June 6, Wednesday
It was Memorial Day today, so everything was closed, except of course my acupuncturist, who never sleeps! I had the most uncomfortable session yet and almost resolved not to return, but I had a talk with the doc afterwards and he explained everything, so I’ll, gulp, go again!
The thing is that it’s worked wonders quickly. I was walking up a hill the other day and all of a sudden I felt a jolt of energy and had a spring in my step that I haven’t felt for about 20 years. It didn’t last long but it got me up the hill with wings on my feet.
Did I mention how clean all the streets are here? Surprising for such a big city. The Seoul powers-that-be are really good at getting and keeping litter off the streets, parks, and subway stations. But neighbourhoods take it all very seriously too, as this sign will show.
I love that line “tracked to the end” and was tempted to test it. Do they have trained sniffer dogs to smell the cigarette butts and track the scent from the lips to the heinous perpetrator? And rewards for turning people in! Wow, a way to earn some quick money. I should go and lurk around there next time I need a few won. The sign underneath is in Chinese and there was one in Korean, of course. There wasn’t a Japanese sign, presumably because the Japanese are already litter trained—haha.
Here’s another little sign of the desire to keep things clean and provide a public service—a little glasses cleaning station outside an optometrists. You flick a switch that starts the water vibrating and dip your specs in. Then you dip in the rinse water and dry them with the little wiper hanging in the side.
Here’s a typical sign always outside restaurants to show menus and prices. These are the usual Korean fare and all for approximately $5. All taste great and are enough for dinner, never mind lunch. These are just the main dish. All come with several sides that are just included in the price such as kimchi, rice, salad, seaweed, etc. The kimchi here is really good, by the way. Much nicer than what’s available in Canada. It’s always served in a small dish as a side. Lots is said about Koreans and kimchi, but I’ve never actually seen anyone eating it! It just sits there and presumably recycled to be served again and eaten by mugs like me.
After my acupuncture I decided to get on a bus to see where it would take me. Always have my eye on the horizon—
It took me to Seoul National University where there was LOTS going on. Wow! Market stalls, buskers, singers, and even a big screen was set up on a stage showing a movie about what’s wrong with the United States. Lol. It was an American made film protesting gun ownership and involvement in foreign wars, etc., with Korean subtitles. A few people were watching, but there were more people watching a kid do card tricks. It was fun for a while, but after walking a few miles up and down, I was ready for home. The bus I wanted passed me just before I got to the stop, and just at the same moment that I missed the bus, a taxi drew up and a woman got out. I made a quick decision and gestured to the driver if he was free. He was so I jumped in and immediately realized I didn’t know how to tell him where I was going. I keep meaning to prepare for this but never get around to it. There ensued a tortured conversation about how to get me home. I just do not know why Koreans don’t understand my Korean. How hard can it be to understand Koryo Dae? I mean kor yo dae. Easy, right? Anyway we eventually got to the part where he correctly repeated what I thought I’d been saying, and we were in business. He took me through heavy traffic for about 15 or more minutes and it didn’t even come to ₩6, which is about $7. No tipping allowed in this country, by the way. What you’re charged at restaurants, hairdressers, in taxis, and so on, is what you pay.
June 5, Tuesday
Either I have the tremors, or we just had a very small seismic occurrence. Very small, though. My chair just shook a little bit for a couple of minutes. I don’t think this is an earthquake zone. Although, having said that, I have to mention that I’ve noticed several notices around saying “Earthquake Evacuation Zone” in Korean and, of course, English; otherwise, I’d never have noticed what it said. These big yellow notices are usually attached to walls in flat areas, presumably so buses can pick people up? Since they are usually right in front of huge apartment buildings that would collapse in a mountain of rubble, I’m still pondering the actual help that could be given.
Yesterday and today have really been a bit boring, even for me, and definitely for others to read about; hence no posting. I’ve been trying to follow my doctor’s advice about not walking or doing anything interesting to speed up the process of my back healing. Consequently, I’ve been hanging about doing laundry and cleaning, and even studying Korean. Fortunately Cheryl came home fairly early from teaching yesterday and took me down to the market where she showed me how to get heavy stuff delivered up to the residence. It’s always fun to talk to Cheryl as she’s a fund of information on all things Korean. I’m now determined to get to Jirisan Mountain that Cheryl and her friends climbed last weekend. It sounds amazing.
Other things I’ve done are hiking in a mountain park behind the university where I got told off by an ajumma for wearing shorts. Not for the shorts themselves but because I’d be bitten by mosquitoes. I was, too. I knew what she was saying in a welter of Korean because she made hand gestures down her legs and pointed at mine and I know the Korean for mosquito (mogi) since my room is full of them. Various workers have come up to look at the broken screen, shaken their heads, tut tutted saying mogi, and left never to be seen again. Yesterday, however, Cheryl came to the rescue and got a man up here and spoke Korean to him. The result?
These are apparently temporary (cough) measures until the new screen that was promised a few weeks ago arrives. So I bought some mosquito repellant.
The only interesting thing (to me) that I did today was order 200 business cards in English and Korean saying I’m an English teacher. I wanted 50 maximum, but the friend who helped me said 200 is the minimum. I’ll have to meet a lot of people. I’m doing this on advice and because everyone here and in Japan hands out cards and asks for mine. It’s the thing to do and only $25. Well, it might generate some teaching gigs—-volunteer, of course, since teaching for money is STRICTLY ILLEGAL for tourists.
To brighten this post up a bit, here are some photos I took that I like. This first one is entitled Human Being Through Honeysuckle.
Dads practicing skills they learned in their military service to build rope structures for the kids.
And the kids using them.
And here’s one from the concert with PSY of “Gangnam Style” fame as a headliner.
Sorry! I guess the file is too big. It won’t upload. That’s really a shame because it’s GREAT!!
June 3, Sunday
Spent the day confined to base today because I did two things yesterday that my doc told me not to do: walked for more than an hour (did three) and walked up a couple of hills (had to get home after all). By the time I got in my room, I was nearly on my knees. Had to lie flat on my back for an hour before I could do anything.
In my defence, I set off for a one hour walk along this charming little mountain stream that runs through the city.
Who can resist this kind of walk on a sunny day?
Ramps for the physically challenged and wheelchairs, and even art on the railings painted by a disabled artist.
And, I had taken the pain pills made especially for me! These made me pain free for about an hour. I have to take 60 a day, so that should be enough, right?
So today I was very good and stayed home all day. But interesting thing! After coming back from shopping (my usual grocery run with my lovely friends), my next door neighbour, Cheryl, popped in with a salad and a vegetarian meal for me. She stayed chatting for a couple of hours and then invited me into her place to see her art work. She’s a beautiful painter. She gave me a painting I particularly like.
Some other sights I saw on my stroll were interesting. There are no smoking outdoors signs everywhere here. No smoking is allowed in any public place, so you see students and old men skulking in alleys sucking up whatever it is that comes through the little plastic pipes.
And if you smoke near a bus stop, be prepared for the consequences. This was posted next to a bus stop with a No Smoking sign prominently posted. Who knows what goes on behind the blue door!
So I think it’s pretty obvious why I couldn’t resist my walk! Anybody would have done the same, right? Tomorrow I’ll post my doc’s reaction to my defiance—as my good friend refers to it. I don’t think that’s quite accurate! ☹️
June 1, Friday
People, mostly family, have been asking me to start blogging again because otherwise I’m very bad at writing more than one sentence to anyone. The thing is that this blog doesn’t behave for me. Writing either doesn’t appear as I write, or photos won’t upload, or two upload instead of one, and…you get the idea. My daughter wants my blog up and says it looks fine to her. The photos aren’t fuzzy, and spacing is OK, so what I have to suggest is this: if anyone is using the blog and encounters any kind of problem at all (except with me—that won’t be fixed) please leave a message in the blog space for comments. That way all comments are in one place and easy to reference if I need to bug WordPress again. So far they haven’t helped me much. And I’d like to say here that if anyone would like to have a go at reworking this looooooong page so that it’s more manageable, let me know and I’ll give you the open sesame to get started.
So what have I been up to? Well starting from the most recent events, I am getting a combination of Chinese and Korean acupuncture for my dodgy back. I first noticed back problems when I gave birth to my second child, Philip, a very long time ago. We all make sacrifices for our children so I don’t complain. However since then, it doesn’t take much to set it off.
The latest back subsidence took place when I went to Suncheon to visit the famous wetlands of Suncheon Bay, and hoped to visit, and climb, the equally famous Mount Jirisan, a short drive to the east. More of that trip later. My back started acting up and the walk around the marshes was a bit painful (excruciating), so I came home the next day. Once home my friends rallied and got me off to a doctor of oriental medicine the next day. Actually the daughter of my closest friends here was elected to accompany me to answer the necesssary questions and fill out the forms. Medical forms for doctors of oriental medicine are not quite the same as the ones we are used to. They don’t focus so much on your history of diseases, medications, and surgeries, but on your bathroom habits, sexual performance or lack of, and other very intimate questions. My poor young bilingual helper often had to stop and say, “Erm, I don’t quite know how to ask you this. I can’t think of another word in English to say it.” I told her to just say it and pretend we’re both medics. After she finished filling out the 3 or 4 pages I told her she knows more about me now than anyone else in the world.
So we started off fairly simply with the usual little inch long needles you see at your physiotherapists in Canada. Today, on my fifth visit when I complained a little about the discomfort in my right hip, the doctor comforted me by explaining that the needle was placed near the long nerve in my leg (squeamish look away) and then he showed me a needle the same size as the ones he was using. It was about 5 inches long!!! I yelped “Don’t show me!” And then, he went on to explain, an electrode is attached to it and all the other needles sticking in my person making my right foot jump a bit when the electric charge is pulsed down it. So there we are. I give you acupuncture—the real deal.
Not only that, but after that part is finished, I turn over and he does the Korean part, which, as he explained to me in that “doctor speak” that docs around the world use, is a little bit more painful. Oho. I knew what was coming and I wasn’t disappointed. It certainly is a “little” bit more painful. I didn’t look at the needles but they go into all the bony parts of your fingers and toes, wrists, elbows, shins, and ankles. Each complete treatment is an hour and a half long.
My instruction for today was to meditate two hours a day for the benefit of my heart. “Two hours”! I asked incredulously. He could see I wasn’t the type to sit still for that long, so he modified it to one hour in the morning and one hour at night. I have a feeling that I’ll be modifying it further.
How much is is all this costing I can hear the question hovering over me as I write. It’s ₩25 each time, so approximately around $29 depending on exchange rate. In addition, he made up some herbal pills for me to take—20 x 3 times a day for pain. And these were free. He gave them to me! Gave. He’s also tall, handsome, and incredibly nice, what else can you ask for at $29 a time? And is it working—-yes. The discomfort and difficulty walking etc. Has almost completely disappeared. This is much faster than the physiotherapy I got just before I left Canada after I set my back off in February. In fact I flew to Korea still not repaired.
Now let’s compare wait times to Canadian doctors’ offices. I arrive when I’m ready in the morning—sometime between 10:30 and 11 a.m. He takes me in right away where I lie on an examination table type thing covered with blankets and stuff. It’s in a room with other sufferers who may be curtained off, but usually aren’t. No appointments are made. People just go when they’re ready. It’s all very neighbourly and cozy. The needles are all sterilized and in little packets, and the equipment is state of the art, but apparently he doesn’t own a vacuum cleaner or doesn’t know how to use one, nor a mop either. However everything is clean and good enough.
So Suncheon. I had planned a three day trip to visit the area, which, by the way is gorgeous. I could live there for part of the year and be very content. For anyone who wants to explore further, Google Suncheon Bay, Yeosu, Namhae, Jirisan, and Damyang. Look up Admiral Yi Sun Sin as well. I will definitely go back to check out Yeosu, but the doctor says Jirisan and climbing anymore mountains is out.
I arrived in Suncheon train station with my back already complaining, but just hoisted on my backpack and went over to the tourist office to ask about accommodation. They sent me on a wild goose chase of all the streets around the station where I found really scruffy, dirty looking places for ₩25 a night. I trudged back to the tourist office hot, exhausted and in pain to be told to try a new motel “just at the end of this street” that was built only last year, so must be clean. It was called The Gentleman, which should have been my first clue. Off I staggered and found the place, but there was no front door. There was literally no entrance. What the….?
Sorry for the little pause lof 24 hours. I’m ready to continue now.
So when I walked around the side of the building and could find no “front” I went through a door open to the street and climbed up a set of backstairs that ended in a locked door. I rattled the door a bit and a young man, about 18 or 19 opened it and said, “Neh (yes).” After swallowing my complete astonishment at the way this place was apparently run, and him getting over his astonishment that someone like me would want a room for one, he took me outside to another set of backstairs and walked me up three flights of stairs (no elevator) to a long hallway lined with mirrors. Above each door lined up along both sides of the hallway was a light that shone either green or red. Getting the picture here? He took me to a door with a red light over it and showed me in. This was my room. Yes, the double bathtub is in the room. Furthermore, I couldn’t turn the coloured lights off all night.
So after dumping my painfully heavy backpack (Walmart—bad choice), I went off to see the world famous Suncheon Bay reed marsh. The 5th largest bird migration stopover in the world. They didn’t disappoint. My little phone camera can’t do justice to them. This view is Suncheon from the reeds.
This one is looking out to sea from my prone position on a boardwalk. The truth is that I was lying down because my back was killing me, but I thought I might as well use the situation as a photo op. I wish that I could go back and take one of the boats that go out of the bay and visit the islands, and maybe I’ll get around to it.
This whole region is famous because of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, who as I think I mentioned before, literally saved Korea. A true example of “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”
So after a couple of hours at the marsh, until sunset, I took a taxi to a great little restaurant that I knew about from a previous visit, and the home to my little pink nest.
But first, I walked through a lovely little park near the restaurant and watched some impromptu dancing being led by a woman with some loudspeaking equipment. All the women and children were joining in and having a go, but I guess the men were too shy. I wish I could put the video I took up here, but the file is too large. It was lots of fun!
I also saw the sad little statue of a “comfort woman” representing the sexual exploitation of Korean women during the Japanese occupation.
After getting back to the motel and trying to work on my iPad while being an unwilling listener to the sounds all around me, I heard something more disturbing. Around midnight I heard sustained screaming. After it finally penetrated the sound barrier I’d put up around me so that I could read, I knew something was wrong. I went out into the hallway and could hear the screams and very disturbing sounds coming from a room two doors down. I won’t go into details here, but my first impulse was to knock on the door. Then I realized that not speaking Korean would be a real problem, so I went to my room to call the police. Then I thought I should call the manager’s line first, which I did. The manager went and stood outside the door listening, so I went back in my room. Fifteen minutes later he phoned me to say everything was OK and that he’d told the man to be quiet. Because of what I thought about what I’d heard, I couldn’t sleep, and having light flashing pink, blue, and purple all night didn’t help.
The next morning, I passed a police station on my way to the train and was tempted to go in, but didn’t. Instead I called my policeman friend when I got back to Seoul and asked him what I should have done, He reassured me, of course, and pointed out that not being able to speak or understand Korean was the first problem, and not knowing the law about rights in Korea was another. I left it with him. Anyone who wants to know the whole story can email me.
MAY 16, WEDNESDAY
Those of you who are awake will notice I’ve skipped a day. That’s because I was in Mokpo, a fishing town on the southwest coast. I didn’t plan the trip very well because I actually went to the station hoping to catch the Peace Train to the border. I missed it because I didn’t plan that either. Anyway then I was at the station and the train to Mokpo was leaving in 20 minutes, so since a friend had mentioned it as a place to visit, I thought, “Why not?”
Now here’s where things get tricky in Korea if you don’t speak the language and on the other hand you don’t want to hold up the line by ensuring that each detail is understood. I asked for a return ticket—he nods—runs my card through and hands me a slip of paper that says from Seoul to Mokpo right on it, with the whopping price of ₩53,000. I say to the guy, “This is return, right?” He nods as if to say he knows what he’s doing, so just move along. “Next!” Actually what he said was, “다음 사람은 제발!” Ha ha—got that off Google translate.
Two hours and 45 minutes later we pull into Mokpo, and when I leave the station, I’m transported in memory to Dover, one of the towns some members of our family lived in. I visited Dover often and always loved it. Mokpo has that same feel of a seaside town. I set off for the “front” as we English call the walking areas at the edge of the sea and have that same feeling of excitement I used to get.
However, there was of course quite a difference. These two fishwives were going at each other like the proverbial. I had to take a quick pic without focusing as I didn’t want to become part of the fray.
I’ll write more later as I’m getting hungry! No dinner yet 😋
Things got a little busy last night, so I didn’t get this finished. Now I hope to concentrate until it’s done!
So back in Mokpo, I walked along enjoying being near the sea and watching the life around me. Watching the ladies at the bus stop, I’m seeing my Auntie Elsie and Auntie Bessie in my mind’s eye. Different time, different place, same situation. The Chinese are right. Life is circular, not linear.
As you look at the writing on the cab and signs, think of me trying to figure out how to navigate my way through these linguistic shoals. My brain doesn’t know what to make of it all, but it’s interesting to observe the brain looking for patterns it can use in future.
On the other side of me are the boats.
I didn’t see any leisure craft at all. This definitely a working town and not primarily a tourist vacation place. I’m sure there are leisure craft somewhere around as this whole area is a beauty spot with many outlying islands with trails and beaches.
I started to get a bit hungry, since I had only had two bananas all day at widely spaced intervals, so I texted a friend in Seoul to ask him to find a more touristy area with restaurants. He said to get in a taxi and go to the Peace Park area. I raised my arm at the curb and a taxi appeared as if I’d rubbed Aladdin’s lamp. My friend had told me to ask for pyung hwa kwon jang. As I got in the cab, I said these words in my best Korean. The cab driver started laughing. As I tried again , he just laughed and laughed. I said, “What! I’m talking good Korean!” He said “No,” and made me repeat each word after him until I got it to his satisfaction. Koreans!
He had some English so quizzed me all the way to the Peace Plaza about why I was in Korea, if I came by myself (amazement when I said yes), why I was in Mokpo, and so on. He didn’t get around to asking my age, which is something all Koreans do at some point. When he dropped me off, we were the best of friends.
Now I was finally at the ‘seasidy’ Front.
That’s where I met this little charmer…
And this one… This little tot had just given me the Korean bow. She had been running around, and when she spotted me watching her and smiling, she placed her hands together just below her waist and bowed 45 degrees in the deep bow of respect. There’s no doubt about it charm is simply good manners. She now had me in the palm of her hand!
Now I was ready to eat. Vowing never to eat street food, I threw that vow out and ordered some steamed mindu from a street vendor. It was delicious!
Now I was ready to go home. I hailed another cab and spent another $6 (approx) to go to the train station.
Once there, I thought I’d better check my ticket because I couldn’t get rid of the nagging thought that a ticket that said Seoul to Mokpo on it would be one way. I stood in line to talk to an English speaking ticket agent. Yes, she told me I could “go back” to Seoul with this ticket. I repeated “go back?” drawing a circle with my hand and then pointing towards Seoul. Ye ye, she nodded vigorously. And as you might have already guessed, this wasn’t the case. Sigh. As I went to board the train 10 minutes before it left, I walked up and down looking for car 14, the number on my ticket. However there were only 8 coaches. I got on anyway, and after walking down the train through the carriages, I found a KTX employee sitting with her book and her earphones in, listening to her phone. She looked at me politely as I showed her my ticket and pointed to “car 14” and said “ordiyey?” (Where?) She conveyed the news to me that this was NOT a ticket to Seoul! I knew it! I tried to tell her that a ticket agent had told me that this was a go back ticket, all the time aware that the minutes were ticking by and Korean trains leave on time. She grasped the situation, and before you could say “crikey” she had us off the train and at a sprint to the ticket office. She and I then took turns to explain the situation to a very perplexed looking guy, who simply grabbed my card, pushed it through, charged me another ₩53,000, and handed me my ticket. Would the train still be there?
It was! Just. It started leaving before I could sit down. I was already hot, tired, and getting a headache, so the idea of waiting for the slow train that left at 10 p.m. and got into Seoul at 2:30 a.m. hadn’t appealed. I was ever so glad to see this out of my window as the train crossed the Han River into Seoul. Home!
MAY 14, MONDAY
I’ve had some complaining, and one might even say whining, about my blog being unformatted and difficult to read and figure out. I won’t say who the whiner is except to say he’s related to me. I’ve adjusted my website accordingly, so you’ll notice that I’ve now bolded the dates. That’s as far as I can go because I don’t know how to fly this airplane. I know there are categories and ways of sorting things out, but I can’t figure it out. So you’re all stuck with the confusion, I’m afraid.
Moving on. Yesterday I didn’t write anything because nothing happened. Well when I say nothing, I mean nothing to blog about. The fundraiser picnic I was supposed to go to was missing one person—me. I traveled for the best part of an hour, changing trains twice, but due to circumstances almost completely under my control, I missed the whole thing.
In my defence, my phone wasn’t working in the morning, so I couldn’t check the arrangements. I thought I’d rembered them so set off confidently. I got the time wrong and the metro exit wrong, but apart from that I was pretty accurate. For some reason I just couldn’t get a signal with my phone, so the main organizer and I couldn’t text or phone each other. Weird. Divine intervention?
Anyway, it took another hour to get home, and once home my phone mysteriously started working, and I was able to get a call from a very concerned lady!
That called for a nap, of course, and then it was grocery shopping with my friends as usual.
TODAY the highlight was the first meeting with my second North Korean student. She is lovely and we had a great session. She wants to be a fashion designer, so lots of interesting material to use. No pun intended.
At one point she told me about a trip she made to London, 🇬🇧 and her stay in a hostel. At one hostel, the female only rooms were booked up, so she had to sleep in unisex room. I think she actually meant mixed. Anyway she was horrified to see men stripping down, and one drunk reveller even brought in a sleeping partner. Strictly forbidden in hostels, but I guess nobody wanted to try reasoning with a naked drunk. Well, that’s England for you.
MAY 12, SATURDAY
Absolutely chucking it down today (raining very hard for non British readers). I decided it was a good shopping day. It’s a Saturday however, and everybody else in Seoul thought the same as me, so I experienced my first metro crush—the kind you read about where people are shoved into trains in Japan and China. As we were crammed into tighter and tighter spaces, I thought about having an anxiety attack. At least I wouldn’t have to fall down if I fainted as I was jammed upright. However I decided against an anxiety attack. I’d probably miss my stop.
My main target was the new Booots Chemist in Myeongdong. This is the equivalent of Oxford Street in London, so is a hugely popular shopping area. It was packed.
I had looked up the directions before I went, of course, which is almost useless because Korean directions never use the directions of north, east, west, and south. This means that you get directions like “Come out of Myeongdong station exit number 6 and walk straight for about 8 minutes.” Only what they don’t say is walk straight after you’ve first turned to your left. So after you’ve walked straight for 10 minutes and are approaching a bridge that will take you 5 minutes to cross, the penny drops and you have to face the awful truth that you will actually have to walk all the way back and start again. And this in the pouring rain, remember. Pouring.
Stop at one point to ask a hotel worker if he knows where Boots yak gook is (pharmacy), and he stares at me as if I’ve just spoken Klingon. “I’m talking to you in Korean, you idiot,” I shout in my head; however, when I try again more slowly with the same result, I realize it’s not him, it’s me. Why doesn’t anybody understand my Korean?
By this time I need a break so go into the sweetest little bakery where you can see them baking, and treat myself to a hot peppermint tea and a baked treat. Well I needed the calories! They have wifi in here so I check the directions anew and head out again. After sloshing about down alleyways full of shoppers and food stalls where the owners keep lifting up their plastic canopies to dump gallons of water down on the hapless damp passersby, I find Boots! Hurrah, I feel like Mr, Livingston of Victoria Falls fame.
Here is one small shopping alley full of wet shoppers.
Well, it’s not the Boots I remember. This one is full of makeup, skin products, and everything you can imagine to pamper and beautify the body, but nothing as far as I could see to heal it. This is what I’d come for—something for this lurgy that’s hanging onto me for dear life. However, after climbing up to the 4th floor, no escalator naturally, I spotted a little counter in one corner with a young lady sitting behind it in a white coat. At last! But no—this is Korean tradional medicine. Well, ok, not fussy at this point. I explain my symptoms to her, she asks me a couple of questions, nods, and disappears behind a curtain. She returns with a double handful of packs and little boxes and writes my directions for taking them on the packs themselves. She gives me a drink of something which she says is for my immediate discomfort, and by golly, it starts working within half an hour. This lovely young woman then explains about Korean medicine to me and I become an immediate devotee. This will be my new focus for travel. There are medicinal farms where the herbs are grown, so I’ll see if there are any tours going.
I started taking the medicines after my dinner and will await results with interest. One of the little packets held little grains of something that looks exactly like bread yeast granules. I hope it’s not, ha ha.
On the way home the subway stairs were blocked by a young man looking at his phone and a woman with two shopping carts that she and a friend were trying to manoeuvre. The young man had a big bag slung over his shoulder so I couldn’t get through. I’m waiting for him to say sorry and leap aside as I quietly murmur excuse me, but then I remember I’m in Korea and just push past him. He doesn’t flinch. When I look back at a bend in the stairs, I see he’s still staring at his phone and other people are pushing past him. So that’s OK, I’m within the bounds of Korean propriety. But this is the thing, if I’d been in trouble or asked for help, he would have leapt to the rescue. That’s what it’s like here. You’re totally ignored until it’s time to act, and then it’s all hands to the pump. Good enough.
By the time I got home, my gland pain was almost totally gone. Maybe there were some “poppy seeds” in that drink?
As soon as I got in my door my phone went off: another language partner wanted to talk. This is someone new. This online language partner website is so wonderful for finding nice people around the world. This is where I find my faith in human nature. For those of you who may want to try it, the website is mylanguageexchange.com and although it’s ostensibly for people who want to exchange language help, initially I only ever spoke English to my contacts. Even now when talking with my Japanese contact, I never learn any Japanese. We always speak in English.
Without my language exchange friends, this trip would not have been half as much fun, and it certainly wouldn’t have been so easy to get around.
A pharmacy note: Most pharmacies in Korea are small dispensaries, and not the big drug stores we get in other countries. This is a typical small yak guk.
May 11, Friday
Starting off today with a BIG beef about my home province. That’s right—I mean you Ontario, and specifically OHIP. This is the year I’m supposed to get a new card with my updated picture on it——but, I’m not in the country to do it . So, my health insurance will lapse until I get home at the end of September. Like a Franz Kafka novel, the rules cannot be broken, bent, tweaked, or altered in any way to accommodate any slightly different circumstances. Honestly!!!
I wrote to Service Ontario (No out of Province toll free calls accepted) and to date have not even received an acknowledgement. I called the Canadian Embassy in Seoul who responded in such a relaxed way I thought I must have interrupted her meditation session. She reminded me that it was the Canadian Embassy and therefore not involved in Provincial matters. So perhaps you Canadians ought to know that our embassies won’t be able to help you with provincial matters such as health and education problems if you’re out of Canada. You’re not really Canadians then, you’re Quebeckers, Ontarians, Manitobans, and so on.
Unless I can get good old Justin Trudeau to help a poor desperate woman cast off by the country that is viable today because of the taxes she has paid over the years, I’d better make sure I eat my seaweed and stay well.
Speaking of which that virus (or bacteria, or whatever) that made me so ill doesn’t seem to have beat a full retreat. There are still some nasty characters living in my ears and various glands here and there. I must not have enough macrophages or something. I’m still covered by insurance until June 24 though.
On a more upbeat topic, I aced my Kakaoo boot camp yesterday. It wasn’t that hard to set it right once I had someone to demonstrate.. Once I had that piece of new learning packed away in my brain, I set off for Gilsangsa, a Buddhist temple in a rather ritzy neibouhood of Seoul. The land and buildings used to belong to woman who ran a very upscale restaurant. Wealthy men would be served sumptuous meals in private little cabins by women who were like the geisha of Japan. Now monks meditate in those little cabins, and sometimes Madeleine Whitfield does too.
The owner of the restaurant was so impressed by the Buddhist monk’s philosophy of “leaving it all behind” that she gave everything to him to open a temple. I’ll post pictures of the temple and my walk all the way home from there along a mountain stream as soon as I figure out how to get pictures off this borrowed Android phone onto an iPad. OK, did it. So here’s the little meditation room that people can use and where I have trouble sitting with my legs crossed.
The picture below is of the main prayer and meditation hall. People come and stay for as long they want and then leave when they’re ready. As far as I can make out, there are no timed worship events. Maybe you can just see the monk at the front who leads the prayers and chants. Last time I was here, people were doing their 108 prostrations.
On the way home From Gilsangsa, I received my first deep bow! I had been walking and walking in what I knew was the general direction of home, but when I didn’t see anything I recognized, I thought maybe I’d overshot. I stopped a businessman coming home from work carrying his briefcase and wearing a glazed look as he tuned in to whatever his ear pods were feeding him. I had to practically step in front of him to get his attention, which he then gave me in full. His English was excellent and he gave me such clear directions, I could have got home with my eyes shut. I said “Thank you very much,” with emphasis on the ‘very’. He gave a deep Korean bow and said “Please don’t mention it.”
I could really get used to those bows. It made me feel like a million dollars.
The walk from Gilsangsa was absolutely beautiful, by the way. How can you not walk when it’s beside a mountain stream that runs all the way through the city and is tended by city workers to have walking paths, bike paths, exercise machines under bridges, and even fountains and charming sculptures here and there?
Today I met my next door neighbour. She was sitting out on her balcony on a chaise longue reading. I had stepped out to hang up some laundry, so we started chatting. She teaches English here, and although American, has lived in Korea for 21 years. She initially came for one! I thought of our Stephanie and her one year contract in Istanbul which has turned into 11 years. She offered me her chaise for the summer when she goes home for her summer break. I feel really at home here. I wonder if I could get part time teaching?
I had some obligatory chores to do after so set off, and guess what!? After giving up on shopping, I passed a perfect little dress shop, stopped in to look, met the most wonderful woman who is my new friend. I bought a skirt, some summer pants, and three new tops from her, just like that!!! I’m ever so pleased. All I need now is a bathing suit for my visit to the East Sea. Maybe she’ll have some ideas. For those interested in clothes, here they are. She wants to advise me on underwear next to make “the most of myself.” I don’t know where she thinks I’ll be going.
Also stopped into a tourist kiosk and got a ton of stuff to get busy with . Can’t go to the JSA (Joint Security Area) yet as the UN still has it closed down.
May 10, Thursday
In the shower this morning, I suddenly remembered a woman I met at Gatwick Airport in 1987. She is probably one of the pivotal people in my life even though I knew her for only a few hours.
I arrived at Gatwick for a flight to Greece, Corfu to be exact. A delay was announced, so I made myself comfortable on a vacant perching place next to an older woman who was, as she told me later, in her mid-eighties. She had what we called bottle-bottom glasses (very thick), hearing aids in both ears and was not physically limber, but she was lovely. She told me that since her husband had died shortly after she had retired, she decided to spend her money by going every year on a tour to wherever she fancied that year. This year it was a tour of Greece and the Islands, the year before had been India. Next year was China, and so on. She’d been all over.
We talked for the two hour delay, and on the two hour flight to Corfu we sat next to each other and talked all the way. Although it was by now the wee hours of the morning, neither of us flagged. She told me her travel philosophy that made light of inconveniences and she always signed up for shared rooms to save money. She said in all her years of travel she’d never had a bad roommate except once when she was paired with an alcoholic. At the end of our flight, she asked me to join her tour as she was sure the tour operator wouldn’t mind. I’ve always regretted not going. However at the time, I had my own agenda. But I realized later that she was a powerful inspiration for me.
Another thing that gave me some reassurance lately was picking up a book in Kyobo Books called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a **** (rude word!) by Mark Manson. I didn’t buy it because after leafing through it, I saw that most of what he was saying we know by the time we get to a certain age, but it reinforced my thinking on some of the stuff I still waver about. Which brings me to my current predicament.
The organization I joined for teaching North Korean refugees does all its communication on the Korean version of WhatsApp called Kakao Talk. I thought I understood this App because I’ve been using it for a long time to talk with Korean friends. Well, there’s lots and lots I didn’t know, it turns out. There are chat rooms and Boards for posting events, and wheels within wheels. Everything has to be shared but only in “groups” and it goes on. When I got hopelessly muddled at the “Setting up appointments” stage, one of the organizers sent me a terse message to get out of the wrong group as I was confusing people. Oops! She spent 2 hours trying to help me get sorted. I eventually got my appointments set up but was upset enough to go to the mountain.
Well since then, I have met one of my students twice, but when it came to posting my report (Have your reports in within 24 hours!), I fouled the nets again. Wrong place! Wrong format! Wrong! Trying to rectify the situation, I lost my reports. Oy! When I admitted that after much trying, I was hopelessly lost, I received the message to report to base. And be ready for Kakao boot camp! So that’s where I’m off to in a few minutes. I see that the new call for volunteers includes the requirement “Must be familiar with Kakao.” More on this late!
My young policeman friend sent me the photo from the shoe rescue on the red mountain trail, so as promised, here it is.
May 8, Tuesday—Parents Day in Korea
Starting from the middle of the day, I’ll begin by commenting on the thrilling (for me) part: the lesson with the North Korean student. It went very well. She knew virtually no English except the alphabet, so I have my work cut out for me. We meet again tomorrow, so this will be a short posting as I have to get busy lesson planning. I can’t write anything about her or, heaven forbid, post a picture, because of her status, but I can say she’s a lovely person and highly motivated. It was great to be back in the saddle again! We will only meet twice a month and she has other tutors for the other weeks. Personal relationships between students and teachers are not only discouraged, they are forbidden, so I think that’s why students and tutors are rotated. I will have another student starting next Monday and I am really looking forward to it.
Starting back at the beginning of the day, I met up with a friend to swap my iPhone with his dad’s Samsung Android. I’ve got a Korean SIM card that fits it, so now I can make calls in Korea and also 1-800 calls out of the country, which I couldn’t do on my iPhone. After his kindness, I sprung us a lunch at a great real sushi place. No freezing the fish here first! That’s for sissies—😜
The bad news for today was from Canada—surprise, surprise. OHIP won’t renew my health coverage unless I go in person to get my picture taken! What’s with these “go in person” rules that so many places demand! Am I the only person who ever extended a holiday that makes organizations throw a fit and declare “That’s it then! You’re off the team.” I paid my taxes OHIP and I want my coverage.
After saying goodbye to my student, I weighed myself and found I’ve shed 7lbs. Very pleased about that. So I went for a walk up the hill, and by wandering around up at the top, found a fabulous sports club set in the mountainside. Had to go in as soon as I saw the word ‘swim’ on a poster. Walked into a big room full of Koreans (who else) who turned to look at me as one body. Feigning indifference to the stares (private club?) I sauntered around looking at posters written totally in Korean as if I understood what I was reading, The pool was big and gorgeous with slim and gorgeous people swimming in the lanes. I pictured myself swimming there, and then I pictured myself shopping for a bathing suit in this size 8 country, and lost the urge.
As I wandered down past the gym section, a rather officious looking lady hurried out to ask me what I wanted. When I said I couldn’t speak Korean she actually gave me a look of disgust and called a young man over to deal with this foreigner. He was a lot nicer and said that, yes, I could take classes in tai chi type stuff and anything else. Not cheap though. I might join for the summer.
And that’s it for tonight. Off to plan a good lesson for tomorrow. Picture of the day…
May 7, Monday
Today started off badly. I had some disturbing dreams which woke me about 5:30 a.m., and even though very tired, I couldn’t get back to sleep. After trying for two hours, I finally gave up. Then I found out that although I had spent the equivalent of $70 for groceries yesterday, there was nothing for breakfast. All that money was spent on chicken and beef and tiny little fish, tofu, mushrooms ($7 for 4), fresh greens and tons of Korean ingredients for dinner meals. So I had to do two Skype calls of an hour each on one cup of tea. At 11 o’clock I headed out in a foul mood for some breakfast food.
Again, this not jumping in the car and racing off to Loblaws. This is walking 400 metres downhill to the nearest bakery for a small loaf of fresh bread, then starting the uphill return journey stopping by little neighbourhood shops for apples (2), oranges (2), water, half a dozen eggs, and a small jar of jam ($7). So before I could eat, I’d walked nearly a kilometre. Bad mood! And side note—food is expensive here.
However, things brightened up after some calories made their way into my mood enhancing system and I made the decision to go to Kyobo Books and have a look-see. I’d heard that this was a “go to” place for a book browse and so today was the day.
Well it certainly was the place. It was in a huge building next to all this
And this just a small part of the inside.
In the right hand picture, you can see one of the small cafes in there. There was every book you can imagine in English, Chinese, Japanese, and of course, Korean. I bought only 3 books, but was soooooo……..tempted. I got a short history of Yi Sun-sin, who saved Korea. Literally. A book called The Geography of Thought, explaining east/west thinking differences, and of course Korean Made Easy for Beginners! Which is a bit of a laugh.
One of my favourite places in the store was the bathroom. In the hand washing area was a big round basin in the middle of the room. Coming down from the ceiling were chrome pipes. I didn’t have a clue what to do of course until a kind woman showed me how to push a button nearest me on the rim of the basin and warm water came out of the chrome pipe. There was another button to push for soap, and then another kind woman showed me how to get the paper towels from a dispenser set into the whole chrome pipe set up. It was beautiful—like a reverse fountain, with all the ladies standing around in a circle looking silvery in the reflections. In the corner were little sinks for small children to use. I would have loved to have taken a picture to post here, but felt that taking people’s photos in a bathroom might seem rather odd to some people, so regretfully I refrained. Was tempted when I got a look at the men’s side though and saw guys standing around their fountain washing their hands and one guy was brushing his teeth. They also would probably have been startled by a woman taking their picture, so I sacrificed my inner artist to propriety.
Had a lovely walk in the warm afternoon sun as I set off in a homeward direction. Didn’t know where I was, but bumped into the hind end of Insadong, one of the go-to market areas in Seoul. It was packed! I loved it. Was just going to hop on a bus until it got to a metro station, when I saw a station right in front of me. This was Anguk station, and what a beauty! Maybe because it’s near some palaces, money’s been spent on the floors and walls. Now here’s an interesting thing. When I transferred to my own line, I was looking at a map on the wall while waiting on the platform for the train to come in when two young ladies came up to me and asked if they could help me! They weren’t Korean and I asked them where they were from: Turkey! Wow! This led to all sorts of conversation about my daughter living there and how wonderful Turkey is, and so on and on. They were from Ankara and one of them is doing a Masters degree in international trade and law. She speaks fluent Korean and that was her first degree in Turkey: Korean! What an interesting world.
After this, of course, I came home feeling like a million dollars and cooked myself up a zingy Korean supper. For those wondering whatkind of food I’m getting on the outside of every day, here’s a sample.
This was my dinner tonight. The tiny thread like things on top of the chicken are tiny fish. Those are the eyes you can see as little dark spots. Yes dinner did taste a bit fishy, but they are reputed to be full of calcium as you eat everything that they were born with.
After this, the icing on the cake, so to speak, was a one hour Skype call with the young police officer from Daejon. Lovely, lovely person.
Tomorrow is my first lesson with a North Korean refugee. Hope it goes well.
May 6, Sunday
It struck me after writing yesterday’s blog that while I wrote it on May 5, it wasn’t actually about May 5, soooooo…. now I’ll do May 5 and 6 together.
Saturday morning I actually worked a little bit, so didn’t get out until after lunch. I decided to walk in a straight line down my street to see how far I could go before getting tired, and also to find out what was actually on my street as it travels down to the river. After a mile or so, I came to a very big roundabout that was in the middle of an intersection of about five streets. One of the streets wasu a long boulevard with bus lanes in the middle, so I decided to catch a bus and see where it went. Well much to my surprise it actually went into the area I got lost in last week when looking for a particular shopping area. Not only that, but this was obviously a happening area. There were crowds of people, balloons, street vendors, musicians, and many, many clothing stores, the whole 9 yards. I hopped off the bus and joined the throng.
One thing I noticed right away was how much Chinese was being spoken. I’d read about there being so many Chinese tourists in Seoul that Koreans were hired as clerks in the stores only if they could speak Chinese. Whether that means Cantonese or Mandarin or both, I have no idea. They were also a lot of people from India and Pakistan, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. Since I don’t speak the languages of those various countries, I can only go by the type of dress people were wearing. So this was a hugely popular shopping area for tourists. Surely I would find something here that would fit me. Yes! Buoyed by this almost certain knowledge, I dived in to the throng surging into one of the big stores. Need I even describe what happened? To the apologetic look I put on my face when asking clerk after clerk if they had anything coming close to my size, the same answer came back, “Not a chance.” At least that’s what their looks said, they actually just shook their heads dismissively. I looked at all the tour group Indian ladies surging through the stores in saris, many of whom were quite a bit bigger than I was, and wondered if I would be more successful if I joined their groups.
Finally I gave up and decided just to enjoy myself. I broke my rule of not buying street food and bought some juice from fruit being freshly squeezed after you ordered the combination of fruit you wanted; and banished thoughts of unwashed fruit, sticky hands, and germs from a thousand different sources. I drank it and have been waiting for any interesting side effects; but a day later, all is well. I impressed myself by being able to correct the lady who “forgot” to give me my change, quoting the price to her in Korean and asking for my 500 won change. Impressed her, too!
I joined crowds watching impromptu performances by anyone willing to get up on a stage set up in a handy corner of the street, and then an extremely polished, professional performance by a Kpop girl group. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t support video files, so I have only a photo of the shoppers watching the group and no shot of the group singing and dancing.
Even though I wasn’t able to find what I wanted, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and tried not to think about eventually going home to Carlingwood Shopping Mall.
On the way home by metro underground, my transport card ran out of money. To my delight I was able to reload it! That means deciphering Korean instructions written over the various buttons and slots. I have trouble paying Canadian parking metre machines, so you can imagine how proud I was. That was until it didn’t work for me. I was the last one trying to get through one lonely barrier and it wouldn’t work. Suddenly at my elbow appears a funny, grubby little old man who, of course didn’t speak any English but was anxious to help. I’ve learned to put enormous faith in these guys who look slightly unsavoury, but who know tons about everything and seem to be able to solve any problem. I showed this guy my receipt from the machine and explained that my card still wouldn’t work. He took my receipt and studied it until he was satisfied that I wasn’t trying to cheat the Seoul transport commission of its rightful due, and then took me to a place where he pressed a red button and let me through a gate with a proprietary nod. What a gent!
I got into trouble a bit later when I was rushing a bit and fell up a flight of stairs. Well not actually fell up them, but fell while running up. My various bags fell and there I was with a banged up knee. A charming gentleman helped me up with great concern for my well being, gathered up my bags, took my hand and helped me up the stairs wanting to know why I was running. I couldn’t go into the details of how I need to get a running start at these huge flights of stairs to give me the momentum to actually get to the top, so I just said lamely that I wanted to get home. “And me too, I want get home,” he admonished advising me to go more slowly in future.
After I was safely home, I found a new Skype friend had been calling while I was out. Later, when I called him and told him how kind I found people in Korea, he asked me if I’d ever heard of Chung. I hadn’t. It means treating everyone with loving kindness and is a deeply ingrained Korean value. I’ve found this to be absolutely true.
Now to today. Nothing happened! It poured with rain. I had some Skype calls and an afternoon nap. Just lazed away the day until my friends took me with them on our usual Sunday evening grocery jaunt. We always follow up the trip with dinner at one of the many mini restaurants in the store. I had pad Thai with chopsticks, until my friends couldn’t bear to watch me struggling to eat noodles with chopsticks any longer and one of them went to get me a fork. Still a ways to go.
The weather cleared and after putting away my groceries, I went for a hill climb behind my residence to a gorgeous little park perched right at the top. I’d just missed the sunset, but how beautiful it was.
This is another view showing Namsan Tower in the background.
This will be my “go to” spot every night from now on.
The walk home down the forest path in the dark is perfectly safe. This picture shows the scene lighter than it was because of the flash.
May 5, Saturday
I don’t know what happens to the time. The days are so busy that I just never get around to writing in my blog every day anymore. So let’s see what’s been happening since last Wednesday. I left off where I was going to be talking on Skype later in the evening with one of the police officers who helped me after my mountain rescue.
Later that evening after his shift was over the young man called and we had a wonderful talk. He sent me the picture that was taken the night of the “incident.” A kinder sort of mug shot! Didn’t I say “young” officer?
He really wants to improve his English, so we agreed to talk on Skype every day.
The next day we talked on Skype after his shift again and focused our ‘lesson’ on an incident that he had to write a report on. It was very interesting and really showed the difference between Canadian and Korean policing. I’ve already noticed that there seems to be a friendly relationship between the people and the police here, and now I am hearing it.
The earlier part of the day was spent doing laundry and talking on Skype with a language buddy who is helping me with my Korean as much as I help him with English. He’s much more advanced in English than I am in Korean, so in the English session we talk about things like how psychological needs differ between cultures, and in the Korean session, my part, we talk about “Today I went shopping,” and “Yesterday I went shopping,” and “Tomorrow I will go shopping.” Along with such fascinating tid bits such as “She is my friend.” “I have a cat,” and so on. Riveting stuff.
Later I met up with another young fellow who wants to practice his English, and then I took myself off to Itaewon (the “foreign” section of Seoul)in search of the ‘big girl’ shops; i.e. for anyone over 112 lbs. After walking over a mile in the wrong direction, as usual, I finally reoriented myself, and the first shop I found that had my size in anything, I spent $218 for two little skirts and a pair of white jeans! Way past my comfort zone, but that’s what can happen when desperation has seized you by the ears and you think you’ll have to spend your torrid summer in black heavy duty Lycra and long sleeves.
People tell me that summers here make Vietnam look mild by comparison, so black Lycra pants are out. Although, come to think of it, maybe a great way to melt off the weight.
I found one little shop that had some interesting looking blouses and shirts in the window, so went in to find a little, tiny room with some Korean-made shirts and other tops hanging a few here and a few there. Very stylish stuff. Of the three women sitting around a table chatting, one took a mild interest in me when I actually touched something, and came over looking gently disapproving to find out if I was interested in buying something. When I showed interest in one or two shirts that looked around my size, she glanced at my mid-section and said “too small; not fit you.” OK, so much for the ego boost one looks for in dress shop staff. When I saw another one I liked, she pursed her lips and opined that maybe this might fit since it was a “free” size. “Free size” is Korean for “After you get past size 10, you’re beyond our reach or interest.” So, OK, admitting to elephantine proportions, I asked if I could try it on. Oh, no! That would stretch the neckline. Apparently the risk of the neckline being stretched after I bought it was not part of their customer service strategy. I was so desperate I bought the damn thing. (For the interested small percent who want to know the outcome, it did fit).
Wandering along on my way to the metro, I happened on an alley that seemed jam-packed with all types of stores. Going in an open door, I found an Aladdin’s cave of great stuff! Wow! Why didn’t I come here first? I immediately saw two terrific shirts—just my style AND SIZE! I haggled a bit over the price, ₩79 each (add about 15% for exchange and interest) and got the sales lady down to ₩150 for the two.
Then my Visa card didn’t go through! After trying multiple times, therefore ensuring that it would be blocked back at HQ, she begged, and I agreed to pay cash. This meant a trip to a bank ATM with her following close behind.
The next morning, I woke up to a “ding” on my phone alerting me to a message from my visa company to tell me that my card had been compromised and that they had closed it down until they heard from me. Oh my, here we go again. And this is the only credit card I have for use over here. Glossing over the procedure for getting it reinstated, I will move on to the fabulous day that followed.
One of my great hosts in Korea had suggested taking me and Nazik, the woman from Morocco 🇲🇦 out for a trip to the famous Nami Island, and other fun stuff, finishing up at a Moroccan restaurant in Seoul—Nazik’s suggestion. We had lovely weather, and I got to wear my new jeans and one of my new shirts!
After sauntering around the island and having a real Korean lunch,
we drove back to Seoul and stopped off at a Starbucks noted for its rooftop padded seating and wonderful views.
We finished off a terrific day with some Moroccan favourites, where Nazik educated us on the aromatic spices that made us extremely hungry and ready to dig in. We chose one of each dish to share a taste of everything.
By the time I toddled into my flat full of Moroccan food, it was nearly 10 o’clock. No time for blogging, only a few minutes for a quick Skype call and then bed. Oh and some necessary study to prepare for the “sergeant major” who teaches me Korean every morning. He’s tough 🤨
What a day!
May 2, Wednesday
Today’s adventure took me and my young helper, who is more like Sir Galahad than anyone I’ve ever met, to a major underground shopping plaza. If I couldn’t find something to wear here, the problem was definitely me. After meeting up with, and having lunch with another beautiful and charming young friend, we hit the shops.
The clothes were absolutely gorgeous. The designs and styles were outstanding. The prices were reasonable, the materials used to make the clothes were sturdy and practical and beautiful. And nothing would fit me. I’ve already lost weight from eating less and all the walking and stair-climbing etc. that I’m doing. So the only recourse left me is to stop eating altogether. And that’s not gonna happen. So when it gets hot, and it will, I guess I’ll have tie a scarf round me and hope it passes for a sarong.
Note to all who wish to visit Korea: bring every piece of clothing that you think you will need. Europeans and North Americans are not catered to here because the majority of tourists are from Asian countries. And that’s that. I wonder if Amazon.ca delivers to Korea?
The absolute best news today is that my young friend here was able to locate the police station in Daejon where my shoes and I were rescued and reunited, and he got on the phone with the young policeman who had asked me to keep in touch. Finally we were connected and are both so pleased about it. We will Skype tonight and I can get started helping him with his English.
So a great day and not over yet!!!!
May 1, Tuesday
May Day all around the world and a holiday here in Korea. Not for me though! I spent the first part of the day doing something I can’t really write about here, but interested parties can email me for more info.
The second part involved finding out just how clueless I am about technology as I struggled to come to terms with Kakao Talk’s many features. TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees) uses the Korean equivalent of WhatsApp to handle all communications between the North Koreans and the tutors—37 people, plus staff. We have to be in groups as each NK has more than one tutor and meets each tutor twice, so there are different rooms, and then there are “boards” and “event posts” and I don’t know what all. I had a vague idea of the concept and thought I would be able to handle it when the time came. Turns out I was wrong.
One of the staff tried to help me navigate this but using Kakao to do it, confusing me even more. I didn’t even understand the language she was using to explain it all to me. My brain is either expanding or shrinking like the Arctic ice cap. She finally wrote “haven’t you ever used Kakao talk before?” The great age divide was never more so apparent. Everyone else in this project is in their 20’s or 30’s and have been using Kakao to turn communication handsprings and land alien visitors arriving on Earth. I’ve just been using it to talk to my friend Hye Jin. Sigh. After a couple of hours, I finally muddled through enough to make some appointments, it it was by luck than good management, I’m afraid 😱. Well, we soldier on.
I was so bummed out after this episode that I decided I needed to climb a mountain to clear my head. Accordingly I set off to go to Mount Bukhasan at one of the northern most edges of Seoul. Fabulous new train that I was fine with until I noticed that nobody was actually driving it. That was alarming, as was the knowledge that we were deep enough underground not to be affected by a nuclear blast above. However… (uh oh..pause to note that I just killed my first mosquito—trying not to worry about Japanese encephalitis now).
When I arrived at the last stop, I noticed a bit of a breeze that I wasn’t dressed for. No worries—the street to the beginning of the mountain trails was lined with mountain wear shops. I couldn’t believe the prices! Are North Face wind breakers $170 and up in Canada? I decided that I’d warm up by climbing. So onwards and literally upwards. The people I met were all coming back the other way because by now it was about 5 pm. When I hit the serious trail that had steps built in at the steepest parts, I noticed that a man who had passed me going in the same direction kept slowing down and turning to watch me. He was probably about in his mid forties, give or take. I didn’t think anything of it, but when I stopped to wonder whether I should go straight or veer off on an interesting looking trail to my left. He stopped up ahead. When I glanced up, he asked if he could help me climb. Now I wasn’t staggering about or clutching my chest, so I felt a bit affronted at first. However it then occurred to me that this was a bit odd. I mean people have been very kind and helpful when I’ve asked for help, but people usually don’t watch you to see if you might need help, do they? Put that together with the fact that we were the only ones in sight at this point, and my common sense kicked in.
On the one hand I felt that my age precluded any kind of nefarious intent on his part, but on the other I thought he might have designs on my backpack. Anyway tempted as I was to accept a hand up the steep bits, I gave in to my inner nanny and said that I was just thinking that it was a bit late to continue and that I’d return another day at an earlier time. I returned the way I’d come. As luck would have it, I found a windbreaker on sale in a bin at one of the shops I’d been in earlier, and got a $158 jacket for $49!
All was not lost in terms of workout, I’d got in my 5 miles. I’ll try to figure out a way of getting a good image of the mountain for here.
See if this link works for you.
April 30, Monday
Today I want to proudly announce that I walked 5.5 miles—MILES—and climbed 22 flights of stairs. Not a typo! How did I do that? By schlepping around shopping for summer clothes that will fit me. Do not be fat in Korea if you want to avoid the humiliation of trying on XL pants, only to find they don’t even come close to meeting in the middle. I’m going to have to do some serious searching to find a store in Seoul that caters to, ahem, the fuller figure.
The 22 flights of stairs may seem exaggerated, but every metro station I’ve been in requires people to walk up two flights of stairs to an escalator that takes you up to a level where you either transfer to another line, or “log out” so to speak, and then there are always 4 or 5 flights—full flights—to street level. Add to that the walking between lines when transferring, and you’ve got your cardio right there in one station. Today I was in 3 different stations because I got sort of lost, and then there’s the climb home to my residence. Today I thought I’d be smart and take a shortcut by climbing 5 or 6 flights to go through another building to avoid the Everest I have to climb to get to my building. If it were any steeper, I’d need to be tied to a Sherpa with a rope.
Anyway as it turned out, the “shortcut “ saved me about 40 metres, if that, so that’s a no hoper. I certainly got my cardio in, though.
The reason you don’t see fat people in Seoul is because it’s built on the foothills of a mountain range, and everywhere you see people of all ages sprinting up stairs and flashing by on hills. Today I saw several people with canes navigating the metro stairways. Getting off one train, I noticed an elderly lady with a cane sitting on the bottom step of the flight of stairs I was about to go up. She looked just about done in. Although I knew she wouldn’t understand me, I stopped to ask “OK?” That prompted a man to ask her in Korean, and then he said to me “She’s just a bit tired.” I bet she was.
As I was busy getting lost yet again on this futile shopping trip, I didn’t regret it for a second. Getting lost is the absolute best way to meet Koreans of the nicest sort. Sitting on the step of a building to rest and find my bearings with my phone, a toothless gent sitting close by with his friend demanded to know “odi-eh” followed by a string of Korean. Well I know by now that odi-eh means ‘where’ so I showed him the map on my phone a friend had carefully crafted for me so I couldn’t possibly get lost. At that point he spotted two policemen passing a little ways away. He hailed them by yelling “Hey” or “Ya” as they yell in Korean. The police politely turned around and came over to see what he wanted as if he were the CEO of LG. He told them what to do, so they turned their attention to me to try to help. As it happened, they sent me on a wild goose chase but they were so polite and nice, I decided to make the best of it and dutifully set off in the wrong direction.
I met other lovely people along the way, so even though I may finish up having to wear a sheet on hot days, I’ll have come out a winner.
In the process of doing all this, I unfortunately lost my transit card that still had ₩28,000 on it—about $32 CAD, so that’s a bummer, but the upside is I got a personal tutorial from a very nice metro official. I now have a nice new card.
Yesterday, I promised to write about the events of Sunday today. The day was a perfect sightseeing trip that included a mountain lookout that was truly awesome. This is a view of northern Seoul where the truly rich live. The good news it’s easy to get to the foothills of those mountains by public transport and then climb them as far as you’re ability level takes you. So that’s on my agenda.
We then went to visit Gilsangsa Temple, which was not too far away. The history of how this came to be a temple is interesting, so I urge anyone so inclined to google it. I loved it there, and will go for a visit myself later. This picture is of one of the meditation cabins that people having a temple stay use.
This is my stone on the little Korean inukshuk that you see at all shrines. Mine is the little pink coloured bridge between two stones to the left of the picture of some Buddhist saint.
After spending a wonderful hour there, we went back to the Han River so the newly arrived language partner could do some biking. I begged off and did some strolling and picture taking of families enjoying a Sunday together.
A wonderful day!
Final note for those interested in my money woes: I paid my rent today!
April 29, Sunday
Why no posts since Wednesday? Not because I dropped off a mountain or fell in the Han River, or any similar probability. Simply, there seemed to be so much that needed taking care of and I was just exhausted every night.
The biggest problem was money/banking difficulties. My debit card for getting money out of ATMs stopped working on Thursday morning. This kind of stopped me in my tracks as I tried to think of how to function here without a steady supply of money. I didn’t panic right away because I needed time to think it through. My branch bank officer or agent, whatever his title is, had stopped answering my emails a few weeks ago, so no help there. I can’t make international calls from my phone because I don’t have a Korean SIM card yet, so I used a kind friend’s phone to call the collect phone number for the Bank of Montreal to explain matters and get a PIN reset. Thinking this would solve everything, I waited for the procedure until he said in a matter of fact tone that he couldn’t reset the PIN because it had been done two weeks before and there had to be a 30 day interval between resets.
Deep breath. I said that, look, I hadn’t put in a wrong PIN number, the PIN just suddenly either stopped working, or the ATM did, but in any case, the error wasn’t mine. Sorry, can’t help you. Wait another two weeks, or, go in person to your branch. Yes, that’s what he said, even though I had started off explaining that I was in South Korea. “Go in person to your branch.”
Explaining everything again and adding that flying back to Ottawa to get a PIN reset wasn’t an option, and that furthermore I was going to have to pay my rent to the university residence office by April 30 cut no ice with him. “Sorry,” he said, sounding anything but, “I can’t help you.” Thank you BMO “Help” line.
Now I was starting to panic. With the help of a very good friend in Ottawa who got onto the Bank of Montreal from her end, I was told to try again and explain what happened and that things would go differently. OK. Long story short, this is the situation when you’re in 13 hour different time zone: day is night and night is day when you’re trying to call banks, deal with banks, get in touch with people who can only help when it’s day for them, but then you can’t act because it’s night for you, and so on. Meanwhile the deadline for the rent is edging up.
So now it’s Saturday: up at dawn (because it was 5 p.m. in Ottawa and people ready to chat), ready in plenty of time to start the Bank drama finale, or so I thought. A kind friend met me and went down in the metro where we could use a land phone to make an international call, or so I was told. No you can’t. Finally used his phone, although I didn’t want to, and got through to BMO. Told the whole story again and was told, sternly, that an exception would be made THIS ONCE so here it is. The PIN reset starts NOW. It will be active for 12 hours and then your bank account will be closed to you. I was starting to feel as if I were a prisoner in a fairy story given a secret key that would open the palace gates only once in a hundred years.
The next few hours were hell. My young friend and I raced from one ATM to another at different banks trying to find one that had a PIN reset function. Not one. Then his dad took over and picked me up in his car to drive to a main bank. No.
By this time it’s after 1 o’clock and I have to be across town at the match up meeting for the North Korean refugee volunteer teacher program by 1:45. We race to a metro station to the trains and I’m definitely starting to wilt. I haven’t eaten yet today, but at least I have water this time. Got to the meeting a little bit late, but was there. Phew.
The TNKR program (Teaching North Korean Refugees) was started in 2012 by an American and a Korean who were both active in human rights and met at a conference. North Koreans find that knowing English is a definite advantage when it comes to finding jobs or getting an education. Since South Koreans start getting English in grade school, North Koreans are at a definite disadvantage when they finally get resettled after gruelling journeys to get here. This program is well-established now and has helped hundreds of people. Please visit their website to learn more at teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org
We had a 3 hour meeting for the language teachers to introduce themselves and then the North Koreans introduced themselves, then there was a matching up period to set people up with people of similar availability, within a reasonable travel time, and so on. When the meeting was over, I had to hop on a train to the centre of Seoul, where the main big banks are, still on my hunt for the ATM machine that would change my pin before the deadline.
Actually it was two trains, as I had to transfer lines, and by this time the trains were packed. I was interested to find that even after a day of racing around and attending a meeting, I was still standing even though I still hadn’t eaten. I really am much stronger than I ever thought, which I never would’ve discovered if I hadn’t come here.
When I finally got to the centre of the city and emerged above ground into a brilliant late afternoon sun, I found myself in the middle of a protest, and here they are.
Even though I was on a mission, I couldn’t pass up a chance to see what this was all about. So I wandered in among the throng.
Turns out it was the right wing element strongly opposed to the peace talks between North and South Korea. There were signs saying “Nuke North Korea now” and so on. No violence that I saw, and I think the police might have outnumbered the protesters. These police buses were full.
However time was moving on and I had to find a big bank. I was rubbernecking the very tall buildings looking for a bank sign when my phone rang with a friend on the other end wanting to know where I was and what I was doing. When I told her, her son came down to help me. While I waited I had something to eat finally.
In the end, although we did find the main big banks and tried a couple of ATMs, not one would do a PIN change. I gave up and we called a taxi. From downtown Seoul to my residence through all kinds of traffic and many districts, it cost the equivalent of $11 and change! My 12 hours would come and go and the palace gates would remain closed.
As soon as it was morning in Ottawa, which was about 10 p.m. here, I called my son and relayed the information. Since it was Saturday morning in Ottawa and my bank branch was open and the agent who had originally set me up with this card would be working there, my son said he’d go over and sort it all out in person. He would be the person who would go in-person to the bank branch.
I woke up to the email from my son this morning. The bank agent who had originally set up the account for my travels would reset the PIN from there which would allow me to use my card with no problems from now on. I tried it. It worked. Panic over! About the fact that this could have all been taken care of ages ago if only my SOS emails had been answered, we say nothing and draw a veil.
I’ll write about what we did today tomorrow.
Woke early to a beautiful sunrise I watched from my balcony.
At the same time I was watching this, I got a text from my granddaughter of an equally gorgeous sunset in Hawaii . Such a nice planet we have!
Only having 50% of my usual energy notwithstanding, I headed out for the Seoul Global Centre to get some info about what I have to get as a long term visitor—ID card and what not. Beautiful sunny day and warm. All the smokers were congregating to enjoy their cigarette breaks in front of the centre.
The Falun Gong protesters were out in front watched closely by a couple of police, presumably for their protection.
The good news from inside was that I don’t need an alien ID card, but the bad news is that without one, I can’t open a bank account or get provisional health insurance. In fact I can’t get an ID unless I have a visa as a long term resident. The bank account was to have made it more efficient for me to transfer money here and covert into won for paying big bills like rent. About health insurance, I’ll have to see if I can extend my CAA coverage while I’m here.
Came home exhausted from climbing hills and flights of stairs and just collapsed for a while.
An interesting little event was that a man tried to ask me directions on the train. Why me out of all the Koreans around us I don’t know. He persisted even though I put my “I don’t speak Korean “ face on, and eventually I was able to stop him from getting off at the wrong stop. Comprehension must be seeping into me by osmosis.
Today it’s official—my return date has been changed to September 30. Will be looking at new places to live today. Wish me luck.
Since I now have longer to see all I want to see in this amazing country, I’m researching mountains. Here’s one site I’m using for my research on mountains, parks and islands. www.tripzilla.com + 11 mountains to climb in Korea with the most picturesque views. For some reason I couldn’t insert the link here. I still haven’t mastered WordPress features obviously. If you type that in Google though, you’ll see some lovely places. I hope to see them all.
Still not feeling great this morning so went down into the “village” to buy a couple of things and decided to try some hot, spicy 🌶 soup for my throat and general malaise. Turned into one of the many little restaurants that line the streets
And ordered chicken kimchi soup. It comes with all the sides and rice, of course. When it arrived it was bubbling hot and the bowl burned my finger when I touched it accidentally. But the soup was delicious and certainly took care of my throat, sinuses, and the arthritis in my feet. It was as spicy as it looks.
After bringing my groceries home and doing some necessary stuff around the place, I set off to meet my BFF’s husband at his office so we could go to see some apartments he’d lined up. Indefatigable man.
Bad news and good news! We had quite a hike to see these apartments that looked so good in photographs. No, no, and nope. Then my friend’s husband suggested we call the university to see if they would extend my stay here. YES!!!! We were expecting that they’d extend into June, when the summer semester starts. No—the whole 5 months. Rejoice, rejoice! I can’t believe my luck. This place is perfect with maid service, laundry facilities, concierge services, gym, meeting rooms, ATM machine, the lot. I’ve even made some friends here, so yes, I did save this country in a past life (old Korean saying when a lot of luck comes someone’s way). I’m even thinking of signing up for a Korean Culture summer course.
Now that I know I’m set for the summer, I can plan
Coming home my step was lighter and I stopped to take pictures of “my” neighbourhood. My neighbourhood hospital in the process of getting a new front.
The view approaching my street
I bought some delicious roast chestnuts from this guy who, when I took out a bunch of money to sort through, whipped a 50 out of the pile, rapidly (at the speed of light) counted out change and zipped up my bag for me. Then he put it on my back. Service above and beyond. Of course I’m assuming the change was correct 😉
The chestnuts were delicious and got me up that infernal hill. After six months of climbing that 350 metre hill to my dorm,I expect to be as fit as a marine.
Yesterday was pretty much a write off as still not feeling great and it rained all day. Did some house hunting though and finally decided that a search for a homestay arrangement might be more successful. An inspired guess, for it opened up a rich cache of goodies. Some of the homestay arrangements are luxurious for a fraction of the price of air bnb.
I finally chose one in a place called Ilsan, which is a suburb slightly northwest of Seoul and a bit nearer to the NK border. This last feature interested me, so that together with a look at the lovely house and description by the host made me apply. He answered back almost immediately asking for particulars from me. We swapped back and forth a few times and I nearly booked it, but then got a call from a friend who was coming round with a batch of possibles for me to see.
There was one perfect match in the centre of Seoul. We’re going to look at this one later today, or sometime tomorrow. Seoul would definitely be more convenient than Ilsan for meeting my North Korean student(s). Ilsan is perfect for other reasons though. We will see.
So feeling more hopeful, I went to bed and woke at 6:30 feeling horrible. Coughing and hot. I felt so lousy I even cancelled a Skype call with a good friend. Sure I was dying, I took myself off to see that lovely little doctor just down the street. The young man at reception knew me and greeted me in English. I felt such a gratifying sense of belonging (Maslow’s hierarchy) when he pulled me up on the computer, and then when the doc put her head round the door and said “Madeleine! Again!” with a big smile.
Diagnosis: getting better, no temperature, lungs clear, throat and glands much better so all ok, but cough not good. Another shot and another prescription, and another $16
Off to the 악극 to get the prescription filled all by myself! They remembered me too. Busy but in and out in 15 minutes.
After this success, I strolled about in the heavy rain ☔️ (oh, side note: Korean shops and restaurants provide special brolly water- removing stands at the front and you leave your brolly there) until I found the little restaurant my friend took me to the other day, called Hippocrates 히포크라테스 (trust me). They serve a soup called by the same name that is good for what ails you.
This is truly a little hole-in-the-wall mom and auntie joint where you have to squeeze in next to the other customers, but is clean and all the soup cooked in front where you can see it. They bake their own bread, too. You can’t see here but I was practically elbow to elbow with a university kid at the next table. Really small.
We had to put our backpacks on the same chair behind us and he bowed as he moved mine to get his. I’ve become so used to this bowing that I’ll miss it when I go back to Canada 🇨🇦. You can’t have enough bowing is my opinion now!
After plodding home in the downpour and taking a well-earned rest, I went with the saintly husband of my BFF in Korea to see the apartment that looked so good on the ad, but…NO. Tomorrow more viewings and then, hopefully, good news.
Water removing brolly stop!
Good night’s sleep so felt much better this morning. Medicine must have kicked in. Definitely good enough to go to the orientation session today.
The orientation session was filled to capacity with eager tutors. It was a long session but lots of very good information about what to expect. I’m really looking forward to meeting the North Koreans next week. We, the tutors are responsible for curriculum development, study venue, writing reports and making a commitment of at least three months. Sounds challenging and fun.
Now all I need is a place to live! Help!
Really feeling much worse last night and didn’t sleep well. I felt awful, but not in a way I recognized. Thought for a moment that I had something serious, but then realized that this would be a Korean bug. Of course! My system hadn’t seen anything like this so had mustered all the troops and I was feeling the effects. Really rotten night though.
Couldn’t move much this morning and didn’t feel like eating. Really serious then. Around 1 p.m. as I was lying on my bed wondering if I was going to make the orientation session about teaching Noth Korean refugees tomorrow, one of my amazing friends messaged me to ask how I was feeling. When I said that I’d be OK, but not really feeling that great at the moment, there was a five minute pause in communication and then the message: I’m coming to you now and we’re going to the doctor. This amazing woman left her university from right across Seoul and travelled by metro for 1/2 an hour to get to me.
I’m waiting among the azaleas for her. I felt as bad as I look.
She arrived with energy drinks and had me drink one before we set off. She thinks of everything.
Now the amazing part. We go into a doctor’s office and get accepted right away. The doctor sees me, takes my temperature (38.7), examines me, explains why it’s a bacterial infection and not viral, gives me a shot and a prescription, explains everything in halting English and repeats everything again to my friend in Korean, and the total cost was approximately the equivalent of $16!!!! I won’t even bother sending it to the CAA. The good news is that I can go to my orientation session tomorrow.
We then go to the drugstore round the corner, get the prescription filled for exactly the amount I need—₩14,740, about $15, give or take. Wow!
My friend then takes me to a restaurant for soup so that I can take my first lot of pills. She then delivers me to my door, which is 500 metres away and uphill all the way, and then goes home. Her whole afternoon interrupted and given to looking after a friend she met on the internet only a year ago.
She also wants the contact information of everyone I met in Daejon so that she can phone and thank everyone personally that helped me.
I may just have to move here.
Bonus—— I feel 50% better already.
April 19 (I think)
Today is a sick day, and I can’t complain after what I put my body through yesterday. Yesterday involved getting on a wrong train, finding out when I arrived at my destination that the Korean tourism guide left a lot to be desired, taking a cab to the second bus stop recommended by said guide and being stranded, meeting a terrific man at a garage who drove me to my destination, getting lost on the trail in bare feet a million miles from anywhere with the sun getting ready to set, and ending up in a police station. So let’s begin.
I suddenly decided at 11 o’clock yesterday that I felt like walking the famous red clay trail at Gyejoksan mountain, just outside Daejon. No problem. I checked out the Korean tourism website on how to get there and set off. Hot day so no jacket. This turned out to be the first of many mistakes.
Arriving at Seoul station I bought a ticket for the KTX (express) train to Daejon. Could only buy standing room however—this is allowed on Korean trains. Platform 6 leaving at 12:05. Get to platform 6, train standing there and it’s 11:48, so I figure it’s my train. Second mistake. Once on board, I notice it’s nearly empty. Just to be sure, I ask the only guy in the carriage if it’s the train for Daejon. Humiliatingly, he doesn’t understand my pronunciation of Daejon, and responds with the Korean equivalent of “huh?” Finally someone else gets on, hears this exchange and translates for him. I’m chastened. So much for Korean lessons.
Train leaves at noon, so we’re off to a good start, I think. After an hour with the train still almost empty and chuntering along at the speed of cold syrup and stopping at every house it seems, the ticket collector comes along, looks at my ticket and starts saying no, no, no, no, and waving his hands in that universal sign meaning, uh oh!
He starts explaining the situation to me in fluent Korean, notwithstanding the fact that I obviously don’t understand a word. Seeing this, he repeats the information again, pointing at the ticket. I’m getting the general drift, but no further ahead, so put in an SOS call to one of my language exchange friends who had offered to help in situations such as this and handed the phone to the ticket collector. Rapid conversation going back an forth.
Over to me— good news is the train will end up in Daejon; bad news—it’s the milk run and I’ve paid a lot more than I should have, no refund amount can be claimed, and I’ll be starting on my trail a lot later than I should have. Oh well.
Getting to Daejon finally, I look for the bus that the Korean tourist info guide says will be there. It isn’t. Not even a bus stop. I join a line at what looks like a bus queue that turns out to be a taxi queue. Fine. Getting in the cab I then have to explain where I’m going. Using my scribbled notes copied from the Korean tourism guide, I begin. Not working. Finally I say the one word he understands in the whole spiel—Hyundai—and nods. The T guide suggested taking the #2 bus from the train station to another bus hub at the Hyundai apartments, and from there transferring to a number 74. OK. The taxi driver stops at an apartment complex and drops me off at the bottom of a narrow street. Need I say that there is no bus stop in sight. Walk up this little street looking for a bus stop. Nothing. Finally I see a man washing a car in a little garage-type place and ask, hoping, if he speaks English. “A little” he says, smiling. I get the euphoric surge of emotion I feel whenever I hear those words. I start the explanation. Blank. We try using google translate which works for a few minutes then quits. We do our best and then he points to his car and says “I drive you.” He does too. Takes me all the way to the mountain trail entrance and hands me his card saying, “Call when you need go.” another Korean saint.
Walking to the trail head I take off my shoes
and leave them there—mistake number 3. According to the promoters of this trail, walking it in bare feet prevents dementia, diabetes, protects and strengthens the immune, circulatory, and respiratory systems, and I don’t know what else. Well it certainly gets the feet red. It’s a mountain trail and so it goes up, and up, and up.
It’s a popular tourist area and the trail is 14.5 kilometres long, so I’m thinking there will be directions in English and places to get off it like, YOU HAVE REACHED KILOMETRE 5. THIS WAY TO EXIT FOR THOSE LEAVING TRAIL AT THIS POINT .
Wrong. Mistakes 4 and 5. No signs in English and seemingly no exits. So I just kept trudging on, but I felt very energized and raring to go. The sights and sounds around me as I climbed the trail were wonderful.
The ROK army was much in evidence as recruits did the entire trail.(Republic of Korea)
I met several groups of army kids making their way behind unsmiling corporals.
But I soon left almost everyone behind and had the trail to myself for half an hour at a time with then seeing maybe only one or two people. Everyone says anyonghaseyo (hello) as they pass, and gives a little bow. Lovely.
I was starting to get thirsty, not bringing water in my backpack was another mistake, when lo and behold there’s a guy selling water and snacks by the side of the trail. I bought a bottle of water and, using a trail map thoughtfully provided by the side of the trail and with information entirely in Korean, I tried to find out where I was and where I was going. I wish I’d taken a picture of this guy because he was to feature prominently in my future. A true guardian angel and no mistake.
Still feeling energetic and marching merrily along I met up with a group I’d seen before and kind of wondered how that could have happened by hour three. They would have had to have walked the entire trail, wouldn’t they? Anyway, they were very pleased to see me and wanted me to take a picture of their group,which I did, and then they took one with me in it!
The guy in front holding his shoes sent me the pictures this morning with the offer of any help he could give me while I’m in Korea. Another nice Korean. They’re everywhere here.
Ater going our separate ways, I noticed the sun was getting lower and I still didn’t know where I was. I’d see a sign in Korean with 3 km written next to it and think I was getting close to something, then I’d see another sign after a while that said 5 km to somewhere. And I was totally alone by 6:45. At least, I thought, I was going downhill. But a little farther on was a bench and the trail started up again at that point. As I sat there wondering what to do and how it would be to be stuck on the mountain all night—did I mention my phone battery was dead?—round the bend comes my hero, the water seller. With much pointing at my feet and miming and giving facial expressions that said clearly “what the hell is a lady of a certain age still doing on this bleeping mountain?”he took charge and set off with me down a flight of steps (and I use the term loosely—they were a series of rocks and shale organized into a stepwise fashion) to save my skin. He soon noticed that going down in bare feet after getting off the soft clay was painful, so he took off his shoes, insisted I put them on and went down in his socks. On the long climb down he asked me where my husband was, how old I was, if I had any children, when Had I come to Korea, and when we got to a Buddhist temple halfway down, gave me the history of it—All in Korean. Don’t ask me how I know what he was asking.
When we got to the bottom he spoke to some people he knew who were selling street food and told them about me, I could tell by the looks. When he got to the part about my phone battery dying, the food seller gave a look that is universal for ‘idiots walk among us.’
My hero had a car there and took me immediately to the police station since the place we came down the mountain was not where I went up—so still no shoes and no idea where they were.
The police were a little surprised to see a grey haired lady standing there in a man’s shoes accompanied by a man in his socks. Again, I could tell by the looks. The only cop in the shop who spoke a little English demanded my ID and something else, I don’t know what. All I had was my Canadian driver’s license. When this 12 year old looked at my birthdate, he asked me to verify it and started referring me to me when talking to others as “halmonee”—grandmother. The whole story as my hero recounted it seemed unbelievable to them. They couldn’t believe I’d walked off without my shoes when I was carrying a backpack that I could have put them in. Yes.
To verify my identity they wanted a Korean person who could vouch for my legal existence in Korea. Again we had to call on my long suffering language exchange friend. Then they had to vouch for him. Oh dear. I hope he had a clean record.
Anyway, it was finally decided after much discussion that the police would take of me, but only after trying to have my language pal try to talk me out of going back to the park to look for my shoes in the dark. I refused to go back to Seoul without my shoes because they were special for my arthritic feet and had very expensive orthotics inside. After calling the good samaritan who had initially taken me to the park which entrance he had taken me to, we were off to a flying start with revolving lights. My wonderful shoe friend left in his socks because he didn’t want to leave me without shoes in case I couldn’t find my own.
On the drive, when I complimented the young police officer on his English, he opened up about how much he wanted to learn, so I ended up promising to go back to Daejon and also inviting him to come and stay with me in Canada.
They were very surprised to see my shoes still where I’d left them, and the officer who’d been driving took a picture of me, my young friend, and my shoes. I’ll post it here if he sends it to me as promised.
In the meantime, they had checked the train times, drove me to the station, took me to the ticket counter, and then marched me over to a store in the station that sold portable chargers, and told the store clerk to set it up for me with my phone, and then took me to the right platform. Above and beyond!
What a day! What a country!
Endnote: It was very cold after dark, so not taking a jacket was a mistake. Took nearly three hours to reach my residence, by which time I was frozen. Swollen glands today.
Had a slight break in writing while I trotted about making enqiries about the feasibility of extending my stay here. Yesterday I went to the Canadian Embassy and to the Korean Government’s centre for information for foreigners. This is my category now. I’m getting a taste of what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land. Of course for me it’s exciting and stimulating and fun, but I can now easily imagine what it would be like if it had been involuntary and I had found myself in a country where I can’t understand people and they can’t understand me. Shudder.
This is an area close to the Canadian Embassy.
The visit to the Canadian Embassy was interesting. The level of security suggests that they are expecting an invasion at any minute. After the airport security measures, one is asked by a uniformed gentleman the purpose of one’s visit. He then disappears for a while. I was left to wonder if he’d come out and say “Sorry. That’s not an important enough reason,” and I’d be sent on my way. But all was OK, and I was ushered into a little room such as the type that you see on crime TV shows when someone visits a prisoner. The agent sat behind very thick glass (bullet proof?) with a little hole in it for passing passports through. And you’d better have yours with you.
In the event, I got part of what I needed and set off to find the Seoul Global Centre to get the other part of my news. The news is that I can stay in Korea for six months, but there are things I have to do, like get an ID card and stuff like that. So that’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m sure there will be difficulties to overcome, like learning the language for a start. So here’s a start. 한국에 살기로 결심했다면 한국어를 배우세요. Which means, if you decide to live in Korea, learn some Korean.
After making the decision to stay, I then had to take steps to take care of things at home. Where would I be without my older son and his wife to take care of my house, car, banking, etc? Thanks,guys!
So a new chapter begins. Now I have to seek a new place to live, as I have leave here by May 2. This should be interesting.
Today I went biking on the Han River bike paths with two friends. It was fantastic. A lot of money and planning has gone into making Seoul a people place. Here we are having a rest stop—
We biked for an hour, crossing the river at one point on a special lower bridge for bikes and pedestrians.
After stopping to view various interesting spots, we headed back to have lunch at a special little outdoor restaurant that sells delicious gimbap
—much more delicious than I thought it would be! Absolutely scrumptious. We ordered three and shared. In Korea it seems that people share everything!
This evening we are going back to the grocery store that so impressed me last week where we will again eat our supper at the super little in-store restaurant.
Did I mention I love this city?
Raining today so having a laundry/banking problems day. I might go to the famous Starfield library later. People tell me it’s quite the place. Lots of English language books there.
In the meantime, I’m going to post some photographs of some interesting facets of life here.
Is it me, or are police getting younger? Not carrying a gun,you’ll notice. None of the police carry guns here.
Nice touch at one of the metro stations—
Roughly translated it says that this a place for the citizens of the city to get a break from weird and hard days. Inside the jar are scrolls of poetry people can just take. Lovely thought.
If you are wondering about language difficulties, this is a typical sign at many attractions. The city wants to make sure you’re safe if you’re Korean, Japanese, Chinese, English speaking, or illiterate! The message is clear 🙃
Tried to get a picture of this guy as he whizzed by me on the sidewalk but he was too quick. Not sure about the rules of the road here. They seem to be relaxed 😎
Today started off with a continuation of my banking woes the upshot of which is that I still can’t use my bank card. Oy! Hopefully it will get sorted before I leave, sigh.
I had a date to meet with one of my lovely friends at her university today, so got to travel yet a new route on the metro. Lucky she was there to meet me because my transport key malfunctioned and the “out” machine wouldn’t let me through . It took a lot of language to get it all sorted and get me a new card. After a great Korean lunch, we parted ways and I set off to go to see The Blue House where President Moon Jae-In lives and runs the country. However I wasn’t paying attention and got off at wrong stop whereupon I was delighted to find myself here—
My son seems to think there’s no Canadian flag here, but there must be one somewhere! They have everything in this market from jewelry and clothes to fish
and all kinds of food. I’ll try something next time I’m there. I then walked out of there and right onto one of the famous Seoul landmarks I had been looking for. The famous little stream that has been turned from what was practically an open sewer to a clean mini canal that runs through the middle of the city.
The pics didn’t come in in the right order. The picture at bottom right should be first. I saw this woman cross the stepping stones, so I decided to do it. Trouble was that the first step was a doozy. She had recrossed in the meantime and gave me her hand. The top right is when I waved my thank you to her from the other side. Unfortunately the picture is too small to show her beautiful smile.
As I left that area, I walked smack into the next major attraction—the old city wall built in the 13th century, or started then and improved on over time as invasions got worse.
I decided to follow it up, and I thought climbing the stairs might be easier than walking up yet another hill.
One part was very narrow and I wondered whether to go for it, saying to myself, “now if you fall, there’s a bit of a drop…” The picture on the right doesn’t give a good idea of the drop and the fact that there was virtually no handholds on the wall above, but I did it! As I climbed up the first leg of the wall’s journey, I found I was in part of the old Seoul I’d probably seen from the Namsan Tower the day before.
I could live here! And when I finally reached the top, I met a lovely woman who wanted to practice her English with me. We had a very interesting conversation about North Korea. This is what we saw as we talked.
Top of the world!
After recovering from my trip south, I didn’t go out to see the Namsan Tower (also known as the Seoul Tower) until later in the afternoon. That was fortunate because the light was just perfect for showing off the city below at its photographic best.
This is the east side of Seoul at its late afternoon best. Isn’t it gorgeous. This was take from the mountain that the tower sits on,and I wasn’t even at the top!
The American just behind the Korean businessmen in the middle distance had just passed me fervently explaining in many different ways why he was ok with not going up the elevator to the top of the tower ha ha ha (lots of arm waving!)
Here’s the tower
And here’s a view of western Seoul from that point. You can see an old neighbourhood nestled into the new at the end of the line of cherry trees.
A fascinating city with its blend of old and new. There is so much about this city to love that I could go on and on and on!
I’m back from the south after having a really enjoyable trip. The KTX train took only 2 hours and 40 minutes to go down almost the entire western length of the country. When I arrived in Suncheon, my language exchange partner was there to meet me and immediately took me off for a sight seeing trip. We went to a folk village living museum where people still live and work, sort of like Carcassone in France. The ramparts have been restored, as have all the houses and other buildings. It was so interesting to walk around and imagine earlier times. The ladies in hanbok (traditional dress) are mannequins, the others are tourists like me 🙂
We had a wonderful traditional Korean lunch here, and then my guide whisked me off to the famous Songwangsa Buddhist temple located in a mountain park. The cherry blossoms were still out.
I really must learn not to put my finger over the lens.
The Temple is very much a working temple and is available for temple stays. I might have done it if I were younger, but getting up at 4 a.m. and sitting still for hours is beyond me now :((
After walking around the temple and grounds, which are beautiful, with mountain streams, little bridges, and stand of bamboo
it was time to get back to Suncheon and get me accommodation and settled in. The finale of the day was an absolutely wonderful meal of fish and chips! Probably one of the best fish and chips ever, made with fresh Korean fish. Scrumptious. My host couldn’t have been kinder—a perfect host.
No, I’m wrong, the finale of the day was a trip up the mountain to see Suncheon by night.
The next day was for Namhae—the famous Korean coastline area known for its beauty. What can I say. The day exceeded my expectations. There was so much to see and do, and the sea and mountain landscape was like food for the soul—no exaggeration. We drove up narrow mountain roads to see some of the lovely area
and my heart never skipped a beat on the narrow road, even when a speeding tour bus overtook us on a mountain bend. Crazy!
When we got near the top. As well as incredible views, we found a thriving little ranch of sheep and goats . One sheep took a shine to me and came over for a chat.
While we ate a delicious late mountain lunch of festive noodles in a little place that was by the roadside, I decided to head back to Seoul that night instead of going with my original plan of going to Mokpo and travelling home by bus up the western coast. I wanted to digest my trip to this gorgeous region and recharge. I really had done a LOT of climbing and walking. I’d also packed too many of the wrong sort of clothes. The south is much warmer. But before I left my host wanted to show me the famous German village that is a hot tourist stop even though the timing would be tight. It was lovely but it cost the equivalent of more than $6 for a cup of tea in the only restaurant!
We then had a wild ride down the mountain to make the last train going to Seoul that day. The train was leaving at 6:19 p.m. and we arrived at the front doors of the station at 6:19! I didn’t know I could move so fast. Suddenly language wasn’t a barrier. I barked “Seoul” and handed the agent my card, she handed me my ticket super fast, and then I followed two guys who nodded when I said “Seoul?” You really don’t need full sentences very often.
My host suddenly caught me up as he had managed to park his car in time to see me off. What a gent! He carried my stuff down to the platform and saw me onto the train.
We pulled into Seoul at around 9:30, and I bravely decided to take the subway home instead of a taxi, even though my backpack was heavy and I was carrying another bag with stuff in I hadn’t needed. When will I learn?
The Seoul subway at around 10 p.m. People still going home from work. Most of them on their phones! I’ve taken a peak to see what they’re looking at, and it’s mostly soccer. They are real fans here.
Going home at night is not a problem here, even in back alleys. There are people everywhere and it’s perfectly safe.
The climb of the final five flights out of my local station, plus the uphill 400 metre walk to my dorm nearly finished me though. By the time I staggered in at 10:15, I was almost too beat to eat, but I knew those late afternoon noodles wouldn’t be enough to keep me asleep for long
What a couple of days! Now the battle for getting my bank card to work here continues. I can’t really go anywhere else until that’s sorted.
Did I mention I love this country?
Tomorrow I’m going to Suncheon, gateway to Namhae, one of THE beauty spots of Korea. I decided to buy an English book for the next online friend who will be easing my way around Korea. Unfortunately it never happened. I researched the trip through Seoul using my new Seoul map app, got on the right train, but in one of my habitual digressions noticed that one station we stopped at on the metro was Itaewon, a famous neighbourhood in Seoul. World famous you might almost say. It’s known as a hangout for foreigners, so since it was already on my list of places to visit, and since I reasoned there was bound to be an English bookshop there, I hopped of the train sharpish before the doors slammed shut.
I didn’t see an English bookstore, but I did see a shop full of Turkish artifacts, including some lovely plates.
Since Steph is of course in Turkey, I stepped in to talk about Turkish ceramics etc. and the surprise to see them in Seoul. The storekeeper was Moroccan and we had a lovely chat about Turkey, Morocco, and Seoul, and then I asked her where the nearest English bookstore was. She took me next door to a Korean tailor who told her there was no such thing in Itaewon. Between them they decided on a course of action (in Korean) , hailed a taxi and gave him instructions, and after lots of komsamida-ing (very rough spelling of the Korean for thank you) off I sailed to I knew not where. I had no idea how much this was going to cost me and was imagining an embarrassing to-do when we arrived where he was taking me. It was a lovely trip through some of the iconic areas of Seoul though, so I just sat back and enjoyed it and tried not to worry when the driver started texting, with both hands when the traffic was slow. He obviously knew what he was doing, as we arrived at the Seoul central library unscathed. I waited with bated breath for the bad news and didn’t understand when he told me how much I owed him. I just took out all the money I had and held it out to him. He took one 5 and one 1 won note and gave me change. Unbelievable. And you don’t tip taxi drivers in Seoul (or anybody else) so, wow! In Canadian money, the trip across Seoul cost approximately $9.
I had never wanted a library, of course, so just walked around the famous and very beautiful centre of Seoul with its famous monuments and interesting people. Yi Sun-shin on the left, I already mentioned in an earlier post. He saved the country in the 16th century. The seated “king of kings” is King Sejong, a brilliant man who invented Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The third is an artist who had the media around him taking pictures with what looked like drones. I don’t know who he is but he must be someone well-known considering where he set himself up and the scores of police around didn’t’ “Move along sir, please” him.
When getting home time arrived , I decided on a bus this time. What a joy. Somehow people were willing to practice their limited English skills with me and did their best to find a suitable bus for me. There wasn’t one really, but I had a lovely bus ride until I saw a metro station with my home line number on it, got off and jogged (ha ha) home. Did I say I love this city?
My feet have finally rebelled. Went to Gyeonbokgung Palace today, walked around the huge complex for nearly three miles and my feet said “enough!” They’re spoiled from riding in my little Korean car. The Palace is something to see though. This map shows that the site was once the location of the entire town.
You can see why it’s possible to cover nearly 3 miles—-lots of walking back and forth and climbing steep stone steps. Now many of the buildings are gone because apparently all the original buildings were destroyed during battles or occupying forces, but all are gradually being restored as originally built.
After a painful return with three train connections and multiple flights of stairs in the stations followed by almost a kilometre uphill walk home, I surrendered to rest and Ibuprofen. The best was yet to come. Friends called at 4:30 for a supermarket trip. I was expecting the usual boring supermarket, but no! This was Korean style. Guided underground parking with attendants telling us where a parking was available, painted floors to avoid dust, attendants guiding each car into a space, music playing—just the arrival was a pleasure in itself. Then up to the “super” market. Fabulous.
Staff are at every display to help and advise
This lady came after me to wrap an orange I’d picked up
And the variety and quantity of available foods was astonishing. The other endearing touch is that when you buy organic eggs they give you an extra two free in their own little carton.
Among the many little touches that made the trip such a pleasure was inserting a little ice bag into the packages of meat and fish and providing free water with little metal cups to avoid waste. These little cups are used everywhere. Why don’t we do this in Canada?
Ice packs Metal cup
The amazing thing was that my feet stopped hurting! We finished by having a lovely meal on the premises. It was the most painless shopping trip I’ve ever had.
April 7, 2018
Today was the best day yet. I was met at lunchtime by another of my language exchange Skype friends. We were going to go for lunch around the university where I live, but decided to go further— to Insadong, famous shopping and all round activity area of Seoul. Here’s the link for further info on this fantastic area. While here my friend treated me to a fabulous traditional Korean bulgogi meal where the barbecue is actually set into the table and a chimney comes down to take away the fumes.
Here’s my friend mixing my bulgogi bibimbap for me after wincing at my ham fisted attempts.The meal was a poetic experience and very reasonably priced. After stuffing ourselves, we strolled along the famous shopping area where I was so tempted by the beautiful artifacts, gorgeous linen clothing, and an amazing array of wonderful wares. I’m not a shopper but I was entranced and sorely tempted. I’ll go back.
As we strolled along we fortuitously happened on a traditional dance performance
The whole afternoon was magical from start to finish and I was again impressed with how generally nice, kind, and genuine most Koreans are. Even on the crowded subway trains going home, I felt included by the crowds instead of being overwhelmed by them. Speaking of subway trains, there aren’t always escalators!
And in the same station a bit later,
My legs are getting stronger and my bad back has gone somewhere …..probably waiting for me back in Canada.
I finished my wonderful day by treating myself to some bread from a cute little hole-in-the-wall bakery called Dear Bread. The young man behind the counter did something amazing. When I gave my order for a small spinach focaccia and small raisin rye loaf, he took out a freshly baked olive focaccia from the oven, cut off three slices and slipped it into my package. I nearly got emotional! Did I mention I want to stay here?
April 6; 2018
Yesterday was an interesting day and so wore me out that didn’t have the energy to lift my forefingers to type one word. My new regimen is to walk all day, fall into bed exhausted by 9 pm, get up at dawn and repeat.
Yesterday was a series of firsts: first time navigating the Seoul subway system, first time realizing that pigeon English wouldn’t get me anywhere, first time looking at all the signs and instructions for travellers that there are in a train station and not understanding anything, first time trying to use an ATM machine and finding out it wouldn’t give me money, first time getting lost, and first time wolfing down a Korean lunch meal because I was dying here! And this was only the accompanyment to the main dish, which was coming.It was a great day! Oh yes, and first time finding out that not everyone in the world speaks English even a little bit!
It all happened because I wanted to do a trial run of the steps I have to take to get myself to Suncheon by train next Tuesday. Easy peasy, I thought. Wrong. Transferring from one subway line to another can be tricky if you can’t read the signs. On the plus side, all announcements on the subway trains are given in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English—in that order, so you know when a transfer station is coming up. 아치만 (However) once you actually get off the train, the language help drops off a bit. The message is clear here: learn some Korean.
Things to know are asking where something is and pronouncing it properly, the basic names of things you will see or want in the location you are going to, how to say “want” “need” “go” “come” and “buy,” basic stuff like that. Also learn how to say “can you help me,” and “ I’m lost.” This what I’m going to spend part of my day doing today. Learning how to say it, that is, not actually getting lost.
I was also able to discover that the people at the information desk in a busy Korean station don’t speak English, and neither do the police. The latter information came to me by way of getting lost walking home and seeing the friendly sign of the local cop shop 경찰 (I think—Koreans correct me). The anxious-to-help young man on the desk tried his best but could only help when my mind got in gear and I remembered the name of my local subway station. When I got lost again—side streets—friendly Australians pointed me in the right direction. Good old Aussies—they’re everywhere!
Oh I forgot to mention that when I tried (unsuccessfully) to use an ATM machine at the train station, a friendly, very tall, American who sounded as if he was from the South, tried to help me. He even offered to lend me money if I were desperate. I must have looked slightly incredulous because he didn’t push it, but I think he was probably sincere. I’m no longer in the age group for abduction, etc., which is one of the perks of grey hair.
The day ended on a very positive note as my local Korean friend popped in to bring me sustenance and advice for further expeditions. She has been a tremendous help. It was fortunate that she arrived when she did because in trying to make us a cuppa, we discovered that the electric kettle leaked and tripped the circuit breaker—cutting off power to half the room. We had to report it downstairs at the desk and I would have been lost, but my lovely friend took care of everything in double quick time!
So now I’m ready to see what today will bring.
Later: Today brought a new kettle! The lovely lady who cleans the rooms brought it without my having to ask. It seems people see what needs to be done and just do it.
I decided to go to the City Hall area today to check it out and I had another day of wonderful experiences. People stepped up to help as soon as I asked and struggled with their English to do their best. My heart went out to them all. On one memorable occasion a little elderly lady half my size saw me gazing at a Seoul metro map in a bemused fashion and bustled up to help me dragging her shopping cart behind her. Chatting away in Korean she asked me where I was going (the uptilt in her voice at the end of a sentence gave me a clue), and when I said “Anam-do” she said yes yes and to follow her (I’m pretty sure that was the gist), and then she took off at a clip that made me have to run to keep up with her! These Koreans are fitttt!! Unfortunately she put me on a train going the opposite way, but she meant well, and it’s not as though I had anywhere else to go. After another wrong move later on, I finally got home with aching feet. While on the wrong bus earlier I accidentally finished up in the area where King Sejong’s statue is plus lots of other famous and important stuff like the famous statue of General Yi Sun-shin and the Blue House, so that’s where I’m going back to next. I give you general Yi Sun-shin who saved the country in the 16th century:
And this is a typical Korean on a day like today when the Chinese send their smog this way (free!)
April 4, 2018
Finally here! The flight in a Dreamliner, business class was amazing. The result of paying a little extra means that I arrived without jet lag and I slept all night, Korean time, and woke up at 7:30 am ready to go.
Korean friends that I met through a language exchange web site met me at Incheon airport and drove me to the digs they arranged for me. They had bought some food and toiletries, so I was able to hit the ground running. So far, I am on cloud 9 . This the view from my balcony.
My friends’ son came to pick me up at noon to take me for an orientation afternoon. The sun came out, the sky cleared and the gods smiled down on us. It was perfect. As well as showing me the ropes of the underground subway system (and providing me with a “key” already loaded for travel) he gave me a fast rundown on how to read the subway map graphic and showed me some of the interesting stops, I can now get to Incheon by myself!
After that he took me to a marvellous little place for lunch where we sat at the counter Japanese style for udon noodle soup and were given a complementary side of sushi —the first I’ve ever eaten, and it was soooooo good. The chef preparing the food in full view was so skillful that I just had to learn the Korean for complementing him. Took me a couple of tries, but he seemed very pleased. Did I mention how charming Koreans are?
We then strolled over to the main campus of Korea U., which actually reminded me of Parliament Hill, of all things! Young people were sitting on rugs enjoying their lunch, laughing and talking—just ordinary life, but it seemed so magical to me.
We finished up our lovely afternoon with some mint tea/coffee in another charming spot and then wrapped it up with a visit to an ancient Buddhist temple perched at the top of yet another 1 in 3 grade hill. The reason you don’t see fat Koreans is that it’s a very hilly country! My calves are screaming, but they’ll thank me later.
I haven’t mentioned my attempts to use the Korean I “learned” over the winter. Long story short, my mind went blank the first time I needed to talk to someone and didn’t improve at later attempts. And, no, most Koreans don’t speak English. Grocery shopping this morning was an experience.
BEFORE THE TRIP
March 24, 2018
Going with the theme of this blog (living cheaply) I’m looking at ways to save money on my upcoming trip to Korea (South). So far it’s not working well as the upfront expenses: getting there, arranging for accommodation, buying insurance, etc., are not cheap.
Once I get there, I’ll be investigating ways to pinch a penny, or a won, wherever I can. Some ideas are finding ways to save on the daily food ration, how to save on traveling around the country, and how to find free fun activities in Seoul. Already I have found suggestions on the internet that I’ll be checking out. One thing that’s available in Korea for getting around and seeing the sites cheaply is connecting with the goodwill guide service provided by the Korean Tourist site
As for traveling around the country and finding places to stay, I will rely on the people I meet in Seoul to give me the best advice. I am confident that people will be friendly and willing to help a stranger in a strange land
December 25, 2017
Merry Christmas again! Another year has passed in a flash and we’re on the threshhold of 2018 with Donald Trump steering a leaking, creaking ship to the south of us. The U.S. will survive this, of course, and someone will come along with more knowledge of shipping. In the meantime, I wish everyone a great 2018 with health, strength, and love available in abundance.
A lot has happened to me since I wrote this blog last year, of course. One of the main changes concerns my comments about South Korea. I’m going! My brain figured out a way to have a stress free trip and my ticket is booked for April 2, 2018, and I’ll be there for a month. Over the past year I’ve made some good Skype friends in Korea–people who wanted to practice their English skills, so I’m looking foward to meeting them. I’m a self-admitted Korean TV drama junkie and plan to see many of the places I’ve seen while watching those dramas I loved (see partial list on the Korean TV page). I shall be keeping notes here while I’m in Korea, so anyone interested in what S. Korea is like now that Kim Jong Un has been riled up, can catch up with the news here. Ha ha (I hope it will be ha ha, and not uh oh).
Merry Christmas to me and anyone who reads this blog! My wish and hope for the coming year is to have a cruelty-free year, especially for animals and children.
My brain is still working hard on trying to come with an idea for a stress-free trip to Korea for me. One strong idea is a home stay plan. But what if my home stay people and I don’t hit it off? It might be awkward. Then I thought of a working home stay; instead of paying, I could work as an English coach for a student in the house. That way the language barrier might not be as big because I’d get to speak English every day. My knowledge of Korean is gleaned from all the TV dramas I watch. I can read many of the words now, since I’ve taken a course on how to read Korean, but after I’ve read a word, I’ve no idea what it means.
Another idea occurs to me. Maybe I could go to Korea to take a course on learning Korean! That would be fun. I’ll check out some of the universities to see if they have courses for foreigners.
Got on a Korean web site and offered to do some English conversation over Skype with anyone who wanted to practice. Got two replies and enjoyed the chat. So interesting to talk with people who are several thousand miles away and living in a totally different culture. I’d like to do this type of Skype chat more.
The more I learn about Korea the more fascinating I find it. They certainly have had a tough time of it and lost millions of citizens in the wars. Next step is to learn Korean.
The Korean language is not easy since you have to listen to the whole sentence before understanding which tense it’s in since the verbs come at the end. The syntax and vocab has to be changed depending on whom one is talking to as well. Even Koreans find the honorifics difficult, my little book says. There’s no hope for me then!
Just attended an orientation session for ESL teachers who would like to go to Korea. It was given in a little cottage on the grounds of the Korean Embassy. Nice looking place! Although I’m past the age when I should be thinking of overseas teaching, I can’t help wishing I could try a stint of teaching in Korea. I’m still highly qualified, after all. I’m also still teaching as a volunteer and privately as well.
In any case, I can always go for a holiday, but would like to go with a group or a friend. Being alone in a new country without one word of the language would not be scary, but it would definitely be difficult to get the most out of the trip.