8 habits I’ve picked up in Korea.

Can I kick these habits when I go home?

1. Bowing; When first I came to Korea, I would stare in amazement at all the people bowing at each other. They bowed all the time, to say hello, goodbye, sorry, the list goes on.  Then I started doing it.  Turns out it’s really fun.  It completely takes away the language barrier, I bump into someone and I just bow.  They know I’m sorry.  I smile and bow, they know I’m happy to see them.  I bow several times while back away towards the door, they know I’m leaving.  Brilliant.  Now, almost four years later, I bow all the time.  I even bow to my foreign friends.  Yes, it gets kind of awkward but whatever, bowing is bowing.

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2. Shoes; Before I came to Korea, I saw shoes as shoes.  Now, I look at shoes and buy them according to how fast I can get them on and off.  Since we take our shoes off when we go into a lot of places, this is essential. You do not want to be slow as a wet week getting your shoes on after you’ve all eaten.  Chances are your party will already be sitting down for beer by the time you get your ridiculously complicated shoes on.  Or worse is at the airport. Sometimes they make you take your shoes off at the security clearance.  The last thing you need is to be holding up the whole line because you can’t get your shoes off.  Fact.

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3. Replacing my ‘v’s with ‘b’s; Possibly my worst habit.  I can’t help myself.  Four years of hearing it day in day out will do this to you.  Koreans have difficulty saying the ‘v’ sound so it usually comes out like a ‘b’. Now, I’ve started to it as well. It’s a bery bery cold day today.  Mostly on the word ‘very’. I’m bery happy!

4. Saying things twice; I have no idea where this one came from, but I say things twice.  For example in a normal school day, I might say, “clean up clean up, hello hello, goodbye goodbye, hey hey, why why thank you thank you”

5. Speaking louder when people don’t understand what I’m saying; When I speak in Konglish and someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say, I repeat the sentence a tone louder.  I can’t help myself.  It’s possibly to do with the fact that my Korean skills suck or that my English has gone down hill (refer to points 3 & 4). I must remember that if a person does not understand me, it’s not because they’re deaf , it’s because the sentence itself didn’t make sense.

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6. Making a V when taking a picture; For this one, I think I’m going to need years of therapy to help me stop. When someone takes a picture, or there’s a camera is the vicinity, my fingers automatically make a “v” beside my face.  Every time.  It gets pretty awkward when I’m at an event where doing the V is really not appropriate, in which case, I spend the entire night telling myself not to do it .

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7. Looking at myself in every reflective surface; Korea is the land of mirrors.  There are mirrors EVERYWHERE, elevators, bathrooms, toilet cubicles, handbags.  The list goes on.  People in Korea are always looking at themselves in reflective surfaces and now I’ve joined them.  I’ve got a pretty mild case and I’m not one of those girls who takes 5 million pictures of herself on the subway (that’s random as hell) but I do use the elevator mirrors and other convenient reflective surfaces to make sure I’m still foreign.

8. Brushing my teeth after lunch: I never did this in Ireland. Now, it’s a habit and if I don’t do it, I can feel the guilt gnawing away at me. Must….brush…..teeth…….

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If you’ve got something you’d like to add, leave it in the comment section below!

Life in Paju- still the same.

When first I came to Korea, I couldn’t understand why there were soldiers everywhere.  At first I put it down to living in close proximity to the border. Then I realised that it was actually just because military service is mandatory here. So over the past four years, I’ve become accustomed to seeing tanks and soldiers and training exercises on a regular basis.  

Yesterday, I woke up late.  I got ready for school in about 6 minutes, had my breakfast made in two but still managed to enjoy twenty minutes of Poirot on television.  (Don’t judge me, there aren’t exactly a huge number of English tv dramas showing at 8 in the morning). My day at school was a struggle to stop children crying, fighting and falling asleep while actually teaching them a few words in English. 

On my way home, I realised that not only was there no petrol in my car and no food in my house.  Two stops later and both situations were rectified.  The rest of the day was spent practising music,catching up on some tv dramas and cleaning my kitchen.  This is actually pretty much how I’ve spent every other Tuesday for the last four years.  

Tuesday, April 9th, a pretty normal day, except for the fact that in the last 15 hours or so, I’ve been swamped with emails and messages expressing concern for my safety. I blame this on a sensational headline on RTE News ( it must have been in Ireland because it was my Irish friends and family that were emailing).

Everyone wants to know what it’s like living so close to the border. I wasn’t going to write this blog until the following questions were sent to me. Motivated by nothing other than helping people to understand how this is affecting  daily lives, I’ve put the answers in this blog. I’m not a journalist.  I’m not involved in politics in any way.  I’m just a regular Irish girl, living and teaching in South Korea and the answers are the honest truth about how the whole situation affects me and my daily life.

Q1. Are you worried about it?

No. This isn’t the first time that North Korea have threatened and it won’t be the last time.  The threshold for worry and panic here is a lot higher than in other countries.  I have started talking about it more and the possible outcomes and implications but to say I’m living in fear of an attack would be a gross misrepresentation of the truth.  As with every potential situation, citizens here are being encouraged to remain vigilant and prepared should an emergency situation arise.

No amount of reporting and big headlines changes the fact that I’m doing today what I’ve been doing every other day for four years and tomorrow looks like it’ll be the same.  My school wouldn’t be too happy if I decided I wasn’t going to show up tomorrow and neither would anyone elses place of work.  Away from the headlines and the news stories, everyone is actually just living the same as they were before the media took such a great interest in inter Korea relations.

Q2. Are you even thinking of coming home?

No. Yesterday, North Korea did indeed advise foreigners in South Korea to leave.  As of the time of writing this (April 10th), I have no immediate plans and see no need to return to Ireland.  Foreigners here have jobs, lives and responsibilities that will continue despite threats. Like all responsible expats, I will be closely monitoring and heeding any advice from the Irish Embassy in Korea and making decisions accordingly. 

Q3.  Should Mammy and Daddy Browne be as worried as they are?

 No, definitely not.  I recommend that Mammy and Daddy Browne stop reading CNN, BBC or any other major news source that is getting great air time and page coverage out of all this and spend that time skyping me so they can see how normal and continuously boring everything still is. 

It’s good to be informed and normal to be concerned but people shouldn’t believe everything they read or hear in the media. 

Q4. Has anything changed in your daily routine because of the current situation?

Yes.  I’ve stopped reading CNN.  

Q5. Why don’t the foreigners just leave?

This is my favourite question.  It makes it seem like foreigners have nothing to do but sit around wondering whether North Korea are going to bomb us or not.  Really, we have jobs, lives, responsibilities.  And there are the foreigners here who have families. So far, those jobs, lives and responsibilities haven’t changed in the slightest so you can see that leaving isn’t exactly top of our agenda. Did I mention how my school wouldn’t be too happy if I decided I wasn’t going to work tomorrow?

Q6. What signs of imminent war are there over there?

I’m sure there are loads, but not for the life of me can I find any in Geumchon. 

 You can see that my life is the same old same old . I’ve got to go now because I’m busy planning whether to go shopping after school or go home and get my washing done.The greatest concern in my life this very second is that one of  my best friends in Korea is leaving (because her contract is finished) so tonight we’re going for a goodbye Galbi and a glass of wine.   Then there’s the weekend to continue planning not to mention the fact that I need an accordion, a new computer and a fringe (not all in that order). And when I’m finished with all that, I’ll keep busy with the very exciting life I outlined above.  As ever, if you have questions, leave them below.

Let me tell you a story……

Back in the day when I lived in Ireland, I had a driver’s license and a car. I would bomb all over Ireland in that great car (which has since passed away). This is the car, Suzy. Apologies for the fact that she’s sideways.

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In the 3 years, I was driving in Ireland, I only got breathilised once.  And what a great adventure that was.

It was a Friday night and my sister, Kathryn (I have 2 sisters) and I were returning from a Chinese in Nenagh.  We were driving the home car.  At the time, I’m pretty sure Suzy the Suzuki wasn’t yet on the scene.  It was a really quiet night and there were hardly any other cars on the road.  We were almost out of the town when we saw the flashing lights and realised that we were going to be stopped at the checkpoint.

Normally, this would freak people out but for me it was the first checkpoint of any sort since I got my full license so I was pretty excited.  We drive up to the Garda, roll down the window and after the usual small talk (where are you going, what are you doing here etc) she asked if she could test my breath for alcohol.  By this time, I was so happy that it was really happening that I replied “NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO problem”  The Garda looked at us and said ” I thought you were saying no. I’m just out of Templemore*, I wouldn’t have known what to do”. When I stopped laughing at this she gave me the instructions,

1. Blow into the bag

2. Stop when you hear the beep

It was that simple.  Not knowing how long it would be until the beep, I took a deep breath and blew into the bag. However, after about 2 seconds I heard a beep so I stopped.  It was more of a puff than a breath really but a beep is a beep.  At this stage, I’m pretty sure the Garda thought there was something wrong with me (possibly I had been drinking????) So she had to change the bag and then gave me the second set of instructions,

1. Blow into the bag

2. Stop when you hear the big beep.

If she had said that the first time, there wouldn’t have been any problem to start with.  So, once again I blew into the bag.  Except this time I almost ran out of breath listening carefully for the damn beep that eventually came.  I passed (surprise) and so we went on our way back to Ballybrowne.  That was the last time I was breathalised until………..a month ago.

Skip 5 years to my driving in Korea.  I’ve had my car (Spuddy) since November. In the last 4 weeks, I’ve been breath tested 3 times. That’s twice more than in my 3 years driving in Ireland. But the whole experience here is a little bit of a let down compared to the adventure in Ireland.  My first breath test here was driving home from Ilsan.  At first, I thought it was an accident scene, until the traffic was reduced to two lanes.  It eventually dawned on me that it was a drink driving checkpoint and again I was super excited.  I knew there was a blog coming out of this.

I drive up, roll down the window and expect to see a device similar to the one in Ireland.  Instead the police officer put a rectangular shaped device in front of my mouth and told me to blow into the square.  It took a full 2 seconds before the light turned green and I had to drive away.  What a let down.

The other two times I got stopped were coming home from Munsan and randomly outside my apartment complex in Geumchon.  I think there’s a conspiracy here somewhere, but that’s for another day……….

*If you’re not Irish;

a Garda is a police officer

Templemore is where the Gardai train

Nenagh is in Tipperary