Glimpse of War and South Korea

The history of Korea is filled with wars. Korea has suffered from many attacks by Mongolians, Chinese and Japanese, but has always survived. The War Memorial Museum in Seoul gave me a glimpse of the turbulent history that Koreans have been through.

There were some very interesting information inside and the military tanks and planes outside were quite stunning to see and have a closer look at. I have visited war memorial museums in different countries and each time it leaves me saddened at the horrors that we as humans do to each other.

As the sun was setting we drove up to the North Seoul tower on Namsan Mountain. We went up the mountain by cable car with spectacular views of the whole city as the sun set. From the Seoul Tower you get a spectacular view over the city from 370 meters above sea level. The 218-meter high tower is built on the peak of the Namsan Mountain located in the heart of Seoul.

That evening I booked into a love motel, as it was the cheapest I could find that evening and I didn’t have the energy to look for a hostel. All I wanted was a warm place to sleep before catching the bus the next morning.

Wordless Wednesday: South Korean Temple entrances

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Seoul, a glimpse into the heart of South Korea

Gyeongbokgung palace
Im at Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul

During January ’08 I taught English at a winter camp in South Korea. The school was in the South so I only got to explore Seoul for a weekend. My month in South-Korea was very interesting and definitely a culture shock but not a place I would like to live in for too long. I was offered a longer contract after my winter camp finished but I declined ads I was hungry. Yes, I was hungry as I don’t much like the spicy food of South Korea.

Visiting Seoul was a great way to get to know a bit more about the culture of this interesting country. The city bus tour is a great way to see the city and everything it has to offer but in the winter everything closes after 3 pm so maybe exploring during the summer would be more rewarding.

The main tourist attraction is Gyeongbokgung palace. It is the biggest palace in Seoul, and reminded me of the early years of Korean dynasties that I have read about or seen in movies. Most of the buildings had been reconstructed after the Japanese destroyed nearly all 330 buildings. The 48-columned pavilion still give you an idea of how it must have looked once.

It was very cold outside and all the ponds were frozen over. The grounds of the palace is barren in the winter but it was so beautiful! Unfortunately it seems like each palace or temple in South Korea looks like the previous one you just saw and it is quite hard to distinguish them from each other.

The only obvious thing that stood out about Changdeokgung palace which was its big gardens stretching throughout the palace. This palace is on the World Heritage site and took me along Seoul’s oldest stone bridge, the mansion of Naksonjae and the wonderful secret gardens of Biwon.

I only had 24 hours to explore Seoul and think that there are a lot more to see and experience. Which places would you recommend for my next visit?

You wont believe how many kids I sent to the nurse

I taught little 5 year old kids English during winter camp in South Korea in January ’08. I had  a class of 18 little kids who only had a basic or no knowledge of English and there was no teacher assistant available.

I actually had great fun teaching them but wouldn’t want to teach them for longer than 1 month. It doesn’t matter what kind of teacher you are you always end up referring to your students as your kids. well, my little kids were quite well behaved and they all followed all the little rules that I set up for them. They would all walk quietly in line and not make too much noise when were out playing as I would always let them stay out longer the better they behaved.

It was snowing most of the time so all the teachers took their kids to the gym for playtime. This was my first winter teaching job and I was quite new to snow and the cold so when my class pleaded to go outside I agreed and loved accompanying them.

During the 1st week one of my kids slipped on ice, fell and scraped her knee, so a visit to the school nurse followed. The next day another kid got a snowball in the face and it had some small stones in so on to the nurse with small scrapes in his face.

I had a little girl who kept building snowmen and by the end of the week she had “winter hands”, her little hand were red and cracked and bleeding. I didn’t even know that could happen and had never heard of it before so thought there was something seriously wrong with her. Off to the nurse with her. After that I made sure all my kids kept their gloves on while outside.

During the 2nd week a little boy climbed onto a desk, jumped of and hit his head on the corner. 5 Stitches later he returned from the school nurse. After that I didn’t dare leave them alone for even 5 minutes. One thing I still don’t know how to handle is when the little ones cry. I am not good at consoling little kids as I am not good with physical contact. After a while they got that I didn’t understand them and didn’t know what to do with them when they cried. If one cried they would go the bathroom, wash their faces and then come back and it would all be ok.

During my 3rd week, I looked over and saw one of my little boys crying. I just pointed to the bathroom and off he went. He was gone a long time so I decided to go and inspect what was going on, he might have gotten lost on his way back to the classroom. I walked into the bathroom and was actually shocked at what I saw. This little 5 year old boy was standing at the sink washing his nose while blood was pouring out. He looked over at me and said: “blood not wash away…” A visit to the nurse immediately followed. Turns out the little boy next to him hit broke his nose over a pencil.

I was told at the end of the camp that they have never had so many kids at the nurse from one class….Probably a sign that I should not teach little ones.


Wordless Wednesday: Matching underwear?

A very strange fashion in South Korea is matching couples wear that they have everywhere. From levis, jackets, shirts, hats, pyjamas and  even couples underwear.

Eating Octopus in South Korea

Although I am not a fan of spicy food I did try al the different dishes and drinks offered in South Korea. The food of a country is a major part of the culture and I enjoyed learning everything I can about the country I live in.

I try and stay away from “western” restaurants when abroad and love trying out all the local hot spots.  At my first local Korean bar with some o my co-workers they brought big tea pots filled with rice beer for the table. I am not a big beer drinker but the rice beer had a more pleasing taste that ordinary beer so I had a couple of cups full.

They kept on serving food as long as we kept ordering beer to drink. I don’t know if one of the Korean teachers asked for specific dishes or if it was a set menu but they kept on bringing different dishes and the last dish was a huge live octopus.

I thought they might be asking if we want them to cook this specific octopus and didnt understand why they would bring it to our table on a tray. The waiter held onto the live octopus and then commenced to cut it up with scissors on front of us.

I could not believe my eyes and actually shrieked a bit as this was quite gruesome. The tentacles were cut into bite size pieces and kept moving and sucking after it had been cut off. We had to take the tentacle pieces, careful not to let it suck onto your finger and then chew really fast after putting it in your mouth. I was so scared that it would suck onto my tongue or onto my throat as I swallowed that I chewed them to mush before swallowing.  It was very chewy andnot very tasty. But eating live octopus is something I just had to experience.

What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?

Culture shock in South Korea

I have lived in a couple of different countries teaching English and one of the strangest places was South Korea. I moved to South Korea from Vietnam just before new years to teach at a winter camp for 1 month during January ’08. Not only was it a big culture shock it was also a huge adjustment to move from the tropical weather of Ho Chi Minh to Jeonju in the south of South Korea.

It snowed for my first 3 days a shock to the system coming from hot and humid Vietnam but the whole place looked picture beautiful covered in white. I sat in my new dorm room watching the snow fall and the mountains in the distance, wondering if I had made a mistake coming here.

The school where I was working was not in town, it was a couple of miles outside of Jeonju. A quiet little place with not much going on. I stayed on school property and got 3 meals per day in the school canteen. Most Korean food is spicy and hot and that is something I really can not stomach. They love this very spicy cabbage that’s been fermented in chillies, named kim chi. Unfortunately they loved to mix this in with the fish or chicken and even with the rice sometimes. So some evenings I would only be able to have rice or veggies, so I was quite hungry by the end of the month.

There was a local bus I took in and out of town a couple of times although it was not very pleasant waiting out in the cold snow for the bus. This was mainly due to me not having the correct winter wear for these snowy conditions.

The first time I went into town to look for a coffee shop to sit and read in I got a rude introduction into the Korean culture. The coffee shops refused to seat me because I was alone as if that is a crime. I finally found a small weird coffee shop that would seat me and that became my usual hiding place on weekends or evenings out. On snowy wet days I would head into town and sit in this sweet little coffee shop reading on their comfy couches. Whenever I ordered a hot chocolate or coffee I got a plate full of different cakes for free and once even got an ice-cream, in the midel of winter!!