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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Given that I had some time off before I started work, I decided to fly back to Britain for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t particularly a Christmas visit – it was just a coincidence that that event fell during my work hiatus, and it seemed like the perfect time to be back with my family.

I flew with Finnair (yes – boarding my flights, I disappeared into Finnair) via Helsinki airport. Both ways, I was a little anxious about my baggage. On the way there, I hid my small backpack in my carry-on suitcase, taking it out once I’d passed through security. On the way back, I was a little concerned about the weight of my big backpack, containing, as it did, several books in addition to clothing and suchlike, but it only weighed 17kg – well under the 23 kg limit (but still a bugger to swing on to and off my back).

I also paid extra to bring my guitar (a Mexican Fender Stratocaster) in its flight case back with me to Korea; even though it was well wrapped in plastic the case suffered a little damage – the guitar is OK, though. It’s been fun playing it in the past few days, although a) I do regret not getting over to my late grandparents’ home to pick up my Metallica music books and b) it’s given me a flare-up of sciatica, for which I will try to resume my back exercises.

At Helsinki, it was rather charming to see the airport staff getting around on adult-sized push scooters.

I barely had chance to unload my backpack and share the wealth of Korean snacks I’d brought back with my family, and to have an early Christmas dinner with – amazingly – my whole family, before I headed down to Bath to spend a couple of days with my friend Alex, and then to Bristol to do likewise with my friend Lawrence and his girlfriend Yi Vei. I got them all Korean snacks, too – including the ever-popular Pepero.

Alex and I, accompanied much of the time by his friend Jason, spent pretty much all our waking hours playing Magic: The Gathering with a little Munchkin and Islands of the Azure Sea on the side. My Magic decks didn’t do very well, as Alex has recently got back into the game and has much more of the recent powerful stuff than I do – and Jason is an adept newcomer to the game.

Before catching my train to Bristol, Alex and I visited Waterstone’s, where he bought me a bunch of Magic cards and card sleeves and I bought him Star Munchkin.

Lawrence and Yi Vei took me to a burger restaurant, Atomic Burger, that was decked out in old toys and where all the burgers had the names of American icons – I got a Johnny Cash. The following day, I was supposed to take part in Lawrence’s workshop at a Buddhist centre, but I had a terrible headache from not drinking enough before bed and sleeping too long. I felt bad about dropping out, but I was far too grumpy to join in the spirit of it.

Once back in Whaley Bridge at my sister’s place I spent much of the time playing board games with her, her kids, her boyfriend, her kids’ aunt. They enjoyed my Islands of the Azure Sea game; as usual, I’d modified the rules since playing it previously, which helped to balance the gameplay. I got them Forbidden Island and Catan Junior as gifts and we enjoyed them, too. I bought Munchkin Cthulhu along with its Call of Cowthulhu expansion for myself and got to try that out.

Other plans – like blogging, working my new game idea The Hell War, reading a friend’s novel, researching MA courses in Seoul – were pretty much forgotten. As Alex and Lawrence are two of my oldest and best friends I prioritised visiting them, and that, along with Christmas, limited my ability to see other friends. Another time.

In addition to my guitar and Munchkin Cthulhu, I also brought back my Monopoly and Scrabble as well as Civilization, a board game (which predates Sid Meier’s Civilization computer game) my parents got me about ten years ago and which I’ve only ever played once (and I cut that game short when my friends decided to change the rules as we were playing). I also got Stephen R Donaldson’s recent last book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Last Dark, Iain (M) Banks’s last book before his death last year, The Quarry, Robert Rankin’s latest, The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends, Philip Pullman’s Grim Tales, Swords & Dark Magic and Strange Dreams – both anthologies, the latter edited by Stephen Donaldson. Finally, I ordered and received a small pile of unusual dice and brought them back along with all my other dice.

Since then, I’ve played Civilization with my friend Peter and Munchkin Cthulhu with some other friends – Matthew, Erica and Jihyena – celebrated the New Year with meat, uninspiring fireworks, drink and card games and paid my rent for January, leaving me with precious little money until I get paid some time later in the month. I’ll be living on my credit card until then.

I start work on Monday and I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I want to get the initial period over with and settle in as fast as possible, and also get used to getting up early every day. It seems like there are lots of documents to get used to dealing with and probably not much time during normal working hours to fill them all out. And the kids’ mums are apparently the kind that love to complain about everything. I should just try and keep my head and enjoy teaching the kids as much as possible.

I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or two to report on my progress.

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I finished work for the year on Friday.

Kindergarten finished with a ‘Christmas party’, which consisted of the teachers putting on a fairly cack-handed puppet show, having the children watch these ‘Elf Yourself’ videos in which dancers’ faces are replaced with photos you provide. The kids thought it was hilarious. Then each class was taken upstairs separately to get present from a Korean guy – maybe one of the ministers at the church – dressed as Santa Claus. He read each child a message in broken English. One of my kids, Diane, slipped on some foamy fake snow that was on the floor and fell. She didn’t hurt herself, but she cried and wasn’t in a good mood for the remainder of the gift-giving. I gave each of my students a gift of some stationery – a pencil, a pencil sharpener, an eraser and a ruler – and some sweets. Then the kids went home.

Saturday saw the first of a couple of parties at the weekend. Habiba prepared some mashed potato – sadly ruined by the addition of horseradish – and some eggnog. We each brought a gift for the secret Santa; I bought Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, Habiba wrapped some old, unused toiletries. The party was OK – lots of food, conversation, games of mini-pool. The presents we ended up with were a candle (Habiba) and some bathroom stuff (me). We ended up leaving them behind.

On coming home that night, we gave each other our seasonal gifts. From me to her: a pair of earrings, some chocolates, a bag of Starbucks extra bold coffee beans, a copy of A Game of Thrones and an envelope of coupons entitling the holder to such things as a massage, free drink, bathroom cleaning etc. From her to me: a pair of underpants, a cap and a light, long-sleeved T-shirt, and no coupons – even though it was Habiba’s idea.

The following day we attended a similar party, except without the gifts and a lot closer to home – with Habiba’s colleagues, those of them who stayed in the country and weren’t Korean. Also a nice enough party. Both days I ended up getting extremely tired and not at all drunk – which latter is strange given the amount of alcohol on offer.

The tiredness is partly due to having a cold; partly also, I suspect, to a kind of jetlag – or joblag, if you like: I’m pretty used to going to bed and getting up early.

On Monday, we packed boxes to send home. I also packed my gifts for my family, which, by the time they arrive, will be more like Easter presents. I sent off a largish box of books, clothes and other random stuff; Habiba sent three. We spent much of the day going through our stuff (I even threw out all the receipts I’d carefully kept from the past three years). We packed all the things we’d picked out into a suitcase and backpack, took them to the post office and packed our boxes there.

On Tuesday, we went to Yongsan, the electronics district, and Habiba bought herself a mini notebook – which weighs a little more than a kilogram – for ₩330,000 (about £185). Unfortunately, when we got home, it appeared that it didn’t have a built-in microphone; as Skyping is one of the main purposes Habiba wants to put it to, that’s a pain in the arse. We also put in her headphones for repair at the Sony service centre, and bought a two-to-one headphone jack adapter so we can each use our own headphones on the same computer while on our travels.

Those travels will be commencing in two months.

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Yesterday, having finally caved in to gentle pressure from Habiba to exercise more, I went with her to the modest gym she attends near Wangsimni and joined up for a month. I once went to a gym as a teenager with a friend (who subsequently developed the body known, in popular parlance as ripped), but apart from that distant memory, such halls of exercise have been strangers to me (although, of course, I did do taekwondo for a while here in Korea). Habiba showed me round the machines and recommended a few things to do.

By the end of our hour, I felt pretty enlivened and not suffering at from the experience. Today, I felt a little sore, but nothing terrible; nothing nearly as bad as my thighs when I first started taekwondo. And we went again. I read while I did six kilometres or so on an exercise bike. Still haven’t finished Moby-Dick.

For much of the day, however, I’ve been preparing to leave the country this evening for a week in the Philippines. I changed a load of money at the bank, packed, cleaned up at home. Soon, I have to head out to meet Habiba at the airport bus stop. After we arrive in Cebu in the early hours of the morning, we’ll be taking a ferry to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island (hopefully – the Philippines is a Christian country, but it’s also Asian; I’m guessing things won’t close down as much as they do in the west). From there we’ll have to get to our hostel on nearby Panglao island, probably by taxi.

I’ll post some pictures from there as soon as I can. I hope everyone enjoys their holidays, whatever they do.

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