Tag Archives: Travel

Au no Fair!

2 Aug

My 6 week au pairing experience was drastically cut short, ending after just 10 days. If you read my first post about au pairing you would have read what a great time I was having, blissfully unaware of any apparent discomfort I was causing the family. I want to be respectful and not use the family’s real names so for the purpose of this post I’m going to give them all pseudonyms. The Daughter will be ‘Adriana’, Mother – ‘Carla’, Father – ‘Mario’, (I know some of you are bound to imagine him as Nintendo’s Mario with a thick black moustache but so be it), and the son, ‘Fabio’.

Things began taking a bad turn after just a week. A Thursday evening meal ended with me being quite teary and emotional, after being told that things were awkward and there was a ‘problem’, of which I was at the centre of. I sat at the end of the dinner table, as they spoke in vibrant Italian, their foreheads wrinkled. Their body language hinted it was something serious but of course it was completely undecipherable by me. Their expressive sounds were made intelligible, as usual, by their Father, Mario’s, translation. I can’t remember word-for-word what was said and the general dialogue was delivered somewhat fractured due to his wife’s and daughters’ continued interjections and his faltered English. The general message was along the lines of ‘the children don’t understand you, both my wife and daughter feel uncomfortable, it’s not working’.  Adriana and Carla continued to try to add to his translation.  As each bit of information was relayed in slightly broken English it delivered another slight blow to my bubble, in which I had thought everything had being going well.  It’s a little bizarre that the main issue seemed to be communication when they had deliberately sought out an English speaking au pair; it’s not as though I tricked them into thinking I spoke Italian. I couldn’t even if I had wanted to. The daughter’s English was very basic which made conversation challenging but surely that’s the point? I made gestures, drew pictures, and used Google translate to get what I needed across. She had an English textbook that we went through a couple of afternoons but I didn’t want to force her to do it if she didn’t want to, I don’t want to become the enemy. In fact, this was reiterated in the conversation when the father translated that she didn’t want to be doing a textbook like school work. I had brought children’s books with me. So far we had gone through ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ together, I drew the words and looked up translations to aid her, but she seemed exasperated as though it was too challenging. Ideally, the parents would have been understanding, ‘yes it is challenging’, but encouraging – ‘keep trying’.

Instead the Father concluded with, “How can you fix this problem?” It sounded like he was decisively directing all the blame onto me. I wasn’t sure how to answer and the table seemed to stretch out before me as though adding greater distance between ‘me’, the foreigner, and ‘them’, the family. In that moment, I felt very alone. I apologised, but for what? I wasn’t sure. I felt I had tried my best but agreed I would try harder. We had been to the park, painted, had Fifa tournaments, played ‘Guess Who’, I did English homework with Adriana, as well as getting food shopping and preparing a simple lunch. We hashed out a vague plan of how to ‘fix’ things; I was to do more activities with the children and not only talk more, but to be more determined in my approach to talk to Adriana, (i.e. be more repetitive and do whatever possible until Adriana successfully understood my attempts to make conversation). The Mother, Carla, who I had tried and failed to manage simple conversation with due to her minimal response, upon seeing me well-up, tried to comfort me with a hug. Her affection didn’t go unappreciated at the time, but in hindsight it now seems, as harsh as it might sound, a little weird, since it was she, who decided, less than four full days later, that I should leave.

The next day, I had planned to go to the small nearby park again on the advice that I should be doing more activities with the children. However, due to a misunderstanding, the daughter called her Grandparents and arranged for us to go round to play ping-pong as we had done all together, parents included, one afternoon earlier in the week. I didn’t mind of course, the Grandmother, Mother to the children’s Dad was especially nice. Her English wasn’t great but her effort and perseverance in trying to talk to me, made her extremely likable. I only wish the daughter and Mother had tried half as hard as she did. I searched my memory of Italian words so I was able to express my gratitude and tell her how kind I thought she was. It probably didn’t sound all too melodic, to say the least, but I managed to get my message across.

-On a side note, another misunderstanding led me to spending an afternoon wandering around the town of Macerata alone despite me believing she would be accompanying me. I’m independent enough to enjoy my own company a while I just hadn’t expected it. However, she did kindly drive me into town, point me in the right direction and even provided me with a guidebook. When I explained the misunderstanding to Mario, it transpired that, (roughly translated), she hadn’t wished to ‘cramp my style’. In actual fact, I had been looking forward to us going around town and even imagined us having lunch together in a cafe, as I would my own Grandma.

– Friday seemed pretty successful. The kids enjoyed playing ping-pong with their Grandad and we ate a nice lunch. On the other hand, the children’s habit of turning on the TV in the kitchen during lunch continued. It seemed like a happy distraction from having to try to engage with the stranger in the room – me. I hated being a killjoy but due to the previous night’s conversation, I suggested to the daughter that maybe we should talk instead, reminding her that her Dad had wanted us to talk more. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. She half-shrugged and told me she hadn’t seen the episode before. I mentioned it to Mario when he was home from work, as I didn’t want it to lead to me feeling ganged up on again. Yet, he said it was fine, let them watch TV.  I was getting mixed messages but didn’t want to push the point. I was led to believe that I was there, primarily, to help Adrianna with her English, however after less than a week, she didn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of learning English whatsoever. When I suggested going through her English textbook again she said ‘no’. Again, I didn’t want to force her. Also, she often gave up quickly when she thought trying to explain something seemed like too much of a challenge or would take too much effort. It’s an entirely different dynamic to what I had done in Korea, I was not there to be a figure of authority like a teacher so didn’t try to be, I tried to be their friend but without conversation it was difficult.

I felt bad for the young boy, Fabio, he was full of energy and enthusiasm. I actually think I could have gotten more success teaching him the odd phrase or the lyrics to an English song than his sister, but the parent’s only wanted me to focus on the daughter’s English. They said I shouldn’t try to teach him, instead leave him to his own devices on his Playstation as he was ‘timido’, shy.  This seemed bizarre to me and entirely contradictory, as Fabio was anything but in my company, he would dance around the living room with more moves and mischief than King Louis, of Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’. He was a little cutie. I made him giggle as we had staring competitions, pulled faces at one another and I’d mess up his hair affectionately.

That’s not to say the girl wasn’t nice, she was, she just wasn’t motivated. When she explained to her Dad the following Monday that she didn’t always understand me, which I think is normal when two people of different languages are talking to one another, it was translated as though it was a fault with me, my personality. I was told I needed to be ‘more friendly’ when I don’t believe I was at all unfriendly. Mario said I needed to ‘smile more’ and that I was ‘too serious’. I was actually much more smiley than usual, but they had seemed to have taken my natural expression and odd furrowing of the brows when I was trying to decipher what was being said in Italian, as some kind of, I don’t know, anger…In fact, I specifically remember the Dad telling me I scared them. I can honestly say I never raised my voice to them once; I never even wag my finger at them.

The only telling off I gave them, if you can call it that, was when I asked them to get dressed before their Father came home for lunch. I didn’t get cross; I asked them once. Adriana bluntly replied ‘NO’.  I asked again five minutes later. I again she flatly replied ‘NO’. Leaving a little more time, (this was all whilst I was in the middle of making lunch.) Again, she replied ‘NO’. The fourth time, I went over to the Playstation and said that if they didn’t go to put their clothes on, (I was pointing at my own clothes and their pyjamas, to demonstrate what I meant), that I would turn the Playstation off. Again, Adriana replied, ‘NO’.  I didn’t want to, but I know from experience with my younger sister, that if you don’t follow-through on your threats then you rarely expect to ever garner any respect or have any co-operation from kids. I counted to five, they looked at me as though they didn’t think I would, but I did – I turned off the Playstation. Little Fabio whaled and they both stomped off to get changed. This was all a big mistake, to my surprise, Mario said I should have left them to stay in their pyjamas all day if they wished. That was a little frustrating, it made me the ‘bad guy’, the enemy.

I would describe the parents as quite lenient, very loving, but very lenient. The kids went to bed the same time as their parents and they watched kids TV until 10.30 most nights. They weren’t made to eat vegetables if they didn’t want to. I’m not criticising their parenting it just meant that the daughter knew that she only had to do what she felt like doing, and speaking in English, by the end of the first week, was NOT something she felt like doing. At least, that’s the impression she gave. Of course, as far as she and her parents were concerned, that was my fault.

Pretty much every conversation with the parents, (mainly the Dad, since he was the only one who spoke in English), about how things were going was a re-hashing of the same conversation of the first the one, on the Thursday previous, and with each conversation it made a small issue bigger. What can make an uncomfortable situation worse is talking about how uncomfortable it is. I think it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of awkwardness if you invite a stranger who doesn’t speak your own language to live with you into your home to take care of your kids, but it takes time.  Usually the awkwardness would go unmentioned. Instead it was discussed at length turning it into a much bigger issue. Mario kept bringing it up, probably out of concern – I don’t doubt that he had good intentions, but it just made things worse. I was determined to not let it get me down, I reassured him that I was happy, I hadn’t given up if they hadn’t, and that I was genuinely doing my best to make it work.

Despite me treating each day as a new day, putting their concerns out of my mind and pulling all my usual kids repertoire out of the bag: playing frisbee, football, making silly faces, singing songs, telling jokes, drawing numerous cartoons, showing them how to do origami and performing many magic tricks, (I can literally make a handkerchief disappear – what’s not to love about that?), it all went to pieces.

One day, which turned out to be my last day, I was playing volleyball with the kids on the beach at our usual spot, by the rented sun loungers when a woman from the cafe a few meters away, called the daughter’s name. It was usual for Carla or Mario to call the daughter and check in every 45 minutes or so to see how things were going. However, this time Adriana hadn’t heard her phone ringing whilst we were playing. She missed her Mother’s call. Anyway, she spoke to the Mum via the cafe phone and reassured her that everything was fine. However, when we returned to the apartment, after I set the table for lunch and the kids played FIFA on Playstation whilst we waited for their Dad to join us, things went from bad to worse. First, the Dad dived into yet another conversation about his concerns, all pretty much the same as before. Then his mobile rang. It was his wife, Carla. She crying, saying she was beside herself with worry he told me, she said she “couldn’t trust me and wanted me to leave as soon as possible”. Some painfully awkward hours later, (I hid in my room the best part of it), I was on a plane back to the sunny UK.

And so that’s it. My au pairing experience came to a sudden end. Would I au pair again? Probably not. Not because of that particular experience, every family is different and I know people who have had great au pairing experiences. However, in September I’ll be training to be a teacher. My summer holidays will be precious and I’ll have money to spend making it count. There are still so many places I want to see and things I want to do. I have four weeks left before I have to commit completely to my PGCE and write off my social life for around ten months. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy myself.

Macerata

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I’m sorry about these au pairing titles but for some reason, as cringe-worthy as they are, they really tickle me.

Oh No Pair!

2 Aug

My au pairing experience turned into a bit of a disaster. I’ve ‘ummed’ and ‘arred’ about whether or not to write a post about it. I told the Father of the family about my blog and he’d visited the page. He even thanked me for the nice things I had said about his family in my first post about au pairing. When things started falling apart, he told me he had checked to see if I had wrote about it online, which left me in two-minds about whether or not I should.

I’ve tried to be as accurate and honest as possible about the experience, but ‘at the end of the day’, (Jeremy Kyle contestants have ruined this phrase for ever!), I don’t feel I have done anything wrong. By excluding it from my blog, and leaving my previous post without an ending, it would feel to me as though I am ashamed, when in fact I have nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s only fair to be honest about my experience.

All too often people have an online persona, especially on Facebook, which shows their life to be one amazing party or delicious Pizza Express meal to the next. I’m not saying I don’t have an online persona to some extent, (we all pick profile pictures that make us look the best etc), I just wanted to be honest in my blog and show the good and the bad. Life has moments that kick you in the metaphorical balls sometimes; its how you roll with it that counts. As it happens, I think I’ve rolled quite well. I turned being sacked and deported (excuse the hyperbole, poetic license, INNIT BIATCHES!) into a lovely family trip between my Dad’s place and my Aunties, catching up with my adorable cousins and siblings in what happened to be even better weather than I’d had in Italy. Us, English, have been uniquely treated to some amazing weather lately. I feel dead lucky to have a lovely family that picked me up, both in the metaphorical sense and literally, in the case of my auntie, from the Stansted airport. My boyfriend was ever-dependable in his support and my Mam, who I’m eternally grateful – let me know that she would have no problems bailing me out and handing me a get-out-of-jail-free-card in the form of a plane ticket if it all went pear-shaped. Luckily, the family was just-to-say reasonable enough in purchasing the flight home instead. So my next post about how it all went wrong is written and ready to post. It will be up tomorrow.

Sun in London with my Dad

Sun in London with my Dad

Life After ‘Tefling’

19 Apr

‘Tefling’ obviously isn’t really a word, but you know what I mean, so just go with it. (Life afteyayr Teaching English as a Foreign Language.)

If I was sitting down about six months ago to write this post it would have been quite miserable.  It probably wouldn’t have even been a post, just a series of sighs, grunts, huffs and puffs. I, perhaps quite naively, thought coming home with a years solid graft under my belt, (employers don’t know teaching English in a Hagwon in Korea is one of the easiest jobs in the world), added with the fact that I’ve lived and travelled abroad, giving me some kind of worldly edge or ‘soft skills’ as they’re sometimes known, combined with my English degree, would mean I’d get snapped up quicker than a slapper at a night club at the end of the night. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was more like I was trying to entice a vegetarian into eating meat with a bag of pork scratchings.

It might be the economical climate, the area in which I live, the fact I can’t drive – it could be any number of things. The fact was, apart from the odd telephone interview, nobody was interested. I quickly reassessed my target for a graduate job and down- graded it to just any job, AT ALL. I finally got a little shop job in a supermarket over Christmas. It was temporary and part time, did I mention it was in a supermarket!? This was a long way down for my aspirations for a graduate job within a large company with quick career growth. Who was I kidding?

However, I realised all this time I’d missed not just working, (and the general feeling of being valuable and productive), but teaching itself. I think going into teaching long-term is probably quite a common route after ‘Tefling’, and it makes sense really. I, personally, really enjoyed teaching. If your thinking of being a teacher but aren’t completely sure I would definitely advise teaching TEFL first. It gives you an idea of the basic principles needed for teaching without having to commit too much. You don’t have to pay tonnes for an expensive course to end up deciding it’s not for you. Yes, you do have to uproot for at least a year, but hey if you hate it after a few months you’ll have earned enough to buy a ticket home again.

Having said that, in my case, I didn’t get into TEFL with any intention to teach long-term. I have friends who’ve wanted to be teachers for years, they did placements and work experience but I thought it wasn’t for me. Things change. I’ve now been accepted onto a teaching training course beginning in September so I’m feeling much chirpier about the future and my career prospects.

Nearly all my other TEFL friends found jobs pretty quickly, which is hopeful. Makes me feel a bit sh*t because it wasn’t the case for me, but still, it means there’s hope for the rest of you! There’s an Estate Agent, an Apprentice Property Surveyor, Flight Attendant, Private Tutor, Educational Administrator and a Business Management Assistant. Impressive stuff. Although, some of those jobs are loosely linked to teaching and travelling, it shows that Tefling really need not have any baring on your chosen career. I’m certain none of them would have left it off their CV either. It’s like any job; you need to make sure it’s tailored to the job your going for. If  it’s a office job then focus on the organisational skills you gained and the use of computer aided things you did. On the other hand, if it’s a client based or customer facing role then focus on how teaching, especially in a foreign country, made you more personable and a better communicator.


chance

Basically, the overall message is do not give up and do not despair. The worst case scenario is that you are back where you were before you left and honestly, did you pack up your bags and travel to new lands to increase your career prospects or did you do it for the adventure? Would you trade in all the new experiences and new friends for a well-paid graduate job? I wouldn’t. I don’t even need to think about that one, and for someone who over-thinks everything, that’s a big deal.

 

Life after TEFLING

3 Apr

It’s coming up to a year since I have finished my contract teaching in South Korea. For anyone curious on the career prospects for an ex-TEFL teacher my upcoming post might give you an insight.

I need to publicly declare my intention to write a post to spur me on to write one.

Quite a few people have tried to encourage me to get my blog up and running again and to continue to write posts on my day to day life. However, as things have been, I simply don’t deem my life interesting enough. I’m pretty sure even my friends see me as a bit of a bore since I regularly decline drunken nights out.* Plus, there’s a spectrum of other reasons, such as the fact that I live with my Grandparent’s. That’s not inherently an issue as such, I’m very fortunate, however, besides from the fact I live with them they also happen to be the most avid readers of my blog. I guess what I’m saying goes along the lines of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. They are lovely, they really are but if I’m to have a blog I want it to be a warts and all kind of blog so to limit the risk of offending them I’m going to keep the internet, and more importantly my Grandparents, from reading my whining.

I want to write about life after teaching TEFL because as my contract was coming to an end I started to get quite anxious about what the future held. I can get a bit panicked about these things sometimes. I started franticly looking up articles and blogs that could console me. Instead, I came across this. The article, published by The Telegraph, is probably the most depressing article about TFEL teaching ever written. My heart sank and my level of panic went through the roof when I read it. I can be very dramatic. A cup of tea later and some words of reassurance from my fella’, Lawson, and I was hunky dorey again. However, months of unemployment confirmed my worst fears. However, it really isn’t all doom and gloom. I’m feeling way more optimistic about the future and I want to write a post of reassurance. Within the next week I intend to write a post about where my life has gone since TEFL, where it is going and where it could go for you. Plus it will be all wrapped in with the usual ramblings of a slightly weird, arguably unstable, twenty something like me!

I’m going to end on a quote from my favourite hottie on TV lately.

My Mad Fat Diary

Finn

*I like dancing, I like drinking, I obviously like my friends. So what’s the problem then? I ask myself this question – because I’m a walking contradiction and I have constant internal arguments with myself. The answer is I just much prefer a select group of close friends in a pub than the whole typical night out package with all the extra rubbish: the sick, alcohol stains on my favourite dress, girls crying in the loos, the drunken idiots that barge into you, regretful casual smoking and greasy calorific fast food…the list is endless.

It’s The Final Countdown – reflecting on almost a year in Korea.

13 Apr

I and Lawson began our 12 months contracts as TEFL teachers on the 21st of May 2012. Now it’s almost mid April 2013 and we are not renewing our contracts, so I guess you could say that it’s the countdown to the beginning of the end, or an end, at least on this chapter of our lives, anyway. So now is a good time to reflect on my time in Korea. Did we make the right decision coming here? What have a learnt and gained from it? 

I’ve missed home more than I expected. Not the place, but the people. When I was first looked into teaching in Korea I was just incredibly excited about the whole notion of living and working abroad. It was only the last couple of weeks before leaving that it dawned on me that it was actually quite frightening. I realised how much I was going to miss everyone. I even made a specific effort not to have any kind of sad drawn-out goodbye with one of the people I knew would miss most, my Grandma, because I didn’t want to think about it. I guess I’m a ‘Grandma’s girl’ through and through.

I feel lucky enough to have lived a fairly sheltered life. Maybe even, very sheltered, but I am only beginning to realise that now. I think being away from my family and friends for such a sustained period of time has really helped me value them. Sometimes you’re too close to see…that sounds incredibly corny but I really feel like it’s true. Maybe being away has given me rose-tinted spectacles. I haven’t forgotten how they drove me crazy sometimes, (as well as I do them),  but I think being away can really renew your appreciation. I would advise everyone to do this at least once in their lives if they have the opportunity. To take time away and recharge your gratitude for your family, especially. I think that is one of the most valuable things I’ve gained from being in Korea, appreciation. Similarly, in an odd kind of way, I’m also really looking forward to being apart from my boyfriend when I return home. I’m only looking forward for some time apart purely so we can miss each other again and renew our appreciation of each other.

Despite the occasional sharp pangs of homesickness I don’t regret it at all. I’m quite proud of myself for sticking it out. I doubted my ability to commit before now. I have never stuck a job out for more than six months before this. I also think, or at least hope, that it has made me a more accepting, more tolerant person. I’ve made some lovely friends here and met the odd person who has inspired me. My intention is to take away the things I admire most about the people I’ve met and implement those things in my own life, if I can. I’ve met the odd person whose inspired me and made me question some of my stubborn opinions too. I feel inspired to push myself more challenge myself mentally – I don’t intend to be ambiguous here – I simply want to learn more. I have met a few people who I’ve felt are far more intellectually aware and knowledgeable than me. Initially,  I hated that because it made me feel dumb-struck and frankly, plain stupid. But actually, I shouldn’t resign myself to what I refer to as my ‘lazy-brain’, as though it’s a character flaw I should learn to accept; I ought to push myself. The information is out there for the taking. Until just under two years ago, I’d been in education nearly all my life and learning felt like a chore that had to be done merely for exam results, now I have free reign to learn whatever I like.

I still don’t know what I want to do. People have finally stopped asking me the age-old, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I guess that’s because I am a ‘grown-up’. It always felt like there was a deadline when people asked me that question but now the deadlines been reached the question seems irrelevant, we are constantly growing  aren’t we? I don’t feel under pressure anymore to make any final decisions. I want to take my time and think thoughtfully and openly about any opportunities that come my way and simply enjoy myself as much as possible beyond any outside constraints, whatever they may be.

Overall, this has been a far more valuable experience than the money I’ve saved. Which is good because my savings happen to be a lot less than the delusional estimations I made before coming here! I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do this and if anyone else has the chance I would give you my own personal recommendation to do so. This blogging malarkey has been incredibly self indulgent and cathartic at times too. When our contract is up, before finally returning home, we have planned 6-7 weeks travelling Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam so we have a lot to look forward to plus a 3 day weekend on Jeju Island. I can’t wait to have sand between my toes, a cold Thai lager in my hand and some sun of my face. When I’m doing that, and when I return home, that’s when I know it has been worth it.

Jimjilbang – Naked Spa Time!

14 Jan

For obvious reasons there isn’t a photograph to accompany this post so you’ll have to use your own imagination; the implications of this statement do worry me slightly.

I’m the kind of girl who always uses the changing room at the gym or swimming baths. I don’t have one of those ‘if yer got it flaunt it’ kind of mentalities. I’m just naturally slightly uncomfortable about being naked in front of people. I’ve never really thought greatly about why I feel this way. I wouldn’t say I was particularly insecure about the way I look. I guess I just feel more comfortable about my body when the possibility of it being scrutinized is removed. Maybe I’m prudish or uptight or Western Society, media and legislation, has made me think that the way I was born, in the flesh, is somehow either sacred and therefore private or indecent and therefore should be hidden. I don’t know. Either way, the idea of being complete and utterly starkers in a spa full of other women filled me with trepidation and fear.

So why bother do it then if it makes you feel uncomfortable? You might ask. Because, I know the fear is slightly irrational. It had also come recommended to us by fellow ex-pats in Korea who told us it was a very relaxing experience. Plus, I’ve come to experience another culture after all. So as weird as it seems to us Westerners getting your naked on in a spa is part of Korean culture. It is as much about having a thorough clean to them as anything else. It’s as natural a thing to do as eating dog or live squid. Which I also plan to getting round to doing too eventually! Back to the case in point; It is very popular in Korea. It isn’t unusual to see three generations of Koreans all together helping each other scrub one another’s backs in a sauna or steam room or just chill in a jacuzzi and chat. Obviously, they are two completely separate spa’s one for men and one for women. So separate in fact they are on different floors and your not even able to share the same lift.

So finally, despite my angst I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer. After a  pint one week night at our local bar Lawson suggested we get it over with and go. I decided, with the help of a second lager, to stop being such a pathetic wuss and get my nuddy on – KOREAN STYLEAA! I’d already done the necessary female grooming. The blades on Lawson’s razor may need replacing sometime soon.

I entered the spa in all my nude glory like a proud lioness roaming the jungle, taking big strides around the place and swishy my hair around like I was in a Loreal advert. I was maintaining the façade of being an ivory goddess of beauty rather than the quivering wreck I felt and pimply wobbly thing that I am. But actually, after a quick cursory glance at the other women in there I suddenly  felt very normal. In fact, I actually wished I hadn’t bothered grooming. The nice part of me says they were ‘very real looking‘. The cruel part of me says ‘they looked like they had road kill stapled to their lower stomachs‘. Also, since it was fairly late there wasn’t that many people in there. No more than maybe fifteen minutes in did I start to really enjoy the experience. I had a nice soak in the jacuzzi, chilled in the sauna for a while and tried the various different temperatures of the pools.  It’s very clean and fairly luxurious in there actually. The inside of the sauna walls are decorated with semi-precious stones depicting flowers, trees and clouds in mosaic.

My ex-pat friends had been right, it had been a very relaxing experience and I left feeling clean, contented and strangely very calm. What’s also great about it is it also incredibly affordable at just 5000 KRW (£3/$5).  You have the option to pay extra for a massage to if you so wished.I have been two more times since this first occasion and will no doubt go again. It’s great! I find myself wondering why we haven’t adopted a similar idea in England. As for the whole being naked issue – like  suspected, it was all in my head. It was no big deal at all.

Jeju-do Island in a Day

23 Oct

To get an idea of the kind of quandary your in when you try to do Jeju-do Island in a day it’s worth noting that this is Korea’s number one holiday destination, home to the highest mountain in South Korea, around a dozen sandy beaches and it’s one of the hotspots for Honeymooners in East Asia.

So what do you do with just one day on Jeju? Well, you don’t have a lie-in that’s for sure! Except we did. Hmm…

In spite of our initial laziness we actually managed to see a fair bit. Our hotel was well located for the town. Although, quite central, the town isn’t all too scenic but we needed to eat so we started the day by going to a recommended chocolate café, called ‘chocoart,’ featured in my guide book. We filled up on a delicious lunch of sandwiches and chocolates.

We then headed straight over to the nearest beach, which happened to be Iho. Iho beach has contrasting black and white sand, meaning that if you so wished you could make different coloured sand castles. Although, not as striking as it was described to us in the guidebook it was a fairly warm day so we managed to enjoy a spot of sunbathing and we took some nice photographs. Obviously, we couldn’t afford to lounge for too long though as we had lots to see.

We then headed off to a ‘Secret’ sculpture park, an area dedicated to sex sculptures. We, perhaps mistakenly, didn’t visit the original ‘LoveLand‘. Although, I can’t imagine it being any more explicit than the one we visited instead. This is of course the whole point, it’s hardly an art exhibit – it’s just a massive photo opportunity to get your picture taken with gigantic penis sculptures and laugh yourself silly. We spent a good hour looking round in a state of bemusement and shock at such scenes as a Santa Clause flasher and a bridge where you had to pass under a woman’s skirt to cross. They had a gallery with art work and another strange room set up with park benches as plinths for various graphic sculptures. To summarise, we had a giggle and took plenty of amusing pictures which I’m too cowardly to upload.

Next stop was Samgumburi Crater, it’s a natural monument and the result of a extinct volcano. It’s 100 meters deep and around 350 metres wide and is thought to be home to around 400 different species of plants and animals.  So imagine our disappointment when the taxi driver dropped us off at what appeared to be three small grassy wells in the ground far less shallow than a grave. We were baffled and confused looking at how unspectacular these dents in the ground were. To be honest, my impulse was to throw down my guide book in disgust and angrily declare “We’ve been conned!”  That was until it dawned on us both that I had showed our driver the wrong column in the guide book.  We were in fact at a shrine. Since we had found ourselves here we decided to pay the small entrance fee and have a look around. These circular concave holes in the ground although unspectacular to look at actually had an interesting story behind them. They were thought to be where three demi-gods rose from the ground and came to protect the island. This is just one of the many myths and legends embedded into the island culture, which is one of the things that makes it an interesting place to visit.

Once again, we headed off for Samgumburi Crater. We did attempt to get a bus but after we did the maths, (and got lost trying to find the bus terminal), we decided a taxi would be far more efficient. The taxi driver spoke very little English but was very sweet. He waited for us at the entrance gate whilst we went up to the crater. I actually think we couldn’t have seen the crater at a better time. We got there just as the sun was beginning to set and I got some great photos as a result. The crater itself seemed colossal and it’s supposedly quite small compared to the crater on Mount Hallasan.

I’m quite the foodie and my days are often shaped by the food I eat: So to encapsulate the day I ate well that night at a brilliant Indian restaurant called ‘Bagdad Café’. However full I was that evening though I don’t feel I have had my fill on Jeju-do and look forward to another, hopefully, longer visit there next year.

Manli’s Visit to South Korea

11 Oct

My wonderful friend, Manli, came to visit me for a week recently. It was very touching that someone cared so much to travel such a long way (her flight was something ridiculous like 30 hours counting the stopover in Abu Dhabi). Quite a few of mine and Lawson’s friends or family have said they would come but I never expected anyone to actually come. I don’t think I really believed she was coming until I actually saw her. And later I even had to squeeze her arm to make extra sure she was physically here, in South Korea. It was crazy but fantastic.

It was so surreal because after living in Korea for 5 months nearly I have definitely compartmentalised two very separate places, cultures, people; two separate me’s even? I’m only realising the most latter as I type it and so I’m still in doubt about it. Here, I’m uncomfortable and uneasy but back home, or at least how I have it in my mind, I was much more relaxed and confident. I was someone else entirely. I don’t know that I even like the ‘Me in Korea’. I feel socially awkward, unadventurous and less independent. So having her here was like having a bit of home. It was great to be the uncensored me with an old friend again.

Not only did she bring her lovely self but she also brought lots of lovely goodies too! Cadbury’s chocolate, green and blacks chocolate, Fry’s chocolate creams, some Whisper Gold’s for Lawson, Mcvities Jaffa Cakes, Mcvities milk and dark chocolate HobNobs,  some Marks and Spencer’s knickers courtesy of my grandma, a lovely bikini bought by another close friend from home and some Pataks curry paste and lime pickle. The latter I was especially grateful for. The Indian restaurants here are not bad but they really don’t touch what Pataks can offer in a jar. Normally I don’t rate food that isn’t made from scratch and I had all the means and ability to make my own curry from scratch when I was at home and did many times but nothing touches these babies. I mean it. I bloody love the stuff! I can eat it straight it’s so good.

Unfortunately, seven days was a very short time. I tried my best to show her the best of Korea; we spent time in Seoul, on Jeju-do Island, we went to a Noraebong, and had Korean BBQ but I felt she only got a glimpse of what Korea has to offer. It’s strange me saying this because I’ve been so homesick at times I forget that Korea is actually pretty good. Maybe having her here has made me appreciate Korea more, see it from a fresh perspective because I do tend to focus on what it doesn’t have, (my friends and family), rather than what it does.

So with this new found appreciation for Korea, (and a burning desire to go back to Jeju-do at some point), maybe as I reach the half-way point in my Korean 12 month’s contract I can start to enjoy it more. In the next few weeks I and Lawson are hoping to see more of the Korean countryside whilst the weather is good, before it gets too cold, and while the leaves are changing colour. We are starting this Saturday with a trip to Songnisan National Park so I’ll let you know how it goes.

P.S I’ll be posting plenty of pics from her trip soon too.

Bangkok – “Backpackers hub of the Universe”

29 Aug

Lonely planet calls Bangkok the “Backpackers hub of the Universe”, walking around Bangkok, it was clear to see why. I felt like a tortoise without it’s shell not wearing one. Bangkok is the place where all the travellers stop off on long haul flights. They use it as a lilly pad in the water to leap to other destinations across the world. It seems to be the travellers chosen transition point; where East meets West.

Khao San Road, in particular, is where all the travellers gather on the evening. It was featured in Danny Boyle’s, ‘The Beach’, in the first 10 minutes of the film. The reality of Khao San Road lives up to the cinematic vision: lively, crowded, grimy, noisy…It’s nothing short of a deluge of activity. Words like ‘hodgepodge’ were created for a place like Bangkok. It’s sensory overload, and then some. We were inflicted with the smell more than most as our hotel was on the canal.

What’s interesting about the Canal, (and a useful representation of what Bangkok is like on a whole), is the contrast between each sides of it. On the one side there’s a line of rather fancy, sophisticated looking cafés and bistros and just opposite, across the murky water, there’s these dilapidated, dirty, small apartments. Odd bits of rusty corrugated iron sheeting patch them up. Their resident’s washing strewn out across a line are the only source of aesthetic decoration for these neglected, residing properties. This is just one example of the clearly visible contrasts of a checkered destination like Thailand’s capital city.

We spent the evening on Khao San Road, and in the surrounding area, just soaking up the vibrant-chaotic atmosphere and people watched. I enjoyed trying a Shisha pipe and we both enjoyed a delicious (although rather overpriced) Italian pizza. I have to say though, it was the best pizza I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Asia and expect to ever have again outside of Europe. That classic combination of sweet tomatoes and basil, a thin and crispy base garnished with freshly grated parmesan, (I do apologise but I think tangents are absolutely necessary when it comes to delicious food).  Lawson was bombarded with salesmen trying to sell him suits, and I by elderly women with outlandish headdresses who had decorated themselves with all the items they had for sale. They wore all the necklaces down one arm with bracelets on the other. Of course, we were both approached consistently by native sales people. And everywhere you could look there were street vendors selling all kinds of unusual food and delicacies. I often find that the word ‘delicacy’ is used for creepy crawlies  and here is no exception. There were also people cooking fresh stir fry’s and Tom Yum soup on a cart with wheels.

Unfortunately, much to Lawson’s disgust, we were unable to enjoy a crisp cold bottle of Singha beer or any alcohol at all for that matter as it was Buddhist Lent Day. The first day in which Buddhist monks vow to stay in one particular temple for three months without leaving. Quite handy for them seeing as though it’s monsoon season anyway, (I have absolutely no knowledge of Buddhism so if I offend it’s with ignorance rather than intent). Anyway, much to our dismay we were unable to fully engage in the intoxicating party spirit Bangkok is known so well known for. We probably saw Bangkok on the most sober and sedated day of the year but you wouldn’t have known it. I could quite happily spent the entire night as a spectator . The bars were very nice too. Often made from bamboo with huge, ornate sculptures and in-built waterfalls and rock pools. One bars ceiling was adorned with real puffer fish doubling up as lampshades. Bangkok definitely caters to the tourists. Outside MacDonald’s there was even a Ronald MacDonald statue bowing with palms together. I was also quite pleased as we were able to get some reasonably priced English novels too whilst we were there.

The following morning we were offered to be given our very own personal tour for a mere 200 baht by-(can you tell who it is yet?)-by a a tuk-tuk taxi driver. We’d been warned about the clever ways of the tuk-tuk taxi drivers but happily accepted his invitation anyway. It all turned out very well in the end. We were able to enjoy the sites of the Great standing Buddha and the Lucky Buddha, (which were both unusually sparse tourist-wise as everyone had been the previous day for the festivities of Buddhist lent day), in exchange for a couple of stops at some jewellery stores before swiftly being returned to our hotel. The taxi drivers for this stop-off at the jewellery factory shops gets free gasoline vouchers. It’s good business sense at the end of the day, we didn’t argue especially since we paid a mere £4 to go to two attractions we probably couldn’t have found without him.

He had also saved us from a smartly dressed Thai gentlemen who was boring us senseless with his stories outside the Lucky Buddha temple. He spoke fluent English so he had no difficulty in tiring us with information unfortunately. He must have noticed I’d stopped listening as he said said “Listen, now you listen to me” with rather more authority than I thought was customary for a stranger. He obviously thought he had some valuable advice to bestow, but if he did, it was lost on me. Even Lawson, far politer than I, was unable to summarise his ramblings. Luckily the tuk-tuk driver saved us from further boredom by coming to get us and drop us off at the next destination.

Before making our way to the airport that same day I was able to try my authentic taste of Tom-Tum soup; it was spicy and delicious. I felt a little sad that we had to leave so soon. I was warming to Bangkok. It was rather shabby and unkempt to say the least but it was fuelled on the energy of the travellers and yet it still retained it’s own unique Thai identity. The Buddhist religion I am told, (by the tiresome smartly dressed Thai gentleman in fact, perhaps he had taught me something useful in the end?) Whether what he said was true or not, ‘freedom’ is what echoed out through every nook, cranny and crack in Bangkok and I one reason why I can’t wait to return.

P.S Next time – as awful and disgusting as it may be I think we ought to go see ping-pong. I was told by an offended taxi driver that it in fact it is not rude but beautiful.   Hmm…I don’t believe that one bit (Seriously, it may bare similarities but it is NOT the miracle of child birth, is it!) but then again these things need to be seen to be believed.

Erotic Thai Massages and Bangkok ‘Ping Pong’

13 Aug

Okay, so now that I’ve grabbed you with the headline your going to have to read on because otherwise I will deem you an even bigger filthy minded pervert. Okay? Good.<

Arriving in Thailand

We only had 5 days Summer holiday off work so we planned to use them wisely. After our initial worry of having booked a hotel and then struggling to book flights, (NOT a sensible way to book a holiday at all and there I went throwing the word “wisely” around!), we were all ready to go.

We booked to stay for 6 nights on Koh Samet, an island on the West coast of Thailand, at ‘Samed Ville Hotel’. We also planned to spend a  further seventh night in a hotel in Bangkok.

There are two films that come to mind when I think about Thailand, there’s ‘The Beach’ with the gorgeous Leanardo Di Caprio, and ‘Hangover 2’ with the gorgeous Bradley Cooper. Both quite different and both blockbuster movies, and did I mention they both have gorgeous lead actors? My longing to visit Thailand definitely stems from seeing ‘The Beach’. Danny Boyle shoots amazing bits of scenery in that movie that just blew me away. It looks like the single most beautiful place you could imagine on Earth and many people who’ve visited Thailand maintain that it is truly beautiful. Coming to Thailand was a big moment for me, it’s one less thing on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint.

Our journey from Seoul International Airport to our final destination on Koh Samet was an incredibly long one. It took 24 hours all in all. I won’t go into tedious detail, but the highlight for me was the final two modes of transport. We got a little old speedboat from Ban Phe to the island, that was adrenalin fuelled indeed. The sea was rough and the driver showed no willing to be slowed down. It was amazing. Once we arrived on the Island we got a pick-up truck taxi to our hotel. That might not sound like much but that’s because your probably imagining smooth, gentle, tarmacked roads. This was a rocky, bumpy untarmacked dirt track, with the monsoon season the water had made great muddy dips in the road too and don’t forget we had no seatbelts, add to that we were completely exposed sitting on the back of an open pick-up truck like illegal Mexican labourers going to work in America. I loved it! That isn’t sarcasm, it was really fun. We clung on for dear life but it was better than most rollercoaster’s at Alton Towers, although that was probably because the possibility of injury was slightly more real!

The scene we were presented when we first arrived at Koh Samet Island was, and I know I’m in a danger of sounding corny, but it was quite magical. Maybe I was delirious from the speed boat ride, maybe I was relieved to be on solid ground again or maybe it really was that beautiful. The beach from was full on tiny bamboo bars with people sipping cocktails in the moonlight and the entire beach front was lit up in the pitch black with lovely lanterns of all different colours. It looked amazing. I felt reassured that I hadn’t built up Thailand in my mind to be better than it is. Having said that, this was just my first impression of the place. I was incredibly sleepy from the travelling and besides either of these points – it wasn’t even daylight yet! We arrived at the hotel in somewhat of a daze, we had something to eat at the hotel restaurant quickly before retiring to our beds. We were led where we would be staying by a tiny Thai man on a narrow pathway through the dark and I vaguely thought I could hear the sound of waves as we were led to the front door of our modest villa.

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