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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

big iain, yellow cat

one of the drawcards of snet (the school where Fathead and i have been working since january) was, and still is, the refreshing curriculum.

as we are an english camp, rather than a school, the students are only with us for a week at a time - so the intention is not so much to teach them english, but rather to immerse them in a western world, expose them to different cultures and ways of thinking and provide them with practical english-speaking skills.

the kinds of lessons we teach range from the obscure to the practical: sign language, yoga, cooking and team-building ... broadcasting studio, bank and post office, weather forecasting, travel agency and homestay.

each week, we take on two lessons (split between morning and afternoon classes), with a homeroom class for whom we are responsible and required to fill a more parental/guardian role.

*touch wood*   i've been blessed with a long, un-interrupted run of absolutely fabulous groups for homeroom.  these sessions are probably the highlight of my working day.  a 50 min period where you get to engage, interact, share, discuss, debate, teach and learn.  the kids range in their levels of english abilities, but somehow, with every new school we host, i manage to find several amazing young minds which blow mine.

in these homeroom sessions, we usually task the students with a written journal assignment.  if your group is high enough in their english level, you can set them topics like "if i could change one thing in the world, it would be ..."  or  "which came first, the chicken or the egg?".

last week, the latter topic resulted in one student explaining (in great detail) the controversial debate between the "creative" and "envelope" theories.

the journals are often insightful masterpieces of pre-pubescent thinking.  they are mature, naive, troubled and hopeful.  very often, because of their limited ability to express themselves fully in a foreign language, i forget that they are actually young adults - with fully-developed opinions and ideas.  hormones are racing through their blood streams just as they do in every other child of their age, the world over.

sometimes the journal entries evoke maternal instincts of protection and a need to keep the young, young.  other times, they humble me with their candidness.  they are always honest, and almost always, incredible.

click images to enlarge


for many of the students, we are the first western foreigners they will interact with - so we tend to become fascinating creatures in their eyes:

we're impossibly tall, have funny coloured hair and eyes, speak in strange tongues and come from mystical lands far, far away.

"I thought that South Africa's people were all black.  However it was no!"

to distinguish between Fathead and another teacher who shares his name, the students have labelled him "big iain"  (in reference to his height).  for no practical reason, they have taken to calling me "yellow cat" and because of my name, i am often depicted as a feline heroine.  

last week my homeroom drew me as a yellow supercat, wielding a board marker in the one hand, and (for some reason known only to the artists) wearing nothing but a brick of ramen (two minute noodles) as a fanny-pack.  

don't ask.

nobody panic!

i'm not sure if you've been following the world news lately - but there's been a rather important story unfolding on this side of the globe ...

to catch you up, basically there are two countries - north korea and south korea.  in the last century, there was an armed conflict between the two, which came to an end in 1953.  however, no peace treaty was ever signed and as a result, the two sides are technically still at war.

since the fighting ceased, the south has flourished into an internationally respected nation.  the north, run by a nutcase (kim jong-il) has been sanctioned to the hilt, and has receded into complete isolation from the rest of the world.

kim jong-il ... fruitcake

their brothers in the south used to send them aid, with the intention of repairing relations. however, two years ago they stopped the "sunshine policy" as the north became ever more resistant to co-operating with the world and it's anti-nuke efforts.

so the people in the north hate the world, and the world pretty much hates the people in the north.  china is kind of fencing-sitting and the americans (obviously) have set up camp and made themselves quite comfortable on the south's border, guns locked and loaded.

about a month ago, there was a south korean military ship that cruised into waters of a disputed territory between the two sides.  there was an explosion, and the ship sank - tragically claiming the lives of 46 south korean soldiers.  the nation went into mourning, whilst the south korean president vowed that a full investigation would be conducted, and if foul play was proven, he would respond "resolutely".

courtesy of bbc.com

i'm sure you can guess where this is going?  so, they put together an international task team (so that the findings would be objective), and the findings were (surprise, surprise) that the explosion was a torpedo from the north.

the north are denying it - but just for good measure, are also saying that if they are given any trouble as a result of it, they are ready and more than willing to go to war.

america has said that the north will not be excused from this act, and will be sent a very clear and strong message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated by the rest of the world.

china are just repeating the sequence of events in a factual, impartial voice - while japan have joined the american band-wagon.

and the south are holding their breath - waiting for their president, lee myeung-bak, to address the nation with his solution.

what this "solution" will be, in unclear - as the south have a slight dilemma on their hands:
  • they don't want to go to war, if not for humanitarian reasons then financial ones. 
  • further sanctions on the north would be futile - as there's pretty much nothing left for them to sanction, and it would only provoke the north's trigger-happy finger.  
  • adult discussion is completely out of the question, as the north's leader is even more balmy than that syphillis-ridden mugabe twat. 
on the ground, the feeling is un-phased and maybe somewhat oblivious.  life goes on as normal, and we probably would not have even heard about all this had it not been for world news broadcasters.  i'm still trying to decide whether to find comfort in the calm, or be concerned by it.  i'll let you know when i've come to a conclusion.  but for now, we keep our eyes glued to the headlines and our fingers crossed.  i have no doubt that should things take a turn for the worst, we'll be on the first flight out - and we're only here for 5 more weeks, so we should be fine. i'm pretty sure we'll be fine ... here's hoping. 

basically all they need to do is save face, avenge the murder of their soldiers', fulfill international expectations, live up to their promise of "resolute response", maintain the strength of the currency, avoid world war III and send a message to a leader who refuses to hear it.

but like i said, "nobody panic" ...

the glass is half full (of rain)

lately, most of our time on the interwebs is spent researching our future destinations.  it's amazing how many hours you can lose trawling travel blogs, forums and on-line visa providers. lonely planet's website is seeing more traffic, than the koeberg interchange on a friday afternoon.

i've just stumbled upon this article, which i absolutely love. it has such a refreshing way of looking at monsoon season (during which we will be experiencing most of our travels).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

a note from the author

there's been a marked decrease in the frequency of my posts on this here blog of mine.  the reasons are varied - from periods of internet-less-ness (due to server crashes), to bouts of blogger's block. 

i've also been doing a lot of back-end maintenance on the blog, while i still have the chance - heaven only knows how much internet access i will have once we're backpacking.

for future reference - all facebook albums will be linked to the F@head files via the strip of pink links you'll find in the sidebar on the right.  these take you directly to the complete collection of my most recent photos. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

changing view

spring has finally arrived and our world has been completely transformed.  this is the view from our room, and its various phases of metamorphosis.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

well, blow me down

when you first get to korea, just about everything is new and different.  you spend most of your time people watching, gazing in awe at the countless examples of strangeness that ooze from every nook and cranny in this odd country.

once you've been here for a few months, the novelty wears off.  things that used to floor you, are now largely unnoticed.

you forget that it's not normal to drink beer from a plastic bottle.
you stop having to remind yourself to get toilet paper on your way out of the restaurant to the shared, public toilet.
it no longer strikes you as disgusting to have to throw used toilet paper into a bin, as opposed to flushing it down the bowl.

by now, forks and flattering female footwear are a distant memory.

so once you've reached this stage, it is both refreshing and surprising when you stumble upon something that still tickles the western cynic within.  for me, this topic of fascination and amusement has provided us with hours of hilarity.  and the funny thing is, it's not a joke.

if i told you that it was a cultural belief, you'd be hard pressed to find it polite to laugh about - right?  what if i told you that it is also afforded the reputation of taking many korean lives every year?  a recognised killer of the elderly and young.  it strikes in summer and leaves families traumatised is its wake of destruction.

not a laughing matter, you're thinking.
you'd be right.

until i told you that this ruthless killer was this guy:

fan death

i shit you not.  this is a real, medically accepted cause of death in korea.  no joke.

as the temperatures rise in the summer months, so too do the levels of fear and caution around this very dangerous appliance.  i'd love to tell you that the fatal blow ('scuse the pun) is a manufacturing fault that causes the fan to burst into flames, engulfing everyone and thing around it in a fatal explosion.  however, that would make too much sense.  instead, this killing machine uses a far more subtle method of slaughter.

to convince skeptical westerners of this phenomenon, koreans will provide one of the following explanations:

theory 1: when left on overnight in a sealed room, a fan creates a vortex, sucking all the oxygen from the room - hence leading to suffocation.

theory 2: the blades of a fan chop up the oxygen particles in the air, leaving none left for the sleeping victim to inhale.

theory 3: the fan itself somehow uses the oxygen in the air, as fuel - leaving dangerously high (fatal) levels of carbon dioxide in the air.

theory 4 (and my personal favourite): fans cause hypothermia.   now i don't know about you, but there are nights in africa where the temperatures are so unbearably high that i would pay good money for a fan effective enough to cause hypothermia.

i will forever treasure the look of utter perplexity, that the kids had the other day, when i shattered their worlds with one simple truth:

"did you know that no other people in the whole world have ever died from fan death?"
"but teacher ... why?"
"well, no one dies from fans anywhere else but in korea"
"haull" (annoying throat noise they make to indicate surprise)
"i don't know ... why do you think that is?"

blank blinking stares.

the belief in fan death is not an out-dated myth, held only by the inbred and village idiots.  no,no.  fan death is a medically accepted cause of death.  it is regularly reported on in the media.  well-educated, credible public figures acknowledge and fear it.

so serious is this matter, that the government-funded Korean Consumer Protection Board issued this public safety alert in 2006:

"If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes [the] bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [an] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration [sic] and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open."

to combat this crisis, all fans are sold with health warnings and switch-off timers.

a few weeks ago, a friend of ours was down with a very bad bout of the flu.  to counter her raging temperature, she slept with her fan on all night.  and to counter that, she kept her windows wide open.  she did this, not because she had bought into the myth - but rather to ensure that if she did peg in the night her death certificate would not be delivered to her welsh mother stating that her daughter had lost her fight for life, to a fan.

when i decided to write a post about fan death - i gave it a considerable think.  cultural differences are very often at the centre of a heated debate over here.  especially in the multicultural community we are in.  words and their meanings are often interpreted out of context.  offense is easily caused without intent.  being a westerner in korea, you have to be especially careful to not pass judgment and always be aware that somethings are neither wrong, nor right ... only different.

i could have approached this with more objectivity, yes.  i'll admit that it lacks a respectful tone.  but had i tried to present this matter to you in any nicer way, i couldn't have given it the ridicule it deserves.