Morning Running

Since the start of the warm weather, Dean and I have made an effort to get outside more and enjoy all of our days left here. We now walk or run everyday. I've been meaning to get a bit more into running but during the long cold months, this was not going to happen. But now I have no excuse. I found this great app called "10K". It coaches you to be able to run 10km in 14 weeks (or 5 by 8 weeks). I skipped the easier beginning weeks and I have really started enjoying running with it. We live on the edge of Jeonju so we have many places to run; mountains, forests and rivers that spread out into the country.

I really like running outside of Jeonju in the "country" because it's much quieter than the city. We have seen many people walking their big dogs off lead and even though we are the only runners, it feels more normal.

It's great to get outside before it is too hot and to make the most of our mornings. I look forward to doing more running when I get home.

A Korean wedding experience

A few weekends ago, Dean and I attended the wedding of one of my colleagues. I didn't ever expect to go to a wedding while living in Korea for a year, but I am so pleased I got to have the really interesting cultural experience. Korean weddings are completely different from western weddings and I think I was constantly surprised. Here are some key differences and observances about Korean weddings:

1. Weddings take place in a Wedding Hall (or palace)

These "halls" are large multistory buildings where the wedding ceremony and reception take place. There isn't just one wedding taking place, in fact there are many. There are many ceremony rooms for the different wedding parties. When we walked into the building there were hundreds and hundreds of people. You have to check the reception to see where the wedding you are attending is taking place. There are 7 of these "halls" in Jeonju, doesn't offer much choice then.

2. The Bride's Room

Before you enter the ceremony room, you go via the Bride's Room. Here, the bride is waiting to greet the guests and take a photo. Obviously this is really different to western weddings where no one sees the bride before the ceremony. 

3. Wedding gifts

It is customary to give money as a gift. The money should be in a white envelope and it is given to cover the cost of food at the reception. After you give your envelope you are given a meal voucher for the buffet reception.

4. The ceremony

The actual ceremony was so interesting. It was set in a dark room with many multi-color lights and flashing screen pictures. Depending on whether you are a guest of the bride or groom, you sit on a different side of the room. I can't say exactly what went on in the ceremony as I can't understand Korean. There was a lady who kept ushering the bride and groom around telling them what to do. The groom and the groom's friend also sang which was cool because they had good voices. The most bizarre thing is that most people don't even sit but hover around at the back. Guests didn't seem to even listen to the ceremony, rather talking loudly and even making phone calls!! After the ceremony (and even during it), guests leave and head to the reception. 

5. The reception

At the reception, there is a huge buffet and the guests from all the weddings (so hundreds of people). It is so crowded and you have to try find an empty table. You obviously end up sitting next to random guests from other weddings. The food though is unlimited and was really delicious. There was even unlimited beer and soju.

6. Wedding attire

The bride doesn't have a custom dress designed but rather rents a dress and shoes too. The dress for the ceremony is a typical looking white dress. During the reception, the bride and groom change into Hanbok (Korean traditional clothes), and walk around and greet their guests. As far as the guest attire goes, the range was huge. Some of the older people wore Hanbok, while others were smartly dressed and a few really casual. The guests dress code is definitely not as fancy as for a western wedding. 

So there you have it. Korean weddings are definitely an interesting experience and I am glad I got to have this cultural experience.

The start of summer in Korea

This past weekend definitely felt like the official start of summer. It was the first time we wore shorts (since about October last year) and the weather was so lovely and warm. The flowers out at the moment are amazing, there are bright colors everywhere. The azaleas are in full bloom, the cherry blossoms are long gone and the trees are beautiful and green. Everything is looking alive and happy compared to the long, dry, brown winter. The cat is of course content with life as she gets to watch all the noisy birds and lie in the sun.

I'm sure these mildly warm temperatures will be short lived as I can imagine we will be boiling soon enough. But in the mean time we are making the most of this weather. We are enjoying lots of morning walking, running and hiking. Last weekend we went to the Bukchon Hanok village in Seoul and it was good to wonder around in the sun and eat. icecreams

Our time in Korea will be coming to an end soon. We have just one month left here, I can't believe it! Time seems to have flown in the last few months. We are looking forward to making the most of our time left here and enjoying the start of summer.

Christmas in Korea

Christmas is not a very celebrated holiday in Korea and for some reason it is thought of as a 'couple holiday'. This didn't deter us and so we had a big Christmas celebration with a group of our foreigner friends in Jeonju.

We got into the Christmas spirit and decorated our apartment and it felt nice and cozy with the cold weather outside.

Our friends came over for an afternoon of good food and company as well as some games. There was so much yummy food, Christmas jumpers, and even gluwein and champagne too.

We organized a secret Santa and there were some interesting gifts including a BB gun.

It was a lovely day and definitely a memorable Christmas in Korea.

July Round-up: Part 2

When my mom arrived, Dean and I were proud to act as tour guides of Jeonju and show her around. Her visit was also perfectly timed to coincide with our 3 day vacation so we were extremely lucky to be able to visit Jeju Island.  Here are just a few photos to finish off the end of the month. 

Mum catching on with the Korean ways :) 

The flowers this time of year are lovely.

One of the larger traditional Hanok Village houses.

Enjoying the wonderful treats the village has to offer on a hot day.

A moving tribute to the victims of the Sewol tragedy. Korea is still in deep pain about this. 

More flowers and a cat!

My mom became a bit obsessed with cute Korean children. Snapping pictures whenever she could. Her camera must be full of them :)

Hillside village. How to disguise a drain pipe. 

Lucky for my mom, she also celebrated her birthday while she was here. We took her to try the famous Jeonju Bibimbap. We went to a restaurant called Gajok Hwegwan and it was definitely the best Bibimbap we have had so far. We followed up with traditional Korean desert Bingsu which is made from shaved ice and has various toppings. It is truly most delicious.

More flowers. In the forest behind our apartment. 

Gym time!! In the forest.

-One a side note, a funny thing happened at school the other day. My middle school students rushed in one evening to tell me about Ebola. And how Ebola is in Africa and that now I am lucky and I don't have to worry because I'm in Korea, I'm safe!!. The blissful ignorance...

Hanok Village in pictures

On a return trip to the Hanok Village we managed to visit some of the well-known places we didn’t get to last time and finally taste Jeonju’s famous Bibimbap. And it wasn’t too crowded either. 

We started off just outside the Hanok Village at Pungammun Gate and Jeondong Cathederal. Pungammun Gate used to be part of Jeonju's city wall and was built in 1768. At a plaza just near Pungammun Gate, there was a tribute to the Sewol ferry disaster. Yellow ribbons and decorated life jackets were on display. There were some haunting messages written on the jackets blaming the crew for killing the children. Jeondong 

Cathedral was one of the first  cathedrals to be built in Korea and has a somewhat European style. A sweet old man saw us hanging around the cathedral and offered to take our photo. He managed to take about 20 photos all with his finger over the corner.

Outside Gyeonggijeon, a shrine area full of beautful buildings and trees.

We loved this little shop-Mohair Shop (http://www.mohairshop.co.kr). It sells all sorts of teddy bears and teddy bear making kits. We bought 2 and have loved sewing up our little animals. 

"Happiness". Shops and stalls in the Village sell all sorts of trinkets and fans.

A very old convenience store.

Walking up to Omokdae, the view point above the Hanok Village. 

On the hilltop there is a resting place (note all the shoes) and once again an outdoor gym (just incase you thought about gyming while you were touring the village).

We wondered out of the Hanok Village to a very old, quaint, hillside village. I'm not sure what it is called but it wound its way up the hill and many of the walls were painted with all sorts of murals (more to come in a blogpost on this later).

We ended our day with some of Jeonju's famous Bibimbap. After trying some of the many snacks for sale in the village, we weren't too hungry so we only ordered 1 portion of food. And look at all that food!! Bibimbap is traditionally a mixture of vegetables served on a bed of rice in a stone bowel and topped with some meat and a fried egg. There are now many different variations. As you can see, our meal is surrounded by all sorts of side dishes, from crab to tofu and kimchi. This is common in Korea and best of all, they are FREE!

Hiking in Jeonju

A drizzly Sunday morning inspired us to get out and explore some of the nearby hiking trails. Hiking, being a firm favorite among Koreans, we bumped into many avid hikers. Some who even offered us a drink of their very strange flavored water. The hiking trails are about a 20 minute walk from our apartment and there are many different trails that snake all over the hills. To our surprise, shortly after starting the walk, we came across a beautiful Buddhist temple and shrine. There were monks walking around too. There were also a couple of outdoor gyms scattered around the walk where a few locals were doing push ups, pull ups and other exercise. A great idea I think! Another strange/clever thing we saw, was a "high pressure air drying station". Basically there are hoses which blow high pressure air and you can use it to get rid of the dirt on your shoes and clothes. The hiking was really steep, but it wasn't too far to the top. We were rewarded with some amazing views. Definitely a place to visit more than once, and maybe even at night because some of the paths have lights.

After a very steep and sweaty walk we reached this Buddhist temple.

I love these paintings and engravings on the side.

Just look at all those tall buildings. One of them is ours in the faaar distance.

Again, now you can really see what I mean when I say there are tall buildings everywhere!

Just incase you need to know the time while you're walking!

One of the gyms (note the guy doing push ups back there)

View of Jeonju at the top.

Many more trails to be explored. Looking into the mountains from the top.

At the top-not very high!

Butterfly that was following us around.

Deokjin Park, Cat Cafe, Jeonju Zoo

Deokjin Park is famous for its bed of lotus flowers that cover half of the huge pond in the park. It is also the representative park of Jeonju. It is not a very touristy place and is mainly filled with locals enjoying the park and having picnics. We paid it a visit on a Saturday afternoon. There was a lovely atmosphere in the park with lots of children running around happily. Kids are always everywhere in Jeonju, I think it is because they need to escape their apartments and don’t have the luxury of their own gardens at home. We strolled around the park, taking pictures of the lotus flowers and walked across the suspension bridge in the middle of the pond. There are also some little wooden bridges where you can walk across the lotus section and enjoy the views from the pagodas. Unfortunately the light was not that great for taking photos, being all overcast and bright, so I think we will have to return to the park one morning in July when the lotuses are in full bloom and get some good shots. 

Some funny statues in the park.

Some ladies enjoying sitting in the pagoda.

Dean checking out a lambourgini

Silk worm pupae for sale (eeew and it STINKS).

Some poor children doing homework in the park.

Opposite Deokjin Park, much to our delight, is a cat café (this may have been a contributing factor why we were so eager to go to the area). The café is not very obvious (on the third floor) and you probably wouldn’t notice it was there unless you knew about it. Luckily one of our teachers had checked on Naver because we couldn’t find anything on Google. We were both in need of some animal contact so the cat café was just what we needed. Now, these kinds of cafes are very popular in Korea. You get dog cafes, cat cafes, sheep cafes, hello kitty cafes just to mention a few. We plan to visit a lot of these (though they are mainly in Seoul). But the Jeonju cat café was a great place to start. We wondered in to the café where we swopped our shoes for slippers and sanitized our hands. Basically at these cafes you just order a drink and get to play with cats and watch them have fun. This was a well done café as the cats were in good condition, seemed very happy with life and were very friendly. It is a bit of a cat’s paradise with scratch posts, toys, heaters and overhead running tracks everywhere. I can’t wait to visit some other cafes and it will definitely be high up on my list when I go to Seoul. 

Feeding the cats some treats (check the cool slippers)

Cats paradise. There are about 15 cats at the cafe.

Just chilling.

Some very well behaved cats!

What a beautiful cat just relaxing on our table.

Our last stop of the day was Jeonju Zoo. We were on the bus and thought “why not?” I had never been to a zoo as I think they are depressing places but we decided to give it a try. The Jeonju Zoo was no different. The actual grounds of the zoo were beautiful and they were filled with families and again stacks of kids (it only costs 1300won to get in). But unfortunately, the animals all looked miserable, pacing in their small cement cages, and it broke our hearts. We felt so sorry for majestic animals like tigers, wolves, leopards etc in such tiny and unnatural cages. I guess that when the people here live in small, cement boxes, they may think it is fine for animals too.

The zoo didn't warrant many pictures except these of the beautiful flowers.

Apartment Living

So as I mentioned before, basically everyone in Korea lives in very tall apartment buildings. Apartment blocks are clustered together everywhere and the average height is about 15 floors. Dean and I live in a 15 story building and our apartment is on the 4th floor. When moving to Korea we had very low expectations of what our apartment would be like. After much blog reading we expected we would be living in a tiny studio apartment with barely any space to move, a shower over the loo and a kitchen in our bedroom/livingroom. However, we are so lucky!!! We have a large spacious apartment with a separate kitchen and living room, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with a bath!! We couldn't have asked for better, seriously! So without further ado, here is a tour of our place :) 

View out the back door of our apartment. The far, tall buildings are where our schools are. 

Our kitchen/dining room (we did not choose lovely table cloth)

Koreans love their wall paper. As you can see, all our cupboards are papered differently.

Our lounge with a flat screen TV too. 

Our spare room (for anyone who wants to visit us). Currently our walk in closet.

Koreans use very strange/unusual linen. We were limited for choice here with hawain type flowers.

Great! We have a bath (not common), and our shower doesn't drench the place too much!

Laundry room/balcony.

View from the laundry room/balcony (not very exciting).

Outside look of our building, taken on a Friday market day.

First week of EBY Talking Club

Monday morning finally came around. Dean and I were pretty nervous because we didn’t really know what to expect. Seeming though we actually took this job on a whim without having received a signed contract from the director and not fully knowing what our responsibilities would be, we had our fingers crossed. Our director Joanna fetched us on Monday afternoon and took us to our schools. Dean’s school is about a 10 minute walk from our apartment and mine is just past his, about a 15 minute walk.

Dean's school. You can see the EBY Talking Club sign. 

Walk to school, up the hill. 

My school, you can see the EBY Talking Club sign on the side. 

Walk to my school. Luckily some shade!!

Both schools are the same Talking Club franchise, have the same director and run with the same system. Joanna showed us around the schools and explained briefly how the system works. We rotate around the 4 classrooms everyday so each day we teach a new group of students. It is quite refreshing to see different students everyday. It’s also good for the students because they all need as much exposure to speaking English as possible. The Talking Club ‘system’ was a bit complicated to get our heads around but we seem to have worked it out now. Our first week has been great. For me it mainly involved doing introductions and showing the kids a slide show about Cape Town, my home and my family. Most children have never heard of South Africa and they were in awe by all the pictures. After showing them pictures of my house and garden I was met by many gasps and “teacha, are you rich?” questions. Everyone here lives in taaaall apartments and apparently only like the CEOs of Samsung and Hyundai have swimming pools at their houses. Needless to say, all the kids want to come to South Africa!

The entrance to my school. Dean's looks the same.

Inside the school. It is quite small with only 4 small classrooms and a teachers office.

I get to wear these cool slippers when I get to work. Dean got started on teaching on day 2. His teachers are very keen and explained the whole system to him. Lucky for me because then he could tell me all about it. There are 3 Korean teachers at each school. Their English is ok and sometimes it can be difficult to get across what you are trying to say. It seems crazy because they are English teachers but they all seem to be able to teach grammar just fine.

Our hours are pretty great. We have to be at school at 1:20pm to start teaching at 2pm and we finish at 8pm. This is much less hours than typical hagwon (Korean ‘after school’ program) jobs which generally finish at 10pm and we still get paid the average salary. We also do minimal lesson planning and arriving at school at 1:20pm gives us plenty of time to prepare for the day. I've heard new teachers can spend up to 6hour preparing for each day so I’m pleased about this.

Another thing we did in our first week was visit the hospital for our health check. You need to have a health check within 30days of entering the country so that you can apply for your Alien Registration Card (which allows you to stay in the country). Joanna took us to one of the main hospitals in Jeonju one morning, Jesus Hospital. I was the BUSIEST hospital I have ever seen, people everywhere walking around in gowns. No wonder people in Korea live so long if they are always at the hospital getting checks. We had the most rigorous health check either one of us had ever had. And it was so efficient, all taking about an hour. The check involved: chest scan, blood test, ear test, eye test, urine test, blood pressure, height, weight etc, mouth examination. Joanna paid for both our tests, 100 000 Won (R1000), which was very kind of her. Directors do not normally pay for it. She is such a kind lady and has so far given us so many gifts and treats. We are so lucky to have such a great director.

With Joanna at Dunkin Donuts after the hospital :) All in all, the first week was enjoyable and we feel very lucky to have an awesome director and nice schools. I am looking forward to next week to start some proper teaching and get into a routine. 

First weekend-visiting the Hanok Village

Having the long weekend after we arrived was perfect to allow us to recuperate after our trip and get over the jet lag. We were also able to start getting our apartment organized by making a few trips to Home Plus. There was hardly any storage space in our apartment so we managed to make a plan with some portable hanging rails.

Walking around our neighbourhood:

On Saturday we decided to explore and take a trip to Jeonju’s famous Hanok Village. It was relatively easy making our way there because we could just show the taxi driver our translation page Joanna had given us and off we went. The Hanok Village is very famous in Korea and attracts lots of tourists and locals. The village is full of traditional Korean houses, very old buildings and shrines and lots of tearooms and food stalls. We didn’t particularly have a plan for when we arrived, we just planned on wondering around. As the village is a very big tourist attraction, we expected to see a few foreigners. Not the case. I think we saw one Westerner there and I think about 3 the whole weekend. We are slowly realizing seeing Westerners is very rare. The village was really crowded, I think maybe because it was a long weekend. We didn’t get to see as much of it as we wanted and we definitely need to go back to see the Jeondong Cathedral, calligraphy museum, the Gyeonggijeon shrine and the Confucian academy. The crowds and the fact that NO ONE (well basically) speaks English was quite overwhelming. But it was a good start to looking into the Korean culture and seeing how our new life was going to be.

Around the Hanok Village:

I couldn't resist, I had to buy a fan, Koreans don't seem to notice it is BOILING!! (and the hat was a desperate purchase from Home Plus to avoid sunburn)

Trying some of the snacks! These are rice cakey type things and are filled with ice cream and topped with strawberries. Delish!!

This little boy, whose name was "Friendly", came up to us and gave us 2 chocolates. Korean children choose their English names (sometimes bizarre ones) so I guess his name suited him.

So crowded!!

Having an "iced beer".

This cute little kid was having a great time.

After visiting the Hanok village we spent the rest of the weekend spring cleaning our apartment and preparing for our first week of our new teaching job.