who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

this blog is black for ENERGY-SAVING reasons.

thanks for your understanding.
if it's too dark, put your glasses on old one.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

flying chicken twice born

after our saturday shift had chewed us up and (once again) spat us out - Fathead and i decided to act our age, despite the way we felt... so we pulled ourselves together and joined a few of the teachers for a night out in hongik university town (probably the closest thing to an asian-version of stellenbosch).

roslyn (south african) and her kiwi-boyfriend dave on the bus ride

the journey there was long and by the time we arrived we were so famished we were ready to nibble on anything that wagged its tail.

true to the general experience of going out in a large group, most of us were overly polite and accommodating (with the usual "i don't mind where we eat ... i'm easy" rubbish).  this resulted in a foot tour of the entire town prior to us settling on a thai restaurant called siam. dinner was tasty, although by this stage i was dizzy and seeing spots ... so a piece of paper would have been equally as enjoyable.

from dinner we walked through the streets which were teeming with young koreans.

on both sides restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs were stacked upon each other ... bright lights and a cacophony of every music genre imaginable filling the night air. it was so alive and energetic - and exactly the authentic city-scene we'd been looking for.

my namesake bar

and one for t-bear!

this karaoke club (below) is modeled in a doll's-house-concept where you can see straight into private "bedrooms" from the street.  inside, groups of young girls pile onto beds and mountains of pillows - whilst their friends sing to them off the tele-prompter. 

finally, we reached our destination - a tiny pub, hidden underground.  our reason for being there was a charity event to raise money for cambodia ... complete with a 60's smiley face logo and the corny title of a "fund raver".

live bands and a collection of other "talents" performed - including a folk music ensemble of ex-teachers from our school.  despite the fact that they all had faces reserved for radio - their sound was jovial, original, genuine and really rather festive.

and then a few other creatures emerged with their contribution to the event ...

gothic belly dancers
while just about everyone we met was filled with the friendly traveler spirit, i did have the misfortune of being verbally abused by (not one, but two) foreigners:  for being south african.  and not for the usual "oh - so you're a racist" accusation either:

instead,  the first - a soccer hooligan - was of the opinion that "cape town is the worst city in the world" and the second: "you south africans don't have a hope in hell" (because i couldn't immediately tell that the slander-flinger was from texas).

but you'd be proud of me.
against everything i thought and wanted to say, i walked away.  no point in stooping to their ignorant level.  plus, the guy was from texas so i figured he already had enough reasons to be miserably disappointed with life, as it was. 

after the fund raver we found ourselves in a really characterful bar (called the flying chicken twice born), filled with combat memorabilia of battles-gone-by.  the decor was fascinating, the patrons all-korean (a nice change from the charming bunch of ex-pats we'd previously had to share air with) and the atmosphere warm and inviting.

 a local artist's impression of the flying chicken twice born, captured in the cardboard base of a beer tray

 in and amongst the rounds of ammo, spent shells and tin mugs, was an array of really quirky paintings.  my favorite was this gem - blue mondaydoesn't it just absolutely capture that feeling?!

the night was on a roll, when someone smelt something burning ...

now i don't want to go into the heartbreaking detail of it all, but let's just say that at some stage in the evening an unidentified person unintentionally placed Fathead's (very expensive) ski jacket on top of a lit candle.

the result was not pretty.

the massacre claimed the base of his coat, a good chunk of the left sleeve and one thermo-insulated glove.

stop laughing.

around 3am - and in the wake of this coat-astrophe - we caught a taxi home and the journey that had taken us 3 hrs from departure (taxi / bus / subway / taxi) took us 15mins, return.  the driver did break the sound barrier, mind you - hitting 180km's in a 30km zone.  terrified for my life, i decided to sleep through the drive, only to be woken by Fathead and roslyn seatbelting me in from both sides.

giddy with beer, tiredness and death-defying speeds we stood outside our room door and roared with laughter.

in the safely of our room and with another eventful evening behind us, we burrowed beneath our duvets in search of warmth and slept and slept and slept.

snippie-snaps of the week


sometimes you win.
sometimes they serve fishbone and octopus tentacle stew, and you politely decline.
on these days, your lunch menu reads like this:
ice-cold, pickled marrow.
soy-soaked lotus root.
cold fried egg left over from breakfast.
doughnut. why would you serve doughnuts with lunch?

          no seriously...why?


fellow teachers gathered in our room on friday night, for a little vino and soju (rice-vodka poison: used to scour greasy pots or get you very tipsy).
the resulting day-long headache was a really nice addition to our saturday shift.

in-house entertainment
"multiculturalism" can be defined as two south africans watching the russian-version of the american-made star wars movie, dubbed in english with supporting korean subtitles.


quite a random shot, which will probably never be printed or framed - so i felt sorry for it and popped it here:

pretty and plentiful - poinsettia


a scene from one of the night activities - here the little darlings scream loudly as volunteers are encouraged to go up on stage and perform their favorite k-pop tune.

clear as mud

something you notice quite soon after arriving here, is the charming way signage is translated directly into engris with the trusting consultation of a thesaurus.

unfortunately we never went into this particular club, and so i am doomed to spend many a sleepless night - pondering just what "orgiastic laical" is.

national make-a-baby day

a few days ago, i learned that sk has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. since hearing this fact, it has become unavoidable to observe the lack of pregnant bellies, baby strollers or even the odd toddler's presence in public.

wednesday 20th jan was south korea's national make-a-baby dayin an effort to boost the birthrate, the government have decided to lead by example - shutting down all civil offices and decreasing office hours to encourage their employees to spend more time with their families ... and, well ... y'know.

the experiment was conducted for the first time, this wednesday,  with the ministry of health turning off all it's lights and literally shooing it's employees off to bed.  apparently they plan to do this on a monthly basis, in the hope that it will establish a culture of understanding the importance of "family time", across the nation.

online, it's opened up some interesting debates - most arguing with the sentiment that it's not the long working hours that have affected the birthrate - but rather the extreme expense a raising a child here:

education is one of the most highly regarded priorities.  the kids here are tutored for an average of 11hrs a day.  they spend very little time playing games, in the outdoors and experiencing team sports.  most families who can afford it, will add private english tutoring onto the normal schooling system. so generally speaking, the koreans will spend around 50% of their income on their children.

in addition - a woman is not exactly a down-trodden citizen.  she is allowed to work and appears to enjoy respect and equal treatment in the workplace. however, once a mother, there is an unwritten rule - understood and internalised by all - that she cannot return to work, and will stay at home to take on the role of raising the child.  for this reason, young koreans delay the start of their families which has also impacted on family size and growth rate.

on the ground, there was not much talk of the day.  i suspect that it would not have been viewed as very polite conversation.  at face-value, they are incredibly conservative people (although a deep and dark sexual subculture runs thick beneath the surface - but more on that some other day).

the bbc made a bit of a thing of it, and there were mentions on other foreign news networks - but for the average korean on the street, it was just another day.

the canvas gets color

the rain came earlier this week, washing the remaining snow from all the slopes and streets.  it's been intriguing to watch the transformation of our surroundings - which up until the rain, had remained a white canvas.  as the week went on, colors began popping up from beneath and between the piles of snow.  dark ever greens (dormant and frozen) revealed themselves all across our valley.  a natural mountain pool appeared from its disguise.  there are water features, park benches, wooden bridge walkways and what appears to have been green grass - all previously hidden under the deepest, crispest blanket of snow.

then and now

and while it's sad to see the powder disappear, it's really exciting to discover the new quirks and character of the place we've lived, for nearly a month.

Friday, January 22, 2010

it's been a while

i know i've been a little quiet ... i'm sorry.  that's rather rude of me, isn't it?

it's just that since sunday's ski-slope adventures, we've had a week that's just flown by.  that, and every moment i've had infront of our laptop has been spent trying to figure out how to convert a .mov video file to .avi so i can compress it with movie maker and upload it here, for you to enjoy.

it is one of those video's you have to see.

i'll whet your appetite:  small korean boy ... singing ... elvis presley.  you need it as much as i want you to have it.  if you know how to help with the above-probleemo, please let me know so i can get back to blogging and stop reading geek-central forums?

but back to the week that was:

on sunday night Fathead realised (with a sickening feeling in the pit of his tummy) that his wallet was still in the ski pants we hired (and returned).  this meant that his cash, credit and debit cards were a 3hr journey away in a mystery venue.  it seemed damn near impossible to track them down, and the thought of cancelling the cards became a very serious reality.

this is not a major issue if you are in our home country.  however, to cancel our cards from here means that they (the banks) will not reissue them to you, overseas.  in other words, you need to collect / sign for them in person.  beeg problemo.

tapping into the korean network of friends we've made, we managed to contact the hiring place, and lo-and-behold ... they searched every nook and cranny of the delivery vehicle and ... retrieved the wallet - complete with cards and cash!

how rad? 
it truly is a testament to the power of positive thinking (and a command of the local language).

so,  much relief on this side, as we nimbly escaped what would have been a rather fat fakup.


on monday, (our "sunday") Fathead and i went into town ... walked the narrow alleys lined with food vendors, climbed up the shopping blocks floor-by-floor to explore every trading post available.

by 5ish we were done with "sight-seeing" and shifted our focus to finding a nice warm pub to people-watch from.  but to no avail - we searched and searched, we climbed staircases in their plenty, trudged alley and walkway ... but everything was closed.  a really weird discovery for us.  pubs, serving food, that were closed on a monday afternoon.  how odd.  for a nation obsessed with boozing, they don't exactly make it very easy to grab an early evening tipple.

eventually we settled for a strange, abandoned "german" bar - which was actually korean but served one type of german draft and had therefore been named after it.  so four floors up, we sat - two little foreign ferrets, sipping on local beer, listening to k-pop tunes, watching the young executive world crawl from their offices to begin their monday evenings.

we returned to school, triumphant:      two weeks under our belts and we had survived another solo day - from bus to taxi, from taxi to market, through malls and stalls, bakeries and even a hole-in-the-wall for a battery replacement of Fathead's watch.  most notably -  hidden in the furthest corner of town, on the ouskirts of where industry's edge meets apartment-living ... we uncovered the rarests of finds: an english-speaking chemist.

we were trying to purchase magnesium and a multi-vitamin.  sounds pretty simple. right?  well, just take it from me.  it ain't.

by the time we stumbled across this pharmacy, we'd already been into several others - and had mastered the art of how to sign "magnesim" with our hands.   when he inquired as to why we took magnesium and checked the contents of the multivitamin for us - i was so overcome with joy, i almost leapt over the counter to plant a wet one on his lips.

okay, so it does look like this - but we've been assured it's magnesium:

how dodgy?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

i didn't break a leg

without our international resident cards, our medical cover can't kick in.  yet despite this fact, Fathead and i threw caution to the wind (well, okay ... truth be told i threatened him with horror stories of how we would be bankrupt if either one of us ended up needing medical assistance) ... and decided to try our hand at snow skiing.

we woke bright and early this morning (okay, again ... if the truth is to be told, our alarm was set for bright and early.  we woke late and panicked).  jumped into a taxi, and then onto a bus and off we set for the great white slopes in a town i still do not know the name of.

the before shot: Fathead, monica (aussie-korean), ian-"with-one-I" (canadian), maya (welsh), me (festive)

Fathead's virginal ski

... annoyingly, he has a natural talent for this kind of thing and not three hours into it, braved this little hill:

i however, did not - and chose to preserve my limbs (for fear of snappage).  it was surprisingly easy, actually.  especially considering the fact that we chose not to splash out on an instructor.   all self-taught i tell you.  hey?!  how impressed are you?

it was amazing how hot it got up on the slopes.  possibly a result of physical exertion - as we also chose to save the expense of lift-passes, so instead of hopping on and off the ski-lifts, we had to hike back up the slope post every decent - ski's and poles flailing about as we stumbled up the snowy incline in grip-resisted "shoes".

i use the word "shoes" rather loosely here - as actually they were indestructible straight-jackets for your feet.  houdini couldn't have escaped these bad boys.  and they would have made chuck norris cry in pain.  believe me.  i will be for a least another week.

by the end of the day, our feet had turned blue (not from the cold, but as a result of being in the torture shoe-mbers).

we were absolutely exhausted.
we were freezing and blistered.
and we could ski.

status update: survived 1st winter camp, unscathed

we've been in SK for just over a fortnight, although it seems like a good few months already. it's always like that - the more you do with the time you have, the more time you seem to have had.  (write that down).
snow fell again this week, and then all the clouds dissolved - leaving us with no blanket for warm ... but an awesume city-scape instead.

friday was the final day of our first two week camp. tomorrow, we start the next two week camp, followed by a one week-er and then a bit of a break from kiddlets for about two weeks. but i'll explain all that when we get there.

by the time the teachers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, waving the little ones on their merry way - Fathead and i were overcome with a huge sense of accomplishment.  we'd survived our first camp, unscathed, unbroken and unfired.

camp is intense, the schedules are jam-packed and the past two weeks have been rather demanding on both of us. i suspect that as our teaching fitness increases, life will become far easier. but for now, it's exhausting.

this weakened physical state did not, however, deter us from heading into town on friday night for a little bit of a taste of the adult world (not that adult world ... although we did mistakenly wonder into a "sex club" later that evening, but that's another story for another post).

we kicked the night off with a visit to the cinema (branded with the unfortunate name of "cinus") where we watched avatar in 3D. as our first time viewing a 3D film on the big screen, we were really rather impressed. Fathead decided it's his new favorite movie. worth treating yourself to a viewing, if you're into animation / sci-fi / big adventure / fantasy / fern gulley-type stuff.

click here to view trailer : avatar

post 3-hrs of fantasy we popped into Bar210 (which is the festive ex-pat pub we found last week) for a tipple or two,
maya (fellow teacher from wales)

and then returned to school where we found most of the teachers in one of the rooms having themselves a jolly good time.  we joined them and got jolly too.  until 4am.

saturday we rolled from bed to lunch at a brazilan steak house called brazilia.  here, they charge you a flat rate for a three-course buffet and endless supply of every meat and cut imaginable.  from lamb to prawns, topside, rump, crispy pork, chicken and an array of sausages.  the deal is when you've had enough you turn a small hour-glass-shaped wooden block over to the red side.  when you're up for some more, you flip it back to green.

bellies full, we stumbled home to settle in for a group-viewing of invictus.  

everyone loved the movie (although there were parts which really could have been built up a bit more).

we laughed, cried, shared memories ... and for the first time since we've been here, i let myself feel homesick.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

one small step

with our monday spent playing in a fairground, we awoke on tuesday morn with a spring in the step and a dimple in the cheek.

this - despite the fact that The Day of Medicals had finally arrived.
in order to register for a cell phone, open a bank account and qualify for our medical insurance - we need to be certified as korean citizens. in order to do that, we need to have a medical examination done - proving that we haven't brought swine flu, mad cow disease, halitosis and p.m.s into the country.

so off we went to a hospital (which i suspect was a public one, although it looked just like the medi-clinic's back home).  we were pre-warned that this day was coming and that we should expect it to take about 6 hours.  Fathead and i went into a room, were weighed and measured (i've lost 1cm in height, by the way).

rad...   every girl's dream.

anyway, blood pressure, colour-blindness ... then a poke in the arm, gallons of blood drained, a cup to pee in, a chest x-ray and then a trip to dunkin' donuts to make us "feel better".

not the worst medical-related experience i've ever had to endure.

post poke-'n-prod, we were taken to Kb (korea's biggest banking institute) to open up our very foreign bank accounts.  we only have the atm books for now (still need to open cheque accounts once we get paid and our resident cards come through and we are certified to not have brought in any deadly infections to the country).

so we can't really do anything with the little bank-bookie things, but still ... it's a step forward, right?

at least we were issued with swift numbers .. which allows people like you to transfer your money into our overseas accounts.

for code: enquire via email.


ligers, tigers and merry-go-rounds

monday was the day of radness.  we worked the full day as overtime (as we were supposed to get sunday and monday off).  now i know that a one-day weekend, with another six-day week ahead doesn't exactly smack of "radness" ... but imagine your monday was spent here:

how crazy-crazy is this rollercoaster?!  cobra-se-moer.

this is everland: korea's version of disneyland. 

with snow covering every fake village's rooftops, we ran around from ride to ride pretending to be there for the kids (but c'mon ... there were rollercoasters and snow slopes and the air smelt of caramel-covered popcorn and everwhere you went there were korean woman dressed like collectable porcelain dolls singing weird korean versions of what sounded like the looney tunes soundtrack).  

how rad?

i went on my first snow "sledding" adventure, which despite my fear of heights and speed and things that move in general - was really, really super fun!

here's a shot of Fathead doing said sledding:

and here's a shot of Fathead performing his impersonation of "crowd control":

later we went on a "safari" ... which was weirdly against everything I stand by, but fascinating and exciting all the same.

i'm sure most of you would have heard of this beauty before ... a liger (cross between a tiger and lion).  it's really not okay to cross-breed the two.  especially considering how low the tiger population is already, and how ligers are born without the ability to reproduce ... don't get me started. 

but all that aside, it's a stunning creature.  it sits with the most incredible stature and has a presence about it that makes the din of screaming kids and chaos around you disappear.

writer's block

there is a very simple reason why Fathead is only allowed to be the main character of this blog, and in no way contribute to the written content thereof.

i present you with the out of office message Fathead left as his final mark on his previous company:

Subject: Out of Office AutoReply: Change Control Forum


Please be aware that I am no with Maitland. Please contact .......  should you have any

Kind regards,


don't he got delicious englis?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

sunday strolls

today was our first day off since we arrived.  we slept in late, watched a movie in bed and then scraped ourselves from the warmth of our rooms to brave our first foot-bound adventure.  we took a beautiful walk through the snow-laden paths of our surrounding town ... down the hill from our school, through the small restaurant district,
discovered a frozen dam and wondered its 3km circumference, popped into the GS25 convenience store and found a festive little french-styled coffee house called the old musica club.

the coffee cabin reminded me of t-bear's mother's doll house.  it was double-volume, furnished with individual antique pieces, quirky lamp shades and old-school french cafe soundtracks.  we ascended a petite staircase to the attic, overlooking a snowy street.  we ordered two americana coffees which arrived watered-down and with the bill.

R84 a cup.  but i don't want to talk about it.

on the way home, we explored small lanes and paths, discovering things that were wonderful, and some things that were ... well, just plain strange.

the frozen dam

inner-city driving range: four-floors overlooking a gauze bottom which slopes downwards - so that all balls roll back into a trough and are ready to be whacked out again.  smart hey?

the blue ocean  ship-shaped restaurant (Fathead sugar-coats his opinion thereof).

all around the dam's promenade, they've placed gym stations.        i'm not kidding.

and people actually use these for a quick work out.  they walk for a few km's around  dam, stop and do 10 bicep curls,  then resume their stroll as if it's completely normal behaviour.

odd, odd, odd.

week 1 ends

the weekly teaching shifts run from monday - friday, or tuesday - saturday.  since we've been here, we've worked the latter and will continue to do so for the rest of the month.  when we started, we were told the saturday shift is "fun" and "easy" as the day is filled with games.

that the day's programme is based on playful activites, is true.  to use words like "fun" and "easy" to describe it, is nothing short of a misrepresentation of the truth.

yesterday we discovered the true meaning of anarchy. 

in the morning shift i ran the jumping rope class. i recall the ropes we used when i was knee-high to a grasshopper. they were thin and fluffy twists of thread. here, however, we used a maritime rope - wiry and thick as your wrist, this cable of death was one of the most frightening things i've seen a child swing around a room.

post lunch, i learnt that 30 children in a classroom playing balloon volleyball is not a game.  it's a warzone.  by the end of the day, i was proud as a peacock of my injury record - managing to keep it at a low average count of 6 per class.

Fathead managed the "egg" (read polystyrene ball) and spoon race station - and then for his sins, "around the world ping pong".  by the time we sat in the prize-giving ceremony that evening, his blood-shot eyes were glazed with fear-induced tears.  he looked like a broken man, and i knew exactly how he felt.

in celebration of the end to a long and hard week, we hopped into a taxi and joined the rest of the teachers at a korean restaurant in seohyeon.  whilst it goes against all standards i have back home (usually refusing to eat anywhere that has pictures on the menu), we were only too relieved to be able to order our meals by pointing to a photo.  we ordered what looked like a chicken stew, which turned out to be pork, however it was absolutely outstanding.  as we devoured the best meal we've had since we've been here, tears of joy began a-sprouting.

it was fabulous. 

the meals were mostly communal - with everything arriving in super-size-it portions ... even the beverages.

that pitcher held about 5 lts of hite (a local beer)

the dishes are enormous, and are brought to your table with a single gas burner, where you participate in the cooking process.  this dish (though not particularly aesthetically appealing) was really delicious too.

trying to wrap our minds around prices is proving rather challenging.  last night's feast cost each of us 10,000kw (which is a laughable R70).  then today, we wondered into a gorgeous little coffee shop, and paid 12,000kw for two cups of crappy coffee. 

go figure.

anyway, i digress.  post-dinner we strolled through the streets to a really characterful (is that a real word?  my spell check is on korean) pub, which was filled with ex-pats.  we drank, we played pool (badly), got to know our colleagues on a more intellectual level (instead of the usual "have you seen my crayons?" conversation).         and we laughed.       alot.

after a few hours, the rest of the team decided it was far too civilised and dragged us to two really cheesy korean night clubs - the one, neither of us can recall the name of. the other was  the lost angel - filled with half-naked american GI's dancing like the village people to k-pop hits.

eventually around 3am, we called it a night. 
a really great night.