Summer book


It’s taken a full 7 years 8 months 17 days to publish this blog, from the depths of a drafts folder on a blog I rarely even think about, though the experiences I had and the memories I made in Korea live with me every day since. I’m sure I’d like to come back at some point and give a little retrospective on my time since writing my previous forlorn post, and maybe fill in some of the blanks I left between posts.

No doubt I was too busy jamming just as much kimbap into my mouth as possible, marvelling at the urban sprawl, desperately trying to learn Korean, or whatever inane crap floated around my mid-20-year-old head at the time, to actually maintain a decent narrative. It certainly wasn’t with any concern for spell checking. Right now I can see that I wrote the word “peninsular” in the first paragraph and large red lines now loom underneath. Perhaps that’s more an inditement of the technology available at the time. I now live by the sayso of Grammarly and Google Docs.

Anyway, here comes the blog, I’m going to interject some narrative too. We’re starting at a completely jarring moment which resoundingly did not happen three minutes ago in 2018. Enjoy:

About three minutes ago a Korean teacher complained of the heat and declared that real summer was here. We’ve had a calendar month chequered with blazing sun and thunderous rain, but this confirmation by a native is enough to convince me that now the struggle starts. I’m not typically good with heat,  let alone humid, humid heat on the Korean peninsula.

To the ends of cooling myself down, I’ve bought a few short sleeved shirts. One was a bit too thin and didn’t leave much under it to the imagination. Sad face. I’m wearing a probably too colourful shirt I bought from Uniqlo. This coupled with my recent haircut which relieved a surprising number of grey hairs (I’ve had a few since I was 13, it’s not a big deal), every time I catch myself in the mirror, I feel like my own uncle.

I have decisively leant-in on the white hair (it was never grey), there is plenty of it running through my still dark hair and I now have something of a shock of it in quite a large beard I wouldn’t have dreamt I could grow back then.

It’s probably something to do with having (nearly) a year of activity in a foreign country, but I feel like my life is speeding up. I’m getting a yearning for a real, career job. Some sort of path. Surely, to quote Dylan Moran, I’m just a tall child holding a pint of beer.

While not even being in “real” employment beyond the level of temporary office bod, I had lurching future career panics. For a while last year I was utterly convinced that I’d gone wrong at A-Level and should have followed the path of the photographer. I still feel like that’s a career I could really live. I’ve gone through the long wait to get enough money to study a Master’s course in a field of Biology. I’m interested in London but still haven’t quite got the necessary cash together, let alone the inclination to live there. Every time I’ve been it just seems to be teeming with rude people.

I got there! I went back to Uni, got a MSc in Biological Photography at Nottingham with the incredible £6k I managed to save in Korea. After a few paid photo gigs decided that actually I prefer sitting around in an office so I became a graphic designer. That was via marketing, which was, in fairness, fucking dull.

Change of subject

The Koreans

I just finished reading the above book. I read it in my usual fashion of torturing myself over a couple of pages for about a month (or longer) after buying it then falling headlong into a pattern of addictive reading over the course of a week.

And here’s where the blog originally ended. Quite the fascinating review, I wonder what it was that I was going to say. Looking back at the book, I reference it every so often when talking about Korea (to anyone who can tolerate me doing that any more), and I have just discovered to my delight that Michael Breen has just (well, last year) written a new book, which was an insta-purchase over on Amazon.

Perhaps I’ll come back to the blog once I’ve read that to give a more full analysis.


Oh, hello again

It’s been a good while since I actually updated my blog. I was actually in Korea last time I did it, which was at least 5 months ago now. Wow, that time has flown. So if you follow my twitter you might have noticed that a few times I threatened to update this blog, I may well try to fill in some of the gaps of my 14 month story in Korea, as well as finish off those Japan posts.

One of the last posts I made was around the time that my old Uni mate Jon left town to return to England. I think that his leaving probably made me a little less motivated to update as I’d enjoy reading each of our takes on shared experiences at work or in life there.

Not that was the only reason, or my only excuse, my lifestyle changed a fair bit – I started really trying to knuckle down on learning Korean grammar and Chinese characters, I spent a lot of time at my girlfriend’s flat on the other side of Seoul. I think a lot of the shine of my life in Korea had been warn down with so many nice people apart from Jon, leaving the area. Ashley, Ben and Lydia and of course Marisa. At least my old mate from school, Rich “stainless” was still there. I was also experiencing the worst flat-share of my life with Jon’s replacement, who was sufficed to say, a complete tool. I really don’t want to complain publicly about him, especially since the last time I did that (on twitter) he seemed to want to start a fight with me at work. In a kindergarten. I think I also burned myself out a bit with those Japan posts.

That aside I still had some good fun in those last few months. For instance in my last month, I quit working at Kids Club and started going to my own 학원 in 홍대 to learn Korean grammar. That was a great experience that really made those bits of my brain I’d neglected since Uni feel loved again.

I will have to write a post about some of the amazing people I met and interesting/difficult things I learned.

This is, I suppose, an apology for neglect and something of an introduction in to what I hope will be a thoroughly rose-tinted memory of my time in the land of four seasons as I sit in England, once again chained to a desk, working in admin, seriously considering a pension. FML.

here we go

Hongdae Photo Day

Hongdae is a pretty cool part of Seoul. I think I might have mentioned it before (earlier posts here). Now I get to go there every day for my Korean class. It is somewhat more interesting that Pyeongnae.

Last week I took the opportunity to wander around Hongdae with Ha Young and get some things photographed. It was after this that I realised I didn’t know where my battery charger is. I may have sent it home.

Here are my favourites, the rest are on my Picasa album.

I can't quite make sense of this Pepero Day sign and Google Translate won't give me a sensible translation. Oh, the words are spaced a bit weird, it says that you can make a free reservation for Pepero Day.


Ha Young does not understand typewriters.

The backstreets look a bit like Garosu-gil

Soju Pandas

I'm really not sure what this restaurant sold

Hiroshima to Kyoto (travel day 3) part two

Continuing the story from my ride with Mr. Isida.


We arrived at the last service area he was going to go by on his way and he we spent a while scouting for cars with Kyoto or near licence plates. Since the first couple who picked me up I’d also noticed that 20-30s couples were both likely to give hitchhikers rides and provided good entertainment, as quite often the girl of the two spoke pretty good English while the guy worked the car.

Akko and Kaeko (hitch no. 9)

This theory held true as these (above) were the candidates that Isida-san and I found. They were happy to take me to Kyoto as they were headed that way home, their names are Akko and Kaeko.

It was only when Mr Isida asked me about my hostel did I realise that I didn’t have any pamphlets, any phone numbers or any idea where it was. I knew I’d booked the Japan-famous K’s House in Kyoto but didn’t know a damn thing else about it.

Akko came to the rescue and using her mobile-internet not only found the right hostel but called and asked about my booking and the location. I couldn’t help but fall asleep on our evening/night drive, although I tried my best to keep talking with Akko, she made some fantastic Japanese girl squeaking/general expressive noises.

We got slightly lost once in Kyoto but we eventually found our way. That’s them dropping me off in the photo just up there. Akko is holding a red crane I managed to make on the sly. Originally I’d planned to make and give one to everyone who helped me, as it happened I didn’t manage that at all. Hm.

Another day of hectic and ambitious hitching has landed me in Kyoto successfully! Combato! (@ K’s House) Jul 27 via foursquare

(you have no idea how long it took me to fix the broken twitter quote html Blackbird Pie just gave me)

I stumbled into the hostel – which really felt more like a big hotel/student dorm. It was super clean but a bit impersonal with the sheer number of people milling about. Large numbers of French people in fact, but that’s neither here not there.

As I said, it was more like a hotel, in fact not only do they have a big, big lounge/common room but a kitchen, laundry room and even a bar. The bar was my first point of call. Mainly out of curiosity – I’d by this point committed myself to spending no money unnecessarily, but the bar was too fancy looking to ignore.

Remember the time I said I met some Americans? Well here they are, or rather there they were, in the bar!

they, on the other hand, hand gone to Hello Kitty world

Friendly Americans - no car but good conversation and quite generous. Oh, and that is a hostel bar they are in. I know, right?

At this point I was unaware that I looked ridiculously weary.  I’d spent a lot of time in cars yes, but that massive walk/long time in the service station had taken its toll and I guess I smelled? Anyway they seemed pleased to see me and impressed with my story so far. The chap on the right there wandered off to his room while I borrowed the girl’s computer for email and that.

Sunburn update: feels like someone is blow-torching the back of my neck.Tue Jul 27 via Twitter for iPhone

Apparently I’d caught the sun.

He came back after a little time with a goodie-bag full of aspirin, paracetamol, anti-histamines, vitamins, protein brownies and fibre bars (god knows I needed them).

Look at all that stuff!

Those protein brownies are bloody, bloody delicious.

been given a Hello Kitty bag full of vitamins, analgesics and fibre/protein bars by a girl & guy I met back in Busan, people are wonderful.Tue Jul 27 via Twitter for iPhone

These items formed the rest of my dinner and breakfast for the next day, meaning that as I ate the free rice at the hostel for breakfast and lunch had been provided by kind Japanese ladies, I’d managed to spend £0 on food that day. In fact accommodation was my only expense. I was an awesome traveller in my eyes at that moment. The feeling was only slightly marred by my terrifying reflection I saw when I eventually did clean myself up and go to bed.

Hiroshima to Kyoto (travel day 3) part one

Katerine and Hagia, wrote my new hitchhiking sign (please take me towards Kyoto) and helped me find a good hitch-from spot.

Armed with this sign, as produced by the two beaming Filipino workers at the Hiroshima hostel. (In Japan learning both Japanese and English – impressive), I headed out into the baking Hiroshima sunlight. I did another circuit of Peace Park to appreciate it while not in darkness or extraordinarily tired.

I walked a little towards the north to get myself on a good main road. Studying the traffic pattern at some lights, I picked my moment well, finding a suitable ride at the lights. I told him I just wanted to get to the highway if I could, he agreed and I was off within seconds in the first car I’d approached that day. A personal record I’m sure.

Nobuya, for that was his name took me a good distance up to the main road on his way to work in a nearby town.

Nobuya (hitch no. 4)

The next while – something like an hour probably, was quite, quite gruelling. The intense sunlight quite got to me as I made my way on foot up the main road, thumb out quite fruitlessly, not a single car picked me up. Perhaps to counterbalance my early good luck. Eventually, just as my iced-water reserve was running low, a chap named Tamura picked me up. Sadly I don’t have a picture of him as I had to hop out on the hard shoulder just before the tollbooth for the major highway. During our quick journey we discussed his like of several English things, such as Queen (the band, not the old lady), James Bond, and his recital of the ‘She Sells Seashells’ tongue twister.

For my part I did my best to remember a Korean tongue twister. Here it is, reproduced for your pleasure, my own romanisation underneath.

간장공장 공장장은 장 공장장이고 된장공장 공장장은 강 공장장이다.

(ganjang gongjang gongjangjangun jang gongjangjangi go duinjang gongjang gong jangjangun gang gongjangjangida)

Which means:

The manager of the soy sauce factory is Manager Jang and the manager of the soy paste factory is Manager Gang.

As I said, he dropped me off on the hard shoulder, thus began the biggest pain in the arse in getting a ride I’ve had yet. I stood with my sign as the Fukuoka sensei instructed, I guess the toll booth people tolerated it for 30 mins or so because after a while I was told in the politest possible hand signals to take it back down onto the road, where it was more legal. Walking on the hard shoulder is scary. The heat was still kicking it and I was still pretty unable to catch a lift from whatever position I angled myself. It was also two hours since the first ride had dropped me off, so I took a break in a nearby department store. I then had the fantastic idea of using some of their road atlases and service station directories – which I’m pretty sure I found only after wondering if they existed.

The service station directory was a massive help and even went into details such as how big it was and what services/stores were available. I took photos and notes about each service station on the nearby highways going towards and away from Kyoto, deciding that if I couldn’t get a ride going one way, I could try going the other, then swapping highway side at the next service station. (assuming they were paired, in retrospect that seems like a rash assumption). After another 30 minutes or so I’d managed to do just that.

I got a ride going west. He dropped me off at the only service station for miles at, as I’ve said, a station without an opposite number on the other side of the road. I decided that I had spent enough time trying to get out of Hiroshima to head back towards it now. Actually, I have a bit of a difficulty in this way. I get very irritated if I have to backtrack. It might have even been a longer path but I decided to take the Northern road.

It turns out the road was pretty much the same distance, possibly slightly longer for climbing into the mountains. The next lift took a while coming. After approaching cars pretty fruitlessly for a while in unrelenting sun, I rested for a while on one of those sheltered raised platforms you see dotted about Korea and Japan. Some older Japanese ladies took pity on me it seemed and gave me a rice-ball, a banana and some sandwiches.

Free lunch - the rice ball (between the banana and the sandwiches) had some bitter, tart fruit in the middle of that took quite a liking to.

Eventually I got a ride with these two happy chaps. Hiro and Joe.

Hiro and Joe (hitch no. 7)

They were travelling salesmen, selling some sort of grabbing-arm thing for surgeons. They told me that they didn’t think I could get to Tokyo on time. I didn’t worry too much about getting to Tokyo, I didn’t have any commitments there, if I could get back to Fukuoka, I’d have been happy with any destination. It didn’t make me too confident for my day’s travel through inhospitable and frankly hostel-less countryside though.

Once again the Japanese Hitchhiking Domino Theory panned out and they spent a good while finding and negotiating my ride onwards with this nice old man called Mr Isida (or Isida-san if you want to be polite japanese style).

Mr. Isida (hitch no. 8)

His English wasn’t great so we spent a lot of the journey in quiet, with the odd bout of basic English. With the scenery it was quite relaxing – all mountains and forests and valley villages. He told me he had two sons 18 and 26. We also talked about Kanji (Chinese letters), he wrote some, resting on the steering wheel, which was slightly unnerving because he was still driving. He taught me 英国 which means Britain. I can actually read that in Korean Hanja now which is quite nice (young-guk).

The ride with Isida-san was actually incredibly helpful, he took me a full 240km (149 miles) down the road.


I’ll continue the rest in a second post, this one is pretty damn long already.

First day on the other side

Today marks the first day that I’m approaching the whole Hagwon thing from the other side. I finished teaching last Friday and have enrolled in a (paid) Korean-language course for my last month in Korea.

Several people have asked why I’m taking a course now rather than earlier in my sojourn in Korea. Well, for a start it’s the first time I’ve had the time to be able to commit to pretty intensive daily courses. I’ve had some really good lessons from my Korean friend Jenny and I take some free classes every Saturday in Gangnam.

I’ve enjoyed learning the little Korean I now know and can understand more than I’ve ever enjoyed learning another language. German and French at school were to be tolerated as much as Geography. I want to crystallise what I’ve learned and perhaps cram as much extra grammar and vocab into my brain before it becomes much more difficult/expensive England side.

My day:

My first day of classes were pretty full on. We looked at grammar with some incidental vocabulary.

Today’s grammar points:

__A__ (으)ㄹ 면 _B__.

(If/when A then B)


아프면 병원에 가십시오

(If you’re ill, you should go to the hospital)

___(으)ㄹ 수 있다/없다

[I] can ___/can’t ___


수영할 수 있어요/없어요

(I can/can’t swim)

__A_기 때문에 __B__

(B because A)


맛있기 때문에 김치를 좋아해요.

(I like kimchi because it’s delicious)

Plus hours of homework revising that stuff and going over adjective antonyms.

Delicious, can’t wait for tomorrow.


Well, I appear to have got quite bogged down with how much detail I’m trying to put into these Japan posts. I might just backdate them all and post when I can. In the mean time I’m going to try to get back to posting here, after all, it’s my last month in Korea.

Oh, also I’ve been posting some Korea-related stuff on my Tumblr. Next post: how I’ve started learning Korean for reals.