Monday, 27 September 2010

Korea - The first Chuseok

Hello everyone!

Quick recap of the previous week before I get to the main event. My lessons were on criminals (I am beginning to run out of topics), and as part of this I was asking students to name some crimes. On the Tuesday, one of them shouted something in Korean, which my co-teacher, after laughing and initially refusing, explained was a 'sex crime'. 'What, rape?' was my response, to roars of classroom laughter. Bingo.

Fast-forward to Friday, and I have a class of boys sans co-teacher. I ask the same question, but don't get the desired response, so I write it on the board in Korean - 성폭행 - and ask what it is. Once they settle down from laughing, one says 'sex crime', so I reply by asking them to be more specific. One boy at the back, a chirpy kid, puts up his hand, so I silence everyone and point to him. 'Teach-uh', he booms loudly...'MASTURBATION'.

Wow. There are not many things that can stop me dead in my tracks when teaching. THAT was one of them. Myself and the whole class - obviously they know of the word masturbation, though from where I'm not entirely sure - spent the next two minutes in stitches. What an answer. My subsequent questioning of his tendencies regarding that subject may have crossed a line, but I did successfully explain to them that masturbation is not a crime. No matter what Rosie O'Donnell says.

Part of this explanation was writing 'rape' on the board, under the Korean letters. Almost fatally, I forgot I had this on the board. I soon noticed it, and rubbed it off. Two minutes later I was discussing material off my PPT and I spotted head at the interior window - the vice-principal - whose eyes were directed at what I had written on the board. His English is minimal, but I am sure he knows that 성폭행 is maybe not required on the board in an English class. Lucky escape.

That weekend was fun and sad in equal measure. Two good friends were soon leaving, so had their farewells. I'm not going to talk about what happened Friday night, but on the Saturday I dragged myself to have an awesome curry for Stevo's farewell before heading into Hongdae for Jackie's goodbye. These are two people I will miss a lot. It was great fun with a lot of people. Some of us ended the night in one of Seoul's big clubs called M2. Better, though not as messy, as the one in Manchester.

So onto the main event. We only had one day in school the next week because Wednesday was Chuseok, Korea's national holiday. It is often described as similar to an American thanksgiving, in that it is a time for families to be together and eat special food, but there is more to it than that. It is also about visiting the tombs of your ancestors, meaning that every Korean will go home. That's difficult for us to do, so our prize is instead a week's vacation.

With the dual aim of saving money and exploring my adopted country, I travelled south to the old capital, Gyeongju, with Stevo and Jon. We only went for two days/one night as Stevo had to sort out various issues before leaving Korea for good on the Saturday, so we got a bus on the Wednesday. This was tactical. We figured Chuseok would be similar to Christmas Day, in that there would be little traffic on the actual morning, and we were proved right.

It is a beautiful town. Even when rain is lashing down upon it. It rained heavily in most places Tuesday and Wednesday - above is a picture of what part of Seoul looked like. We arrived in drizzle to Gyeongju, but as soon as we started exploring the heavens well and truly opened. It was as if a ziploc bag had been ripped open. The main attraction in the town is a set of green hills. Each hill is the tomb of a dead King from the Silla dynasty that ruled over a thousand years ago. I want one, and may write it in any will I create in the future. I will also ensure that no one stands on it, unlike certain idiotic Canadians who tagged along with us.

We wandered around these impressive mounds for a while, accompanied the whole way by strange, out-of-place upbeat music from speakers placed throughout the park, and trudged around another park before accepting defeat to the weather. We made some friends in the hostel, frequented a noraebang (100 score for 50 cent's In Da Club, cheers) and then drank the night away under shelter from the rain.

Jon had the misfortune of passing out in this area, so we hid one of his flip-flops. ONE. Was a bit of a shock when he couldn't find either the next morning. We bought bus tickets for 3.30pm before, hungover and dehydrated, we set off in glorious sunshine for Bulguksa, a UNESCO temple. On bikes. At midday.

I am increasingly confident on two wheels, but may have bit off more than I can chew here. It was a long way - a lot longer than we thought, which is an integral part of this story - and hilly. We took our time cycling along, before realising that a) time was against us and b) it was getting increasingly difficult. I was moaning a lot. Even more than usual.

Having walked the bike up an enormous hill, we got to the entrance of Bulguksa. Huge place. And it had passed 2.15pm. We had been taking our time, but it had taken us over 2 hours, and we had a little over one to return the bikes and get on our bus. We didn't go in, gambling that we could get back in time. We missed it by five minutes.

Yet in spite of the communal frustration with the weather and my cycling, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Gyeongju. It was a lot of fun, and we made some new friends. The setting was wonderful, and it was very nice to get out of the city for a while. And away from students talking about playing with themselves.

Love you all


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