Completely Different

With the national anthem and moment’s silence out of the way, it’s time to get down to the business of acknowledging the survival of the class of 2010.  The MC says something and all of the third graders stand up and wait for their name to be called for their 25 second walk across the stage which symbolises their graduation.  It’s strange to see them all stand so that the parents can’t actually see their respective child’s walk to freedom; stranger still is that, just like at a Korean wedding, everyone seems to be talking during the pesky business of handing over the actual certificates.   The handing over of the certificates takes only 5 minutes as nearly 120 students are hustled across the stage for the last time in their school careers. 

With that out of the way, it’s time to acknowledge the really exceptional students – this means the ones who obtained 99% or 100% in everything since a ‘bad’ student’s marks seem to seldom be below 90% in Korea.  Finally, there are speeches from the students to the principal.  A representative, I’m not sure who, stands directly in front of the podium and the principal while giving this speech.  I find this most peculiar because it seems to relegate the majority of the people in the room to some near invisible presence since the focus is on the principal.  I’m used to speeches being made at school ceremonies but the speaker usually has to face the audience.  This photo is actually from Catfish’s graduation ceremony but my school was identical.

Robert Pattinson is Present!

The last thing to do before everyone is dismissed is the singing of the school song which has a fairly easy and catchy melody that is repeated.  From my vantage point at the back of the auditorium, I’ve been entertaining myself watching the audience members’ behaviour and actions throughout the ceremony – it’s been an enlightening experience.  Just before the school song starts, NZ2 taps me on the shoulder and asks for the name of the “guy who plays the vampire in Twilight”.  Strange timing but I fill him in on the name which is followed by him pointing out an audience member and commenting that he looks like the Korean version of Robert Pattinson.  Of all the times not to have my camera with me, this has to be worst.  This kid looks exactly like Robert Pattinson and I struggle to contain the laughter that rapidly bubbles from my throat!  The outfit, the hairstyle, the pose and even his facial expressions are identical that, if it weren’t for the obvious fact that he’s Korean and Robert Pattinson isn’t, he could easily be mistaken for the real deal – a Korean doppelganger. 

The entire ceremony is over by 11:30 – barely an hour – and we’re allowed to go home straight after the ceremony which is a rare thing at my school.  I’m so grateful for the early day as I can feel a cold forcing itself on me so I look forward to going home and resting.  Resting, of course, involves catching up television shows via the internet which leads to a long chat on Facebook chat with YeonJeong.  Sleep, however, wins in the end as I pass out on the futon in my spare room where my internet connection is.  At 19:30, my Canadian friend phones me to ask if her husband can bring around the sleeper couch and desk that I’ve bought from them.  I’m so excited that my apartment will finally be fully furnished that it takes me a while to realise that I should probably sweep out my spare room where the furniture will go since he and another mutual friend are getting everything ready to bring it down to me.  With the sleeper couch and desk in place, I finally feel like I’ve fully unpacked and my apartment is not only furnished but looking like a true home after four and a half months.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Korean Lessons (8 February)

Despite my voice taking an unapproved sick day, I wake this morning with great excitement and anticipation of my first proper Korean lesson tonight.  Catfish and I have been trying to get Korean lessons started since the beginning of December but our schedules just never seemed to match with that of our Korean teacher.  Fortunately, that’s now changed and we’ve arranged to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Of course, once the new school semester starts again, we’ll probably have to reassess this currently ambitious plan but for now, I’m delighted to finally be meeting Dayoung who is the same age as me and an elementary school English teacher.  It’ll also be great just to make a new Korean friend. 

Our first lesson goes well as we meet and discuss how to best approach the lessons.  From there, we head to the ESL bookstore that I didn’t even know existed and we choose our books for our studies.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of the books that we actually want so we’ll have to wait and see if they can be ordered.  One way or another, we’re going to get these lessons started!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Surprise! Surprise! Sur…huh? (7 February)

Back at school after a great vacation, I’m disappointed to discover my scratchy throat seems to be feeling worse and my voice seems to be undecided as to whether or not it’s still on vacation.  Fortunately, I’m only deskwarming for the next three weeks so I’m not too concerned about my rapidly disappearing voice.  Fate, however, seems to have other plans as I soon discover when, at 10:50, Mr Jeong phones me to tell me that we’re following our regular timetable this week since it is the final week of the 2010 academic calendar.  This means that I have a class in 10 minutes.  While he apologises profusely, stating that he thought we’d already been told about this week’s timetable, I run through possible lesson ideas.  I’m actually glad that we’re following a proper timetable again and, as I later tell my co-teacher and Mr Jeong, at least we were given 10 minutes warning instead of only hearing the news after the class has already started.  Their response is that I’ve completed adjusted to Korea and settled in at school. 

With a hastily formulated conversation lesson, NZ1 and I head to the first lesson where we end up just chatting to the students.  I spend a lot of the lesson telling them about my vacation trips to Jeju, Countdown Seoul and Phoenix Park and the students seem to enjoy my anecdotes of my failed ski attempts.  I don’t mind poking fun at myself when it makes students respond and I’m glad the seem to be enjoying the break from their otherwise rigorous timetables. 

By the end of the day, I’m in a good mood and my thoughts quickly return to the cute doctor.  I’ve posted so many comments about the cute doctor on Facebook that friends have asked for a photo of him.  It’s not like I can whip out my camera in an appointment though and take a photo of him – well, I can but I’m not outgoing enough to take this approach.  Instead, I settle for trawling through the Korean version of the Medical Centre’s website until I finally hit the jackpot: A photo of cute doctor with a few key points of where he studied.  I also discover that more than half of my appointments with him have been on days that he’s not the scheduled doctor for outpatients yet still he saw me.  This partly explains why he could spend so much time chatting to me and yet, I find myself more confused than ever before….

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Home Sweet Home (5 February)

On the final day of our vacation, we have another late start to the day.  Being on vacation is great but it’s also exhausting and we’re thankful that we still have tomorrow to recover from the last four days before facing school once more.  Since we’re not skiing this morning and we literally have little to do besides pack our bags and take a final walk around Phoenix Park for photos, Catfish and I soon find ourselves chatting to YeonJeong about various things.

Knowing that she and Kyungsu were woken at 3:30 this morning to sort out the ‘party room’ as it became known, I can’t help but wonder if her views – and those of other Koreans who have to deal with waegooks – tends to be more negative as a result.  I’m relieved to hear her say that she does distinguish between different types of foreigners: Those who are rude and arrogant (the majority in my opinion) and those who actually attempt to learn about Korean culture and the language.  I’m even more pleased to hear that she’s placed Catfish and I in the latter group.  This response gives Catfish the confidence she needs to ask YeonJeong for advice when it comes to Korean men.  She explains the situation with JH and asks YeonJeong as an older sister figure and a Korean for her insight into the matter.

Get a Clue!

After an interesting chat, it’s time to get ready to leave Phoenix Park for the long trip home.  Since we’re leaving at 13:00, we make a point of having lunch before we leave and wonder if the Korean staff have managed to have lunch yet since they’re busy organising the buses and returning the last of the ski/snowboarding equipment.  This question is soon answered when, once on the bus, we’re told that we’ll be stopping at a rest stop in 20 minutes so that the Koreans can have lunch.  I’m both embarrassed and irritated by the foreigners behind me who immediately start commenting that the Koreans should have had lunch at Phoenix Park before we left as the rest of us did.  Surely these waegooks can’t be so arrogant and self-absorbed that they can’t realise the Koreans didn’t have time to stop for lunch at Phoenix Park since they were busy taking care of things for our trip home.  As much as it irritates me, however, I can’t muster the courage needed to challenge the foreigners and I disappoint myself by remaining quiet. 

The trip home is painless and we’re soon getting off the bus at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul and fighting our way through the underground shopping area to get to the actual bus terminal.  Mercifully, it’s not too long a wait for a bus to Gunsan and we’re soon saying goodbye to KiwiKat and back on a bus homeward bound for our little town, little quiet village – home sweet home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ice Festival (4 February)

We’ve been given a late morning meeting time today since we’re heading to a local ice festival that is approximately 20 minutes away from Phoenix Park.  Since we only have to meet at the bus at 10:00am, we get up slightly later than yesterday and take out time getting ready before venturing out for a breakfast hunt.  Breakfast in Korea usually involves kimchi and rice – as much as I love kimchi, my body does not appreciate it first thing in the morning.  We head to the nearest Family Mart where we eventually settle for yoghurt and waffles with a thin layer of cream.  We’re halfway through breakfast when we’re joined by an American couple who are also on the AK trip and who have found bagels and cream cheese for breakfast.  Note to self: Dunkin’ Donuts is closer than Family Mart AND they have bagels!

A fishin' We Will Go... 

We’re soon on our way to the ice festival where our first activity is ice fishing.  We get our fishing rods – which resemble large egg lifters with a length of gut wire and a fake rubber fish attached to it – and get told to choose a hole.  Sounds easy enough.  As we near our chosen hole, however, we realise that we have to pick through the thick layer of ice that has resealed the hole and we soon find ourselves in an unexpected game of “Find the least frozen hole because digging out that ice is hard work”! 

YeonJeong seems to sense our hesistancy in committing to a hole and tells us the Korean phrase for Please help me.  She points out that since we’re foreigners, someone will probably dig the hole for us if we ask them nicely.  Fortunately, at the moment, we notice the electric drill moving down a line of holes and we race our fellow foreigners and the Koreans to reach a hole in the line that has quickly formed.  We’re in luck and our hole is the last one drilled.  We’re soon fishing happily while groups around us attempt to hack their way through the ice in an effort to create the fishing hole needed.  On the lake next to our section, the serious ice fishers have settled in for the day.  Seokjin’s parting words this morning were: “If you catch a fish, you can have it cooked for about 3 000 won; if you can’t catch a fish, it’s going to cost you more to buy one.”

Like any other fishing, ice fishing requires a lot of patience.  There are only so many trout in this damn and there must be at 400 fishing rods in the water.  When the fish don’t bite, we find ourselves staring down into the hole as though we expect to suddenly find a fish staring back at us just waiting to be caught.  Perhaps it’s not so surprising that this seems to be the approach most people take to ice fishing.  We get into an easy rhythm of lifting the rod up and down several times and then peering into the water despite not being able to see anything other than blackness beneath the three feet of ice. 

Catfish and I are not really taking the fishing too seriously and the novelty wears off very quickly.  We’re having more fun goofing around taking silly pictures as usual, watching our fellow fishers, and chatting to people.  This is one of my favourite photos of the day: Catfish and I with the AK staff! 

Just as we’re starting to doubt that there are actually fish in this lake, the Korean family next to us has a bite.  He whips the trout from the water with skilled speed and hastily drops it onto the ice beside him while his wife scrambles for a plastic bag which will soon become the fish’s jail cell and quasi-gas chamber (minus the gas of course).  The fish is clearly not happy with this situation and attempts a frantic escape back down the hole but the fisherman is too quick for it and the fish’s fate is sealed while the couple’s daughter, who seems to be around four years of age, watches the fish flapping about.  As the fish flaps about in the plastic bag, the little girl squeals providing much amusement for everyone around her. 

But...I Want Fish For Lunch! Juseyo?

After an hour of nothing, we’re hungry and decide to call it a day with our ice fishing and find some lunch.  We head in the direction of food smells and are disappointed to discover that our lunch options are limited.  We settle somewhat disgruntled for hot dogs and dakbokki.  All around us, people are eating delicious looking trout but we can’t find anywhere to buy one.  Eventually we discover that we’re only at the snack stall and that there’s an actual cafeteria so we ditch our lousy meals and head off hungrily, salivating over the thought of grilled trout.  Ordering the trout is a completely different matter.  Catfish is the talker in our friendship so she attempts to order the fish since we can only see sashimi on offer. 

She approaches the woman at the counter and asks for a grilled fish – no luck.  We contemplate the situation once more and Catfish approaches a family eating a trout at a nearby table and asks them what it is called.  She returns to the counter and tries again – still no luck.  She then approaches some students who try to help us but we’re still unsuccessful.  Just as we start thinking we’ll have to forgo the trout for lunch, Catfish has a brainwave: She marches over to a table, takes a photo of the trout on a plate and heads back to the counter where the woman seems to be thinking Oh no, not the waegook again and shows her the photo while holding up one finger and saying “Hana juseyo”.  Much to our relief, the lunch order has been understood and we’re soon finding a table to enjoy it.

As tasty as this fish looks, it’s still Korean.  This means it still has head, tail and fins attached unlike fish back home that at least have their heads chopped off.  Foreigners don’t like their food looking at them while they eat so we quickly westernize our fish by covering it’s head with the receipt.  Unfortunately, we’re also starting to wonder just how Korean this fish is since it’s so fresh – ie. has it at least been properly gutted?  With slight trepidation, we gingerly lift half the fish and sigh in relief at the lack of fish guts that would’ve been a rather nasty surprise.  We dig in with relish and it doesn’t take long for us to devour the entire fish – minus the head, scales, fins and tail of course.

Fishing Round Two - Bare Hand

Soon, we’re on our way to the bare hand fishing pond to contemplate our polar bear plunge.  We’ve decided that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that we need to do even though we know we’ll be freezing afterwards.  As we chat around the pond, and eye the fish that we’ll try to catch, we learn that ByungMin (an AK staff member) has never done bare hand fishing before.  KiwiKat suggests that he participates in it today but ByungMin protests that Seokjin probably won’t allow him to do so.  This prompts KiwiKat to find Seokjin and ask him very sweetly if ByungMin can join the bare hand fishing.  Naturally, Seokjin agrees and ByungMin’s fate is sealed – into the frigid waters he’ll go to experience bare hand fishing with the rest of us.  This is a voluntary activity and I’m seriously considering my sanity as I think about just how cold the water will be.  I’ve been given lots of tips for bare hand fishing so, in theory, I should be okay: Stay close to the side so that you can trap the fish against the rocks, wait for them to be chased to you, grab one and get out so that you can get changed.  It sounds simple enough and we’re soon changing into the shorts and t-shirts provided by the festival organisers.   This is a waegook event since there are about 30 of us in total and the Koreans have surrounded the pond in order to witness what promises to be a hilarious and ridiculous attempt at bare hand fishing by foreigners who chase the fish around the pond instead of catching them.  I should note that Koreans tend to be rather good at this particular task – like many things – and foreigners are…not as successful. 

Splish Splash, I Don't Wanna Take A Bath

The Korean MC is already in the water and tries and to get us to do a few warm up exercises before plunging into freezing water.  In try waegook style, we can’t even synchronise our exercise and it’s clear that he soon gives up on us and tells us to get in and fish.  There are loud splashes and squeals as foreigners splatter into the knee high water and start chasing the previously serene trout around the centre of the pond.  My calves feel like a thousand tiny pins are being thrust into my skin repeatedly as my body reacts to the coldness of the water but I’m determined to stay in the water until I’ve caught a fish! I stay close the side of the pond and, as promised, the fish soon come to me.  I push one against the wall and pull back my hands in disgust: Somehow I’ve managed to forget how slimy fish are and I can’t bring myself to pick them up – they’re so slippery and gross!

Seeing my failed attempt, a Korean man on the side of the pool leans over to give me some pointers.  He pushes my shoulders down so that I’m bent at a 90 degree angle over the water, thrusts my numb hands into the water and positions me so that I’m facing the rocks squarely where he then tells me to stay “on standby” for a fish.  I’m so caught up in trying not to react to the cold that I react too slowly for the fish that flees past me much to the Koreans’ dismay.  I hear people shouting directions and locations of fish but this is just too disgusting for me.  I feebly attempt to trap two or three more fish against the side of the rocks and am aware of several fish being caught around me but I can’t bring myself to pick up the slippery buggers.  Another foreigner next to me catches a fish that I’ve just missed and offers it to me.  I’m more than happy to decline since the idea of touching the fish is just too much for me to handle.  At this point, I just want to stay in the water long enough to say that I’m not a total wimp!

A Fish For You

Since I’ve already had lunch, and we get to keep the fish we catch, I’m not particularly concerned that I haven’t caught anything when we’re told that we only have 10 seconds left.  I can’t stand the idea of suffocating a fish in a plastic bag and I suppose I probably shouldn’t have been fishing in the first place since I’d never even considered what would happen to the fish after they were caught.  ByungMin seems determined to catch a fish for me though and when, moments later, he does catch one, he’s quick to place it in a bag and hand me the bag with the fish still flapping around frantically inside of it.  Part of me just wants to release the fish but I know it’ll only be caught by someone else then so I try to refuse the fish instead but he’s adamant that this is my fish so I take it, thinking that I’ll figure out what to do with it later on. 

As we change back into our warm clothes, I place the flapping fish on top of the steel lockers lest someone stands on the poor thing.  Unfortunately, the fish isn’t giving up and ends up doing a suicide dive off the steel lockers to several girly shrieks – the fish is now officially dead.  Having eaten trout for lunch, I don’t really want the fish and am not quite sure what to do with it as I head outside to meet my friends.  KiwiKat suggests giving it away to a Korean and we find an ajumma (older woman) who is walking towards the parking lot and not looking particularly happy.  I don’t know how to say, “Would you like a fish?” in Korean so I resort to standing directly in front of her which brings her to an abrupt (and scowling) halt.  I greet her with an “Annyeong haseyo” and push the fish in her direction.  The man behind her steps forward in an effort to help make sense of the two waegooks currently blocking the path, and when they realise that the bag contains a fresh trout, their faces light up.  It seems I’ve just made this ajumma’s day by giving her a prized fish for dinner and I’m pleased that someone can appreciate the trout that ByungMin caught. 

We walk around the festival for the last hour watching the ice-ATVs, snow tubing, ice slides and more wishing we had enough time to enjoy these things ourselves.  We do, of course, have time to take more silly photos of Catfish fighting Korean kids for her turn on the ice slide (slide made of ice), us posing on the ice furniture and one with NZ2 and Catfish pretending to have the ‘South African fish’ at the festival before heading back to Phoenix Park where Catfish goes night skiing and NZ2, KiwiKat and I play Catchphrase with hilarious results. 

At 23:00, we join the AK staff at the ski rental pick up site and keep ourselves entertained while we wait for inconsiderate foreigners to return their gear as late as 23:45.  It seems this is not the only inconsiderate behaviour of the night as YeonJeong is rudely awaked at 3:30am by a phone call with complaints of noise from the ‘party room’ with nearly 40 drunk foreigners.  It’s incidents like these that make me that much more embarrassed to be associated with so many foreigners and I really hope foreigners could just grow up and stop embarrassing us all!

Happy New Year…Again (3 February)

Today is the official Lunar New Year (Seolnal).  I thought that yesterday was the new year holiday so I sent text messages to all of my Korean friends while on the bus – if they only knew just how long it took for me to type that message in Korean! 

We wake to the sound of the emergency rescue team doing their morning warm-up exercises on the bunny slope in front of our hostel.  It’s interesting to watch them stretch and warm up, and it makes NZ2 and Catfish keen to hit the slopes as early as possible while the snow is freshly pressed and the slopes are quiet.  After my slide yesterday, I’m not quite as keen to ski all day.  We head to the cafeteria in search of breakfast before returning to our room for Catfish and NZ2 to collect their respective gear for the slopes.  This is when we notice that they are inadvertently ‘couples dressing’. 

Couples Dressing 

Couples dressing is extremely popular in Korea.  Since public displays of affection – beyond holding hands or hugging – are generally frowned upon, couples tend to dress in identical clothing to ‘show their love to the world’. Some couples wear only matching colours or smaller matching items like scarves or beanies while others go full out and match their entire outfits.  Catfish and NZ2 have inadvertently hired identical snow suits which make them look like a couple.  While they pose for photos in their snow gear, I somehow manage to tie the shoelace of one of my sneakers to the strap of my bag which has also caught halfway through my scarf and accidently strangle myself somewhat when I attempt to stand upright.

With clothing issues sorted out, we head out to the slopes to take more photos of Catfish and NZ2 in action on their skis and snowboard respectively. The snow is crisp and the slopes are fairly empty that it’s almost enough to tempt me into getting my skis and joining them on the slops – almost.  Instead, at KiwiKat’s prompting, I attempt to make a snow angel on the compact snow which results in something that resembles more of an angry face than anything else. 

View From Below

Having said goodbye to Catfish and NZ2, KiwiKat and I head back to our room where she keeps herself occupied with various activities and I catch up on some sleep.  By midday, I’ve slept enough that I take out my Korean phrase book and attempt to study a bit of Korean.  YeonJeong, one of the awesome AK staff members on the trip helps me out by explaining a few confusing phrases to me.  She seems surprised to find me studying Korean but takes this in her stride and teaches me additional useful phrases from time to time. 

After only hitting the slopes for another 30 minutes, I resign myself to the fact that a natural skier – or even athlete – I will never be.  I’ve taken the gondola to the peak of the  highest slope just to take photos and then once again part ways with Catfish and NZ2 who ski down while I take the gondola back down to safety and hit the bunny slopes once more.  I feel a bit like a child being escorted by parents who are eager to do more advanced things than I can manage but don’t want to be discouraging either.  The day passes fairly quickly and I’m soon returning my ski gear and preparing to head to Blue Water Canyon, the water park attached to Phoenix Park.

Winter Waters

The water park feels like a sauna as we enter and the smell of chlorine cloys at our throats in an attempted suffocation.  Once changed, everyone seems to make a beeline for the heated pools where we have a choice of three variants: Aloe, something pink and something blue.  We warm up in the pools before heading over to the slide into the circular pool which leads outside too.  It’s a rather strange experience swimming outdoors in a heated pool in the middle of winter but it’s a pleasant evening of playing in different pools before moving to the jet pool for water massages.  The jet pool contains several jets at a variety of heights which makes it possible to direct pressure on specific muscles in your legs, backside, back and shoulders.  The male lifeguards on duty seem quite happy that there are several foreign women at the water park.  From their vantage points high above the water, they seem to be enjoying the view afforded to them by large chested bikini-clad women.  It’s ironic that Koreans will make unpleasant comments about excess body fat but don’t seem to object to a larger bust in general. 

The Start of a Late Night

By 20:30, we’ve moved onto the noryaebang where we once again spend an hour singing songs at the top of our voices while KiwiKat plays around with the pitch and speed controls while we sing.  We’re determined to make this an early night since we’ll be at an ice festival all day the next day.  Fate, however, has other plans for us.  As Catfish and I watch the night skiers from the windows in the stairwell, Seokjin greets and chats to us for a few minutes before inviting us to join him and the Korean staff downstairs for some drinks.  Sure.  We’re not huge fans of soju but we’re keen to drink with the Koreans. 

Downstairs we meet Seokjin’s younger brother who, at 1.82m, is an ex-national volleyball player and good looking too.  He’s hesitant to speak English despite Seokjin’s instructions that we make him speak English to us.  YeonJeong, KyungSu and Seokjin, however, are all lively talkers and our conversations are highly entertaining as we eat chicken and pizza and learn Korean drinking games which involve two rounds of parties since we’re not quite ready for bed after the first round when YeonJeong and SeokYun leave to go night skiing.  Round two of drinking with KyungSu and SeokYun, however, takes us to somewhere around 3:00am and very giggly by the time we reluctantly go to bed.