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.

Winter weekend in Seoul

In a last attempt to check out any Christmas spirit in Korea, myself, Dean and our friend Marcel, headed to Seoul the weekend before Christmas. We were hoping, that like most major cities, we would see a substantial "Christmasy" atmosphere with lots of lights and high spirits. Unfortunately we were a bit dissapointed as there was not too much. We still made the most of our time and had some good food and experience some freezing weather. 

We started off our weekend with a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon Stream. The weather was icy but it was really peaceful to walk alongside the river.

We had lunch at Richard Copycat in Itaewon. The restaurant is at the end of the Itaewon "strip" near the High Street Market. It is quite a chic restaurant and kind of reminds me of places in Camps Bay in Cape Town. In summer the restaurant is open air so I can imagine it would be a cool place to hang out. They serve some good food, bottomless drinks, and we enjoyed great sandwiches and burgers. Since visiting I have read some terrible reviews about Richard Copycat on Trip Advisor but I have to disagree with them as our experience there was pleasant. 

In the evening, we checked out the giant Christmas tree near the Seoul City Hall. Just near the tree was some outdoor ice skating. We were really enthusiastic to try it out so we queued up. We stood in the freezing cold for 30 minutes, only to find out we had been in the wrong queue and were actually meant to book a session. The next session was sold out and as we didn't want to hang around for the next 2 hours, we ended up giving the ice skating a miss. The winter weather in Seoul can definitely be mean. The winds were icy and the evening temperature (not including the wind chill) was -10 degrees! 

We ended off our weekend with a 4Dx movie (more on this soon) which was amazing and definitely the highlight of my weekend. 

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...

July Round-up: Part 1

July was a great month and we had many exciting times during the month. July saw a visit from my mum, our first trip to Seoul and an amazing holiday to Jeju island (more blog posts on Jeju to come soon).

As part of our teaching duties we had to go to Seoul to attend a day-long EBY Talking Club training course. This meant we had to leave Jeonju at 5:30am on a Saturday morning to catch an express bus to Seoul. Luckily one of Dean’s co-teachers also had to attend the training so she could show us the way. The training was at the EBY headquarters and there were only about 10 of us foreign teachers (from all around the country). It was very relaxed and just involved some Korean teachers giving talks on the syllabuses.  It was much better than I expected as we were given some good teaching tips and it definitely inspired me to try be a better teacher and make my lessons more exciting. Another nice thing about the training was that we got to speak to other foreign teachers who work for the same franchise and compare our schools. Most of the other teachers were American or Canadian. It seems Dean and I have a really good deal with the running of our school.  We kept the contacts of the other teachers and may meet up with them in the future if we are ever in their part of the country.

After our training we headed to Itaewon to stay at my dad’s friend, Paul’s, house. His whole family moved to Seoul and they have been there for 5 years. Itaewon is the foreigner area in Seoul and it is filled with many westerners, embassies and huge houses (the CEOS of Samsung and LG live there). It was so weird for us to be there and see westerner families walking in the streets as well as be in house that sort of resembled a typical South African house (it even had a garden).  Paul and his daughter Erin took us to the Seoul Club for dinner. We had delicious hamburgers, a first since our time in Korea. They then took us out to check out the bustling streets of Itaewon. The streets are lined with trendy bars, pubs and restaurants and they were full with people. We definitely saw the most foreigners and westerners we had seen ever in Korea. There seemed to be people from all around the world as we heard all sorts of accents and languages. We went to 2 pubs. One was the “Braai Republic”. A pub/restaurant started by a South African man. It serves all sorts of South African food. We were pleased to have some Savannahs, Castles, biltong and amazing Amarula cheesecake. Being in Itaewon kind of made us wish that we lived in Seoul. The place seems so alive and it’s really nice to not feel like such an outsider. I can’t wait to go back there.

Braai Republic- looks like home

The next day, Paul very kindly took us for a brief tour around Seoul. We visited Insadong, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the old Olympic stadium before we had lunch in Gangnam and then headed back to Jeonju. I really enjoyed the weekend in Seoul and appreciated all the home comforts. The small things like being with dogs (Paul had 3), eating normal cheese and having Mexican food for lunch reminded me of home.

Girls wearing traditional Hanbok clothing in Insadong.

The main street of Insadaong. You can buy lovely trinkets, food and treats.

Dean and Paul watching the performance on how to make the delicious

Insadong traditional sweet Yong Su Yeom. Yong Su Yeom is a treat spun from fine threads of honey and it has a nutty filling.

Dongdaemun Design Plaze from the outside. Bizarre looking building. The inside looks weirdly futuristic.

 

In July we also had Market Day at our schools. This was a really fun day as we didn’t have to work and the kids had a great time. On Market Day the children get to spend “money” that they have earned for good behaviour, hard work etc on all sorts of treats. Dean and I were in charge of the snack rooms.  We also got spoilt with many treats and yummy food. I was given iced noodles for lunch, a really strange meal but quite refreshing. 

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!