Posts Tagged ‘Gwangju’

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!

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I loved the Christmas holidays this year!

For me I guess the build up really started at the beginning of December when the Advent Calendars I’d ordered from home arrived.  I’d ordered enough so that each class period had its own calendar.  Seeing the kids at school get all excited about the possibility of being the one to open the window and get the chocolate, and seeing how well they behaved when threatened with removal of window opening rights, was brilliant.

On the Saturday before Christmas I joined other ex-pats at the Sungbin cake and book sale, a charity event raising money for the girls at Sungbin orphanage.  I took along the second Christmas cake I made, its a good job it was for a charity event, if it hadn’t been I think I may have eaten quite a bit of the cake on the bus on the way there, the smell wafting up at me from it was amazing! 

After dropping my cake off and buying some books and delicious cakes that had been donated by others, I joined a small group of people heading to Sungbin Orphanage for the Christmas party.  Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for all of it as I was heading to Seoul that afternoon for my final half marathon of 2010, but I did get to see the girls put on their show, and Santa arrive. 

I thought Steve made a pretty convincing Santa!


Back at school I’d decided that the week before Christmas would be a no book week.  Instead I spent the two sessions I had with each class in full Christmas mode.  We spent the first class making Christmas cards for their parents (which ended up in some glitter fights…..some of which may have been started by me!!), and learning about what it is in the UK to go Christmas caroling, and then learning “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, so the kids could go singing to their teachers and the Boss.

In the second session we had a couple of practice runs with the song before the kids went to sing to their teachers.  They then came back to the classroom with handfuls of sweets, and got really excited when I said they could eat them while we watched a Christmas movie.  Depending on the age and level of English (and also to stop me from going a little crazy watching the same thing 17 times) we had Tom and Jerry, Merry Christmas Mr.Bean and Shrek the Halls.

Before I knew it it was Christmas Eve, and my boss surprised me by saying I could finish early.  So, off into town I went to meet friends for dinner and Christmas drinks, which was followed by cheese and wine (in huge quantities!) back at Charlottes.

Full of Christmas 'spirit', opening my first Christmas present in the early hours of the morning!

Christmas day was lovely, and possibly the most drunken one I’ve ever had!!  It started at my house at about one o’clock, with bacon butties, mince pie and brandy sauce, apple crumble and vanilla ice cream, and cheese and biscuits, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Champagne and a few bottles of wine!

Merry Christmas!


It then moved on to a more sophisticated dinner at the Ramada, a five star hotel and restaurant, for a seven course dinner!  I think its a good job we’d had so much to drink as it increased the appitite…..well, mine at least!  As soon as we arrived we were given a glass of Champagne, this was followed by a delicious salmon and scallop starter, then soup, then salad, then red wine (to add to the two bottles we’d already bought!), then the main course, that was the most delicious beef I’ve had since I’ve been in Korea, followed by desert……all of it was yummy, and the view was awesome…especially as part way through dinner it started to snow! 

It wouldn't quite be Christmas with out the crackers (thanks Mum!)

Salmon Mmmmmm!


Posh surf n turf!!

Not quite Christmas pudding, but then we'd had mince pies and brandy sauce before we left the house, so it was ok really!



Pretty lights, snow, and sparklers....nice 🙂

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Mmmm Sunday

Sunday was very slow getting started, a result of a Saturday night spent in downtown that didn’t end until 5am, but when it got going it turned into a lovely day.

I’ve been missing some home comforts recently, particularly in the food department, and so last weekend bought myself an oven.  One week in and I already think it’s the best 30quid I’ve spent.  Up to Sunday I’d used it to bake a Lasagna and jacket potatoes…both of which were yummy, and showed me that it although it’s tiny and electric it does actually work!  Feeling confident that I knew I could cook in it I asked a couple of friends round for Sunday dinner this week.

I wanted to head out on Sunday afternoon, so decided that I’d get organised and cook pudding in the morning.  Wanting a real piece of home and nothing too fancy I knocked together an apple and cinnamon crumble.  The smell of it baking was divine……it was a good job that I was going out in the afternoon, I may have eaten it all myself if I wasn’t!!

Crumble cooked, smelling great and out of the oven I headed out of the door.

The annual Kimchi festival is being held in Gwangju this week, and as this food stuff is a national obsession I thought I should go and check it out.  No meal in Korea is complete with out its accompanying side dish of Kimchi, which is a traditional fermented Korean dish, made of vegetables with varied seasonings.

It was, from what I can tell of the events I’ve been to so far here, a very typical Korean celebration.  The area marked from miles away by the balloons and banners way up in the sky……..which actually proved very handy as my taxi didn’t know what I was talking about until I pointed them out to him.  On arriving a huge stage marked the central area.  It was blaring out really loud music…was it really that loud, or was it just my fragile state that made it so?…I wonder.

The thing that set this festival apart from others though was the sheer volume and variety of food stalls, most of which smelled delicious, some of which really didn’t – silk worm – eugh!  My favourite area though was the one where you could make your own Kimchi.

We donned aprons and gloves – the style of which put me in mind of James Herriet and ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ – before being presented with our bowls.

We were told to mix the three ingredients – red paste, onion, and (I think) egg plant, leaving the cabbage to one side.  I was quite enjoying mixing it all together when suddenly I felt someone behind me pulling my trousers up.  They’re a bit big these days *insert happy, I’ve lost a bit of weight, dance here* and I could feel they’d dropped a bit, but nothing indecent – there was just a bit of a gap between my top and the top of them.  Had a complete stranger have done that anywhere else I would have felt my personal space to have been rather intruded upon, but this is Korea, and it just seemed normal for an Ajuma (older Korean lady) to walk up behind me and do it!

She turned out to be one of the main supervisors of the making Kimchi area, and lovely to boot.  She stood with us making sure we were coating the cabbage properly, and shoving bits of it into our mouths – again something that anywhere else I’d find odd, but here found quite normal!  Through her doing that I actually discovered that I really like fresh Kimchi, I’m generally not a huge fan of the stuff but when its still got a bit of crunch its really quite nice.

After a couple of hours at the festival tiredness started edging in again and so we decided to head home for tea and biscuits, after which I started making dinner.  It turned out to be pretty fabulous, even if I do say so myself!

For starters Emily made a yummy, intensely creamy, mushroom soup.

For our main course we had chicken wrapped in bacon, with garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and a mushroom and onion red wine gravy......delicious!

And then we even had room for a pudding of cinnamon and apple crumble with vanilla  ice cream.

The food was awesome, the company was great (even if Emily did do a Grandma trick and fall asleep on the sofa after!), the diet was well and truly ignored, and the atmosphere was decidedly Sunday……bliss.

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Back to School

I think that if you choose to live in a country where the language spoken is different to you own its only right that you should learn the language.  However in a year in Thailand I learnt very little Thai.  I decided that, with my undisciplined nature, the only way I will learn Korean is by going back to school.

I duly signed up for a block of seven weeks of lessons, four hours a week, which started on Monday.  I went to bed early on Sunday night as I wanted to be all switched on and wide awake for my first time back in a classroom (as a student) in 10 years.

My plan somewhat backfired though.  At 3am I was wide awake and sleep was not going to come back.  I ended up watching Bad Boys, then the extra time of the World Cup final – so I actually saw the interesting bit of it, then The Holiday.  At 9am it was time to get the bus into town to my lesson.  Pretty much as soon as I sat down I started falling asleep….not quite the start to the day I’d had in mind!

The first lesson was intense.  I went in with no prior Korean knowledge, and very quickly felt like the thick kid in class!  Everyone else seemed to already have some knowledge of the Korean alphabet, or they were just very quick at picking it up.  I came away feeling overwhelmed and with several pages of homework to do.

Not wanting to feel so clueless in my second lesson I actually studied for once.  I must have spent a good three hours trying to learn and practice what we had been over in class.  Its just not going in though! 

I was feeling quite nervous about going back for the second lesson, I knew that I wouldn’t pass the test we were having on the letters and words we’d covered in the first lesson, and that really didn’t inspire me to want to go!  But I didn’t want to quit either.  It was only as I was on the bus heading into town that I realized that it wasn’t so ridiculous that I was struggling – the amount we’d covered was like learning the entire English alphabet in one go!         

Surely the second lesson couldn’t be so bad…….Oh it could, and so much worse!  The teacher is a maniac!  The amount of work she covers in an hour and forty-five minutes I’d teach in about six hours!  The class was marketed as a beginner class, and granted it does start at the beginning, but it moves forward at a million miles an hour.  I did wonder if its just me, I know I’m a slow learner, especially with languages, but I’m starting to feel a bit better speaking to other people that have done the course previously.  Almost all of them have said that they didn’t like how the class was taught, and that it covered too much ground too quickly.  Between that and the amount of homework that’s given a lot of them quit.   We’ve been give 15 pages of the work book to complete and 50 words to learn before the next lesson.  Completing the pages wont be a problem as its practicing writing the letter and words, the copying is easy, it’s the understanding that’s hard and takes the time!

It seems like such a shame that the course isn’t better designed and taught, after all the people that go are going because they really want to learn the language, but from what I can tell what the class actually does is alienate people………or maybe that’s just me!

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I Love Running!

I really got into running when I was living in Thailand and left determined to carry on in whatever country I ended up in.  Having lost a big toe nail and suffered from more blisters than I could count I decided to invest in some proper, well fitting, running shoes while I was back in the UK.  Add to these a couple of pairs of go faster performance enhancing pants (because obviously at my level they’ll make all the difference!) and I was set.

I was really excited about coming to Gwangju, having found both cycling and running groups on Facebook.  I’ve been here for six weeks now though and been really lazy, the cycling is fair enough – I still need to buy a bike, something that will have to wait until next pay day.  There’s not really been an excuse for the running though.  I’ve been out once on my own, and found I was so hot I nearly keeled over from dehydration!

Having been in touch with them on FB for a while this morning I finally made it out with Whit and Lindsay.  I don’t think my poor body knew what hit it when the alarm went off at 7am!  Remembering what happened last time I ran I set off to meet them in town with Gatorade in hand.

We set off along the river and I was really quite impressed by how well I did for saying its been so long.  Myself and Whit ran out for about 25 minutes before turning to head back.  Lindsay had stopped a fair bit earlier, but then she has a very valid excuse being pregnant.

I discovered I really do need to run with other people, I would have stopped so much sooner on my own!  But as it was we ran for 25minutes out and then turned to come back.  I think we’d come about a third of the way back when I said to Whit that I needed to walk for a bit, I was so dizzy and felt like my face was going to explode from the heat!  I think we maybe walked the middle third and ran the last third.  I can’t believe I used to run in Thailand and not be affected by the heat when here it about kills me. I’m sure its a different type of heat though….well that and I guess my loss of finess over the last three months doesn’t help!   

When we got back to the start point though I felt that familiar endorphin buzz, its awesome, I love it!  I’m looking forward to the next time already….

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You wouldn’t know it from where I live, unless you stand in the middle of one of the main roads and look up, but Gwangju is pretty much surrounded by mountains (or very big hills at least!).   One of these,  Mt. Mudeungsan, lies on the eastern outskirts of town.

Last Saturday I’d reached the point of needing some fresh air and exercise.  It had been raining all morning but by 11am it had stopped so my friend Charlotte and I jumped on the bus and headed out there.

In some ways arriving at the bottom of the mountain, surrounded by forested slopes, feels like you could be a million miles away from Gwangju, not just a fifteen minute bus ride.  In others you know you’re not – theres a whole shopping street of buildings, an out door, want to look the part, persons dream.

Need to look the part? Stop here!

As we set off up one of the trails I don’t think Charlotte knew quite what she was letting herself in for.  She’d previously been to see one of the temples near the foot of the mountain, but had been driven up by her taxi driver.  She told me that there had been a man manning the barrier where cars were meant to stop and that her taxi had driven up to him, said something to him, while pointing at her and her friend, about them being foreign, and he waved them through.  No cars this time though.

Having picked up a map from the visitor center we picked a route that would take us up to a ridge about half way up the mountain, along the ridge and then back down via one of the temples.  About ten minutes into the walk the rain started again, but considering how hot and humid it was, it was actually quite nice. 

As we were heading up the hill we passed several people coming down, all of whom were decked out in full hiking gear and made me feel very underdressed in my trainers!  Think I should have gone into the North Face shop at the bottom to get a walking pole so I could blend in a bit!  That said, I think we would have blended in more successfully if we had taken our umbrellas, I’ve never seen hikers with umbrellas before – it was very odd.  At one point we passed a coupe of guys (dad aged types) heading down the hill as we were on our way up, all done up in their proper hiking clothes and shoes, complete with umbrellas, who stopped to talk to us – all be it in Korean, which we didn’t understand.  Again, in my trainers and rain coat, and Charlotte soaked through in jeans, shirt and trainer, I felt we were underdressed.  I’m guessing that’s just what one of the guys was telling us too, from the tone of his voice I got the distinct impression he was telling us off for not having the proper equipment!!

The trail leading up was quite steep in parts, and being a wooded path we couldn’t see where the top was.  Charlotte was beginning to flag a little but I was convinced I could see the ridge.  “Its not much further, look you can see the top through the trees” I said, “Ugh” said she.  I think by the third time I said it she was ready to kill me, and I realized that I am indeed turning into my dad…….he used to do that to me and my brother all of the time when we were kids!

Nearly there!

Eventually we reached the ridge, arriving to clapping and cheers from a couple of guys sat at one of the picnic tables.  They were lovely.  As we walked over to the tables they offered us Soju, which we declined, potatoes with sugar and salt for dipping, yakult and water, all of which we gratefully accepted.

Charlotte, with the nice guys who gave us the food in the back ground. Potatoes have never tasted so good!

A gravel road ran along the length of the ridge, the edge of which had been planted with really pretty pink flowers.  From here as the cloud cleared we could see the top of the mountain, a further 600 meters up, a climb we’re saving for another day……maybe when we have the umbrellas and walking poles!

On the ridge, looking up.

The walk along the ridge was lovely, aside from the easy walking, through the breaks in the trees there were spectacular views across the valley bottom and the sprawling city that is Gwangju.    

Looking out from the ridge.

Gwangju, from the ridge.

Having taken a wrong path we slightly detoured on the route back down, ending up on the road, closer to the bottom than we had planned.  It wasn’t too late in the afternoon though so we headed up the road to the temple for a look around, suddenly I was back in Thailand!  I don’t know what it is about Buddhist temples that I find so calming but I love them.  In the surroundings we were in, brightly coloured temples in a forest clearing, I could have sat for hours just listening to the people chanting.

Korea - ever effecient, a place to scrub off your shoes at the bottom of the mountain.

After being surrounded by forest and quiet it felt quite surreal emerging at the bottom of the mountain and being confronted by all of the bustle and music and big buildings.  Arriving at the bus stop and happily sucking on our well deserved ice pops we bumped into the dad guys again.  The one who had been telling us off on the mountain made me laugh as he proceeded to turn around to everyone waiting at the stop and, I’m guessing, tell them about us walking up improperly dressed. ……….Oh Korea and your outfit for everything!

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