One year in: exploring Korea

This is the second instalment in a yet to be established series about my observations of my first year in Korea, and this time around, I’d like to go into more detail about things I’ve got up to in Korea. This entry will deal with other provinces and cities I’ve visited. Gyeonggi/Seoul will need its whole own post!

Jeju

Chuseok is the Korean equivalent of American Thanksgiving. It’s a huge deal in Korea, as it’s a time when families get together, share food, and give thanks to their ancestors. Koreans will travel to their hometowns, and for this reason, the day before and the day after Chuseok are public holidays, too. Timed just right, and it turns into a five-day weekend. And while Koreans spend the long weekend cooking and family-ing, foreigners… travel! Four friends and I set off for Jeju-do, a Korean island just off the southern coast. It was early autumn, so the awful summer heat was gone and the weather was just perfect. Our days were jam-packed with seeing some of the wonderful things the island has to offer.

Ami, Cindy, Ali and I on Jeju-do.
Ami, Cindy, Ali and I taking in the amazing weather.

Here’s the nutshell version of things that stood out:

Haenyeo (해녀) ~ female divers

Back in the day, the local women of Jeju were responsible for gathering seafood. Although I didn’t see any “live” haenyeo, we did come across some pretty statues to commemorate these women.

Haenyo Statues
Haenyo Statues

Dolhareubang (돌하르방) ~ grandfather statues

These statues are just about everywhere, and as a result they’re one of the most widely-recognised symbols of Jeju.

Grandfather Statues
Grandfather Statues

Black pig galbi

This was for supper on the first night of the trip. I read here that the Jeju Black Pig is only found on the island, and the meat has a distinct taste. What’s far more interesting though, is that way back when (up until around the 60s), the pigs were fed on human waste. Thankfully, this was frowned upon enough for the practice to be stopped.

Udo Island

This was probably one of my favourite days, ever. We set off early morning and boarded a ferry to Udo Island, one of the smaller islands off Jeju-do. Here, we hired scooters and four-wheelers and spent the day traipsing around the island. The weather was perfect, and the ocean was right there. I didn’t swim (seaweed galore!), but it was such a nice, free feeling to be travelling along a coastline like that. It had also been a good four months since I’d been in control of an engine (after driving every day), even though it was only a little scooter. Also, suntan! ‘Nuff said.

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Jeju Love Land

Oh dear. I saw the pictures on google, but walking through the park is… an experience. I can’t (won’t) post the majority of the photos I took here, but I will tell you that it’s a must-see when visiting Jeju.

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Nature!

Jeju has lots of nature. And it’s impressive and pretty and all those nice things. Since 2007 Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes have been listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage. Jeju Island was also named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011.

We visited the following sites: Oedolgae Rock and #7 Olle Coast Trail, Jusangjeolli Rock Column Formations, Cheonjeyon Water Falls, Jungmun Beach, Seongsan Ilchulbong (Crater Mountain Peak), Manjanggul Lava Tubes, and the Sangumburi Lava Vent.

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Other things

Other points of interest were Sanbangsan Temple, Gimnyeong Maze Park and the Trick Art Museum.

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Andong & Gyeongju

GEPIK sponsored a group of Native English Teachers on a whirlwind weekend trip to Gyeongsangbuk-do. We hit the road long before sunrise one Saturday morning and set off on what was to be one epic bus trip. I took some photos of the wonderful things I saw, though it’s sad that no camera could capture the fun we had on the bus.

Gyeongju is historically significant because it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom for almost a thousand years – 992 to be exact.

It was a jam-packed two days, with lots of time spent on the bus driving from one destination to the next. The itinerary escapes me now, but I remember visiting Andong Hahoe Folk Village, Gyeongju National Museum, Cheomseongdae Observatory (the oldest observatory in East Asia), Anapji Pond (an artificial pond), Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju World Culture Expo (where we saw the performance of Flying) and…. somewhere else, where some of the teachers got to take part in acting out a traditional Korean wedding ceremony. On the Saturday night we ate at a restaurant where, apparently, royalty would go to to dine. There was so much food!

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Daegu

Let me first explain: Shauna is my token redhead Irish friend. Well actually, she’s just my friend. She’d be cool even if she weren’t redhead or Irish, though those attributes certainly add to her wonderfully colourful personality. Anyway, Shauna bought a car and named it Spuddy. Shauna also plays in an Irish band. And so it was that said band was invited to play at an Irish bar all the way over in Daegu. She invited Trevor and me to join her and use the opportunity to travel around Korea a bit. Another bandmate, Myvanwy, joined the three of us, and off we went on Spuddy’s first roadtrip.

We arrived late on the Friday night, hit the sack, and did some exploring on Saturday. When researching things to do there, I came across a blog featuring Suseong Lake and a cafe inside an aeroplane. It was decided there and then that that’s where we’d be going, and it was a brilliant idea. It was a beautiful day out! We were able to take in the springtime warmth good and proper, and there were some beautiful photos to be taken. In the evening, we hung out at the bar and watched the band play. Sunday morning involved breakfast, and then the long trek back. Thank goodness for millions of rest stops!

Suseong Lake
Suseong Lake

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Seonyudo

Every year during April/May, Adventure Korea organises a few springtime trips to Seonyudo Island, which is in Jeollabuk-do. We booked for late April, looking forward to a weekend of sunshine and island-hopping on a bicycle. Sadly, the weather gods had other plans. Korea was blessed with a cold front that left some parts of the country with snow, and other parts just… cold.

We set off on a rainy Saturday morning and had some more bus fun. I should mention here that we were a group of 6 friends, and all from different countries. Our group proudly represented South Africa, the US, Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and Canada. With so much diversity, there are always interesting conversations to be had.

By the time we arrived on the island, the rain had thankfully stopped, but it was an overcast and dreary day. This did not stop us, though. Everyone got on their bicycles and set off to explore the island. We were slightly under-dressed for the weather (it was supposed to be spring!!!), but still had a fun day giving our legs a workout.

The Sunday was much more enjoyable, with a clear, sunshiny morning to explore some more. This time around, we rented a golf cart, and our little group took turns navigating the dodgy roads and narrow bridges. Driving on the wrong side of the road didn’t appeal to me, and I was happy to be a passenger the whole time.

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The small print: what you didn’t read about teaching in a Korean public school

You know how every contract has “the small print”? Korea is no different. And I’m not talking about the job contract. That thing is pretty airtight (if you work for the government, at least). The “contract” I’m referring to here is that little blurb you see on every recruitment website. Everything looks very appealing (and trust me, it very much is!), but of course, there’s the stuff they don’t tell you.

One of the absolute perks of the public school system, is that native teachers have hours and hours of free time every day. And so it was, on one of these days, that a friend and I had a back-and-forth about the small print.

Here’s what we came up with:Magnifying glass lying on a legal contract

  • Free rent!

(Excludes utilities and security fees, so pay up or freeze your butt off in winter.)

  • Enjoy Korean culture!

(Kinda racist.)

  • Korean food is the best!

(…)

  • Be a teacher!

(You’re not a teacher.)

  • Work with great kids!

(They’re only great when there’s a Korean teacher in the room. The rest of the time, they’re just kids.)

  • You don’t need to know any Korean

(Never know what’s going on around you, even when you hear your name being used in conversation.)

  • Only 50 weeks of classes a year!

(We reserve the right to define “classes”. Also, have you heard of deskwarming?)

  • Accommodation 20 minutes walking distance from the school!

(In winter and summer, this’ll feel like 3 hours.)

  • Cheap living costs!

(Until you crave red meat or fruit.)

  • Great travel opportunities within Asia!

(Always during high season.)

  • Experience ancient traditions!

(Aegyo. Aegyo everywhere.)

READ THE SMALL PRINT

***Disclaimer: I don’t hate Korea. Every country has its quirks, and as an outsider, I get to observe Korea with a different frame of reference. And despite the small print, I’m having a ball. And there’s plenty of positives, which I’ve gushed about in pretty much every other post. All of the above is meant completely tongue-in-cheek. If you don’t have a sense of humour, go away.***

*~*~*~*

Oh hey! When searching the interwebz for images to put into this post, I came across the following blog entry. See, I’m not the only one!

And he spoke *such* good English!

Who would have thought that, when describing the eligibility of guys, ‘speaks good English’ would be right at the top of the list?

This came up in a discussion with a good friend of mine said over tea the other morning, when I told her about, well, a guy. A Korean guy, to be exact.

And it’s true.

When discussing the merits of Korean men, who – let’s admit – are generally good-looking and well-groomed, appearance is not exactly at the top of the check-list.  Ohhh nooo. The first line is always something like, “he spoke really good English”, or “he isn’t fluent, but he has enough English to hold a conversation”.

See, a good few months ago, my friend was just sauntering along, exploring the streets of our little town, when a Korean guy approached her, and, well, chatted her up. And yes, of course, when she told me about him she got around to what he looked like (which usually starts and ends with how tall the guy is), but his ability to speak really good English far outweighed any other characteristic.

Last week, at physiotherapy, one of the therapists took me to the rehabilitation centre to show me some strengthening exercises for my back. This is the first time this has happened, so of course I had no idea why I was being led into a room I’d never been to before. And to my surprise, the therapist spoke to me in really good English. And of course, this was the part I highlighted when retelling the story to my friend.

And these are not the only examples, but you catch my drift.

Korea, if nothing else, is a quirky, quirky place. And when it comes to speaking English, this is ever true. For a country that spends trillions every month on English education, there sure are a lot of school leavers who very quickly regress to having very little to no English proficiency at all. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong, and they’re all fluent but just refuse to speak to me. Either way, it isn’t a good thing.

But you know what? It makes for some interesting discussions!

When looking for an appropriate image to post here, I came across a blog written by an Australian woman married to a Korean man. Some of the most appropriate cartoons related to my post have been put together here and here. Here’s one I giggled at:

english-scared-899x1280