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Embracing the Idea of Change

I can’t believe I’ve been back in Korea for almost two months, time really does fly when you’re having fun.  And I really have been having fun!

I’ve spent as many weekends living in a tent as I have in my flat.

I’ve spent many a Sunday morning watching the sun rise in this land of the morning calm.

I’ve ‘white water’ rafted…..although little of the water was white!

And bobbed down rivers.

I’ve climbed mountains up north…

I’ve climbed mountains on southern islands…

I’ve even biked up mountains (well, pushed the bike up them!)

I’ve pier jumped….

And swam in crystal clear sea.

I’ve watched fire dancers on the beach…

And hung out with a bunch of hippies at Korea Burn

But still I’ve found myself thinking about returning to England, how I could go about it, what I would do if I did, and where I would live if I did.  Whenever I think about it I never know, or even have an idea of where to start with the answers….until today!

Today I had an idea, and I’ve looked into that idea, and not only found a type of employment that I actually want to do, but also between my old career in the UK and my last 4 years of traveling life I am completely qualified to do!  Maybe, just maybe, July 2013 will be the year I finally return to the UK……

Koreas Got Talent!

On Saturday afternoon I went to one of the most fun festivals I’ve been to in Korea.  It was billed as an International Culture Festival for Peace and was being put on by Mannam Volunteer Association.  I found out about it a day or so before from a friend who was involved, not really knowing what to expect, but wanting to support her I convinced another friend to join me and we went along.  I’m so glad that we did because I didn’t stop smiling all afternoon.

We arrived late on in the day, and on entering the site were given a choice of a red or blue ribbon to have tied around our wrists.  The girl who did it then told us that we had to high five the other people we saw with the same ribbon, a nice concept to get people talking!  We then went straight to my friends tent ‘The Canuck Hut’ to say hi.  It turned out that all of the tents were about to close for the main performance of the day, it would have been nice to have seen what the different tents were offering (I’d particularly wanted to go to the Nepal tent having seen that one of my running friends was there and making traditional Nepalese food!).  But, as the performance started all thought of anything else disappeared as we were thoroughly entertained by performers, and performances from across the Globe.

There was a lovely Laurel and Hardy inspired show, these guys faces just made me smile so much!


 

There were classical musicians, there were opera singers, there were girls doing traditional Peruvian dance, there were children demonstrating traditional Korean games  (with their display including doing cartwheels over shoulder high rope they were so impressive!), there were cheerleaders, there was even a beat box guy!

There was traditional Korean dance


 

There was a very cute vocal harmony group


 

There was Taekwondo


 

Very impressive Teakwondo!


And then there was my favourite act!  Onto stage marched a group of young men in army uniforms, carrying guns that all had flags of the world in the barrel and they put on a show that was as impressive as it was hilarious!  It combined perfectly timed drilling with an enormous amount of camp…..only in Korea!


The show ended with all of the performers on, and infront of, the stage singing a song, during which they managed to get every member of the audience (well almost…Phil and Iris!) dancing and singing too.    I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much, or danced so much (at least danced without the influence of JD!).  We must have spent a good 15 minutes jumping around, doing the konga, pretty much all of the things you would have done as a kid at a disco….it was brilliant!

I was up on stage as the show ended in an explosion of streamers. I couldn’t get my camera out quick enough, but looking up just before I took this shot they made a beautiful rainbow of colour in the sky, right after I took this shot they all landed on my head and I was trapped in a net of streamers and laughing too hard to get out!


Life Philosophy

I just got this from my Dad and it made me smile so I thought I’d share it…..

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in
front of him.

When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty
mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the
jar. He shook the jar lightly.

The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was
full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.

Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full..

The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured
the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space
between the sand.

The students laughed..

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to
recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children,
your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything
else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house
and your car..

The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

‘If you put
the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the
pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never
have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children.

Spend time with your parents.

Visit with grandparents.

Take your spouse out to dinner.

Play another 18.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter.

Set your priorities.

The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer
represented.

The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’

The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem,
there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

In my next month of busy fullness I can’t wait to share a long overdue beer with my family and friends in the UK

……a very loud air-raid siren goes off at the same time as some jets fly past and it only raises a mild curiosity in you about whats happening.

 

(Turns out – according to a post on Facebook by Say Kimchi Recruiting – it was just an earthquake drill, I think the jets flying past as it happened was just a coincidence!)

Strawberries!!!!

Reason number….. (I don’t know, but its high!) that I love Korea – STRAWBERRY SEASON!

Unlike the UK Korea definitely has fruit seasons during which time the prices hit rock bottom, we just got to strawberry time, and its fair to say I'm overdosing, but then its hard not to at 3000won (about £1.50) for a kilo!

I decided the other day that I had to make the most of the prices and buy a lot, after all it wont be too long before they disappear again and can only be found for crazy amounts of money; by crazy I mean that only a few weeks ago the same quantity, that I’m paying 3000won for now, in my local shop cost upwards of 25000won (£14).  Freezing them, with the minimal freezer space I have, isn’t an option, so I decided to try my hand at strawberry jam!  I made plum jam last year and it turned out great – how much harder could strawberry jam be?  Quite a bit it turns out!

I looked at all different recipes on the internet, and pretty much every single one used preserving sugar or pectin, or both.  I figured there was no point in even going looking in the shops for some (although maybe I should have as I discovered the other day that my local Lotte Mart now stocks gelatin sheets, its getting more western by the day!) and opted instead for hoping that a couple of lemons would add enough pectin for it to set.

I tested for the setting point lots of times, and I'm not too sure if I past it, never reached it, or was never going to reach it without the pectin, but what I've ended up with is a semi set strawberry compote.......not that I mind, it still tastes amazing stirred into a bowl of porridge!

Update 18th April 2012

My second batch (that I had to make because I just couldn’t eat the berries I bought quickly enough!) turned out to be much more jam like!  I don’t know if it’s because I boiled it harder for longer, or if it’s because of the grated apple I added to the boiling mix, either way it’s definitely jam this time 🙂

I’ve recently decided to go on a saving mission, saving half of my salary each month.  I’ve actually been meaning to do it ever since I arrived in Korea but never have, there’s been far too much to see and do, and quite frankly I just enjoy living a decadent lifestyle!  This month I meant business and sent the money home as soon as I got paid.  I could blame running out of money on having needed to visit the doctors and the dentist, but really I think its just a case of I’m out of practice at budgeting!

So it got to Monday and I didnt get paid until Friday, I had 10000 won in my purse (about a fiver) and needed that for my Yoga class on Tuesday.  I like to eat, that and the amount I’m training at the moment meant the one meal a day at work was never going to keep me going.  Looking in the cupboards at home and they were about the barest they’ve ever been – some herbs and spices, rice, rice paper, flour, sugar, custard powder, a tiny bit of jam, and peanut butter; the fridge with its pint of milk, butter, and onion wasn’t much better; the freezer with a few prawns and a chicken leg was even worse!   It was going to take some creativity to turn that lot into anything interesting to eat!

Turns out I’m more creative than I thought……..

Peanut Butter Cake
Turns out egg free cake is really easy to make, with a cup of tea it makes for a delicious breakfast, and a great evening snack when covered in custard too!

Prawn and Rice Parcels
Rice cooked with lemon grass, chili, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, lime juice, wrapped with prawns in rice paper and dipped into Teriyaki sauce - yummy!

Curried Rice and Chicken
Rice, curry powder, an oxo cube, an onion, water and chicken, all baked together in the oven, who knew something so simple could be so tasty!

Pulling Out of a Marathon

Up until about three weeks ago I’d been having some great runs, I was feeling confident and happy and my preparation for the Seoul Marathon looked to be well on track!

But then the weather turned icy cold!  I went out training all the same, and on one late long run it all went horribly wrong.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, I just know that by the end of the run I was in agony.  After resting for a week I then carried on my training, refusing to believe that I was hurting badly enough to stop.  Two thirds of the way through a 28km training run I started to hurt, I’d got no way of getting home other than under my own steam so I carried on…all be it that I had to walk for 40 minutes to the end.  For the following week it felt like the only way I could move my right leg forwards was to swing it round to the side a bit, I’d got shooting pains through my groin.  I asked all of the dancing and yoga people I know what I could do to make it go away, they all said the same thing – rest it.  I’ve not ran since.

With my holiday in Taiwan to look forward to it didnt bother me too much, but after returning on Tuesday I spent the rest of the week feeling really low….and more than just the normal post holiday blues!

 

After climbing Mudensan yesterday with one of my friends I decided that I needed to sort out a training routine that would still let me exercise while not stressing the muscles I’ve injured.  I decided that I’d opt for swimming, and increase the amount of cycling and yoga that I do.  For some added inspiration I looked in a runners guide book that a running friend had lent me and I came across a section that jumped off the page at me; it was about the psychology of dealing with injuries.  It describes the process that you go through as……..

Denial – Often runners will not accept their injuries and continue to run in pain until it forces them to stop.

Rage – Runners acknowledge they should stop running.  However, they refuse and subject their bodies to further abuse.  They may take their frustrations out on others.

Depression – After the anger subsides, runners become depressed and experience feelings of helplessness.

Acceptance – Runners accept injuries, and contain training within levels of tolerance.  They may participate in alternative exercises to ease their depression.  They develop an intelligent plan to return gradually to their preinjury fitness level.

Renewed neurotic disequilibrium – As runners begin to regain fitness, some forget the cause of injuries and neglect the warning signs of further injury.  Too often they dont learn from experience and again attempt too much too soon, or train for goals that are beyond their present physical and psychological capacity.

(The Complete Runners Handbook – Bob Glover and Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover)

Its describes what I’ve been going through to a T!  Who knew that you go through the same emotional process whether its a death, a break up, or just dealing with an injury!!

Between yesterday and this morning I’d quite happily decided that I must have reached the acceptance stage and breathed a sigh of relief (Thursday and Friday were shit!).  So, moving forwards its back to some gentle exercise and gradually building up the running again.

That said, I came into work this afternoon and my bib for the 1st March Gwangju half marathon was on my desk, I really want to do it, I wonder if I’ll be sensible or if I’ll hit stage 5 – Renewed neurotic disequilibrium!

2011 The Best Bits!

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough……

2011 was an awesome year!  I experienced so many firsts, had so many random experiences, basically just had a ball.  I sometimes wonder when the bubble is going to burst, but then realise – life is what you make it…… these are the highlights of what I’ve made of it for the last 12 months…..

After much begging to get a room (and ending up in the Honeymoon suit!) the year started at the beautiful Muju ski resort with lots of skiing, lots of drinking, and fire works at midnight over the mountain.

Climbing Mudensan, in January, in the snow without crampons was both beautiful and terrifying! We climbed up the back side of the mountain, which was by far the steepest route I've climbed it by, on a path that was sheet ice using a rope to haul ourselves up....I think its the first time I've ever been hiking and my arms ached more than my legs the following day! But it was well worth it, the views from the top were stunning, and the hospitality of Korea hikers, in sharing their soju and food, heart warming.

My Mum and Dad came to Korea to see me! Sunrise, the teddy bear museum, lava caves, and great food on Jeju, climbing Mt. Halla with my Mum (where she picked up a Korean army toy boy), skiing with my Dad, the ice festival, or any of the other things we did.....I couldnt pick any one best bit, it would have to be the whole experience of finally getting my folks to my side of the world and showing them why I love it so much!

Serious hiking! A weekend away that started with the first sightings of blossom after a long cold winter, a crazy Korea karaoke boat tour, being whisked off to a private island at sunset and watching sun rise the following morning, and then heading out on the most brutal and exhilarating hike I've ever been on.

I completed my first marathon! I've never felt so fit or so confident and happy in my own skin as I did in March.....I've signed up to do the race again this year, and am hoping it has the same effect!!

My awesome birthday! Meeting up with my friends on my birthday morning having not had any sleep, and still being drunk, to go and swing through the tree tops....it was one hell of a way to avoid getting a hangover!!

I met and fell, for a while at least, head over heels for a lovely guy. And although ultimately it didn't work out, for all of the firsts I experienced with him, and all that our relationship taught me about myself I'm pretty sure that he will always have a special place in my heart.

Noribangs! Pick a time, any time...theres nothing quite like belting out your favourite songs!

Spending time in the UK with family and friends...LOVED IT.....theres nothing more to say!!

The years melted away on a morning spent surfing with my brother on a beach we used to surf on as kids 🙂

The Mud Festival in Korea is so much fun, its basically a weekend in a bikini covered in mud, then throw in a bouncy castle obstacle course for good measure!

Summer camping weekends! Sun, sea, sand, swimming, bbqs, beer, out door living, and great company .....my idea of Heaven!

Fires on the beach....for all of the same reasons as camping!

Fun in the water! From water roller coaster rides, to jet pools, to a ride that see a friends bikini come down in a plunge pool surrounded by a bunch of Korean guys, to rides that are so scary the adrenalin could keep you going for a month of Sundays, Korea sure knows how to do water parks!

Accidentally completing my second marathon of the year! I'd planned on using part of the marathon as a training run, with the idea being that I'd run around 30km and then hop into the stragglers bus to the end. The bus never came and being a lot more unfit than I though I was I ended up running 17km and then walking to the end! Looking back the sheer fact that I made it to the end is a highlight.....at the time, as the photo shows, it was anything but!

I love the randomness of Korea and never knowing what might happen next. Like walking down the beach at sunset and being accosted by a Korean photography club and being asked to stand for a photo, only for it to turn into a 20 minute photo shoot of running and jumping....so much fun!

Being taught Meditation and Martial Arts by Monks (and sneaking out for icecream!).....an amazing way to spend a weekend.

Sitting on the beach for the Busan fireworks competition - just mind blowing. 4 counties with 15 minutes each to wow the crowds with displays set to music; all were pretty amazing - America was loud and brash and in your face - China was very regimented, with lots of red fireworks - Japan was beautiful and perfectly set to the music, though a little understated - Poland was the real surprise, I had no idea what to expect but theirs was the right amount of fireworks, perfectly timed to the music and felt like being told a story, stunning......they won! The night was then topped of by being picked up by an off duty taxi out of a crowd of hundreds and hearing stories of his life living around the world while being driven back to the hotel....Korean randomness 🙂

Live performances.....from Cirque Du Soleil, to professional Korean dance companies, to stand up comedians, to the fine expats of the Gwangju Performance Project.....all great shows!

Hiking (again!) from the frozen Winter, to the first blossom of Spring, to the sweat-fest that is Summer, to the vibrant leaves of Autumn....I love it all!

Spas! From the traditional......

....to the super modern, they're all awesome!

Returning to Muju for the new Skeason, it felt like the year had passed in the blink of an eye and we were returning to a familiar old friend! I think Korea is spoiling me, hot Summers, gorgeous clear Springs and Autumns, and blue sky Winters with a ski resort on my door step.....moving on (when it happens) is going to be hard!!

Without a doubt the best of the best bits of this year are my wonderful friends. I've laughed with them, cried with them, been highly irresponsible with them, they've humored my whims, and been my sanity, I couldn't wish for nicer people to have spent my time with xx

And so the year ended where it began with beer in hand, huddled with friends watching fireworks over the slopes of Muju.....Heres to 2012 and another year of fun and frolics!

The Things Students Write!

One of my older classes (12year olds) are doing a module at the moment about friends.  In their books yesterday they had to answer questions about their best friend, I’m just sat marking them and found one that both made me laugh and despair!!

Draw your best friend, and answer the questions.

Q.What does your friend look like?

A. My friend look like mechine.

Q. Who’s in your friends family?

A. Monitar, Speaker, Mouse, Keyboard —

Q. What do you do with your friend?

A. I play computer game.

Q. Where is your friend from?

A. He is from SamSung.

Q. What language does your friend speak?

A. He speaks Ailrian language.

In the run up to this weekend I really didn’t know what I was going to do with myself; my boyfriend was going to be in meetings out of town, and my three besties were off on a sailing weekend that I’d decided not to go on.  Two days and three nights of not seeing any of them, I wondered if I’d be crawling up the walls and dying to go back to work on Monday just to see people.  It turns out though to have been a great weekend, of doing just what I needed….which was not a lot!

It turned out I wasn’t on my own on Friday.  Poor Juliens in a bad way with his back so spent most of Friday evening being poked and prodded in the hospital, so after work I packed up my running kit ready for Saturday morning and headed over to his house.  We chatted a bit over some fried chicken before exhausted he took himself to bed.  Eating one last bit of chicken I felt a crunch, “that can’t be right” I thought, it was meant to be boneless.  I spat out the tiniest bit of chicken bone, but still something didn’t seem right.  I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror at my mouth.  SHIT – where did part of my wisdom tooth just go?!  There was no pain, but there was definitely part of my tooth missing.  Its not like its a bit that I need, its been mostly hiding under my gum for the last ten years or so having never fully emerged, but still the loss of it meant I finally needed to bite the bullet and go to the dentist; something I think I’ve been avoiding ever since I had a traumatic experience having my other wisdom tooth removed.

I spent the night tossing and turning, I’m not sure if it was knowing that I wanted to be up early to get out running before it got too hot, or if it was the thought of going to the dentist.  I actually thought about not going running and heading straight for the dentist, but then decided that if he did pull the tooth out I probably wouldn’t be running for a few days.  My tooth didn’t feel like it was going anywhere so I figured it wouldn’t really make a difference if I didn’t get to a dentist until the afternoon.

The weather in Gwangju suddenly changed about a week and a half ago, gone was the intense humidity of summer, suddenly it was blissfully cool.  With this in mind I thought that as long as I was running by 8am I’d be done the 24km run that I needed to do before there was any real heat in the air – how wrong I was!  The first couple of kms were great, but I could see the sun coming out and already it was starting to heat up.  By 4km the sky was blue and I was dreading the rest of the run, by 6km I was sweating more than I thought it was possible to and focusing on each bridge ahead for the second of shade that each offered.  By 8km I’d stopped sweating and knew I couldn’t carry on!  I headed off the river path and into the closest  7 Eleven for a huge bottle of water.  After a couple of swigs I took the bottle back down to the river with me, where in an attempt to cool down, I proceeded to empty half of it over me (much to the bewilderment,  if the double take I got was anything to go by, of the little old Ajumma who cycled past.  I did a double take of her too though, she had stabilizers on her bike, it was so cute!).  Having drank most of the other half I decided that I should carry on, as long as I covered the distance, even if I only walked, it had to be better than nothing.  So, carry on I did, what should have been a two and a quarter-two and a half hour run turned into a three and a half hour run/walk in the blistering sunshine.  By the time I got home I had a decidedly pink and prickly sunburn on my shoulders and lower legs.

After a cold shower, to take the heat out of the sun burn, and a quick lunch, there was no putting it off any longer – I had to go and find a dentist.  There’s one that advertises in the local ex-pat magazine every month, and it said he speaks English, I figured that was my best bet.  I walked into his practice already full of nerves, and they weren’t really helped by what I saw, I dont know what it was exactly that bothered me, maybe just that it looked really old and dated.  In my mind it was too late to back out, I was through the door and besides, I didn’t know where else to go.  As soon as the dentist came out to meet me though I started to relax.  I’m not sure if he just likes to speak English and is always really chatty, or if he picked up on my nerves and was trying to put me at ease, what ever it was, it worked.  Before I’d made it into the chair we’d talked about how long I’d been in Korea, how I found out about him, where I’m from, where I went to school, what I studied, where I work, what I like to do in my spare time, who my boyfriend was, where he worked, and what he studied, only after all of this did he ask if I’d gone with a specific problem! 

After looking at my tooth and asking “does this hurt?” while whacking it several times with a force that rattled my head, no it didn’t, he wanted to do an x-ray.  As he waited for the x-ray he asked if I wanted the tooth removed, before I went I just assumed this is what he would do so was a little surprised by the question.  I said I’d do what ever he thought was best, and was really happy when he said that since there was no pain he could just restore it – I loved that description, “restore it”, so much nicer than “fill it”.  He set to work at giving me a temporary filling, starting off by saying, with his hands in my mouth, that I had to be a man and not scream if it hurt, I was only allowed to use sign language, his delivery was awesome, I couldn’t stop laughing!  He then spent the whole time chatting away, cracking jokes, and singing “Don’t worry, Be happy”……..I’ve never met such a great dentist!  I just hope hes still as lovely when he does the proper “restoration”, and does a full clean in the morning!!

 I’m not sure if it was the disturbed nights sleep, the 24km in the sun, or the release of tension and stress at having been to the dentist and it being ok, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open when I got home in the late afternoon.  I spent the rest of the day curled up on the sofa watching movies and sleeping, before having an early night…..I don’t remember the last time I did that!

Sunday morning, and most of the afternoon, was spent in much the same relaxed state as Saturday afternoon, relaxing in the house, reading, cooking, chilling out.  I finally emerged at half four to take my bike out across town to meet the running club.  It should have been a fairly straight forward 10km ride, but I think my map was wrong….or at least thats my excuse and I’m sticking to it!!  Lots of wrong turns later I finally got to the meeting point after they had set off for the run.  I thought about doing a couple of laps of the reservoir while I waited for them to get back, but then decided that the 70km I’ve ran in the last 7 days was enough, and that it was OK to just sit and wait and enjoy the scenery!

I love the random Koreans that will sometimes come and talk to you if you’re sitting still for long enough.  First there was an old guy who wanted a bit of random chat, and then there was a lovely older lady.  She started by looking at my bike, and moving the handle bars around a bit, and asking the usual questions.  Then she told me that she was part of a cycling club that meet on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and invited me to join them!  As the running guys all started to get back and we were getting ready to head off for dinner the lady started asking how I was going to get home, and was really worried about me cycling back in the dark; she told me I should head back while it was still a bit light because Korean drivers were not good, and it wouldn’t be safe for me to ride in the dark.  I assured her that I could go all of the way home on the pavements and that seemed to make her feel a bit better –  I thought it was really sweet though, a complete stranger being so concerned.

By that point all of the runners were back and we headed off to a restaurant, my second new restaurant this week (the first being an amazing Vietnamese style place with the girls mid-week).  It was another great place, a vegetarian eat as much as you like buffet of deliciousness, that combined a mixture of Korean and western style dishes.  Its a good job I had to cycle home, it meant I limited myself to some soup and a small plate of food, I think if I wasn’t riding home I would have gone a bit crazy!

The ride home was lovely, dark and cool.  I think I’m the most relaxed and rested I’ve been for quite a while, I even resisted the urge to pick up some wine on my way home…..my halo may choke me!!