It’s not ALL fantastical……

Most of my posts are pretty positive. I do my best. But I thought it only fair to do the not so fantastical things also. A big shout out to the people who contributed to this on my Facebook page.

1. Puke Puddles– The absolute worst thing about living in Korea. Back in the day when I lived in my old apartment, I used to live next to a pedestrian street lined with little restaurants. Every morning, I would have to pick my way through the puke puddles to get to school. We used to call it Puke Alley. It was worse in winter when they were frozen. I hope no one was eating their lunch. Sorry. Enough. Disgusting.

2. Spit– Koreans love to spit and so there are little spit globs everywhere. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s everywhere, on the floors, in the elevators, on the stairs, in the toilet cubicle, in the toilet sinks, on the buses, subways, everywhere. Disgusting.

3. The pushy shovey adjummas– Some adjummas are so cool, we could be friends but other adjummas are a pure dose. They push and shove and not only are they rude but they bring giant containers of Kimchi on the bus.  헐!

4. The price of deodorant This is the most random thing but decent deodorant costs a lot. Most of the time, I stock up on foreign trips but what’s up with that?

5. Bread– If you’re looking for Mammy Browne’s bread over here, you’ll be looking for a while. It is most difficult to find a good decent bread. Or a decent sandwich for that matter.

6. When Koreans pretend they don’t understand what you said, even though you said it in Korean.

7. When Koreans think that because you’re the only white girl in town, it makes you 1) Russian and 2) a prostitute

8. Trying on clothes; When the store owner either 1) Tells you there are no “big sizes” and/or 2) Won’t let you try on the clothes.

9. Shoes; The utter lack of shoes from Europe size 7 (255-260)  and up is shocking. Just shocking.

10. Physical Appearances; Koreans are utterly obsessed with weight, dieting, white skin and the perfect face.

11. Toilet paper: You must bring your own toilet paper with you when you go out because there is always the chance that your toilet won’t have any. Then you must put it in the bin when you are finished because it is believed that putting it into the toilet will block the drains.

12. Messing around with food; Koreans love to put food where it doesn’t belong. Like sweetcorn on everything, mayonnaise on everything else. Stop! If I want either, I’ll ask for them.

13. Skirts; In Korea, it’s not ok to wear a low top but it is totally appropriate to wear a skirt so short, one might mistake it for a belt. This then results in the woman having to cover her behind with a bag so as to not flash her bum at anyone behind her. Surely she could have just worn a longer skirt?

14. Desk warming– The act of sitting at your desk, not teaching, just sitting. There are only so many movies to watch, books to read, Korean words to learn before you get bored and want to go outside.

15. Bins- I could rant all day about this. Why are there not more bins? Seriously, where are we supposed to put our rubbish and where do Koreans put it? If I eat something with a wrapper, am I really supposed to walk about 2km to find a bin? I think not. PUT MORE BINS OUT!!!!!!

16. Banks– For the most part, I love my banking experiences. However, it drives me insane when they insist on photocopying my id and passport when I send money home (KB*b). I gave you those when I opened the account and again the first time I transferred money. Surely you have it on record?

17-Public Urination– This usually happens at night but there is no excuse for randomly going to the bathroom. If it’s not the drunk people, it’s the children. You cannot just use this area as a bathroom. People are walking here. And you especially can’t use this area if it’s enclosed like a bus or the subway.

18. Points Cards– I have a points card for everywhere. But I don’t know how to redeem most of them because all the websites are in Korean. While I could go ahead and challenge myself to reading the Korean, I’d prefer to just do it in English. Would it really kill them to make an English language page? I think not.

This is a pretty long list but most of the things are small things that we thought we’d share. Leave your comments below with anything I forgot!

Advertisements

Fantastically wonderful things about Korea

I got a tweet from my friend Brian wondering if it was true that McDonald’s delivers here. Honestly, I had forgotten what a novelty that was, so my friends and I put together this list  of fantastically wonderful things in Korea.

1. Mc Donald’s delivers to your apartment.

2. Service- free things you get for buying something. Examples are free coffee, snacks, ice cream, notebooks, socks, ice coolers, cotton wool, food, gum, vitamin drinks, just about anything really.

3. Pizza in a cup- I’ve never had this but my friend Sean guarantees me that it is available in Daegu.

4. Soda with chicken poppers on top- What a classic. You can get a fizzy drink (I copied the word soda from my fb comment) with little chicken poppers on top. Brilliant! Just walking around eating my chicken and drinking my drink.

5. Phone Charging convenience stores- You’re out and about and your battery dies. What do you do? Head over to the nearest convenience store who will charge up your phone for 1,000won. That’s like  67 cent  to get your phone charged. Fantastical.

20130308_071911

6. All of the bangs. The word for room in Korean is “bang”. If you want to play a few video games with your friends or don’t have a computer head over to the PC bang. Cheap and they are everywhere. There is also a DVD bang, multi bang (where you can play games or sing or watch movies) and of course the norebang. No night out is ever truly complete without a visit to the Karaoke room. Cheap, reliable, convenient, fantastical. The final bang is a ijmjilbang or a bath house. You can go in and enjoy the steam rooms, jacuzzi and even sleep overnight should you need to. All for the low low price of (depending on how long you stay) 12,000won.

7. The scrubbing adjummas- If you go to a jimjilbang, you can get a body scrub as an optional extra. Some adjummas are great, a great big of craic but other totally aren’t. Either way, at the end your skin is as good as new.

8. Reading glasses- There are reading glasses available in banks, post offices and airports should you need a little extra help filling out your forms.

9. 대리 운전- If you have a car but are too tired or drunk to drive home, you simply call this service and someone will drive you and your car home. Brilliant.

wpid-20121203_173734.jpg

10. The magic bell- Most restaurants in Korea have a bell on each table. You simply press the bell when you want something and they come straight over. I’ve also been reliably informed that in some places you can even get beer and soju buttons. You press the button depending on the number of bottles you want brought over.

11. Drinking- Beer and soju can be bought at any convenience store and drank anywhere at any time. You don’t get any strange looks for having a little drink in public.

12. Themed cafes- Korea has a bride cafe, sheep cafe, cat cafe, dog cafe,Hello Kitty cafe, the list simply goes on.

wpid-20121118_184108.jpg

You can follow me on twitter; @iamshaunabrowne. Otherwise, leave you comments and mention anything I forgot!

Getting 냉방병 and meeting Captain Obvious.

It was 3am and I was in the emergency room of my local Paju hospital.While explaining my symptoms, I wanted to tell him that I felt like I was transforming into a zombie but decided to stick to fever, headache and generally feeling terrible.The doctor then types some things before coming out with the classic “maybe you have a fever”. Wow! Amazing! I hadn’t thought of that one myself. Note the word “maybe”. This is a classic Korean word that can be translated to English as something that is definite. It’s not to be confused with the English word “maybe” which means that something is not yet certain.

No matter how sick I am, a trip to the doctor here is always an adventure. Last time, the doctor told me I was sick. Really? Sick? There I was thinking I had struggled in here for a medal and a chat.  If laughter is the best medicine then these doctors are doing a great job. The times I hobbled into the hospital when I injured my foot had me laughing at the question “where does it hurt?” There I was standing on my good foot wondering if it was a trick question. Was I on one of those shows where they film your response to obvious questions so they can gain more viewers?  Or maybe it’s like a test. If you get the answer right, you can see the doctor straight away. If not, you’re going to have to wait. I’m beginning to conclude that to qualify as a doctor here, you must have mad skills speaking obvious sentences.

This particular adventure was a whole other level of brilliant. It was decided that since maybe I had a fever, they would put me on a drip. This is a classic treatment here so I wasn’t too alarmed.  Excellent, 20 minutes they said. It’ll be grand they said. 1 hour later I’ve got the company of two others who look like they might have something similar to me. I felt good in the knowledge that if whatever was in the drip didn’t work, I wouldn’t be on my own as a Zombie.

After the hour, the doctor concluded that I most likely had 냉방병 (naengbangbyung). What is this you might ask. Well, that’s a good question. Directly translated, it means air conditioning disease. This time of year, you go from super cool air con to hot and humid outside temperatures so it’s really easy to pick up a cold or flu. I don’t know what caused my mad fever but 냉방병 is a great go to when you can’t find any other logical explanation ( flu, cold etc).

I tried to think of the English word for this but being from Ireland, we have no need for air conditioners let alone get the random air conditioning disease. This is right up there with Fan Death, not taking a shower for 24 hours after an injection and kimchi beating SARS in the list of great Korean medical terms.

After an hour on the anti zombie medicine, I felt like I might just pull through and stay human. The nurse sent me away with 3 pouches of mystery pills and the knowledge that she spent the hour practising her English. Thanks to the super cheap healthcare here, the whole thing only cost 13,000won (13 dollars).

Nobody likes being sick but at least in Korea, they make it somewhat of an entertaining affair!

A look into North Korea- Odusan Unification Observatory

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted. We ignore what is on our own doorstep in favour of what is further afield. For four years I have been living in Paju, home of the DMZ.  Apart from the major attractions like Heyri Art Village and the DMZ itself, I have simply passed by the tourist signs and ignored all other attractions on my way to the Premium Outlets.

Slightly ashamed of this behavior, my friends and I decided to rectify the situation by dedicating our entire free day to truly discovering Paju. What we expected was a fortress and a few tombs. What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves standing just 2km’s from North Korea.

 Odusan Unification Observatory was first on our list.   According to the internet this was a fortress but it soon became apparent that it was an observatory we were looking for. It’s pretty well sign posted coming from Geumchon and we found that the GPS in my car was pretty much useless in getting us there.   The car park (2,000won) for the observatory is the same one as for Kart Land and the drive-in movie theater, a little away from the entrance itself.  

SAM_9090

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Statue of Jo Min-sik

From there, we took a free shuttle bus on a mere 5 minute ride to the top. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sunny with a nice breeze, the sky was clear and the landscape was breath-taking. The entry was a mere 3,000won and for the lack of crowds alone, it was totally worth it. The Peace statue and Unification Drum are two of the first things to be seen.

SAM_9082 SAM_9083

This observatory is the place where the Han and Imjin rivers meet and flow into the West Sea. It’s also the place where the Goguryeo and Baekje Dynasty fought in the time of the three states. Built on the ruins of the fortress it is a place of great history and  impressing from the outset. This is the Unification Wishing Drum, a hard find behind all the buses but none the less beautiful.

 

SAM_9084                                                                                                                                             

The centre provides information in many languages and there are plenty of exhibitions and pictures explaining the Korean war and significant historical events.A short movie on the Observatory and it’s location in relation to North Korea is shown in Korean on the 3rd floor and English, Japanese and Chinese on the 4th. Usually not very entertained by these sorts of things, I found myself glued to the screen with interest. Not surprising, we were the only ones in the theater!

SAM_9093

                                                                                                                                                                                    Where to sit? Janet and Pratishka enjoying the show.

Between the observatory and North Korea was a mere 2km stretch of water. It’s 2 km’s at the furthers point and less than 500 metres at the closest. The water at high tide is around 5 metres but during low tide the distance is almost walkable.

SAM_9092

What is most fascinating from the observation post if the sheer difference between the two countries. On one side you see and hear hundreds of cars travelling along the Jayuro and the high-rise apartment buildings lined up like lego pieces. On the other side, propaganda houses, mountains and fields. No noise, no signs of life to the naked eye, almost as if you were staring at a picture.

 

SAM_9100                                  R.O.K.                                 

                                                                 

Using the binoculars, it was clear that the unfinished and run down propaganda houses were very much in use. Luckily, I spotted two people walking along a country lane. Both wearing black, they were the only signs of life. No vehicles, idle or otherwise, no animals apart a bird or two. Quiet, eerie, incredible.

SAM_9095

North Korea

Looking out at what is undoubtedly the most secluded country in the world, I was filled with the realisation that this was as close as I am ever going to get. To stand just 2km’s from North Korea brought it home to me how close I really do live to this fascinating country. This observation post, that is ignored by so many and indeed by myself for so long is one of the finest destinations I have been to in Korea. And it was right on my door step. To get here took less than 20 minutes from my apartment.  An educational and eye-opening day, the small crowds make any visit here enjoyable and one to remember!

How to get there?

From Seoul; Take bus number 2200 or 200 at exit 2 of Hapjeong station. Get off at Seongdong Sageori, walk for 10 minutes and take the shuttle bus.

From Paju; Take the Gyeongui Line to Geumchon Station. On the opposite side of the road to the station, catch the 900 bus which brings you to the shuttle bus pick up. 

I had the pleasure of sharing this great day with my good friends Pratishka and Janet. To read about Janet’s thoughts of the day, check out her blog here, http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/stunning-views-of-north-korea/

Coming to Korea- F.A.Q’s

Someone I know very well is getting ready to come to Korea for a year. This means that there are many questions so I thought I’d do a blog on the most useful.

DISCLAIMER; This information as to the best of my knowledge. Rules and regulations change all the time. Be sure to speak with your recruiter to confirm any queried you might have.

This blog is written with Irish people in mind.

Q1. What documents do I need?

The following are the required documents for an E2 visa application

  • Signed Contract
  • Original Degree (Apostilled)
  • Sealed  University Transcripts
  • Copy of the information page of your passport
  • 4 colour passport pictures*
  • Signed copy of your C.V.
  • Apostilled Criminal Check.
  • Personal Health Statement

Apostille – http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=268 I’ve just gotten my documents reapostilled in the run up to my renewal (long story about what happened the first time) and they came back within the week so it’s a pretty speedy process.

Q2. When should I start preparing my documents for Korea?

This depends on the country you’re coming from and every situation is different. For Irish people, I would say 4 to 5 months. The Garda check must be recent (within the last 6 months) so keep that in mind. After that the transcripts and apostille vary from university to university so getting them organised 5 months in advance is no harm. The last thing you want is to receive a job offer and not have your documents ready. Be prepared!

*The contract is the last document you need to collect and you will get it upon receiving a job offer.

Q3. How do I contact a recruiter?

So many choices here. If you know someone who’s already here, ask them. If they’ve had a good experience with their recruiter, chances are you’ll have a good experience also. If you don’t know anyone, then do some research. Read other blogs from expats teaching in Korea and see what they say.

It might be a good idea to know what you’re looking for in a job. Do you want to be in Seoul, a suburb, the south, the east, where? Do you want public school (EPIK, GEPIK, SMOE) or an academy? Do you want to work mornings or start in the afternoons and finish later? Think about what you really want so you can make it easier for the recruiter to find you a suitable position.

This is a list of recruiters from a popular expat website here, http://seoul.angloinfo.com/af/605/seoul-esl-teacher-recruitment.html

Q4. After I’m offered a job, how do I get a visa?

This is something your recruiter will take you through. When you have all your documents ready, DHL or FED EX them to your recruiter ( so you can track them). You recruiter checks them and sends them to your employer who brings them to immigration. Your employer will be given a visa issuance number and will send it to you via email.

You then make an appointment at your local Korean embassy. Bring your passport, do your interview and you will be given your visa in a number of days.

Then you’re good to go!

 Q5. Do I need to get vaccines to go to South Korea?

If you want to you can. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It’s a completely personal choice.

Q6  What are the holidays like?

Again, it depends school to school. Public school and private schools have different vacation allowances. In my school, for example, I get approx 10 days in summer, 10 days in winter and 2 or 3 at the end of the term. That’s just my school though. You can read about vacation allowances in your contract or ask it when you do your interview. There are also public holidays….http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AK/AK_EN_1_5_2.jsp

Q7. What is an alien registration card, when do I get it, how do I get it and why do I need it.

If you intend to stay in Korea for longer than 90 days you must apply for an ARC.  The card has a number on it that you need to open a bank account, get a phone in your name, get cable, visit the hospital or anything like that.

Once you arrive in Korea, you school will bring you for your health check and when they receive the results of that, they will apply for the ARC.

When you get it depends on the immigration office and how quick you can get the health check done. I waited just 2 weeks for mine but I heard my friend say that she waited 5 weeks for hers because of some backlog so just ask at immigration and they’ll know.

Q8. Is it difficult to get a phone and bank account?

Once you receive your alien registraion card, head over to your chosen bank and ask to open an account. Most banks have someone who speaks enough English to understand what you need.  If you want to save and send money home, I recommend KEB. Here is an article about banking in Korea, http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/GK/GK_EN_2_8_1_3.jsp

For a phone; Once you have a bank account and an ARC, head to a phone store, choose your plan and phone and they will set you up. It’s pretty easy and most of the time someone speaks enough English to get the message across or you bring someone Korean with you. It’s up to you but don’t be afraid to try it by yourself.

Q9. What should I bring?

Remember you are coming for a year and you only have about 23kgs to pack it in to. So pack wisely. Winter here is super cold and summer is hot.

  • Base layers,a down jacket and a pair of boots for winter
  • 1 or 2 towels to get you through until you can buy more.
  • A super big bath towel.
  • You’re favourite shampoo/hair dye/perfume/ makeup or whatever. At least enough to get you through until you figure out how to get more.
  • Pictures of your family and friends or some things that you can bring to remind you of home.
  • International Plug
  • Work clothes
  • A good attitude

Q10. How do I get involved in expat life?

The Irish have a strong community here.  The Irish Association encourages Irish culture in Korea. Their website is www.iak.co.kr . The Seoul Gaels are a sporting organisation http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/  There are also plenty of meetups happening for every interest. Check out meetup.com and search for your interest in Korea. Check out seoul.angloinfo.com for expat living in Korea.

My best piece of advice is “over prepare, then go with the flow”

Feel free to leave questions and comments!

Kuala Lumpur- A flight, hostel and a sense of adventure.

“My favorite thing to do is go where I’ve never been”- Diane Arbus

I had only a cheap flight, a hostel booking and my backpack. The few weeks before the trip were packed full of school stuff, music and between this and that, I hadn’t made any solid plans other than playing music at a session there.

Arriving on Saturday at low cost carrier terminal (as opposed to KLIA, the international airport), I found the transport to the city plentiful and cheap. An hour later I was checking in at my amazing hostel, POD’s which is a very short walk to KL Sentral.

pods

The sessions was organised for Sunday in a suburb of KL. Arriving slightly early, I found the opportunity to explore this most random suburb, take some pictures and eventually rest with a pint.

desa sri 2 Desa sri hart

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to the session. In Korea, it’s a very casual thing but this was no longer my territory so I was slightly nervous about the whole thing. But any excuse for a few tunes so off I went. And what a great afternoon I had. Cher Ly (the organizer) was well organised, knew lots of tunes and the native musicians seemed to know each other very well in general. Surprisingly though, it was their first session so it was quite a privilege for me to be there and enjoy some tunes with some excellent, top class musicians.

the musiciansThat was as far as my plan went. When I woke up Monday morning, I had nothing to do and 5 days to do it!  Off to the travel office to collect a map, a guide-book and clearly the towers were right up there on the top of my list.

I don’t know what to say about the towers. Super easy to find, I literally couldn’t stop looking at them! They are incredible. You can go to the sky bridge but it costs something like 80 ringgit to go there and you only go about half way up.

tower1 towers

I did go to the top of KL Tower though. KL tower is a little more difficult to find. It’s a nice walk from the nearest monorail station but as long as you follow the other foreigners you’ll be ok! It’s only 45 ringgit to go to the top but unfortunately it was a little hazy when I went up.

kltower kltower2

The area around the old Kuala Lumpur railway station has loads of interesting sites. The station itself is a really beautiful building, just across the road from the KTM building.  Also in that area is the National Mosque of Malaysia, Islamic Arts museum, a park, largest fly in aviary in the world, a planetarium, butterfly park, deer park, lake park so it’s a great place to spend the day.

mosque old railway

Of all the things I did in KL, Batu Caves was my highlight.  A popular place to visit, the caves are served by their own Kommuter station which costs just 1 ringgit! Better is that the caves are literally right outside the station.  It takes about 2-3 hours to do this and I recommend you do it in the afternoon when its a little cooler. The statue is impressive and the steps, there are just so many steps. They go on forever. I read that if you reach the top, you’ll be absolved of your sins. Worth it so.

Batu Caves

Watch out for the monkeys. There are so many animals here, it could well be a zoo. The birds, monkeys, chickens, all just having a great time. The monkeys will grab your stuff so be careful with your possessions. Best part of the trip was seeing the monkey open the bottle that a guy threw him. Such a simple thing but honestly I was so impressed! You can see the video on my Facebook page……..https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151557401343016&notif_t=like

Apart from the many tourist things, the shopping in KL is amazing. It takes a lot to impress me shopping wise but KL is a shoppers heaven. Under the towers is Suria mall which could keep you busy for an entire day. Also there is Pavilion, Farenheit, Central Market and Chinatown.

Overall, it wasn’t the things I saw or did, it was the people I met along the way that made the trip. POD’s attracts a really great crowd and everyone in my dorm was so open and chatty and we spent lots of time sharing stories and experiences and the like. Or the guy on the subway who decked me as Irish and spent the journey giving me food tips and inquiring about Ireland. The people I played music with, the people I met in the street, all amazing characters who made my adventure memorable. This is me and a Chinese guy who asked me for a picture at the Batu caves!

chinese man

Tip: The week before I went, my friend Janet (http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/) had been to KL and told me about Heli bar. It’s a bar on a helipad on the 36th floor of the Merara building. Summoning up my courage, I headed out for a drink, not entirely sure I would find it. Luckily enough, it’s super easy to find and the view from the top is amazing. For 20 ringgit (drink), you can sit up top and enjoy an unrestricted view of the city. It’s a much better spend than the sky bridge or the KL Tower.

heli bar heli drink heli3

Will I go back? Definitely and next time I’ll go further than KL. If you have any questions, just ask in the comments below!