Archive for category Travel
Perhaps a strange first choice, but I love the Taehwagang, the river that meanders east down from the mountainous surroundings of the city and opens out into the East Sea. With it forming a direct route between my flat and Elizabeth’s (and coupled with her inability to do anything other than lie in bed after a day at work) I spend a lot of my time cycling up and down it, and so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to bask in lots of what it has to offer. The stretch I use most often is long and straight, and seen from above would resemble a set of coloured pencils: blue river; green walkway; red cycle path; brown grass and vegetation; and then grey road. My favourite thing about it is the people you see there. Read the rest of this entry »
The phrase short but sweet was made for times like these. This weekend Eliz and I KTX’d it up to Seoul to meet my Dad, the first person we’ve seen from the Other Side in six months. It was, in some ways, as if those six months had never happened – perhaps this can be attributed to us being father/son and not mother/daughter – but time was precious like I’ve never experienced, putting pressure on us to have a good time. We did. Read the rest of this entry »
Here I am once again – in a chair, at a desk, in front of a computer screen, lamenting the strictness of whichever section of my contract that stipulates I must stay at school for forty hours of every week, whether there are kids or other teachers here or not. The first lessons of the new term don’t begin until Monday, meaning the next few days will consist of crossword-solving, reading, watching sports highlights, and many, many hours on Sporcle. That doesn’t sound too bad, I bet you’re thinking. It’s not. It’s how I spend lots of my free time anyway. I’d just rather be doing it in bed, not at school; and in my boxers, not a shirt and tie. Being here also makes the prospect of the imminent holiday-free five months a lot more real, so to counter this I’m going to write about the one I’ve just had. Read the rest of this entry »
Eliz and I returned yesterday evening from a nine-night layoff in the Philippines, and aside from being a more-than-welcome break from the Chinese water torture that life in Korea can be, it provided an interesting vantage point from which to sit back – Filipino beer in hand, obviously – and compare the two wildly contrasting ways of life. Often it is all too easy to just lump Asia together as one huge, 4,000,000,000-strong group of people, but a moment on holiday highlighted how wrong this is. We were eating and drinking and chatting about Korea with a family of Filipinos when one asked “how do they speak in Korea? ‘Cha du wah koh nah chang chong nahhhh?'”. It was a funny – if slightly racist – reminder of the differences between countries that from back home seem relatively geographically close despite being in reality worlds apart. At times it was tempting to slip into a worryingly anti-Korean mindset – why can’t Korea sell a litre of rum for under a pound like the Philippines do? Why can’t Korea sell Hellmann’s mayonnaise in its supermarkets? – but I realise that if things were slightly different and I was holidaying in Korea midway through a year teaching in the Philippines I’d have complaints about the latter instead. Hence, this will hopefully turn out to be a gentle comparison rather than a giant whinge.
It is now two trips out of two within a month to different Korean cities for festivals of light that have left Elizabeth and I wondering if our attempts at making the most of precious time off work by seeing and experiencing as much of this country as possible are really more worthwhile than nights in in front of downloaded, poor-quality English telly. The first, the Lantern Festival in Jinju, was hellish to get to but pleasant upon arrival; of the second, last weekend’s sojourn to Busan for its annual International Fireworks Festival, the opposite could almost exactly be said. However, our time there really allowed us to experience full-on and first-hand some of the delights and downsides of Korean public behaviour.
Last time, I mentioned Eliz and I had been to Jinju’s annual Lantern Festival. Whenever I tell someone this, the general response is: ‘Oh right, cool’. Then a pause. ‘What’s a lantern festival?’. Before we left, I didn’t have much of an idea either, but I’ve since done some research, and english.visitkorea.or.kr says this: ‘the tradition of floating lanterns on Namgang River in Jinju City dates back to the 1592 Japanese invasion of Korea. In October 1592, during a battle between Japanese and Korean soldiers around Jinju Fortress, Jinju people flew lanterns high up in the sky as a military signal and communication tool with soldiers outside the fortress, while floating lanterns and torches along Namgang River’. But, like I say, neither Elizabeth nor I knew any of this, and so we hopped on a coach at lunchtime two Sundays ago, not knowing what to expect. You never know what to expect in Korea. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never really known what Thanksgiving is. So when I found myself sat at a bar with a group of North Americans discussing their version of the holiday, I asked about it. Apparently, hundreds of years ago, some pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean (from Plymouth, UK to somewhere in the USA; or from somewhere in the UK to Plymouth, USA – I forget). The pilgrims presented warm blankets to the indigenous American Indians they encountered, but these blankets carried smallpox and so the Indians all died. I still don’t know what the real origins of the holiday are, but what I do know is that the Korean version – Chuseok – is a harvest celebration; and that it means three days off work. These three days off work (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday just gone) were the reasons I found myself sat at a bar with a group of North Americans in the first place, but I’ll get to that shortly. Read the rest of this entry »