Saturday, 5 August 2017

Summer Update ☀

Well, we’re at the peak of summer here in South Korea, which means it’s time for another seasonal update.

I’m writing this sitting at home next to the fan on a sweltering 36-degree Sunday afternoon. Temperatures over the past few weeks have been sitting in the mid-thirties. However, it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be, compared to last year (being my first year here and a bit of a shock to the system).

Another thing that’s made it easier is my change in exercise routine from running to swimming. There’s no better way to counteract the heat than by taking a dip. I enjoyed going down the road to the swimming pool for a few weeks, but that ended pretty quickly as the school holidays started and swimming lanes turned into wading lanes as people flocked to the pool. So, after school, I’ve been going up the road to the pool in Jangsu, where there are usually just a few people.

Last week, a few of us went to the Jirisan N.P., a short drive of about eight kilometres from Namwon, where we had a barbeque and a dip in the mountain stream there. And then yesterday, I joined my students in Beonam for the Beonam Water Festival. The town turned out to celebrate summer, and the school orchestra played very well despite the heat. I was supporting the kids, passing out bottles of water, chatting to the kids’ parents, and trying to keep control of the school puppy, who was getting a little carried away with the excitement. The festival took place beside the Yocheon river, and people were swimming and playing in the water and observing the proceedings from in the water. I said bye to the students at about 10pm and drove back home. I was a little bit sad to leave, as I’d been in Beonam all week, running an English camp all about New Zealand.

Another great summer adventure took place in the small town of Sacheon, in Gangwon province, about 6 hours drive from Namwon, and close to the border. It was a church retreat, with most of the congregation of Namwon Church, where I worship every Sunday. We stayed in a small church by the beach, some of us (including me) opting for the slightly less glamorous option of camping on a potato field (which, despite the mozzies, was pretty comfy). The food and conversations we shared, as well as time spent on the beach and in the sea (finally! after so long!) all made for some pretty special memories.

Other than that, I’ve been keeping my head down most of the time. It’s been a pretty full-on year so far. I have no fantastic yarns to spin about travelling to exotic lands over my summer break, as I’ve been mostly working. But, as you can see from my report above, it’s actually been pretty good.


Sanseo in springtime.

I had a Monday off in late May, so I decided to go for a run up Banyabong (Mt. Banya). It took most of the day, but the views were awesome, as were the friends I made on the way.

Late spring in Namwon, cycling home from a barbeque.  Just before the rainy season.

A guessing game where students had to colour in kiwis and then ask their classmates if it belongs to them or not. Note the 'kiwifuit kiwi!' This kid will go far in life!

Admiring the breathtaking beauty of Naejangsan National Park. Photo credit to Jack, a Korean friend from Namwon. We spent most of the day (about 7 hours) walking and managed to get to the top of every peak in the (albeit small) park!

The result from a hokey pokey ice-cream making lesson with Middle 2 students. Then, the following week, I tried it with my elementary students at Beonam and Sanseo. Two pretty crazy days, but a fun way to finish off the semester!

Another fun walk up Mt. Seongsu a few Saturdays ago. This was after we came down from the top, got lost, and found a road, and before we hitchhiked back to the carpark. :-]

Friends Soyi and Pierce had a market day at their guesthouse, and asked me to play. I played 12 or so minutes worth of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Despite the heat, it was a mistake to wear shorts. I was eaten alive by mozzies while playing.

A very appreciative audience. 
On the very last day of the semester, most of the teachers at Sanseo Middle and High School went to Busan together. This is some of the crowd. We had a great weekend.

Tent city on the church retreat.

Brent, my leaky tent.

View of the beach. It was cloudy for most of the 4-day retreat, and it rained a little bit, but that turned out to be a good thing, as it was never too hot (unlike Namwon right now!)

"Wanderer above the sea of fog." See the resemblance?

A shoulder-massage chain during camp activities. Unfortunately, my shoulder-massager was a 3 year-old kid, which wasn't the most relaxing experience!

Most of the congregation of Namwon Church.
Students making pikelets at Beonam Elementary.

We made poi and learnt a poi dance inspired by "Rere Atu Taku Poi"

The students performing at Beonam Water Festival. Notice how the stage is right next to the water. This was an ideal location, although I'm glad no speakers or electrical equipment (or old ladies, for that matter) fell into the drink.

Swimming in the river.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Spring Update! ❀

Spring has certainly sprung well this year. Korea is alive with new life. 

The countryside has shed the brown monotony of winter to burst forth in green and waves of colour: first with the soft pink of cherry trees blooming along the footpaths, and then after that had finished, the brilliant yellow of the sansuyu flowers in full blossom, and finally the pinks, reds, whites and purples of the azaleas covering the mountains. Namwon, and indeed Korea, is full of life, and it certainly keeps each day interesting.

But first, to give you a brief catch-up on winter happenings since my last post. 

The rush back to school from my UK trip in January was nothing to worry about. I was supposed to teach two weeks of winter camp for students wanting to study English over the break. For the middle school camp, however, only one student braved the snow and the cold to come to class. I wasn't surprised, the middle school being as tiny as it as, and, well, middle school students will be middle school students, as they say (right?). But we had a great week. The student who came is special needs, so the time we spent learning that week was really valuable. My second week with the high school students focussed a lot on pronunciation and heaps of hands-on activities, so that was fun. 

After the calm of the winter break, the previous year's students all came back to school for a week for the graduation ceremonies of the 6th grade elementary students, the 3rd grade middle school students and the 3rd grade high school students. While the 6th grade students have just moved up to the middle school, and the middle 3 students have just moved to the high school, it was sad to see the high 3 students leaving. 

Following the 'graduation week,' we had another few weeks of holiday. I'd already taken my 10-day vacation allowance, so I had to be at school for that time, but I didn't mind that.

After that, the 'back to school rush' felt like a totally new adventure. Even though I'd already been here for a year, I've come so far as a person and as a teacher, that I felt like I was starting afresh; a new chapter, not so much a continuation of the last. 

This year, I'm much busier, which forces me to be more productive, and more 'on the ball.' There's not much down-time this year, but it's been a really enjoyable, rewarding challenge so far. The main adjustment was the education office giving me an additional school to teach at. I can proudly say that I'm the foreign teacher at Beonam (pronounced like 'bon-arm') Elementary School. The school is even smaller than Sanseo, and my classes average 7 to 8 fantastically enthusiastic kids. It's right out in the wops, and I can't get a bus from Sanseo, so I take the whole of Thursday off and go out there to teach. 

Beonam has a branch school, Donghwa, which only has 11 students (and 11 teachers - in the whole school!). Near the beginning of Spring, we went for a walk together with the students from Donghwa and some students from other elementary schools in the county. During the walk, we were followed by a TV crew from the provincial news station. You can check out my five seconds of fame right here: The students at the very beginning are my fifth graders. 

More recently, at Beonam, we had a soccer game with the 6th graders and the wee 2nd graders, which was heaps of fun. At one stage, I had a clear shot at the goal, and sent the ball flying through pint-sized 2nd-graders only to be stopped by one of their classmates, standing square in the centre of the goal; a very determined wee girl of about seven. I played netball with my high schoolers the other week, so that will be the next game on the agenda at Beonam!

I could waffle on about all my adventures with students, teachers and friends over the past few months, but I'll let the photos tell the stories. 

Oh - one more link. I went to my friends' place one evening for a concert. Pierce (an Irishman) and his girlfriend Soyi (a local) run Mua guesthouse, the coolest guesthouse anywhere, hands down. They knew I play the organ, so once the (professional!) musos had finished their jaw-dropping stuff, they asked my to play - quite out of the blue. Anyway, some music (and beer) was procured, and you can watch and listen here:

I'm writing this on Sunday evening, at the end of a VERY long weekend. Wednesday was Buddha's birthday, Friday was Children's Day, and Thursday was and in-between day off. I was very kindly invited by the music and English teacher at Beonam to join her, her husband and two daughters on a trip to the mountainous area of Hoengseong (pronounced 'hweng-song'). We stayed in a large resort at the bottom of a (snowless) ski field (must go back in winter), ate lots of good food, visited a ceramics festival, a traditional Korean village, and did some walking. But the best memories are the card games we played in the evening, the games we played in the car, and just the time we spent talking over food, laughing at bad jokes, and enjoying the time off. 

So life is good!

Thinking of you all.

Ta for reading.

Leaving my apartment on my way to school during winter camp.

Lots of preparation - for one student! But it was worth it.

Snowy Namwon #1

Snowy Namwon #2

I ♥ bibimbap.

Catching up with teachers from school in Jeonju's Hanok Village.

Cake making during the high school winter camp.

A casual run from school during the winter vacation time.

Another run from school. Different mountain this time.

Weekend trip to Busan.

The NZ section of the UN cemetery in Busan. The graves are for Kiwis killed during the Korean War. 

NZ memorial at the UN cemetery in Busan.

During a weekend trip to Seoul with Kiwi friends from Gwanju, we visited this board game cafe. (Later, we ordered HEAPS of food at a New Zealand restaurant...pies, kiwiburgers, monteiths...)

Kiwis doing Kiwi things...sniffing for bugs??

Putting up flags for March 1st Independence Movement Day - a very important holiday in Korea.

A visit, with teachers from school, to 'ㄱ' (giyeok) church near Jeonju. It was constructed so that men and women could sit in different parts of the church and not be able to see each other, while both could see the minister preaching!

A visit to Sansuyu village, in Gurye county near Namwon.

Sansuyu flowers. They also make a delicious tea.

Sansuyu flowers.

Donghwa Elementary School.

Walking with students.
Playing soccer at Beonam.

Last Wednesday at the Chunhyang festival. I think I mentioned this festival in a previous blog post. The whole city turns out for it. This was a Pansori performace (Korean opera) of the Chunhyang story.

The resort we stayed in at Hoengseong.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Winter Update


Hello all! Time for another overdue update. Speaking of things overdue, I'm currently sitting in London Heathrow waiting for my flight back to Korea after a long overdue visit to see family. But more on that later. Here are a few highlights from the past few months.

After a couple of successful evaluations in November, I can now announce that I've signed on for another year of teaching here. I've learnt so much over the past year, particularly in terms of teaching. I've also gotten to know the students really well. This year, I will continue to teach as best I can, and help the students to be more confident speakers. I'll keep working on my Korean, and I'll keep being a part of the amazingly vibrant, faithful community at Namwon Church.

In September, one of the two Korean English teachers at school left on maternity leave. Her replacement was a hugely supportive, experienced teacher who I got along with really well. I learnt a lot from her firm but encouraging teaching style.

I had a few memorable trips towards the end of the year. The first was to Seoul, where I experienced the gathering of over one million people protesting against the country's president, Park Geun-Hye. She's since been impeached. It was quite an experience to be in such a massive crowd without any fear of violence - I have Korea's ingrained culture of respect to thank for that.

The second trip was to the beautiful, seaside city of Mokpo. I enjoyed hiking up craggy hills and visiting museums. It's definitely worth a return trip.

Also in November was the school festival and the Namwon marathon. The former featured some of the school's talented actors, singers and musicians. It was a fun day, and the next day was the Elementary School Festival, which was also great fun. The latter (a half marathon in Namwon) was a bit of a miserable experience - it was freezing cold (literally), with the average temperature at one degree. However, it seemed to help my running, as I bet last year's time by three minutes at 1:25. I caught up with friends for lunch after the race, forgot that I had lunch plans with other friends, and had a second lunch. All in all, not a bad day!

In mid-December, I travelled to Busan with teachers from school. Despite the three-hour driving time to get there, we made the most of the day. A highlight was eating pufferfish soup. The pufferfish is highly toxic, and has to be very carefully prepared in order to be edible. I hadn't twigged as to what exactly what I eating until after the first bite, but I've survived to tell the tale!

For the students in their final year at high school, the nationwide university entrance exams in mid-November caused a huge amount of stress. It's a pretty big deal - people are strongly urged not to travel in the morning in order to ease traffic congestion, and flights are even stalled for the listening part of the English exam! In the days following the exams, the students sill had to attend school, even though they had no formal classes, So I made the most of having some extra time with them, and we did some cooking together and played some traditional 
ori games.

As for my other classes, we did some more hands-on activities in the lead-up to Christmas, such as cooking and making Christmas crackers. One Wednesday morning, I did pikelet and cookie decorating with my four elementary classes - you can imagine the mess they made!

The school exams happened at the beginning of December. After lunch on the final day of exams, most of the teachers (including me) went on an overnight trip. Of all places we could have visited, we went to...(wait for it...) Namwon, On the way, we went for a great walk in Gurye, but it was a bit weird staying in a hotel just around the corner from home!

Christmas in Korea is a bit of a let-down. The shops and cafés all join in on the hype, but for most Koreans, it's not a special day at all. It's not a public holiday either, but that didn't matter too much, as it was a Sunday anyway. On Christmas Eve, I went to Namwon Church. After a shared dinner, the young people performed a number of skits and songs, then we all joined in on some well-known carols (in Korean, of course), before going home.

The next day, I joined the South African family down the road (who have become good friends since my early days here), and we settled down to a huge meal together, eating and talking until late into the evening.

The final week at school for the year was fairly chilled, and we spent class time wrapping up the year.

Now, to stop waffling on about incidental events. Here's the important part.

Finally, on the morning of New Year's Eve, I made my way - via two buses and two flights (with a fourteen hour stop in Shanghai for the New Year) - to England. Coming out of immigration at Heathrow airport, I straight away saw the beaming faces of my auntie and uncle, who'd come up from Berkshire to collect me. It had been seven years since I'd last stepped foot on British turf, so I was pretty stoked (to say the least) to see my rellies again.

After 24 hours of (almost) non-stop chat, eating, tea-drinking, and catching-up, my Dutch cousins came and picked me up. As it happened, they arrived at a fortunate moment. I was out on a muddy run with cousins, and distracted by the cousinly catch-up, we lost our way. Standing at a junction, who should pull up but our uncle, auntie and two cousins from the Netherlands!

Destination number two was the charming market town of Marlborough, to see my (our) grandparents. It was great to see them as lively as ever, even if physically they're wearing down a tad. It was also good to settle in to the traditional British daily routine of dog walk - breakfast - tea and chat - dog walk - lunch - tea and chat - tea and chat - tea and chat - dinner (- pub...). It was great to catch up with the (wise and 'young at heart') oldies.

Then, onwards to the quiet wee village of Newnham, to see my not-so-quiet rellies. This was probably the most strenuous visit, as I was made to drink copious amounts of tea, eat huge amounts of excessively delicious food, walk the dogs for hundreds of kilometres, try (and fail) to keep up with my cousin's incomparable snooker skills and keep up with my uncle's never-ending wit. Haha... In all seriousness now, it really was a great visit.

Unfortunately, only two out of three of the cousins were at home in Newnham, so we drove up to Guildford to visit cousin no. 3, who was in the middle of her university exams. After a pub dinner (of pheasant - yum!), we dropped her off home, and were saying 'see ya' when we thought 'actually, why don't you take a day off from study and come with us?' So on we went to Marlborough together to stay with the grandparents. It was great to have more time to catch up!

The last stage of the journey was spent in Wales, for a day and a bit to see my wee cousin. They've phased out dragons as the common mode of transport in the country, so I was picked up in an ordinary, non fire-breathing car with four wheels. Lots of meaningful chat ensued and I was just as excited as my cousin to visit her school the next day. Check it out at ('Special Guest'). I was sad to leave Wales so soon, but the time I spent there - as with all of my family - was really valued. I only missed out one cousin (at the first stop), who is currently in India. To my family in the UK: I'll be back soon!

Anyway, here I am on the plane back to Korea (via Shanghai). And, as sometimes happens in this big-but-small world, the guy next to me is a Wellingtonian who studied at Otago for a few years. Out of all the seats on the plane, I'm next to a Kiwi. He's a good fella though.

Back at school tomorrow. Keep well everyone!

P.S. I only took a few photos from my UK visit. The best pictures are memories.

A trip with teachers to Sunchang to see the autumn foliage.

Face-painting at the School Festival.

Marathon training.

Protest in Seoul.

Teachers' trip to Palsongsa.


Pufferfish soup! 

Sunny Busan.

Futuristic Busan.

Teachers' trip to Gurye.

Christmas lunch.

Koreans, and especially teachers, like snacks. With thanks to cooking classes and generous teachers.

The first (real) snow.

In Shanghai at midnight - happy New Year!

Leeds Castle.

Faversham market - it's been held in the stilted Guildhall since medieval times.

Come on, Lilly!