Sunday, 29 April 2012

My weekend

My love for volleyball wasn't just strengthened by the fact that most of my classes were cancelled on Thursday and Friday, starting the weekend very early. BUT I loved how bothered about it the parents were, and the fact they used Starbucks' Frappuccinos and Paris Baguette cakes to bribe me into supporting their team.
After the volleyball, the parents of 5th grade put on a meal for the teachers. A bottle of Johnnie Walker per table proved to make quite an amusing night. It made the fact we were eating BBQ'd intestines not seem quite so bad, infact they didn't taste too gross, but the texture was just like you were chewing fat. The highlight of the meal was as we were leaving one of Natasha's homeroom teachers made everyone get in a circle, all put our hands in and do an 'I Love You!' chant...bizarre! This was followed by a No Age gig at Vinyl Underground in KSU.

Saturday was the nicest day we've had in Busan so far, so it seemed rude not to go to Haeundae beach and have a nap. Here are a couple of the sights we took in on the beach...

Innovative way to keep your scalp getting burnt//
Korean Nick Grimshaw// The boy whose head hair
and bum crack hair seemed to touch
When the sun went down we headed over to Gwangali beach to get some food and meet up with friends. Cass, fireworks and one of the most amazing views made it a perfect night.

I feel so tired after this weekend, so a pot of tea at what's becoming my favourite place in Busan, Dana's organic tea room, and The Avengers was the perfect end to an awesome weekend.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Friday Favourite V2: Bag Carrying Men

I've decided that at the end of every week I'm going to write down one thing I love about Korea. Last week it was the cat cafe and here is this week's...

How many times have you seen a guy stood outside the changing rooms in a shop, with a zoned out, flat face expression as he stands (or sits on the man sofa thatre always conveniently placed outside these places), still as a statue, awkwardly holding a handbag? Its almost as if the stance has been designed by males to demonstrate very clearly to others of the same sex that this most certainly is not his bag. It also communicates that he would rather be scratching out his own eyeballs than holding this bag. I think this trauma can only be equalled by recording over the final of his favourite sports match with an episode of Glee/ accidentally spraying him with perfume / asking him to buy tampons when he pops to the shop.

Or how about when you need to tie your lace, so you ask the guy youre with to hold your bag for a moment, only to find that the milisecond you start to manouvre into upright position, you suddenly have a black eye because the bag has been thrust back in your face with such force and apparent disgust? Or perhaps its balanced precariously on a dog waste bin, or a wall covered in the remnants of a kebab which has already been devoured once, just so he can avoid holding it?

Just the other night Tasha and I were in a bar, playing darts with some British guys. Tashas turn comes around, and she asks one of the guys to hold her clutch while she threw an awesome shot, only to find she was greeted with high tens all around. Noticing the said boys hands were suspiciously free to give out these congratulatory slaps, she looked around to find the bag dumped on a nearby table in a puddle of beer.

Well look at this girls, the guys here voluntarily carry their other halves bags. The first time I saw it I thought it was cute, the second time I swooned, and then I noticed that every guy seemed to be at it. It doesnt matter if its big, gold and glitzy with a baribe doll charm hanging off it or small, sleek and Chanel, theyll happily hoist it over their shoulder.

Admittedly I think the Korean guys are a lot more in touch with their feminine side. Ive seen pink phone covers, polka dot umbrellas and gadgets covered in glitzy stickers sported on a daily basis. There are cardboard cut outs in cosmetic shops with guys enthusiastically applying lip gloss, and the only time Ive seen a guy NOT carrying his girlfriends bag, is when his own manbag is bigger than hers.

A lot of Korean girls we have spoken to (and guys) tell us that the English guy is very romantic and gentle. I imagine theyre thinking of someone that has just walked out of a Jane Austen novel, and they simply cannot believe it when their ideas are met with a doubled over laugh. Ive seen the light in a few Korean girls eyes go out forever when we tell them about white vans, wolf whistles and football.

I guess its the fact that I'm accustomed to how highly the British guys value the perception of the manly image that maybe makes this small gesture such a big deal in my eyes. Im not saying that British guys or Korean guys are better with their small quirks. I for one would rather not share a cherry flavoured lip balm with my other half. But I guess its the demonstration that you care about someone enough to not really give a fig how others perceive you that I like.  

Thursday, 26 April 2012


Finding these in my post box after work and an unsuccessful trip to the bank really helped to blow away the grey cloud that was hanging over my head. Thank you Hannah and Leigh!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Under the Sea

Listen to the Slippery Fish song. Now listen to it again. And again, and maybe 100 more times. Add in the dance moves that you are forcing 9-11 year olds to do (even when they tell you this is so kindergarten), then on top of this spend lots of long hours inhaling felt particles and sewing pom poms and boggly eyes on lots of things and that pretty much sums up our last fortnight. All in preparation for one of Namsungs English event days, this time the theme was under the sea.

The whole point of an event day is for the kids to have fun, but at the same time practise some vocab and role plays that they may have to use in the real world (I'm not sure how many primary school kids have been on a submarine, but I think that we were stuck for ideas!).

I knew it was bad when I found myself not being able to sleep at night because I was too busy thinking about what I could make out of some orange felt and copious amounts of sparkly pom poms. Just when I managed to stop myself, that song would creep back into my head. Eugh.

So I was kind of happy when event day finally came around, it all felt a little last minute, like everything else seems to be in Korea. We were at school until 11:30 on Monday night, trying to make the classrooms worthy of the Marine Party that we'd promised. Here are the end results...

One of the classrooms// The Event Room// Me and my co-teacher Jinny and the mermaid//
Tasha and another co-teacher Grace// Some of the kids fishing// Jinny and Grace//
Kids playing 'Who's got Nemo?'// Learning about sea creatures// Treasure Chest

I'm absolutely worn out after the last 2 days, but it has been fun! Dressing up as a turtle and getting the kids to fish for prizes is always better than teaching formal lessons. My favourite part was getting the loser of the game to stand behind the Mermaid cutout that we'd made, the kids went absolutely crazy for it, and the loser would always reluctantly poke their face through. Somehow it was always my favourite student that would lose, so I got to have lots of pictures with them - I promise I didn't fix it. I also adored our co-teacher, Grace's outfit, even if it did terrify the kids.

It was quite sad this afternoon to take everything back down and turn the English department back into a classroom. It took us hours to put everything up and less than one hour to tear it all back down again. I'm also kinda sad that I won't get to see them do any more Octopus dance moves, the more grudgingly they did it, the cuter they were! 

I am glad, however, not to hear the song anymore, but think I'll probably be coughing up pom poms for the next few weeks after being surrounded by them for so long.

Finally, thought I would share this video I was asked to make, with hardly any notice, to demonstrate the role play that the kids had to act out. Is it any wonder that I'm a minor celeb at Namsung?! And why am I smiling like a complete goon the whole way through?!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Getting to 2nd base with the Lotte Giants

At school Im constantly being told that my classes have been cancelled due to volleyball practise which obviously I dont have any complaints about, but the amount of wounds the sport inflicts upon the students makes their love for the sport seem slightly self destructive. The students are constantly rolling up their sleeves to show me these angry purple and blue bruises all the way up their forearms. The collection of bandages and pots is steadily increasing as the volleyball season goes on, and just to get them talking English I always ask whats happened, and the answer is always volleyball. So far theres been at least 5 sprained thumbs, Ive seen one broken toe, a broken arm and two legs in casts. I know its probably a little hypocritical coming from me with my choice of sport, but I do find it completely bizarre.

I think theres only one sport that the Koreans seem to like more than volleyball, and thats baseball.

After lots of invites to join in with the volleyball practises, I decided to avoid the obvious high risks of the sport and stick to baseball instead. Our local team is the Lotte Giants. Lotte is a massive conglomerate in Korea. It has a few humongous department stores across Busan alone, along with its own grocery line, financial services and fast food chain. Apparently, although the people from Busan are dedicated to their team, they are not overly fond of the corporation and think that more could be done in the ways of spending to help their team.

On Wednesday we finally got around to watching a game. It isnt the first time that weve tried though. Wed read about the pre-season matches and in our first few weeks here we decided to head over and catch one. We arrived about 6, only to be greeted by what seemed like Korea, post-zombie invasion. The streets were dead, there wasnt even a drunk business man propped up against a lamp post, or a lonely flyer dancing with the breeze, reminiscent of the days when it was tossed at an innocent bystander so unlovingly by the man on the moped. The floodlights werent even on.

We walked right upto the stadium and were told with the over exaggerated arm crossing gesture they love to do here that the baseball was already over. That gesture makes me feel like one of those contestants from Britain's Got Talent who's decided it would be a brilliant idea to incorporate wild goats and fire into their act. The Giants had failed to mention on their website that the matches started at 2pm pre season.

So the scene on Wednesday night at Sajik was completely different. Hundreds of people poured off the metro and like lemmings all marched their way to the stadium. Donned in Giants caps, jackets and shirts. Most were ladened with big bags full of beer and a spread that would even knock the sucked-a-sour-lemon expressions from Gregg Wallace and John Torodes faces. For those that hadnt come prepared, there was an array of street vendors selling the most bizarre concoction of food I had ever seen.

Forget the traditional pies, pasties and burgers that you would seen on a typical match day in the UK. Instead there was sushi, full roasted chickens and dried squid. All on sale for literally pittance.

We walked upto the stadium and easily bought tickets for just roughly 2.40 each off a lady who thought that to make the spots on her face more discreet it would be better to stick little plasters over them. Ingenious idea.

With lots of wafting our tickets in the arena workers faces and pointing, we finally managed to get to our bleachers. We wedged ourselves amongst business men with sushi on one side, a family with a meal in tupperware on the other, and a group of old men who turned up with a box of fried chicken.  I cant really say much about the game that ensued because to be honest, I didnt have a clue what was going on. BUT there was a great atmosphere, surrounded by people stuffing their faces and chanting. We evntually went and bought some Cass, the national beer, and snacks and joined in with the revelry.

Tasha enjoying a Lotteria burger// Batter //
The snacks of the people infront of us// Getting my beer jacket on

I loved seeing the cheerleaders that were a lot more conservative in comparison to even the Cheerios. Wearing high necked baseball shirts and shorts.

My favourite part of the whole game was in one of the breaks. Sixpence Non the Richer- Kiss Me started blaring out of the speakers, and the camera would zoom in on a couple in the crowd, whose face would then be blown up on the big screen, and would stay framed until they kissed. How cute. Especially for the two teen boys that the cameraman repeatedly kept focusing on, subjecting them to an awkward moment where they would peer at each other questioningly, but then seemed to shrug it off and locked lips in an embrace.

I had a really good night that cost me hardly anything, so Im really looking forward to going to support the Giants again on a warm Saturday afternoon, hopefully with someone who can explain the rules a little more.

How to get there:

-Catch the brown line to Sajik and use Exit 1.
-Take the second right and you should see the Giants' home and the mass of people swarming towards it.

Apparently the tickets of the last home game that falls on a Wednesday are always half price, which meant for bleacher seats this came to 4,000 won. We got there at about 6:30, when the game was due to start, there was alot of queuing for tickets but we didn't miss much of the action.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Friday Favourite V.1: With Cat, Cat Cafe

I've decided that at the end of every week I'm going to write down one thing I love about Korea. I'm a bit late this week but here goes!

When I was six I had something that amalgamated two of my greatest loves into one thing. It was my pet cat, who I’d had the privilege to name, and I named him Moonwalker. Moonwalker was an over weight black furry bundle of joy that would remind me of my favourite singer and film every time I fussed him.

That was before the days where Michael Jackson had all the surgery and all the kid stories started floating around. The film is still pretty awesome though. As I’ve got older, I’ve got other things that I’ve discovered and grown to love, like tea. Many an afternoon I’ve spent with a good brew, pondering over how the hell Jacko did that weird leany thing in this video 7:16 mins in. But cats have always been a constant love of mine. 

Imagine then, how happy I was when I discovered that here in Korea there are Cat Cafes. It was rainy and dismal here in Busan. But as soon as we stepped into the cat café I was in a pastel paradise. A massive array of teas were on offer, served in teapots (I’ve not seen enough of them here!) which you could enjoy while having these cats struggle for your attention. 

 There were big ones, small ones, fluffy ones, bald ones, dressed up ones, Siamese ones, ones with weird lacey collars on and a grotesquely fat one. 

 I had read before I came that these weren’t the best places for cats, that they had their claws removed so that they couldn’t scratch the school girls that loved to pull their tails and taunt the cats, so I was a little suspicious of the place at first. As soon as we got there I was happy that the owner warned us that they may scratch, that the cats trotted to greet us promiscuously seeking out our attention. I was also relieved when I heard them purr. 

Needless to say I’ve come home super happy, although drugged upto the eyeballs on anti-allergy tablets. All I need to do now is out smart the cat lord on my next visit who was loitering there with his cat treats, obviously having had a bath in cat nip scented bubbles and had them swarming around him like minions…jealous much?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Talk Derby to me...

We’re about to hit the 100 day mark on the count down to the Olympics, and sadly I won’t be in the country to see any of it. Even sadder than this is the fact that my favourite sport doesn’t even get a look in on the games. With the aches and bruises still fresh after this weekend’s first practise with my new team, ROKD, I thought now was a perfect time to talk about my obsession with the sport of roller derby. 

 People always go on about those moments that are so life changing that you can always remember exactly what you were doing when it happened. Most of them evolve maybe around meeting a loved one, or perhaps 9/11, and although I do still have a few memories like this, there is another far more dominant memory that I can easily conjure . It’s the memory of when I first discovered roller derby. 

 I was flicking through Nude, a ‘counter-culture’ magazine at my friend’s house in 2008, and they had run an article on the amazing London Roller Girls
The pictures that went along with the piece were of these pretty intimidating, athletic looking girls, covered in tattoos on quad skates. 

At that time I had just graduated and started a 9-5 temporary job. The job turned out to be a rude awakening from the dream that had been 3 years of having 6 hours of lectures a week, which I very rarely managed to make, spending every waking hour on the pursuit of having fun with like minded friends, and drinking. A lot. Needless to say I was feeling out of sorts, spent a lot of my days hanging around in baggy old band tshirts at my then boyfriends house, even though he was out having the time of his life on his BMX, and my friends from uni felt a million miles away. I desperately needed a hobby. So when I left Clare’s house that day I took the magazine with me, and noticed at the end of the article there was mention of a few other teams, the closest being Leeds. 

I got back to said boyfriends house, logged onto Myspace(that’s how long ago it was) and just as I was poised with my fingers hanging over the keys, he burst in and asked what I was upto. I told him and he mentioned that a girlfriend of one of the guys he rode with was trying to start up a team in Sheffield. And that was where my love affair with derby started. 

I can honestly say when I met Pauline, A.K.A Jane Do A Go-Go 49, outside the sticky old skate rink, I never imagined how much things would change. We were 5 or 6 girls, stumbling around on skates, without much purpose. We would wait avidly at the rink every week to see if any new additions would turn up. People came and went but I think nearly all of the originals are still with the Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, hitting harder than ever.

It took a few months to figure out what all this roller derby malarkey was about, 2 jammers racing around a track, being helped or hindered by 4 girls on each side who would try and make life as hard as possible for the opposing jammer.

Thousands of drills, 2 pairs of skates, a PCL ligament tear, handfuls of bouts and one marathon under my belt later and I’m still as in love with the sport as I used to be. 

After all of the knocks, the bruises, the aches in the mornings, the creaky knee, the stinky pads, the laddered tights. The times you’ve been knocked down and feel like you can’t get back up again, but know you have 13 other team mates dependant on you. The frustrating doctors appointments when the only cure they could see for a bad knee would be to just not skate anymore. The times you only have a few more laps to go, but you’re so hot that you can feel your heart beating in your head. The bad moments the photographers catch on camera. The frustrating hours when you’ve tried and tried and tried to perfect a move but it just won’t click. The times you’ve been lured into a trap and see the opposing jammer fly past and know you could have stopped it. The ‘meh’ feeling after a long day at work and knowing you have to strap those skates on. Those moments you wait, down on one knee, with baited breath to see if your team mate will get back up again. The days that are perfect, that are so very rare and precious in England, but it’s practise day and you have to go into the dingy sports hall…I think all of this is justified with the high moments you get from derby. 

High moments such as; taking a knock and staying on your feet, knocking someone else over and knowing that at the end of practise you’ll still be good friends. The moment when you realise that it’s fine to make inappropriate jokes infront of your fellow team mates. Food fights, after parties, house parties, fancy dress parties. Watching your jammer win lead jammer status. A smooth star pass, a perfectly applied tactic. The feeling you get when you feel your team mate’s thigh right next to you, and you know you’ve built a tough wall to break. Watching something you’ve been a part of for years slowly grow and develop. New players that you learn lessons from. Old players that you learn lessons from. Refs that know their stuff. An excuse to buy socks and unseemly shorts. Cupcakes. Wearing the star on your helmet and seeing the jam ref pointing at you. The tense nights spent watching the Derby World Cup. Having something that’s always there to help you keep your chin up, no matter how hard your day, week or month is going. Meeting people from all over the world that you instantly have something in common with. In Jokes, the days when you have nothing to do, but just have to pick up the phone and instantly you have several people with plans that involve you, group work outs in the park, hula hoop lessons, pole dancing lessons. The amazing photos the photographer catches that you know you will keep forever, and show your family with pride when you’re old and arthritic and they refuse to believe that you once spent most of your time knocking others down. 

They always say that you should never look back, but derby is the exception, not only to catch that sneaky jammer, but also to reflect on all the lessons learnt and places visited because of it. For me the sport has opened so many doors, and closed a few that I perhaps wouldn’t have had the strength to close if I wasn’t part of the derby community. I’ve met some people along the way that I think I’ll always be close to, no matter where they end up. I’ve moved half way around the world with a friend who was a complete stranger to me only a few years ago. I pretty much have to thank Pauline and her determination to start a team in Sheffield for one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me. Mwah! x

** I also wanted to add a big thank you to Jason Ruffell, the main culprit of those aforementioned amazing and awful pictures that he always seems to take when you're least expecting it. You can see more of his work here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

한글 Hangeul

Slowly but surely I'm starting to learn the Hangeul alphabet. I started a bit naively, thinking at least if I could read it then it might make life a little easier - completely forgetting that once I could read it, all I would be doing is reading foreign words that make little or no sense to me at all. Duh. 

 When I first started learning the first few symbols and sounds of this new alphabet, it didn't seem too hard. I got to the examples, saw the symbols and in brackets the fact that this was the pronunciation for the word furniture. However when my brain slowly recalled the sounds each symbol represented, and my mouth twisted into weird and wonderful shapes to pronounce it, I was heartbreakingly devastated to notice that the sound didn't sound anything like the word furniture. That's when it clicked. Sad times.

It has however helped me to be able to pronounce the students names a little better, and to notice the fact that my name card that I have been proudly wearing around my neck since I started working at the school calls me Manderin. Brilliant.

Anyway- it didn't help whatsoever when I went to buy my new phone yesterday. There were lots of complications that one of the teachers had to talk me through, so I ended up with a weird looking thing made by LG with some Windows program on it, but it was all in Hangeul. As I tried to work my way around it, I realised that even if the phone was in English I don't think it would be the most accessible. 

Which leads me to today making the MASSIVE decision to head into Nampo, completely alone, with only my phrase book and rubbish phone in hand. I stepped into the shop and walked up to the very feminine looking male shop assistant, with his cubic zirconia earring and his beige snood, all geared up and ready to use a bit of pidgin Korean - when he whipped my phone out of my hand and asked 'English?'.

Well that was the start of a whole hour and a half ordeal. The outcome being that the phone doesn't let you change the language of it, so i swapped it for a phone that I am sure was around before they even invented the wheel. So I left feeling a bit deflated that the language skills of this metrosexual were probably vastly superior to mine. Nevermind.

But this has given me the resolve to perhaps focus more on the conversational bits of Korean I can pick up, rather than hiding behind reading it. There are only so many Yung Suks and Min Youngs you can pronounce differently.

Incase anyone is interested, here are the links that i have been using:

Talk to me in Korean
Learn Hangeul