Sunday, 21 February 2010

3 weeks in

Well i've been here now 22 days. I haven't felt the desire to blog for a while because things aren't as shocking or amazing anymore. But that doesn't mean they're not still great, because i still look around in wonder at my new home. I still walk around with my head angled upwards at the neon signs advertising this and that on 10 or 20 storey buildings, i still discover new places and it amazes me that so many signs and things in general are written in english. Some shops, like Dominos pizza for one, don't have so much as word of Korean written on them, on any of the advertising boards or posters or even the boxes. Yet anyone over the age of about 20 seems to be particularly poor at speaking English. It's odd to think a group of Koreans will visit 'Molly's Coffee' and probably not know what the sign means, but they still go anyway.

As for the last few weeks, i'm getting used to things and feel very comfortable. Buses are still a bit of a hit and miss as the buzzers are hard to find and they have varying ways of paying. I also have tried very hard this weekend to find Cookie Plaza, which is a kind of oasis for western foods but so far it feels more like a mirage because it's just not where the maps say it is.

So last weekend was Lunar New Year and most people were with family or travelling. I went to a foreigner bar to meet a friend who didnt turn up for over 3 hours, but as usual i made friends with the one guy in there. He had been there for 6 years and spoke good Korean. He had been chatting up the bar girls and it was nice getting to talk to them as well. Later i met a bunch of Brits including a girl from Harrow and a few others i already knew. It was good hearing our accents again.

This week i mostly stayed home and saved money. Sandwiches here are incredible and at only 2000 won they are a bargain. Last night i went out and had a good time. Some highlights include: playing Rummie with Dannica, meeting Perry Saturn the former WCW and WWF wrestler and having a chat about all things wrestling, seeing Brittani dance, attempting to catch these little cardboardy snacks in my mouth that jen was throwing, meeting Wes (he said i was like a cross between Chris Martin and Thom Yorke!!!), trying to help 3 guys out of a lift who were trapped (all the might of myself, Wes and Chris and 2 guys on the inside of the lift was not enough to open it), seeing Autumn again and getting to hug Amanda for a while (i seem to like spreading the love after a lot of drinks), touching Owen's beard, seeing Jen happy, talking politics with Willie (or was that a lowlight, i'm not sure), talking to Dannica and trying to figure out if 'tall guy' was nice or not and later having my little pinkie crushed in the taxi car door by Willie (definitely a lowlight). Its strange that i sometimes feel shy and a little apprehensious about going out to bars, yet i have a great time and the people are so amazing and friendly. It seems theres always a lot of jokes to be had. 

Am i still enjoying it here? Absolutely!
Would I be happier back at home? No way.

I'd love to see family and friends again, especially my bro, Andre, Tai and parents (among others) but at this point, it feels like a worth while trade to be around such a good bunch of people here, to have repsonsibility and a respectable occupation and a decent chance to save money and a sense of adventure that every day brings. I would thoroughly recommend the experience.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A week in Changwon - Day 8

Its now Sunday morning and i've been in Changwon, Korea for just over a week. 7 days ago i woke up in a foreign land, knowing no one and having spoken to just a couple of expats on facebook. i didnt know what to do or where to go. i waited for the school director who came along and briefly showed me the city. I was amazed at the time. My room was still alien to me, the bathroom was scary and smelly and cold, my tv didnt work, i had no idea whether the electronic equipment would work, no way to contact hellen and my family and friends back in the UK.

A week later, i've been out 4 nights in a row (a new personal record) and i can honestly say i've never enjoyed going out more. I'm living the kind of life i wished i had at uni but didnt quite manage. Not the drunk expat life, but being in a place full of interesting and brave people with their own stories and reasons for being there and where theres a real equality among people as most of us have the same job, similar salary and working hours. 

Yesterday was really the icing on the cake that was my first week. I woke up and felt like going out hiking. Danica said she would be up for it, so we met up and went up one of the mountains/hills. It was so peaceful up there and really felt like the city had been escaped. From up there, you can look down at the tall buildings like they're tiny ant hills surrounded by little ants walking around going about their business. But hiking in this country is something of a luxury, as every shop i went into to buy a hiking jacket was charging upwards of 150-200 pounds for a jacket, most were about 250 and one i saw was actually 750 quid! Yup, 1,500,000 won, which is like 1.5 times the average monthly salary of a Korean.

Anyway so after the hike, i met up again with Danica and went to a Korean bbq. I thought when i heard that term there was like an American style bbq in Korea, it totally didnt occur to me that it was the sit down, cook your own meat things i had seen in blogs and on facebook. There was so much food for the small price we paid. You only pay for the meat, and they give you  load of accompaniments for free. These include tiny tiny prawns, octopus tentacles, kimchi (spicy cabbage), lettuce, mussels and many other things i forget now. I really like kimchi! Im surprised too, but it tasted pretty good. Danica also showed me some traditions/customs like how you have to pour the cold tea (yeah i didnt drink any). Also had some soju for the first time, it seemed much like vodka and i copied Danica in putting it with coke and treating it like a vodka and coke. Then we went to watch the band at International Pub. They were amazing, must have played for hours and hours and the place was quite full. As soon as we got there, i saw a table with people i knew. As always, there were a few i didnt know so i had to go through that phase where i bide my time before getting introduced and adding them to the list of cool people i can go and talk to in future. We played some drinking games that included this basic higher/lower, inside/outside, smoke/fire game that was quick but not that challenging. Then a new game was unveiled that involved betting (with drinks) on a suit in a kind of horse race thing. That was a lot of fun. Mine came up twice and i was drunk enough to celebrate like i'd won a small fortune. I also was umpiring a game of beer pong until a toilet break was needed and my number 2 seemed to have taken my role. But all was good as soon after i got to use my acting skills and some bravery and do a pretty good thing for someone who needed it.

Finally went to Obriens after. I definitely remember making an ass of myself there because unfortunately i saw sandwich man and was hungry and in need of food enough to bow down and almost pray to the guy. I spoke to some people waiting for food and they seemed to love the guy as much as i do now. Then went to OB's where more jokes were had. I remember losing my jacket and being realy quite worried for a while until this guy found it and i felt so grateful it turned up. Oh oh and the barman there, what a legend. He kept flipping beer mats, he even tried 2 at once but failed on five attempts. You could tell he so wanted to get it right. Eventually i must have found a cab home. I remember getting one and he took me to the wrong place, or atleast i couldnt figure out where the hell i was. Then got another and made it home alive. I did however sleep with the apartment front door open all night because the latch seems to not work very well. Its happened a few times now but just realised theres a problem.

So to conclude, its been an amazing, incredible, heart warming week. I feel at home here now, the Koreans dont bother me one bit. I dont look at them or their faces anymore when out walking, so unless i am looking for someone in the crowd, pretty much everyone around me is not there. It works for me and probably works for them as its supposed to be disrespectful to look into their eyes anyway. I slightly regret having 4 hangovers in a row and will definitely not be making it 5 in a row. But I can honestly say if i have even half as much fun and excitement every week as i have this week, i will have lived more this year than in the last ten.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Happiness is a firecracker sitting on my headboard
Happiness was never mine to hold
Careful child, light the fuse and get away
‘Cause happiness throws a shower of sparks

Happiness damn near destroys you
Breaks your faith to pieces on the floor
So you tell yourself, that's enough for now
Happiness has a violent roar

Happiness is like the old man told me
Look for it, but you'll never find it all
Let it go, live your life and leave it
Then one day, wake up and she'll be home

 These lyrics by The Fray never meant so much to me as they did when i played this song while walking home from a night out in Masan. Then again every emotional song finally means something to me. I don't have to imagine excitement or loneliness or appreciation or surprise or humility or shock or alienation or happiness. These things are experienced on a day to day basis here. The last few days have been quite amazing and one blog post can't do them justice. Suffice to say i've made some friends now. Not quite solid bffs quite yet, but ive got off on a good foot with a lot of different, interesting and quite remarkable people here and seem to be doing it faster than most do in their first week. I feel quite humbled too with how nice some people have been to me, especially when it comes to introductions.

It all started wednesday night. I spent an hour and a half walking in the freezing cold looking for International Bar where i thought one or two of some facebook friends i had spoken to might be, though with no cell phone, it would be hard to coordinate or be sure they were even there. Eventually i found O'Briens Bar and went up to the door and heard English voices, which sounded so good, but i couldnt bring myself to walk in and have to say 'hi i have no friends, please talk to me', at least i couldnt do that without knowing what the layout of the bar would be first. Where's Chloe when you need her for some schematics? Anyway, i decided to give up and go back home and wait for another day. But at a cross roads, i thought about my book and how it would probably tell me to feel the fear and do it anyway, so i did. I went back, looked harder for the pub, eventually found it and went in. I sat nervously at the bar, trying to act like i was waiting for someone while really coping the place out. I saw a friendly looking guy callled Sam by a game and said hi. After that, i found Brittani and later Danica and a whole bunch of really fun people including Jack Sparrow, a hobo guy and a hippie looking girl with dreads. All totally cool people. We had more drinks than could later be remembered but definitely got to know some people.

Next night Brittani invites me out and i got to know a few more people and see a bit more of the city 7 mall. Finally after work tonight I got wind of a meeting at a burger restaurant and that was really great. Got to see some of the same people from wednesday but a few others too, some good food, well priced beer and really great decor. Then went to Masan to a bar. It wasnt as good as the bit previously, but got to meet some more people, including a Joe from Ohio (always wanted to meet one of them - all i need now is a man from Nantucket and a man with a wooden leg called Smith) oh and also a guy with a very interesting legit massage story that was quite shocking. I love how welcoming guys are here and I intend to offer the same hospitality to future noobs. I really sucked at pool tonight which would usually really bother me, but it really doesn't matter. Finally i got to meet a fellow Croydoner as well. I mean, what are the odds?! Just hearing such familiar place names as the one's he said (riddlesdown, addington etc) was a nice feeling.

 Some people went on to a club but by 2am, having already done more socialising with random people than i have in the last 5 years of my life (ok probably 2 years, but still its been 5 days!) i felt it was time to call it a night. I got a cab back with 2 girls i didnt know, and in another country that would be weird, but such is the culture and vibe here, if youre white, youre alright! lol im kidding, but it is kind of like that. you can just talk freely to other westerners, we're all in the same boat and one big family to some extent. It reminds me of the show Shipwrecked and how the different teams really welcome new people. I may be a fairly quiet person but i hope to contribute something to the group dynamic with my fairly unique brand of deadpan sarcasm and wit.

Walking home tonight, i realised that in such a short space of time, i've pretty much found what i was looking for. Infact i'm going to write to Bone from U2 and tell him it was in S. Korea all along! (if you dont get that then you must not be aware of their songs). It was a cold but beautiful night walking home. I reflected upon what i had here and it made me smile and appreciate my new home for what it has brought about. Life in the UK was so stale, like its not too hard to survive there, but going anywhere at the moment is like walking up an escalator. You get no where. I had no feelings to describe. Nothing to miss either because everyone i knew wasnt too far away, but the shame of not having a decent, stable career and the lack of money just took away my energy and desire to do anything. Becoming good at COD4 was about my only passion, though i appreciated the guys for some good times. But in Korea, the bad is good and the good is amazingly good. Things may change in the future, but for now i'm very happy here.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Winter Sunshine

What a day it's been so far. Ok so i havent blogged yet about yesterday when i went to the school to watch classes for the first time, that'll have to wait for tomorrow. But something has changed dramatically in me over the last 2 days. Before saying what i did this morning, i'm going to describe the extent of my fitness and diet if this were a typical day back at Tai's house in Waddon:

I'd wake up really late from staying up late the night before, it would be freezing cold so i wouldnt want to get out of the double sleeping bag i fashioned. Eventually id spend the day freezing in my pyjamas and probably make some kind of greasy chicken and chips like the other lodger. Then if this was the 5% of days when enthusiasm for fitness was at its highest, i might just venture outside, hoping the vast cloud cover doesnt turn grey all of a sudden. Id maybe run for 15 or 20 mins alongside busy roads before being sick of it and going back to playing video games.

Now here's my Korean life for you. So i wake up and its lovely and warm in my room thanks to underfloor heating. I open the window and feel the chilli temperature of the air, but at the same time i see and feel the warmth of the sun in full view. After some cereal, i feel its time for a run. I avoid the quieter, more traditional markets and run along the main roads until 6 mins later i arrive at an olympic running track outside the 35000 capacity football stadium used during the Korean/Japanese Olympics a few years ago. Its maybe 11.45 and there's almost no one there. A couple of teenagers perhaps jogging very slowly now and again on the 100m track and thats about it. So i chuck the bag down and carry on running. After a few laps, i decide to have a go at the sports equipment on offer. Unlike gyms that require you to have training, these things are fixed into the ground with minimal intelligence needed to operate them (although one of them i still cant fathom?!) and you can do sit ups with ease on one and do this really easy spinny action on another (pictures to follow in a few days). I intersperse running with doing some exercises on these. Again, it's cold out but with the sun beaming down, it's really nice too. I could go weeks without actually seeing the sun in the UK. It might be slightly warmer there, but I find the Sun is such an inspiration and really gives me energy. When i was doing some exercises, a middle aged Korean lady in good shape came along with sports clothing and a scarf completely concealing her face. Might even have been a man for all i know. I thought she might be competition and might jog along with me but sadly just seemed to walk around the circuit. Then an older Korean man came along, and where as such people usually avoid looking at me, this man seemed to acknowledge my existence and i think wanted to use me to set his pace. So he ran along behind me for a lap. I moved to the outside lanes hoping he'd catch up with me and we might have a kind of conversation through mutual appreciation of jogging, but then he trailed off. I must have been running and exercising for over an hour and loved every second of it. After, i felt so good and confident, that despite wearing running trousers and a tshirt with long sleeves underneath and a back pack, i was quite happy to approach the 'mall' just 5 mins down the road.

One of the first places i saw for food was Paris Baguette. A note about this place - i love it! The food is so light and European in its style. And more to the point, i feel so at home there. I may not be French, but I feel like for Koreans to be eating there, they have to at the very least have some respect for westerners. I also feel like maybe me liking their food means more to them than a Korean liking it, because ive really eaten baguettes in and from Paris. One such a thing ive had a few times before is French style pizza bread, a long thin slice of bread with all kinds of toppings, mostly vegetables, like a large piece of garlic bread but with actual pizza flavour. That cost £1 and a carton of milk was about 35p. Truly a bargain. Everything is presented so beautifully as well and its clean and nice to sit in. Next i had a wander around the mall but nothing i wanted was there. Did see a Vietnamese restaurant that i will be returning to.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable couple of hours and one i hope to do a few times a week until fitness returns.  

Monday, 1 February 2010

Out and About - Day 3

Today was a more mixed day. I started out by making some videos for youtube. You can check them all out at - there's one about the journey, my apartment and some pictures from this evening's walk around town. After editing and talking, I went for my first run in the community. The advantage here being that by the time people notice me coming, i'm already gone and my vision can't detect their reactions very well when moving fast. Plus it makes you feel better when anxious. So i went for about half an hour as it's been a while since i did any exercise. Viva la Vida by Coldplay has for a long time been an album that i'd listen to when thinking about making an escape from the UK and always wanted to listen to 'Lovers in Japan' somewhere in Asia. It was a fun run but dangerous too as there are few pavements (sidewalks) in my neighbourhood and with headphones, sometimes you don't know a car is coming until it's beeped at you or worse still, attempted to squeeze past. There seems to be a lot of members in the Korean chapter of Hell's Angels so one has to be wary of them at all times. I was a little disappointed that the kids on my journey were less inclined to high five or wave at me than either stare menacingly or in a bemused way, but when running white man becomes a regular part of their lives, perhaps the sight of me will be more of a joyous occasion.

I got back and before long, headed off to town to take some pictures for folks at home and maybe try to find the Cookie Plaza i had been told about. It was a lovely walk with many great sights. Theres a mist all around the town that makes the mountains fade into the background, you could almost miss them in many pictures, but they will always be there, a reminded that even in this industrious city full of wealth and extravagance, we're still dwarfed by nature. That said, i've not yet seen a single animal of any shape or size in the landscape. Not so much as a bug, a moth, a mosquito, an ant, a squirrel, a rat or mouse, no lizards, i'm not even sure i've seen birds flying around. It's really quite bizarre. Either they were all exterminated when the site was first built, or else the wild fauna here is of a variety i've never seen or heard of before which seems the less likely of the two. There is also an absence of homeless people, disabled people and ofcourse people of any ethnic origin besides Korean. My theory is they take the homeless and disabled off the street and put them in an LG or Samsung factory and find them an assembly line job. It's just a guess.

So the walk was actually quite nerve racking. Most of the time i felt like a lumbering bear that stumbled upon a bee hive. It didn;t make matters any better when, after a few moments of summoning the confidence to go into a shop and speak to someone, i would drop things or generally have my hands full and look even more lumbering than usual. I'm sure it will ease after a while when this place feels more like home. The good thing is i'd imagine every customer service assistant i come across will remember my face and my humorous antics and a rappor may be established eventually. I ordered a pizza to go and had to wait a while on my own at a table by the staff and it felt very odd with no one else waiting. Like one of those guys who goes to the cinema on his own, except if all the seats at the cinema faced each other and the lights were on and the one guy looked totally different to everyone else. Still i got a free coke out of it. Pity coke? You're giving me pity coke?! They were very friendly.

I also had a look at some TV's, hoping to find one at a good price. Considering LG and Samsung Tvs are made not 5 mins from the shops, I would have thought theyd be at a good price. No sir, they were not. One guy, after following me around everywhere i went for 10 mins as i inspected TVs, he got the manager and he made me an offer of 300 quid for a 32in hd flat screen tv. its a real beauty, but i dont have that kind of money just yet. Apparently the deal was 'today only' but now theyve let it beknown you can haggle, as a wise old man in the Simpsons once said, 'Advantage Burns!' Im gonna try to get them down to 550 before the week is up.

Oh and one more story. I went into a department store to buy some things and after seeing some Koreans go in, i was shocked and saddened when the security guard gripped me and sent me on my way back out the door. Determined not to let their brand of 1930's Alabamma racism stop me from buying a much needed towel, i headed back in there and the same happened, only this time the guard hgad the courtesy to let me know the backpack was the problem, and that there were lockers right by the door! So now that's been made clear, i can join the party that is Korean shopping! Their equivalent of Tesco or Walmart is just so manic, with staff on every isle and counter selling things and ready to help you. If they turned down the lights, sold beer and put some music on, i'd be sure i was in a night club. I even saw a 40-50 year old korean lady in some kind of tight cheer leader outfit. I dont know what she or they were thinking!

So that;s been my day. Oh finally I took Phil's advice (against my boss's advice) and popped into the school at around 8pm. Sadly i should have listened to my boss, as he didnt seem too pleased to see me. he asked why i came and i said just to say hi, so he said hi and didnt seem to want to exchange any more chit chat, so i hot tailed it out of there post haste! First day of watching people teach starts tomorrow. Good night.