Fare Thee Well

What’s that old expression, “where’s the good in goodbye?” This weekend I was asking that same question. In fact, that’s what I’ll be asking for the next two weeks as I pack up and ship myself back to South Africa.

Saturday was fantastic. So many of my friends came out to say goodbye at one of my favourite bars/restaurants in Seoul, Cargo. I invited everyone to dinner and drinks and to be merry. And my oh my, it turned out better than I’d hoped. There aren’t words for how awesome the people are that I’ve met in Korea. Well, there are some words for people who have been less than awesome, but generally I’ve met incredible people who I can confidently call friends. Here are a few photographs from a night of fun, meeting new people, saying goodbye to old friends, and just merry happy-go-lucky faces. What a fun farewell!

Location: Cargo 128 FTW, Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea

My best friend, Bevys

My best friend, Bevys

My favourite French bartender

My favourite French bartender, Tibo

Some fabulous friends

Some fabulous friends

Photobombed! With the guy.

Photobombed! With the man.

Fun with the man and his guys

Fun with the man and his guys

Farewell, Korea

New/old friends

Farewell, Korea

Some of my favourites

Farewell, Korea

Always a blast with Marina

Train shenanigans

Train shenanigans

Boy, oh boy, Korea will be missed. Moreover, the amazing people who have come into my life. But for now this chapter has ended, and it’s on to the next one. Thank you Korea for the memories, the experiences, the frustrations, and the fun. Til next time!

Peace, love and hugs 🙂

The End is in Sight – Part 2

Let’s go back to what I’ll miss the most about Korea. Firstly, I have 20 days left in this mind boggling country. Only 20 days. Last night over dinner with one of my closest friends we discussed how time has been so fleeting, so unpredictably fleeting. It feels like we met a few weeks ago, but it has been almost a year. Time.

Continuing the list of things I’ll miss about Korea:

 

4. Foreigners

I come from Cape Town, South Africa. I grew up in an international community with kids coming to my school from all over the world. In my mind I thought I had more foreign friends than anyone I knew. Until I moved to Korea. We’re all foreigners here. We’re all different. We all sound funny to each other with our various accents. And that’s what I’m going to miss: listening to different accents, hearing about French or German culture, making fun of Americans for thinking they don’t have an accent, doing a terrible job at imitating my British friends, and of course, teaching everyone fun Afrikaans words. Between my fellow teachers from around the world, the American military that I’ve become acquainted with, and the bar staff from various countries, I feel like I’ve traveled to more places than I have. I’ve picked up American habits, danced like an Irish/Scottish local, kissed like a French lover, drank tea in a pub like a Brit, cheered on the All Blacks with the Kiwis, and spoken like a surfer with the boys from Australia. It’s been a cultural heaven, and I am going to miss constantly meeting people from all over the world on a weekly basis.

 

5. Convenience and coffee shops

I wasn’t going to put this on the list because for a while it actually annoyed the life out of me. I kid you not, on almost every corner you will find a convenience store, coffee shop, or bakery with the cutest little cakes. After a while, it became convenient to have a convenience store on every other corner. I literally have two convenience stores on each corner of my street. It’s convenient.

I gave up the lovely coffee drinking habit in May 2013. I wasn’t a very big coffee drinker, but I enjoyed a good cup. And Korea is heaven for coffee lovers. From the big franchise such as Starbucks, to the privately owned coffee shops, you will most certainly find a coffee for your tastebuds. I personally prefer the privately owned coffee shops because they make it so homey, they spend time creating a masterpiece in the kitchen, and attention to detail is key. I’ll definitely miss my caffeine-free order from my favourite baristas, who know what “the regular please” means.

 

6. The nightlife

I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been to the U.S. Gosh, I’ve never been to Australia. But from what I hear, Korea certainly knows how to throw a party. I’m not sure if it is because of the cheap prices, the easy access to party areas, the huge mix of foreigners, or the fact that there’s no last call, but foreigners love the night life in Korea. I personally like to dance, but even that gets boring after a while. So Korea has it all worked out for you. There is something for everyone. The Irish Pubs, the hookah lounges, the doof-doof clubs, the bar/club combination, the jazz lounges, the pool halls with dart boards, the chilled bars with food, and of course the karaoke restaurants. There are even the upper class clubs and regular clubs that won’t allow foreigners to enter. See, something for everyone in Korea.

We’ve stayed out until sunrise, soaking up each other’s company, watching people think vodka makes them incredibly sexy, and dancing our butts off. This past weekend was one of those weekends where we got home at 5am on Sunday morning. And what did we do all night? An Irish pub, a Motown show, the only New York-style monster pizza in Seoul, and more Irish pub chilling. When you’re in good company, time flies.

 

I could go on listing things I’ll miss, but looking back I may just bawl every time I remember how convenient my life in Korea is. So for now, you’ll know why packing up my apartment is so tough. I move out in 10 days yet I can’t seem to box my things up and organize myself. Maybe it’s a sign I am not ready to say goodbye just yet…

 

Peace, love and hugs 🙂

The End is in Sight

Though it’s been a while since I updated my blog, it’s time to call it quits. The Korean adventure is almost at its end and it’s probably pointless having a blog entitled “Seoulful” when I’ll be living in Africa. So, as a last tribute to this blog, I think it’s fitting to remember the greatest things that made my life pretty damn awesome in Korea. I have a list of things I will miss the most, especially as I move to Cape Town, South Africa.

 

I’ll miss you Korea. Especially:

1. The Internet

Don’t get me wrong, there is internet in South Africa. Yes, even wireless connections are available in the country, but I’m talking about speed. Korea has one of, if not the top, fastest internet connections in the world. I recently visited Thailand and Cambodia and I cringed at the lack of internet speed. It took me a few minutes to locate myself on a map, something that takes seconds in Korea.

Even more frustrating is the lack of wifi I will have in South Africa. You see, in Korea you have wifi pretty much everywhere you go. In a country where most of the cell phone users are smartphone owners, wifi is a necessity. And it’s free. Yes, free. If I walk into a coffee shop and order a coffee, the wifi password is either displayed on the counter, or just ask the staff and they will gladly give it to you. Why do you think so many people sit in coffee shops with their iPads and laptops? Fast, free internet. Yet, the same situation in a coffee shop in South Africa would require me to pay for the internet, and then it’s not even a fast connection. I am not looking forward to that. Oh, how my YouTube addiction will suffer.

 

2. The easy public transportation

I love driving. I love turning up my favourite music and just driving to clear my head. It’s therapeutic. Though, the cost of petrol (gas, for the Americans), is making me think that it’s time to find something else just as therapeutic but less expensive. Public transportation in Korea isn’t quite as therapeutic, but it is cheap, easy to use, efficient, and less stressful than trying to navigate yourself through the craziness that is the Korean traffic. There are applications that give you real-time updates on busses heading your way, and an application that gives you the exact subway times, and they’re generally very punctual. You can plan your transport route so easily with the help of these apps. I do, however, not like the fact that subways stop running around midnight and that means if you’re in the city and need to get home at 2am, your options are a little more limited. Though, this is where taxis come in.

The taxi system is a great one, though sometimes you’ll find it will cost you an arm and a leg. In Korea there are different provinces but they aren’t so clearly marked for the expat to notice, so when I want to go from my neighbourhood into the city, it costs an extra few thousand won (maybe 3 or 4 US dollars). Taxis are very useful though, and safe. Granted, you should be able to speak a bit of Korean if you’re in areas where English is not as popular. Yes, I did say safe. For the most part, taxi drivers aren’t out to rip you off, but you should still keep your guard up. Just over the weekend a friend forgot his cell phone in a taxi. It was dead already so he thought well that’s it, time to get a new phone. Miraculously the phone was returned to him on Sunday. The taxi driver had somehow tracked him down, and returned his phone. Oh, Korea! So yes, I will miss the taxis in Korea. Even when it costs me $40 to get home at 4am from the city.

 

3. The money, the benefits, the lifestyle

People can say what they want about this country, but show me another place in the world where you can earn this kind of money, work these hours, get all these benefits, AND still save and have a decent social life. You can’t. The life in Korea for us teachers is ideal. And even moreso if you’re a public school teacher. Let me break it down for you.

My work hours are 8:40-16:40, Monday through Friday. My actual teaching hours per week is no more than 22 hours, and for every hour I teach that is above the contracted 22 hours, I get paid overtime. In other words, I basically teacher from 9:00-12:10 every day, and the afternoon classes I sometimes teach are paid as overtime. We use textbooks and there are plenty of resources so I am never truly stressed at work. It does get a little lonely from time to time because almost none of the staff speak English so I am generally left to my own devices.

The afternoons are mostly free time for me to “prepare” for the next day’s classes. But if you prepare on the first day of the week, afternoons become a time to sit back and catch up on your favourite shows, learn a language, or even focus on your postgraduate studies.

And let’s talk about money for a second. The minimum amount you will earn as a public school teacher is 2,000,000 Korean Won. Think of this as about US$2000. The minimum is if you are a first time teacher with no experience and only your Bachelors degree (in any field) and a TEFL/TOEFL/CELTA certificate. And if you’re placed in a rural area, you get an extra 100,000KRW added to your salary. Nice, right? And if you’re lucky, like me, and teach some extra classes, you can make another 200,000-300,000KRW on top of your regular salary. So, in a nutshell, I walk away with a salary that’s similar to that of a Chartered Accountant in South Africa. And boy, oh boy will I miss the money. As I was researching new positions in South Africa, I realised I would literally be earning a quarter of what I have now. My heart broke when I saw that, and it almost made me want to stay in Korea. You won’t earn this money anywhere else in the world, with this standard of living, and the benefits afforded us. And did I mention that as a South African I am tax-free for the first two years of my contract? The benefits and the money will definitely be missed.

Those are the top three things I will miss about Korea. I’ll be sure to scribble another list of things I’ll miss, but for now, I’m off to prepare for my 6th graders’ graduation this week. Exciting to see the young ones grow up!

 

Peace, love and hugs 🙂

Buddhas, Fortresses and Prostrations

I am not Buddhist. I probably won’t ever be Buddhist. But when you’re in Korea, experiencing Buddhism first-hand is one of the many perks. So on my Korea check-list was a Temple Stay. This is basically moving into a buddhist temple for a couple days and living and doing as the monks and nuns. My chance to do this came unexpectedly when our education group organized a tour for 50 teachers. I signed up and was lucky enough to get one of the spots. I just wish I was more prepared…

 

We started off at Hwaseong Fortress with a tour and history lesson about King Jeongjo of the Joseon Period. The Hwaseong Fortress was actually listed with UNESCO so it was quite the opportunity to visit. 

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A portion of the wall.

 

After the tour we had lunch nearby and then headed to Yongjusa Temple in Suwon. By this time we were all pretty anxious about this temple stay. I hadn’t had a chance to do much research except that temples are places of peace and very little talking is encouraged.

 

The first surprise was the temple uniforms. At first sight I thought, “you have got to be kidding me.” But they turned out to be pretty comfy.

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Just before we went to change into our new clothes we had to hand over our cellphones. I was caught off guard with this one and had a little trouble giving my fingers the much needed rest. But rule are rules.

 

We were then given a tour of the temple, which turned out to look like most of the temples I’d visited on regular touristy days. I suppose I should have been more interested in Korean history. 

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Eventually the tour ended and the must anticipated monastic meal was upon us. We entered into a room with warm floors and several bowls neatly lined up in 4 rows. Before diving into the meal, several rules were explained. This is what we were told:

1. The lid for the bowls goes to your left, with your white little towel, and utensil holder.

2. There are 4 bowls in each other. One is for cleaning water, one is for soup, one is for rice, and one is for the side dishes.

3. When you are given water in one bowl, rinse each bowl with the water and finally pour it back into the water bowl.

4. When you receive your rice, place one yellow radish slice in that bowl and do not eat it until you are told to do so.

5. While you are eating, raise the bowl to your face so that your mouth is covered.

6. Nothing may be left in your bowls. Not a grain of rice, not a speck of kimchi, not a drop of soup. Finish everything.

7. Absolute silence while eating. Not even utensils touching your bowls. No loud chewing. No talking.

8. The cleaning will take place as follows:

8.1. Each person will get a bit of water in their rice bowl. Use the radish to clean that bowl and pour over to the soup bowl to clean and then finally the side dish bowl.

8.2. Once you’ve cleaned those three bowls with the radish and water, eat the radish and drink the water.

8.3. Then take the water from the water bowl and use your fingers to make sure your bowls are all clean. 

8.4. Then pour the water into the bucket that will be brought around to each person. Pour silently.

8.5. If there is still a single bit of food in that water, you have to drink the water. Nothing may be left. (We were given an explanation about hungry ghosts who will drink this water and may choke because they have narrown throats.)

 

So that was dinner. Wow right? Don’t worry, we did go downstairs and wash our bowls with proper soap and water. 

 

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Following dinner, we had a ceremony which was related to making bead bracelets and 108 prostrations. Each person had 27 beads and for each bead to be threaded, we had to do 4 prostrations. By the end of the ceremony we had completed 108 prostrations and each had a bracelet. What if the 27 beads made a bracelet that was too big for your wrist? Well, get rid of the excess beads. We bowed for nothing right?? The lesson to be learnt here was that we need to let go of the things we think we need in life and just keep the things we really need. Keep enough and don’t be eager for more than you need. Everything we did had a life lesson. That’s Buddhism.

 

Bed time was 9pm, which, let’s face it, was not a regular occurence in Korea. Hell, on a Saturday night that’s when the fun only starts! But the early bed time had to do with the face that we had a morning that started at 3am. Yes ladies and gentlemen, 3am.

At 3am the head monk sounds a drum and at 3:30am everyone is in the main hall for the chanting ceremony. We were given the chant so we could follow the ritual, but I honestly got lost half way through. And I was feeling slightly uneasy about chanting things I had no understanding of. We did several bows with the chants and my toes were ready to give in. But it was definitely fascinating. Up to this point we had no interaction with the monks, only the head nun of the temple. She had shaven her head so we only realised she was a woman when she spoke. 

For the ceremony we were separated from the monks, but we could hear the chanting via a loud speaker. This was the start of their day. This happens every single day, regardless of the weather. That’s dedication!

 

The other hightlight of the day was the tea ceremony. Also several rules were given, but this was more enjoyable because the head monk came to join us and answer any questions. Hearing him speak, even with the translator, was great. Although I must admit, I found it very philosophical. And I was still tired from the 3am wake-up call to be ready for philosophy.

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All-in-all, it was a rather fascinating experience. I met some fantastic people, learnt more about the monk and nun lifestyle, and I made peace with some inner demons. Perhaps I wasn’t open-minded enough, but I definitely did take some wise words from the monk and nun we interacted with. Plus the nun knows my name now and liked saying it. She has a sense of humour too.

 

Temple Stay in Korea. Check.

 

Peace, love and hugs 🙂

 

PS. If you’re interested, here is a list of Temples in Korea that do the Temple Stay program, thanks to a friend of mine on Facebook:

Temple stays in Korea

  • Seoul
  1. Templestay Information center- http://www.templestay.com71
  2. Bongeunsa- www.bongeunsa.org
  3. Hwagyesa- www.hwagyesa.org
  4. Jinkwansa – www.Jinkwansa.org
  5. Jogyesa- www.jogyesa.net
  6. Myogaksa- www.myogaksa.kr
  • Gyeonggi-do
  1. Jeondeungsa
  2. Lotus lantern International Meditation Center
  3. Shelleuksa
  4. Yongjoosa
  5. Yongmunsa
  • Chungcheong-do
  1. Beopjusa
  2. Busuksa
  3. Magoksa
  4. Sudeoksa
  • Gwangwon-do
  1. Baekdamsa
  2. Bupheungsa
  3. Guryongsa
  4. Naksansa
  5. Samhwasa
  6. Shinheungsa
  7. Woljeongsa
  • Gyeongsang-do
  1. Beomeosa
  2. Donghwasa
  3. Eunhaesa
  4. Golgulsa
  5. Gounsa
  6. Haeinsa
  7. Jikjisa
  8. Kirimsa
  9. Ssanggyesa
  10. Tongdosa
  • Jella-do
  1. Baekyangsa
  2. Daeheungsa
  3. Geumsansa
  4. Hwaeomsa
  5. Mihwangsa
  6. Naesosa
  7. Seonunsa
  8. Songgwangsa
  • Jeju-do
  1. Gwaneumsa

Korean Gym Sessions

Health. Fitness. Weight-loss. Sexiness in a bikini.

I don’t hate my body. I love it. Truly. I do, however, think it’s necessary to be healthy and comfortable. I don’t like feeling like I’m going to burst my jeans after a great meal. So after a weekend of crazy food adventures, I decided to jump back into the gym routine. It’s been about 4 months since I’ve been to my gym so I rate it was about time I made my return. Fortunately the staff had changed a little so I didn’t feel like a slob coming back and renewing my membership.

 

Let’s talk prices for a moment. 

I’m pretty sure the gym is under new ownership. I walked in and expected to be able to renew for 3 months because that’s the time I have left in Korea. If memory serves, they had 1-month, 3-month, 9-month and 12-month options. This time I had the option of signing up for 1 month, 4 months, 8 months or 12 months. The prices were as follows:

1 month: 90,000 KRW only gym  —  180,000 KRW gym + extras

4 months: 240,000 KRW only gym + trainer  — 280,000 KRW gym + trainer + extras

etc etc.

The extras at the gym are yoga classes, aerobics classes and spinning classes. You also get the use of a personal trainer when you sign up for 4 months or more. I’ve got that option and boy am I starting to hate myself for it. Not because it’s useless, but because he is really going to work me hard.

 

Here’s what’s been the strangest things at my gym in Korea:

 

1. Uniforms

I come from South Africa. We have various gyms there. The most popular one is probably Virgin Active. You walk in, drop your stuff in a locker and proceed to the floor for your workout. Not at my Korean gym. You walk in, swipe your card and they take it and give you a locker key. Then you grab shorts and a t-shirt from the shelf, with two hand towels. Yes ladies and gentlemen, my gym has a uniform. Of course, you don’t have to abide by their uniform and you can wear your own workout clothes, but most people make use of the clothes. I think it’s weird that we all should look the same, so I happily gym in my old unversity colours.

The towels are handy, but not as useful after your workout…

 

2. The shared showers

I’m not a stranger to naked people in the gym bathroom because that’s pretty much standard practice. The weird thing, however, is the sharing of showers. My first few times at the gyms I never opened the shower section of the change room because I was scared of what I may find. I imagined what it was like in there but never had the nerve to walk in. This week I had no choice but to open that door because I had a dinner date right after gym. And I was shocked to find that it was nothing but a massive shower with about 8 shower heads. No curtains, no compartments, no privacy. I’m a very big fan of my personal space, so this was a line that I hadn’t intended to cross. Not only are the showers open, they don’t provide you with towels to wrap around yourself. So here I am, crouching out of the bathroom with nothing but a hand towel trying to cover my lady parts. Korean women seem too comfortable in there. Wow. Acca awkward.

 

My trainer is cute, and he works me hard. Three times a week and I feel like I’ll be ready for Thailand in January. Pairing the gym workouts with the yoga sessions and I think I’ll feel completely fit and healthy in no time.

 

Korean gyms are not far too different from what I experienced at home – except the size. I’m at 9Gym in downtown Uijeongbu. Small enough to not get lost, big enough to not have to stand in a queue for a machine.

 

I love my gym. I love the sexy trainers even more.

 

Peace, love and hugs 🙂

 

PS. Tomorrow is Friday AND payday. Can you imagine my excitement ?? 

Drunk Level: Korean

In a society where drinking a beer on a subway is not frowned upon, images like these are oh so popular. A highly intoxicated man found a comfortable sleeping position on the subway. We found him like this at 22:15 on a Saturday night. Oh, Korea.

Superficial Seoul

I need to rant. And share some insights. So stick around.

 

Tonight I hit boiling point with one of my friends. I once met a guy who I brought around to meet my friends here in Korea and to this day one of my friends still makes ridiculous comments about the way my guy was dressed. Of course it was funny at the time, but now that’s all the guy had become: The guy who wore the wrong shirt. 

 

Why does this bother me and how did this lead to me hitting boiling point? I should back track for a second.

What’s the first thing you ask when your friend says, “I have someone for you. You guys would be perfect together!” 

First question: What does he/she look like? Show me a picture!

 

Over the last few months I’ve been on a few dates and when I tell my friends about them they want to know what the guys look like. So of course I open my Facebook page or flip through my phone for photos. And the commentary is absurd. I don’t think I’ve dated a single guy they haven’t turned their noses up at. And I must add, these guys are unattractive.

So tonight when another comment was fired about somebody’s looks and I lost it. Superficial, unappreciative and judgmental jerks! But… If I was their friend, somehow, on some level, wasn’t I also guilty of this superficial, judgemental attitude? Introspection sucks.

 

Physical appearance has always been important to me, but looking back at my life in South Africa, I’ve definitely become a lot more concerned with how I look. I probably shouldn’t, but I blame the Korean society. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking after yourself and making sure you look good when in public, but how far is too far? Every day I’m bombarded with advertisements for plastic surgery, lasik/lasek surgery, new outfits, “cute” Korean girls being chased after by “handsome” men… and so on and so on. I’m living in a society where there is no shame in getting a surgery that gives you a nice round forehead instead of the one you were born with. A society where girls are applying a full face of make-up in a the subway. A society where men wear more beauty products than the girls back in my country.

I walked into the bathroom at Lotte World Amusement Park here in Korea and found three girls huddled around a flat iron, trying to flatten their fringe/bangs before going out. In the other corner there was a girl applying foundation, eyeliner and blush. I was shocked. But I shouldn’t be. This is such a common occurence in Korea. It happens everywhere.

 

We have become superficial beings who desire to look good all the time, at any cost. It would be mostly ok if we stopped there, but we don’t. Instead, we judge others on their lack of focus on their own appearance. We claim others don’t know how to dress themselves, look after their hair, how to apply make-up, or where the nearest tweezers are. Why does this matter to us so much? I’ve yet to find out. Maybe a psychologist can analyse this for me. It’s not out of jealousy, that much I’ve picked up. 

 

My point is the same old tune we’ve heard over and over. Simply put, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. My guy friend can buy a new shirt or a fancy suit and look amazing, but your attitude will take a long time to change. We will lose out on falling in love with an amazing person because we’re so focused on their physical appearance. We will fail to appreciate people for who they are, because we can’t look past the fact that they have untamed eyebrows. We are bound to lose out because we judge a book by it’s cover.

At the risk of sounding too preachy, doesn’t the Bible say that God looks at the heart while man looks at the outward appearance? Or something like that. 

 

Next time, remember that you have no idea what that person has been through, so quit make degrading remarks about what they look like.

 

Peace, love and hugs 🙂