Reassessing my safety away from home.

The tragic death of Jill Meagher in Australia has this week forced me to reassess my safety here in Korea.  Safety is to the forefront of every expats mind but when push comes to shove how much do we think about our safety in our day to day lives?

I’ve been living in South Korea for the past 3 years.  Thankfully, in those 3 years, I’ve never had my safety compromised and sincerely hope that for the rest of my time here, I’ll continue to live safely.  When I first moved here, safety was all I thought about. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, didn’t trust anyone and never took risks.    As I got more acquainted with my neighbourhood and as I got to understand the culture here, safety took a place somewhere in the middle of my mind. 

A few months ago though, a man tried to break into my friend’s apartment while she was at home.  He rang the bell, but she didn’t answer and when he thought the apartment was empty, he spidermanned his way 30ft to her window and proceeded to climb in.  Thankfully, a bit of screaming was enough to discourage him from completely entering and my friend was fine, but the whole event made me re think the safety issue.  When we reported the event the police here, they took it so seriously and sent officers from the C.S.I. unit to investigate.  . .

After recent events, I asked myself “if I was to go missing, how long would it be before anyone noticed?” Although this seems like a very negative question, as a woman living in a foreign country alone, it is one that many of us should ask ourselves.  I have a job and neighbours and friends but in a country as safe as Korea, would anyone think of the worst if I was to simply not show up?  And I don’t mean I as in me, I mean anyone of us expats living abroad. I communicate with my family, sure, but not every day.  I hang out with my friends but if I don’t show up they just presume I’m busy.   

My sister is also living abroad, in Spain.  She lives with her boyfriend and of all my family members, I communicate with her the most.  But, until recently, I wouldn’t have thought anything of not texting her for a few days, if I was busy and vice versa.  Now, however, we’ve made the pact to send each other a text everyday, just to be sure. 

This all seems a bit extreme but in a country where the fact that your foreign gets you noticed more than at home, extra safety measures can never be a bad thing. We’d all like to think that in this day and age, we can go about our business, in the safety of our neighbourhoods, no matter where in the world that might be, but the simple truth is that we can’t.  We must do more to not only protect ourselves but also our friends and family.

My thoughts and prayers are with the husband and family of Jill Meagher at this time.

Advertisements

Things to consider before coming to teach in Korea.

Recently, I’ve had a lot of messages in relation to coming to Korea teaching.  Add that to my own experience and my observations of the citizens in Paju and here are my top things to consider before you come here to teach. 

1. Where do you want to be? Even if this is your first time to teach in Korea, do your research on areas that you would like to go.  The last thing you need is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, miles from any other foreigner. Some people prefer to go to Seoul.  Lovely.  My personal recommendation is to go somewhere within easy reach of Seoul but not quite in Seoul itself.  Sounds stupid but in Seoul, you’re just another foreigner and believe it or not, it’s harder to get to know other foreigners.  In an area outside Seoul, foreigners tend to stick together more and so it’s a ready-made community.  Of course, maybe you like the beach, in which case Busan is the place for you.  Whatever, your preference, do your research before you even apply for a job. 

2. Where to teach? This is always the big question, public school or private school? I found this interesting article recently on this exact issue http://koreabridge.net/post/teach-english-korea-public-school-or-private-hagwon-tgates209?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

As I said in another post though, DONT TAKE THE FIRST OFFER! If you don’t like what you hear from the current foreign teacher or if you just didn’t get a good feel for the school, then don’t take it.  Remember, you’ll be there for a year, so you might as well enjoy it. 

3. It’s not going to be easy; I meet new people, who whine and complain that things are difficult and it’s hard to settle in.  What can I say????? You’re starting a new life in a new continent, it was hardly going to be the same as the life you left.  Unless you speak, read and write perfect Korean, know the transport system inside out, know the culture and know the foreigners in your community, then it’s going to be difficult.  But it’s all part of the experience.   Having no phone, internet in your apartment, no bank account, no friends is all part of coming here and experiencing life in Korea.  And it doesn’t last long.  After a week or two, you find your legs  and after that there’s no looking back.  So, don’t come here with the idea that it’s all going to be plain sailing, because it isn’t.

4. Be careful what you pack; I could honestly do an entire blog post on the importance of packing properly.  Don’t believe a word that other posts on the internet tell you about not being able to find things in Korea, cause you can.  So don’t bother bringing a years supply of anything. Remember summer is super hot and winter is super cold. So unless you want to freeze to death, prepare thermal clothes and a proper hat, scarf and gloves.  I live in my down jacket in winter (which you can buy here) but if you already have one then it’d be the first thing I pack.  Also pack converters.  And if you have abnormal anything account for that.  For example , I have size 7UK feet which are considered abnormal here.  So I find it hard (not impossible) to find shoes here. 

5. Your picture is the most important thing; I tell people this time in time out.  I know of soooooo many cases where a person got a job solely on their picture. I even know of one school where 3 people went for a job.  The foreign teacher chose the one she thought best suited the position based on the C.V. ‘s. They then told this to the principal, who spoke no English, looked at the photos and chose the best looking person.  So there you have it folks.  Spend some money on a bit of makeup and get proper passport pictures taken.  Don’t ever consider sending them a cropped picture of you from a party.  I don’t think I even need to explain why…..

I’ll add to this if I remember anything else.  If you want to know anything else, leave a comment or send me a message.

My Paju neighbourhood.

City vs Country

I live in Paju, South Korea.  I’ve lived here since I moved to Korea almost 3 years ago.  Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE PAJU! I can’t help it, I just do.  It’s a great place.  For anyone not familiar with the details of Paju, here’s a little recap;

Location; South Korea.Gyeonggi Provence.

40 minutes in a car to the centre of Seoul. Same time to Seoul Station on the subway from Geumneung Station.

Population; In and around 350,000

What to see and do?

We have not one but 2 premium outlets here for all your shopping needs.

Heyri Art Village http://www.heyri.net/

English Village http://www.english-village.gg.go.kr/

Paju Three Royal Tombs

DMZ (border of North Korea)

Mosan Farm

Woonong Ostrich Farm

So lots to see and do.  I live in the Geumchon part of Paju.  Recently, I moved apartments and seem to have moved into an older neighbourhood.  Here are some pictures,Buddist Temple                    Farms                        What is it?Shortcut            

Don’t forget to share your thoughts and questions below.  And if you’re ever in Paju, give me a buzz.

My Jimjilbang Body scrub experience.

This weekend, my friend and I decided that we would get some body scrubs at the jimjilbang.  For those of you who don’t know what a jimjilbang is, it’s a bath house or sauna.  They are super popular in Asia and Korea is no different.  You can use the baths, saunas, steam rooms, sleeping areas, and many other facilities for as little as 15,000won. 

To give you a run into this story, let me explain how it works.  You go to your chosen jimjilbang and some are better than others.  Ours was in a nice hotel in Seoul, so it was pretty good.  Then you organise a locker, a uniform (shorts and t shirt) and some towels with the lady in front.  In you go to your changing room.  Jimjilbangs have a dress code, you must wear nothing.  Ladies have their area and gentlemen have their area. If you want to hang out together, you put on your uniform and go to the common area.  So off you go and enjoy the baths and other facilities as you wish. An optional extra is the body scrub.  My friends got a scrub once, about 2 years ago and gave it a rather negative review so I’ve never gotten one before.

This time however, the jimjilbang was really nice and my friend really wanted one so always one to try something new, I said yes. I’m going to walk you through this experience because I feel it’s my public duty.

First,  you lie down on this bed and they rinse you off with basins of water.  All grand so far.  They then put these yellow gloves on their hands.  The gloves look like they were meant to wash dishes, not to be used on a person.  Then, the lady proceeds to scrub away your dead skin, from your toes to your neck.  What does it feel like????? I think it feels a little like using an emery board, but shaping you body instead of your nails.  My friend, however, thinks that it feels like they are sandpapering you into a more beautiful person, a little like they would do with wood. 

This all makes it seem like it was very unpleasant.  It actually wasn’t.  It took about 30 minutes of scrubbing before she was satisfied that only my alive skin survived.  Then, she proceeded with another soaking with basins of water.  Just when I thought I was finished she insisted on washing my hair.  As I sat there, I felt my skin.  How did it feel? Actually, my skin felt the same as when you scratch an elastic band and run your finger down the middle.  I felt great. 

While my experience was quite pleasant, it’s not the same everywhere and some places, including a very popular jimjilbang in Seoul, are not so.  Perhaps next time, I’ll use another jimjilbang and make a list of the best places to get a body scrub.  Just an idea though…….

Keeping it Irish in Korea.

Possibly the greatest fear for anyone who emigrates is losing their national identity.Will that move make you less nationalistic than you are when you were at home? In a new country, the fear of being “just another foreigner” is terrifying and idea that there is no organisation there to encourage you being you is frightening.

When I moved to Korea almost 3 years ago, I retired myself to the fact that I would have to stop all the Irish things I love,  hurling, playing Irish music and ceili dancing. The fact that I was going to Asia pretty much convinced me that from there on in, I was just another foreign teacher in Korea.  And for a while, I was.  Irish in Korea aren’t as numerous as other countries so for a while I played music to my walls and left my dancing shoes in the corner. 

Then by a random stroke of good luck, I found out about a Ceili happening in Seoul.  That Ceili turned out to have been organised by the Irish Association of Korea, a voluntary organisation that help to promote Irish culture in Korea.  The difference that Ceili made to my experience in Korea was incredible.  They helped me get in touch with Irish musicians and I finally started playing music again.  That music turned into ceili dancing and now I’m playing music and dancing more often that when I was in Ireland! And now that you can find I.A.K. everywhere (meetup, website, twitter, facebook) the numbers joining us are increasing. 

While I don’t play Gaelic or hurling in Korea, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t.  Seoul Gaels promote and encourage Irish sport in Korea and they have a really strong following.  They have a great team, are always encouraging new members and regularly play in national and international tournaments. 

What I notice most, though is that, for these two organisations, the number of Korean followers is growing.  I.A.K. have monthly meetups and usually half are Korean. When I talk to these people, the knowledge of Ireland and all things Irish are quite high and they are only too happy to get the opportunity to get involved with Irish dancing and music, sport and language.   Irish events are a regular feature in Seoul, the big ones being St. Patrick’s Day and the Seoul Ceili. It makes me quite proud to think that Koreans are becoming integrated with Irish culture and it couldn’t be done without the people who volunteer with the I.A.K.  and Seoul Gaels. 

I can definitely say that now, I am possibly more Irish (or at least as Irish) as I was when I came here. Now that I have this opportunity to continue doing the things I love doing but in Korea, I can’t see myself leaving any time soon. This Saturday, the IAK are running their annual Seoul Ceili.  On the day, an Irish dance troop called Tap Pung will perform.  The thing is that the members of Tap Pung are all Korean! I’m super excited to be going along to this and can’t wait to do some ceili dancing.

For anyone interested in getting involved with either of the two Irish organisations in Korea you can find them at;

Irish Association of Korea; www.iak.co.kr or www.facebook.com/irishassociationofkorea 

Seoul Gaels; www.facebook.com/seoul.gaels   seoulgaels@gmail.com

You know you’ve been in Korea a while when……….

1.When you do the Korean “come hither” wave (palm down),

2. You begin to notice cleavage in TV and movies from back home,

3. When you start craving Kimchi…

4. When you hear yourself doing the Korean “aaaahhh” and head nod when you understand something

5. . When you go home to your native country and automatically take off your shoes when you walk in the door

6. When you have forgotten what good beer tastes like

7. . When K-Pop starts to sound ok

8. When you go back to your country and bemuse everyone by sitting on the floor all the time instead of the sofa.

9. When you bow to fellow foreigners and don’t think the subway is unbearably crowded anymore.

10. When you check yourself on a mirror everytime you pass one. (Or on the phone).

11. You start speaking the language……

12. You start going naked to the spas

13. When you have completely forgotten what life was like with a bath tub.

14. You stare openly at the foreigner passing by and think “what is s/he doing here?”

15. When you go home and get anxiety from all the whiteness

16. You leave things behind knowing they’ll be there when you come back.

17. You expect Service.

18. When everyone from your hometown knows the meaning of chincha and have allowed the word to make its way into their vocabulary. When individual Koreans at times begin to resemble people of other ethnicities, such as your own.

19. You think of Kimbap as the ideal picnic food and can’t think of 1 other foreign food that would be as good.

20. You can only say certain phrases in Korean that you can’t actually say it in English.

21. You actually wait for the red man to go green and don’t just run across the street.

22. You think that makeolli is the best drink on rainy days.

23. You can’t imagine a meal without side dishes.

24. You can distinguish the different types of Kimchi

25. The idea of having a knife and fork together is a little disgusting.

26. You have trouble distinguishing people Koreans and foreigners.

27. You regularly hear yourself saying FIGHTING! CHINJA! AAIEGO…..(apologies for the English spelling).

28. When you dream in Korea.

29. Sitting outside, eating at plastic tables is your idea of a great meal.

30.. You think you’ve been here too long. 

—————————————————————————————————————

I’ve always wanted to do this blog and it wasn’t all my ideas.  I’d like to thank all those who contributed via my facebook page.  The follow people and their thoughts have blogs;

Area Walton; http://www.arearuginkorea.blogspot.com/ 

Alexa Jordens;http://talltalesfromthefriendlygiant.blogspot.kr/

Conor O Reilly; http://ifihadaminutetospare.wordpress.com/