Monday, May 31, 2010

The 'Dick' Soap

Ok, I have been holding off for far too long. This is one of those things that has been bothering me somewhat almost from day 1. It's something that I saw, felt akward about, but kind of ignored. But it has been happening more and more and more. And now I've had enough.

We've gone on before about the weird etiquettes, and funny bathrooms with musical bells and holes in the floors as toilets, and used loo paper being put in a bucket rather than being flushed. They are all really different to the way we do things and they each have their reasoning. I am about to add another oddity to the 'things that make you feel weird but make a whole bunch of sense but I'd rather do without it anyway' list.

I have appropriately named it 'Dick Soap'. I have heard of soap on a rope. Which makes sense. It's a piece of soap that has a length of rope running through it, and you can hang if from your shower, and it won't slip out of your hands, forcing you to do the whole, awkward bend over in the shower thing. Yes, I know, that only applies in prison, but you still feel weird bending over in your shower, admit it!

So to get to my point. Dick Soap is something very similar in concept but ohhh sooo different in execution. It is a piece of soap, usually quite round and quite oblong fastened to a metal bar which is fastened to the bathroom wall. The idea is quite clever, in that the soap automatically dries after being used because it is 'hanging' in mid air. Also it never sits in a dirty, mucky pool of water, so you will never again be forced to use a squishy, mushy piece of soap. Very clever.

The only problem is the way in which you have to use it. Look at the picture and take a guess at how one gets a good lathering of soap in ones hand...
A person wrists only have so much rotational movement to them so you could try turn your wrist left and right and left and right a few dozen times, or you could, yes, slide your hand up and down the wet, slippery soap a few times and be good to go. The only problem is the whole sliding up and down bit. It really is a little weird. And if you don't believe me, come here and try it for yourself. Then we'll speak again.

It still leaves me to wonder, why not simply fit liquid soap dispensers...?

Post by Oliver

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rub a dub dub....

Normally talking about bathrooms is not the most pleasant of discussions but it can make for a laugh. Interestingly, it can also show you a whole bunch about a different culture as well.

When we were in Seoul we managed to get rooms at a pension (motel) for a decent price. We got a room for myself and Oli and one for Chrissie and Rob. The rooms were pretty much identical. We both had massive televisions, a small table, a double bed, a hairdryer, an air conditioner, a water machine, and a bathroom.

Our bathrooms, however, did have one unique difference. Mine and Oliver's bath was small, really small, but it was big enough for me to bath with my legs just a little above the taps. Chrissie and Rob's bath on the other hand was more like a basin in the floor. Chrissie thought the best way to demonstrate the size of the bath would be to give us a demonstration.

Oliver could not refuse the opportunity to test it for himself...

Rub a dub dub.......

Oh and our soap totally smelt like Sugus...Mmmmm (soap I might consider eating after saying a swear word or two)

While on the topic of bathrooms I thought I would discuss a few more of Korea's bathroom quirks.

I don't have the strongest bladder around so I tend to utilize public bathrooms quite regularly. However, I always feel a little apprehensive when I need to use a public loo. There are several reasons for this.
  1. You never know if you are going to get a western style loo or a squat loo (a whole in the floor).
  2. You never know if there will be toilet paper.
  3. They don't seem to flush their loo paper here. So often you come across bathrooms with dustbins full of used toilet paper.
But it's not all doom and gloom, something which is quite cool about their bathrooms is that some female toilets come kitted with etiquette bells. These are bells which play music or the sound of water so that the other bathroom users don't have to hear you pee. Phew, one less thing to worry about!
So there is a glimpse of the toilet culture in Korea! And if ever you find yourself in Korea needing desperately to use the loo don't forget these words, 'Hwa-jang-shil' because as apprehensive as you may be about using the loo, when you need to go you need to go!

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Trip To The Market

This Saturday was part of the first weekend on which we didn't have anything big planned. No trips to big cities, no excursions to temples (although we did do that on Friday). Basically we didn't leave our beautiful town, Wonju, to go anywhere else.

With our Korean slowly getting better, and our confidence growing by the day (one needs some confidence to interact with the locals), we decided to brave the downtown market. It's about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, so we headed out on the overcast Saturday morning (about 10 ish). We also figured with our initial budget running a bit low, and both of us only being paid on the 10th of next month, a little bit of saving is in order, and what better way to do that than cooking at home rather than eating out the whole time.

Walking into the market can be a little daunting, but once you're in it and have made your first purchase, things only get easier. There are several hundred metres worth of market 'streets' to navigate, and they range from the covered areas that sell mostly baked and made goods (prepared foods, such as Kimchi and dried fish), and fresh fish and seafood. There are a few open air streets, where one would find the farm goods (fruit and veg), and there are a few more covered streets that sell all sorts of random goods, ranging from slip slops to blankets to caps to keys to crockery...literally all sorts!

There are also hundres of types of ready to eat hand foods to buy and snack bars or pseudo restaurants to sit down at for a quick bite. It is a brilliant experience!

Most of the buying is done with our (very) basic Korean, and then just guessing, gesticulating, and hoping that what you're expecting to get is what you are going to get.

We left the market with most of the things we were after, plus (as it happens when shopping) a few more randoms.

All in all a proper experience that we hope to repeat in the near future!

Two views of the covered areas of the market.
A few varieties of Kimchi and some dry shrimp.

Claudia buying some cabbage and spring onions.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Bang Life

Bang Bang Bang....says so much about Korean culture. Bang in korean means 'room' and there is a 'room' for pretty much anything. On our weekend to Seoul we had our first Noraebang experience.

Most people, whether they will admit it or not, have a burning desire to sing. However, karaoke bars filled with smoke and strangers can be understandably daunting. So a Noreabang is the answer, in fact, it is revolutionary. It is a small room just big enough for you and your friends to rock out until your throats are so sore you have to retire.

What's more, it is cheap, accessible, and sells alcohol (so if you still have some reservations when entering the small room, a beer or two should be able to help). The room is kitted out with a mirror ball, a large screen TV, and a selection of songs ranging from Nirvana to Metallica and finally to good old Celine.

Apparently they come a lot more lavish than the one we were in... I look forward to my future Noreabang experiences.

There were four of us rocking out in the Noreabang in Seoul. Check out our rock faces below:

Me, Rock on!

Rob, screaming....which is totally his style!heehe

Chrissie, by far the best singer of us all. She could keep the tune which is more than I can say for the rest of us!

Oliver, the diva! I didn't expect him to take to Noreabang in the way he did!He was really feeling the vibe!
Just to give you an idea of how awesome it was and how bad we were...look at my mini clips! Be sure to watch the last one (Oliver thought the paparazzi were after him).

The only other type of bang we have had the pleasure of experiencing so far is a PC bang, a room filled with unbelievably comfy chairs, massive PC screens and games that will keep you entertained for, well, for ever I guess!
There are many other types of bangs, including: DVD Bangs, Jjimjilbangs, Bideobangs, and Board Game Bangs. When we experience these, we will be sure to let you know how it goes!!!!!
Post by: Claudia

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Real men!

We got phones! How exciting! A blue one and a pink one! And yes, the pink one is Oliver's. As you all know I can't handle pink, but Oliver thought that if he is to be recognised as a half decent man in Korea, he should get a pink phone. Let me explain his logic.

Well, you see, in Korea real men like pink. They wear it and they accessorize it. Many of Oliver's male students (who are between the ages of 6 and 13) have pink phones, so he thought he would join the crowd with a baby pink phone. We are still waiting to see if he will be laughed at or marvelled at.

On the topic of real men. Masculinity in South Korea is very different to masculinity in South Africa. Men here look more feminine and stylish, they are the epitome of meterosexual. Let's go through some of the do's and don'ts of men.

  • Do feel free to carry your girlfriend's handbag (or your own) even sling it over your shoulder if that feels comfortable.
  • Do stop, stare and preen yourself in anything reflective. This includes mirrors, shop windows, your phone or a telephone booth.
  • Do wear couple outfits or shoes. That is shoes, T-shirts, or everything from head-to-toe so that you match your girlfriend.
  • Do sing. A real man can sing in Korea.

  • Do not drink flavoured Soju, that is reserved strictly for women.

This understanding of masculinity is different to what we are used to back home. But don't be fooled, most men in Korea are trained in a martial arts of sorts...if you mock their bag, or couple outfit it may be you who leaves the room with your tail between the legs.

Hope this provides a glimpse of a cultural trait which is so different to the western ideas of masculnity....

As we learn more about Korean people and their cultural practices (both modern and traditional) we will keep you in the loop

Post by Claudia

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Our Seoul experience!

As I mentioned in my previous entry, our weeks have become pretty standardised but as for our weekends ... who knows!!!

Well this past weekend we headed off to Seoul for the Lotus Lantern Light Festival which is held every year a week before Buddha's birthday. What an experience!

Seoul is massive, but I mean MASSIVE. There are high rise buildings everywhere and it has a vibrancy about it that I expect you would find in any big city.

We decided to use the subway to get to where we were going. Looking like real tourists I had my Lonely Planet Book at hand and we were trying to figure out how the subway system worked. After a while of looking a little confused a man approached us and offered to help. What a nice guy. But then he whipped out a book about how to be saved or something .... we soon realised that every foreigner was being targeted. Heehe!

Eventually we figured out where we where heading. Once there we realised just how big this festival really was. People were everywhere. We walked around for the next hour or so trying to find accommodation. After being turned away a couple of times we landed with our bread in the butter. We got a clean room with a double bed and bathroom for close to nothing!!! whooop whooop.

After such an eventful morning we were hungry ... super hungry. After Chrissie and Rob joined us we went for some grub! YUM! The pic below is what was left once we were done. You have to love all the side dishes

We then headed off to Changdeokgung Palace which was amazing!

I set up my gorilla pod in an attempt to get a photo of all of us jumping in front of the palace but it went off too soon and instead we all just ended up looking constipated.

While walking we stumbled across this!!! Hell yeah!!! This kind of stuff really makes me miss home! Bring on the world cup! Whoop whoop!

We tried our hand at some arts and crafts. These flowers are Lotus flowers, hence, the Lotus Lantern Festival.

Oliver has all the amazing pics of the event!!! I just have the cute pics of us ... so here are some of them!

Oli has like a gazillion phots to work through ... once he is done I am sure he will post photos which will blow your mind.
I tried my hand at filming .. heehe. I used my little camera to film so that I could give you just a small taste of what the atmosphere was like when the main lantern parade started. It was really festive. Enjoy!

Post by Claudia

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our daily happenings!

It seems like a long time ago when we were jet setting across the world. I can't believe that we have only been in South Korea for three weeks. It feels like much longer. Anyhow, we have started to develop a routine and it is panning out quite well.

This is what our Mondays to Fridays look like:

Wake up between 7-8 am. After having breakfast and doing the usual amount of faffing we head down to the open sports centre and play some basketball (I am super stiff everywhere from playing yesterday). We want to start badminton as well so that we can get some variety. I guess this is why it is called Healthy Wonju.

We get back to the apartment at about 10:30 looking sweaty and red in the face...and dare I say desperately in need of a shower! We both then do some class prep and surf the internet (it's so fast here...what a pleasure!).

Most days of the week I tend to fade at about I grab a quick nap (what a loser!!!). Once awake Oli and I share some lunch before we head off to school at 13:45.

Then the madness and craziness. Loads of fun and sore feet!!!

We get home just after 20:00.....phew....and then head out for some local cuisine!!!

It is soooo nice to be able to walk around at night and not be afraid. We have taken to doing evening strolls and generally only get back home after 23:00.

We then catch some telly..and then off to bed we go!!!

So we manage to do a lot on any given day!!!! High Five!!!

As for the weekends....who knows where we will be!!!

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Take Away, Korean Style!

Ok, this didn't happen tonight, it happened a couple of nights ago, but hey who cares, right?

Let's just say, we got these last night (we did get some for lunch today).

So you're sitting in your apartment, you don't want to cook, your girlfriend doesn't want to cook and there is quite literally no way in hell you can order food over the phone for delivery because 1-you cannot speak Korean, 2-the guy on the other end cannot speak English, 3- you cannot read Korean, so you can't order off the menu that was stuck to your door, and 4- even if you could order you cannot say or pronounce your own address (even though it's written down on a piece of paper in front of you, Hangul).

So, what do you do?

You step out of your front door, walk for about 4 minutes to a place on your street called Kimbap Nara and ask for some Kimbap. You literally just have to say "Kimbap", and they know what you want, plus the friendly people there know us already.

6000 Won will get you 4 rolls of this heavenly goodness. 2 is plenty for one person. For those of you who don't know (I'm guessing it would be most of you), 6000 Won is equvalent to R39 at todays exchange rate (about 8 pieces of Sushi, then).

So what does this R39 for two people take away dinner look like?

Like this:

This stuff is as tasty as anything, if you like seaweed, rice and vegetables, plus it's really healthy, being made of...yes, seaweed, rice and veggies.

Trust me, next time you're keen on take aways, hit the nearest Kimbap Nara, you won't regret it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some more fun from Nami...

Nami Island is stunning. It really is absolutely beautiful. Its only downside is the huge amount of tourists that walk around (including us). I really would love to be able to go there and do some shooting at a more ideal time of day (better light, less people). Nevertheless, stunning place!

Just another shot of the trees. It's quite difficult to get any photos without people in them.

Our friends jumping for peace, or joy, or happiness, or just jumping for whatever!

The dinner we had the night after we got back from the island. Believe us when we say there is nothing like Korean food. It is mindblowingly good!
The lunch we had the next day, Dakgalbi, chicken. Wow, wow, wow. As you can see, most Korean meal times are proper feasts. What you see in this picture isn't even all the food we had!

And the last one, of us drinking with the 'locals' on Nami Island!

What an absolutely amazing trip. If anyone ever comes to Korea, trust me, visit Nami. It's incredibly beautiful and over the top kitsch, with its heart shaped flower beds and kissing areas, but man is it fun. And do it as a couple if possible.
Nami was the setting for the 'first big kiss' in a Korean soapy called Winter Sonata, so naturally it will be a little cheesy, but cheesy can also be a hell of a lot of fun!
Post By Oliver

Monday, May 10, 2010

A weekend away!

We finally plucked up enough courage to grab a bus and go away for a weekend, and man was it worth it!

We started off by going to Nami Island, so beautiful, but I forgot my camera (boo). Oliver has amazing pics though and I am sure he will put them up soon!

As for the rest of the was soooooo cool!

Below is everyone who was there. What a blast!!!

However, the boys outdid themselves on SoJu and passed out early. Myself and Chrissie took it upon ourselves to draw on their faces and take amusing pics of them!! Loads of fun.

Let's just say the next morning was not pretty but what better way to sort out a barbie than to have some amazing korean food. Mmmmmm!

We finished off a glorious weekend by going quad-biking. It was my first time....what a rush!!

Oli has super cool photos of the weekend...mine are just to wet your lips!
Post by Claudia

Friday, May 7, 2010

Food glorious food!

I have been asked endlessly about what the food is like in Korea. If I could sum it up in three words it would be SPICEY, TASTEY and GOOD!

Many of you who know me know that I can barely handle a packet of Peppadew Lays, let alone a plate of incredibly spicey food. But hey, a girl has to eat…so I have had to learn. I am proud to report that after a week and a half in Korea I am already showing a higher tolerance for hot food! Yeah Dawg!!!

We have not been able to take as many photos of food as we would have liked. Simply because we are terrified of looking like typical westerners (I know its stupid, but we have this weird paranoia).

OK, but enough with explanations. Let’s get to the food!

Oliver has bigger balls than me (duh!) because he ate silk worm larvae. I couldn’t make myself do it, and I am glad because he complained about the taste endlessly!

We went to another restaurant which had no pictures and only words. Feeling brave I pointed at a random one, indicating that that is what we will be having. We got a plate of some or other vegetable covered in hot sauce. It was delicious. But then we saw the table next to us get a plate of something that was moving, but I mean, really moving. We thought that it was a plate of worms, later we found out that it was octopus. They cut off the tentacles of an octopus while it’s alive and they vibrate on the plate for a while before the die down. That is the last time I pick a random object off of the menu. Phew!

As you would expect, there is a lot of rice! And it is the best rice ever! Gimbab (a roll of rice and fish – similar to sushi) and Bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and eggs).

In Korea you can find dried or pickled anything, octopus, squid, fish, vegetables. It’s weird and cool! We have had loads of the pickled stuff (delicious) and some dried mini fish (surprisingly Mmmmm).

Chicken in Korea is mind blowing…just thought I’d throw that out there!

With most meals you drink water, Soju (a watered down vodka), or Hof (draught beer).

Sweet stuff, there is not much in restaurants but tons in convenience stores. We bought some Dr. You the other

day. Chocolate cake that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating, supposedly!

OK, well that’s it for now!!!!

Bone meat soup!!! Yum!

Dr You: All the calories, none of the guilt

Rich Rich Chicken: sweet, crispy and unvelievable!

By: Claudia

We bought fruit!

Last night after dinner (2nd night in a row that I ate bibimbap), we went for a little stroll, and after that we visited our main man, the fruit dealer. We found out last night that his name is Mr Lee (he did give us a pretty complicated Korean name, so he said to simply call him Mr Lee).

We bought some of this weird Korean fruit that one sees everywhere. Not sure what it's called in English, but once peeled, it has a similar consistency and tastes a lot like sweet melon. Quite good.

And of course some delicious strawberries. The local strawberries are really fantastic. Plus they sell them in 'punnets' the size of shoeboxes. Brilliant.

And what would a fruit shop be without some bananas. Again, local bananas = goodness!

That's all for now. Bye

Entry by Oliver

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ok, just an update.

Well, so far things have been going quite well.

We both have our first two days of teaching behind us. My first two days were an absolute blast. The kids are really fun to work with, and most of them do cooperate quite well. Claudia's first day was quite hectic, with her being thrown somewhat in the deep end. Her second day was much better though. She did come home with a pretty big smile on her face!

Yesterday Claudia's director and his wife came to pick us up, in order for us to go to the hospital and do some tests for our medical aid and for our "Alien Cards". Alien cards....

Anyway, we got to the hospital, and had a whole bunch of tests lined up...sight tests...hearing tests...weight...height...chest x-rays...pee in a cup...blood test. It was pretty intense. And the craziest thing about it all, all of these tests took about 30 minutes to complete, for both of us. Back in South Africa this would have taken hours!
After that they took us for some nice lunch. Very cool!

And in other news, here are some completely unrelated pictures. Just some snaps to show our new home.

These flowers are all over our beautiful city, Wonju. They are what's left of the cherry blossoms that bloomed just before we got here. Pity we missed the big boom. Next year...

These signs are visible all over the city. Everywhere. These places are known as 'PC Bang' (bang rhymes with tongue). They are internet cafes where one can sit 24 hours a day just surfing or playing games. Usually Starcraft or Sudden Attack.

This is a picture I took of an ad on TV. It's really, really weird, like a lot of ads here. I wish I could find the video to show you. It really is crazy.

Post By Oliver

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A few more recent happenings...

While cleaning up our new apartment yesterday, we heard a Korean man speaking inside our apartment. Weird. Turns out it wasn't a man, it was the PA system in our kitchen. We got told something in Korean. What did the guy say? No idea.

Here are two pictures of our new bathroom, complete with blue sky effect ceiling and air freshening toilet seat, and of our new apartment's study / work area, complete with satellite TV!
If you ever go to Korea, and being 1.9m tall and western doesn't make you stand out from the crowd enough, pop over to Ghana quickly, buy yourself a very bright red, yellow and green Ghana flag t-shirt and put that on. Trust me, it gets you noticed!

By: Oliver