Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I'm leaving on a jet plane

--actually I've left. This will be my last post.

So of course the final 7 days have been manic. I took to split-shift sleeping as I juggled the influx of farewell dinners, the overdue packing and a final week at work.
  • On Monday Ju Young and I spent quality shopping time revelling in the Forever 21 goodness
  • On Tuesday Chris ventured up to our neck of the woods to join Kathryn and me for noraebang
  • On Wednesday - suffering somewhat from sleep deprivation - David came over for extensive beer consumption
  • On Thursday - developing some attractive coughing and spluttering - I bid farewell to co-workers Olive and Miye over a traditional galbi dinner
  • On Friday Taera and I bonded at Thuy's leaving party, followed by losing my voice completely at Caliente
So naturally my body wasn't particularly impressed with this excessively active social life, especially amongst the packing/chucking/trips to the bank/post office. The 2nd anniversary party of You Can Dance Studios was a beautiful event, and the perfect opportunity to get dressed up and say goodbye to all my friends in Korea. Unfortunately by the end of the night my tonsils were throbbing in despair and I had to make my early exit once the party moved on to the Hard Rock Café. It was disappointing to have to give the farewell hugs amongst the loud music and buzzing atmosphere, but at least we'd taken some gorgeous photos to commemorate.

So Sunday I spent rushing to and fro giving Kathryn the remains of the boxes wanting to be sent to the UK as whittling my life down to 20kg had proved to be a little optimistic. It was 6.30pm as I was finally giving the final polish down of the bare apartment, careful not to swirl any dust about as I gently closed the door behind me. Having an 8am flight the next morning, the buses wouldn't be running early enough for me to get to the airport on time, so Ju Young kindly offered to give me a place to stay and a lift in the morning.

As I took the suitcase out of the taxi in Itaewon waiting to meet Ju with her car, I couldn't have had a better surprise to find every one of my closest friends waiting for our final dinner. We grabbed a table for 12 at Outback Steakhouse and followed it up with what was essentially our own private party at America Latina. My 'one last dance' with all my favourite dancing men (and girls), including an impromptu Columbian salsa class by the owners, was really the perfect end to an amazing year (and 4 months) in Korea.

Of course the final post is going to be difficult to write. It's impossible to express all the emotions of leaving such a life behind. It really has been a rollercoaster of a year, but not one I would have traded for anything. The things I've done...the foods I've eaten...but most importantly the people I met.

I tell you what, if this year hasn't done anything else to change me, I've taken to embracing my soppy emotions without excessive coatings of sarcasm. Perhaps the UK will change that again. ㅋㅋㅋ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Forever 21

The streets of Myeongdong are arguably one big fashion store. Clothes, shoes and accessories are on sale at cheap-cheap prices without having to step foot in a shop. But - and I've griped about this before - where are the size labels? Where are the dressing rooms? How do you know what you're buying is going to look as good on you as it does on the hanger?

Bring on Forever 21. An clothing chain with stores across North America, it opened its doors in Seoul last October. Recommended by many international friends I was yet to experience its delights, but last night, in need of a dress for You Can Dance Studio's Gala Event this weekend (that's my advert), I dragged fashion-frenzied girlfriend Ju Young to check it out with me.

We were not disappointed.

That's three floors of ladies clothes, systematically arranged across the store, presented in an easy-to-browse fashion, ranging in sizes from XS to L. And get this. A floor dedicated to trying on, with a lounge area kitted out with large sofas outside the fitting rooms. Ju Young and I spent a good 2-3 hours in this shop, taking advantage of said fitting rooms and clothes. And at affordable prices, too. Not like the $5 t-shirts of the street sellers, but one hopes for a better quality of garment in exchange.

Doesn't sound any different to shopping trips of my past. But this is Korea. Shopping like this isn't quite as rife, and we need to revel in its goodness!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Friday was potentially my last day of teaching - ever. I got the kids to write thank you letters to their teachers, and even made one of them cry when I pointed out her mistakes. An excellent finish, I'd say!

Yesterday Chris, Marie's boyfriend, future co-worker and my replacement, and I were forced to sit through an excessive number of speeches as the new parents were called in for "Orientation Day" while the children met their new teachers. I wasn't aware the kindergarten offered so much that could warrant so much talking. We, too, had to give our part (translated line by line) in explaining the English curriculum, but it seemed we were really only asked to sit out the rest as an exercise in parading the token foreigners. Oh yes. The snide comments will ride out til the end!

In the evening I took the subway all the way down to Suwon to meet my extended Korean family for a final dinner. Everyone was in good spirits, the food was good, and I was honestly surprised that I'd forgotten this tradition of giving money. It was also nice to have an idea of the conversation flitting across the table this time too, and to do some final bonding my with cousins and their kids. [I do notice the won is horrendously weak at the moment, which isn't wonderful timing for sending home my final pay packet...]

So now that it's actually my last week in Korea, it seems every man and his dog wants to see me. Which is lovely, of course, but rather limits my events to "...and then I met --- for our last farewell..." Given that I'm meeting Alex for lunch and heading over to Subok's jazz gig tonight, there'll be more.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dinner, A Missing Child, and Farewell Speeches

Having not ever been part of any ladies sports teams (or any sports teams for that matter), the high-rising oestrogen level at the dinner table tonight was beyond that that I've previously experienced.

Despite the layers of food that kept appearing, the evening took a distinct downturn when a mother phoned to complain that her child had walked home alone at the carelessness of the kindergarten teachers. Whether the teacher on duty really had seen the supposed older brother, or whether the child really did brace the streets of Seoul alone, or whether some lies were told along the way, the blame had to placed somewhere. There followed a good half an hour of silence around the table as the director was forced to listen to the reprimands of the distraught mother.

So whether it was the previous atmosphere, or emotions generally running high, or the end of year sadness, there was barely a single teacher out of the twelve females present who didn't fight the tears as they thanked everyone for a wonderful year.
Despite the earlier angst filling the room we managed to leave on a happy note, with previously unformed friendships peaking as four teachers, myself included, will leave the school. I didn't manage to say my proper goodbyes at graduation due to a mix-up with speech giving, so I was glad to have had my chance to thank my co-workers for inviting me into their family. I was also glad I wasn't the first to shed tears.

I was not, however, glad to have acquired this fish bone in my throat.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Beautiful Store

Korea has this kind of ingrained dislike of used goods. Second-hand furniture/electronics stores are around, but charity shops for the little things aren't such a well-known concept.

The Beautiful Store, first opened in 2001 and now with locations all over Korea, offers an opportunity to buy and donate second-hand items. Part of the Beautiful Foundation, the Beautiful Store aims to encourage a culture of recycling and sharing. Donated items have to be small enough for one person to carry, apparently they clean and repair everything they receive, and all proceeds go to charity. It's where all my junk acquired over the last year is going.

Apart from my books. What The Book - a second hand book store in Itaewon - will buy your old English books off you dependent on quality and nature of the book. You can get store credit to use on other second-hand books, or receive 50% of the amount in cash. You can also buy online. I might have given a shining advert for the Beautiful Store just now, but why give when you can sell? :D

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Identity crisis?

This is a post that I began to write on the 22nd April, 2008, following a lengthy discussion with a then-close friend who happened to be both Korean and gay. There was a lot more that was I wanted to comment on (e.g. religion, economy, prostitution, Western influences), but the post was never completed. I would like to note that having further observed Korean society and culture since these initial thoughts it's difficult to know my current stance on these issues. However in the interests of completion of the blog I post it now - unedited from what I originally wrote - intended as a reminder of the various thoughts I've had over the year.


Korea: The Land of the Morning Calm. Or at least, that's what it was nicknamed as a loose translation of
Joseon - the ancient ruling dynasty of Korea. Nowadays with the influx of a changing economy, fast paced lifestyle and Western influences, such a name is no longer appropriate. The government have thus rejected the old slogan in favour of something more appealing to the generations of people to come: "Dynamic Korea".

But even though Korea has changed drastically in the last century, there appears to be a battle between traditional values and the lives that people attempt to live. Opinions and beliefs about their own country are certainly varied among the people of Korea.

Of course, I'm just a foreigner. I've only lived here for six months; I cannot imagine that I could have any kind of authority on the subject. What are to follow are merely my observations as I live day-to-day in this ever-changing country.

Family values

Traditionally, parents were to look after their children well in exchange for the promise that they would be well looked after in their old age. These days there is such a emphasis on following a career that people are sacrificing family commitments for money. Young people are moving further and further away from their home towns in order to pursue a career, and in the same vein, are marrying later and having less children. Improved healthcare has meant that the older generations are living longer, and with Korea having the lowest birth rate in the world, alarm bells are ringing in the most hazy of minds.

Women’s position in society has moved from a home-making mother to a career hungry beast. She may or may not get married; if she does she may or may not have children; and if she does that, then she may only choose to start her family in her 30s rather than her 20s. This doesn’t seem at all removed from the culture many of us are familiar with at home. But throw in a few social/traditional values and problems begin to arise.

Most parents wish the best for their children. But if that means sacrificing their own beliefs, here they may be willing to sacrifice their children instead. Arranged marriages are still common, even if it is just the merging of two families by ‘introductions’ [incomplete].

Many old people may insist that there are no gay people in Korea. There are no official laws against homosexuals here, but that doesn’t mean to say that it is accepted. Far from it. The fact is that it is such a taboo subject that it is not even considered.

Marriage in South Korea

Economy of South Korea

Korea: Infected, Detected, Rejected. Troubling treatment for foreigners with HIV/AIDS

Saturday, February 14, 2009


It's difficult to be quite so glib this year round. The concept of graduation for kindergarten might seem farcical to we who don't even celebrate the end of high school, but that didn't stop the notion that the children I've been playing with day -in-day-out for the last year are off.

The year is over. The tears have rolled. It's time to move on.