Thursday, October 28, 2010

Six months in

Can you believe it! It has been six months since we first arrived in Korea and were greeted by the stark realisation that we couldn't read anything, couldn't talk to anyone and couldn't find any decent sized towels to dry our cold behinds, that all seems like so long ago. OK, finding a decent sized towel is still a bit of an issue but we can read relatively well and we are starting to have really broken-awkward conversations that we can semi understand, YAY!

we can read it! Can you?

In six months we have done a substantial amount. We have gone to festivals that blow your mind with their awesomeness, like the Lotus Lantern Festival and the Andong Mask Festival, we have had a chance to be little children and run around one of the world's best amusement parks, Everland and we have stuffed our faces with delicacies that we are already sad we will have to say goodbye to.

I could list all the cool places we have been to or tell you about the amazing festivals we have attended or brag about the greatness of the food we have tasted but I simply wouldn't be able to sum up all the awesomeness. So here are some of mine and Oliver's typical photos in some of our favourite spots.

At the Lotus Lantern Festival

On Gwangalli Beach in Busan

We went out on a limb and decided to take on and experience a new culture and we have never been happier. We are experiencing life from a different point of view and I think we are both growing from the experience. No, no, I am not going to get all soppy on you and start playing drama music while I tell you our life's lessons, I just think Korea has changed us in subtle but good ways.

Living the life of an expat is interesting. We have met people from all walks of life...young, old, Irish, American, and even fellow South Africans. Many of the other expats are truly intelligent, thought provoking people that are not afraid to get hammered, be opinionated, and have a good time. It really has been fantastic to meet so many interesting people.

Brock and Lauren

Daniel and Lisi


Rob and Chrissie

The one downside is when people leave, you find yourself just getting to know someone, or already semi-attached to them and POOF their contract is up and they're leaving on a jet plane. In my opinion, this is one of the hardest things about expat life.

Another hard aspect is missing things from home. Being in Korea while our country hosted the greatest world cup in history was a difficult time for us as we had both witnessed how much blood and sweat South Africa had put into the event yet we weren't there for their shining moment. We have missed friends and families and we have realised that no matter where we are in the world we will always have this uncanny longing for Africa.

On a side note, I have also found myself missing South Africa's juicy, succulent steaks.....Mmmmmm. (Pause a moment and salivate a little bit).

Ok, it feels like I am just blabbing now but I think you get the point...we have loved being in Korea and our blog is a testament to the amazing travels and experiences we have had and continue to have.

So, what's next? Well....our main highlight in November (other than the fact that it is Oliver's birthday) is that we will be visiting the DMZ, I can't wait. Our highlight in December is that we are heading back to South Africa for 4 days to celebrate an beautiful couple's wedding....January, well in January I plan to try my hand at ice-fishing and we will be going on a temple stay! February....hmmmm, probably more fun in the snow (Oliver can't wait to get his hands on a snowboard). In March we will start getting our stuff together for our end-of-contract trip. April, Oliver's mom is coming over for a visit and we start to pack up our little abode (sniff sniff) and then on May 3rd our contract is up! doesn't seem that far away at all.

Then it's another stopover in South Africa for my big sister's wedding (This was only finalised a day ago so shhhhhh, it's our secret). Then it is back to Korea to show Oliver's dad around Korea and then...wait for it...and then we will be doing a two month backpacking trip around Asia which should be absolutely epic!

I hope you have enjoyed the stories, photographs and information that we have given you over the last six months. This blog started out as a way for friends to be kept up to date but it has turned into our baby and we hope that for the next six months of our Korean Adventure you will continue to enjoy our perspectives on life and everything else from a small peninsula in Asia.

Post by Claudia

Monday, October 25, 2010


2NE1 is pronounced 'tweny-one' as in 21, or 'to-any-one'. The meaning of the name is "21st Century New Evolution". They are a Korean pop group made up of 4 members, namely CL, Park Bom, Sandara Park (Dara) and Minzy.
In the greater scheme of things they aren't anything particularly amazing; they are one of many Korean pop groups, but I do think they've got something nifty about them. It might just be that I was at Technomart again on the weekend, and I watched one of their music videos on a big HD TV which got me infatuated, or it might be something else, I'm not sure. All I know is I think they are quite cool and felt like sharing.

One of the interesting things about 2NE1 is that they actually made their debut in what is basically a music video made for a commercial. The music video was created to promote a phone by LG Cyon, called the Lollipop phone (which students here go crazy for). After they debuted in "Lollipop", they followed up with their official debut "Fire".

I think 2NE1 is somewhat cool as they don't seem to follow the 'cutesy, nice girl' theme that is all the rage here in Korea. They have a bit more of an edge to them. That is not to say that the cutesy, nice girl theme doesn't go down well, it's just that this is...different.
This is the Lollipop commercial:

And here is the song I watched at Technomart. I must say I really like this video. Also, I think the production quality of this video is fantastic:

NE-way (see what I did there..??), that's it. I like 2NE1 and I felt like sharing some of their music, so here it is, all shared, in all it's glory, so watch it. If you can, watch 'Clap Your Hands' in its full 1080pHD splendour. It really is worth it!

Post by Oliver

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gorilla Greatness

The Gorilla Pod is one of those super cool things you never thought you would need but once you saw one in action you simply had had to have it.

Now we all know that Oliver is the photographer around here but my Gorilla Pod comes in handy from time to time. Oliver bought the Gorilla Pod for me before we headed off to Ghana (click here to see Oliver's Ghana pictures) which was a week before we came through to Korea.

The thinking behind the Gorilla Pod was that we often travel just the two of us which makes getting a photo of the two of us quite difficult. We figured with the Gorilla in hand we could picture ourselves anywhere, and true's Bob we can!

The Gorilla Pod is super versatile and can wrap around poles and bend in anyway you want it to meaning that you can often get angles that are not possible with just your hands.

I would highly recommend getting this little gadget if you are planning on travelling anywhere! There are small lightweight ones like mine and heavier ones to carry more weighty cameras.

Nooooo, I was not paid by Gorilla Pod to rave on about their gadget rather I just think it is an awesome little device that would be super useful for anyone planning to travel by themselves or with a friend.

Here are some of Korean Gorilla Pod moments so far. The camera was set up, a ten second timer was initiated and boom the photo popped out.

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I'm sure we all remember those days from high school or even middle school when we had a big test or exam coming up, and all we were told to do is study. "Mom, can I go to Rob's place?" The response: "No, you need to study!" Bummer.

Or do you remember when it was exam time, and you were doing particularly badly in a specific subject (usually mathematics) and you needed to go for extra lessons. It was such a gynourmous drag to go for that one extra hour, twice a week. Absolutely worth complaining about. Or not. Let me explain.

As you might know by now, I'm an English teacher at a Korean 학원(Hagwon), which is basically an after school academy. The biggest difference between the Hagwon and your private lessons back home, is that the kids here go to their Hagwon 5 days a week. Every week. The whole year. Believe it. Most kids don't just go to one Hagwon, they usually go to several different Hagwons. Maths, English, Science, etc. The kids here are drilled hard.

Just the other day, I was speaking to Christina, one of my middle school students, and the subject of school times came up. I asked her what time she finishes school. 5PM. Oh, so I'm figuring that this might be Korea, so the school times are shifted and they only start school at 10 or so. Nope. School starts at 8.30AM and finishes at 5PM. She is a middle school student! I asked what the school times look like for her older compadres, the high schoolers. 8.30 AM until....about (depending on the school) 6 or 7 PM. If your jaw has not yet hit the floor, be so kind and let me go on a little. After this 'finishing' time, the students are required to do about 2 hours of extra mural classes (not sports, classes). If my after school math tutor was any good, this puts us at 9PM.

After these 2 hours, another 2 hours are added, for compulsory studying time. This is literally time during which the students sit in their classrooms studying. 9+2=11. Yes? Yes. 11PM. These kids spend almost their entire waking day at school. Depending on the school, the students finish their day at 10 or 11 at night. This is before homework is done, or before they are even home, for that matter.
To someone like me, who, during his final year at high school started school at 8.30 AM and finished at 2PM, this is beyond comprehension.

Now, I can finally get to the heading of my story. 사당오락 is read as Sa-Dang-Oh-Rak. It means 4-pass-5-fail, and it's a saying they have in Korea. The saying is used with regard to Korea's best university, Seoul University. The idea behind the saying is that if you only sleep 4 hours a night (because you study so much), you will pass the entrance exam for the university, if however you sleep 5 hours a night, you are not studying enough and you will fail.

It seems pretty brutal to a non Korean to see how hardcore studying and learning is here, but it is a great representation of the national mindset. Hard work pays off. If you consider the circumstances from which Korea has pulled itself up, you cannot do much else but take your hat off and bow down in respect.

Korea is a country of fighters. Koreans don't give up easily. I am not saying this for the individual, but rather am talking of the national character. Koreas spirit is one that is worth admiring, and I believe that there are several countries that could benefit from taking a leaf out of Koreas book, even if it is just an after school study book.

Post by Oliver

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jazz, wine and relaxation

After weeks of mad travelling, early mornings and fantastic sight seeing we realised that we were exhausted. Going away every weekend to see all of Korea's wonders can really take it out of you! And I think it for this reason that this last weekend was a good dose of exactly what we both needed.

We went to a Jarasum International Jazz Festival not too far from us in a place called Gapyeong. It is a huge festival and is annually visited by over 100,000 people. Like all Korean festivals there was a lot to do but that is not why went there. Nope, we got off the bus, walked past all the awesome shops selling and showcasing awesome things and we found a wonderful piece of grass looking onto one of the stages, we planted our arses firmly on the ground and that is where we stayed until it was home time. It was glorious!

It was a beautiful Autumn day and the place was full!

We had a picnic that kept us munching for the full eight hours we were there. We had everything from croissants, to chips, to camembert, to chicken, to kimbap. Let's not forget the other ingredient that made the day a great!!! Hmmmmm, good old red wine! We had five bottles and it was a spread from South African Cab Sav to Australian Shiraz. Bliss....

Just a fraction of the stuff we had!

The day progressed just as a good picnic in the park should with good conversation. Oliver was even relaxed enough to have a nap! With the wonderful sounds of incredible jazz in the back ground it really was the perfect setting to just let loose and relax.

Just before nap time!

Turns out Lauren and I did a little too much relaxing because by the time we were ready to leave Lauren and I were so engrossed in the atmosphere that when we saw a set of musical instruments on display for people to touch and play with, we couldn't resist. In fact, we did more than just play with the instruments, yip, we took it to the next level. Clearing our throats Lauren and I started singing our hearts out. Before we knew it a little crowd had formed and pictures were being taken of us from all sides. After finishing the song and feeling quite pleased with ourselves we were amazed that we received an encore, and to everyone's delight (except for Oliver's) we sang "lean on me" over again!!!! What fun! Oliver was mortified and disappeared as soon as we started singing so unfortunatly we have no photos of our moment of fame, booooo.

The stage!

After relaxing a lot, clearing our vocals, and having a quick squizz at some of the stalls and magic shows we decided it was time to head to Chuncheon to find some accomodation. After off loading our bags at a super cheap motel, we made our way to Dakgalbi Street. No visit to Chuncheon is complete without visiting Dakgalbi Street, so that is exactly why we had a late night dinner there, followed by a brunch there on Sunday!!! Hmmmmmm, nothing like mouth-watering Dakgalbi to finish off a perfect day/weekend!

Famous Dakglabi Street 

Although we don't know much about jazz musicians, we do know we love jazz music and the atmosphere it provides! I would highly recommend this festival to anyone looking for an awesome, relaxed day!

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Korea On Wheels

Korea is a place where a lot of walking takes place, at least for me. Some people from Europe or other parts of the world might see this as a normal thing, to walk on a daily basis, but for me it's different. The thing is, in South Africa, the public transportation system is absolutely laughable. It's pathetic. The so called 'taxis' are so far below what any sane country would consider roadworthy, that it is quite literally a gamble on whether or not you will arrive at your location.

Many times our South African taxis will have holes in the floor, so you can watch the road rush past underneath you, many times they don't have windows (only plastic bags in their place) and on occasion they don't have steering wheels. This has become somewhat of a joke in South Africa, that a taxi is driven without a steering wheel, but there are recorded instances when the steering wheel is nowhere to be found, only a monkey wrench in its place. It sounds incredibly far fetched, but sadly it is true.

The saddest thing about these taxis is that the only people to use them are the people that have no other means of getting about. People don't (for the most part) freely choose to use these taxis, especially if other means are available. The thing is that in South Africa, everything is so spread out, that walking is basically not an option. Imagine a 15 or 20 km walk to work in the morning....not gonna happen.

So on that depressing note; it gladdens me to sway back to thge topic at hand...getting about in Korea.

We do a lot of walking in Korea...already mentioned that, didn't I. Yeah. So, the reason we do so much walking is that in Korea everything is really, really on top of itself (figuratively, of course). Things are so close that walking is almost always a viable alternative to public transport. From our apartment, we can walk to the local cinema, to the bus terminal, to 2 or 3 different 'entertainment districts', where all the shops and restaurants are located, to the gym, to several supermarkets and many other places. And not one of the abovementioned destinations is more than about 20 minutes by foot. It's fantastic.

An old-school set of Chevrolegs

Doing all of this walking gives you (me at least) a sense of freedom that I never had in South Africa. South Africans, whether they like to admit it or not, have an underlying fear and paranoia that is always there. Walking through the streets can be a properly nerve-wracking experience in sunny SA. Either way, the walking here is beautiful and it feels fantastic doing it.

The other alternative

The greatest part about walking around Korea is that when you do get fed up with all the walking, it's very easy to simply wave your hand at the next available taxi (and there are many), climb in, tell him your destination, and be wafted away without having to fear for the floor to give way. Bliss.

Post by Oliver

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gimje Horizon Festival

This past weekend, we headed to the south of the country to enjoy the Gimje Horizon Festival. We thought that this festival was all about rice but it turned out to be an agricultural festival. We had to travel for four hours to get there, which was exhausting but as always we had a spectacular time.

One of the most awesome things about Gimje was its flatness. This might sound like a strange thing to rave on about, but it really does strike you as amazing when you see it. Let me explain...In South Africa we often see vast plains of just flat land but in South Korea there are always several mountains in sight. Korean mountains are incredibly beautiful but they are everywhere so we were surprised to find a small part of the country this flat. It's no wonder Gimje is big on its farming.

Flat Gimje

Anyway, back to the festival. It was good old fashion innocent fun! We got a chance to catch locusts in a rice field; we also watched a kite flying exhibition, which was great! Unfortunately we missed the making of the longest rice cake (Tteok) in the world but we did get to see the table it was made on....and man-oh-man was it looooooooooong (Over 200m)! We also fed some milk cows (which were super cute), we ate the freshest apples ever, we got to see a whole bunch of the harvesting equipment and we also got to go to an observatory were we had an incredible view!

Catching locusts

Flying kites

A looooong string of kites! Too cool!

We also had a celebrity moment where we were spotted by KBS (a television network in South Korea) and interviewed about the festival. It was all quite funny and super awkward! They positioned us so that the sun was directly in our eyes, and then told us to take off our caps and sunglasses so that we were squinting into the sun. We then did a small we love Korea and the festival is great before the film crew asked us to rattle off (in Korean) that we love the festival. I couldn't get the Korean down, I think it was because I simply couldn't concentrate due to the absurdity of being interviewed! So Oliver went solo in the Korean outro and I joined in with a quick FIGHTING (A Korean phrase which is like saying let's go or Viva).

KBS Crew

Later on we were spotted by another film crew and fed barley Soju for the cameras....they really seemed to want to get a whole bunch down me but after three shots I really had to say thank you and do a semi run-jog type thing away from the Soju stand.

Other than that it was a relaxed very, family orientated festival! We had a fantastic time, we are just sad that the journey to Gimje and back was soooo long because we would have liked to have explored the town a little more!

Maybe next time....

Post by Claudia

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Soju...the thing hangovers are made of

The Russians have Vodka, the Japanese have Saki, the Mexicans have Tequila and Koreans, well, Koreans have Soju! And let me tell you it is the thing hangovers are made of!

When we first arrived in Korea I was stunned by how small the selection of alcohol was. In South Africa I could drink anything from great wine, to alcopops to a variety of hard liquors. However, in Korea, there is a wine type liqueur thing but it is super sweet, relatively expensive and not found everywhere. So often I found myself being given the choice between beer, Soju or nothing. And like a true trooper (after years of refusing to drink it in South Africa) I chose beer. Apparently beer in South Korea is relatively mild (like a Miller if you will) so after a couple of weeks I started looking forward to a beer. Soju on the other hand, Soju took some getting used to. Only recently have I learnt to take it with a straight face!

Soju is often drunk neat as a shot but your more seasoned drinkers will sip on it. You never pour your own shot of Soju, someone else must pour it for you and in turn you pour it for them. You should also hold the tot glass with two hands while they are pouring for you. Only girls, and men that are not afraid to loose face, are allowed to mix it with Coke or juice. However, one manly way to drink it is mixing a shot of Soju with your beer (somek) which is very popular!

Soju is made from rice, is clear in colour and sells for between 1000-2000Won (1-2 USD) depending on where you buy it. You get between six to seven shots out of a bottle depending on how generous your shot glass is and after about three shots I am already buzzing...

After a good couple of shots and some beer you are bound to wake up with a headache. Soju is not drunk to get drunk in Korea, rather it is a way of life and has a whole culture attached to it. Rarely will you see a group of men eating out without a couple of empty bottles of Soju sprawled across the table.

So when you come to Korea, be sure to have a taste of this local drink because it really is a big part of the Korean people's lives and eating culture.

Post by Claudia

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

KCSC Warning

I was about to write an awesome story about Soju when all of a sudden I realised that there is this big blue KCSC WARNING all over our blog. What the hell???!!!!

We still have no idea what is going on or why our blog has been labelled with thie obscene warning! From what we have gathered so far the Korean Government is allowed to restrict information and for some reason our blog deserved a warning! I don't get it, we have only ever had good things to say about Korea.

If anyone reading this has a blinking clue what is going on please let us know....

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ke Ri Se Pi Ke Ri Me...

...also known as Kripsy Kreme doughnuts to someone who can't speak Korean. The heading is written the way it is, to give people reading this some sort of idea of what 'Romanised' Korean sounds (or reads) like. I'm not sure how recent this phenomenon is, but once one learns to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet), one starts to see how many things are actually written in English, in Korean. Another great example of this is 'Starbucks' coffee, which when written in Korean reads as follows: Se Tar Buck Se. What does the reading of Korean have to do with Krispy Kreme and Starbucks? Well, as of recently it has a lot to do with it.

Claudia and myself have found ourselves lucky enough to have a genuine Korean (not one of the fake kind) teach us the Korean language. One of my co-teachers (Sunny) has been gracious enough to offer us her services as a Korean to teach us. In return, we teach her, or rather help her improve her English. Any closer to why I started out with Krispy Kreme? No? Well here goes.

We meet Sunny twice a week, once to teach her English, and once for her to teach us Korean. And guess where we meet? Yup, Krispy Kreme it is! Now I don't want to bore you with pictures of our textbooks, so I will instead irrigate the inside of your mouth with images of some of the products they have on offer at KK!

Krispy Kreme claims on their website that they indulge all 5 senses. I can tell you one thing. They most definitely stimulate the nasal passages. You will struggle to walk into too many restaurants with a greater smell the Krispy Kreme. It truly does smell amazing.

Thus far, Claudia and myself have been strong enough to restrain ourselves from eating these amazing looking creations, but we are not sure how much longer we can hold back. As the months go on, and we find ourselves getting better at speaking Korean, we might trot on over to the counter and order ourselves half a dozen of Krispy Kreme's finest Dou Nut Se. Who knows!

We're moving ahead full steam with our Korean lessons, and are starting to show some very definite improvements, slowly starting to make out things that people are saying to us, and actually being able to build some of our own, very basic, sentences! Another friend of our, Rob, is pretty much fluent in Korean, and he is now also giving us Korean lessons. With this two sided bombardment were bound to make some headway, or so we hope!

Hopefully in a couple of months time, we'll be able to do a full post in Korean. As for now, we will keep on meeting up at the heavenly smelling Krispy Kreme doughnut store for a good dose of Korean, and an even greater dose of nasal stimulation!

Post by Oliver

Friday, October 1, 2010

Funny Korean Commercials

aJust for a spot of fun I thought I would show you some funny Korean commercials!!! They are often random, cute or just plain odd!!!

This one made me laugh out loud!!

Another favourite!


Don't you hate moments like these...

This one shows just how random the adverts can be!

One more just for good measure and because Koreans really really do love their noodles!

Hahhaha!!! I hope these made you smile just in time for the weekend!

Have a good one!!!