Best Shabu Shabu in Busan is in Gaegeum!!! Go out of either exit 1 or 2 (can't remember which, but the side *opposite* to the side the Home Plus down the road is on) and it's literally right there. Big building in the middle of a parking lot. Prepare to wait in line on the weekends.
Love and Loathing in Korea
For some reason I haven’t been in the mood to write very much lately, which is probably down to the fact that my first ever Summer Camp is looming and therefore I have kicked into a frantic planning mode not helped by my school’s propensity for the last minute dumping of work onto the foreigner’s already overflowing lap.
Surprisingly, this is not a post in which I whinge about my school or about the upcoming non-stop english fest that is Carrie’s hastily cobbled together ‘Fun Fun English Camp’, but rather a homage to the old ‘Things I Do and Do Not Like About Korea’ chestnut. So without further ado, let us delve into the inner workings of my opinion gland** and see what’s cooking. For the sake of time, I have chosen to pay attention to the top and bottom four and disregard the rest…which is pretty much how the British education system works, now I come to think about it. Go England!
Honourable mentions from the middle ground include Mybi cards, bibimbap, shabu shabu, smoking in restaurants, spitting in the street, not flushing toilet paper, Korean cosmetic shops, the ubiquity of underground shopping malls and the delights therein, Uniqlo’s Korean prices, rainy season and the Wonder Girls. I’ll leave it up to you to determine which half of my list these fall on.
**I’m not a Scientist.
The Top Four:
1) The Accidental Brilliance of my Students’ Unplanned Outbursts.
I think this is one that the majority of ESL teachers would choose. I have taught five consecutive classes this morning and in just one of them I heard some of the most glorious exchanges of my job so far. I have documented them below for your reading pleasure (mainly for those folks at home who think that Korean middle schoolers should be good at english by this point in their school careers – Spoiler: mine aren’t) so feel free to skip past them if you have enough of your own to sink a ship.
Teacher Carrie: *to first grade student, after teaching vocab word – ‘classmate’*
How many classmates do you have?
Student: No classmates.
Teacher Carrie: None? ‘Classmate’ means a person in your class, remember?. You have *gestures* lots of classmates.
Student: I have none. I am not a gay.
Teacher Carrie: *to student sat right at the front of the class*
Why are you sat here? Are you in trouble?
Presumably Naughty Student: *looks sheepish*
Brilliant At English Kid: *displaying his brilliant, hagwon-honed english skillz with obvious pride and without breathing or pausing*
He is always smoking cigarettes, for example, Marlboros. He is a tiny gangsta!
Presumably Naughty Student (or, ‘Tiny Gangsta’): *probably not an avid frequenter of an english hagwon, and making the bold decision to accompany his outburst with a booty popping dance routine*
Tie me gan sha, mar bo, oh yeah!!
Bad At English Kid: Shut the window.
Decent At English Kid: Shut the window, what?
Bad At English Kid: Shut the window, motherfucker!
Sigh. What will I do without these clowns?
2) Pub Old Record, Seomyeon.
Having spent the majority of my working life before Korea behind various bars**, it’s unsurprising that one should find it’s way onto this list. What is surprising, however, is that I managed to find a bar worthy of praise in my few short months here amidst the neon-clad, LMFAO-blaring identi-bars so common in Western-friendly areas.
**to clarify, bartender not drug dealer.
To clarify (and offer a disclaimer of sorts), Pub Old Record is not a great bar in all aspects. The draft beer (either Cass or Hite I think) is often a bit flat owing to a recurring fobbing/explosion problem, the music is sometimes too loud to allow comfortable conversation and the proprietor has an unfortunate (in my eyes at least) tendency to indulge his love for Pink Floyd at length when there are other living, breathing humans around. Also, the toilets aren’t anything special and the bar snacks are often non-existent.
HOWEVER, and I must capitalise the shit out of that word in order to cancel out all of those negatives with the upcoming positive…
He not only has a marvelous selection of music (Pink Floyd aside) but is also happy to take requests which, owing either to the good taste of the clientele or his own selective choosing, are often exactly what you want to listen to when you’re sick to the back teeth of Sexy and I Know It.
Recently my boyfriend and I frequented Old Record for a quick pitcher of sub-par lager before hopping on the subway home and ended up leaving four hours later, having been relentlessly ear-kidnapped by Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Stone Temple Pilots, Jackson C. Frank and whoever else had jumped into our music-drunk minds long enough to have their names hastily scrawled on a Post-It. This is not an isolated incident, it seems to happen every single time we pop in for a quick “beer or wishky”, as proclaimed by the sign outside. Apparently the gin and tonics are pretty mind blowing too (quantity over quality, obviously) but that’s secondhand info.
Basically, you should go there…but only if you request decent music and don’t even consider asking for more Pink bloody Floyd.
As an English person, I am programmed from birth to appreciate and uphold the laws of personal space, not talking to strangers, not sharing food or (horror of horrors) stealing food from someone else’s plate. It’s implanted into our consciousness like John Spartan’s will to knit* and we reserve the right to be terrified and/or furious should any of these Golden Laws be bent or, God forbid, broken.
* If you don’t get this reference, you’re not coming to my imaginary birthday party.
Every single one of these cornerstones of my daily existence were torn from me within a week of getting off the plane in Seoul, leaving me a trembling wreck in social situations without a clue as to what was and was not acceptable public behaviour. I’m still a little bit confused about the whole thing to be honest, having recently discovered that the correct response to “you are pretty” is “so are you!” rather than the half-hearted, fully awkward laugh, head shake and thankful mumble so popular back home. Adding to the confusion is the fact that usually the only people who comment on my looks are either my (male) students or likely-crazy toothless train ajummas. I’ll let you know how that goes.
There is, however, a silver lining to having my social standards torn down around me; I have discovered the joys of food sharing whilst eating out. For those chaps reading at home, I do not mean sharing food from each other’s personal plates and personally chosen dishes…I am not, after all, mental. What I do mean to describe is the utter, inexplicable joy of ordering a huge dish to sit in the middle of the table (often being cooked in the middle of the table on a camping stove, which helps my enjoyment a great deal) and picking at it with a group of friends whilst enjoying a few pitchers of the aforementioned sub-par Korean lager to quell the spice. Dining out is just so much more enjoyable here than it is at home; infinitely more social, interactive and affordable and generally just better. I’m sure there are super posh restaurants requiring dress codes, social performance akin to a Monarch’s and a wallet to match, but they are not the norm or even close to it…I haven’t found myself wishing to seek out any high class establishments, so I can’t comment on what they’re like. Probably pretty awesome though, if the cheap stuff is anything to go by.
So far the highlights of my cosmopolitan food sharing lifestyle can be boiled down to Dakk Galbi, Korean BBQ (primarily the one in Seomyeon advertised on Busan Awesome!, I forget the name) and Shabu Shabu, of which I have only managed to try to Vietnamese variety owing to me not being able to find a Korean style one close to my area (Gaegeum, if you want to throw any recommendations my way). All of these have been fantastic experiences, socially and culinarily, and I know I’m going to miss them when I return to the hoity-toity, overpriced faux exclusivity of English dining at large.
I’m still not OK with people taking stuff of my plate though, try that and I guarantee you will feel the full extent of my food rage.
4) My Job
I imagine that those who know me personally are a little bit surprised by this being on the favourable end of my list, stressed as I often am at my job with EPIK and the many, many quibbles I have had during my first five months of employment. I’m not saying that anything major has changed, I’m still struggling with the same things that I always have and still find myself frustrated on a daily basis by some aspects of my school, but now I know that I only have to deal with the problems for another six and a half months I’m more able to see the whole thing for what it really is.
What it really is, if you’re interested, is a pretty sweet deal regardless of what school you’re placed in. Return flights, a safe job for 12 months provided you’re not a terrible human, free accommodation in (for me at least) a great city, experience of living alone in a foreign country and whatever else I have forgotten make this a better job than I have ever had before, without question or doubt…and that’s not mentioning the free hoodie, lidded coffee mug and apple strudel that I got at orientation.
The last time I posted a blog, one of the comments looked something like this:
“I must ask, people are talking about money, how shitty at home was your job that you make more here? i make less her by far, only reason i did it is to see somehting new.”
Bad typing aside, the commenter makes a decent point that I’d like to answer from a personal perspective: very shitty, Sir or Madam, very shitty indeed.
Graduating into the peak of the recession with a 2:1 in an Arts subject is (spoiler alert!) not the beginning of a story in which I climb the career ladder and become a successful businesswoman by 25. In fact, at 25 years old I realise that my job as an EPIK teacher is the highest paid I have ever had by a considerable amount, which some people will no doubt think is depressing (and it kind of is) but I am inclined to see as a positive of the job. Nobody wanted to pay me to teach ESL at home, and seeing as the £9000 PGCE fee is ludicrous without previous saving, moving abroad for employment became the best option by far.
Teaching in Korea is the only job I’ve ever had which allows me to save money, which hopefully will be helpful when I decide what I want to do with the rest of my life, and (although I don’t want to stay at my current school forever) I’m always going to think fondly of it because everything could be so much worse.
The Bottom Four
There isn’t much to say about this one except for this: bloody hell, the Koreans are good at coughing. My boyfriend and I went for Korean BBQ last week and the entire meal (taking well over an hour) was grotesquely punctuated at 1 minute intervals by the gutteral, phlegmy outbursts of the chap on the table behind us. Seriously, if I were him I would have been hotfooting it to the Doctor’s office rather than smoking my way through a 20 pack of Marlboros whilst eating my weight in red meat. You’d think I’d have gotten used to it, but no…it’s absolutely impossible to tune out, apparently on some special frequency reserved for the world’s most jarring noises.
Special mention should go out to my neighbour’s outstanding commitment to sneezing too – every single night since arriving, at 10.30pm. You could set your watch by him, if there weren’t far more practical ways of doing it.
2) Animal Welfare
People often say that Korea is a country of overwhelming contradiction and diversity, often quoting old/new, north/south and tradition/technology as examples of this. Often these contradictions are a positive thing (and certainly add to the unique feeling I get from the place) but often they are distressing and overwhelmingly frustrating to a foreigner with little understanding.
One such example is the way in which animals are treated here, depending on their status as pets, vermin or food.
Pets, for the most part I think, are pampered beyond all reason. Often dyed, dressed and coiffed to comical extremes they are, I expect, living fashion accessories and treated with the care and attention the average Korean teenager pays to their appearance. That is to say they are treated very, very well indeed.
Pets like these are in the minority. I don’t know enough about the abandoned pet system (if there is one) here to comment with any clarity but suffice to say that life does not look good for a stray animal in Korea. Dogs in particular do not embody the lovable ‘man’s best friend’ image they have in the West, and I recently discovered that a single trip to an abandoned pet shelter is enough to make your blood boil. More on that topic when I’ve learned more about it.
Animals for food is another thing altogether, and a topic that’s likely to attract some ”hypocrite!” comments owing to the fact that I myself eat both meat and fish here. I’m not trying to make any high and mighty points here, I’m not trying to change the world and I’m not about to start a campaign for better treatment of Korea’s tanked creatures, but I saw an octopus being turned inside out a few weekends ago and surely that’s not the quickest, most practical and humane way to kill something. Since arriving I’ve also discovered the horrors of seeing eels skinned and left to writhe around in a tank, peeled but still living, until they are cooked or sold…this horrified me more than I thought it would, and I was (still am) of the opinion that eels are among the most unlikeable of God’s creatures.
3) The Average Schoolchild’s Day
I haven’t written anything about this yet, but I imagine I will at length in the future.
For now, suffice to say that a full school day followed by hours of private academy classes is not OK for your average youngling. It’s simply too much for the poor guys to handle, it’s stifling in too many ways to count and it puts ludicrous pressure on people who should be enjoying their youth. Not cool, Korea.
4) The Tiny Things; Usually Ignorable, Occasionally Exasperating to the Point of Tears
Bit of a cop out this last one, I’m afraid. I do not find day to day living in Korea stressful, and much more often than not the positive aspects of my day outweigh the negatives many times over. If something small irritates me I am usually able to brush it off with a sunny “oh, Korea!” and continue on my merry way without incident.
On the other hand, some days seem to conspire against me with all the skill and determination of a military operation. Operation ‘Piss Caroline Off’ usually begins with my forgetting to top up my Mybi card before the bus ride to school, only having a 10,000 note in my purse (or having nothing at all), not being able to understand the bus driver’s barked instructions (is he telling me to get off or waving me on?!) and so standing like a oversized lemon until everything goes quiet and I can choose a direction to shuffle off in.
I’ll arrive at school to discover that, owing to some funky Korean calendar-ing, I’m not teaching the classes I thought I was and so will have to pull some last minute teachings out of thin air with five minutes before class. Sometimes I’ll arrive at this class and discover that the TV isn’t working, or has been disconnected for no apparent reason and will have to invent another lesson on the spot with no resources. I’ll truck through my day (no doubt a relentless 7 class Monday) stopping only at lunch to pick at some of the world’s boniest fish with my chopsticks, then walk home (in the pouring rain or blistering heat, no doubt) to discover that I have no food in for dinner.
I’ll go out again, deciding that my day has been long enough without a trip to Home Plus and opting instead to eat out. After a subway ride in which I’m used as a giant Western crowd-plow by tiny old people, I’ll look at the mostly incomprehensible menu with the waiter stood over me, trying desperately to translate something quickly enough for him/her not to get too annoyed. Eventually I’ll choose something and he or she will pose a question I’ve never heard before, presumably about how I want the dish. I’ll smile and nod, thinking that whatever he is asking me will be absolutely fine as I am so hungry I’m practically chewing a napkin. He doesn’t understand and repeats the same question over and over, slowing down with each recitation and seemingly not realising that I wouldn’t be able to understand him any better if he said one word a day for a year. Eventually I will leave without food, or else a kindly English-speaking soul will explain to me what he means (which is often something unimportant) and afterwards I’ll probably go home and sleep, thinking that I’ve fallen into enough cultural potholes for one day.
Thus concludes my lengthy list post, next time I’ll try to write something witty and concise. I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you.