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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Vacation time...

Wednesday afternoon in Korea; 3 days before I leave the country. Where am I going I hear you all ask with anticipation and wonderment? Home? Another country? Well yes in fact...to the latter! Next week it will be my first vacation since I arrived in Korea and I literally can not wait. As part of my contract I receive 10 days off (a year) plus bank holidays which is a significant amount less than in the UK. Like most ESL teachers, I am allocated five specific days in the summer and five in the winter and as its not that much, I intend to make the most of it.

I have decided to visit the wonderful country (or so I’m told) of Vietnam and this will be my third solo travelling experience. My first trip was back in 2013 when I visited the glorious Paris, and of course there was that hilarious time when I decided to move to Korea, so to say that I’m excited about my next little adventure is probably the understatement of the year. However as you can imagine I am still filled with nerves, but it is an extremely different kind of feeling to that of my first trip and its one I can not quite place.
 
Living in a different country has already presented its challenges, and taken me away from my comfort zone which I have learnt to be okay with. If I was back in the UK right now it would most likely be a story of utter panic and bewilderment. I’d probably be busy preparing every last detail and constantly thinking about that long awaited and quite scary journey that lay ahead of me. However this experience has already opened me up to (as Aladdin once said) ‘a whole new world’, and allowed me to become even more confident and less worried than perhaps I would have been before. It's just so great to not feel so anxious about these things anymore. I think they call that, progress! WIN!

With that in mind I am not prepared in the slightest, but I think I usually over prepare for things like this, so I’m hoping that I haven't forgotten anything. I’ve bought my miniatures, got my visa, exchanged my money and learnt how to say hello ... pretty sure that’s it right? Let’s hope so anyway. Juggling 3 different languages this week has proven difficult so I’m sure i’ve missed something. From Hello (English) to Annyeonghaseyo (Korean) to Xin Chào (Vietnamise), I’m telling you it’s really quite confusing. On a separate note the weather in Vietnam next week is meant to be wonderful so let’s hope it stays like this...

 
THUNDERSTORMS EVERYDAY!!!

WIN! For anyone that knows me, they know that I actually LOVE a good thunderstorm so this really only adds to the drama!

I'm going to be staying in Hanoi (AKA monsoon central), and I am also planning on spending a couple of nights in Halong Bay as well, so I will of course take lots of pictures and tell you all about it when I return the following week.

The great thing about living in Asia is I am suddenly so close to all of these countries that were once so far away. It takes 4 hours to get to Vietnam, 1 hour to Japan and about 2 and a half hours to Taiwon, so I intend to spend whatever vacation time I have exploring the abundance of different countries on this side of the world. Anyway, my bags aren't going to pack themselves so better dash. Until next time folks...

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bang(ing) in Korea!

One of my favourite things about Korea is the vast amount of different indoor activities there are to sample. From Cat Cafe’s and Karaoke rooms to Screen Golf and places where you can just go to play a board game or two, there really is something for everyone. Firstly lets start by explaining what the word ‘bang’ actually means. You’re going to see a lot of it in the post below so its important not to get mixed up with the English meaning. In Hangul (the Korean alphabet) the word ‘bang’ roughly translates to ‘room’, and in Korea these ‘rooms’ are one of the main attractions. Bangs are everywhere and next to the variety of diverse Cafe’s, they are extremely popular.

So what do I mean by ‘room’? Well, imagine a place where you can do just about anything from watching a DVD with friends, to reading one of your favourite graphic novels in the privacy of your own room, and that's basically what a 'bang' provides. There are even sleeping rooms where you can go to have a quick nap or 6. Amazing right? Right! So if you’re ever in Korea (which you really should be at some point in your life) then be sure to check out some of these awesome places and enjoy a truly unique Korean experience...

Noraebang (노래방) – Karaoke room

 
Ah the famous singing rooms, they are truly a marvel. Bring your own food and drink, grab a microphone and a complementary tambourine and you’re ready to go. Back in the UK we only have Karaoke bars so if you want to sing, then you have to do so in front of the whole establishment, and often people can take it pretty seriously. However in Korea its just you and a few friends, Celine Dion and the power of Soju!! What’s not to love?! Oh and don’t worry about the language barrier as most of them have an English section in the books...featuring CHER!

PCbang (PC방) – Internet cafes

Okay we have Internet Cafes back home, so you know the drill...grab a coffee, surf the web and blast some alien robots into Outer Space! Sorry what?! Korea has a massive gaming culture and this is pretty much what a PC bang is used for. So if you don’t mind the sound of shooting guns and pubescent rowdy teenagers yelling at a 15 inch screen, then you’ll probably have a lovely time.


DVD Bang (DVD방) – DVD room

 
Unfortunately the old DVD bang has a bit of a bad reputation. In Korea many people live with their parents until they get married and so dating becomes a bit of an issue. Therefore many people tend to head to one of these rooms to ‘hang out’ with their significant other...if you know what I mean?! It’s a lot cheaper than a Love Motel and its a pretty standard thing to do over here. However many people (including myself) do actually use these for the actual service they provide, and personally what a great service it is. Choose a film (Titanic in 3D obviously) grab some snacks and chill out with some friends. Like most bangs, it’s a home away from home.

Jjimjilbang (찜질방) – Korean Spas

I personally haven’t been to one of these yet but i’ve heard they are pretty cool. For about 10,000won (around £5) you’ll get access to a host of different hot rooms and spas. You can then go and chill out in another room, watch some TV with friends and have some food before repeating the process all over again for as long as you like. Once you’ve worked up a bit of a sweat why not go and have a little nap in the sleeping rooms provided. Most Jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours and a lot of people choose to stay in one of these (just for the one night) instead of a hotel as it's much much cheaper. 

Gamebang (게임방) – Game room

 
Be it a room or an entire cafe these Board game bangs are just the best thing since slice bread. Opt for the classic Cluedo, Monopoly or even Connect 4, grab a coffee or a few beers and play games to your hearts content. The world really is your oyster in these little places and at only around 500won (25p) for every 15 minutes its really something not to be missed.

Multibang (멀티방) – Multi Room

Multibangs basically do what they say on the tin, which is...EVERYTHING! I’m not even kidding! If you’re not sure if you want to watch a movie, play some computer games (Nintendo Wii or PlayStation), sing a few songs or just watch some TV then this is the place for you. Drinks and snacks are usually included too and at around 20,000won (£10) it’s a winner!

Well there you have it, it's certainly Bang(ing) in Korea!! I hope no one was too disappointed by the suggestive title of this post. If you were then best to stick to the DVD bangs! Enjoy...

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

11 Things You’ll Only Ever Hear From An Expat...

I have now been an expatriate living in South Korea for just over 4 months and there are  certain things that I have come to realise about this kind of lifestyle. I have gotten use to not having things that I would never have questioned not having back home, and to having things that I would normally find totally bizarre. It’s what living in a different country is all about, so I thought I’d put together a little list for anyone who is planning on making this move. Feel free to add any others you can think of to the comments section below...
 

1. ‘Come round for dinner - bring your own cutlery!'

 

 So, you’re feeling like a lovely little night in with good friends, a couple bottles of wine and some glorious food. You decide to cook for everyone and spend 5 hours slaving away over your one stove, and when you finally get to the serving you suddenly realise; you only have 1 knife, 1 fork and 1 set of mental chopsticks. Bring your own cutlery folks...I’m living for one! DAMMIT! 
 

2. ‘The blankets aren’t mine!’

 
 
 When you first arrive in Korea its unlikely that you’re going to have brand new bedding that’s never been used before, and if people come to stay then you’re probably not going to have new bedding for them either. An extra set for the small amount of visitors you may have, is an expense you probably won’t invest in...or is this just me?! When you do finally buy bedding for yourself, it won’t be pretty. If you want something plain, forget it. You’ll either be searching for hours or spending over the odds for bedding that doesn’t even fit. Someone tell me where all the fitted sheets have gone?!

3.’What’s your name again?’

 
You meet a lot of people here and I don’t know about anyone else, but I am constantly forgetting not only their names but if i’ve even met them in the first place. Especially with names like ‘Kim’ and ‘Jong-un’ ...its difficult ay! Awks!

4. ‘Why is this towel the size of a wash cloth?’

 

Towels that fit your entire body! Bring these from home folks...its pretty impossible to find full length towels here and don’t be fooled by the label. Full length in Korea means for someone the size of a small Cat. Where did all the wool go?

5. ‘Sorry, what do I do with the toilet paper?!’

 

JUST FLUSH IT! In your apartment, just flush it! If you only use small amounts of toilet paper then its fine. Do not use anything more than a few sheets though as it will block your toilet, and you will be plunging for several days after. Most of the locals don’t flush it, and I have seen some horrors in bathroom toilets that I'd rather not remember. 

6. ‘Who do I live with? Oh its just me and a couple of hundred fruit flies!’

 
 
Fruit flies! Is there anyway to get rid of them...yes. But they will come back so in the summer months its really something that you have to live with. I’ve started naming mine...Eric is sitting on my laptop watching me type as we speak... Hey Eric! 

 

7. ‘Lets go out for dinner...for the 7th time this week!'

 
Sure! Why not? Its cheap and I can pretty much afford anything here. Not having to worry about money is something that only few people experience back home in London. I don’t pay any rent and most things are half the price (if not more) than back home. It really is amazing! 

8. ‘Why can’t I use the computer...is it the 90's again?!’

 

 Okay it’s not that bad but if like me, you’re a regular user of internet banking and such things then be prepared! Everything is (obviously) in Korean. Its also hard to navigate around online shopping sites because half the time you don’t actually know your address. The computer at work is also completely in Korean so its hard to remember what button ‘Save’ is in a word document. Obviously at one point or another I will get my full address written down, and I will eventually learn Korean but for now...where’s the print button?! 

9. ‘I have one day off in September...lets go to Japan!’

 
If you’re lucky you will have 10 days off a year plus the bank holidays. However a lot of people get even less than this, so you tend to make the most of your vacation days when you do get them. You’ll even try to fill your weekends up with trips around the country. Although sometimes the constant flow of alcohol and good times will entice you to stay.
 

10. ‘Lets go have a drink at the 7 Eleven!’

 
 
 GS, 7 Eleven, Mini Stop. The convenience stores in Korea are EVERYWHERE! But unlike at home, every one of them has a little seating area out the front where you can sit and legally drink. Its like the cheapest bar ever! You will normally spend most of your expat life outside of one of these. What’s not to love? Bottle of cider and a bag of crisps for less than a pound! Sold!  

11. ‘YES!’

 
 
You’ll start saying yes to EVERYTHING! At first its the only way to survive! Meeting new people is extremely important for life as an expat so unless you want to become a recluse, then this is something that you will need to do. After all, you are potentially only here for a year or two, and so if you want to get the most out of everything then you'll just have to say it! YES...it works for me!

So there you have it folks, just 11 of the things you’ll usually hear from an expat. With an endless amount of new experiences to be had, I’m 100% sure that this list can only grow. So until then...

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Its not all fun and games...

When I first moved to Korea I was told to expect some form of homesickness. I didn’t know when it would come and what exactly it would feel like but I knew that sooner or later it would hit me. What I didn’t know however is how much it would hit me. I’ve written about homesickness here before but I thought that it was worth mentioning again as this really is a big part of moving to a different country. The highs are extremely high and the lows are extremely low, make no mistake about that. Its only after 3 weeks of feeling this way and then another month of not wanting to remember that feeling, that I finally feel as if I should probably get it all down on paper.

I can suggest a number of different things to do like call home, plan a trip, keep yourself busy or try and find some home comforts, but unfortunately I think for most people it’s really just a wave you have to ride out. Be rest assured though that you will come out at the other end feeling stronger and more prepared for the next time... when it undoubtedly will happen again! Personally I haven’t missed things like food or the convenience of popping into a Tesco’s Express to get my entire weeks worth of shopping, but more so my friends and family and the people I love.


I miss their company and I miss the laughs. I miss the comfort of not having to worry about myself and knowing that there is always someone looking out for me, as I am looking out for them. I have never before appreciated my friends and family on such a level, and I am sure I took them for granted. Moving to a different country so far away from them has its moments and I can honestly say that I've never spent so much time with myself... how they all do it?! I just don’t know. But I have of course become more independent and this can only be a good thing.  


On the flip-side I have already made some incredible friendships here in Korea that I could never have anticipated. This is something that I really didn’t expect, but it is also probably the toughest part of living here because as things go, people leave. With people coming and going so often you would think that it would be difficult to become attached and make proper connections with them, but you really really do.

You have no close friends or family to support you out here and so the people you befriend, quickly (in the best possible way) become a strange sort of replacement for that huge missing part of your life. You see them day in and day out and they soon become part of the furniture, and then comes the dreaded day of departure when they have to leave. Everything you have come accustom to changes, and you’re back on your own once again. And that’s when you remember how you felt before, and what you didn’t want to feel again. Homesick.

Therefore the question is, would you rather form these close friendships and enjoy them for what they are at the time? Or, spend the whole experience not making any real connections to save yourself the pain? Its a tough one but personally I don't think there is much of a choice. I would 100% rather have met these amazing people even though it is very sad when they have to leave.


Surely the whole point of this experience, is the experience itself of meeting new people from all over the world?! Why would anyone want to miss out on that? I think at the end of the day its important to remember that you are a human being, and human beings (on the whole) need other human interaction to survive. The more people you meet, the more places you go, and the more places you go, the more you will learn to not only survive, but thrive on this little planet we like to call, Earth.

So say YES to everything, Skype home as much as you can, and remember that when one person leaves ...another will soon arrive, and the fun times will begin all over again! 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The 16th Annual KQCF Pride Parade

Last Sunday brought the 16th Annual KQCF (Korean Queer Culture Festival) Pride Parade, something that this year almost didn’t happen. Earlier this month the police issued a notice banning the parade from taking place due to there being too many other rallies occurring on the same day, which ‘’coincidently’’ included an opposing anti-LGBT demonstration. The reason being that it would simply just cause too much disruption to traffic and pedestrians in the area.

Shortly before this on May 21st the Seoul police announced a new controversial procedure stating that any groups that wanted to submit a rally declaration for the date of June 28th must do so in person on May 29th and permission would be granted on a first come first serve basis. Unfortunately as soon as this statement was released, news came to light that members of the ‘Love Your Country, Love Your Children Movement’ group led by pastor Song Chun-gil, had already started standing in line over a week before the submission date, in an obvious attempt to stop the parade from happening.

'Pace' Rainbow flag'

Several other right winged Christian groups also camped outside the Namdaemun Police Station for most of May to try and stop the parade from taking place. They initially succeeded in doing so meaning that the date had to be changed from June 13th to June 28th. After this set back the organisers were determined not to let the same thing happen again, however unfortunately it did. After a long long fight, on June 16th a South Korean Court finally overturned the ban and ruled in favour of the KQCF Pride Parade. They stated that the police’s reasoning was invalid and stressed the importance of freedom of speech as members of a democratic society.

The writings on the flag!

Finally the day arrived and the LGBT community and their supporters from all over Korea and in fact the world, joined in their thousands to celebrate Pride. The protesters were also there in their masses and it really was unlike any other pride I have ever been to before. Coming from the UK where we have marriage equality and its generally a safe and open place to be, it was quite shocking to witness the amount of people protesting against the cause. Most of what they were saying however, was in Korean and for the first time whilst living here it made me thankful for not fully understanding the language.

''DMZ''!

 The protesters on the other side of the ''DMZ''!
 
The protesters played their music as loud as they could in an attempt to drown out the festival’s own sounds to (I think) no avail. They also used mega phones, banners and at points pure force to try to get their point across. But (for the most part) instead of retaliating and creating a war between the two sides, the LGBT community, determined not to let anything ruin their day of celebration, stood their ground and chose to quite literally laugh in their faces. The only anger that was expressed from what I could see, was from the protesters themselves, which I think only enforced the fantastic atmosphere that was felt during the entire event.

 Sooo many police!
 
 
Doing an awesome job!
 
The supporters created a wall of safety around the edge of the festival and held rainbow coloured strings to further emphasize the unity that was felt during the whole day. The parade itself went without fault and it really was an incredible experience to be a part of. As we all marched together to the sound of K pop and Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this Way’ you really could feel a sense of utter liberation flowing through the air. The police did a fantastic job at creating barriers and removing any disobedient protesters from the area, and although there were only a few floats, they were all really unique and aspirational.

 Flags during the parade!
 
...true story!
 
 All in all I can truly say that this was the best Pride I have ever been to. I felt extremely proud to be a part of it and for a country that still has a long way to go in LGBT equality, it certainly was a step in the right direction.

 Well done KQCF, well done!!!

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