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

Advertisements

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

So close but yet so far – a lament of Korean telecommunications

Okay, so I’ve got some other stuff to cover but I appear to be putting that off. Perhaps this will be a double blog day.

I just really need to vent somewhere.

For 8 months (I’ve been here 8 months – wow), I’ve been using this god awful Korean mobile phone. At first I thought it was fun that it had a way to type in Korean characters and I was intrigued enough by it’s ability to receive television and radio signals that I actually forked out about £5 for an antenna. Not intrigued enough to actually watch any television or listen to any radio. Both of those are pretty dismal in Korea, unless you’re Korean of course, in which case you will watch all the time whether you’re on the metro or driving a car. This period of mild ammusement lasted prehaps an accumulative 20 minutes.

Korean mobile phones are uniformly dismal. All the phones of any given generation follow some fashion designed no doubt as a cartel to sell another copy of essentially the same phones everyone already owns. The novelties I’ve enountered are phones that have light up LED patterns like little faces or giraffes or someshit (LG Lollypop), phones that change their background image when you shake it (called the Loveshake I think) or phones that suggest you rub your cheek on flat surfaces, or so the spastics in the adverts demonstrated (LG cookie I think). I’d say that all the phones have pretty good screens – this is land of the flat pannel after all. But none of them have any features worth a damn and the functionality of the low-range ones is criminally poor. As my good friend Rich can testify, he rants about his phone daily. Sometimes in the form of Twitter, but usually while shouting obscenities at it and threatening it with defenestration.

Another wonderful thing the Motorola z8m can’t do: Turn off Bluetooth when in English.2:39 PM May 30th via web

My levels of hatred for this godawful motorola are increasing, it seem unable to communicate using bluetooth or usb.10:52 PM Jun 20th via web

While mine doesn’t seem to have any obvious bugs, it is just a pain in the arse to do anything. Textmessages, calls, all of it is just so damn awkward. Writing anything is the worst thing though. As it’s like English functionality was bolted on as an afterthought (should I be grateful?) there is no predictive text dictionary and nothing word-wraps. I imagine that by it’s nature there would be some reduction of the awkwardness if you could use it in Korean comfortably, which is of no consolation to me.

I believe that the pisspoor market is due to the closed ecosystem that LG and Samsung have sewn here. Worse than their TV/computer monitor functional duopoly, since Korea uses the CDMA network like Japan, no phone has a SIM card. Why would any phone company manufacture custom hardware for Japan and Korea if they can use a worldwide SIM standard and sell to a magnitude more people? There is no motivation for either company (or any Japanese company who might have a few handsets here, I don’t know) to innovate any better hardware or software. All they need to is to make it superficially attractive enough to encourage another round of sales.

There was no motivation, enter the iPhone.

A few months after I arrived, at a period shortly after I became accustomed to being the cool guy with the iPhone, wandering about metro stations and bookshops poking it, trying to work out where I was, Korea got the iPhone. There were discussions about whether Apple would have to rejig the hardware to create a Korean/Japanese only handset without a SIM interface but with a CDMA receiver. Of course Apple aren’t the sort of company to concede to anyone, in the end a network, SHOW, had to change it’s standards, developing SIM compatable technology and a 3G network (the network they and other providers use is actually a faster, better connection technology as I understand it). Suddenly my iPhone 3G felt rather subservient to the ever growing population of 3GS’s in every train carriage and hanging by white threads from everyone ears. Worse still when I cancelled my contract back home and couldn’t even receive a comforting signal with a connection to friends and family back home.

A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that I might be able to get a SIM only contract or a PAYG SIM, since my iPhone was out of contract period, I’d asked O2 to unlock as they began offering to do (not to mention my self-applied Jailbreak which has previously let me use a Hong Kong SIM anyway), I was in theory able to use it as a phone here! I don’t know why I only thought of doing it today, but I took a little free time I had today to go to one of the many phone stores on the main road where I work, to ask about for SIM cards. In the third store I entered I was immediately sold one for 5,500 Won (about £3). I was nearly unable to contain my excitement, I nearly bounded up the stairs to our hagwon to try it out.

After giving me some message about waiting for activation, it was clear there was no connection. Next I wandered back to the shop with a co-teacher who helped me to establish with the salesperson, that should I just want a SIM card, I need to “enrole”. Exactly was enrolling involves or why it was necessary was never made clear. The bottom line of it though was that if I wanted to enrole, activate my SIM and finally use my iPhone as my primary form of communication in Korea I’d have to pay 220,000 Won, which is clear over £110. That is the exact figure to dash my hopes of communicating in any comfortable, convenient manner in Korea. Not even this camp as Christmas music video for the LG Lollypop can cheer me up. Every Technicolor gurn fills me with more dispair. Is that the angle the directors were looking for?

Oh crap, a plate of skin

After my rather dry post about Udon and the cooking thereof, a comment was made by one “Ed”  about an old, but brilliant, blog called “Steve! Don’t Eat It!” by The Sneeze. This proved rather coincidental because last Thursday I found a little fair affair going on in the common area of an apartment complex near my home.

Sufficed to say that Rich ordered the most expensive thing on the menu after actually selecting it based on how it looked in a raw form (everything else must have been fucking vile), he told me just after that he thought it was some sort of miscellaneous seafood while tentatively consuming it. It had apparently the appearance of scales.

After a couple of (highly regretable) mouthfuls and some curious visualisations, it dawned on me. It was in fact, a plate of stir-fried pig skin and fat. There are only two forms I believe, when it is appropriate to eat the skin alone, and those are in the artery-clogging forms of pork scratchings and maybe as a side of crackling with a really nice roast. Even then, they are fried and crisped.

These were quite, quite soft and fairly cold, fairly quickly.

oh, not a great picture

enjoying that

At least the rest of the surroundings were quite pleasant.

pleasantly waiting pleasantly

the man who probably prepared the terrible food

There were also some fairground games going on, this one rewarding a right answer/completion of a task/whatever with a piece of burnt-sugar art.

red sticks, blue sticks, numbers

In closing, I’d like to add that the thing Rich ordered was probably some sort of drinking food. Imagine going to a pub and ordering just this big plate of pork scratchings and crisps for yourself without any drinks. That’s probably what that looked like.

10 mins .03

I’m taking the opportunity in my 10 minute blog today to talk about Yellow Dust.

Yellow Dust (or Yellow Sand) is a seasonal phenomenon over North-East Asia during spring and gives the outside world something of a dim-yellow tinged smog, even over areas of countryside. Wikipedia informs me that it’s caused by sand particles swept up in spring winds over the desert areas of China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, which then swoop all over Korea and Japan. What my body informs me is that it’s irritable to breathe – especially outside, I have a lot of mucus going on and that the ambient light from outside makes it feel like late evening at midday.

I’m sure that no-one told me about this thing before I came here. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it makes yet another season seem mildly inhospitable.

For those concerned (like me) there is even a Twitter feed to keep yourself abreast of the Yellow Dust levels in Seoul:

Yellow Dust Twitter Robot

and for those who read Korean, there’s one for you too:

황사 Twitter Robot

first impressions

I have now been in Korea for nine days. In this time I have gone some way to exploring a little of my town, a little of Seoul and have experienced two days teaching at my school. Rather than making this a diary of everything I have done in the last few days, which could get quite tiring to read, I’m going to sum up most of it by saying that I’ve met some really nice people, some really awkward people (they happen everywhere), have spent an awful lot of time worrying about the actual teaching aspect of this whole thing. Not least because I’ve never really taught anyone anything before – but more on that in a later post. I have also got right back into my balloon model making phase (this now counts as work) and have fainted at a hospital during my medical. I seriously hate needles and also it was onto my director. Scared the shit out of her, worth it for that really.

My ‘Korea experience’ got off to a flying start as I headed straight out for Jon’s girlfriend‘s Birthday mere hours after arriving in Seoul. My bags were taken back to my new place by the erstwhile resident English-speaker of my hagwon – Locky-teacher. Lovely guy, pity I didn’t have a chance to get to spend more time with him. Though I wouldn’t be here if he stayed, I am replacing him. So in the nicest way possible, good riddance.

The bar was good fun, although the music was western, dire nonsense, there were some wonderful moments of K-Pop. Some of which still play over and over in my mind, complete with the dance moves everyone seemed to know. The beer really is piss-poor here although I will try not to go on and on about it. This was my first social event with the people who I’m sure will form the core of my social life here. I’ve got to know a few people a lot better since then though welcome/goodbye dinners and generally being around them – Ashley and Marisa especially.

Jon and Ashley and galbi

Jon and Ashley and galbi

Marisa and galbi looking a little insane

Marisa and galbi looking a little insane

Our flat is certainly very fancy. If by which you take fancy to mean ‘has sparkly wallpaper’. To start with I thought it was condensation or perhaps the building itself sweating. No, our entire flat is decorated in pink wallpaper with engrained glitter. I think this is probably a feature of Korean home design that every aspect should be as gaudy possible. Other than that it is pretty student-like. Quite small and certainly not as fancy as some people’s but apparently not as bad as other’s.

where the magic happens - salute damn you!

where the magic happens - salute damn you

Days after arriving I was invited to the wedding of some American friends-of-friends-(of friends technically… still, perhaps) who have got hitched after three months (!) of knowing each other. Kinda scary prospect but as far as I could tell they were both pleasant people and I wish them the best of it. Best part: lavish buffet for the reception, complete with a mountain of profiteroles covered in chocolate and cream. Om flipping nom. All of it was Italian/French (styled) food so I’m sure I was among the least excited people – Western food isn’t a craving yet. Although I bought some digestive biscuits today… Anyway, lovely event.

the happy couple

the happy couple

I have also had a chance to meet up with a lovely Korean girl I was with for a while in various locations across the globe. She was kind enough to show me Gyeong Bok Gung palace in Seoul. A truly stunning place, thinking that it is 800 years old. Until the tour guide tells you that actually it’s been burnt down a bunch and rebuilt twice. Once as recently as 1989. Even now it’s still being built and is only 40% of the planned rebuild, to be finished in about 2030. Anyway, read more on the Wikipedias. It’s certainly still very nice to look at and wander around. Although the feeling of being a historical re-enactment filters down to the visible glue holding on the beards of the “guards” in their fancy clothing. Beefeaters they ain’t.

경복궁

경복궁

not a beefeater

not a beefeater

Our day was completed with some more damn delicious korean food at pins-and-needles inducing tables and what essentially boiled down to a soju drinking competition.

Ha Young and some food

하영 and delicious food

Putting me in good stead for my first day at work, the next day, but that is another story and another blog post.

—-

Edits:

I have edited a sentence about Ha-Young since publishing to make myself sound less of an ass.