Thursday 15 December 2011

My pet!

Ringo and my first meeting....
          I have a pet... no I'm not talking about one of my students. I mean a living, breathing, moving pet that I keep in my house. Now I've had my pet for quite a while by now but I have only just got around to writing a post now... and I think he deserves it.
         Any guesses as to what it is? Nope, not a dog. No, not a cat. Rabbit? No. Hamster? Wrong again. It's a .......... wait for it........ Beetle (with two ees not the ea musical variety)! Yep, a beetle. A rhinoceros beetle to be precise or at least he will be...
The three stages of Ringo (he is still number 1).
         Ok, so on one of our Friday field trips a few weeks ago we went to an insect farm (museum). It was another very Korean cultural experience and despite a few squeamish moments I enjoyed it. We all held silk-worms in our hand and then spun real silk by hand from their cocoons etc. as well as seeing many more animals and insects. One of the final parts of the tour though was to look at rhinoceros beetles and their larvae. They are renowned for their long lifespan in the insect world. Reaching 3years in age before they even change from larvae to a beetle and this is where the story gets interesting. So after looking at them and staring in amazement we were all told that each person on the tour, including the teachers, would be given a free rhinoceros beetle as a pet. They are apparently very popular pets all over Asia. Now you can imagine my first thoughts... but then my curiosity got the better of me and I followed the kids as they each filled a specialised plastic jar three quarters fill with compost and then lined up to be given their larvae. Don't fool yourself into imagining a little caterpillar. This thing was much thicker and also longer than a thumb. It had a creepy black "face" and little hairs all over its body. They don't enjoy light so it was quickly worming it's way deep into the compost. Now luckily the instructions were easy. 1. Keep it in dark places. 2. Keep the soil moist (Not wet, we were wanred NOT to water it). 3. When it changes to a beetle feed it fruit jellys etc. All our larvae are approx. 3yrs old so close to morphing apparently. After one look at my new housemate I knew his name... "Ringo"! (Get it??)
Ringo a few weeks ago
          So Ringo and I have happily shared an apartment since... I admit I occasional check to make sure he is still in his container but he is a very easy flatmate to have indeed. Now soon after our trip Vanessa's beetle,  named George Harrison (she liked my beetle's name), began to darken in colour and then cocooned and last week emerged as a big, sturdy, 'don't mess with me' rhinoceros beetle. Jannel's beetle has also emerged. Not Ringo though.... in fact he is still white and worming around and munching through the compost he lives in. It seems that Ringo and I might just have to part ways never having met beetle to face if he doesn't get cocooning fast.
         So having a pet, soon-to-be, beetle is another 'only in Korea' experience which has slightly creeped me out and yet woken my curiosity.

Ringo today!

Sunday 11 December 2011

Dog cafe

A collection of photos from the dog cafe.

          Now before anyone gets confused yes Koreans do eat dog meat but that is not the kind of dog cafe I am about to write about. This cafe was inhabited by living, breathing dogs of different ages and breeds.

The dogs just climb into your lap.
          Sounds unusual right? Well welcome to Korea were unusual is usual. Unlike Ireland and many other countries pet dogs are not that common in Korea, maybe it is due to so many people living in apartments with no space for dogs, or maybe it is because dogs are were viewed as a source of food by many during and after the Korean war (the Korean war left the Korean people with nothing to eat and Koreans resorted to eating anything  at all edible in those years, from animals typically viewed as pets to roots dug out of the ground). Regardless of the cause many people do not keep pet dogs but do like dogs, therefore the dog cafes.
          Dog cafes are as the sound a cafe serving hot drinks such as teas and coffees which you can sit and drink as dogs run around your feet and jump on the couches beside you. Entrance into the dog cafe we visited cost 8,000won (5euro) with our drink included. There were dogs everywhere, bulldogs, shitzhus, dalmatians, jack russells, pugs, Scottish terriers, labradors, etc. They all just walked around happily until the found a person who they liked and then maybe settled down for a rub and a cuddle.
         We quickly abandoned our drinks on our table as our real reason for being there was of course the dogs and we realised that sitting on the floor was the best place to get their attention. We sat crossed legged on the floor and within seconds Vanessa, Kyle, Helena and I all had little dogs come over walk onto our laps and curl up as if they did this every day. Vanessa, Helena and I all had small dogs who cosily fit in the space on our laps. Kyle, hilariously, was approached by the fat bull dog who tried his best to curl up on Kyle which resulted with the front half of his body on Kyle's lap as his back legs dangles over onto the floor. We all sat happily there as other dogs came to say hello or our ones decided to move off and new ones came along. We basked in the happy feeling of being around dogs which none of us had felt since leaving our home countries.
My boldie little Jack Russell..
          Now after a while a little Jack Russell came and curled into my lap and I rubbed him as he fell asleep. I had been watching him every now and again during our visit up until then and as he was not the cutest dog to put it gentle he was largely ignored by the customers. Well it seems that the little guy wasn't used to so much attention and didn't want to give it up because after a few minutes of resting in my lap while being rubbed another dog walked by me and my little Jack Russell started to growl at it. I laughed and passed it off. Until shortly after another dog came close to me and he had the same reaction. I told Helena who was sitting beside me and we both listened to him growl as soon as any other dog approached me. It was funny because if I gave out to him for it he would stop and look up at me with the saddest "I'm sorry, please don't stop rubbing me!" eyes!
          We spent over an hour in the cafe and it was so nice being surrounded by dogs. It was a very strange experience at the same time making it so typically Korean. All in all something I would recommend though on a whole.

The very bold pugs...

Ding Dong Dang

          So back a while ago our school was selected to be part of the audience for the filming of an episode of Ding Dong Dang, a Korean children's tv programme. Needless to say our kids were very excited and spent a few days before telling us all repeatedly that they would be going to see Ding Dong Dang. Well the day eventually arrived and most of the parents decided to bring the kids themselves so they collected their kids and and the teachers travelled with the few kids whose parents couldn't attend.
          Ding Dong Dang was being filmed outdoors on a local soccer pitch and there were children everywhere along with numerous sales carts of candyfloss, balloons, toys, etc. We found our seats and I settled in for what I assumed would be an hour or so of me sitting in silence listening to people on stage speak Korean..I was right for the first 40 minutes or so! Then came the dancing!!
          Now, I will shamefully admit that after a year my Korean is still pitiful so I tend to just follow the crowd at big events and at Ding Dong Dang all of the parents stood up so I stood up too. They started dancing so I started dancing too along with the other foreign teachers. This is when it gets interesting... next thing we knew our director Sarah was shouting at Vanessa and me telling us to go to the stage. Apparently the guy on stage had called us up. I squeezed out along the row of seats with Vanessa and walked to the side of the stage only to be told they wanted us ON the stage. With a quick look at each other with a "what's going on?" expression we climbed the steps and were joined on stage by maybe 4 other women from the audience. Luckily the presenter could speak some English and approached us explaining we were going to have a dance-off on stage against the other women. Oh-Oh!! No way to back out now.
          In keeping with the amazement we are often greeted with in Korea the presenter proceeded to ask us our names, where we were from, etc. Naming our school was greeted by a huge cheer from our kids and their parents scattered throughout the audience. A large group of my kids and their parents were seated near the front of the stage and I could hear shouts of "Teacher Lisa, Teacher Lisa" amidst mad waving and jumping to catch my attention.
          At this stage we were made to line up and the dance-off began. Dance styles among the mothers on stage with us ranged from hip-hop to ballet and all I kept thinking was how can I dance on stage in front of my kids parents without embarrassing myself TOO much! I decided to play it safe and go for simple silly dance moves. (Which Jannel our colleague recorded on her camera and is attached below). All the while being cheered on by my students as loud as they could.
           Next the presenter asked if we were married Vanessa of course replied "yes" and I without thinking answered truthfully "No" to the presenters response of "Oh I know a guy" before pulling one of the stage hands on to the main stage from the back. Now at this point the audience were very amused as I was greeted by this Korean guy. We were made stand back to back as we played some Korean compatibility test game. The presenter counted to three and we had to turn our heads in one direction. If we both turned our heads the same direction we were compatible. One, two, three... opposite directions! Again, one, two, three...opposite directions. At this stage everyone was laughing and they decided one last attempt. One, two, three... opposite directions. After three tries and fails they eventually accepted that we clearly weren't compatible and sent the poor guy backstage once more.
 Now needless to say neither Vanessa nor I won the dance-off and the presenter joked that we would go home with nothing but after a few sad faces we were given a Crayola art set and some body lotions. We walked off the stage and back through the crowd like minor celebrities as kids we don't even teach reached out to give us high-5's.
          Yet another Korean experience to cross off the list..

Friday 2 December 2011

Our kindergarten advertisement.

          Kindergarten here at English Village is based on total (or as close as you can get while still living in Korea) immersion into the English language. From the moment they arrive until the moment they leave the kids do not speak Korean. They talk to all teachers in English, they study through English they even play through English and it works. Kids are like sponges and they pick up and use new words at an amazing speed. It is very rarely now that I have to put on my teacher voice and say "Don't speak Korean". Ok, they forget at times or don't know a word so use the Korean but apart from that, English.
         To be able to speak English for Koreans is a major advantage. Most, if not all, major companies have English proficiency tests as mandatory requirements during the hiring process. With this in mind it is no wonder that English language teaching jobs are so readily available in Korea. English Village is a popular choice as it is not just an hour or so of English classes a day but all classes being taught through English, but because of this it's expensive. Most of my students have parents who are doctors or own their own businesses, etc. The downside to the exclusiveness of our school is that many people from the area just wouldn't be able to afford it and thus we have to advertise a lot.
          The enrolment for next term is beginning shortly and so once again the advertising is in full blast. This term they decided an online "preview" of our school would be a cute idea too so we all had the pleasure of a camera filming our classes while we taught one day a few weeks ago and here is the final product:

Thursday 1 December 2011

House of Sharing

          I can say I have many memories from Korea, many fantastic memories. It has been an amazing year so far. Unfortunately not many of those memories revolve around "cultural" activities. Arriving here 11months ago I had the very best of intentions. I was going to go on Temple stays, go hiking in the famous mountains, learn korean cookery etc. but none of those plans materialized and I am sorry to say that now I just don't have the time left to do them. One item on my "cultural" list was to visit the 'House of Sharing' and I managed to finally go about 3 weeks ago. 
          Dee, Helena and I had all signed up to go on Saturday the 12th of November. Unfortunately that was the morning after our Irish dinner and it wouldn't have been a real "Irish dinner" without some alcoholic beverages so the girls didn't feel very much like getting out of bed the next morning and therefore I made the trip myself. I'll admit I was hesitant when I got the note slid under my door saying not to wake them as to whether I should go or just crawl back into my warm bed too but I decided to give it a chance and I am glad.I had heard things about the House before my visit but nothing could have prepared me.
          The House of Sharing is a home and museum for survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945).  From 1932 until the end of WWII, the Japanese military forcefully conscripted - by means of kidnapping, deception and colonial authority - an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 women and girls from all over Asia, mostly from Korea, to serve as sexual slaves in their brothel system. Many of these girls and young women died and were murdered and massacred. Of those that survived they were abandoned in countries far from there homes with no means of income after the war. Few ever returned home. 
           After decades of silence, the issue was brought to the public in 1992 and since then a number of "comfort women" have come forward. These women's lives were devastated by what happened to them yet with great strength they spoke out. Every Wednesday since January 1992, survivors have gathered outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest the Japanese government's denial of its role in military sexual slavery and its refusal to meet the demands of the victims. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the Japanese government continues to refuse to accept its role. However, due to deteriorating health the "Halmoni" are being forced to discontinue their protests with their 1000th and final protest being held on December 14th of this year.
        On arrival at the house we were given a brief talk and shown a video of one of the women who had first fought for the cause.The women living in the house are known internationally as the "comfort women" but more affectionately known by the volunteers at the house as the "Halmoni", Korean for grandmother. 
         After the video we were shown through the museum where we were told shocking facts and listened to disturbing testimonies. One of the testimonies read to us was of one of the 8 women who currently live in the home. In her 80's now she was 13 when she was abducted by Japanese soldiers while fetching water for her parents in her local village. From Korea she was taken to China to a "comfort station". These "comfort stations" were dotted all throughout Japanese territories in Asia as it was believed that the soldiers fought better if the had their sexual desires filled. On arriving the other women asked her age and finding out how young she was one woman objected to the guards. To show their authority the soldiers rolled that woman over a bed of nails until pieces of her flesh began embedding onto the spikes and tearing off and then beat her before finally beheading her in front of all of the other women. 
          Another testimony read to us was about a woman who became pregnant due to one of the many rapes. She was of no use to them pregnant so to deal with her pregnancy the soldiers put a red hot poker into her vagina. The women also spoke of having to eat while being raped at times as the had no time in between one soldier and the next. The Japanese military often inflicted torture on the women if they tried to refuse, such as by putting blades into their flesh and twisting them so the wound would not heal for longer. It was hard not to feel disgusted and heartbroken by the accounts and many people, myself included, were holding back tears. 
          Following the museum tour we were given a chance to ask any questions we still had before we got to meet the Halmoni (the women who were abused). The language barrier would have caused difficulties but volunteers translated for us and the meeting was amazing. Obviously the events were very traumatic for them so for the most part we just talked in general and one of the old women who loved singing asked us as a group to sing for her but occasionally they would mention something about their experiences. One of the women showed us the scars left all over her body from the torture she received. Another told us how the rapes and chemical abortions she was given had made her infertile (this happened to a great many of the survivors). Eight women currently reside at the 'House of Sharing', the youngest in their 80's. As we left and I was saying goodbye to the woman one of them held my hand for a minute as others past by making it seem even more shocking how these women who should have been somebodies grandmother's had their futures taken.
          The halmoni are very happy at the "House of Sharing" which is completely funded by public donations and say that they are treated better their than most state nursing homes. The have a wonderful art gallery of paintings by the women as part of a therapy. They halomoni told us how much they enjoyed meeting the tour groups that came and were grateful that their stories were not being forgotten.
         . Talking to the women that day and hearing the sadness in their voices of not being able to continue their protests and the fear that their sufferings will never be truly acknowledged was an extremely emotional experience and one which I will not forget easily but also an experience which I would recommend to anyone. You can find more information on online testimonies at

Thursday 17 November 2011

The Irish dinner!

        This dinner was and will be a one time only event and was possible the most anticipated meal of the entire year. Since the end of February Dee and I began chatting about "an Irish dinner" we even proposed to first cook it the St. Patrick's day weekend in March but once we found out about the parade and festival in Seoul that plan got waylaid. Numerous other dates had been set since and each had been quashed before they ever got the chance to become reality. I think our friends here began to associate "the Irish dinner" in the same category as leprechauns, the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow and fairies!!!
          Then we finally set a date. Last Friday evening (the 11th of November 2011, a date I am sure will be forever etched in their minds as the night they ate the best food) we finally held the infamous "Irish dinner". Despite our best intentions we failed to locate bacon (or ham as the yanks needed us to specify) and a cabbage dinner by itself didn't appeal very much so we altered our menu. It may not be traditional Irish but it is a dish that I think every Irish family have frequently... Roast Chicken.
          With seven for dinner we bought 2 chickens (thank God for that because despite their appearance Korean chickens turned out to literally be almost skin and bones!).
The chickens were picked to the bone.
 From 4 that evening Dee, Helena and I were like santa's elves on Christmas eve... not a moment was lost. Dee got onto prepping the veg (broccolli, potatoes and carrots), while I started dessert (Bailey's Cheesecake and apple crumble) and Helena got going on the veggie option (Kelly had to be awkward and decide she wouldn't even eat meat for the "Irish dinner" :P ) of Prawn curry (ok so maybe thats not traditionally Irish either but it was made with McDonnells curry powder which is Irish so we think it kinda counts! Regardless of it's Irishness it was delicious!
          After finishing the desserts I turned my attention to the chickens. I took them out of the plastic containers they were in to be greeted disturbingly by the fact that my chickens still had necks attached (no head luckily but still necks). Unfortunately nobody else volunteered for the job so I found myself ringing a chickens neck for the first and hopefully last time. Ok, so the chicken was already dead but I still twisted its neck til it snapped...yuck. After that I got the par-boiled potatoes from Dee (coz neither Helena or herself knew how to make roasties) and using granny and moms method I lathered them in butter. While the potatoes and chickens were in the oven we prepped my apartment. I have to say with Dee's and my tables and a few pieces of furniture repositioned we actually had a pretty good set-up. I collected the roast potatoes and basted the chickens (they were cooking in the schools cooking room as Korean houses don't have ovens, they mainly cook on stove-top). Then a while later Dee and Helena went to collect the chickens while I cooked the leeks and seasoned the mash (the way dad does..the best!).
The carrots
          Right on schedule Sam, Kelly, Kyle and Ness arrived and we got to serving up our meals. I have to say it was inpressive. Main course was Roast chicken with roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, leeks, carrots, broccolli and beautiful onion gravy!! In Sam's words "it was like a dinner your mammy would make". Then for dessert we had the baileys cheesecake and crumble washed down with a nice cup of Irish tea.
Kelly enjoying the cheesecake a bit too much!
 All the while with a continous playlist of Irish artists serenading us in the background (everyone from Westlife, to the cranberries to the pogues). Despite the wait I think the "Irish dinner" well and truly lived up to and may have even surpassed expectations!


My kids!!

           My students, my kids, my babies, my doteys, my little monsters and so many other names all apply!! I can love them and hate them in the same second. I can want to hug them and scold them. I can feel relief when they leave and miss them too. Who'd have thought it'd be so confusing! My students are 6yrs old Korean (5 internationally) and they really are tiny at times. I mean I am a teacher, a nurse, a cleaner, a dentist and a parent depending on what the need at that particular moment which means I can have numerous roles in just one day!
          In the last few months I have dealt with almost every type of bodily fluid there is: tears, snot, spit, blood, vomit, pee and poo!! Sometimes they break my heart as they sob into my shoulder (but I will admit despite the risk of sounding cruel I like those moments too... the way that a little kid can hold onto you as if they couldn't survive without you is an amazing feeling!). Sometimes they make me laugh as they walk over asking for  a tissue with snot hanging down past their chins. Sometimes they make me worry with calls of "Teacher, teacher nosebleed!" and sometimes they make me sigh to myself and wish that I could ignore what they are saying with "Teacher Lisa I was too late for the bathroom"!
         I breath a sigh of relief on Friday evenings as they get on the bus yet I find myself thinking of them over the weekend! They can change me from angry, to laughing, to angry again in the space of 10 seconds! I have sympathy for every other teacher and parent out there! A day with children is a rollercoaster... with a whole lot of unexpected twists! Basically I am going to miss them.
          In just 6 short weeks I will have my last class with them and I know I am going to be a stereotypical "Hennessy" and bawl my eyes out. It is just amazing how close you can get to the kids after a week with them not to mind a year! They are torments and treasures.
          Some of the things they do and say can be the cutest... like while teaching about giving one day I asked one girl what was the best present she had ever given to her parents and her answer was "I gave them me", she laughed and thought it was funny but I thought it was adorable and so true. Another day one of my boys was explaining that his friend got a new baby sister but phrased it as "Raphael's mommy laid a baby". I couldn't stop the laughter. Albert my little rogue walked up to me one day and said "I like penis", I nearly choked and got him to repeat, "I like penis" but on getting him to explain it became clear he actually intended to say 'I like peanuts'! I tried to hide my laughter. Erin told a silly joke: 'Why did the cow cross the road? It wanted to get mooooooo-ving!' and I laughed as heartily as I have in ages.

           My good friend Vanessa recently told me that she had read an article about how jobs can affect peoples happiness and ultimately their lifespan. According to the article people who worked with or were around young children were statistically happier and lived longer. I believe it. They make me laugh, they make me run, they make me sit on the floor and build blocks at lunch (the boys) or colour princesses and flowers (the girls) all of which make me smile. Basically despite the bad things which came with teaching such a young age group it was surpassed by the good things. I have loved the last 11 months and I intend to savour my final one.

Friday 4 November 2011

Malaysia and Bali.

         On the 10th of September 7 of us (Dee, Helena and me, Sam and Kelly and Mark and Dan) happily boarded a plane for Kuala Lumpar(KL), Malaysia. A week of no kids, no teaching and no English village!! Bliss! Don't get me wrong I love working here in Korea but the lack of holidays can be very tiring. I mean since I arrived last December I had had one week off in February and maybe 4 other days for bank holidays. If I had been teaching in Ireland for the same amount of time I would have had 2 weeks for Christmas, a week in Feb for mid-term, 2 weeks for Easter, numerous days for bank holidays, St. Patrick's etc and then to top it off 2-3 months for summer!! A slight difference! All in all I think that all of us were wearing fairly thin energy wise and were in need of this holiday very much.

          We had the whole holiday planned (in our heads at least) 2-3 days in KL and then south to beach islands off the coast to really chill and bask in the sunshine. Unfortunately mother nature hadn't agreed to this and so she decided to throw in a little surprise..... a storm system! There goes our beach holiday or so we thought at first. We arrived in Malaysia on Saturday afternoon and after a very very long passport control line we finally made it out of the airport and onto our bus to the city centre. We arrived at our hostel (the Reggae Guesthouse, near Chinatown, which I would definitely recommend to a friend).
Here, Sam being Sam decided that a sun holiday without the sun wasn't gonna work out so in his typical convincing fashion somehow persuaded us all to book a flight to Bali in Indonesia for the Monday morning. So our week in Malaysia quickly turned into one day in Malaysia. Anyway, after getting rid of our bags we happily wandered the streets admiring the various stalls of beautiful Malaysian crafts and then met up together for dinner.  Luckily our hostel was attached to a bar and restaurant and the food was delicious. We intended having one or two drinks there first and then moving but we got chatting to other people and spent our night there! (A very easy walk home!)

          Next day (our only day there) we decided to buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off Kuala Lumpar bus tour. Definitely worth it, despite only having one day we saw so many of the main attractions in the city. We started first at the palace (we could only see it from the gates bit it looked gorgeous), I got to have my picture taken with the mounted soldiers at the gate. I really love horses, hope I get to go horse-riding at some stage on our travels!

 Then we moved on to Little India, a predominately Indian neighbourhood. Sam bought some street food which despite its unusual appearance turned out to be delicious and we all stole mouthfuls! Next stop was The museum, I think, despite stopping there intending to go in we got distracted outside by guys                                                           with snakes and lizards and parrots charging for photos. We all stood a little scared at first but Sam went for it and took his pic with a snake. Sure enough after him we all got courage to do it so Dee, Helena and I posed for a photo together. Dee and Helena refused to hold the head though so I got stuck with it and I'll admit although I enjoyed it I was a bit nervous too. Back on the bus and off to the bird park! It is the largest free flight aviary in the world, it was cool. Birds literally flew and swooped around our heads or waddled along the paths in front of us. Despite all this this best part of that stop for me and actually one of the highlights of the holiday were...the monkeys!! Yep, wild monkeys! They lived in the trees around the park and we first saw them as we were walking in as little baby monkeys swung from the lamposts. After we came out of the park they were there again but closer and this time we had food. Sam held out a cracker in his hand and a little monkey held on by his tail, swooped down, snatched the cracker, and was back in his tree before we could even react. After that Sam fed a few more of them as we stared on amazed. Then I finally decided to try so I got a cracker and then this monkey just strolled over to us. He looked at me and I looked at him and I held out my hand (with the cracker pinched right at the tip of my fingers) expecting him to grab it as quickly as the others but he just lazily stretched out his arm and took hold of the cracker. For a second we both held it looking at each other and then I let go and he just took it happily. It was amazing. I have never been that close to a monkey... do you know they have fingernails?                                                               Little tiny finger nails on little tiny hands, it is so scary how human-like they are. Next we saw the main square, which was beautiful and we saw an unexpected display by the armed forces showing their fighting techniques in slow motion almost. Then the Petronas towers, which are now the tallest twin towers in the world. Strange but we were there on Sept. 11th, the ten year anniversary of the twin towers attack. Then we went to the KL tower and then I think it was home to the hostel, although I may be forgetting some stops as it was a pretty hectic day!

         When we got back we strolled through Chinatown and stopped at a restaurant to eat, sitting there a scraggly looking guy wandered up with a guitar... all of us at the table rolled our eyes and thought "Oh no, just go away" but WOW were we wrong. He opened his mouth and started singing Pink Floyd and it was amazing. Then Bob Dylan, then Johnny Cash, and so many more. I would have happily listened all night he had talent. He didn't just do amazing covers of the songs he gave them his own twist and some of them I would say he even maybe improved! He finished after maybe 6 songs and we all happily gave him money into his hat. Bed early that night for our flight next morning!
           Up early and taxi to the airport, and very excitedly boarded our flight for Bali. This is where the real holiday begins!! Arriving in Bali we got a taxi to Kuta the main resort but found the prices higher than we expected to moved across the island to Sanur, here we found a cheap hotel but also found that it was basically where all the retired couples holidayed, not exactly what we had in mind. We decided to stay one night anyway and move back to Kuta next morning and it was a fun night after all. Back in Kuta next morning the sun was really heating up and we booked into a cheap hotel (after a search) and then made our way to the beach. We spent the day lying on sun loungers, splashing in the sea and eating fruit. Unfortunately while Dee and I were swimming Helena forgot to re-apply her suncream and was quite a lovely shade of lobster red when we came back! Poor Helena!

          The rest of our week was pretty much spent in the same way, lying on the beach relaxing during the day and going out at night. Over the week we had many funny and happy stories and a few not so funny ones (Dee being robbed) but all in all it was a wonderfully, relaxing few days. The only problem is how fast it went. Friday came far too quickly and we caught a flight back to Malaysia, where we spent a night in a hotel near the airport. Next morning we boarded our plane "home" to Korea and despite our wonderful weeks holidays we were all happy to be going home at the same time.

Monday 10 October 2011

Dr. Fish

          Also a few weeks ago we decided to have a nice chilled day in Seoul and visit Dr.Fish. Now this was something we had been meaning to do for a long time but summer had taken its toll on our little feet and they were desperately in need of some kind of treatment. With this in mind Kyle, Vanessa, Dee, Helena and I decided to make our way to one of the many Dr.Fish treatment spas in Korea.
        Now the Dr. Fish we decided to go to was slightly unconventional as it is not in a leisure centre or spa but a cafe! Yep, a cafe. On arriving there you order a drink and are asked if you wish to pay 2,000won (about 1.30euro) more for the Dr. Fish. Now all the drinks(coffees and hot chocolates etc) are around 6,000won (4euro) which is pricey enough for Korea which is how they make their money I guess.
         Anyway after finishing our drinks we made our way up to a raised area by the window with 2 fish tanks in holes in the floor, after rinsing our feet first we were allowed put our feet in the tanks. We all started with the small fish and the best way I can describe it is tickly! Unbearably tickly at times... my feet are always ticklish (like dads) so I was literally crying laughing as I pulled my feet out of the water, then back in, out again, back in, you get the picture. Eventually I realised that if I pushed my feet right to the bottom of the tank it wasn't as bad because they couldn't nibble the soles of my feet. I must be very tasty because for some reason those little fish loved me... while my feet were in the tank they almost ignored Kyle and Vanessa. At one stage while my feet were swarmed with little nibbling fish Vanessa looked at me then at her own and questioned why only about 10 little fish were around her.

My feet are in the middle, Vanessa's are on the left.
          After a few minutes of the little fish we got the courage to brave the bigger fish in the next tank.
Kyle couldn't stop his laughter..

Kyle went first and he literally squealed like a little girl... his giggles set us all laughing before we had even put our toes in the water.
We followed his lead though and all nervously lowered our feet in to the pool of the bigger fish. While the little fish simply felt like a tiny nibble and were very very ticklish these fish had bigger mouths and I would saw had a slightly sandpaper-ish feel. They were not as bad but still very tickly!

The bigger fish


Our 15mins was soon up but it had been 15mins of giggles and squeals... out of the five of us 4 of us enjoyed it so with those odds I would recommend every to try it at least once. Our feet were not drastically different but I think we all felt a slight change (possibly imagined)...either way its just a fun way to spend an afternoon!

Thursday 22 September 2011

Ocean world!!

          A few weeks ago our school decided that after a long summer camp of teaching everyday for most teachers (and just a long year of teaching everyday for us preschool teachers) that we deserved a treat. There answer was a paid day at Ocean world, a famous water park quite near our school. Needless to say most teacher's jumped at the opportunity for a fun Sunday in Ocean World followed by a buffet dinner.
         On the Sunday we left English Village at 10am and upon arriving got ready as fast as we could. Many things about Korea baffle me and Ocean World provided two more additions to my list of "But why??" questions.
          1. Everyone had to wear a cap in the pools.... Now before you ask what's wrong with that we do that in Ireland listen to the rest. It was not necessary to wear an actual swim cap! Nope in fact I think I was one of very few people there with a real swim cap the majority of people wore baseball caps. It gets better though.. it wasn't even required to have your hair up under the cap just as long as it was on your head. I arrived out of the changing room, hair tucked under my cap as I assumed was the rule and walked into the pool area to be greeted by girls with flowing hair around their shoulders but wearing baseball caps still so its all ok!!
          2. The second baffling thing at Ocean World was the life-jackets. Now I guess I should have to keep in mind that quite a lot of Koreans cannot swim (which for an island nation - by technicality - is a bit awkward). Well the rule was that life-jackets were compulsory for 2 rides in the park (which I understand because you would need to be a strong swimmer otherwise) but rather than providing and returning the life-jackets at those rides you collected your jacket at the entrance and had to cart it around with you the whole day long. Now holding it in your hand got annoying so everyone eventually ended up wearing their jacket continuously but being a warm sunny day I ended up with wonderful tan lines.
          Now Ocean World itself seemed a really fun place and the rides looked like great fun but unfortunately I only managed to make it onto 3 rides in the whole day there... a few reasons added up to this but the main one was the queues. Korea is not much bigger than Ireland at all but has 6 times our population. As you can imagine this leads to a lot of people EVERYWHERE! A sunny day at Ocean World certainly followed this general rule. The queue for the most popular ride was almost 3hrs despite looking forward to that ride from the posters I couldn't justify the wait.
          The rides I did got on though were a lot of fun! Overall I had a fun day there and I loved the wave pool. Now when I thought of wave pools before I thought of little kids jumping ankle high waves in a shallow pool... this was very different. This wave pool was one of the two life-jacket required rides and with good cause. For the most of the day 6ft high waves swept people up on a rise of water and three times a day they increased the fun to 8ft! Imagine a pool crammed with as many floating people as possible and a massive wave crashing in. Thankfully the life-jackets ensured no one was under water very long and it led to a lot of laughs!!
          After a fun day in the park we were treated to a buffet dinner. Now I'll admit i pessimistically assumed it would be like the lunch we'd had that day (basically our school cafeteria food) but I was very much happily surprised! It was delicious! They had everything from salads to sushi, pasta to pizza, cheese to chow mein... YUM! I went for seconds and then thirds and would have eaten more if I thought I could squeeze even one more bite into my mouth!
          Full and tired we returned to English village after an interesting but enjoyable day!

Monday 15 August 2011

Flood day.

          Falling asleep on Tuesday the 26th of July it sounded like someone was literally pouring buckets of water on the ground outside my window. I was grateful to be inside in my bed safe from that rain and next morning when I woke up it seemed like the rain had lightened so I got dressed as usual ready for my day teaching and started my walk to school. It wasn't until I reached the bottom of the hill that I realised just how strong the rain had really been. A mini stream ran along the road.
Some of the "lost" crayfish.
The crayfish just before we returned them to the stream.
         I waded through ankle deep running water and arrived into an empty school. There Vanessa told me that all the parents had been told to keep there kids at home, I was so excited until in her next sentence Vanessa then told me that we would be helping clean the school instead. Then much to our surprise we began finding little creatures who had been washed far from there normal homes.....crayfish! After a days cleaning we had a total of 7 crayfish sitting in a basin who had been washed away from there home in the stream behind English Village. (Don't worry all crayfish were returned safe and sound at the end of the day.)
The fountain was filled with mud as a mini stream flowed around it still.
        Sure enough we were soon handed shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows and told we had to clean all the rocks and mud that had been washed down from the surrounding hills into the main school courtyard. We began with picking up a few stray rocks and filling a wheelbarrow but then I saw that the fountain which flows through the courtyard was full with mud so after my recent mudfest adventures I decided to hop in. Hopping down into the fountain I was in mud half way up to my knees. Being my dad's daughter though I wasn't long grabbing a shovel and getting to work. Soon enough most people were either in or around the fountain cleaning the mud. As I shovelled away I heard a click and looking up I saw that one of the Korean administrators had taken my picture. Laughing he asked had I grown up in the countryside, and sure enough I happily replied that indeed I had, a farmer's daughter at that. He said it was clear and jokingly offered me a ten year contract as school maintenance rather than as a teacher. After a while Sylvia, my co-teacher, told me that more of the Koreans who didn't know me were asking where I was from.
Some of the stones we had to pick up from the courtyard.
          I was really enjoying my days work and kept thinking of dad the whole time. I even thought of the way he had shown me how to get the most stuff onto a shovel in one go while we cleaned the turkey house at home one day. I guess that no matter where in the world I may be I will always be my father's daughter and I am very proud to be.

Thursday 4 August 2011


          Where can I even begin to describe Mudfest? Since before I even arrived in Korea I had been looking forward to this festival devoted to Mud and it didn't disappoint. In fact I would go so far as to say it was better than I even hoped  for (which, for something I had built up so much in my head, is amazing)!
          Our weekend began with the, by now routine, journey into Seoul. After a lovely meal (steak and potatoes...yum) and a few drinks (to get the weekend started) we headed to the jimjilbang for a nights sleep! Bright and early next morning we joined the group of fellow travelers all destined for Boryeong Mud Festival. We had signed up with one particular tour group and so had our return bus costs and accommodation all sorted but roughly 400 other people were also signed with that particular group so that is just a vague estimate of just how many people attend this festival. Apparently on just the weekend I was there there were 800,000 people.
          Arriving in Boryeong we quickly dropped our belongings off in our pension (accomodation for the night) and made our way as fast as we could to the main area (the slight drizzle at the time couldn't even dampen our spirits)! Arriving at the main area it didn't take much time until we were coated in the grey, smooth mud! To add to the fun the rain even stopped shortly after we arrived!
          After our first dosing of mud we ventured into the "mud pit" , an area purely for mud filled fun! We began in the "mud prison" posing for photos behind the bars of a jail cell, smiling and laughing until, without warning, we were sprayed with a bucketful of cold, watery mud! After a few initial screams we once again returned to laughter. Next came the mud racing! A long narrow bouncy castle with 2 running lanes had been covered in mud and was being sprayed with a hose. The aim was to run, jump and race a friend to the end first while all the time, slipping, sliding and general making slow progress! After that came a trial of strength and determination....mud style!! Another mud filled bouncy castle provided the stage for this test of will. Dee and I were both strapped together by a length of bungy cord around our waists. While facing opposite directions the challenge was to run and be the first to touch one of the bells placed at the opposing ends of the bouncy castle. Needless to explain the length of cord only permitted one winner! With the blow of the whistle Dee and I both raced at full speed towards our bells, that is until the snap of our "leashes" pulled us back with a jerk to be squiggling figures on the ground. We struggled against each other, each slightly gaining the advantage at times. But with both
of us as stubborn as the other neither of us would accept defeat and so it ended! The officials in charge called for us to stop as I think they began to understand that there would not be a winner this time! Overall a fitting ending to an even fight!

          After this we went to eat some lunch and somehow on the way back from lunch Dee and I got separated from everyone else! Considering the mud neither of us had our phones on us and so we were officially on our own. It could have been a disaster wandering through the crowds searching for our friends all day but that is quite different to what happened next. While walking along the beach, in an almost pointless attempt to 'just see' everyone we had lost, we came to a little stand renting inflatable rubber rings for the day for the low low price of 5,000won. Dee and I rented the rings, headed to the shop for some drinks, returned to the beach and floated out into the water! Sounds simple but believe me it wasn't! Dee's upper body strength failed her everytime we waded out deep enough to float comfortably. She was unable to lift herself onto the ring while in the water, yet if she sat in at the shore the waves just beached us in a matter of seconds! In the end, after much laughter, we finally devised a plan Dee sat in her ring at the shore while I pulled her out into the deeper water and then when there I would pull myself onto my ring and we would both be floating. However, despite pulling her out as planned every time I went to pull myself onto my floating ring Dee would make me laugh on purpose and I would fail. This went on for a while until through the laughter I finally managed to pull myself up! After that we both floated around for a while fighting against the tide until we found a buoy tied nearby. We quickly tied ourselves to the buoy and there we had it the perfect place. I have no idea how long we stayed out there for but it was perfect, floating in the sunshine as the waves lapped against us with our drinks in our hands. Eventually as it started getting colder we headed for shore and back to our pension to change into warmer and drier clothes for the night ahead.
          After meeting up with everyone we lost earlier we went to the beach to watch an amazing fireworks display. Fireworks that exploded in the shape of flowers and hearts, fireworks than spiraled and fireworks that tricked down like rain on a window! Amazing! More drink followed and surprise surprise some people started streaking (just to clarify I was not one of those people!). Eventually tiredness won over and I went back to enjoy a nice nights sleep on a hard wooden floor! 
         Next morning, we all had breakfast and then the fun started all over again! We once more ended up like mud monsters and were posing for a photograph when someone grabbed my arm and pulled me around. I didn't even realise what was going on until a paintbrush of mud hit me!! Some Korean woman working there obviously decided I wasn't muddy enough for the photograph and despite all our protests that I was fine she would not leave me go until I was literally covered in mud, she even liberally painted my face, not even my eyelids escaped the mud! After walking around for a while we decided it was time to get painted with the coloured mud! So after a quick dip in the sea to wash the normal mud off ourselves (which ended up to be not such a quick dip as we played queen's chair, tried to knock each other over, had fights against 2 others while on top of someone's shoulder etc.) we went and queued for the coloured mud. As Dee, Kyle and Ness all decided exactly how they wanted to be painted I couldn't think of anything in particular I wanted. So when my turn finally came I let the girl painting me use her own initiative and I think I turned out pretty well. Now with the coloured mud on us I suddenly felt like a celebrity as photographers swarmed around us asking for photos. 
          After posing for a few we decided we had had enough fame for one day and went for a walk along the beach which ended up with Dee and I convincing everyone to rent the inflatable rings once more for the day. Together the five of us, (Kyle, Vanessa, Chris, Dee and I) floated along the shoreline for a while before paddling out a little further. Nessa and I decided that we wanted to jump off a pontoon a little further out so leaving Kyle to hold our floating rings we swam towards the pontoon and after much effort managed to pull ourselves up onto it (I blame Nessa for this. I wanted to swim around to the side with a step up onto it but Ness insisted that both of us had the upper body strength sufficient to pull ourselves up out of the water! Ok in the end she was right and we were able but it was not the easy option that's for sure!). After jumping off once or twice Ness decided to show her skills and dive into the water, I told her I had never learnt to dive and she gave me a quick lesson, which failed miserably, and resulted in me belly-flopping into the water. Thankfully it didn't hurt, in fact, it was hilarious for me as well as everyone watching! We finally decided we had better swim for shore, which seemed easy when we set out, but believe we I was huffing and puffing by the time I arrived at shore dragging my inflatable ring behind me. 
          By then it was time to go home and so ended our fantastic weekend at mudfest. To anyone intending to come to Korea or anyone here who has not yet gone... GO TO MUDFEST! You won't regret it!