Sunday, 29 December 2013

Announcement

As of 29 December 2013, when you click on the Meet Maggie, Teaching FAQ, My Bucket List, Korea Blogs or Contact me, you will be redirected to www.maggieblogs.com. This is my new website that is currently under construction. I hope to go fully live with it from February 2014.

Thank you and happy reading!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The most wonderful time of the year

Imagine you are in a room with bunk beds. Some people are lying in the bunk beds and others are lying on the floor, sleeping bags tucked up under their chin. A CD is playing. Toys, books and games are in messy piles waiting to be used. Instead, the occupants of the room are caterwauling their hearts away to "Santa Claus is coming to town!"  Ever so often, Mam or Dad poke in their heads to ask "Are you kids ever going to sleep"? Fast forward to morning, and I am the first one awake. I wait as long as I can (usually 5 minutes) before deciding that my siblings have slept long enough and I start singing (off key as it's the only way I sing) Jingle Bells or some other tune. A lot of growling, pleas to shut up and threats to smother me later, we stand at the top of the stairs, blankets wrapped around us, socks pulled as high as they can go, waiting on our mother's signal. Down we creep, each of us grabbing our Christmas sock. We file into the front room and wait for our dad to return with the tea (good guy, Dad!). Jostling each other we fight for the best seats and then open our socks, spilling pens, sweets and goodies onto our laps. Christmas day has started.

I love Christmas and everything connected to it - Christmas Eve Mass, the Nativity Scene, Christmas trees, lights and decorations, food, traditions and gifts. Coming to Korea, I knew that I wouldn't get to celebrate Christmas the way that I had in the past. While there were some traditions I wanted to keep (Kris Kindle with my family), there were some I had to forgo (my Mam's Christmas cake) and some I got to start. Some of these traditions I've decided to not only continue in Korea but for the rest of my life. What better way to keep a piece of my family and Korea with me always than by sharing with my own (hopefully, someday!) family.

Christmas is different in Korea - it's harder to get the turkey... and the spiced beef isn't happening....but you can still have the sides: mashed potatoes, garlic potatoes, roast potatoes, fried potatoes (did I mention potatoes?), green bean casserole, roasted veg and even pumpkin pie. It just takes being a little more creative. Last year, Christmas morning was spent having brunch with some close friends and their siblings. It was a lot of fun as everyone contributed yummies from crepes to chocolates! The evening was spent having a Christmas dinner where again wonderful food and company was provided. Now there are way more people in Jochiwon than last year, which means meeting in one person's house is really difficult. On Christmas Eve, a bunch of us are going to meet to exchange Kris Kindle gifts and on Christmas night I've invited the community to come to my house, if they want, for some drinks and maybe dessert.

Being with your family is probably impossible as an expat in Korea, unless someone visits you or you are lucky enough to get the Christmas week off to go home (on both counts, I am the queen of envy!). However, you can still spend it with people you love. Spend it with your friends and Skype with your family. That's what I did last year and what I am doing this year. My house isn't big enough to fit people sitting comfortably (last year at least 3-4 people had to stand to eat!) and as mentioned already we have a lot of people this year. Both this year and last year, I spent the majority of the day with my close friends and then the evening with my all my other friends. I know I wasn't the only one then and I won't be the only one doing it this year. My brother and his friends travelled distances to be together as their "family" his Christmas here.

I've already talked about how I have made decorations for Christmas and I mentioned the advent calendar. This is my new favourite tradition. A lot of times, I find it hard to balance my excitement with what the season is really about. When this happens I can become a bit snarky (Christmas 2011, anyone?). I don't like this side of me, so in an effort to combat it and so I don't feel "let-down" by Christmas I came up with my advent calendar.  This calendar allows me to put up one decoration a day from the 1st to the 25th December starting with the Christmas tree and lights all the way down to the baba Jesus in the crib. Every day, I get to put up one decoration (Santa decoration) or several types of one decoration (baubles). There are days where in order to put up the decoration, I must make something (snowmen and snowflakes). I have found that doing this has helped me to keep my Christmas spirit intact all the way through Christmas Day and even into the New Year. I've been quite busy this December so some things I am leaving to make on my birthday and even maybe the next crafts club in February (it's a sewing project, so it's allowed!).Another tradition that I have decided to start is making my own Christmas inspired foods and drinks: Non-alcoholic apple cider and mulled wine (my sister is going to send me the recipe..hint-hint), peanut butter cups (thanks, Jaime), mincemeat, and my own version of the Chocolate Refrigerator cake (original recipe is here).

Some other things that have helped me was to enjoy Christmas in Korea are as follows, and who knows maybe they will help you too!
  • Listening to Christmas FM. This is is a charity radio station from Ireland and every year their charity partner changes. They play lots of Christmas songs and it's always nice to hear the Irish accent!
  • Don't sit alone at home. This is key. Sitting alone at home induces wallowing and the cry of "Why me?" Go for coffee, meet for dinner - just get away from yourself for a few hours.
  • Go to something Christmassy. Last year, I saw The Hobbit and I went to a performance of The Phantom of the Opera. I have yet to make it to the second Hobbit movie but I did go see The Nutcracker.
  • Decorate your home. Even if it's just to put some fairy lights up - it puts you in good spirit, add in that music and sure you'll be laughing in no time at all! The more creative you are the better - I like making Christmas decoration and will happily spend hours cutting out snowflakes but you could also do what my friend, Rucy, did and make a Tripod tree. 
  • Do something charitable, even if you can't make it to an actual place to volunteer, give some cash to the Salvation army or if you know someone who is involved in a charity, perhaps you can donate. This year, one of the girls in my town is organising gifts for the local orphanage. Another girl is organising a wrapping party for these gifts. Fun shall ensue! 
  • With your close friends share a part of your childhood Christmases. Santa always brought stationery to us and I am passing that useful tradition on to my friends. Delicious roast potatoes will be my other reminder of home this year as is the tea, games and chats. At home, my family doesn't turn on the TV for the few days surrounding Christmas. Instead we partake in each others company. So in my house (while the computer will play music), no TV is the rule on Christmas day!

"Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night". 

 Clement C Moore


So you might think I'm mad to try and start traditions in Korea that I think I want to do for the rest of my life. You might think I'm mad to try and recreate as much as I can the Christmases I had as a child. Christmas is about magic and if you believe hard enough, then much like Tinkerbell, Christmas is alive and well. As my very wise mother once told me when I was being a bit of a brat, Christmas is what you make it - if you only let yourself get caught up in the commercialism of it you will be let down. So even if you are far from home and far from loved ones, keep your Christmas spirit and just maybe you'll find that the "love ones [don't need to be] near" for it to be "the most wonderful time of the year."

PS. This post is inspired by the song "It's the most wonderful time of the year" and trying to make Christmas in Korea the most wonderful time of the year.




Thursday, 19 December 2013

Love and laughter and joy ever after

Yesterday morning, I had English class with my 3-1 class. When I walked in the classroom, the home room teacher told me that my students had a song to perform for me as a gift. I was delighted as they pulled out their Korean recorders/tinwhistles (I don't know the name but will post a photo later as I have a gift of one at home). They played one of the songs from Fantasia and they were excellent.
I had already decided that today I was going to bring some choco pies to give them as Christmas presents as I won't see these students until St Stephen's day. The students were so excited when the saw them and at the end of class I started to hand them out. The teacher stopped me and had me gather them back up. Meanwhile, the students formed a circle where I stood in the middle.. Then the teacher told me that they had heard my birthday was coming up and as I stood there red with embarrassment my 3rd graders sang "Happy Birthday" in English, congratulated and some even gave me little gifts of candy. One student gave me a gift of a toy camel which I'm going to include in my crib. I had to pull back on the tears but the corners of my eyes were wet!

I'm really proud of them regardless but I today am really chuffed that they wanted to do this and were encouraged to do so by their teacher. I feel really, really loved today and it just goes to show if you have teachers who care about English, you will see your students shine as they learn the language.

So, thank you to my "children [for] singing [birthday] rhymes" and to my teacher for reminding me Christmas is a "time for believing" especially in the small things.

PS This post is inspired by the generosity of my students and their home-room teacher. I used Cliff Richard's Mistletoe and Wine to illustrate their loveliness!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Loud, LOud, LOUd, LOUD, sssshh quiet.

When I cook, I sometimes have the TV or some music on but, generally, I prefer silence as I chop, slice and dice. I like hearing the sounds of whatever I am making come together - the hiss of the oil, the rolling bubbles of water and the clatter of pots and pans  - as I make my way around the kitchen. Usually, this is the only time I allow my self some quiet (outside of reading). It's not that I don't like quiet, I do, but I find it hard to just sit quietly and think. When I cook though, I am able to separate my brain from my actions. I know how to chop an onion, peel a carrot and crush some garlic. I do this automatically and my brain gets to think, quietly.

Hmmm this sounds as if I only think when I cook. That's not true, I think a lot - on the bus or train (when I'm not napping), snatched minutes between classes, whilst I am out for a walk or wandering around Home Plus by myself. However, I have noticed that over the years I have developed some bad habits: when I am not cooking or doing some other crafty thing, I generally don't set aside some time to meditate or just think. Instead, I use up my free time doing stupid stuff: playing on my smartphone, Imgur (seriously, whoever told me about this site, I want to take back my thanks), Facebook, TV, streaming TV or movies. None of these things are bad, of course, but like anything in excess they are not healthy for you me. 

With this in mind, over the last few months, I've been making some changes to get a little more quiet in my life. While the whole TV related thing is where it has always been, I have made strides in two areas: Facebook and my smartphone. A few months ago, I deleted FB from my phone for 4 weeks. It was tough and I didn't like it at all. I had become very reliant on the FB app so I decided to bring it back. When I did I changed my settings though. I changed them so that my phone no longer vibrates a notification or buzzes me a preview of a message. Instead, when I go into the app, I see my notifications. It's heavenly. Yes, I do sometimes miss a few messages here and there. Yes, I do sometimes check my phone obsessively every 10 minutes but these times are less and less. Instead, I only use my FB phone app on the bus and when I am at home - and not as obsessively as before!

With the freedom no longer have FB notifications gave me, I decided to extend this freedom to my other apps: Kakao especially buzzes a lot. I love this app as it keeps me very connected here in Korea.  Instagram, has also followed suit. It's amazing how much time I don't spend on my phone, now. I also turn my phone off when I enter work and turn it on again when I leave. It gives me so much more freedom to just get things done. I only have notifications for Gmail and Snapchat. Only 2 people Snapchat me so it's not too big of a deal to have it on my phone and Gmail is used for several things - from messages from my family, co-workers and projects I am involved in, so it's important that I keep those notifications!

However, despite these efforts, I still haven't found as much quiet time as I want to have in my life. Again, this is mostly my own fault. Somehow despite having between 5-6 hours every evening to be productive and get quiet time, it seems to just fly in. I don't know what is that I do, but the evening  is always over much faster than I expected. School can crawl by but the evenings fly by.  I let myself get distracted by stupid things - checking Facebook and staying on Facebook for hours, Imgur and Lamebook are total distractions (to prevent you from being distracted, I have kindly refrained from providing links) and I spend a lot of time just watching TV. It's actually good that I like to read, cook and do crafty things because if I didn't I'd totally waste my day.

For the rest of December (3.5 weeks), I am going to to make time for a little silence in each day. I don't know yet what I will do but I feel that these two things are manageable: I am going to use the quiet place everyday. It's only a few seconds (90secs). But they will be my few seconds to breathe. I am going to get outside by myself and go for a walk or a jog for a few minutes everyday. I already do this in my main school 3 days a week but I need to incorporate the other days into my life, too. 

So you might think I'm mad to waste so much of my time. You might think I'm mad to not take time to just breathe and be quiet. You might think I'm mad, considering it's snowing heavily, to want to go out everyday of the next few weeks. Well, I agree with you for one and two. I definitely need to manage my free time better. For three, well....even when it's snowing there is still value to be had in going outside and just breathing! So with a little help and prompting from myself, I think I can get a little quiet in my life! Wish me luck!

PS This post is inspired by my daily struggles to find some time to reflect and be quiet.
PPS This post is inspired by the Super Simple Song "Open, shut them" that I have used in a lot of my classes to demonstrate opposites. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Let's get together, yeah yeah yeah and why don't you and I [drink wine]

I love cooking. I may have mentioned this before but just in case I haven't... it is one of my most favourite things to do in the whole wide world! It's such a nice way for me to unwind and relax. I love the chopping, dicing, slicing, stirring and mixing. I love following recipes and creating them. I love making mistakes and figuring out how to fix them. I love realising what spices and herbs go with food item I'm cooking and I love surprising myself when something I made up turned out just right. (And yes, I do despair when I make up something and it's just mank!)

In other parts of the creative world, I don't excel as much - sewing, knitting, crocheting and pottery have all passed me by. So, you might be surprised but I am a novice wood-turner. I did wood-turning for a few terms and it was one of my favourite hobbies. The only reason that I stopped the class was that I had decided to do my TEFL and to move abroad. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made and the first time that I realised that following your dreams can mean sacrificing things that you love. Whilst the course itself was not expensive it was an entire evening every week dedicated to wood-turning would have cut into my study.

Coming to Korea initially, I let my interest in crafty stuff disappear in the excitement of wandering, travelling, eating and experiencing. However, once winter set in, I found myself craving some crafty time. I am pretty nifty with a scissors and some glue, and on top of being able to draw (and I like to draw), I found myself trying to find ways to while away those long winter hours. So,  I started drawing hands, again. When I took art many moons ago for my Leaving Certificate, my teacher informed us that for our first couple of classes, and for homework, we were just going to draw hands until we could do it perfectly. This exercise is a favourite of mine whenever I come back to drawing after having been away for a while. If I can't draw a hand, I can't draw that elaborate picture I had in my head either! Once I had my hands perfected to my satisfaction (they may not have quite pleased my Art Teacher!), I started to think of ways I could expand my horizons.

Although Korea has a lot of Christmassy ornaments in Daiso and Homeplus (and other shops too), none of them really reminded me of home. My favourite decorations that we have are our little wooden ones that I believe my mam got in Germany many years ago when she was au-pairing there. Over the years, I've started my own collection of ornaments from beautiful glass angels to little wooden decorations. I even seem to be following in my mother's footsteps with a slowly growing collection of nativity scenes.   Thanks to my travels these ornaments are beautiful reminders of trips with family and friends as they hail from America, Italy, Ireland and Scotland. My love of Christmas decorations is so well known by my family and friends, that one year, in a work Kris Kindle, I was absolutely delighted to receive a gorgeous carousel and some glass angels. I was so excited that despite our Kris Kindles supposed to being anonymous, my friend (once more a million thanks, Presc) had to tell me that it was her as I kept telling everyone I met that day thank you! Sadly, I don't have any of these things here with me in Korea. Firstly, I've too many to take on one trip. Secondly, some are too breakable for such a long journey. Thirdly, I don't want to lose them here in Korea.

So back to Christmas in Korea....Daiso and Homeplus didn't have what I was looking for (reminder to self: Maggie you are in KOREA not GERMANY), so after a few minutes of anguish, I decided to make a game plan. I picked out a few things that I liked - some lights, baubles, snowflakes, beads and I got some very thin tinsel (my tree is tiny and I don't like big tinsel in any case). . I am not great at origami so a friend of mine helped me to make some penguins whilst I cut out tons of snowflakes. I like making snowflakes so much that I did this with a lot of my classes last year and I would make about 5 to each of my students one snowflake!. I spent hours folding candy canes, drawing ornaments and researching different advent calendars and  paper decorations. I spent so much time on it that my house for about 3 weeks looked like a stationery shop had exploded with all the paper, glue, stickers, bits and bobs. For the rest, I decided to make my own. A stack of origami paper later I was sitting in my house making old fashioned paper ring chains, Chinese lanterns and these beautiful stars.


That was last year and I saved most of my decorations both bought and homemade (St Joseph disappeared on Christmas day and has not been seen since). This year, I cleared my desk and made it my "Christmas corner". Boxes that held my Christmas presents last year now hold all my decorations, last year's advent calendar is up and pinned with an item a day (and in some cases several items a day). The crafty gifts I got for last year's Christmas are up there waiting their turn to be sewn, glued and/or painted.
Crafty folk

Crafty folk 


Crafty folk

Crafting is so much fun, but it is time consuming and, in my case, very messy for my small space! I struggle with trying to balance the hours of fun that I can have doing it with the state my apartment gets in while I am doing it (and stays in for days after). I struggle with knowing that the minute I start I may not be able to finish before bedtime, so that means I know I'll be up until 1.00a.m. With this in mind, I've tried to create a balance this year: for Easter, I only made these origami Easter bunnies and for Hallowe'en I only spent a few evenings working on my projects. The things I made were easy - bats, ghosts and pumpkins. The more elaborate designs (witch, wizard and crazy killer girl) were still made in a couple of hours. With Christmas approaching and the fact that is is my favourite holiday, I knew I'd be way more easily distracted by crafting. Luckily my friend and I had discussed setting up a Wine and Crafts club a few months before and with this thought in mind the first meeting of this club began on December 5th.  This meant, that not only could I spend some time crafting...I also got to do it in a controlled environment! There were 10 girls at this first event and that meant I just couldn't spread out the way I am wont!  Well, I could...but then I'd have spilt the wine! Despite this curtailment on my space, I still ended up making this gingerbread house with some help from one of the other girls:


So you might think
 I'm mad to have chosen doing TEFL over my beloved Wood-turning. You might think I'm mad to mix wine with crafting and you might think I'm mad to not just buy all the decorations I found in Daiso and Homeplus (some of them are quite nice, btw). Well, the most important concern there is around wine - the worst that can happen is that it spills on a craft. And yes, I could have just bought all the decorations but now I have memories for keeps and plenty of ideas on what to do with my students in afterschool classes and, hopefully, with my own children some day. But yes, I think part of me was mad to give up wood-turning in favour of TEFL. It was one of the hardest decisions I made when I started my journey to move to Korea. However, I can always take it up again and in the meantime, I can see the pieces I made anytime I go home!

PPS This post was inspired by my favourite holiday, Christmas, and my love of crafting.
PPS This post was inspired by the "Let's get together" song from The Parent Trap starring Haley Mills and a great night at Wine and Craft Club. Here's to the next one!
PPPS: No wine was spilt or crafts destroyed in the making of this post.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Baby, it's cold outside.

Winter is upon us. It feels like overnight, the temperature dropped and what was a lovely autumn became a bitterly cold winter. I like winter as I love snow and lots of snow related activities (although I have yet to do any skiing ever or ice-skating in ages). However, sometimes it is a struggle just to poke your nose out of bed. That Siberian wind doesn't help either!
Keeping warm: Layers, accessories and hot water bottles
Photo credit - Rucy - http://lucyfoster.blogspot.kr/

I have a pretty thick skin and it takes a good bit for me to be really cold. I blame my mother, she's from the American Mid-West, and she can pretty much withstand any weather. She and my dad have the most epic battles over heat. My dad wakes up and comes down complaining about the cold and turns on the heat. 10 minutes later my mother walks in, realises the heat is on and turns it off. The minute my mother leaves the room, my dad turns the heat back on. It's a never-ending amusing cycle!

When we were little, and would complain about being cold, my mam would tell us to put on some more socks and a jumper (sweater). Her pet peeve was that in the evenings and weekends us children would drag down our blankets and duvets to the sitting room.We'd then sit curled up watching TV, playing games or reading books. The amount of Christmas photo's that we have where we are wrapped up in blankets is hilarious. The peeve probably wasn't related to the duvets coming down but that they stayed downstairs! So, as you can tell, I got used to layering up and curling in blankets to keep warm! (This makes it sound like my mother never had the heat on - she did, and we never were so cold that it was ever an issue when she didn't!).

When I went came to Korea, I was in for a shock. I really thought that college in Nebraska and life with my mother had prepared me for the Korean winter. I packed two coats, plenty of leggings and tights.I even brought some scarves and boots. And then, winter 2012 came. I thought I would die. It was so cold. That wind could cut you. It was so sharp, it felt like knife points. It was much colder, too, than I was used to experiencing in Ireland and the ice gave me nightmares for days! In Ireland, mostly, when it rains the slush disappears. In Korea when it rains, it freezes (sometimes) and instead you have a sheet of ice to skate to work on. Which....takes hours!

I was so sick last year, I even went deaf for a couple of weeks. I could still hear but everything was muted. So, this year, I started preparing ahead of time. I put a second blanket on my bed from the middle of October and by the end of the month I had proceeded to a hot water bottle as well. For the last week, I've topped my bed with a third blanket and I now wear socks. I need to get some more long pj's this week. Stocking up on thermal underwear, hot-packets and woolly socks is a necessity.

So without further ado, please see some things that I recommend for surviving Korean winters (please note, you can still get sick and still feel cold even with these measures but they CAN help):
  • Layer up.That way no matter the temperature in the office you will always feel just right!
  • Bring a cardigan or extra jacket and leave it in school along with some cosy slippers and (maybe) a little blanket. Works like charm!

  • Have a winter emergency supply in school. I prepared my one last week for both my schools: tissues, wet wipes, chapstick, Vitamin C drink (replaced everyday), hand-sanitiser (no matter how much you want to disbelieve it, schools are germ-infested!), and hand lotion to prevent your hands from chafing.
  • Waiting for the bus? No problem! If you are lucky enough to be waiting beside a convenience shop, get one of their honey drinks or a coffee. If you prefer something less sweet, invest in a travel mug and bring your own! (Also, warm drinks like honey tea or ginger tea are a really good idea if you have  sore throat!)
  • Buy a hot water bottle. You can get them in HomePlus (I have two from Ireland) and use it at night. I put my one in my bed about 30 minutes before I want to sleep. Korea also has these little hot-packs which I have seen teachers put on the sole of their feet and students stick in their gloves. Invest! (Another choice is to bake/steam a potato and then carrying it in your pocket - my granny used to do this in the old days and I just got fed this potato today).
  • Hats, coats and gloves are all a necessity. Also, a lot of earmuffs even have vents so you can still hear what's going on around you. I couldn't find a hat I liked last year and that fit over all my hair, but luckily my sister made me one. Scarves are a godsend, use them!
  • Thermal underwear, slippers (for home and school), and a nighttime ritual are all essential. My own nighttime ritual has become a cup of tea, a hot-water bottle, thermals and slippers.
  • Eat soup and rice porridge on a frequent basis. Not only are they hot, but they are also healthy, nutritious and delicious.
  • If you want to try and avoid a huge gas bill, get an electric heater or an electric blanket. My brother gave me this one and it's brilliant. No idea what the costs are to buy but...you can always sell it on when you leave! 
  • Lastly, it's winter, not hell on earth! Get out and enjoy it. Whether it is to take a small walk or have a snowball fight with your students, you won't die!.

So, you might think I'm mad to have so many emergency items at school. You might think I'm mad to wear (and recommend wearing) so many layers. But "if you caught pneumonia and died," I bet you'd wish you'd stayed inside, layering up as per my advice! 

PS This post is inspired by the Tom Jones version of "Baby, it's cold outside".

PPS This post was meant for last week but I got a cold on Saturday so I didn't finish the photos until today. Sorry!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Tea, Tea, Barry's tea!

Some of the WSC crew 
When I first arrived in Korea, I drank a lot. I felt like I was back in the good ol' Wayne, America days with my crew of Ms QueeNae, Ms. Ordinary, Ms. Tasha, Blessed, Sunshine, The S sisters, Anabanana, LeneWitIt, Mr 24, That one guy, BHK, DLee and Mr. Big Sexy (most of the picked their OWN pseudonyms, so I'm not responsible). Back then we drank our way from Thursday through Saturday. We had great fun, amazing nights and cemented firm friendships that last until this day (these friendships were not only cemented around a shared love of alcohol!!!).

However, times change. These days, there are times when I don't want any alcohol. And to be honest, that now considerably outweighs when I do! Don't get me wrong, I love a drink. I like the socialising that comes with it and I like the atmosphere it (mostly) creates. Arriving in Jochiwon was quite overwhelming. I didn't know that there was a Facebook page and when I went to the foreigner bar to meet other teachers, none of the other foreigners initiated contact. My brother was with me and after much persuading from him, I finally went over and introduced myself. It turned out that the two people I met were new and didn't realise I was new too. I got to know them quite well and our first few weeks we hung out a lot. As time went on, I met more people but the community was still quite small. Also, most activities centred around food and alcohol so I spent a lot more time drinking than I had in the previous 6 years I had lived at home in Ireland.  I'm not complaining. I really enjoyed every minute of this life but I wanted something more.

See, at home, I was used to sitting around my house, drinking tea (Barry's, of course) and chatting. With my friends, we had several game nights and dinners at each others' houses. We did world food nights, cake nights and wine nights. Some of my friends and I even did Wii dance-offs. It was great fun and our time was not mostly spent around alcohol. Sure, alcohol was involved but it was always a choice in a myriad of other drinks. It wasn't the sole reason for getting together or the one thing each gathering was centred around.  I found after a few months living in Korea that I wanted that life. I wanted a social life that allowed me to be somewhat creative, to express myself and that didn't exclude my friends who don't like bars or who don't drink.  So, last autumn, I started making dinners for my friends about once a week or once every two weeks.

Now, the expat community in Sejong is much bigger and, I think, has a lot more socialising opportunities that do not involve alcohol. Whether it's going to hike Obangsan or doing coffee meet and greets at the local coffee shops, there are more options. One of my friends, Swaglu, even organised a scavenger hunt to welcome some new people in September. Sure, we still go to Touch or some of the other bars but they are no longer the only place you need go to meet people and they are not the main social arena any more. Which brings me to my next point. As our community expanded, inviting people (outside my core group of friends) to dinner was getting difficult. Our apartments are small and it's hard to sit so many people comfortably in the space provided. I still want to be welcoming, though, and to include as many people as possible.

Tea night #2
Tea night #2
Tea night #2
I feel like sometimes I am "stuck in a hole and I want [me] to get out, I don't know what there is to see" but if I don't crawl out of the hole, I will never see what the world and I have to offer. I put myself out there making dinners for my friends. I know I can cook and that the food I make is decent but I wasn't really sure if it was decent enough to put on a plate for someone else. I still don't really know but they all eat it, so at least it is edible! I want to put myself out there even more. To open my heart and my home to everyone that I can and not just my really close friends. I know that by doing so I "might just get a big surprise and it may feel good and [I] might want to smile, smile, smile." So, in September I hosted a tea night and I hosted my second one this week.

Once one idea came, it started to shine. I found myself planning events to welcome people into my home, to include them in the things that I love and I wasn't the only one doing so! My friend, BexC, wants to do a chili cook-off, Katetastic and I have talked about a girls' wine and crafts club (that's happening next month!), some of the guys have organised BBQs and Thanksgiving dinner, and Swaglu has so many ideas coming out of her that I can no longer keep up! It's contagious. Welcoming people into your community is important with meet and greets, dinners and drinks but even more important is building your community. That's what chili cook-offs, tea nights and book clubs are for. And we have all of those in Jochiwon. We are a small community but we are a community, nonetheless. We are now more than a few bottles of soju and a chat. We have more things that bind us together than just being expats who live in Sejong. We are expats who live in Sejong who like to cook, to drink tea, to drink wine, to share our creativity and to spend time together hiking, cycling, taking photos, exploring and reading. The amount of friends I have now who love to write and who encourage each other in their blogging endeavours amazes me (Rucy, TravelThayer, Chasing Glitter and AKA to name but a few).

So, you might think I'm mad to believe that to have a real expat community is possible. You might think I'm mad to think that you can and should involve yourself in things like chili cook-offs, book clubs and craft clubs even if you are only there for a year. However, I firmly believe that the meaning of life does not come from the bottle of soju (although that can occasionally give you some insight!) but rather from spending time with others and giving of yourself. If you are willing to put out to the world what your interest are, even if it is only for a short while, you can have a huge impact on your community. You will find like-minded people and people who will really surprise you by what they are interested in. I never fail to be surprised by how many people love Harry Potter. It makes me smile every time he comes up in conversation (and we usually end up doing a round of the Mysterious Ticking Noise). So my advice is, don't lose the opportunities that Korea (or life) presents to you. If you truly enjoy doing something, see if anyone else is interested in joining you. You might be surprised to see who likes the same things that you do. And if you live in Jochiwon and you are terrible at planning events or clubs, let me know: I've got people for that!

PS. Sing the title to the Potter Pals and the Mysterious Ticking Noise tune "Snape, Snape, Severus Snape". It's also inspired by Take That's Shine.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

All my memories gathered 'round [him]

As I may have mentioned before (here, here and here), my brother came to visit! It was wonderful having him here and I really didn't want him to leave!
Selfie in Changdeokgung Huwon, Seoul. The Secret Garden Palace 

He was a great house-guest: he killed a cockroach for me that was crawling on my wall. I'd had enough of them at that stage (a story for another day) and I begged him to get rid of it even though he was still sleeping and it was 6.30am! He also helped me to rearrange my apartment and to do a thorough cleaning out of my big suitcase full of winter clothes. Whenever I needed help with anything he was willing and ready. The only time he was intractable was when he was curled up in bed and ready to go to sleep!


From the minute he arrived it was mostly go-go-go. I had planned on going around Seoul with him the day he arrived but instead we headed to the train. He was exhausted from his trip but I insisted (like the good sister I am) that we should go for a walk.  I didn't let him rest at all those first few days, as the very next day after he arrived we headed back up to Seoul for the Halloween shenanigans and to do some touristy things. During his trip, he saw two palaces, Changgyeonggung and Changdeokgung, went to Insadong twice, partied in Hongdae, went to a lantern festival, visited both my schools (and went to four Halloween parties) and went to Gyeongju and Japan.
Palace time! The 3 pictures going clockwise from the top are from Changgyeong
and going anti-clockwise from the top are from Changdeok.
Top left - "Why do you need to take my photo, again?"
We were both really impressed with the palace at Changgyeongung and we were really lucky in the time that we went. We went fairly early on the Sunday morning after the Freak or Treat walk. When we arrived there were only a handful of people in the palace and we were able to take a leisurely stroll around the gardens. It was the first time for both of us so we were able to just drink in all the sights, colours and quiet. We sat for a while just chatting and catching up as the weather was beautiful and warm with a soft breeze. In contrast, Changdeokgung was much busier and much colder. We hadn't planned on going there as we were headed to Jongmyo Shrine. Unfortunately we'd have had a long wait for the tour and neither of us wanted to do an actual tour. When we got to Changdeokgung though, I blurted out that not only would we take the entrance tickets to the palace but also to Huwon (the secret garden) for a Japanese tour. Yep, I paid for a 90 minute tour in a language I don't remotely understand! The autumn colours were fantastic but I would not recommend joining a tour where you don't understand anything. Whilst it was nice for us to chat and hang out, it meant that we probably wasted 45 minutes of precious sightseeing time waiting around for the tour to move on.

Desserts, BBQ, Jeon, Bibimbap and Kimchi galore!
While he was here, we went on huge culinary adventures as I tried to expose him to as much Korean food culture as I could. From bibimbap to Korean BBQ, any culinary (vegetarian) delight I could present him with I did. It wasn't only the savoury things. Any sweet that I delight on, we got to eat! I have waited impatiently for this colder weather to eat Hotteok and Bungeoppang. Knowing that they aren't very healthy helped me to resist eating them until he arrived. And boy, when he did, we went to town! Several times we burned our tongues on Bungeoppang (similiar to Taiyaki in Japan) and delved into the delightful sweetness of ggul tteok and bingsu.
Street food in Jochiwon.
One the night he returned from a day trip to Gyeongju, I was talking to my sister and telling her that I didn't think my brother had done enough exploring in my town. She insisted that when I met him off the train that night we should go for a 30 minute walk. I am so glad that we did as she instructed because not only did we get to walk around and see Jochiwon but we also got to eat street food that was pastries! We wandered down a side street of the traditional market and there was still a vendor selling mandu (dumplings), deep fried battered pumpkin and these battered things that looked like courgettes. However, when we bit into them they were seaweed rolls filled with buckwheat noodles and vegetables. I was so excited because I've been wanting to eat down in the market for ages and to try more street food.

We had plenty to talk about and there was never a dull moment in the two weeks. I think that my favourite part of his visit was just having someone to come home to. It was the same when my cousin visited last year. My home never feels lonely when I am there alone but someone else's presence over an extended period of time, like a week or two, creates such an impact on your space. With him gone, I felt really lonely and really sad. I still do to be honest and even thinking about it makes me want to cry. You see, both he and my cousin are family. They don't just bring themselves to visit me. They bring a little bit of all the people I love most in the world with them. They bring shared experiences, shared memories and shared connections. They bring home. It's nearly a year since I felt homesick and right now I feel so incredibly homesick. Not for Ireland. I'm homesick for someone else to share my space and to make my house into a home.

So, you might think I'm mad to let my brother's visit affect me so much. You might think I'm mad to feel that over a two week period my brother could have made such an impact on my home. You might think I'm mad to have bawled in Seoul station for a good 25 minutes. Maybe it is silly but home is where the heart is and my heart is with my family. I loved having my brother here and I think that his visit has only strengthened our relationship and has allowed us to look at each other with new eyes and open hearts.

PS. Thank you Jody for visiting! I miss you tons!

PPS This post was inspired by a brilliant brother and John Denver's Take me home, Country Roads.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Do you see what I see?

Last week, on Saturday, my brother and I headed north to Seoul. On disembarking at Yeongdeungpo station (and after a doughnut or four) we proceeded to take the subway to Hongik university. One of the subways that we boarded (line 1, 6-2 gate, I think!!) had the most amazing carriage. I was in love from the minute I entered it. We were only on this subway for one stop, so I didn't take a picture (challenge issued by my brother) but I will do my best to describe it.

To the right of the door that we entered was a book case filled with books. One of the other passengers slipped one into his hand and proceeded to read just after we boarded the train. I kept staring at the bookcase hoping in vain that there would be something in English so I too could reach in and pull a book out to read.

To the immediate right of this was a seating area with two seats opposite each other with a little table. This was a mobile phone charging area. A second charging area was also available on the opposite side of the carriage. Right in front of both of these booths was somewhere where you could hang your umbrellas etc. It was nice day so no one was taking advantage of it - but because the bar wasn't too high, I was able to grab it instead of trying to keep my balance.

There was a water dispenser just beyond the phone charging area with those little paper cups. What I found most impressive was that it had both a cold and a HOT water dispenser - I would have thought that would be a bit dangerous on a subway as it lurches into a station!  Not only was there the water dispenser in the carriage but also a snack area was to the left of the door that we entered. I couldn't see past the snack area and there wasn't enough time for me to explore the carriage in it's entirety. There were probably many more things to see but my eyes were too greedy for what was in my immediate vicinity. Plus that book case was distracting!

So, you might think I'm mad to have not taken a picture and to have accepted my brother's challenge. You might think I'm mad to not be 100% sure of the subway I was on. However, I think the latter is unavoidable as I was too concentrated on the actual carriage to really care where I was going. For the former, something that I have learnt this past weekend is that a camera can't always capture exactly what you see and sometimes the entirety of what you are seeing is more important than the snapshot of a particular time and space that a photo captures. I still love taking photos but sometimes what my eye sees and my mind captures is even more picturesque.

Map courtesy of http://www.smrt.co.kr/program/cyberStation/main2.jsp?lang=e

PS This post is inspired by a fantastic subway ride and the song Do you hear what I hear?

Monday, 11 November 2013

I roll[ed] out of bed in the morning and [threw] on what I wanted and [went].

At 4.20am your alarm clock goes off, quickly followed by several other persistent alarms from your mobile. Groaning, you drag yourself out of bed onto the stone-cold floor as the bright fluorescent lights from the convenience store opposite softly permeate the room. Stumbling around you are incredibly glad that you planned your outfit AND set out your clothes for this morning. Once dressed, you double check the contents of your backpack: flight reservations, passport, change of clothes? All ready!You head out the door to the stillness of the night: you have finally found a quiet hour in 조치원. On  the 2nd November, this was me as I made my way from 조치원 to Seoul and then Osaka, Japan.

Fantastic poses! Photos courtesy of Katetastic.
A link to her blog is at the bottom of this page.
A few weeks ago, Katetastic and I were talking about how close Korea is to some other countries like Japan and Taiwan. We discussed maybe going there for a weekend or to Jeju which is an island off the coast of Busan, South Korea. That evening I started searching for tickets to Jeju, Japan and Taiwan. About a week after we booked our tickets (Kate, Rucy and I), my brother told me he was coming to Korea and that his visit here would overlap with our Japan trip: three became four. Our flight was at 10.25 from Seoul Incheon airport, hence the early start and we arrived in Osaka a little after noon. It took a little while to get to Osaka itself as we grabbed convenience store food and then, inadvertently, stood in the wrong line for a good 30-45 minutes before Rucy figured out our mistake and went to check if we could take a different train. The train journey itself was smooth and uneventful - except that during it, Rucy managed to perfect the Korean technique of falling asleep and only waking just as they announce your arrival at your station. When I take subway or train naps, I knock out! If it wasn't for my alarm, I would find myself in Busan on many occasions!

After dropping our stuff at the hostel and discovering nearly everything we wanted to do that day closed at 4, we proceeded to the Ebisucho subway area to see the Tsūtenkaku tower. Initially impressive looking, the tower itself was a bit disappointing. We found ourselves underneath a quite diminutive tower with a 45 minute wait. However, the street from the subway station to the tower was lit up and filled with interesting shops. So instead, we wandered around the area taking in the lights, colours and smells of Osaka. Sadly, this was quickly done and we found ourselves at a lost of what do do until 8 when we were meeting our friends who lived in Osaka. During our wait, we discovered one big difference between Japan and Korea: WIFI. I never realised just how prevalent it is and how much I appreciate it when I am in Korea until we had no access in Japan and couldn't change our meeting place or times. I don't mind not having WIFI but when you expect it, it is definitely a bummer to not have it!

On meeting our friends, we proceeded to our second tourist spot of the evening: Dotonbori. This place was light filled, hip and a clash of Western and Japanese stores. There were plenty of places to eat and tons of things to look at - from cosplay girls to interesting shops and fascinating buildings. We visited the iconic billboard and ate Okonomiyaki, Osaka's best known dish. It is cooked on a grill in the middle of the table. However, unlike Korean grills it is one flat sheet. It reminded me more of the Mongolian Grill I went to in Council Bluffs many years ago. This dish is considered a Japanese pancake. Like Kimchijeon, it is a savoury pancake and it very tasty. This is the third Asian country I have been where they have a food that is like a savoury pancake but that has it's own unique twist (Vietnamese Banh Xeo).


Takoyaki - Photo courtesy of Katetastic.
See below for link to her blog*.

The most impressive sight that we saw was Osaka castle. The grounds were spectacular and even from outside the castle it made for interesting viewing with its deep moat and high, unscalable walls. It reminded me of the view of Edinburgh Castle when it is viewed from Prince's street! When we were there two guys came over to invite us to some show that they were doing that night. We weren't able to go but we got a photo with them nevertheless. While I found the exhibition in the castle a little disappointing (I think I was expecting what you'd see in Edinburgh Castle!), it was still interesting and the grounds more than made up for it, especially since we got to try Takoyaki - which again was popularised in Osaka.


So, you might think I'm mad to go to Japan for one night. You might think I'm mad to eat octopus considering I really don't like seafood and you might think I'm mad to consider going on another weekend trip. Well, I kind of think that I am mad too! I am exhausted. I don't think I've been so tired in an age. However, I also know that my lack of recovery from this trip is not really due to having gone to Japan but having had to get up really early and having had some sort of Saturday school every weekend for the last few weeks and next coming weeks. That is what tires me out and makes me non-functional for a week! Or at least that's what I prefer to believe - the other option is that I am getting old and travel tires me out. NEVER!

PS. This post was inspired by my trip to Japan and by Beyonce's If I were a boy. 

PPS: Katetastic's blog can be found here. It's a fantastic one, so read away! Thanks, Kate for letting me use your pictures!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

And the leaves that are green turn to brown, wither [in the] wind and crumble in your hand"

This Autumn, I did a challenge to try and capture a picture a day of this season as it is my favourite!

While I didn't get a picture a day, most days I got at least one and sometimes even more! These photos are all my own and range from Autumn colours to Autumn holidays. You might think I'm mad but I did struggle on occasion to get the perfect shot on some days!

Below is a collection of these photos.

I hope you enjoy them all!


This post is inspired by my favourite season and Simon and Garfunkel's "Leaves that are green".




PS: Follow me on Instagram
PPS: Collages were made at http://www.pizap.com

[It's] creepy and [it's] kooky, mysterious and spooky, [it's] all together ooky, Hallowe'en!

Although I am a Christmas fanatic, Autumn is my favourite season. The colours, the clothes, the chill in the air and the swirling, dancing, beautiful leaves are some of my favourite things. I love Hallowe'en, too: the pumpkins, candles, games and decorations. Strangely, I intensely dislike scary movies. Hocus Pocus and it's ilk I can do, but Scream, The hills have eyes or Saw make me ill and give me nightmares for weeks

When we were kids, our mam would dress us all alike for the holiday - 7 pirates or headless horsemen would walk fearlessly down the street visiting all the neighbours. Our costumes ranged from shepherds, when there were only three of us, to a Chinese Dragon with the littlest one being pushed in the buggy. We'd great fun and all the older neighbours loved us coming by and would ply us with crisps, chocolate, peanuts and fruit. Although I am a chocolate nut (pun intended), my favourite things were the pears, apples and mandarin oranges. These would last us the week and, because of the season, were so sweet and delicious. We used to give up chocolate for the month of November, so Hallowe'en night culminated in a mouthwatering feast.
Photo courtesty of my mother.
We'd eat and eat and eat chocolate and crisps, play musical chairs, bob for apples or pennies and trying to bite the swinging apple. One year we added the game where you have to pass a ball or orange around using no hands. We'd seen this in Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburnand we were dying to try it. For some reason for a few years I hated Hallowe'en - I think it was because I was at that age and also because I was the oldest kid I knew who still dressed up for Hallowe'en. I think I felt awkward and out of place.

I think when I really started to look at Hallowe'en as something to enjoy again was the year my brother-in-law turned 25. His birthday is in October, so the weekend of his birthday he had a fancy dress party at his house. Everyone milled around in costumes ranging from the Phantom to Bosco (a beloved Irish TV puppet). I went as Dr Quin, Medicine Woman.It was a great night and a lot of fun. Although it wasn't Hallowe'en it made me realise that I liked dressing up!
Also, a friend of mine hosted Hallowe'en parties for her friends two years running. The first year, she and I had been in Edinburgh at the start of October and she was able to pick up some Hallowe'en items. I'd also been wandering around some of the charity shops (think Thrift stores, American readers) and came across some old silver candlesticks for her. Her Hallowe'en get-together was fantastic. She made a really fancy, delicious meal and everyone was dressed up as witches, burlesque girls, or gypsy fortune tellers. The following year, instead of a sit-down meal we had nibbles and wine, a much larger gathering and lots of laughs. That year I was the goddess Gaia and we had a lot of vampires, devils, queens and sailors. Thanks to my friend's great love of all that's spooky, my appreciation for Hallowe'en increased.

When I came to Korea, I was delighted to find out that on the Saturday around Hallowe'en people do usually dress up and go out drinking. There is even a zombie walk for those who want to participate. I saw some people with incredible, terrifying and realistic costumes from this event. Seriously, I was so creeped out! I think Zombies creep me out more than any other Hallowe'en character. (Yuck! Even writing about them gives me the heebie jeebies.) On the night in question, myself and some friends went to Hongdae. One of my friends dressed all in black except for a mouth mask that was purple. She looked really mysterious and like a burglar! I met up with several friends who ranged from doing the Korean  "Matchy" cute couple to an Egyptian Princess and Mummy. We even had a Katniss from Hunger Games! The highlight of my night was meeting a guy who was the spitting image of Neil Patrick Harris (Barney Stinson from How I met your mother)! I even got to kiss him (on the cheek)!

For this Hallowe'en, I decided to participate in a 5K walk/run called "Freak or Treat". It took place at Seoul Zoo and was in aid of Childfund. You could dress up or you could just use their t-shirt. I decided to just use the T-shirt as I'd much prefer to be WARM than dress up for this event! My brother and two friends went on the walk. I think we must have missed a turn somewhere because we were finished in maximum 30 minutes and that includes lots of photo stops! Afterwards, my brother and I checked in at our hostel and then proceeded to Hongdae for the annual get-together. There were a lot of superheroes, some people dressed as Daft Punk and even an adjumma zombie.
I think, Daft Punk, Iron Man and Captain America must have spent a small fortune on their costumes they were that elaborate! I went as a sailor...except I forgot to make a hat so I think I just looked dressed up! My brother didn't have a mask yet and one friend went as a dancing Scream Ghost and another as a Korean Pop-Star. My friends who went as the "matchy" couple last year were Wally and Wanda (from Where's Waldo?/Where's Wally?).


Actual Hallowe'en was spent lying in as my school let me take a holiday-day as my brother is visiting. I then got up at 8.30 and started cooking and cleaning for the pot-luck dinner. A bunch of friends, new and old, came over for dinner and some even got into the spirit of Hallowe'en and dressed up. All in all it was great night and although I was exhausted by the end of the evening, I was really glad that I hosted this event. My brother was amazing and helped me re-arrange my apartment in a much more spacious manner. The food was amazing, the company even better and a lot of people left tons of candy which I shared out amongst my students at my 2nd school for our Hallowe'en party there. 


All photos this year except top left.
Last year, I had 10 different Hallowe'en parties between my two schools! This year, I only had 6 and they were all in one school. Last year we made masks and I taught the students to use the "Trick or Treat" chant. This year, two weeks before the event I told my students about it and charged my students with making costumes and decorations for the classroom. I had told my mam about doing a class on Hallowe'en so she sent me lots of decorations and I still had some leftover from last year. I had also requested some photos from my family and my students had fun trying to guess which one was me! My brother brought over lots of Irish sweets and between that and the leftover candy from my party the previous night, the students were "sweet-ed out". I split our class between our regular lesson and a Hallowe'en theme. The students seemed to really enjoy the day and were really impressed with all the Irish sweets!


So you might think I'm mad to love Hallowe'en as much as I do, especially considering scary movies are not my thing. You might think I'm mad to continue dressing up even though I am now over 30 and you might think I'm mad to celebrate Hallowe'en 6 times in the space of 1 day! For this last one, I completely understand anyone's viewpoint on this - but as an English teacher the greatest lessons I can teach my students are the ones that reflect my culture. Hallowe'en is a traditional Celtic Holiday and has had a  major impact on Irish cultural history and traditions, some of which persist to today. Whilst I don't intend to celebrate Hallowe'en every year with my students, it is important that they are exposed to this holiday, if only to let them find new ways of exploring English.

PS This post is inspired by my love of Halloween and The Addams Family  theme song.

Friday, 25 October 2013

To dream the impossible dream.

I love food: I dream about food, I am constantly looking up recipes in my free time, perfecting ones that I find and inventing my own. Seriously! I spend so much time thinking about food that at certain points in my life, my mother (and family) have asked me to not talk about it with them. Unfortunately for them, they can't prevent me from THINKING about it!

I do a bible study with some friends around once a month. It's a non-denominational Bible study as we are several different sects of Christianity. A recent passage from the Bible was about the early Christian community and how they behaved and what made them different from other people during that time. Two lines in this passage are about food:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.  
~Acts 2:42,46
It got me thinking, to the chagrin of my family, no doubt (!). Food is such a central part of our lives and that if we could all come together and enjoy food we'd be a lot more peaceful. Think about it. A big huge table, people from all over the world, food from every country and everyone just sitting there talking, learning and sharing. The temples, palaces, churches, sights are a glimpse of the history of a country. The traditional dress, more often than not, shares the same place. Food, however, traverses time itself. Dishes, recipes and methods of cooking are passed down through the aeons and God forbid someone dislike your favourite national dish!

Kimchi and Scrambled egg and kimchi
Korea is no different when it comes to its national food. Kimchi is beloved everywhere by Koreans. However, I have managed to find two students who never eat the stuff. For most foreigners in Korea, you end up on one side or the other on the scale of love and hate. I, on the other hand, lean more towards a mix that combines like and ambivalence. I do like kimchi but I am really picky about what kinds I like. I love the cucumber one and a lettuce kimchi that I had in the spring. It was fresh and had to be eaten right away. I like some white kimchi and some normal kimchi but it really depends on the amount of red pepper paste. Sometimes, one bite and I am done.  I hate, really, really (can not stress enough) hate radish kimchi of any kind. This is a favourite with a lot of teachers in my schools and the lunch ladies are always devastated when I shake my head and say "아니오". My favourite way of having kimchi though is fried on the grill or as Kimchi Fries (the first time I had them my brother made them for me and I since have tried them at two Mexican restaurants in Seoul and they are fantastic).
Kimchi fries from Julio's. So good, I didn't have time
to take a picture before they were almost gone

So, in terms of my dream, I know that there would be food that lots of people dislike and food that everyone raves over (seriously, unless you are lactose intolerant, how could anyone dislike ice cream?). I know some cultures will feel slighted and others delighted. However, at the end of the day, food is much more than just something you eat. When you share food with others, you share yourself. As a culture, when you share your food, you share a part of your soul, a glimpse into the way your culture functions. If it is a traditional food, it tells a story. Food gives us a chance to see the world through other people's eyes: Ask anyone who experienced kimchi for the first time! What was your reaction? What did your co-teachers ask you about it? Was it too spicy? Too peppery? Sweet? Tangy? Disgusting? Whatever it was at that time, it's a talking point. As you are exposed to more regional varieties of a dish, different options open up to you and you discover even more about another culture and country. Food gives you the chance to learn, to experience, to discover. Savour it. I recently posted a question on Facebook to see what my friends think of kimchi. When the results came in, it really was a mixed bag - a few hates, a few loves, people who had particular favourites but disliked other kinds. What was really interesting was seeing who commented. I expected it to be my friends in Korea but quite a number of people were also old friends from Ireland or America. So, not only is kimchi a talking point in Korea but its influence can be felt across the miles! Imagine this times millions of other foods at a World table?

For my Hallowe'en celebrations, I am asking my friends to bring some food with them. Whether it is something savoury or sweet, Western or Korean, it will be something we can savour, share and appreciate together. A project that I am working on is to arrange an actual World potluck here in Jochiwon. Do I think this is an easy project? Heck, no! Especially in Korea it can be hard to find ingredients for certain dishes. Is it one that I consider worthwhile and full of possibility? Most definitely. If I believe that food can open us up to wonderful experiences then I need to practice what I preach. I can't wait to organise this dinner and rest assured, there will be some Kimchi there!

You might think I'm mad to even consider that food is a passage to peace as more than likely we would still end up waging wars over who has the best cuisine and how much such a country's food sucks! There is truth to this, but I think we are much more likely to be too full to do anything of the sort! Nevertheless, I prefer to believe in this impossible dream and hope that by following "my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far" in welcoming everyone to my table to break bread, I do my part "for [that] heavenly cause" of hoping for peace on earth and goodwill to men. 

PS this post is obviously inspired by Kimchi and Bible Study but also by Roger Whittaker's "The Impossible dream".

Friday, 18 October 2013

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

Presents. Who doesn't love them? I am a big present person. I love receiving them and sending them. Christmas is one of my favourite times of year not only because it's Christmas but my birthday is at that time of year, too. I love seeing what Santa or my Kris Kindle has given me. Ripping open the paper, or pulling the tissue out of the bag, never fails to delight me! I hate that my Mam keeps telling me that I should have outgrown Santa by now and that from this year we won't get "Santa" gifts anymore! I think with having my nephew this should all be continuing and not fading away!

Last year's haul!
Since coming to Korea, I've gotten a new appreciation for presents - and not just the ones at Christmas or my birthday. My family have been really good about sending me things like Barry's Tea (thanks to my Mam and Aunt), as well as goodies like my favourite chocolates or deodorant. However, my favourite things are the unexpected packages. This time last year, I knew my Mam was sending me deodorant so I was looking out for my package but when it arrived, I was absolutely thrilled to receive Hallowe'en decorations in addition to my deodorant!


This year's haul

On Monday, when I arrived in there was a stack of post on the table in the teachers room. I never look at it because there usually isn't anything for me. However, a few minutes later with a delighted smile on his face, my Principal handed me a white package. I grabbed it, recognised my Mam's handwriting and hugged that package tight! I was so excited that, even though I needed to prepare for my classes, I immediately ripped it open (carefully of course) and took out 4 packets of Hallowe'en decorations! I'd mentioned to my Mam recently that I needed some photos of Hallowe'en to use for a class and could she have my siblings email them to me. I never expected that not only will I have an amazing PowerPoint to show my kids but also a blooming fantastically decked out classroom! I can't wait to have this class at the end of October! 

My cousin
Even better than opening a package is receiving the gift of someone's presence. I was only in Korea a few months, and my Mam had been visiting her family in the US. when she arrived home, she called me to say that she had heard that my cousin, Princess B, was coming to Korea for a month and that she'd stop to see me and another friend of hers who was living and teaching here.  I was so excited, I decorated my house with a few welcome signs and informed anyone and everyone that she was coming! B stayed a week with me and it was amazing as she is such a brilliant, inspiring girl and on top of that, such an easy guest to have. I missed her terribly when she left as in the short time she was with me we got into a routine that felt completely natural: She kept my floor swept and I did the dishes. She really clicked with all my friends and thanks to her, I got to know Swaglu, who has since become such an important part of my life. Her encouragement of my adventures and advice on improving my life, whilst not always followed, is always remembered and kept close to my heart.

This last week, on Friday my brother told me that he was thinking of coming for a visit and on Saturday sent an email saying that he'd be coming next week. I was so thrilled I was dancing around my room, squealing "Joe is coming! Joe is coming!" and popping off text messages to the besties to let them know. I immediately began searching Skyscanner for reasonable flight prices and sending off print-screens to my brother. That evening, I got to talk to him and was a little disappointed to find out that it wouldn't be next week that he'd arrive. Thanks to my reading to quickly, I mistook his meaning to let me know next week when he'd arrive to him arriving next week. However, he hopes he will be here by the end of October/beginning of November for two weeks. I can't wait as I haven't seen him since I left for Korea over a year ago and he was doing mission work in Liberia when I was home in August. I now have another thing to look forward to this month besides Hallowe'en!

My brother and me.
So you might think I'm mad to still want Santa gifts, and you'd be in good company if you do! You might think I'm mad to be this excited that someone is coming to visit me - but having someone who is a piece of home whether they are a brother or a cousin, puts a different dynamic on your view of Korea and allows you to see everything anew through their eyes. It gives you the gift of innocence - similar to the innocent joy a child has at Christmas - as they gaze with unfamiliar eyes on the sights, sounds, smells of this country. I can't wait to experience it with him.

PS I should point out, my family is always good about sending little presents. When I was in college in America they would frequently send letters or packages to me. A huge thank you to anyone who has ever sent me a letter, a small parcel, an email or even just their love - I appreciate it all and it makes life here all the sweeter.

PPS - this post was inspired by the song "My favourite things" from Sound of Music.

PPPS - the first 5 people to comment on this post will get a small Korean gift from me.