Do I Know It’s Christmas?

Holidays are coming, holidays are coming, and yet I have not seen the iconic Coke ad that is the signal to all and sundry that the Christmas season has well and truly begun. I’m beginning to wonder if I know it’s Christmas at all!

It makes me feel truly odd that it’s already the 8th of December and I’ve only heard a few Christmas songs and seen a few paltry decorations in the more Western chain stores, that is to say  Starbucks and any retailer looking to cash in on the Christmas buzz.

However, that said, Korea doesn’t have much of a “Christmas buzz” for they don’t have the Catholic or Christian roots so strongly evidenced back home. Christmas here is view as one of two things: a holiday for Westerners and the minority of Christians and Catholics, thoroughly part of some culture other than that of the natives; or something cutesy for couples to indulge in. Either way there’s not a whole lot of traction for the Christmas industry’s wheels to gain.

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No Rubbing Eyes: The Story of Laser Eye Surgery in Korea

Recently, two of my close friends faced their fears and stared down the barrel of the laser gun, both literally and figuratively, in order to improve their eyesight. Needless to say I was eager to accompany them to the clinic to see what all the fuss is about, and to help them home after surgery of course.

So what is laser eye surgery like in Korea?

Their clinic definitely did not look like this…

Firstly, I must tell you that Jamie and Lindsay did part with that little bit extra cash for a pretty fancy clinic in one of the more affluent areas of town, so you can expect top notch treatment to be mentioned.

Now back to the matter at hand, the clinic. Located on the 14th floor of a rather swanky skyscraper, the clinic set the tone from the very moment we stepped off the elevator. As we walked through the sliding glass doors, we were greeted by a whole host of beautiful receptionists all of whom had decent English. Looking around in awe I wondered if we had happened upon a spa rather than the ophthalmologist’s, everywhere I looked were leather couches and iMacs for those waiting to be seen. Also there were so many smaller private waiting rooms, full of wonders yet to be discovered.

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The Things We Miss

Leaving home can be a daunting prospect, especially when your final destination is almost as far away as you can get without being on the way back home again. There are hundreds of things you think to pack and bring, and things you know you’re gonna miss but can’t pack. But there are also things from home, the ephemera and trivial, that you miss just as much as they are as much “home” as the people.

The first, and probably most startlingly obvious, cause for homesickness is: the language. I cannot possibly explain quite what it is I miss here, perhaps just the familiarity of hearing a curious meld of Irish and English almost any time anyone opens their mouth. I even miss throwing in the cúpla focail (few words) This coming from me, who wouldn’t be classed as a Gaelgóir by any stretch of the imagination. Yet somehow, I do miss everything about hearing it and seeing road signs written in Irish and English.

This brings me to the next item on the ‘Things I Miss’ list: being able to read effortlessly. I have my kindle and some books for leisure reading, but when it comes to getting somewhere following signs, or figuring out what’s on sale in the supermarkets, I am prone to spending more than five minutes trying to decipher- first the 1+1 sign and then matching it to the intended product. Usually only to find that I do not in fact need two kilo bags of dried sardines. After all the stress of the shopping experience it’s time for a coffee in the nearest coffee shop.

10/10 would slurp

What a convenient segue! For the next thing I miss is chilling out in a café with some friends and about 7 cups of tea. They do have tea here, it’s not like I’ve moved to the moon, but it’s just not the same as a cuppa in my favorite coffee shop while discussing what happened last week at the silent disco in the Roisín Dubh.

Finally, the largest of the small things I miss is wandering around Galway city with no fixed plan or idea. Stopping in my favorite shops to chat to the cashiers while buying yet another Lego Minifigure (of which I have altogether too many already!), followed by lunch in one of my usual haunts. Who’d have expected to miss goujons and chips quite so much?

However, I know that these things only hold their magic so long as I am away, and the minute I leave Korea and return home, this imaginary Ireland I’ve created will be gone. Fractured into pieces and spread out over many days, punctuated by working a job I don’t like that pays just a little too little to fund the lifestyle I write about. In the end, I content myself with these thoughts and the ‘Expat-in-Korea’ life, following my boss’s mantra “Everyday enjoy your life!!”

Seoul Day 1: Stress and the City

It may have taken me just over four months, but I’ve finally done it, I have visited Seoul for longer than the minimum amount of time required to get from one airport to the other. I’m going to file this success away with other small triumphs, like never having worn odd socks while living here (that however is another story). Visiting Seoul has been one of those things that just kept getting put on the back-burner, sometimes it was too expensive, other times it was just inconvenient, but this time I was hell-bent on getting there and so J had no choice but to accompany or be left behind like a Busan bumpkin.

Busan to Seoul bus tickets

Thanks to my co-workers getting bus tickets to Seoul was less of a hassle

It was thus that we rose bright and early on Saturday morning and leapt onto the bus bound for the capital of the Neon Republic. I may have been ever so slightly naive about just how long 4 and a half hours on a bus could be and so I did burn off most of my excitement in the first two hours and ended up mired in enthusiastic, yet sleepy limbo for the remainder of the journey. Luckily for me though, the rest stop about an hour before our destination put the spring back in my step and I was once again ready for our trip to the big smoke.

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Working for the Weekend

As a teacher working Monday to Friday, I am now one of the masses who works only to fund my exploits at the weekend, which seems to come around so rapidly but I still cannot believe Friday is here again already because this week has flown by. Most of all because I had to get to the hospital yesterday afternoon because Stephen Spielberg wanted to make a move about my guts, which had me dreading Thursday. However, all was well and I made it through. The resulting movie was a bit shitty though, I slept the whole way through!

But now back to the matter at hand: the weekend.
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Four Months in Photos

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To this I arrived those 4 months ago…well after some redecorating

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I got to know my ‘hood

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At first I wasn’t sure if this was a first aid tent or a restaurant… It’s both.

The Diamond Bridge shines so bright Rihanna would be proud

The Diamond Bridge shines so bright Rihanna would be proud

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Costco Korea: Wholesale Sure, Wholesome? Maybe Not…

I often think of myself as a culturally-enlightened being, wise to the ways of the world, never baffled by other cultures or what I find there, and then I will experience something that plants me firmly back to Earth with a large thump. Making me realize just how sheltered a life I have lead in Ireland.

Luckily for me, however, I am now in Korea and broadening my previously narrow horizon to encompass all the world’s nuances, one experience at a time!

What was today’s lesson?

Well folks, today, thanks to a great friend (with a membership card), I finally got to experience the Mecca of all expats:

 

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I Hear They Like A Man Who Eats Out!

As I sat here wolfing into a streaky bacon sandwich after my short, I mean super intense, workout at the gym, I began to think about what I was going to have for dinner.

Naturally, this thought put me in mind of my faithful readers who, undoubtedly, would love to hear what’s usually on the menu in Korea!

Well ladies and gents, look no further because I can tell you, having now had a full three months experience in the country.

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“Aww isn’t he precious!! I bet he tastes delicious!”

First off, we have to decide what we’re in the mood for because Korean restaurants come in a variety of cooking styles and dishes available. Before any of you get clever, dog is not often on the menu and the popularity of this delicacy is in major decline. However, once I find a place that serves it I’ll report back.

There I go again, putting my readers before my morals. Who am I kidding I’m running low on both of those.


So, our first option is: Traditional Korean
Traditional Korean restaurants are wonderful, often requiring diners to sit on the floor at low tables. This seems mind-boggling to us Western folk as we are used to seating our delicate posteriors on cushioned thrones designed to make us feel sophisticated while shoveling whatever was put in front of us down our gullets.

So once you’ve settled carefully on the floor, and found the least uncomfortable way to stash your knees while sitting cross-legged without upsetting the entire table, it’s time to order.

Now, on my first weekend in Korea my boss took me to such a restaurant with her family and asked “Emmet, what would you like as your main meal?” “Oh. God. Do I make up something and pretend I know even one smidgen of Korean cuisine?” I thought desperately. Luckily for me, Jina elaborated “Rice or noodles? Which do you prefer?” Thank God I didn’t begin to ramble or ask for something Japanese.
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I’m Too Sexy For My Hair

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Nothing says sexy like dead eyes and crazy curls

So here’s a picture of me yesterday evening, trying to wile away the spare hours in the afternoon. Notice the ridiculous mop of curls adorning my face and head.

I will admit I was incredibly nervous going to get my hair cut over here, as sometimes the language barrier is larger than one would expect in a country where kids spend 5+ hours a day learning English. In fact, just this morning I had trouble ordering a coffee because I don’t have any Korean yet. This a problem we face as waygooks who haven’t taken the time to learn the language of our host country, however, and I’ve got to admit that fact.

But the curls were a serious problem and HAD to go. Perhaps most of all because many classes told me I had “the ugly hair” this week. This was a major step down from two weeks previous when I was “Emmet-perm-teacher”, a less offensive title methinks.

Therefore, this morning I took it upon myself to visit a hair salon (barbers over here are dying out and those that are still there are on life support). Luckily for me, I saw a post on Facebook about an English-speaking salon near my house and decided to give it a look.

After a quick shower and breakfast, I ran out the door to find Hwamiju International Hair which, it turned out, was only 3 minutes walk from my front door.

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Scene Unseen: The “Cannot Be ‘Unseen'” Korea

You know what my life was lacking here in the big city? Open space. I mean, it’s very nice here in Busan, and in my Dong (neighborhood, although that’s some pretty stellar foreshadowing), although there are many parks and some open space, it’s no Ireland, where one is never further than 10Km from the nearest farm.

In order to combat this longing for the countryside, I signed up for the Korean Bus Tour Adventures trip to Samcheok.

Samcheok is about 5 hours bus journey through much of Korea’s arable land as well some pretty lofty, yet completely forested mountains, which is unsurprising given that the World Bank quotes a massive 64.08% of Korea is forested!

Why go 5 hours away to see green land if you are driving through fields and forests the whole way there anyway? Well… Samcheok is very well know for its sculptures as well as it’s parks. As I’m sure you can see below.

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All credit goes to Matthew for this picture. Really captured the spirit of the art!

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