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Posts Tagged ‘Cheonan’

A couple of weeks ago was the Korean harvest festival called Chuseok – a three-day holiday that, this year, fell on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, thus creating a five-day weekend. In addition, my delayed summer holiday followed on immediately, giving me twelve consecutive days of non-work.

On Wednesday, I held a coffee morning here in Cheonan, which got a pretty good turn-out. I was given a late birthday present of some chocolate cake/pie, which was very tasty. Afterwards, three of us set out on a quest to locate a cat café in Cheonan – in which we eventually succeeded.

The following day, Chuseok Day itself, I headed up to Seoul and met a group of friends for a walk around Gyeongbokgung – the main royal palace. It was busier than I’d expected and pretty warm, but we had a good time looking at the fantastic architecture, posing for photos and browsing the exhibits in the Folk Museum. After that, we had food and drink in a Bukchon café and played card games. I’d told people I wanted to see a film in the evening, but that didn’t pan out; those of us still remaining had dinner at a cheap Korean restaurant in Insadong before heading home.

Gyeongbokgung

Actually, I headed to Zach’s home, as I’d invited another group of friends to a day of gaming in Sinsa on Friday. We only actually played two games. The first was a Burning Wheel one-shot run by Peter – which, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to actually be a one-shot which is to say, we finished it on the day).

Our disparate group of characters were supposed to retrieve an Elixir of Life from a dragon’s hoard to give to a dying princess. Most of us had ulterior motives. The game ended with the prince drinking the elixir himself (thus becoming immortal) and escaping with a magic sword of truth and killing one of the last surviving characters causing the victim to come back as a ghost and haunt him. Our cheer at this happy conclusion caused the coffee shop staff to ask us to be quiet. After dinner we played my game Islands of the Azure Sea, which I’d just updated. I’m starting to think a maximum of eight players is rather too many.

I had a wedding to go to on Saturday, then, on Sunday, I met Natasha – an Englishwoman I and my ex-girlfriend met while volunteering on a farm in Iceland, and who was visiting Korea for a couple of weeks – and Alisha a friend from the Tolkien reading group. We headed back to my place so Natasha could drop off her bag, and they peered at my cat in her hiding place. Then we went up to Sinbu-dong, the city centre area, and spent an hour at the cat café (which is called The Cat) that I’d previously located. Jocelyn joined us while we were there.

The café is divided into two areas, a larger area with the entrance and counter and so on, and then a smaller, but still reasonably big, area partitioned off with a large window running the length of one side and glass sliding doors on another side. Before going in here – which is where the cats hang out – you have to change your footwear for cheap rubber sandals and clean your hands with disinfectant, as well as putting your possessions in a locker.

The Cat Café

When I was there the first time, the owner told me he had eighteen cats. They include a Maine coon, a Scottish fold, an American curl, a sphynx or two, some oriental shorthairs, a couple of munchkins and others. The cats – apart from the munchkins – are all very friendly and seem quite happy. The Maine coon has its back shaved, for some reason, and one or two cats with long fur look like they could do with a bath – I’m not sure if their greasy fur indicates an illness or the fact that they get petted a lot by people with sweaty hands. There was one big cat – an Abyssinian, I think – that gave all of us a hug.

After the cat café, we went to the Arario Gallery – which I’d never been to in my ten months in Cheonan. I got Alisha and Jocelyn to pose next to a couple of Anthony Gormley sculptures. The current exhibition was by a Korean artist called CI Kim and included an interesting range of media, from found art washed up on a beach to big plastic triangles to paintings of children holding emotive signs.

Buddha Statue

We went for coffee downstairs in the Coffee Bean. Jocelyn left us, but Eve joined us, and after a bit we met Mike and Tera and their friend Brandon for a trip to Taejosan, a nearby mountain, home to Gakwonsa, a Buddhist temple with a big Buddha sculpture. After looking around the temple, we had dinner at a vegetarian buffet restaurant. Then we (minus Alisha, who had to return home) headed back to Mike and Tera’s for a game of Cards Against Humanity.

On Monday, Natasha and I started carrying out our plan to head down to Busan and see some of the south coast. We got to the KTX station in Cheonan nice and early and therefore arrived in Busan nice and early. We hadn’t identified anywhere specific to stay, but we decided on Haeundae because there are plenty of hotels, motels and suchlike around there. Our plan was to ask at a few places and see what was reasonable in terms of price. In the event, we checked out a small pension first and at ₩50,000 for a room for the two of us it seemed OK and our search came to an end. We probably could have found some where nicer, but it was par for the course for Korean pensions.

Mermaid Statue

We walked up an down the beach. It was sunny and breezy and a big embankment of sand had been built for the forthcoming Busan International Film Festival festivities. The purpose of this wall, we could only guess at. We had a burger for lunch at a fancy-ish burger place – best burger ever, according to Natasha – then walked around the coast towards Gwangan. We took pictures of the mermaid statue and the fourteenth century (or earlier) Hae Un Dae carving in the rock, walked around the APEC conference building, craned our necks at the blue skyscrapers and tried to find the Busan Museum of Art. When we finally located it, it was closed – it was Monday. We had a coffee at a Twosome Place (no, really – it’s one of the many coffee shop chains in Korea) and played cards.

APEC House and Gwangan Bridge

Then we took the subway and walked to Busan Museum – also closed. So we walked up the hill to the Cultural Centre, finding a friendly cat on the way. Natasha marvelled at the chandeliers in the concert hall lobby and we watched some musicians have their photo taken on the plaza outside. We went back to Gwangalli and had seafood for dinner, watched the lights on the bridge and a lightshow projected on the rain from a jet of water.

Gwangalli Beach

The next morning, we spent an hour on the subway to the Intercity Bus Terminal, an hour on a coach to Gohyeon – the main city, it seems, on Geoje Island – then well over an hour on a bus out to Haegeumgang. Actually, the driver dropped us off at a nearby village – even though the route information said the bus terminated a Haegeumgang – and we had to wait for another bus for another ten minute ride.

As we hadn’t really researched exactly where we wanted to go, I asked a ticket clerk at the bus station in Gohyeon what was a good beach to visit and she recommended Haegeumgang and told us which bus to take. Haegeumgang is a picturesque, rocky island and it has no beach – so I may have used a word that translates more accurately as ‘coast’. We didn’t take a ferry around the island, but, after a lunch of more seafood, we walked up a nearby hill to a view platform with great views in most directions. When I tried to reach the actually summit, I found it to be closed with a padlocked, barbed wire-encircled door.

Haegeumgang

After missing two buses, we took a taxi back to Gohyeon (₩17,000) and a coach back to Busan, then subwayed to the Museum of Art – which was open. The museum was pretty massive, but its spaciousness made it seem like there wasn’t that much stuff in it. We wandered around all the galleries, admiring, in particular, a collection of works about Korean-Japanese relations, such as the painting of two dogs biting each other, a series of woodcuts telling the story of a Japanese-run mine and a huge mural of corpses and Buddha statues based on the Gwangju massacre.

We headed back to the pension for a shower, had dinner at the burger place and met Jessica for an all too brief chat.

The next day, we headed back to the Bus Terminal, with all our bags this time, and caught a coach to Suncheon. Once we’d checked in to a hotel – Hotel BMW, ₩35,000 for a room – we caught a bus out to Suncheon Bay Ecological Park – the site of Korea’s biggest wetland.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park

We dutifully walked around the museum first, reading and forgetting various bits of information about wetlands, then looked for something to eat in the ‘cafeteria’ and the ‘convenience store’. Rather inconveniently, as we were both hungry, they had nothing more than small pastries and crisps. After eating a packet of crisps each (actually, mine was a dried tofu snack), we started walking through the wetlands on jetty-like walkways, taking pictures of the massive fields of reeds and the occasional heron, crab and bunch of mudskippers.

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park 2

On the far side of the reed fields, we walked up the familiarly named Yongsan, a forested hill with an observation platform looking out over the bay. I took lots of photos of the view, including distant hills and islands and the circular reed beds on the coast. Natasha was particularly taken with the maroon-ish colour of some of the vegetation.

After a convenience store lunch and a brief encounter with a couple of Mormon girls (one Korean, one from Salt Lake City), we headed back into town and then out again to Seonamsa on another pretty long bus ride. We walked around this Buddhist temple at dusk as the monks were performing some sort of ceremony. This began with monks taking turns to perform epic drum solos on a giant drum in the entrance building (on the ground floor of which was a shop, the attendant of which harassed Natasha as she looked around). Then the monks gathered in one of the halls for chanting and praying. It was nice and peaceful; there were a few other tourists around, but not many.

Buddhist Drumming

The following day – Thursday – was our last day together and we decided to check out Yeosu Expo – the site of a world exposition last year. I was a little confused about what was going on there because there was also a garden expo in the area, but that turned out to be in Suncheon. Yeosu is close to Suncheon, but is a separate town. Yeosu Expo is also a terminus of a KTX line, so it seemed like a good place to head back home from.

Yeosu Expo

Unfortunately, there was really nothing going on at Yeosu Expo – there was some sort of ‘character festival’ for kindergarteners and the nearby aquarium seemed to be open for business. Most of the exhibition halls were closed and empty and the whole place seemed a bit sad and dilapidated for something that is only a year old. We had a strange French toast-croque-monsieur thing and a drink in a café on the site and played some cards then caught our train home. It was a regular train rather than KTX – four hours to Cheonan, five to Seoul – as it was at the most convenient time.

It was great to spend time with Natasha and quite satisfying to use my minimal expertise to show her around. It was also good to finally have my summer week off work, even though it was a pretty tiring round of early starts and long bus and train rides. It was also a little weird to consider that Natasha is a link to my ex-girlfriend and that our lives are pretty close, but completely divorced from each other. But it’s only loneliness that makes me dwell on this, I suppose. But Natasha was great company – it was lovely to spend time with someone as good-natured as her; her being British was a bonus, too.

Natasha and Sean

Although there was lots of moving around, this short, concentrated burst of travelling works quite well, I think. Busan is a great place to spend a couple of days on holiday, and there are lots of places on the south coast that would be worth exploring; the little that we saw was very pleasant – even Yeosu Expo had a certain charm. The experience makes me want to explore more of the country – just not necessarily by myself.

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The possibility of getting skin cancer has been on my mind for some time. I have lots – lots – of mole, several quite big. They’re mostly on my back and seem to a have grown and multiplied imperceptibly over the years. Having moles and freckles is associated with a higher risk of getting skin cancer (although I’ve also read that having many moles is also connected to ageing more slowly – those of you who know me well won’t be surprised at that). It’s really about time I saw a dermatologist.

Which is what I did a couple of weeks ago.

Now You've Really Seen the Back of Me

On the Monday, I went to a hospital in Cheonan that was recommended by my boss, Soonchunhyang University Hospital. I went into one building and inquired after the 피부과, or skin clinic, and was directed to a neighbouring building. In the lobby there I spoke to a member of staff who spoke English and she explained that I should get a referral from another 피부과 first. I was given some directions and headed off there in a taxi.

This skin clinic – 퀸 피부과, ‘Queen’ – was also a cosmetic surgery place. It was a bit rhinestoney – kind of down-market princess chic. My presence there seemed to be equally confusing to the staff and the female clients. But I took my T-shirt off for the doctor and he figured out want I wanted. Eventually, I was sent on my way with a piece of paper.

I headed to a nearby Starbucks to do some work on one of my games.

The following day, I went back to the hospital and saw a dermatologist there. He gave my torso a fairly cursory examination and said that they would take a biopsy from the darkest mole – or naevus – on my back.

A younger man did the procedure. I lay on my front and he anaesthetised the area, used some device to punch a small hole in my back, then sewed it up with a couple of stitches. The sample was a little cone of skin a bit less than a centimetre tall and about half a centimetre across the base (the skin surface), pinkish-greyish-brownish in colour. I was told to keep it dry and was prescribed some medication and told to get iodine and waterproof plasters. I was to come back the following week to get the biopsy result and have the stitches out.

Diminished Mole

The mole is a little to the left of my spine, but pretty much in the middle of my back. Not easy to reach oneself. However, with a little daily practice, I got fairly proficient at wiping the stitches with damp tissue, dabbing it with iodine and putting on a fresh plaster (the waterproof plasters were excellent – they have a slightly rigid plastic covering that keeps them straight when you’re putting them on, they really are waterproof, they don’t peel and they don’t leave much of a sticky residue behind). I took the medicine – antibiotics, I think – most of the time, but had a few left at the end of the seven days. The wound didn’t bother me at all.

I went back the following Tuesday and the dermatologist told me the result was negative – there was no sign of cancer – in that mole, at any rate. I wonder whether some of my other moles ought to be tested, as well, just to make sure. I’m going to try to keep an eye on them – on the irregular ones, anyway. Having the stitches removed was quick and painless.

I walked home feeling pretty good that I’d finally done the right thing, but conscious that it may not be the end of the story.

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A couple of weeks ago, I had an appointment on Monday morning at the hospital not far from my home – the one I’ve gone to for all my health needs so far – for my latest colonoscopy. I think my last one was probably in 2010, so I’m a little overdue for one. And, as I’ve had bad flare-ups every other year since about 2005, I’m pretty much due for another.

I told the doctor that I had to work in the afternoon, so he promised a ten o’clock appointment. It turned out to be eleven o’clock. Perhaps because of this, I wasn’t given a general anaesthetic like every other time I’ve had a colonoscopy in Korea. Wasn’t even given the option, actually.

Another difference to my previous experience was the laxative I was prescribed. The earlier ones were small bottles of vile fluid that I had to drink and follow up with two litres of water. This one was a powder that you dissolve in water and then drink. It had the same horrible, sweet-bleach taste, but was at least a lot milder. I couldn’t manage the whole dose in the evening, but in the morning I figured out that if you just down each 500 ml dose in one go, it wasn’t too bad. I drank an extra litre of water both morning and evening to make up for my under-dose.

The examination, then, wasn’t a huge amount of fun. I could watch the progess of the endoscope on the monitor, see the brown fluid in my gut get gurgled up by the tube, observe the flushes the doctor administered. With my lack of sleep and low blood sugar, I didn’t try too hard to follow it and instead just tried to relax. It was uncomfortable, but not unbearable (unlike the barium enema and bowel X-ray I had once on the NHS), and it was pretty weird to feel the endoscope poking my abdomen from the inside. The nurses moved me about a few times and squeezed my belly, perhaps to improve suction. The doctor took five biopsy samples, but I at least didn’t feel that.

The doctor told me afterwards that my colon was mostly healthy, but that I had – have – a ten-centimetre patch of inflammation in my upper large intestine that bled on touch. I’d already told him that my regular doctor was a specialist at Daehang Hospital in Seoul, so I got a CD with images from my exam and started thinking when I would go up for a consultation.

Later, at work, my boss gave me some fish jjigae to take home for dinner. I duly did, warming it up in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Later in the evening – while I was trying to go sleep, in fact – I started feeling a bit feverish and nauseous. I vomited up aforesaid dinner and worried about whether I’d merely contracted food poisoning or whether I’d suffered some horrific damage to my bowel and was now developing septicaemia.

The following day, I felt better, but was weak, so I took the day off work and went to Seoul to see my doctor there. He looked at the pictures from my examination and declared that I was fine. He didn’t prescribe any steroids for my inflamed bowel, nor anything for my bout of food poisoning. During the day, I was only able to eat half a small bowl of cereal and a few French fries for lunch. My guts weren’t too happy.

I recovered from all this over the next few days, but had occasional twinges in my colon in exactly the place the Cheonan doctor had told me I had the inflammation. These moments of discomfort have dwindled in frequency to more or less nothing, now, but I couldn’t help thinking the colonoscopy was more harm than help. I went back to the hospital last week for my biopsy results and they revealed no nasty surprises.

So, to keep my colitis under control, I think I just need to make sure I don’t fail to take my daily dose of mesalazine – all 3,400 milligrammes of it. At least the whole thing turned out to be a lot cheaper than I was expecting; really cheap, in fact: less than £20.

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The last few weekends have been a bit of a whirlwind of socialising for me. Which is pretty strange, given that I’m not only shy, but a shy introvert. I guess I’m finally discovering my inner extrovert. He’s been a shy chap most of my life. Someone once described that part of my personality as a monkey in a cave – every now and then he’d come out for a bit then duck back inside and hide.

Since my end of year holiday, I’ve:

been to see Life of Pi with a book group,

attended a Tolkien and the Inklings appreciation group,

attended the Life of Pi meeting with said book club,

been on a hike out near Chuncheon,

held two coffee mornings in Cheonan,

gone on a weekend ski trip to Yongpyeong – venue of next year’s Winter Olympics,

attended a Toastmasters event

and gone to a Father Ted-themed night out (with my black shirt and a homemade dog collar).

Add to that a good sprinkling of gaming and the faintest hint of romance (well – I met someone and we seemed to have a good rapport, but nothing further developed), and January has been a full month (actually, the latter couple of items on the list occurred in February). I’ve also met a bunch of new people. However, with my full weekends and full weekdays, I haven’t had much opportunity to write about all this stuff.

One of my new friends from New Year’s Eve invited me to a Tolkien and the Inklings group. I extended this invitation to my gaming friends; one of them suggested I should scope the group out first and report back on the number of weirdos in attendance; I countered that any of attending wouldn’t necessarily reduce the weirdo ratio. Although the meeting went on a bit long, it was pretty interesting. The organiser had prepared materials and talked about Owen Barfield and some of the philosophical underpinnings of the Inklings’ work. There’ll be another meeting in a couple of weeks.

As I have barely met anyone in Cheonan yet, I followed the example of my friend Peter, a resident of Daegu, and started a coffee morning group for Cheonan people. On the first such event, one person turned up, a woman I’d met at a small dinner event a couple of weeks earlier. We had a perfectly nice time chatting about work and life and stuff. I held the second one on Wednesday – more about that later.

The Mug

I went on a hike near Chuncheon in Gangwondo, which involved my taking the subway from Ssangyong in Cheonan to Sanbong in Seoul (about two and a half hours) then meeting the hiking group and heading east for another hour or more, still on the subway system. I hadn’t got much sleep and didn’t get much on the train, so I was pretty miserable by the time we started hiking, but a few conversations got my social brain in gear and I met some nice people.

Hikers

One of whom I went on a ski trip to Yongpyeong with (along her friends and a bus load of other foreigners). The skiing was good fun and, by the end of the evening session, I was fairly zipping down an intermediate slope time after time (while my fingers were getting terribly cold inside my gloves – when I went inside to warm up, they really hurt for a couple of minutes). I met more nice people.

Yongpyeong

One of whom invited me to Tedfest the following weekend – which was quite a modest affair in a bar out in Incheon, but the organisers put on various Father Ted-themed events, such as a Lovely Girls competition. I met further nice people, including – uniquely, in my experience in Korea – a Scouser. We got drunk.

I just had a great attendance at my second coffee morning event – seven people besides me. The conversation went pretty well, by an large; there were some slightly awkward lulls in the conversation, but they were fleeting and few. I didn’t really make a great effort to lead the conversation and it mostly took care of itself. At one point, one person suggested everyone say what their hobbies and interests were – which was a good idea, and one I may adopt and adapt for future meetings.

So now I’m going on a return trip to Chuncheon to pick strawberries on Saturday and I’m ‘hosting’ a ‘watching Die Hard 5’ event on Monday – which is a holiday here in Korea (Seollal – lunar new year – is actually a three day holiday, but because the other two days (actually, only the middle day is Seollal) fall on a Saturday and Sunday, they don’t count).

Life seems decidedly not too shabby at the moment. It’s actually become a bit of a mission for me to do all this stuff and develop as a human being. Maybe, one day, I’ll become the confident, charismatic leader of men I’ve always dreamed of being. Until then, I’m just me.

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… another year, that is.

Having met Mary the day before, we’d made plans and I duly went to meet her at Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student. We went to a cat café – the first time I’d been to one, which is pretty astonishing, given how much I love cats. We were the only customers there until four schoolgirls came in later. There were about fifteen cats in the moderately sized café, perhaps more, of lots of breeds – longhairs with and without squishy faces, some tabbies, including something like an ocicat, and a calm, assertive pair of Siamese or similar cats that sat on our table and let us adore them. I’m not really up on cat breeds, so I can only guess at their types.

Idae Cat Café

The place looked very clean, but was a little smelly. The cats were mostly friendly and inquisitive, but some of them evidently didn’t like some of their fellow inmates. We got coffees for ourselves and a tiny cup of treats for the cats and mused on the kind of life the cats must have and must’ve had in the past.

Afterwards, Mary took me a museum on the nearby campus that contained lots of hanbok – traditional clothing – and furniture. We walked down the trench that is the main architectural feature of the university – as a building, it’s appropriately uterine rather than phallic – and had a look, and lunch, inside.

Ewha Women's University

For much of the day, we’d been expecting Matthew to join us, but he turned out to be excessively busy with work. We even went to see a film (One Day; annoyingly will-they-won’t-they-ish at first, but it grew on me somewhat; Anne Hathaway was especially lovely as the freckly, bespectacled, northern British protagonist) to wait for him. He turned up as we were having dinner and we had drinks together afterwards.

The following day, I played Magic and a new (to me) game called Zombies!!! with Eric. I’ve not hung out with him that much, but he’s a very nice chap and it was good to chat with him.

The next day, I went on a hike near Anyang – for which I’d especially bought crampons the day before from one of a series of outdoors gear shops I’d seen lots of times when I lived in Cheongdam. The crampons worked extremely well; having slipped and slid on packed snow the last time I’d gone for a hike, the grip provided made me feel especially stable.

The hike was organised by a couple of groups: Indigo Hill and the unfortunately named SHITY – Sunday Hikers Interested in Trekking Yet-again. It lasted over five hours and the weather was very cold and very sunny. The snow wasn’t very thick on the ground, but thick enough to beatify the landscape in that way that only snow can; it clung to the limbs of pine trees in lumpy lines.

Mountain Near Anyang

Afterwards, we went for a meal of chicken stew with lots of side dishes. The leaders of the group were very friendly – as, indeed, were all the hikers. There was an American guy who could apparently teach you anything – scuba diving, skiing, salsa dancing (but this latter only if you were of the opposite gender). I exchanged numbers with a few people. Later, a smaller group of us went to a singing room or noraebang in the nearby city, where I gave a rather unsteady rendition of ‘The Day That Never Comes’ by Metallica (and rather better performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’). A cute hiker with not much English and the unusual name of Ok (pronounced something like ‘oak’) dragged me to my feet to dance.

The next day, New Year’s Eve, I met one of the hikers I exchanged details with the previous day for coffee. After meeting her, I headed straight over to Gangnam for the first stage of the New Year’s Eve event I’d signed up for on Meetup.com. This consisted of dinner at one of the chains of western-ish-style buffet restaurants that are popular in Korea – Ashley’s. The food was mediocre at best, but there was a limitless supply of four wines (which I mostly liked, so they were probably crap, too). I said hello to various people and exchanged introductions, sat with three American girls for dinner and we were joined by a Korean and a South African couple.

Afterwards, we had to take the subway across the city to Hongdae for the other part of the package – Club Mansion. There’s really nothing mansion-like about this place, but it’s one of the more exclusive places, apparently costing ₩20,000 to get in. I danced with a couple of women that I liked; had a brief and fairly innocent romantic moment with one, but, alas, I don’t think anything will develop between me and any of the three women I met that day.

I did quite get into the dancing – which is surprising. Shocking, even. The very idea of dancing usually fills me with a vague sense of humiliation. But with five glasses of wine and a few beers in my belly as well as no one around that I knew (and therefore no expectations on me to behave in the way that I expect them to expect me to behave), I was able to enjoy the time in the way that one is supposed to enjoy it. Mary also turned up at the club (which is how I know how much it cost), but we didn’t spend much time together.

Later, I hung out at the Hongdae Tom N Toms, waiting for the subway to open, with a young guy I’d met in the group of people I’d tagged along with. He fell asleep as we sat at a table and I was deeply engrossed in my smart phone – and pretty sleepy myself. When I woke him up to leave, he didn’t have his phone – the upshot being that it had almost certainly been stolen. Someone might almost literally have snatched it from under my nose as it sat on the table. The fact that my own phone may have been taken from someone in similar circumstances made me feel extra crappy – although not nearly as crappy as my New Year’s acquaintance.

That morning, I got back to Zach’s place at maybe seven o’clock. I woke up at 10:30 and decided not to try to sleep more. Matthew and I played Magic later in the day and I headed back to Cheonan in the evening.

The following day, I met three people at an Indian restaurant near Cheonan Station for dinner. The food was great – I had a buttery chicken curry (can’t remember exactly what kind) – and the three women (Americans) were nice and friendly (as, too, was the chatty guy (American) who didn’t join us, but hung around for a while after he’d finished his own, separate meal). They’d all travelled varying distances for the meal – which someone had suggested on a Facebook group – and, with my hours of 2:00 to 9:30 and my determination to do lots of social stuff in Seoul and Daegu at weekends, I’m unlikely to see them again soon.

At some point in the day or two after the, dare I say, euphoria of New Year’s Eve, I had a kind of emotional crash. A small one. I don’t often spontaneously cry – by which I mean, not without reason, but without a trigger – but this was one of those times. I was feeling lonely and pitiful and kind of stupid. To some degree, I became someone else on New Year’s Eve and I was expecting him to be more successful at flirtation and romance than I’ve ever been. Naïve of me to think that kind of thing is ever easy.

Still, the year is yet young, and, in just a few days from now, I will have money to spare for trips and events and suchlike and we will see what happens.

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The first official day of my holiday, Wednesday the 26th, passed uneventfully. I did a bit of writing, picked up the rest of my medicine, discovered I somehow wasn’t covered by national health insurance, contacted my boss then heard from her that someone at the government had made a mistake and it should be sorted out by the next day. Later, I dropped some shirts at a dry cleaners for ironing, got a haircut, went to a kimbap place for dinner – where I met Namy, my other colleague; she’s off to America for a month soon, so she was with her replacement, a young Korean guy who used to be a student at the hagwon. They were both on their dinner break – the guy is evidently replacing me, too, while I’m off.

Afterwards, I watched Sucker Punch – which was better than I thought it was going to be. A little, anyway. It was completely silly – a mish-mash of computer game cut-scenes linked by a non-sensical escape plot framed within a deceptive melodrama. It worked, though; it was visually spectacular and perfectly well acted. I particularly liked the fantasy-within-a-fantasy structure and the denouement was pretty bold. I could have done without the pretentious voiceovers at the beginning and end.

I had a fairly early start the next day. I packed my suitcase for five days in Seoul, picked up my shirts, packed one, and headed off to the railway station.

I got off at Yeongdeungpo in western Seoul, where I met Helena, a very sweet woman I worked with when I worked in Gangnam. She drove us to a Homeplus, where we had shabu-shabu for lunch (shabu-shabu is a kind of soup that cooks on a hob on your table; this particular place was buffet-style, so you picked your own ingredients to go in the watery stock: bean sprouts, bak choi, spring onions, beef, baby octopuses, prawns etc; the man on the till when we left told us it was a Mongolian dish, though Helena said it’s common all over east Asia and Wikipedia says it’s Japanese but originally from China). We talked about our lives in the past few years; she told me what she knew of the other people we worked with. She seems very happy and know has her own cottage industry making leather wallets, passport cases and suchlike.

Afterwards, I headed to Sinsa and to Zach’s place. Zach’s out of the country, visiting friends and family in the States, but he very kindly agreed to let me stay there while I was up in Seoul. I retrieved the key from its super secret hiding place and let myself in. I got on the internet and signed up for a New Year’s Eve party; then I went to the KEB handily located just across the main road to transfer funds pay for it.

As I was thinking of what to do next, I remembered my friend Ji-hyeon. I’d sent her a couple of e-mails telling her I was due back in the country, but had had no reply. I searched my mails for a phone number for her and texted a message to it. A minute later she called and we arranged to meet an hour later. Fortuitously enough, she has recently started working in Sinsa, so she came straight from work to meet me for a coffee (well, she had hot chocolate).

The last time I saw her was at her wedding. She sent me an e-mail earlier in the year telling me she was pregnant; she now has a four-month-old baby boy. She showed me a video, and he’s a happy, bonny baby – they usually are. We caught up on each other’s lives, but we had barely an hour together as she wanted to get home to her son and husband.

I ate dinner then headed to Hongdae to meet Mary. I don’t know Mary so well, having only really met her a few times, but she’s a lovely person, so when she texted me in response to my Facebook message about my new phone number I was glad to arrange to meet her. We had a quite serious and occasionally gruesome conversation over a couple of drinks in a couple of bars. And we made arrangements to meet again today with Matthew for a Mary-led tour of Ewha Women’s University, where she’s a student.

And that’s what I’ll be doing very soon. This holiday is turning out to be extremely packed with social events and socialsing: seeing my three friends yesterday, meeting Mary and Matthew today, gaming tomorrow, hiking with a group on Sunday, New Year’s Eve party on Monday, dinner with some Cheonan people on Wednesday (I’ll finally get to meet some Cheonanites! (besides those I work with)). So much social interaction is quite unlike me, but, being stuck down in Cheonan and working the hours that I work, I feel that I have to take advantage of all such opportunities I can.

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The last couple of weekends have been pretty busy and fun.

The weekend before last, I came up to Seoul, my small backpack heavy with my box of Magic cards and a few bits of clothing and toiletries – and my computer, which I probably didn’t really need. I’ve recently joined a bunch of groups on Meetup and my first order of business was to attend my first event with one of them. It was a beginners’ life drawing class at a studio in Itaewon. The instructor had us practise a few different drawing techniques – initially with one of the attendees with whom he was evidently familiar because the model was late, and then with a model once she arrived.

Three Life-drawing Sketches

It was interesting work, quite challenging – especially having not had much practice at sketching for a long time, other than the occasional map for a game or story. I think I did reasonably well, though. The model was a white, North American woman – she resembled a blond Natalie Portman. Most of the attendees were women too; I chatted to a few on the way out and back to the subway station, but the atmosphere in the class was quiet so I felt pretty self-conscious about talking to anyone in there. The one woman I did talk to in the class seemed quite uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I met those sterling gentlemen, Matthew and Zach. We had dinner together and I dropped my things at Zach’s place (which is conveniently nextdoor to Matt’s place; I knocked on their doors simultaneously) where I stayed the night. Later in the evening, Zach and I went to Hongdae where he had a gig to play with Damnear David, a David Bowie cover singer. Also on the bill was a Queen cover band, Queen Machine – which I really quite enjoyed.

The following day, the three of us went to Wangsimni to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was very good, although it did have some silly bits like the hero not leaving home for the first hour of the film and Galadriel teleporting to avoid scuffing or tripping up over her long skirts.

We also played lots of Magic: The Gathering. Zach and I did, at any rate – Matthew had other duties that called him away.

During the week, I made a bunch of paper snowflakes with my students to decorate my class a little. There has been quite a bit of real snow of late and the weather has been very cold occasionally – making my classroom unpleasantly chilly; the single heater is not really up to the task of heating the whole room.

Paper Snowflakes

I also got my Alien Registration Card and set up a bank account with KEB – Korea Exchange Bank. Actually, I set up two accounts (no, I didn’t – the bank clerk did it for me); one is a regular current account, into which I’ll be paid, and the other automatically transfers any money put into it to my UK bank account. Once I got paid, I transferred some money into the second account; I’ve just checked and it has arrived in my British account. Now I can pay off the credit card debt I’ve built up in my first month back in Korea. Unfortunately, the advances on my salary that I’ve been given mean that I probably won’t have enough cash to see out this next month, so I’m going to have to withdraw more money on my credit card.

I had to go back to the hospital where I got my health check done. I went initially to an internal medicine clinic I’d noticed in order to get a week’s worth of my colitis medication. The doctor – a rather uninspiringly nervous and boyish middle-aged man – told me he couldn’t prescribe it but gave me a note to take to the hospital. Having seen one of the specialists at the hospital, I made my way down one of the staircases and passed this very pretty nurse who’d tested my sight and given me my sealed envelope with the results a couple of weeks afterwards. She had been very nice, trying to speak English and (kind of) remembering my name. She stopped to say hello and prove that she remembered my name again (with only a little prompting from me). I asked her hers.

I had to return once more to the hospital to get another copy of the health check statement – the last one had been for the Immigration Office; this one was for the police, with whom I was supposed to be registered. I was able to ask for Ji-yeong by name and she prepared another envelope for me.

There was a weird episode towards the end of the week when Julie, my boss, put it to me that she didn’t want to sign me up for the (legally required) national health insurance and pension schemes and instead wanted to get something private. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what she was saying, but because of something the recruiter had told her she didn’t seem keen.

I’m very aware that Americans and Canadians can get the pension contributions back when they leave the country, but Britons can’t. This is because of differing reciprocal arrangements between governments; Koreans working in the UK also can’t get a refund of National Insurance contributions. Apparently, the recruiter had told her that she wouldn’t need to pay into the national system for a British employee and that had been a factor in her choosing me over someone else. After asking various people and reading about it, I told her I wanted to pay into the national systems – so that’s apparently what I’m now doing.

I say apparently because after getting confirmation that I was signed up from Julie, I went back to internal medicine clinic, the hospital and the pharmacy and got partial refunds on my payments because I was now retroactively covered. I’ve since been back to the hospital and pharmacy and my consultation and medication were a lot more expensive than I was expecting.

This past weekend was one of Magic and Burning Wheel gaming. Zach, Matthew and I played MTG on Saturday. That other sterling gentleman, Peter, met me on Sunday and we played more Magic, then Zach joined us and we got started on a roleplaying game run by Peter. I played a fisherman exiled from his village and Zach played a cleric with the character trait Overbearing Loony; we were united by a desire to stop colonists interfering with local culture – or at least with an old temple. It was a very promising game and seemed to go off on a tangent quite quickly – or maybe it was all planned. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the story soon.

The first thing I did on Saturday was head up to Itaewon to see a man about a phone. I was expecting a North American, but it turned out to be an Indian or Pakistani guy. I started to feel a bit suspicious, but checked the instinct. The phone he offered me was white instead of the black one shown in the photo on Craigslist. I bought it anyway – I’m far too polite to have refused. I came to the conclusion later that the phone was almost certainly stolen. The man didn’t have any idea how to change a setting I e-mailed him about later; the phone is a little bit scuffed on the back, while this chap provided brand new recharging and data cables; he spoke near-perfect English, but he changed the phone from Korean to English right in front of me.

Anyway, it works and I’ve been to the SK Telecom centre to get a new USIM card for it – thus registering an account with SK as well as getting an actual phone number. The clerk opened it up and typed some numbers from inside the phone into her computer. I can only assume that if someone had reported it stolen, some alert would have come up at this point. Maybe it was second-hand after all.

The really disappointing thing about the phone was that it was white and not black. Nevertheless, I’ve got a pretty fancy 4G smart phone with a big screen and I’m starting to get used to how it works and alter things to my taste.

Monday was the last day of teaching for me this year. I had one class with a four-year-old boy, then the next class was an amalgam of many of the elementary school kids and we watched Brave on my laptop. A couple of hours later, the middle- and high- schoolers did the same, but I had to leave halfway through to take a class with one of the girls; then I had one more class with one of the older boys and I was done. The kids will be back on Wednesday, but I have my contractual five days of holiday.

Today, Tuesday, I spent doing not very much – washing clothes, walking around the city, blogging. I had pepperoni pizza for dinner with chocolates and beer and Misfits and the Simpsons.

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