Wednesday, February 24, 2010

3. 안녕!!

Today I come to you from an unusually high altitude. It’s what has been coined in Korea as the “hangover soju high”. To be honest it’s been a while since I’ve been here, though nothing much has changed really.. a few clouds have shifted around and instead of the grand feeling of being in Korea; I have a slightly detached melancholy feeling for leaving the place.

I’ve gone through so much over here and as I slowly pack away all my recollections I begin to wonder about all the things that I’ve experienced here. See I’ve got this memory chain thing that is hung up on the wall of my room, it’s basically just a piece of string with pegs on it; I just add random memories whenever they’re made (Cassie’s idea of course; I’m not that creative).. Needless to say, the room was covered in them.. now it’s time to take them down. It’s got a sad finality to it: physically taking down all these random little odds and ends, and remembering exactly how I felt back then. An item on my wall that took me instantly back to summer was the shell chime made from shells we collected from the west coast. I remember tasting the salted air on my tongue and the heat of the sun on my skin, and listening to the waves crashing around me.. Cassie actually made be a really nice wind chime/ ornament from the shells and some string for me.. I hope Aussie customs lets it through!

Anyway, these days I’ve taken to staring out of the window for hours on end and just taking in the scenery of Sangdong and Gurae.. I start to remember snippets of my past 16 months here, and especially of the weather. It might be hard for some people to understand my passion about it; if you haven’t experienced it you’d have no idea what I’m talking about and if you’ve lived in this type of climate all your life then you’d think ‘what’s the big deal’. This is the first time I’ve experienced life in four seasons..

I think of summer and automatically get a feeling of warmth and the scent of what can only be described as ‘explosive greenery’ in the slightly humid air. I think of autumn and am instantly transported to a time when fallen leaves would crunch under my feet and the air had a faint wet and earthy feel to it. Then winter where the crunching leaves were replaced by crunching ice, how the surrounding mountains had an eerie stillness about them; and the cold, crisp air that instantaneously invigorated body and soul. Finally I reminisce about spring, when the birds came back to nest in the mountains, and fluorescent green shoots began to appear. And the rain, oh how I adore the spring rains that bring with it bustling life! After almost six months of cold weather, to see a landscape grow from what appears to be near death.. to materialise in ways that not only appease the eyes but also lift the heart.. it’s truly nothing short of remarkable!

The weather, first impressions of Gurae, the things I did, food I ate, the people I met, the children I taught, the things I felt etc. these are the memories that I will keep with me. It all seems to have passed in a blurry haze (..that has nothing to do with the copious amounts of alcohol I’ve consumed here), as though in a blink of an eye, the whole thing has passed me by. Just last night, Mark (55) was saying how the same thing has happened to him, only instead of a year it’s more like 30 have passed him by so quickly. It again makes me ponder about how finite life really is.. how we each have such limited time here and that after all is said and done, all that really remains of us are others’ memories of us.




I’d like to thank everyone for reading my blog and motivating me to write more and more. This will serve as a valuable reminder of the time I spent in Korea, when my memories eventually begin to fade. Also it was great having so many people over, the guest bloggers who came and everyone who read this blog are more than welcome to stay with me wherever I end up in the future..


Monday, February 22, 2010

2. Rewind...

We often wonder why our animosity in society brings the worst out in us? When we're lost in the crowd we feel that we can do, and even be, who or whatever we want. We then take this opportunity to do things that are beneficial to us or for those closest to us. Though, this is only the world that I've come from; a small society of 23 million people in a land that's so far from everything. I've been so sheltered in a world where I believe there is no better, or otherwise, greener. Why? Because that is what I'm taught to believe.

I sit here today at Incheon Airport after having spent 9 days in South Korea. What changed from 9 days ago to now? Nothing much in retrospect; just that everything I may have believed about people is now everything I do believe.

See no Evil

My brother, Sharad (Shiv, Sanu, Kraze ..whatever you call him) surprised me at Incheon Airport. Before I arrived he sent me an email detailing the steps I have to take in order to get to a small town called, Sangdong in Yeongwol. There were roughly 30 steps I had to follow. To be honest, I was worried I'd end up in the DMZ and put myself on a trip up and across the border!

After meeting him we decided to have breakfast. I gathered I'd be having a traditional Korean meal as my first culunary experience in the country - I was wrong, he took me to MacDonalds. After breakfast we headed off on, what they call here, a Limousine. The normal buses here are equipped with recliner leather seats and double the chair space of any economy airbus seat you may have sat on. It was freezing, by the way. We headed off to Yeongwol, a town of 40,000 people (from memory), and then Sanu drove us back to his town in Sangdong.

To say that it were possible to describe the beauty of South Korea, especially that of Sangdong, with mere words would be a fallacy. Though, I'm going to try. The drive back was amazing. We drove through mountains (literally) on roads that had four lanes on each end and not on pothole in sight. In one one-and-a-half hour drive I saw hundreds of apartment buildings 30-40 stories high next to each other in a huge city, to hundreds and hundreds of mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. The feel you have when you're here is very different to that of any other country I've been to. On my second day here I saw it snow...soft, white, fluffy snow. It was incredible.

Hear no Evil

The most amazing part of Korea are the people. The way they go out of their way to help anyone. When Sanu and I arrived at Yeongwol we walked down the road to Cassie's car; it was so cold all we wanted to do was sit in the heater. We got in and Sanu turned the ignition and nothing happened. Sanu had left the headlights on for the past 3 nights and the battery had gone flat.

Sanu picked up the phone and called Joey (one of his Adult-class students) who came without any hesitation in 5 minutes. He had a look at the car, and because he couldn’t do anything, he called his dad. Joey's father left his restaurant to come help us. He pulled out the chords and tried to jump-start the car, nothing happened (his car was significantly smaller than Cassie's). So he looked in the dashboard, called the Insurance Company who came within 10mins, jumpstarted the car and left with no payment.

This was my first, and by far not the only, good gesture by a Korean person. Simple things that matter in our "culture" are forgotten or not mentioned to them. They're from a culture where necessity is actual need, and want is something you might get in life; however, no matter what happens, you do what you do with pride, respect and genuine happiness.

They will go out of their way, drop whatever they're doing, to help you. It has nothing to do with whether you're a foreigner or a local, it's simply who they are. They don't litter; not because it's against the law, but because they don't deem it right. They will respect you; not because they'll get shunned, but because you showed them the smallest amount of respect (even if it was the way you said hello).

They are from a way of life I've only been fortunate to experience within my family and close friends; but, this is an entire nation I speak of. There is no "They" and "Us"; we're all one, no matter who you are or where you're from.

Speak no Evil

I've been brought up with one piece of advice I'll never forget, and what has probably put me where I am today, "language is your biggest asset ...if you can talk the talk, you can make it anywhere." The amount of respect I have for Sanu because of what he has done and achieved, not only for himself but all those lives he would've changed along the way, amazes me. I'll dedicate this segment to him and what he's done, simply because of "language".

To go from walking into a country - blind - where you know no one or the language, to today where he can speak, read and write the local language is something so admirable I cannot begin to explain it. For the past 14 months he's lived in the town of Sangdong and has nothing ill to say about it. But my question is, why?

I understand the tranquility and beauty Sangdong has to offer, but how long can all this matter for? When you wake in the morning, go to work, can't speak to anyone because your language skills aren't good enough to hold a conversation with a co-worker, spend the whole day doing nothing (or have one or two classes), come home to no one but your computer, cook your own food for one, sleep, and the next day do it all over again ...isn't this the recipe for mental illness?

And this is my point, above all and everything - what Sanu did and has achieved with his time in Korea is beyond the realms of anyone I know. He didn't do this out of necessity, he could've picked up his bags and come home. He didn’t have anything to prove to anyone, nor did he have anything to prove to himself. What he had in Sangdong and for the past 16months was all he needed, and that itself is a true testament to who he is.

To be honest, on my first day I was so sad to see Sanu's lifestyle; where he lived and how he lived. But spending time with him, seeing how much his character and personality is exactly the same, how having "gone through" everything he has he's still the same brother who left 18 months ago ...I now know who he is.

So if you ask me what the past 9 days has showed me, it is this: "everything I may have believed about people is now everything I do believe."

On the first day I felt so sorry for him; today, every ounce of me envies him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

1. Three short weeks

I know I have been reallly slack this time. I haven’t updated this blog in ages! The excuse I’m going to use this time is that I’ll be leaving Korea in the next 3 weeks so I have a lot of running around to do and therefore have no time to take pictures which then limits my motivation to upload a blog entry.

Well, now that that’s all sorted out. Let’s forget about the second part of the India trip for a while. I don’t have my notes with me at the moment and I can’t remember what else happened during the trip.

So I got back to Korea in the peak of Winter season and after enjoying beautiful weather in India my return started out quite miserable. That was short-lived though, as soon as I rediscovered how damn easy everything is over here.. it made me feel much better. I had to say good bye to my second school as I’ll never be seeing them again.. the kindy kids were particularly hard to say goodbye to. Here are a few pictures from then:

Oh and I also made some pizza for the teachers in December:

On the drive back to my place one day we stopped over to find this cool little island. It wasn’t really an island rather a bit of land that divided the river. Being winter all the leaves had fallen except for the pines and evergreens, there was a grave site there and also a traditional Korean bridge that led over the river. It was freezing so I snapped as many shots as I could and then scrambled back into the warmth of the car!

During the adult classes I had to teach for a week, I met some really cool people. We now meet once a week and do a random assortment of things from tourist attractions around yeongwol to dinner to coffee.. one of them is a young guy named Joey who just finished 2 years of university and now must complete 2 years of compulsory military training before resuming uni again. The other two are teachers at a middle school.. one is a math teacher and the other is a music teacher. They all want to be able to learn English conversation better so we usually end up talk quite a bit during these meetings. Here’s a bit of information of one place we visited a couple of weeks ago..

Exile place of young King Danjong, Cheongryeongpo Cheongryeongpo is located on the upper side of the Namhangang River, Gwangcheon-ri, Nam-myon, Yeongwol-gun and was exile place of King Danjong. It's surrounded by a river to the north, south and east side. In the west side, it has steep cliff called Yungnukbong. It's like an island that can't access without a boat.Cheongryeongpo where the King Danjong who died at the young age of seventeen was stayed consists most of a pine forest and gravelly field now. The Gwaneumsong which located in the middle of the pine forests has 30 -meter-height and 600-year-old. When Danjong was banished here, he rested under this pine tree. It is good to see Cheongryeongpo itself but it is famous for geographical features of a mountain and river around Cheongryeongpo, especially the crystal clear river that can see the river bottom.

We got there and saw this sign.. it said something like: "Sorry the boat is out of service since the river is frozen solid.. please walk across"

Another weekend I went to visit Cassie in a place called Yanggu, where she lives. They were meant to have an ice festival but apparently it was only open for Friday and not Saturday too. This is a picture of the festival grounds that were teaming with people and sculptures and tents and games and other general festivities.

This next photo is of me painting a teapot/cup all in one. Cassie’s high school girls informed her of this cozy little artsy waffle/coffee/pottery café place in Yanggu so we went to check it out. Its one of those places that you’d definitely miss if you weren’t looking for it. Just up a narrow staircase with the word Dorothy’s in Korean. I’ve actually found that common among a lot of really cool places in Korea.. most of them aren’t listed anywhere and you just stumble upon or other people tell you about.

Finally I have some pictures of a place between Yanggu and Inje when we decided to take another route home instead of the highway. If you think it looks grand in the pictures, you should’ve been there to see what it really looked like. The fresh crisp air and the slight smell of rain on the wind made this stop on the side of the road very, very memorable!

That puts us up to date with my travels so far. I have this constant feeling walking around with me that I’ll miss this place. But you don’t want to hear too much about that.. I know that it’s just a stepping stone in the journey of my life.. and to all those who said leaving is a less than wise decision, maybe you’re right. But I’ll never know until I leave and look for greener pastures.

Chook will be arriving the day after tomorrow so look forward to another guest blogger!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

3. Vacation Part 1


Smoggy, Noisy, smelly and dusty.

Exactly two years and three days after swearing to myself that I wont ever come back to India (or at least not for decades), I find myself in Indra Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. I've come to visit dad and see how he lives over here.. and man, have I learnt!! Lets see, where to start....

Currently I am sitting at his laptop with only a mere 20 minutes remaining on the battery. The power has been out since 8am, and it's now 4pm.. this happens everyday, not always for this long but still. If the power hasn't gone out in a day, then consider it a very lucky day! Much in the same way, the water goes off randomly too. See dad lives in a flat and the water from the mains must be pumped to the roof of this apartment building - which we then draw upon when taking a shower. They've been having bucket showers thus far, but today Taji installed a Geiser (or something like that) which is basically a hot water heater that holds 25litres of hot water. This, I'm sure, will make for a very short shower.. but hey.. it's better than the hot metal rod in the bucket bathing.

For some of the reasons mentioned above I dont like to shave here. The major reason though, is that I like to get a shave from one of the local hobo's on the street. These guys rock!! When I went there, they were in a tiny little shack (considered very pretigeous in their trade) on the side of the road. First they started with wetting my face, then he rubbed in the shaving cream, giving my face a mini massage as he was doing it. He takes out a brand new razor blade and then starts the shaving.. I had a beard from Korea which Taji said had to go ("You look too much like a muslim"). So after that he trimmed my goatie and gave me a haircut too. After the shave he put some sort of cream on my face and rubbed it in really well.. then he sprayed some water to wash it away and repeated the process FOUR times with different creams. The last cream he left on there. All this took about 15mins. Then he asked if I wanted oil in my hair, to which I agreed. They ran out of oil so they sent a boy to get some.. while he was getting some the 'hairdresser' - and i use that term loosely - started to give me a head massage.. five minutes later the boy returns and I get a proper head massage with the oil added in. The whole process took about 25 minutes.. and the total cost?

This brings me to te cost of living in India. The haircut/shave/exfoliation/massage cost me a grand total of Rs.70 (seventy Rupees).. which in Aussie dollars today comes to exactly $1.70. Another reference would be food. We went and bought 10kg of flour, 5kg or Basmati rice, and 5kg of sugar.. the total came to Rs. 600 ($14.50 aussie). Fresh vegetables are still cheaper.. I saw a flyer in the newspaper today that showed Potatos and cabbages and tomatos all for Rs.10/kg ($0.24/kg). But what really gets me is the labour.. They have a housemaid here named Jamuna, probably around 60years old. She comes in every morning at 9am, sweeps, mops, and does whatever else needs doing and leaves within an hour.. that's 7 days a week! She gets paid $16 per month, and that's considered generous! Another simple example is the cost of a carton of beer. Over here they have tallies - 650ml at about 8% proof and 12 per case. That box of 12 cost Taji Rs 400 ($9.70).

This brings me to introducing the Indians to drinking games and well, drinking in general.. but that will have to be a story for the next post, since the battery is running out and the power still isn't back yet..

Until then..

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2. Happy Birthday to ME!

Overcast and frozen.

Well I leave for India in a couple of days for my vacation and I only remembered the Visa in Friday afternoon.. thanks to Taji! So I took yesterday (Monday) off and decided I’ll go into Seoul and plead for a Visa for this coming Thursday’s flight. After travelling for five hours on three buses, a subway train, and a cab I arrived at the Visa Application Centre at 1pm.. just in time to see the last staff member go on lunch break. So I waited around for an hour and went back to the Centre, they said that a foreigners’ Visa application takes seven working days and that can’t be changed. The only way to change it would be to go to the Indian Embassy and get written permission. So off I went to the Embassy – which happened to be just across the road (thankfully). I was talking to the front receptionist guy and it didn’t look like he was going to let me talk to anyone.. that is, until this guy came in who looked a lot like Sanjay Dutt and told the receptionist to let me downstairs.

I went downstairs and met with a guy named Mr Das. He looked me over a few times and had a look through all my documents and in a snobby Indian accent said to me:

“You see, here’s the problem.. what is your nationality?”
“Australian”, I replied.
“..and before that?”, he said.
“None, I was born in Australia, you can see it here on my Australian Passport”, I said pointing to my picture in my passport.
He looked at me over again and said “see here’s the thing, if you were Pakistani then we would have a big problem”
“Pakistani? I’m not that’s why I have the Australian Passport” I asked incredulously pointing again at the Emu on my passport.

Finally after consulting with some other guy Mr Das wrote a little note on my application to rush the order and have my passport ready by 11am on Thursday morning. Now I went back to the Application Centre and gave them the note. They told me I had to pay a processing fee and a rush fee which could only be paid in person at a bank ten minutes away. Off I went to KEB and paid my 140,000won, then walked back up that hill to the application centre to give them the receipt. They lodged it, I waited for about 20 minutes and then finally I was beckoned and told that I can come and collect my passport at 11am on Thursday morning. My flight being at 3pm and check-in at 1pm means that it will be a rushed trip!

By this time the clock had chimed 3pm and I was starving. I saw an Indian restaurant called Chakraa and so I decided to treat myself to a Thalli meal. I thought I could catch the bus at 5pm back to Yeongwol and I’d be back at home before 7pm. I went to the bus terminal and asked for he ticket only to be told that the 5 o’clock bus had been cancelled and that the next one after that was the 7pm bus. I took it in my stride and went to watch a movie (New Moon, it’s great btw). I came out of the theatre just in time to catch the bus, but found that I wasn’t feeling the greatest. Something was wrong with my stomach.. it must’ve been something I ate.. It must’ve been the Indian! So off I went on the 2.5hr journey to Yeongwol feeling worse and worse as I went. Thankfully there was a 9:40pm bus to Sangdong, which gave me 20mins to visit the loo before another hour on the bus. Finally I got home at 10:30pm.

I got into bed sleep cold and clutching my stomach.. singing ‘happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me’, and so that ended the day I turned 24.

So that’s my sop story.. I hope you liked it!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

1. Withertos and Wherefores

Raining and overcast!
The time has come to bid my students farewell once again, but this time I won’t be seeing them after the vacation, I won’t be seeing them again at all. One of my best students- ok she IS the best student in grade six, gave me a letter and asked me to open it right there and then. So I opened it in front of the class, subconsciously aware that they're all looking at me. They saw me smile, then they saw my bottom lip start the quiver and then they saw the water starting to well up in my eyes.. "That's very nice f you Soo-jeong, thank-you so much", they heard in a broken, crackling voice..

Never has that happened to me, but the effort this girl must've taken to have this letter perfect as it was.. and to convey so much meaning in such a small note... it really took my breath away. I was speechless.. didn't know what to say, as I stood on the verge of tears looking at nine twelve year old's all staring at me with big smiles across their faces..

I tried my best to do away with the emotions and told them that this lesson we're going to play game! All that day at my second school the fifth and sixth graders were coming up to me and finding ways to say goodbye, we’ll miss you, stay in touch, don’t go etc.

“Byebye Shiv” – sad face and crying hand gestures.
“Shiv WHY?” - sad face and crying hand gestures.
“very very goodbye Mr Shiv” – hugging her friend tightly.
“Mr Shiv, my SAD” – hugging my arm.

I’ve watched all of these children go through the everyday ups and downs during a mere 16 months of their lives. I’ve learnt so much from them..

I’ve learnt about children’s behaviour and how they can love and hate you all in the same minute. How they can get hurt and a short time later forget that it even happened; how they can be happy and laughing one minute and unresponsive and crying the next.. all because you tease them about having a girlfriend. I’ve learnt that at times you need to put your foot down and punish them, which this means I become the bad guy and I will be hated. But as I said before, that hate vanishes the next time you give them a little bit of positive attention.

Through them I’ve discovered how life should be lived; with an unfearing, wondrous awe. Even though things will get really tough at times and you’ll think that the whole world is against you, tomorrow will be another day, and following that there’ll be another, and another, and another.. I don’t see worries from the past within these children; they spend their days laughing and playing and fighting, they take all these things in their stride. It matters not if someone destroys their snowman; they simply get revenge and start building a new one, in barely 10 minutes all is forgotten no grudges are held.

Once I asked the children in the fourth grade to memorise a short dialogue that we’ll act out later on. They sighed and whined but with a small incentive they are all appeased. All bar one, one little girl who I’ve absolutely fallen in love with just sat there and said no. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to, she’s one of the smartest in the class, she spells words like ‘January’ and ‘watermelon’ in a heartbeat, but what I didn’t realize is that it takes her a little longer to memorise things. She sat there staring at the floor with tears rolling down her face. The clock chimed four o’clock and they left. The next morning she was one of the first I saw running as fast as her legs would take her, playing some sort of game. She saw me and stopped as quick as she could.. with a huge smile and her rosy little cheeks she yelled across the playground: “MR SHIV.. GOOD MORNING!!!” and then kept running.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve learnt a lot about life here in Korea, and a large part of that.. more than I’m willing to admit, is due to these little brats who play scissors, paper, rock as a religion!

Monday, November 23, 2009

1. Peni

Bitter wind, but bright blue skies.

The temperature has dropped dramatically since I last wrote, back in Autumn. Nowadays its not uncommon for the mercury to go below zero.. in fact last Tuesday it was down to -11^C as I was walking to the but stop. November’s rains are also living up to their ‘not-so-pleasant’ reputation. We had the first snowfall (what’s known as 첫눈) of the season on November 2nd. In the middle of class all the students were let out to play and sing and dance! Some ran around like ADHD kids on Speed, while others just danced around in the snow, a group of them decided to catch some in a blanket, and still there were others who just stood there looking up with their mouths open.

Free Image Hosting at

Last weekend, the weekend of the 14th/15th Brett decided to come over to Sangdong to check out how I live. After staying for five minutes we, Brett, Cassie, and I decided to head over to Taebaek for lunch. It was freezing cold, by that I mean that any water on the road was frozen; and so we decided to go check out a casino nearby. We started by changing 10,000won into High1 Chips and then we hit the roulette tables. We stayed there for an hour or so and Brett made a profit of 50,000won and I made a profit of 7,000won. Here’s a picture of us running to the hotel/casino.. it was soooo cold!!
The next few photos are of what’s been happening over the past few weeks. Here are a few from the road between Yeongwol and Sangdong.
Mousi/Mousa, remember that little stream you dipped your feet into and all the little fish swam around your feet? Well here it is now..

Oh and I was walking home and there was an old lady near my apartment and she was burying a vat of kimchi.. I’ve never seen it buried before so I went over to inspect. She got up, smiled, went to her place and brought out a huge lunchbox of fresh unfermented kimchi! Now I’m not a Kimchi hater (like some others I know), but living here for this long has developed my taste-buds so that I can differentiate between good and bad kimchi. Unfermented, fresh, home-made kimchi ROCKS.. and this was no different!
So this weekend just passed, we went to check out a county called Samcheok, marking off number 12/18 on my “See every county in my province” list. On the way there Cassie and I found a huge museum. We stopped and took a few pictures but nothing really interested us enough to go inside.

This is a little coastal town that I've forgotten the name of.. it was a beautifully quaint little place..
Samcheok’s a cute little town by the sea, it’s just south of Donghae (where we went with the caravans), and is much like all the other coastal towns we’ve been to; heaps of raw fish places, heaps of seafood places, and the unmistakable smell of drying squid. But Samcheok had something that I’d never seen before.. a special kind of park that roused my curiosity. But first, I better…

WARNING: The following images may offend some people. If they do.. go away. Oh and they’re probably not safe for work either.. you might get some weird looks!

See, Koreans think of sexuality differently than we do. It’s a natural way of life here, and everyone knows about it and talks about it. There’s nothing erotic about it nor is it a taboo subject.