Thursday, 21 January 2010

Korea - The first pig skin

Hello everyone!

So we're now into January. This blog starts from January 11, I haven't updated in a while because...well, I'm lazy.

Monday night I went to meet two Matt's, Schroeder and Nordstrom, and their friend Debbie for dinner. Matt S is leaving on Thursday to head back to the States for a few weeks before starting another year out here. His place is amazing, complete with massive lazyboy-esque chair, which he said he got off the net for just 150,000. I'll start looking.

We went to what was described as a 'meat' place. Out here, that can mean anything. I recently found a multipack of crisps, with one of the flavours being 'meat'. I didn't partake. This place was really nice, actually, and we were seated near a Korean business group who had numerous bottles of soju lined along the table. The pork we had was really really good, really tender, and on the outer ring of the grill was what resembled a dripping tray. They put lots of vegetables in it and then poured raw egg all around it. Genius idea. Like cooking our own meat at the table, we were now in charge of our own omelette.

There was another new experience to this meal, however. Matt had also ordered 'pig skin'. I assumed it would be similar to crackling, i.e. quite crunchy. No sir. They put a giant square of skin onto the grill and we cooked it, not having a clue when it would be 'ready'. The waiter eventually told us it was time, and we cut it up and tried it. I bit down, expecting a crunch that never materialised. It was a bit like eating rubber. It then slid quite easily down my throat. I thought it was ok, not outstanding and not really tasting of anything significant.

We all paid for it the next day. I felt as rough as a badger's...yunno. I told my co-teacher what I had eaten, and his first question was 'Did it have hair on it?' Thankfully not, but the fact that they may serve it like that at some places was chilling to the core. Mr Kim told me that the place where he is from in Seoul, Mapo, is the best place to get pig skin, and that we should get it at some point. Not convinced, myself.

Winter camp was progressing, and I was getting to know my students a bit better. I no longer need them to have their name cards on their tables, for example. They have also started to bring me presents - all unhealthy food, but consequently all very nice. I now offer candy as a reward in every lesson to keep them onside. Numbers have dropped, but I was told that this would happen.

I went out on Tuesday as well, and felt that my week was beginning to resemble the first few days out here when I didn't ever need to cook. A few of us went back to the curry place that I went to on my first Saturday. On the bus I noticed a rather old man drawing pictures on the frosted windows, in the same way that a child does on a long car journey. I started chuckling to myself, and he noticed and did the same. 'Animation,' he said. I gave him the thumbs up and said 'Cho-a-yo', meaning 'good'. The usual then happened - he started talking in Korean, expecting me to understand, and I laughed and made clear that I had no idea what he was saying. While waiting for people to arrive a large Korean man walked straight into April as if she didn't exist. Manners are not the strong point of Koreans.

This time I studied the menu in more detail, and found that they had my old favourite - vindaloo. For those who are not familiar, vindaloo is generally the hottest curry on a menu in any Indian restaurant in Britain. If you want something hotter, you have to put in a special request, and hope you have lots of toilet roll at home. I do love a vindaloo, but this one was about as hot as a tikka masala. A bit disappointing, but still very nice nonetheless.

About 10 of us were at this meal, and four of us then moved on to a mokkali bar. My views on mokkali were warped by the chocolate mokkali I had on Boxing Day, so I wanted to know what the real stuff tasted like. As usual, food had to be bought in order for us to enjoy the drink, so we plumped for a kimchi pancake. It didn't look particularly appetising - rather, its appearance resembled vomit. But it was actually really good, and we got through quite a lot of it. We got through a lot of mokkali as well, that stuff was good. So good, in fact, that I missed the last bus to get back to Siheung, and had to fork out almost 10,000 on a taxi to get home. Worth it, though, a very chilled, relaxing night.

After two nights involving alcohol, I came in on Wednesday clearly not at 100%. My elaborate planning for each camp lesson has now descended into spending less than an hour cobbling something together which can just about pass for a lesson, and then playing around on the net and drinking tea. I went out for lunch with Ellen, to a really small Korean place. Difficult to describe, really, but similar to a cafe that predominantly deals in food, I guess? I wasn't expecting it to be great, but it was arguably my favourite meal of the three days, and certainly the cheapest. 5,000 each, Ellen got a spicy soup. I thought it was moderately spicy - she struggled, and ended up demanding water. I had a risotto dish, in that it was rice and lots of stuff in it. Very filling, I didn't need to eat for the rest of the day.

My students finally got something productive done this week, now that I've taught them stuff they really should know. They also picked a celebrity that they wanted to interview. Some of these were quite interesting. The quietest one of the lot, Enju, picked Eminem as hers. One of the cleverer students, Jay, picked Mika as his, which concerns me a little. Chan picked John Lennon, which has become quite funny when he asked numerous questions about his death. 'How did you die?' 'A stranger shot me...with a gun.' Brilliant.

The light at the end of the tunnel, when thinking about students in this school, is a 3rd grader called Sophie. She lived in Kent for four years, so her English is incredible. She is entering an essay writing competition on Saturday (the fun kids have out here, eh), and wanted help on how to write summaries and essays. It is something that is more challenging, and consequently I enjoy planning tasks for her. Most of the summary articles were plucked off BBC and CNN, but it saved me reading long-winded articles. She is good to talk to as well, something which even Mr Kim struggles with sometimes.

Over the past few days I have encountered various problems with my flat. I have to say, life is awesome out here, but my flat is very underwhelming. It was no great shakes when everything worked, and now various appliances have decided to have some fun at my expense. My 'bathroom' sink doesn't like water to pass through it, and my heater plays a game where it fluctuates wildly between 30'C and 10'C (I have it set to be on 24'C), and it then puffs and makes a tremendous noise when it hits one of these numbers, before rapidly moving the temperature in the opposite direction.

This normally wouldn't bother me. From my time in Manchester, I'm used to rationing heat to extremes. But Manchester was never this cold. This week has seen comfortably the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced, and possibly ever will experience. It almost dropped below zero on Thursday - zero in fahrenheit. That's like -18'C. That was in the daytime as well. The snow still hasn't melted from Boxing Day and early January!! As a result, I do actually need to get myself a heater, so Wednesday night was when I was going to sort this out once and for all, with the help of Mr Kim.

We went to a large Home Plus/Tesco in Bucheon, but not the one I had been to before when I had big ol' culture shock. I had a few other items I needed to make me feel more comfortable in my place as well, with a pillow and bedsheets being a high priority. There is only so long I can sleep in my sleeping bag for with an itchy duvet on top and be happy about it. We found a good heater for 30,000, so snapped it up. When we got back, more issues needed resolving. I'm taking the same attitude towards bills that I had in Manchester - see how long you can get away without paying them for. This was until they had slapped a bill on my door charging me for November, when I wasn't here, as well as December, totalling 200,000W. Mr Kim spoke to the owners of the block at length about this, mainly because Bradley had actually paid the November bill.

The owners run a betting shop nextdoor to my place, and whilst all this was going on I entertained myself by looking at three maps they had on the wall - one of England, one of Spain, and one of Italy. It didn't take me long to work out that they were maps of the top flight football teams, and the team names were all in their respective geographical positions on the maps - in Korean. Good test of my hangul, that.

When we went up to my flat, they then tried to fix my sink - by taking it apart. Literally. They took the bottom of the sink away with them, and told me I couldn't shower until it was fixed. I hadn't showered since yesterday morning, so wasn't impressed by this. I was also unimpressed with my heater, which didn't seem to be emitting any heat at all.

They came back the next night, and my neighbour, who speaks minimal English but more than anyone else I've met on my block, came in and had a look at my heater. Well, he laughed first that I didn't have any slippers. Whenever he sees me, he gets concerned about how cold I must be, and shows it by laughing. Intruiging, that. He then got his own from his own room, and plugged it in - and it worked. Not hard to work out the problem here - Tesco had sold me a broken heater. Down with capitalism!

Not quite. Luckily my built-in heater, obviously feeling threatened by the impending competition of a newer, slimmer model, began to behave itself, so I could survive for a bit whilst the sink was fixed up. The problem with it was that there was really long hair blocking the pipes. It was too long to be mine, meaning it must have been Brad's, and then my face hair must have completely blocked it up. Concerning that my facial hair, which is often non-existent after several days, was arguably a partner in crime regarding this offence. But it was soon fixed, and I could stop having chav showers. Deodorant is expensive out here as well, so I was doubly glad about this.

Soon it was Friday, and the end of my two-week project. I was initially concerned when I arrived at school - not because of the project, but because of the sight of a giant digger picking up the snow on the dirt field. Well, if the sun won't assist in its removal, I guess a JCB will do the job. I put a bit of work in to ensure that the final speaking activity ran smoothly, by typing up and printing off their questions and answers, and handed them their individual sheets. I also gave a copy to their partner, and made each partnership stand at the front and do their Q and A. They talked into the paper, but at least they did talk and pronounce everything correctly, so I was pleased about that. All I have to do now is come up with something to occupy another two weeks.

April's birthday was on Thursday, so we went out on Friday to celebrate. There was another wonderful incentive to get myself down to Bucheon, however. Juno, the woman who got me my job, was coming across from the other side of the city. I had spoken to her on the phone, but still hadn't met her as yet, and neither had Kelly. From our emails, I had gathered that Juno was a big fan of Doctor Who (for any naive people out there, its a British sci-fi series), and had got her a present fit for any Tardis lover - a talking dalek.

Whether me and my dalek were able to meet Juno was in the balance at one point. I decided to go straight from school, meaning that I was getting to Bucheon from a different bus stop. It was actually the bus stop that is closest to most of the Western Siheungers I have met out here, so I knew that the 015 and the 1-1 would take me to Bucheon station. I waited almost 10 minutes, and was beginning to shiver in the sub-zero temperatures, and then saw a bus coming. The 1. Logic dictated that the 1-1 and the 1 probably run along a similar route, much as the 31-3, 31-5, 31-7 and 31-9 that run from outside my flat, so I gambled and hopped on. Logic would also dictate that the 015 and 1-1 were surely close, but logic is twisted, or so someone once said.

Needless to say, the gamble backfired. The bus immediately turned onto a dual carriageway. I looked at the map on the bus, and although most of it was in Korean, I worked out that there was a subway stop for line 1, the same line Bucheon is on, at the end of the bus route. It was called Gaebong, a name I didn't immediately recognise, so I wasn't sure which direction the train needed to be heading in. The bus took a while, but I did get to the station, and hopped on an open train, urgently looking for a map. Had I got on the right train? Of course not. I jumped off just in time, and waited around in the cold.

I wasn't overly late for our happy hour place, and Juno arrived soon after with her boyfriend, George. It was awesome to finally put a face to the emails! She is a very nice person as well, very funny. I gave her the present, which she enjoyed. The only problem was that we had all been playing with it before she arrived, so the battery had just about died, which sucked. We stuck around chatting for a while before deciding that we all really needed food, so headed to our galbi joint.

Juno introduced me to a drink that my students had told me about, called so-maek. The clever ones will realise that this is indeed a combination of soju and maekchu, so soju and beer. It was better than I thought it would be. We had combinations of samgyupsal and galbi, which left us all very satisfied. Most of us then headed over to RnB for a while, before heading up to another place. People had described it to me as 'Sky Bar', which made me think of the bar in the Hilton in Manchester, or any bar in a ridiculously tall building. Not quite that tall, and we didn't really have a view, but it was on the 10th floor of a building, so technically true.

The Sky Bar was very plush, and we got a few pitchers of beer and an icy soju cocktail, which unsurprisingly was cold on the throat when each shot was sunk. It was a very nice place, but I had to leave at around 4am, as I had plans in place for Saturday. Probably should have left earlier, as you'll find out next time.

Love you all


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