Thursday, 15 April 2010

Korea - The first trip to Chinatown

Hello everyone!

I have a busy few weeks lined up, so I'm going to knock out a quicker blog this week. Here is a vague schedule of my life for the next month or so:
April 16-18 - Yeosoo
April 21-23 - Orientation
April 25 - Hangang Half-Marathon
May 1 - DMZ
May 5 - Children's Day, so a day off, with plans in the pipeline
May 8 - Seoul World DJ Festival
May 15 - Half-Marathon in Seoul
May 16 - South Korea vs Ecuador football game
May 20-23 - Tokyo
And breathe...
Hopefully this means the titles of my upcoming blogs won't be quite so far-fetched and desperate. As if anyone cares that I got my first new shoes in Korea...

Right, to business. 1st graders were on a trip to Pocheon, so I had three days of no lessons. We had decided that this would be a good time to get me another alien card, having lost the thing just over a month ago. You need this ARC card to re-enter the country if living here, so it was a necessity for the Tokyo trip. This is done in Incheon, so off I go with Sun, my new Chinese-teaching admin woman. Her English is actually pretty good, which makes life a lot easier than it was with Miss Kang. The fact that she has an English name gave that away to me.

I wasn't ready when the machine took my photo, so I now own arguably the most horrific ARC card in Korea. It strongly suggests I should get a haircut. I was planning on going the whole year without one, but I don't know if they would let me back into Britain. Or any country, for that matter. In jest, I suggested we should go to Chinatown, as it is the biggest one in Korea and supposed to have really good food. I didn't expect such a positive response, and soon we were driving over.

Whilst in the car, at just after 11am, my phone rang. I answered, and then heard a muffled reply in a strong Korean accent, saying 'how are you'. I recognised the voice instantly, and a shudder shot down my spine. It was the guy from jail bar who wouldn't let go of my hand! Aargh! I had to be polite, as Sun was sat next to me. I said 'Who is this?' twice, then hung up, saying I didn't know who it was. I hope to every religious deity that he doesn't call back ever again. Don't want to be dealing with that.

Chinatown is really nice, but it was pretty cold - as proved by the fact that it briefly began to snow again on Tuesday afternoon - and as Incheon is near the sea, the wind was whipping up quite strongly. We walked around for a while, through some narrow streets and around an American memorial - they launched a famous counter-attack here during the War - before admitting defeat and heading into a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Specifically, Sun was after jam-pong, which is a rather hot Sino-Korean noodle soup. Hot food was on the agenda, as I have had a stinking cold all week. Slight aside, but I'm glad I have this in Korea, as I now have no inhibitions with bringing up phlegm in the middle of a street. Well, less than normal anyway, I try not to do it on a busy street.

The food was really good, and it was pretty hot. Just what I needed, as they don't really go for horseradish sauce, my usual cold cure, out here. But jam-pong was nothing on the pot of tea they provided with it. I've never had jasmine tea before - to be fair, certain people (Frost) in our Manchester house went down in all our estimations whenever they whipped out lavender, or rosemary, or any other blatantly gay tea - but this stuff was insane. It tasted magical. Controversial, but possibly as good as Tetley's. Possibly.

Chinatown is a pretty cool place. It was nice to do something productive, as opposed to watching TV in the office all day - I do that enough when I actually have work to do. It got better still on Wednesday when, just after I had finished putting together my lesson for the next week, I was told at 10.45am that all the teachers were leaving. Nice. I picked up my washing from upstairs (yes folks, I do wash my clothes in school, it's so much easier) and headed off to test my knee at the gym. It did 12k no problem, but has been killing ever since. I had been told that there is a nice outside running place a short bus ride away, so hopped on the blue 22 and was soon at Incheon Grand Park.

At first it seemed like a normal park, albeit a bit bigger. That was until I walked past some cages with colourful birds in them. And two ostriches. Was this a zoo?? It certainly seemed so. It didn't look as if there was anywhere to pay, so I walked around for a while. I did get told off once by three workers. I was leaning against a small wooden fence to get a decent shot of the ass (delightfully described by the board as a 'miniature ass'), when the three wise men started shouting. Once they had my attention, they pointed at a tub. Of brown paint. Then pointed at the fence, but you knew that. Luckily, the damage to my combats was minimal, but it was nice of them to tell me.

Owls, vultures (which I saw take a poo), 'polish' fowl, coyotes, baboons - a very eclectic mix of animals. As if it's natural to have a desert coyote pacing wildly around at the very edge of its cage all the time. The ostriches were the most impressive. After surveying them all in their not-so-natural surroundings I ventured out into the park proper, to see this running route. It will be good, and will look amazing in the next week when the cherry blossoms decide to, you know, blossom. Just these pink ones for now. Bit of an incline but still a decent route, and there were a few Koreans jogging around as I walked it. This was when my knee decided to tell me to stop moving around, so I soon headed back into the relative warmth of my flat.

My delightful first graders returned from Pocheon that evening - I saw some of them whilst on my way to stuff my face with ddak galbi - and were back in school the next morning. They looked shattered. It didn't sound like they had too much fun. 'Matt, it too cold'. Shut up kids, at least it wasn't cold enough to try and SNOW. This week, Thursday to Tuesday, I'm teaching them about random world celebrations, such as Oktoberfest and La Tomatina. Any excuse for me to get out the squishy tomato I bought over Christmas and chuck it at the walls, and threaten to chuck it at students, again. They mistook a leprechaun for Peter Pan, which was quite funny.

Right, signing off as the flowers and hills of Yeosoo are calling me! The bus leaves at 11pm and arrives for sunrise. Sleep may be off the agenda for this weekend. Good weather please!

Love you all


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