Kimchi, Kimchi, Kimchi……….

Kimchi is the stuff of nightmares.  A bold statement indeed, but I hate the stuff. Until now I’ve tried to keep it on the down low for fear that the adjummas and adjusshis will bully me relentlessly and force feed me Kimchi to make me “more Korean”.

For anyone who is fortunate enough not to know what it is Kimchi is the national dish of Korea.  Same as potatoes to us Irish but they love it on a whole other scale.  It’s a fermented vegetable dish and its disgusting.  It’s served hot or cold and comes in all kinds of variations, soups, stews, on its own, in chicken, the list goes on and on.

It’s dreadful and to make my case worse it seems to follow me around.  It’s everywhere.  School, the bus, kimbap Nara, galbi restaurant, in clothes stores, there’s no escaping.  One of my students got sick on the desk the other day and I’m fairly sure I saw Kimchi in there.  Everyone here eats it.  It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, you eat Kimchi.  In fact I don’t know one Korean who doesn’t like Kimchi.  They like it so much that  instead of saying cheese when taking photos, they say Kimchi. Surely it’s a sign.  AAAAAHHHHHHH the very thought of it right now makes me want to get sick.

I hate it for three reasons;

1. It’s smelly.  The stuff is sooooooooooooooooo smelly that Koreans need special fridges dedicated to Kimchi.  Good news for the genius who’s rolling in the dough, bad news for those of us who hate Kimchi.  Koreans now have more space to put more Kimchi………………….excellent.

2. It tastes like a really bad fart.  Imagine the worst, smelliest fart you’ve ever smelled and now imagine eating it.  That’s what Kimchi tastes like.

3. The crunchy sound of it being eaten is too much. Every time I hear someone eating Kimchi, that crunchy, everlasting sound makes me want to jump across the table and choke them.

There’s even a Kimchi museum and my first year here I went with my friend.  Honestly, it was the most awful hour I ever spent in a museum.  I mean how many different kinds of Kimchi can you possibly need??????? But they have like 300,000,000,000 and that’s a lot of kimchi.  It differs from region and ingredients and so on and so forth.  Honestly any dish that requires a stint in the ground after you make it is surely not healthy. The best part of the whole experience was when a woman swapped me a chocolate bar for a picture of me. I took pictures there but mostly of my friend and I looking at things. ( Perhaps I’ll start up a Shauna looks at……….blog)

But Koreans LOVE it.  My friend went to hospital with a fever last week.  The doctor told her to “go home and eat more meat and Kimchi” How to lose weight? Eat more Kimchi (surely a contradiction) How to get clear skin? Eat more Kimchi. Hungry? Eat Kimchi (duh) Want better grades? Eat  more Kimchi. It’s the solution to life’s problems.  Imagine what Irish people could do if they had Kimchi AND tea.  The possibilities would be endless.

Don’t take me wrong there are foreigners out there who can tell the difference in the kimchi and love it the same as Koreans.  But I have a feeling I’m not alone in this silent hate for Kimchi…………………….

This is my best friend.

Imagine this.  You’re sitting in the back of a taxi in Seoul.  It’s lashing rain outside so you’re grateful that you’re not getting wet.  Then, your best friend, who is sitting beside you says;

“Why are you going to Korean class anyway?”

Me; To keep my skills sharp, the more I practise, the better I get.

Best friend; Well, I don’t know why you bother since English is going to replace Korean in the next few years.

Me; Really? How would you know that?

Best friend; Well have you looked at G market recently???????????????

Me;……………………………….?????????????????????????…………………..huh?

Yes, this just about sums up every conversation I have with my best friend.  She’s someone who, even if you meet her just once, you are likely to be very scarred by your experience and guaranteed to never forget her. 

We go back a long way too.  This isn’t one of those Korean friendships.  No, No, we go back to the good old days when our summers were filled talking to tourists in West Clare.  It was by chance that we shared the same apartment that summer and so began the randomness that looks set to continue.  Our days were filled “working” and our nights were filled in the local village looking for trouble.  All those nights we set out on the 2km journey back to our little house, stopping only to “fertilise the grass”.  

Skip a few years of internet friendship and here we are again, together, in Korea.  Oh how the good old days have returned.  But instead of calming her down, age seems to have made her randomness worse and her “verbal diarrhea” is in such a chronic state, it is beyond all forms of repair.  She says and does things that even has me wondering what I’m actually supposed to do.  For instance, she loves music and finds it perfectly appropriate to burst into any song while waiting on the train, bus, bus stop etc.  And not only that but every time she comes to my apartment, she fills her hours on youtube finding the most random videos possible and forcing me to watch them.  That’s right, anything from that German hip hop man to the Japanese video public service announcement about getting robbed (which she does her own moves to sometimes.)Hours of endless entertainment.

If there’s one thing that isn’t her most redeeming quality, it is her complete inability to walk in a straight line.  Seriously, I don’t know how she does it.  Even when you leave a wide space she still manages to walk on you.  And when we have a few drinks she gets worse.  Of course, this rather unfortunate inability to walk straight means that she’s more prone than usual to accidents.  Like the time she broke her toe, but didn’t know.  After complaining about the pain in her foot for weeks, she finally went to the doctor, who looked at her toe, looked at her and said “eeehhhhhh……I think that toe is broken….did you not know????”Too little too late there.  Yes, we have spent many the night having a few drinks, swapping stories of injuries we have sustained (although I just have one so really she does all the talking). And it’s like a party piece, because no one can ever top the ridiculous accidents she had throughout the years. 

I threatened to write a blog about her a few weeks ago when she said something “her” and then I forgot and wrote about the bus instead and for this got myself put down on the “friendship graph” The concept of a friendship graph might be new to many of you, indeed it was for me until my friend, introduced it to the Geumchon Crew, one afternoon at lunch.  So you have a picture of all your friends on a graph on the back of your wardrobe door.  The graph goes from strange to casual acquaintance to best best friend.  And then according to your behaviour during the day you either go up on the graph or taken down on the graph.  Yes, none of us had heard it either and now the phrase ” you’re going down on the graph” is heard more often than anything else.

I’ve had to filter a lot of the things I say about her here because most of it is pure mean.  Like I’m fairly sure one of her favourite songs is “small people”   It says things like “small people go no reason to live, they got dirty little fingers and they tell great big lies…….” and it goes on like this. The follows every mean statement with this special eye thing that she does.  It’s  hard to describe really , almost like her eyes expand and the muscles in her eyebrows have no control of their own. 

But beyond all the compulsory video watching, meanness and random conversation lies a heart of gold.  Someone, who makes everyone laugh with her ideas. She never thinks twice about helping you when you need it, even if it means going without something herself.  You can tell her anything and be guaranteed that she’ll actually keep it a secret.  And best of all, she loves to drink tea.  Of course this is compulsory best friend requirement but on any given night when she comes over we can get through at least 4 or 5 cups each.  Usually this is while watching some epic programmes that she suggested, Sherlock, Republic of Doyle, Flight of the Conchords.  She also keeps my apartment clean.  I mean she doesn’t actually clean it but she’s on it when I don’t.  The first thing she does when she walks in is smell the air.  If it doesn’t smell sufficiently of bleach and cleaning product, the questioning begins. “Shauna, did you clean your bathroom????”

The bathroom issue is possibly her greatest weakness.  She is somewhat of a Monica (from Friends) and like everything clean.  So public bathrooms definitely don’t live up to this standard.  To combat any nasty surprises she sends me in first to check for cleanliness and after I report back she’ll either use it or not.  It’s the funniest thing. And it totally backfired on me when she ventured in alone last week out of desperation only to have the toilet explode on her……….that also got me moved down on the friendship graph for being late.

In conclusion, my best friend is  a Canadian who uses the words “tooque, moose, maple syrup, snow,junk and nasty” as well as “yer man and yer wan” (her mum is Irish).  We have a very special relationship that is based on a deep understanding of the other and all I can say is……..if you meet her………………brace yourself!

My love/hate relationship with Korean buses

Don’t take me wrong.  The 60 minutes I spend on the bus going to and coming from school are, without a doubt, the most 60 minutes of my day.  No pressure to get ready, no one making ridiculous timetable changes, telling you to actually work, no crazy children running around picking their noses and offering the snots to you for a snack. No. It’s 60 minutes of the day where I’m free to do whatever I want.  Usually, my chosen activities are;(in no particular order)

1. Reading– Excellent way to beat in the time.  Get lost in a book and spend the day thinking of how the next part is going to go.

2. Sleeping– If you read my post about the sleepwalking then you already know that if I have a bad night, I can tell by being super tired the next day. 

3. Doing my Korean homework; Yes, TOPIK doesn’t get passed by fluke. I can’t escape on the bus so I’m forced to actually do the homework.

4. Listening to music; Sometimes, when I’m in that singing mood, I do my special “silent singing” where I’m mouthing all the words but there’s no sound escaping.  This causes people to think 1) This girl is crazy or 2) Wow,  that must be great music.  I’m actually improving at the silent singing and feel I sound great.

The buses are reliable, cheap and always seem to drop you within walking distance of wherever it is you want to go. 

But, while that’s all well and good, I do encounter a problem on the bus that actually really bothers me.  Every day, I am the last person Korean people sit beside. In fact some days, people stand up rather than take the last seat beside me.  I’ve given this a lot of thought and have come up with some reasons to explain this peculiar behaviour.

1) I smell bad.  Impossible.  Since the discovery of the bus problem, I’ve made an extra special effort to smell of perfume from a bottle and I’ve been know to take the occasional shower.

2) I smell too good.  Also impossible since the problem arose before I made that extra special effort.

3) People are jealous of my silent singing skills.  Impossible since I’m the only one who can hear it.

4) People don’t want to climb over me to get to the next seat.  Now this one is actually legitimate and something I hate myself.  So I’ve tried (for social research purposes only) sitting in each seat and the effect is the same- no one will sit next to me. 

5) The seat beside me is damaged.  Nope.

6) My seat is in a bad location.  Is this even possible on a bus?

7) I’m foreign.  Well since 1-6 are useless reasons, 7 is the only one that makes sense.   What do people think I’m going to do to them if they sit next to me?????????? Eat them? Kill them? Heaven forbid I might actually talk to them. 

The really interesting thing is that whenever there are brave souls who are willing to sit next to the foreigner they are from one of two groups; 1) Adjummas, who have no choice but to sit down for fear of falling or 2) Young students, who then giggle their way through the journey. 

Everyone in between will never sit next to me.  I actually wonder if this is a problem that affects other foreigners travelling by bus to work or just me????????

10 things I couldn’t live without in Korea.

It always amazes me how people who haven’t been to Korea assume that we have no internet and that I live in some random village in the back of beyonds where people don’t talk to me and I have no friends.  Well, that’s totally not the case.  Everything anyone needs in life can be found here, so here’s the top 10 things I couldn’t live without;

1. T-money card– Otherwise know as your trasportation card.  You just top it up with money and away you go.  You can use it on subways and buses and in Seoul, taxis.  Since I don’t have a car (yet) I use this ever day to go and come home from school.  So easy to use and they come as a charm so you can attach it to your phone or keys (see picture).

2. Laptop– Korea has some of the fastest internet in the world.  If I didnt have my laptop, I literally couldnt survive.  Of course, I could also use a P.C. Bang in an absolute emergency but it’s all about the laptop for me…………

3. A.R.C.- or Alien Registration Card.  The card you get when you arrive and you need it for everything, get a phone, bank account, doctors etc…..so I couldn’t live without mine.

4. Transportation; The transportation system here is the business.  The buses always run on time, theres several buses going the same direction so always a choice.  Subway is the same, clean, effective, sometimes a little crowded but what can you do????????

5.  Barry’s Tea & my kettle:  A ridiculous reason but I couldn’t live in Korea if I couldn’t drink tea.  What would be the point???? What would I offer people who came over??????? What would I drink in the morning????? or the afternoon?????or at night??????? or in the early morning after a few drinks????????????

6.  Phone– I love my phone. It keeps me up to date any time any place. I can check emails, tweet about ridiculous stuff, check facebook, use Google maps to make me not so lost…  And it makes phone calls……..

7. I-pod: All those mornings, I miss the bus and have to wait 10 minutes would be so boring if I hadn’t my I-pod.  The headphones also serve as a people deterant.  If theres someone you’d rather not talk to, simply put in your headphones and guaranteed they won’t come near you.

8. Bank: This one is a bit random but I couldn’t live here if I didn’t have my bank account.  I mean, ok, I could keep my money in my apartment (or spend it as fast as I could) but how would I send it home? Not having a bank account would only encourage me to spend every penny.  And not only that but sending my money to Ireland is sooooooooo easy.  And I enjoy the process. Unlike Ireland, the system in the bank is excellent.  Get a ticket for the area you want (regular teller, money exchange), go to that section and wait for your number to be called.  And the people in the bank are so great, they bring you the forms in advance to as to save time late, put your umbrella in plastic, offer you coffee while you wait and then they find some randomer who speaks English to serve you, should Korean be an inconvienence.  Excellent…….

9. 02-1330- Tourist Information Line– No one understands how great this number is.  It’s the magic number and the woman is the magic woman (although I’m fairly sure it’s different women but whatever).  So if you need to know anything remotely touristy in Seoul, just call and ask and they’ll tell you.  Seriously, you have no idea how brilliant it is…….. 

10. Jihachul app– Actually I don’t know how to spell 지하철 in English, sorry, but it’s this amazing app of the subways in Korea.  You simply choose the stop you leave from and the stop you’re going to and it calculates the fastest way/ fewest transfers/ how long it’ll take EVERYTHING! It’s in English so the days of getting on the wrong subway are well and truly over.

Adventures of a sleepwalker.

This morning I woke up clutching one of my handbags.  Was I out last night? No.  Did I drink alcohol last night? No.  Was I guarding my millions? Definitely not.  It was just another thing I did in my sleep.  I wasn’t going to blog about my crazy (but amazing) sleepwalking skills but feel that I should totally share my adventures. 

I’ve always done things in my sleep.My mother puts it down to my “overactive” imagination. I only became aware of it when my sister (who I shared a room with at the time) told me the episodes of the night before. It always ranged from just having a conversation with her to actually getting up and beating her.  Yes, correct, sometimes I used to hit her in my sleep.  She’ll vouch for this when she reads it. 

Sleeping in other people houses is always tricky.  In Ireland, when I was younger, it was only ever my aunts or uncles houses but they too have their stories.  Like the times I would get out of bed, leave my room, walk to their room, stand in the doorway and tell them we needed bread, milk and cheese, then close the door walk back to bed and go back asleep.  Or so they tell me.  I never have any recollection of these thing until someone tells me.

 In recent years it has made me in to somewhat of a freak.  Before I left Ireland, I was preparing for a course exam with 2 other girls.  We booked a family sized hotel room for the night. Lovely.  Sunday morning, they look at me and it’s “that” look.  I knew what was coming.  So what had I done this time????? Seemingly, I had woken them with the sounds of my clawing at the window trying to get it open.  They asked me if I was going back to bed to which I replied “ok” and off I went back.  It scares me to think what would have happened had I actually managed to get out that window on the 3rd floor of the hotel and I’ve taken to putting suitcase the against windows/balconies since then. 

Then there was the Vietnam incident.  According to my friends, I had entertained them in my sleep by first sitting up, going to the table and playing a board game.  After I went back to “sleep”, they thought it was over only to have me get back up an hour later, his time to write post cards.  Did the post cards make any sense?????? None, damn not such a great skill. 

According to online research, people who sleepwalk as adults are shown to have “difficulties handling aggression” bad news for anyone who knows me (although totally not true in my case).  Although they also state that sleepwalkers wo continue sleepwalking from child hood is rare.   But on the up side it’s strongly linked to families, so a big thanks to Mum or  Dad for passing that my way.  

Of course, I could go on all day about  the things I’ve done in my sleep, (proudest of which was the time I got dressed head to toe and got back in bed).  These days, because I live alone, I only have the signs (clutching the handbag or being super sleepy the next day) to tell me that I may have been up and about the night before. 

Surprisingly enough though, any time I mention the words “sleep-over” to my friends, they never seem to want to stay.  Strange or what………?

Top 10 reasons I’m staying in Korea.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I LOVE Korea.  There are no two ways about it.  Just in case I thought I’d put together my top 10 reasons for staying;

10. Holidays around Asia– Every chance I get, I go to a different place in Asia.  Long weekend in Hong Kong? Ok! Why not! Would I be doing that if I was in Ireland???? I think not………

9. Consumption of chocolate– The chocolate here isn’t great, actually it’s pretty terrible.  But fear not.  The kind people in Ireland have taken to sending me boxes of my chosen chocolate for the big occasions (christmas, birthday, easter).  If I received a huge box of chocolate in Ireland…………scrap that…. why would I receive a box of chocolate in Ireland?   Here though, when I get chocolate, I devour it like it’s going out of fashion and it’s seen as perfectly acceptable to eat as much as I like “ahhhhhh the poor foreign girl just got a package from home” Nice…..

8. Food…….food….food…and beer– I love food and I love beer.  Here they usually come together! It’s perfect.  Not only that but food and beer are both cheap.  And as if all that wasn’t good enough, you can get beer anywhere and drink it anywhere (within reason).  Sunday- what’ll I do?????? Oh I know, how about we go for a beer????? Excellent.  Bars never close and there’s always somewhere to eat.  Why would you leave this?????

7. I’ll always have a job– No denying it.  There will always be some school somewhere in Korea looking for the token foreigner to “teach” English.  Excellent- job security forever. 

6. I will never again have to worry about rent money- Undeniably the best thing about being foreign is that the school sorts out your apartment for the year. That’s as long as I stay teaching……..

5. You can get away with anything-If you don’t feel like queuing or waiting, you can simply pull out your “foreigner card” Skip the queue and then if anyone says anything, be like “oh I didn’t know, I’m foreign……” and of course we don’t understand Korean……..Are you convinced yet? 

4. Technology; Korea is light years ahead of Ireland in terms of technology. When I left Ireland, I was using some random old buttoned phone.  I come here and I have a super cool smart phone (that I’m a little addicted to).  Also anything that does anything is here. My favorite piece of technology is at the bus stop where you can check the balance of your tmoney card or check where the bus is and how many minutes it’ll take to get to you.  Hours of endless entertainment right there.

3. Paju Outlets– I live in Paju, by fluke.  It just so happened that my first school was here.  And since we’re so close to North Kore, the cost of land is cheap.  So of course, the Lotte and Shinsegae jumped on that bandwagon and put f the nicest outlets within a bus ride form my apartment.  All the brand labels you can think of…..shoes that actually fit……….and so much cheaper that Ireland.  Happiness……….

2. Service— Anyone reading this who is not in Korea will not have a clue what service is. Service is the free stuff you get when you buy something.  I’ve concluded that the more foreign you are the more stuff you get…….irrespective of the money you spend.  For example, if you buy makeup from any of the stores, you should expect to leave the store with the makeup and at least 10 samples (if not more).  North Face give the most and after I bought my backpack (for less than 100,000 won) I left with the backpack, a notebook, a phone charm and a pair of hiking socks.  Bad thing is that I’m so accustomed to getting free things that I literally stand at the counter waiting it now and sometimes on the rare occasion when there is no service I’m mighty disappointed. 

1 I am foreign– After a lot of thought, there simply is no better reason to stay.  I can’t speak for anywhere else but here in Paju being foreign is kind of big deal.  People constantly ask for pictures, compliment me on my beauty(white skin, blue eyes), come over simply to touch the whitest skin they’ve ever seen.  And life for a foreigner is amazing.  We have a great group here in Geumchon, so there’s always something to do, someone to hang out with, somewhere to go.  Once you learn some Korean everything becomes easier and people respond to you more.  Ya it sucks that your family aren’t here with you and sometimes people think badly of foreigners simply because we’re foreigners but at the end of the day, the positives outweigh the negatives.

I love tea…….

Anyone who knows me knows that I love tea.  It’s the first thing I think of in the morning and I literally can’t go to sleep at night without a cuppa. I’m so addicted to tea that if I don’t have a cup before school, I literally spend the day counting the minutes until I can have a cup. 

 There is also not one problem that can’t be solved with a good old cup of tea; “I had a bad day”….shocking, have a cup of tea, “I lost my wallet”,  terrible, have some tea……’ I broke up with my boyfriend”, was it because he possibly didn’t drink enough tea? I fairly sure world peace could be solved if we had everyone together for a cup of tea. 

 So I got to thinking about whether or not tea was of any benefit to your health or was it actually slowly killing us all.  Here’s what I came up with;

1. Tea is actually contributing to your daily fluid requirements excellent start think of how great your skin will look with all that hydration. 

2. Tea is low in caffeine Good and bad.  So you won’t be bouncing off the walls all night, but if you’re looking for a little kick-start to the day,you’re looking in the wrong place. 

3. Tea is almost calorie free – It doesn’t really ever cross my mind, but if your actually watching your diet, you can drink gallons of tea guilt free.  Excellent, happy days. 

4. Tea is a source of vitamin D- What does Vitamin D actually do for you? I have no idea so I went to google and goggle says that Vitamin D encourages the absorption of calcium.  If you put milk in your tea then you’re killing two birds with one stone. 

5. There is no 5, other than to say that the only tea worth talking about is Barry’s (and just in case you’re wondering, I don’t work for Barry’s and wont get a penny for the increase in sales after this blog post!)