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.

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… 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.

All you need to know about Geumchon

So I don’t know what people think when they hear that they’ll be in Geumchon for a year.  Most people figure that if it’s not Seoul then clearly we have nothing of any interest/use in Geumchon. Before we get going let’s watch this video, made a few years ago by te boys at E.V.

 So here’s what you need to know;

1. There’s an Emart; Clearly Emart is the best thing since sliced bread.   A trip here will have you sorted with anything you need, food, clothing, makeup, jewellery, household items, stationary, party supplies, you get the idea…………

2. You will never go hungry; no matter what your budget you can find all kinds of delicious food in Geumchon.  Kimbap Nara is the best place if you dont speak Korean but have read this; We also have all sorts of Galbi restaurants and chicken places and about 12 million pizza stores so never a fear of famine…..And then theres the Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Cafe Tiamo.  No Starbucks yet but I’m sure we’ll eventually get one. 

3. Subway; Of course. Only 40 minutes to Seoul station (one train per hour) and 35 minutes from DMC (every 15/20 minutes).  We have 2 stations, Geumneung and Geumchon depending on which part you live in.

4. Buses; Yes, buses going to everywhere you care to go………

5. Bowling Alley; Near Geumchon station is a bowling alley.  Be careful what time you go in at though because the Geumchon Bowling team actually practice a lot. 

6. Hospital; Like at least 10.  Most have a 24 hour emergency room and most can speak enough English to get the point across. 

7. Pharmacy: Loads.  Most of them speak super English so your over the counter medicines are no problem. 

8. Shopping; This is my favourite pastime.  Not only do we have 1 premium outlet in Paju but due to the cheap price of land, we now have 2. It makes for seriously happy shopping and you can get all the usual foreign brands.

9. Sports/exercise; We also have Paju Stadium for anyone energetic enough to run laps of a track or play soccer etc.  If you’re more the gym type there are literally gyms all over the place, just take your pick.  Theres also a beautiful river walk that runs from Bongilcheon to Geumchon and a great place to cycle bikes, take a walk or run in the summer. 

Well tht’s it.  I literally can’t think of anything else. If you think of anything, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!

Better late than never………

So here I am, finally.  I’ve been in Korea for over 2 years and it’s taken me this long to finally get blogging.  It’s not that I hav super interesting things to say, but I figure someone might get a good old laugh out of the randomness that happens to me on a daily basis.  Let me tell you what happened last night and we’ll take it from there. 

Sometimes the best and sometimes the worst thing about being in Korea is the constant stream of friends.  Contracts here are usually a year long so each year we get new friends but lose old ones.  I’m so used to saying goodbye that it rarely affects me anymore.  So in my area (Paju), we’ve had a few new additions to the group.  Excellent, Geumchon was looking like it was going to die in numbers compared to Munsan (the other side).  So last night Anel and Johan, a South African couple invited us out to Gyoha to have a few drinks with old friends of Johans.  Now I wouldn’t have gone only there was the promise of a norebang.  And if that word is even being considered I’m there. I all kinds of LOVE the norebang or Kareoke room. 

After a late arrival, I was introduced to not 1 not 2 but like 8 new friends.  Happy Days.    And what great people they turned out to be.  After a great chat and general craziness (ye Doogs excellent first impressions) we headed to the norebang, where it is official that Anel and I are the new Ike and Tina, Bonnie and Cher or whatever great duo you can think of………… Just so you know, usually the norebang is a girls thing but the boys last night gave us a run for our money belting out some classics like “I’m a Barbie girl”, “YMCA” and others that shall not be mentioned.  Classic.