Monday, December 21, 2009
Ulleungdo is one of Korea's islands, it is not very far from Japan and the famous Dokdo island. Dokdo is forty-five minutes away from Ulleungdo. Why mention Dokdo? Dokdo is a Korean territory which the Japanese claim is theirs. A hundred and thirty of us set out on our unforgettable trip to Ulleungdo. We left for Pohang after midnight. The bus ride to Pohang was an interesting one, at least it was for me; I was sitting next to someone who was very quiet. My friends and I tried to sit next to each other but we could not because people were already seated when we got on the bus. I had no option but to sit next to a total stranger. Although he looked like he was sleeping when we got on the bus, I still do not think that the person who sat next to me on our way to Pohang was asleep. He was just pretending to be asleep. I must say, I was glad he was not interested in having small talk with me. I just wanted to rest or read and not do much talking, we were a perfect match. I had a pleasant journey sitting next to him. I did not even get his name, nor did he get mine. I think we arrived in Pohang around five in the morning because I was sleeping when we arrived. I woke up to an empty bus, none of my friends were on the bus. They were outside - they apparently went out to go watch the sunrise. Unfortunately for them there was no sun in Pohang, they woke up to just take a walk and take pictures around the “beach”. I also decided to go outside to get some fresh air and brush my teeth. Outside, a lot of my travelling companions were scattered around. Most faces I looked at looked like they wanted to go to the harbour already – they could not wait to get to the mysterious island of Ulleungdo. At Pohang harbour we took a three and a half hours ferry ride to Ulleungdo island. The ferry ride was really nice and still. It felt like the ferry was not moving at all. I loved the ride and I was looking forward to returning to the mainland. Little did I know that the trip back would be the most unpleasant ferry ride I'd ever experience in my life. I will leave that one for later. So when we arrived at Ulleungdo that morning, we were taken to our “hotel”. Ulleungdo is a mysterious island and the only hotel on the island lived up to the mystery. My friends and I signed into room one hundred-and-seven. Everything about the room was mysterious, we walked in and looked for the beds or bed but the bed was not there. Inside I was hoping that the hotel staff would bring us beds at night. I also imagined the beds springing out of the floor at the right time. My hopes were shattered when I opened our closet; our beds were starring at us. At least they maintained the island's mystery. We had Korean style beds, not what I was looking forward to after spending a night and half a day travelling. I was so tired, I immediately took my bed and laid it on the floor and rested. My bed had a mysterious smell. I did not realise that until I woke up from my short nap. My friends were too excited to even nap. Luckily my system can shut down even when I am surrounded by a lot of noise. I shared a room with my three crazy friends. There was only one bathroom so we had to take turns showering before lunch. The water was freezing cold but the shower was much needed after travelling for a very long time. For some reason, one of my friends believed that screaming would heat the water up. We had to listen to her scream until she walked out of the shower. A broad smile on her face told it all, she enjoyed her scream-heated shower. Needless to say, I hang out with interesting people. I was the last one to shower and I must say I enjoyed the cold shower; it was refreshing. We had lunch at half past one, after lunch we were taken around on a tour of the island. The island tour was the most interesting activity for me. Our bus driver and tour guide were by far the most entertaining guides I have ever met. The tour guide was one of us, an Adventure Korea employee who had a great sense of humour. The driver was also an interesting character who told us a lot of stories about the island. One of the stories was that he went into the sea and put a rock on top of one of the rocks that were in the sea. I believed him. The tour guide Kyungsu had a girlfriend who decided to turn into a rock and live in the sea. Something like that - his story was interesting but not clear. There was a story behind most of the rock formations on the island. Most of the rocks were named after animals such as the elephant. One of the rock formations in the sea was called the “Drinking Elephant”. I can be very slow sometimes, I think I was the last person in my group to grasp the idea of a drinking elephant. I struggled a great deal trying to figure it out. One of the interesting stories was also the one of a mountain that has a window-like hole. The story behind that mountain is that the whole world was once flooded and God used a hook to fish Ulleungdo island out of the water. As we were driving around the island we came across a place that looked like a female's private parts. The bus driver stopped before we drove under the formation. Through our naughty guide, Kyungsu, the driver told us that he was going to drive forward and backwards for a couple of times at the entrance of the formation. He instructed us to shout “I'm coming!” just before he went through the formation. The driver did his thing and at the end of it we all screamed “I'm coming!”. At that point the driver sprinkled water on the windscreen. I must say, I was a bit traumatised. Not because of what had just happened, but because I was shocked at how liberal Koreans could be. I think its a Korean island thing to be sexual because there is a sex park at Jeju island – a big chunk of land dedicated to sex. We drove to what I thought was the volcanic crater where we stopped and drank some Korean alcohol (Makoli) and coffee. Some of my group members took pictures but I was feeling too cold to be taking pictures, so I stayed on the bus and drank coffee instead. After an hour of drinking, we drove back to our hotel. Some of my companions were already sozzled and kind of making nuisances of themselves. It was indeed time to head home. When we arrived at the hotel we were very happy to find the water boiling hot. We took turns showering. I must say I was a bit disappointed because I was going to miss listening to one of my friends taking a scream-heated shower. We went down to the restaurant for lunch. Lunch was very mashisayo(delicious in Korean). I think I ate three fish all by myself. The soup that was served with the meal was also very very yummy and there was enough seaweed on the table. At lunch I met and exchanged a few words with a few other people. After lunch we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. My friends and I went up to our mysterious room and watched TV. Here I should be saying, they watched TV because I think I fell asleep as soon as they switched the TV on. TV and I are not good friends. After dinner we did the same, went up, watched TV and slept. To my dismay, I found a few spots of old blood on my mysterious bedding. I took it back to the closet and shared another one with one of my friends. I slept peacefully on my mysterious bed covered with a mysterious duvet cover. The next morning I woke up to a cock crowing in the passage. I was on a mysterious island after all. The only thing distinct about this cock's crowing is that it was spelling out WAKE UP. I must say I was not happy to be awoken to such screaming. However, I was later very grateful to the guy who woke us up. If he hadn't woken us up we would have missed breakfast and also missed out on a memorable four hours hike up a mountain. I could not afford to miss out on my first ever island mountain hiking experience. At breakfast people were talking about things they got up to while we were sleeping at night. The most interesting and unforgettable story was about a guy who got so wasted he even peed on his own bag. His roommates woke up to find him standing and peeing on his bag. When he was stopped, he apologised in Korean. Soju brings the worst or should I say the best out in people. Some get courage to speak a language they do not know. Soju also clouds people's judgement. Bags turn into toilets when people are sojued. We had a great breakfast laughing and all. After breakfast we assembled in front of the hotel, ready to hike. As we were standing waiting for some of our group members to join us, the weather changed from being ok to raining. It rained buckets! We were told to go wait in our rooms. What a bummer! Fortunately it stopped raining and we went up the mountain. The beginning of the hike was so steep, some people turned back before they could even finish a hundred meters. My friends and I trucked on. This was after all our first and only chance to hike up a mountain on a mysterious island. The view on our way up and from the top of the mountain was well worth the hike. We did not spend a lot of time at the summit because it was really cold. We went back to town where we tried to find a sauna. We found two saunas but they were both closed because it was Chusok(Korean thanksgiving). The thought of taking a cold shower crippled me. I could not get myself to move. Luckily there was some squid hanging out to dry close to where I was standing, I moved. The squid smell moved me. We went back to the hotel and to our surprise, the water was boiling hot! We showered and went down to the restaurant for dinner. Dinner was again great. After dinner we walked to a place where people could jump off a bridge into the sea. My swimming is not so good. So I steered away from the bridge jumping. I was instead the camera woman. After the jumping we trekked back to the hotel where I continued reading a book that I had brought with me on the trip. While I was reading, my friends went out to mingle with the other tourists. I was not up to mingling and my throat was acting up. I managed to finish the book while my friends were away. My friends came back to the room in high spirits, I had no option but to wake up. They went to a norebang (karaoke) and they came back with good stories. Like I always say, Soju brings the worst and the best in people. My friends told me stories about people who were seriously sojued. Our little mysterious room was reeking of cigarette smoke! Mind you, my friends do not smoke, but they were stinking of smoke – seemed to me they were covered in smoke. They had a cigarette-sauna smoke experience. I was glad I did not go to the norebang but thanks to my friends, I laughed my way back to sleep again. Sunday morning Young woke us up again, I was glad he just told us to wake up. He was lucky because I was planning to wake up and slap him if he screamed W.A.K.E.U.P again. He was also lucky because my whole body was in pain and I was struggling to get up. I managed to get up and take a shower. We went downstairs to have breakfast at the restaurant. After breakfast we took a cable cart to go have a bird's eye view of the entire island. It was very pleasing to look at. I enjoyed looking at creation. It was breathtaking, I did not spend a lot of my time taking pictures, I spent it just appreciating nature and being grateful to be part of it. I could not really get enough of what I was seeing. I eventually decided to go sit down and peacefully digest the beauty of nature. I was unfortunately disturbed by one of our group members. He introduced himself as X. The mention of his name made me want to crack up and laugh but I controlled myself. X was the guy who was known by all of us as the guy who peed on his own bag. I had a difficult time trying to hold my laughter while I was talking to X. X and I had a deep conversation, it lasted only for a while before we sidetracked. I still feel like I need to meet X and finish off our conversation because it left me with so many questions and so much to say. What we spoke about was not the usual small talk that sometimes irritates me. Although he peed on his own bag, I must say, X is a mature person with a great sense of humour. We went to a pizza restaurant just before we left the island. When we were done eating we walked to the harbour. We boarded our ferry back to the mainland. The boat ride back to Pohang was the most treacherous boat ride I have ever had. Almost everyone on board was seasick. People were vomiting left, right and centre. Some were lying on the floor of the boat and some had their mouths buried in plastic bags. When we arrived at the harbour in Pohang everyone was in a rush to get off the boat. Once I was outside and away from the boat, I thought of going back to spit on it. I had never felt so sick in my whole life. I was also very grateful to have made it safe to the harbour. I was even scared to get on the bus back to Seoul. On the bus back, we enjoyed movies and the traffic was clear, so we arrived in Seoul on time to catch buses to our different destinations. The short time on a mysterious island was very very interesting, to say the least!
In South Africa we have a saying that is originally said in one of our native languages, I am just not sure where it originates from. In English it goes something like “you can take a ghetto child out of the ghetto but you can never take the ghetto out of the them” something similar to that can be said about me and that is: “You can take her away from the farm but you can never take the farm out of her.” My grandmother used to own huge corn fields and I would sometimes go and help out during harvest time. The time that I spent at the farming area reminded me of the good old days when I still had a grandmother. The weekend started with me being stuck in traffic and getting lost for almost three hours. At some point I was even thinking of going back home. Luckily I do not usually entertain the part of my brain that gives off negative messages; I do not easily quit. As loud as the negative voice in my head kept telling me to turn back, I kept going forward. Going forward almost landed me in Choenan; which is way past where I was supposed to be at. The story of my journey is that I got stuck in traffic, got lost and had to ask a taxi driver lead me to where I was supposed to meet up with some of the people I was going to spend the weekend with. I eventually found my destination – the small farming community's community centre. The community centre was our home for the weekend. When I arrived I was offered dinner and I dug in because I was really hungry plus it felt like a reward for not turning back home on my way. We had rice, kimchi and chige(soup) for dinner. The food was very good, it put a smile on my face. Half way through my dinner, my Korean farming partner came to introduce himself. He is a very kind and knowledgeable young man, I really enjoyed his company. So we had dinner and talked and talked some more. A few other people joined us and we talked and talked. After almost two hours of non-stop talking and meeting new people, we were instructed to group ourselves and get ready to play games. We played the chicken game and then later went on to playing drinking games. Those who made mistakes during the games had to drink “makoli” – Korean rice booze. Makoli reminds me of our own African beer called “umqombothi”. Their tastes are almost similar and umqombothi's is usually drunk by people working on farms. All these things confirmed to me that Korean culture is not very far from African culture. When I got tired of taking part in the games I went off to sleep in a container. I must say, I was one of the lucky ones because some of my companions could not sleep because others were still playing games where they were supposed to sleep. Some told me that the games went on until the wee hours of the morning. The main room was also very cold so I was indeed very lucky to have slept in the container. When morning came, we all had to wake up and get ready to meet the farmers. Our “weekend home” only had two bathrooms for all sixty inhabitants. Trying to take a shower in the morning was a mission, so I ended up just brushing my teeth and rinsing my face; I had taken a shower before I went to bed the previous night. For breakfast I had a truly Korean breakfast; namely rice and kimchi. It was what I needed to have enough energy for the work I was about to do. The farmers came and we all dispersed to different directions. My teammates and I went to a nearby egg plant farm. our first task was to prune eggplant leaves. The farmer gave us instruction on how to prune. He gave the instructions in Korean and I was the only one in my team whose Korean was not so good. I thought I understood the instructions anyways. So we started working. I had interesting and value-adding conversations with my teammates while working. At eleven o'clock the organisers of the trip brought us food. I do not think the food was totally Korean. It was a fusion of Mexican and Korean, I think. Whatever it was, it was very very tasty. We took a very long time eating and chatting to the farmer and his wife. The farmer is a very knowledgeable person. He knew a lot about America and South Africa. What impressed me a lot about him is that he did not only know just about Mandela and the upcoming soccer world cup, he knew about the Gautrain, the fact that we have a lot of land and diamonds and a lot more. We went back to work, we continued pruning till the proper lunch time. During lunch we just went back to eat more food. I could hardly eat lunch as I was still very full from the food we ate earlier on. Lunch was over in no time and in no time the farmers came to pick us up. My teammates and I had to walk to our farm because it was only two minutes away on foot. I was looking forward to working again, only to find out that our task had changed. We had to weed! Very funny because a few minutes earlier I had told one of my teammates that I hoped not to weed. Alas, the farmer told us to weed! Off we went to start weeding. I bent and did what I was told to do, bending became too painful for my back. I am a tall person; I had to bend a lot in order to do a good job. I tried kneeling but kneeling was also a lot of work. Trying to be comfortable and doing the actual job was too much work for me. I weeded sitting down on my butt, but I think that's the lazy people's way of working – working on your butt. The farmer came to my rescue after a few minutes. He brought us small stools to sit on while weeding. The stools made such a huge difference, I think they even helped in accelerating the rate that we were weeding at and in helping us do a clean job. I am sure I was not the only one struggling to work comfortably. Thanks to the farmer, the struggle became history, we had loads of fun weeding and conversing. I found out a lot of interesting facts about my teammates. Working with my teammates was very very pleasant. I was sad to be separated from them the next day. Time to head home and have fun came very quickly. I was still enjoying weeding. We went to some of the farmers homes to go get ourselves clean for the night of fun. In no time we were all clean and ready. We had dinner – boiled pork, Korean pancake/pizza also known as pajeon 파전in Korean, tofu and of course kimchi. The dinner was also very delicious. A very funny thing that happened is that they brought rice to the tables an hour after we had started eating. Here I thought rice had to be the main dish, but no, I was wrong after all. This time rice was desert. Along with rice came the first lot of makoli (Korean tradition alcohol). We were supposed to have a concert but for some mysterious reasons, the concert was cancelled. The cancellation of the concert did not stop us from having fun. We had a lot of makoli at our disposal, the only natural thing to do was to play drinking games. Some of us had missed them the previous night. The games started after dinner. When I was tired of playing, I made my way to the container but on my way to the container I came across some of my companions. Just like me, I think they were tired. They were sitting outside having a guitar jam session. I joined in on the jam session. I sat outside under the moonlight singing and talking to very interesting people. I still wanted to do more of what I was doing, unfortunately my eyes were starting to see in doubles and my body could not take it any more. I had a very hectic day, so I went to sleep. Sharing sleeping space with others is never a pleasant thing. When I finally got into the container, it was full and someone had taken my sleeping spot. I did not mind because I am a small person, I managed to squeeze myself in. To prove that I was very tired, I slept right away, I was not bothered by my roommates' loud talking. I could not sleep for a long time though, unlike the previous night, the container was freezing cold. The next day was another working day, I was still tired from the previous working day. All I wanted to do was to go home and sleep as I hardly slept the previous night. I went home, showered and slept. Thanks to Wooriwa and the MeetUp groups, I had a great Korean farming experience. However, I need to come clean and say it myself; I cheated big time during the drinking games. I have lived through the unpleasant near- death consequences of playing drinking games and I did not want to go that way again. IT WAS ONE OF MY BEST WEEKENDS IN KOREA!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Kimchi and I have an on and off love-hate relationship. My heart sometimes gets so heavy when Kimchi is not in sight. Strangely the total opposite happens when I see Kimchi sometimes; I feel like digging up a hole to hide myself until Kimchi is removed from my sight. Our relationship is almost like the one of an old couple, which has lived through the hardships of living together. They sometimes want to kill each other but because of their strong bond of love, they cannot execute each other. Mixed emotions? The only conclusion I can draw from this is that I am committed to Kimchi. Just like most relationships, which people claim to have been “love at first sight” while in actual fact the truth is that there was never any love. All that was present at first sight was a lot of lust. Lust at first sight, that is how my relationship with Kimchi started. It started with me being curious to know how this thing that has such an interesting smell and appearance tasted like. At the back of my mind, I knew that I was going to end up in a long term relationship with this thing – I love interesting things. I expected to have Kimchi on my side for at least one year. A year and a half later Kimchi and I are still going strong, save a few occasions when I wanted to wipe Kimchi off the face of the earth. My companion, Kimchi has an interesting smell. The smell is one of the things that separates Kimchi from all my other companions. Korea never gets natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, thanks to Kimchi. Koreans do not get food and mouth diseases, thanks to Kimchi. Koreans are not obese, thanks to Kimchi. Koreans are immune to the infamous swine flu, all thanks to Kimchi. Some tell me that one of Kimchi's ancestors accompanied the first Korean astronaut to the space ship. These are just a few among a lot of things that kimchi is responsible for. It will take a lot more than Harry Porter's wizardry for anyone or anything to come between me and Kimchi, for as long as I am in the land of the morning calm. My love for celebrities is another thing that has drawn me close to Kimchi. The Kimchi family is well known throughout the land of the morning calm and across the world. It is common practice to call Kimchi to join the natives when taking pictures. Koreans always say Kimchi instead of saying cheese when taking pictures. Sadly, I have just found out that spending too much time with Kimchi could result in me getting gastric cancer.
An experience that I have been dreading. I finally decided to join the teachers in singing and dancing to very loud-off key singing in a small room. I had a lot of fun at the norebang; watching people jump out of their skins and letting loose. I sometimes wish my colleagues could behave the same way they do when they are at the norebang, but then again my work place would be chaotic. Its good that the teachers are teachers - men and women of dignity at work while outside of work, a totally different story can be told about them. After dinner I asked one of the teachers to take me home to go get a jersey. The plan was to just stay at home and not go to the norebang, alas Mr. Lee Mani came to fetch me from my apartment. Just when I thought I had succeeded in dodging the norebang. So I followed Mr.Lee Mani to the norebang. When we arrived at the norebang, more than a handful of beer bottles were already empty. The principal and the vice principal were singing and dancing. They were having a good time. I was shocked to see them dancing and so carefree because they are usually very rigid at work. I was also forced to sing, I tried telling them that I could not sing but they just ignored whatever I was saying and handed me the book to choose a song from. I am not good at singing, I was even chucked out of my high school's choir because I never took sing seriously. Nonetheless, I chose Lababmba a spanish song that I hardly know the lyrics of. Its one of my favourite norebang songs. It has a lot of vibe. So I sang, the song. Note; the song and not my singing added more to the excitement. It got everyone dancing. At the end of the song I was happy to realise that I chose a song that was liked by everyone even the principal. Koreans tend to stretch dinners for a very long time. At 9:20 I sneaked out and left without saying goodbye. I am sure they had a lot more fun after I left. I could not stay longer. I was tired and still thinking about the prawns. I went to bed very early, in my dreams the prawns were after me – they wanted to grill me. Karma?
As usual, I was not informed before hand about dinner at the prawn breeding place. Mr. Lee Mani came to me to ask if I was going to be able to go out for dinner with the other teachers. I had no plans, so I accepted the invite. After school we made a convoy to the prawn restaurant. The prawn restaurant is a very nice place, they even have a mini-lake where they breed prawns. I still do not know how they do it, but the ones that are ready to be murdered are kept in small tanks. Customers go and see them live before they eat them. Viewing the prawns made me think of the aquarium. We were viewing water creatures happy in water. The only difference between the creatures in the small tanks and the creatures at the aquarium was that the ones at the aquarium were preserved – safe from any torture that the brutal human race could potentially take them through. The ones that were in front of me were about to say good-bye to the peaceful life in water. The ones in the tank were about to undergo a brutal murder. They were going to be burnt alive. When we arrived we did what every customer does, we watched the prawns dancing around in their tanks. When we had had enough of watching our victims, we went and sat down inside the restaurant. Looking at the prawns in their little tanks psyched us up for what we were about to do. We were about to commit a mass murder of the prawns. The owners of the restaurant went to the tanks, caught the prawns with nets and threw them in black plastic bags. The prawns waited for a couple of minutes in the strange environment; the plastic bags, for their lives to be terminated. While the prawns were jumping up and down in the black bags, one of the restaurant owners threw a generous amount of coarse salt in pots and switched on the gas stoves in front of us. When the salt was hot enough to kill the prawns, we threw a few prawns into the pots and watched as the prawns were painfully jumping up and down in the pots. As they were jumping up and down in the pots, their color changed from clear-colorless to reddish-pink. The reddish-pink color was a sign of success for us - the brutal murderers. We successfully got away with murder and were ready to celebrate our success, we were about to bury our victims in our stomachs. In turn, the prawns were ready to be eaten. As much as it was a symbol for the murders, the prawns' reddish-pink color was a symbol for them too. It symbolised their brave death. They did not die cowardly, they did not give up on their lives, they had hope, they fought for their lives, they fought to the bitter end. They raged until they could rage no more. In their rage, one of the prawns fell out of the pot, it was still alive. One of my companions saw this as an opportunity to eat a fresh prawn straight from the water. He grabbed it, ripped its head off and stuffed it into his mouth. He did all this with a very sweet smile on his face. Killing has never been so pleasant! When the deed was done, we washed away the memories while they were still fresh. We could not keep such bad memories after all, we had to get rid of them. At that point soju was all we needed. Ten bottles of soju were not going to be enough – not after a brutal mass murder. We had no choice but to down more than three dozens of the lethal substance. We had to clear our consciouses. Very unfortunate for me, the memories still linger on. I gave up getting Soju'ed after a total loss of memory and a visit to the hospital. All I could do after the murder was wash my hands and live to tell. It was clear to me that some of us, including me, were still entertaining feelings of guilt. More cleansing had to be done. Nothing could do a better job than singing our worries away and washing them down with mekju – Korean beer. So off we went to the norebang – the singing room, popularly know as the karaoke in Japan and the rest of the world.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I built up courage to eat live octopus. Eating octopus was not as easy as eating dog meat. When I saw the octopus moving on a plate in front of me a lot of things went through my mind. Before I even touched the wiggly thing I visualised myself struggling to breathe because the thing got stuck in my throat. I imagined myself being taken to the hospital to get operated on. I died in my imagination because the doctors could not remove the octopus and it kept nibbling on my throat and I was bleeding internally. Bleeding badly. But that was only my imagination. I did not allow it to take away this opportunity, never! I decided to eat the live thing, I mean a lot of people ate the stuff and nothing ever happened to them. So chopsticks in hand, a lot of spectators ready to clap their hands, I struggled picking the stuff up. I kept trying until I gave up, threw the chopsticks away and grabbed a spoon. The spoon worked faster than the chopsticks, in no time I was ready to toss the thing down my throat. The plan was not to chew it just in case it got stuck in my mouth. So I dipped it in sauce, and quickly put it in my mouth. I started chewing, moving the thing around my mouth to figure out what it tasted like, but my tongue could not pick up the taste. It was tasteless. My audience was clapping as I was chewing. I felt like I was on some reality show – a Fear Factor of some sort. Again this is supposed to be a delicacy, puking was not an option. I must also admit that I lied, I made my companions believe that I loved the octopus but in all honesty the thing is yuck! My lie caught up with me sooner than I thought it would. On our next outing, my companions made sure that we went to a place that served octopus. I came clean and told them the truth because puking was just not an option, octopus is expensive. I must also add that live octopus is tasteless and not so good to eat but stir-fried octopus is yummilicious!
I had been talking nonstop to Mr Kim about eating dog meat until one Summer afternoon him and the other teachers decided to take me to the dog meat restaurant. The restaurant was deep in the village. We had to travel for almost an hour to get to the restaurant. Its a Korean thing to travel far for food. I just do not understand why most places that supposedly serve the best food are hidden very far from civilization. As far as they are, people still trek to these places. I guess it gives you more satisfaction to eat knowing that you travelled very far for the food. On our arrival at the restaurant, we were greeted by a barking dog. The dog was in no sight we just heard it barking. The first thing that came to mind was that they were preparing the dog for us – like tenderising the dog. You know how people always tenderise meat to make it soft. I've heard a lot of horror stories about the slaughtering of dogs in Korea. They apparently beat the dogs to death; to get rid of the adrenaline. At the restaurant we found a couple of salarymen from KIA motors eating something that looked like rice and a lot of green leaves. It could have been grass, you will never know. In this country everything seems to go! Usually dog meat restaurants also serve boiled chicken. I was tempted to chicken out and order chicken instead of dog but I also remembered that my companions would not have driven so far if it was not for me. So I decided to just do it. We ordered a pot full of dog meat. I couldn't tell which part of the dog we had because the meat was shredded and cooked like stew. We had to wait and let the meat cook for a few minutes before we dug in. Mr. Kim dished the meat out for us and told me to taste the meat and tell them what I thought of it. I was not comfortable eating dog meat but the aroma was just too good to resist. I was stuck between a rock and a sponge – the though of eating dog made me want to puke but the aroma of what was in front of me was too tempting. With bated enthusiasm I used my chopsticks to pick a piece of the meat and threw it in my mouth. The taste did not clash with the aroma. The meat tasted really really good. Though my mind was telling me stories, I decided to ignore it and just enjoy my meal. My companions were very pleased to see me enjoying the meat. As we were eating I was given a lesson on dog meat and the benefits of eating dog. We ate the dog soup alone washing it down with some Soju or some Chilseng Cider. When the meat was finished we ordered rice and threw it in the pot to make what is known as bokom bab. We mixed the rice with what was left over from the dog meat soup and a lot of green stuff. Just like the soup, the rice was also very very yummy. I was not surprised to find out that eating dog meat had no side effects. Here are some of the benefits that one can derive from eating dog. These are just a few that I can remember:
- It cools you down in Summer (my main reason for eating dog, my first Korean summer experience was BAD)
- It increases your stamina.
- It aids in healing. Its more like medication for almost all diseases. Patients who eat dog meat recuperate quicker than those who don't.
- It makes men more virile.
- It helps the obese lose weight...kikikiki
On my arrival a very friendly Korean couple, Mr Lee and his wife Sona welcomed me to Korea. It was a cold “spring” night. In Korea, people usually say that winter is jealous of spring because it tends to linger on for a very long time. It takes over some spring days. And so the day of my arrival was one of those days when winter had seized a spring day. The temperature was below zero, I think. The couple picked me up at a place that I would later know as the Joam bus terminal. One of my favourite places in Joam(my little town). Mr Lee and his wife took me to my apartment, a cozy place that was smelling of Kim-chi. Before I came to Korea a lot of people had told me about Korea's signature smell, known as the kimchi smell. I was surprised not to notice this smell when I landed at the airport and I must admit I was kind of happy not to notice the smell. Alas, when I entered my apartment, the kimchi smell was there to greet and welcome me to South Korea, it was so strong I even thought I was going to die at night. Thank God I woke up the next day. After traveling for long hours, I wanted to take a bath or a shower, so I went to the bathroom where I was expecting to find a shower because there was no bathtub in sight. I searched for the shower but I could not find it. I started thinking that maybe my apartment block has a public bathing place. I went outside to look for the bathroom but I could not find it, so I decided to go back in and just make use of what was available to me; the sink. Luckily Mr Lee and his wife showed me how to use the boiler, at least the water was warm. I took my mini bath in the sink. I felt so fresh after my sink-bath. Before they left, Mr Lee and his wife advised me to sleep on the floor to keep warm. My sleeping bag, which I had brought from home came in handy. I slept on the warm floor, first experience as underfloor heating is not common in South Africa. The next day, I was woken up by a knock on the door. It was Mr. Lee and his wife, they were dressed in warm clothes, ready to take me to the school(my place of employment) and shopping in a far away place. A place I would later know as Suwon. Mr Lee and his wife took me to the bus stop, showed me how to take the bus to school and told me what to tell the bus driver when I get on the bus. Oh before we left my apartee I asked Sona to show me where the bathroom was, she took me to the little room which I thought was just a toilet. She showed me the hand held shower thing and told me that that was what I would use to shower with. Ok! So off we went to school. They showed me around and I checked my emails and smsed home to let them know that I was safe, sound and loving South Korea. We drove to Suwon, the trip to Suwon was a bit long and inside I was thinking “damn, I do not think I will do much shopping in the future if I have to travel for such a long time to get to the shops!” In Suwon we went to Emart(emarteeee in Korean). Emart is a huge mart that sells almost everything. I even bought a coat at Emart. A coat that Sona told me was one of the best coats around and that I would never find a coat like that anywhere. She was right about the coat being rare. She was totally wrong about the coat being the best. It was not even warm and it had fur that was falling off and sticking to my clothes and my hair. An embarrassment of a coat! I hate it, but I loved it a lot during the cold days. I loved it only because it was convenient to have at that time and it kept me warm. Plus I hadn't seen a better coat. What a metaphor; learning to love what you have until you find something better. It applies to almost everything in life, from possessions to people. A sad reality - keeping for while to discard later. Shopping at Emart was not easy, everything looked foreign to me. I struggled finding sugar! I mean sugar, how difficult can it be for one to find sugar? What made my first Korean shopping experience even more interesting is the fact that it was not easy for me and my very nice and patient companions to communicate. They understood only a bit of English and I knew no Korean! Interesting times I tell you. I lived through it and I went home with a few necessities. After shopping Mr. Lee and his wife took me out for lunch. Oh, an interesting thing is that in the morning they brought me bread. Just bread because according to the research that Mr. Lee conducted, people from the west love eating bread or rather bread is our staple food. I still remember how happy they looked to give me something that I knew as opposed to giving me some kimchi for breakfast. They are such nice and considerate people. Lunch time we had Korean noodles, its been such a long time I even forgot what the noodles were called. Koreans eat and by eat I mean eat a lot, the noodles were just too much for me to finish. Mr. Lee and his wife finished theirs in no time. Oh the considerate couple annoyed me a bit, they asked the waiter to bring a fork for me. I mean really now, being a foreigner does not mean I can't use chopsticks. I was disappointed because I was dying to show them that I had no problem using chopsticks; I had practiced a lot before I left home. I made sure that I at least knew how to use chopsticks because I was not prepared to bring cutlery from home to South Korea. The waiter brought the fork and boom! I lost my first chance to show off! Thanks to the considerate people I was with. After lunch we went back to Joam. I had a great time, I saw a lot of strange things; old ladies walking around in masks, some walking around in hospital uniforms and some even carrying some medical equipment. My first day out in town was a good promise, I saw a few of the many interesting things about Korea. I was curious to know about the masks, so I asked my companions and they told me that the people who were wearing masks were protecting themselves from yellow sand. The theory about the masks is that in Spring Korea gets flooded with yellow sand that comes from some desert in China. Apparently the yellow sand is very dangerous so it is important for people to cover up. I still think its just a myth. One of the many myths that Koreans believe to be true. I will leave the “stray patients” story for another day. I still need to ask around and take pictures of the stray patients. Back at my apartment in Himang billijeee(also known as Himang Village) I had to start cleaning and try to get rid of the kimchi smell. Oh, by the way “himang” is hope in English. A good name, hope village. Going home after work everyday made me feel so hopeful because I was going back home to a hopeful village. A village full of hopeful and very curious people. The villagers were curious to know what this strange looking creature was doing in their village, I'm sure some of them thought I was there to steal their hope. Just kidding, but the villagers were curious to know about me, I could tell from the stares I got whenever I went out of my apartment. Some of the villagers tried striking up conversations with me, but we always ended up giving up because the language barrier was just too strong. It was only strong for a short while because I soon discovered body language. After a few weeks I could go to a restaurant alone and order food, have some small talk with the owner. All we used was the language of the world, we somehow understood each other although I was speaking a different language, but it worked. Monday, my first day at work. I woke up early in the morning. I must say, unzipping the sleeping bag was not easy because it was freezing outside. I got up anyways. I opened the window to see how things were like outside. It was freezing cold, there were some residues of snow on the ground. At that moment I started regretting myself for looking for torture - I could have stayed at home in South Africa but I, just like the villagers am a very curious person. I took the plunge and came to Korea. Its the life that I had chosen, I had to trot on. Plus there was no turning back. I took a shower, got ready for school. For breakfast I ate “Post bran flakes” I had never tasted such horrible cereal in my entire life. “Post bran flakes” are sweet and very hard. I could not take myself through such torture so I decided to leave them and make my way to work. I had to find my little journal with all the directions. I found my journal and walked out into the cruel and cold Korean spring day or rather I walked in on a fight between two seasons and boy did I get hurt! Up until the bus stop, I followed the directions very well, but for some reason I missed my bus. I was told to stop a blue bus but I did not see any blue bus. The buses I saw were green and red. So I decided to try and stop any bus that drove by, but none of the bus drivers stopped for me. They probably thought I was crazy or something, plus they had never seen someone like me before. I was an Alien and I felt like one, helpless! My ears felt like they were going to fall off. As I was contemplating going back to my cozy “hopeful” apartment, a taxi drove by and the lady who was driving it stopped for me. What a bummer! The thought of going back home was keeping me warm. Instead of being happy I froze when the good Samaritan came to my rescue. The lady said something to me, and I scratched in my bag for my little journal and gave it to her. She looked at the journal but her facial expression told me that she was just staring at some gibberish she did not understand. There I was faced with a major problem. At that instant part of me wanted to give up and go back to my warm “hopeful” apartment. Looking at the good Samaritan, I was suddenly filled with hope, hope to find the school. I could not afford to be late or AWOL work on my first day. First impressions last forever and I was determined to make a good first impression. I got into the taxi and mumbled something that sounded like “budapest”. Sona had told me to say that to the bus driver. What she told me was nothing close to what I was saying. I later found out that I should have said “pudupang”. As I was attempting to make her understand what I was saying, the taxi-lady just stared at me. I realised that what I was saying made no sense to her. So I tried another word I heard from the nice couple. It sounded something like “sukchunchu”. This one the taxi-lady recognised, although she did not seem sure but it was enough for her to get the taxi going. So off we went to a place I did not know, but because I was at the school the previous day, I recognised some of the places we drove past. And waaaalaaaa the good Samaritan dropped me off at my school's gate. I only had to give her 2000 won. Big number but its actually nothing in Korean money. Thanks to the good Samaritan, I was not late for work. I walked into the staff room, popularly know as “the teachers room”. The moment I walked in everyone froze. Inside I was thinking why don't you just go on with what you are doing. The temperature is cold already, freezing people make the cold conditions even worse. I looked around for Mr. Lee who was the only person I knew at that moment. Mr Lee was nowhere to be seen. Being a hypocrite that I am, I also froze. I was also wondering if the people who were in front of me knew about me or they were shocked to see me. One of the people told me to take a seat. As I was sitting down on the couch next to a very chubby boy and his mother, people dressed in very warm coats walked in, bowed at everyone and walked out. Seeing the warm coats made me feel even colder because I was not dressed warm at all. I was dressed to the nines, to impress on my first day at work. Though I was feeling cold the bows made me warm because it was hilarious. I'd never seen so much bowing in my life. Not that I did not know that Koreans bow, I knew but seeing everyone do it was hilarious. As I was enjoying the live comedy in front of me, Mr. Lee walked in to disturb me! He also bowed at me. I bowed back! As the saying goes if you can't beat them join them and so I joined in on the bowing. Meeting the boss was one of the most unforgettable experiences. Mr Lee took me to the Principal's office. The interior of the Principal's office was beautiful. The office looked more like a living room and not an office. There were sofas and a nice coffee table. Sitting in front of the computer was a chubby-serious looking old man. And that my readers, was the principal, my boss. I greeted him in English. He just looked at me, inside I was asking myself questions and rebuking myself for being rude. Someone had told me to bow when I greet my superiors in Asia, but my memory was frozen. All I could do was what came naturally and at that moment, I thought it was polite. I uttered a very polite “good morning” accompanied by a very cheerful facial expression. The principal was not impressed, at that instant I made a note to self - what worked in the west will not necessarily working in the east. I had to learn the eastern mannerism very quickly to avoid offending more people. Mr. Lee said something in Korean to the principal, the principal responded. Mr. Lee was the middleman between me and the principal. He turned to me to tell me that the principal wanted to know if I understood Korean. I smiled and said no. However inside I was saying “Hello, I'm not Korean! Is it not obvious that I do not understand Korean?” I was having a great monologue inside. It kept me smiling, I did not stop smiling even though the principal gave me the chill. I felt even colder when I saw that the principal was disappointed with in my disability to speak Korean. Mr. Lee told the principal who I was and everything he knew about me. There was such a contrast between the Principal's and Mr. Lee's facial expressions. The principal was refusing to smile and Mr. Lee was smiling all the way. I later discovered that the principal was not cold towards me but he was just terrified by me. I have that effect on people, especially those who do not know me - young and old. In between the interpretation, Mr. Lee advised me to bow at the principal when I leave his office. So I bowed at him and said good bye. I was taken back to the teachers room where I was supposed to wait for my coteacher. I was disappointed to find out that I was not going to work with Mr. Lee. I mean, him and I had an understanding and he seemed like a pleasant person to work with. I sat down disappointed but still smiling at the teachers. The chubby boy and his mom were still in the teachers room. The mother was watching TV on her cellphone – better known as a mobile phone in Korea. Whatever she was watching seemed interesting, there was a lot of laughter on the show. I later found out the she was watching one of the many Korean gag shows. Her chubby son was sitting there looking like a very sweet boy. I do not know, but I think the cold must have clouded my judgment because I liked the boy when I saw him and I was looking forward to teaching him. My wish was granted, I taught the boy and he was one of the naughtiest boys at the school. He sometimes made me laugh but he annoyed me most of the time. Back to the teachers room, I was sitting down waiting for my coteaher. I looked at everyone that walked in, hoping they would be my coteacher. Now that Mr. Lee was not going to be my coteacher, I was just hoping for a female coteacher. As I was sitting there making wishes, a young looking guy walked in and offered me a cup of coffee. I was very happy to drink coffee, I needed it. He came with a half-filled small paper cup of coffee. I was grateful but I was just wondering why he offered me coffee if what he wanted was to give me an opportunity to taste Korean coffee and not to drink coffee. I mean the paper cup was already small, the best he could do was to fill the cup up. The coffee had a strange taste to it, but it tasted good. The young guy introduced himself to me as Mr. Lee. I told him that I had already met Mr. Lee. The young guy told me that his name was also Mr. Lee. His first name was Kyung Hun, which sounded similar to the other Mr. Lee's first name Hyung Hun. It took me almost six months to be able to call the right person by the right name. So the second Mr. Lee and I had a lovely conversation. He asked me to tell him about myself. I was really happy to meet yet another person who understood a bit of English. I found out that Mr. Lee also lived in Himang Village. He offered me a lift to work. Yay! I was set, no more searching for a bus. My conversation with Mr. Lee was cut short by a short, pleasant looking middle aged man. His name was Mr. Kim. Mr Kim walked in, bowed and said “Hey come on”. He was speaking English, I naturally assumed that he was talking to me. So I got up and followed him upstairs to the English Zone also know as the “Englishee Jone” in Konglish. On our way up Mr. Kim introduced himself as my coteacher, he came clean and told me that he does not know English. I introduced myself too and told him a little bit about myself. He was quick to say ok ok, I doubt he was even listening to me. He just wanted me to shut up already. Speaking English was giving Mr. Kim a very hard time. I spent the day at the English Jone, speaking to Mr. Kim. One of his questions was “Are you married?” I was not so happy to be asked that question, I mean really now. How can a young person my age be married? My answer to his question was a polite NO. I knew what the next question was going to be, and so I was prepared for it. The question was “Are you boyfriend?” My answer to that question was also a no, I must say I was beginning to feel uncomfortable because I think its very rude to ask someone about personal stuff on your first meeting. With time, I discovered that the questions Mr. Kim asked me were common Korean questions. A lot of people asked me the exact same questions until I got used to it. For lunch the school threw a mini party. Mr. Kim took me downstairs to the science lab where I met the rest of the staff members. Being an ignorant South African that I am, I grew up thinking that the whole of Asia is China and that everyone in Asia is Chinese and that they eat dog meat. I went to the mini party expecting to see a whole dog on the table. To my surprise there was no dog meat in the science room. I was happy. Still smiling and enjoying the warmth of my smile and the warm welcome the Koreans were giving me, I looked around the room to sass out what we were having for lunch. To my dismay, I saw some black interesting things that were floating in black water. The sight was not at all appetising. Interestingly, everyone looked like they could not wait to start feasting. Finally, the principal walked in. He delivered a very long speech, the only familiar thing he said was Mamello, the rest sounded like gibberish to me. When he finished his speech, the principal took one of the black things that were floating in black liquid and threw it into his mouth. The principal handed me chopsticks and said something to me, I assumed he was saying I should do what he just did. I wanted to, but I was just not sure what the stuff these people were eating was. So before I ate one of the interesting little balls I walked across to where Mr. Lee was standing and asked him what we were feasting on. He told me that the food we were eating was a delicacy in Korea. We were eating boiled octopus heads with the eyes, brains and everything. I took one of them and threw it into my mouth. It tasted like tripe. Tripe is one of my favourite South African traditional food. So I was not bothered about the octopus head. It tasted good. Everyone around me clapped when they saw me eating the strange food. Mr. Lee asked me what I thought of the octopus head. It was ok. A warm welcome to South Korea, after the octopus head. Through Mr. Lee, the principal wanted to know if I was a drinker. I said no, they were disappointed. The principal said something to Mr. Lee, in turn Mr. Lee told me that its part of Korean culture to drink. I was expected to drink at least a shot of Soju - Soju is traditional Korean alcohol that is usually drunk in group gatherings while eating. It's unmixed and portioned into shot glasses. I had to hold my glass while the principal poured Soju in it. Everyone had to do the same. We all had to wait until everyone's glass was filled with Soju before we could all drink. The principal said “gombe” we all had to follow suite. So we all said gombe and enjoyed the feast. At four thirty we all went home. I was getting a lift home from the young Mr. Lee. A very cool guy, in his car he was playing songs I knew – he even played some 2Pac songs. I was happy to know that Koreans do not have a totally unique taste in music. I relaxed a bit. On our way home, the young Mr. Lee asked me the same questions Mr. Kim asked me. I told him I was not married and I had no boyfriend, I told him my age. He told me that he was also single and that he did not like our little village because there were no girls to date there. Within ten minutes we were in Himang Village. Our conversation had to be cut short. I went home to my warm apartment. At my apartment I did not have any form of entertainment, no radio or computer. I had a lovely TV that my school bought for me. The problem with it was that I first had to get my Aliena Registration Card before I can get to watch TV. An Alien Registration Card is a foreigners' identity card. I was shocked to find out that they call it an Alien's Card. Knowing that my identity card was called an Alien's card made me realise that I was actually an alien in Korea. I was totally different, hence my identity card was called something else. For a few days, I went to school and did nothing. I was supposed to be observing Mr. Kim. However, Mr. Kim never taught. I would go to work, get there and sit in front of a computer until the end of the day. I did this for almost two weeks. It was not nice at all, I even had serious back pains from sitting dpwn. After a couple of days, I went to one of the biggest hospital in Suwon for my medical test. Mr. Kim took me to the hospital. On our way to the immi we had a great chat, we both had a lot to say until we arrived at the hospital. At the hospital I did the tests and very quickly it was over. What I did not like about the tests is that they drew three test tubes of blood from me. I mean really, I need blood as it is. I made sure that I ate as much as I could for the next few days to make sure that I do not suffer from a shortage of blood. I started teaching and the students were really awesome and very curious to know about me. We had problems communicating, however we always ended up understanding each other. Thanks to body language. Time went by and a lot happened, some of the things I have forgotten and some, I cannot find a mouth with which I can tell the stories of. Some I have chosen to forget because they are not worth being in my memory and not worth sharing. Summer came and with summer came a lot of interesting occurrences; one of them being me eating dog.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Its been over a year since my last update. I actually stopped blogging the minute I started. I've been very lazy and I have probably forgotten most of my noteworthy eastern experiences, but I will try to remember them. A lot has happened since my last update; the highlights that I can remember are eating dog meat and live octopus(on different occasions of course), taking part in a scavenger hunt and meeting a lot of very interesting people, foreign and local. After a year in the land of the morning calm,I believe I can now understand a lot of the local language and I can say a few expression.