Korean Ferry Disaster
I’m thinking very much about Korea and my Korean friends, colleagues and students right now.
This is hitting very close to home. I hope they find more survivors. This is so tragic.
Hello blog fans! Sorry for the lack of updates over the past couple of weeks but I have simply been busy having a wonderful time! However, I finally have a ‘nothing day’ and a little time to update you all on my adventures in Cambodia.
I was a bit worried about travelling from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh but I needn’t have worried. I travelled with Mekong Express Bus company and was generally impressed. The border crossing was well handled and the visa on arrival was very easy to obtain. The trip took about 7 hours in total and I was glad to get off the bus at the end! I then headed to my hostel which was lovely.
A lot of the tourist restaurants and bar are by the river in Phnom Penh so I headed there for dinner. It was there that I came across my first problem- street kids.. Cambodia is significantly poorer than anywhere else I have ever visited and that means that there are a lot of children either begging or selling stuff. I was aware before I arrived that buying things from these children is generally not recommended but I found it harder than I thought. It’s a lot easier to refuse an adult, but refusing a child felt rather callous at first even though I was aware that’s why they are required to sell and that by refusing them I was actually helping.
The next day, having made friends with a girl called Sorell in my hostel, I headed off to the National Museum and the Royal Palace. What we hadn’t banked on however, was just how insanely warm Cambodia is at the moment. We managed the museum and then stopped for a 2 hour break before attempting the Palace where we didn’t last long either because, hot.
The next day Sorell, a girl we met in our hostel called Charmel and a girl I met in Ho Chi Minh called Lauren and I organised a Tuk-Tuk to take us out of the city to The Killing Fields. For those of you who don’t know between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia was run by the Khmer Rouge who wanted to create a pure communist peasant society. They made all Cambodians leave the cities and join communes where they were forced to farm whilst given barely any food. At the same time, they rounded up anyone who went against the regime and killed them- approximately 2 million people, out of a population of 7 million, were killed in just under 4 years. The places where they did this were called The Killing Fields. There are over 300 of them in Cambodia but the most famous of these is outside Phnom Penh and is Cheoung Ek.
It’s quite a way out of the city and required a long Tuk-Tuk drive there. Once there we were given a headset each and invited to walk around the site. Through the recordings we listened to, we were able to learn a lot about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. There were mass graves and trees were babies were murdered. We listened to the accounts of survivors and when we looked at the ground we could still see scraps of cloth on the floor, remnants of the victims clothes. It was an incredibly moving and affecting place. To know that such horror took place there was awful- it juxtaposed very much with the actually very beautiful location. There were lots of trees, a lake and there were birds singing. Under any other circumstances it would have been lovely. I think the most affecting thing was just how recent it was. Anyone aged 35 or over in Cambodia lived through this. That’s so many of the people you see around you.
The walk around the Fields ends at a Stupa, where the bones of thousands of victims are housed. It was quite errie but it was lovely to see what has been done to remember the victims.
After this we had a much needed lunch and then we headed to Tuol Sleng, a genocide museum in the city. Tuol Sleng used to be a High School, but under the Khmer Rouge it was turned into a Prison, where political dissidents were kept and tortured before being sent to The Killing Fields to be killed. The Prison was awful- the Khmer Rouge kept good records so many photos and documents exist about the people who were kept there. There are displays of all these photographs which are very moving. Some of the people they killed were children and they often murdered whole families which was awful. There were these tiny cells for prisoners and there were even blood stains on the floor.
When the prison was liberated by the Vietnamese in 1979, only 7 prisoners were alive and now all but 2 of them are dead. As we were waiting by the exit, one of the survivors was sat there with a display of his books. He didn’t speak any English but meeting him was incredibly special. What really got me as well is that he is 84, the same age as my Grandpa. He signed a book for me and allowed my friend Lauren and I to have our photo taken with him. It felt like a really special moment.
That night us four girls went out drinking with a couple of Tuk-Tuk drivers that we had met. This was an… interesting experience certainly but we’re pretty sure we were only invited to pay for their drinks! They were nice company and it was another story to add to the ‘When I was travelling…’ collection!
The next morning, I was up bright and early to get a bus to Sihanoukville, a beach resort on the South Coast of Cambodia. My friend Lauren had also decided to come with me and to meet me there later in the day! The bus ride was not the best but it was simple. I then got a tuk-Tuk to the beach where I was staying, which was more out of the way. I’d booked myself a beach hut. I’d had visions of myself in Paradise but my beach hut was not particularly impressive. It wasn’t dirty but it was run by two guys who didn’t care at all.
Lauren and I ended up spending most of our time at other places along the beach. I’d like to say we did a lot but we sat on the beach and walked on the beach and I got quite burned. It was a lovely couple of days, totally relaxing. We did go into town at one point, where I had a one hour massage but otherwise I sat on the beach and loved it. I didn’t love being covered in sand quite as much but it was lovely not to worry about doing too much or going anywhere!
We headed back to Phnom Penh for a night after that, where I think were were glad to remove the grime from ourselves! Then the next morning we were up bright and early on our way to Siem Reap! The bus ride there took a long time because the highway between the two cities is under construction! But we made it. At this point, Lauren and I split up because my hostel didn’t have enough room for her. However, we met to explore Siem Reap later in the day.
Siem Reap is really a city that exists by feeding off all the visitors to Angkor Wat, but it is rather nice despite that. There are a lot of restaurants, markets and street food and it was generally lovely. I really enjoyed it!
The next day was more relaxed but the evening Lauren and I arranged for a Tuk-Tuk driver to take us to Angkor Wat to Sunset! Sadly we arrived too late for a really good view but it was pretty cool regardless! It was however, incredibly warm. As it’s a temple you have to dress respectfully. I have no problem with this but there is a lot to be said for a pair of shorts and a vest top when it comes to keeping cool! The sunset was really nice though and we were then able to head back to Siem Reap for dinner!
That night I had the worst night’s sleep I have had since I started travelling- sharing a dorm comes with a risk but nothing is worse than sharing with a snorer. A guy in my dorm got drunk and whilst he’d snored a little the night before, this turned him into a TRAIN. An actual train. He was so loud it echoed. I got hardly any sleep and then I had to get up at 4.40am to go for sunrise! I was not best pleased.
Lauren and I got to Angkor Wat for about 5.30. It was still very dark but there were loads of people watching- clearly this is the thing to do in Cambodia! What really surprised Lauren and I though was the number of people who had dressed inappropriately! There were so many people in vests and short shorts! Cambodians are very polite so they will never really chastise you about your clothes but they definitely don’t appreciate it! Sunrise was incredibly beautiful and looked very striking with the Wat in the foreground. After we watched the sunrise we went and explored all around the temple for a good hour before meeting up again and having breakfast! Then we headed to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was extremely impressive but in much worse condition than Angkor Wat- a guide informed me that the Khmer Rouge did a lot of the damage. We generally then walked around the complex before heading to another temple where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed! And then by 12, we were done and I headed back to the hostel for a much needed nap! That evening, Lauren and I had dinner and went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at what the cambodians called a ‘personal cinema’ but what to anyone who has been in Korea is a DVD Room! That was our last night together which was sad- Lauren waw an awesome travel companion and I really enjoyed spending time with her! The next day I went shopping in the markets and basically wandered around. I spent a lot of time with an older Australian lady called Lyn who was lovely! We had lunch and dinner together along with a Dutch girl called Lisbeth. Overall, I really enjoyed Cambodia. Despite the horrors in their recent History, Cambodians are some of the loveliest people I have met, friendly, open and welcoming. Learning about their wonderful country was a privelege and I’d definitely go back- the idea of a volunteering experience there is something I’d love to do in the future. And now I’m in Thailand. An update on my adventures here: coming soon
Q: Hey there, I just finished applying to EPIK and was wondering if you are still employed with them and how the experience was? Both teaching and being in Korea. :)
Thanks for your message. I am no longer employed with EPIK but the experience was pretty good. I loved being in Korea and I enjoyed teaching but started to stagnate towards the end (I was there for 2 and a half years). No regrets, it was a great part of my life.
Vietnam Part Three: Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City
After three weeks, tonight is my last in Vietnam. It’s been an incredible experience and it seems like a fitting time to write an update about my last few stops here.
After I left Cat Ba Island, I spent an afternoon in Hanoi and then I did something I had never done before: I caught a sleeper train. I’d booked a soft sleeper, upper bearth. I was ‘assisted’ to the train by a man who I thought was just being helpful but it turned out he wanted 50,000 dong to help me. It took ages to get rid of him since he was being fairly obnoxious! I was staying in a cabin with 2 Germans and a Belgian woman which was fine but the issue was that after my motorbike accident, I had clearly really hurt my foot. It had swollen to what can only be described as elephantine proportions. Climbing up to my bunk was not pleasant.
Once I got settled on the train however, the sleeper experience was not so bad. I got about 7 hours sleep which was pretty good considering! The one thing that really put me off though was despite our sheets being clean at Hanoi, if anyone got off the train, people who got on then had to sleep in their sheets! Pretty gross!
I got to Hue by mid-morning and made it to my hostel. I met a nice American family whilst I waited for my room to become available and they gave me a really interesting book to read about The Vietnam War. After that I elected to not do much. My foot clearly was not happy and in need of rest. I did that for the next couple of days, just really leaving for dinner and lunch. It wasn’t very exciting but I know that it’s what I needed. It did mean that I stayed in Hue for one more day than I played but I felt this was the better course of action.
The plus side of my second day in Hue is that my friend from Hanoi arrived. Manuel is a very lovely German and he was great company for the next couple of days. On the Saturday we went and explored The Citadel which was really interesting. Hue is the old capital of Vietnam and thus had a royal Citaedel at it’s heart for housing the Emperor and his family and attendants. It was badly damaged during the Vietnam war and then after the war was essentially left to decay as it was seen by the ruling party as a sign of a feudal past. They have however, decided to restore it which is great. It’s a very mixed environment with lots of ruins and some restored parts. Also, it was the sight of a Battle during the war and you can even see Bullet Holes, which was somewhat eerie!
The next day Manuel and I decided to do our own things so I went off on a city tour, ostensibly to see the tombs of former Emperors. The first two tombs I went to were magnificent and well worth the visit. I was also surrounded by Chinese tourists taking my picture. Being tall and ‘beautiful’ has it’s perks apparently! However, after that I found the day a bit disappointing. Despite paying for the tour we also had to pay for entrance fees and it got expensive quickly. My favourite part was getting up close and personal with some Water Buffalo taking a bath by where our boat docked! It was lovely!
The next day I caught my bus to Hoi An. Despite it being a day-time bus and only four hours long we were still put on a sleeper bus. Even for that long I found it fairly uncomfortable and decided to avoid buses here as much as possible! I got to Hoi An and my foot was playing up again. I got off the bus and decided to walk to my hostel onIy to be accosted by a woman who promised me a free ride to my hostel if I went to her tailor shop in the morning. It sounded like a good deal to me so me and my two back packs got on her bike and off we went!
I got to my hostel and decided to take it easy. However, I went outside and bumped straight into an Irish Guy I’d had a brief chat with on Cat Ba Island! Hooray for a dinner friend. We headed to the Old Town for dinner which was lovely and the area was so beautiful. It’s by a river full of old boats and all lit up by lanterns. Simply lovely. However, my other first impression was that it was a lot more expensive than the other places I had visited.
The next morning, my phone also decided to break so I went out to find somewhere to fix it only to bump into the lady from the day before. She took me to a shop to get i fixed (For free!) and then to her tailor shop. I’d been strugggling to find shorts I liked so I ended up getting 2 pairs of those made…and a pair of trousers… and 4 dresses! Oops! It was a lot of fun picking everything out though!
That afternoon I just relaxed, my foot and I, because it was all swollen again. Thankfully a guy in my dorm has a proper support/compression bandage. Using it immediately improved the situation!
The next day I decided to abandon my bed of pain and to go exploring. Walking through Hoi An Old town during the day was just beautiful- it was also my first proper sunny day which I loved! It was awesome. I also had a manicure which was lots of fun. In the afternoon, I went for my first fitting for my clothes which was fun!
The following morning I went for my final fitting which took a lot longer than expected but in the afternoon I hired a bike and cycled to the beach. This was my favourite part of my visit to Hoi An (and I really liked Hoi An). The people were waving at me along the way and the scenery was beautiful. Endless rice paddies! And the beach was beautiful too and there I had the most delicious fried rice! I also met a couple from Edinburgh- they were older, maybe in their 50s, but so friendly and willing to talk to me. They even let me sit on the beach with them and share their chips!
Friday morning I was up bright and early to go to a cookery course- I love cooking so I plan to do a course in every SE Asian country! The course was really interesting. It started with an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese breakfast and then I was taken on a tour of the market by the staff there, just me and one other guy. Learning about Vietnamese ingredients was really interesting and they all seem really passionate about their food. Back at the restaurant, we got on with the cooking. We started with a Cabbage Soup with Shrimp Mousse parcels and then made a traditional Hoi An pancake- just delicious! Then we made Marinaded Chicken Skewers to go with a Green Mango Salad. It was out of this world! It was very assisted though so I’d like some more opportunities to do some more independent cookery courses.
In the afternoon, the weather took a turn for the worse so I didn’t do much. Really, despite how much I like Hoi An, I spent too much time there. I could have used a day less. And I have to speed up a little in my travels. I want to leave room to be flexible but 5 nights in one place is just a bit much usually.
Saturday afternoon I caught my flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh. I was a bit cross when I arrived and no one was waiting for me like I’d asked my hostel. However, my anger abated when I arrived to the warmest welcome I’d received in Vietnam. The hostel is family run and so nice. They provided me with Ice Tea and a banana on arrival and my room is lovely. They’ve been nothing but helpful since I arrived. I’m very impressed, mostly.
Yesterday in Ho Chi Minh, I visited the Independence Palace which was interesting. It’s been left in near perfect condition since it was taken over in 1975 and it’s a bit of a time warp. However there were loads of tour groups which I hated. Definitely annoying.
In the afternoon, I went to the War Remnants Museum, which was both interesting and moving. There’s no denying that the Vietnam war has left an indelible impression on the people of Vietnam, both mentally and physically. Even today, people still suffer from the effects of Agent Orange, leading to mental and physical impairments. The pictures were really shocking and gave me a lot to think about.
Today however, I decided to have a relaxing day. I went to the cinema to see ‘Divergent’ and had a foot massage and pedicure which was extremely relaxing.
And well… that’s Vietnam. I’ve loved it- the people, the food, the places. It has definitely got more under my skin than I anticipated. Also, I’ve learned a lot about travelling and learned some important lessons about how to better organise the rest of my trip.
I’m on my way to Phnom Penh tomorrow and then on to Sihanoukville on Friday to spent a few days lying on the beach doing nothing. I’m excited to explore Cambodia and all it has to offer. Right now, I’m loving travelling. It’s wonderful.
Vietnam Part Two: Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island
Sunday morning dawned bright and early and Kal and I grabbed a lift with a tourist bus to Halong City! The journey was fine, if somewhat cramped. Sadly that was also the day it decided to stop raining in Hanoi! Typical!
We made it to Halong City and to our hotel. I must admit, whilst our hotel was cheap I wasn’t overly impressed. It just looked really tired and dingy and the woman on the front desk wasn’t the friendliest. She tried to charge us $30 for a ferry ticket to Cat Ba Island, a huge inflation of the regular price!
Halong City was fairly underwhelming too. There were some beautiful views but the city lacked a lot to recommend itself. It was poorly laid out and there wasn’t a lot to do. We spent most of our time sat in coffee shops and relaxing. I’m glad we only spent one night there.
The next day we headed to Cat Ba Island, the biggest and only inhabited Island in Halong Bay, which was easier said than done! There was no direct ferry from Halong Bay so we had two options- hitch a ride on a tourist boat or get a ferry from a tiny port several miles away. We headed to the tourist wharf in the morning and immediately started running in to touts. One offered us a ride for the lovely cost of 1 million dong (roughly $50!!). We eventually found a guy selling tickets for $10- he promised we’d be dropped in Cat Ba Town with a bus ready to collect us. It was much more reasonable though it still felt slightly shady to us. We waited in a cafe for 4 hours before we finally joined our tour group which arrived for Hanoi.
The boat trip itself was an experience. None of the boats in Halong Bay seemed that great and ours was fairly worn down too. Despite living in Korea, I am still finding dealing with the wild lack of health and safety here somewhat difficult. To get onto the boat there was a tiny gangplank resting on the boat and two Vietnamese men to hold us!
Sailing through the bay was lovely and quite peaceful. We eventually started to see more and more- at one point the boat stopped at a Cave but I didn’t get off the boat because the system of getting off seemed distinctly unsafe to me!! However, after that the views got better and were simply lovely. Kal and I also made a new friend, Varvara, a Russian girl studying in Hong Kong, who was also staying in our hostel. We got off the boat together at a floating village- a lot of people did Kayaking but we elected to be rowed around in a Bamboo boat by a local which was awesome. It was a great way to view the bay and it was simply beautiful.
After that we sailed for Cat Ba and were unceremoniously dumped at a random port on the north of the Island, nowhere near Cat Ba Town. There were three people waiting at the Bus stop, Diego from Spain and Karen and Ivy from Hong Kong! We ended up having a bus stop party and having a great time for an hour until a whole load of other people and a bus arrived to drive us to Cat Ba Town. The first bus we were put on was far too small so we were then moved to a bigger bus. Then, half-way to town the bus broke down! We sat on a dark bus for 20 minutes before a new bus arrived and we finally made it to our hostel, where Diego also stayed! The four of us made an awesome group.
That evening, we found a little restaurant near our Hostel which we became very loyal too. Also down the road was a totally empty night club blasting out music at an incredibly high volume! But our first impressions of Cat Ba were good.
The next morning we took a slightly more relaxed approach and had a lazy breakfast. With some persuasion, we then decided to hire motorbikes. Anyone who knows me from knows that I’m not really a risky person- things involving risks aren’t my style. But I decided to give it a whirl. I got on the bike and my first thoughts were pretty positive. My accelerating was bad but I was able to persuade the guys to let me drive and off we went all across Cat Ba! I must admit that I really got into it and was having an awesome time! It was really freeing and fun!
We drove to the National Park where the others decided to do a trek to the top of a mountain. I wasn’t really wearing good shoes so I decided to rest at the National Park entrance for a couple of hours- I ended up having a really interesting conversation with the guy who sold tickets so I don’t feel like it was time wasted at all!
After the others came back we decided to visit the ‘Hospital Cave’. This is a cave on Cat Ba that was used as a Hospital by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It wasn’t a proper museum as such- our guide was the son of a man who had lived there for 6 years during and after the war. It was a really good experience and very interesting! Ho Chi Minh even made a speech there!
After this we drove back to town and well… this is when things got very interesting for me. We stopped at a corner in Cat Ba town to discuss our next move. I went to move off, accelerated too hard, hit a puddle, skidded and crashed in probably the busiest intersection in town.
To their credit, the 30 people or so who saw all came to help and see if I was okay. I was able to stand and ascertained that nothing was broken but I was badly scratched, banged and bruised (and I’ve sprained my ankle). We took the bikes back and I headed back to the hostel to deal with my injuries and nurse my wounded pride! I spent some time feeling sorry for myself- I’d had SUCH a great day and then my clumsy self went and ruined it at the end of the day! But I’m still really proud of myself for trying something new and doing something fairly out of character. Riding a bike was really fun and I may well do it again… perhaps after some lessons next time however! And I really am fine. My foot is still a little swollen and I’m bruised all over my legs but I’m looking after myself, taking it easy and doing okay!
We were able to have a lovely final dinner together in Cat Ba! The next morning Varvara and I headed back to Hanoi and Kal went to Ninh Binh whilst Diego stayed for one more day! It was a great trip and except for the crash, I really, really enjoyed it. Varvara and I then spent the afternoon in Hanoi before I caught my night train to Hue (more on than in my next entry) where I now am. I’ve spent the last two days resting my ankle but I should be up for moving around more tomorrow.
And that’s Vietnam so far. I’m really having a great time so far and have way too many travel stories! I hope it continues this way!
Vietnam Part One: Hanoi
I arrived in Hanoi just over a week ago and my first 24 hours were certainly a big learning curve! I arrived and submitted my Visa paperwork which was thankfully approved quite quickly. I’d been doing a lot of reading on the net about how often taxis will scam you so I arranged to be picked up from the airport with my hostel: I must admit, a sign saying ‘Hannah Rogers’ was pretty exciting!
The taxi was less of a taxi and more of some guy’s car and then we off, whizzing our way to Hanoi. Being somewhere brand new was pretty overwhelming at first: everything looked incredibly different and the huge number of mopeds on the road was incredible! I’d seen a few strange things on them in Korea but it was nothing, nothing like Vietnam. I saw two women on a bike with a baby proped up inbetween them!
I made it to my hostel and that’s where I started to get uneasy. The lady behind the desk was very nice but told me that I was unable to stay in a dorm room because two boys in there were very sick. She told me I should stay in a single room for 1 night for $14. It being my first night and feeling somewhat intimidated, I said yes. I then went upstairs and did some googling and found that my hostel had removed any mention of having dorm availability from their website. It was probably the most intimidating night though because I was all by myself in a brand new place. I managed to go out for dinner and then headed back.
My first impression was of the traffic; I always took a fairly dim view of Korean traffic but I promise you, next to Vietnamese driving, it is orderly and respectful! Here your car horns are a way of life, mopeds dodge and duck everywhere! My guidebook had recommended crossing the road slowly, letting all the traffic swerve around you and this was in fact the best policy thought it certainly took some getting used to!
The next morning I headed downstairs, had breakfast and was then informed that I would need to stay in a single room again that night because the boys would be sick for 2 or 3 days!! This is when I began to get super uncomfortable- I understand that they wanted to keep my business but I wasn’t happy that I was being lied to. They then informed me that my room was booked for that evening and I’d have to move to their friend’s hostel for $11 a night! This is when I decided I needed to leave. I asked for some hostel recommendations on tumblr and facebook and then started searching myself- I found a hostel just around the corner from my original hostel and booked myself in for 5 nights. I packed my bag and went downstairs- I was very polite and simply told them that I was going to stay with a friend in their hostel.
I walked for 10 minutes and arrived at my new hostel. I was shown to an all-female dorm and immediately felt better. They confirmed that 5 nights was fine, they were clean and in a good location and generally helpful. I also had a locker and was able to lock up all my belongings which I hadn’t been able to at my first hostel. That afternoon I went for a brief walk to Hoan Kiem Lake, a huge landmark in the tourist district of Hanoi. I wasn’t quite feeling up to a lot of sightseeing after all the drama so I headed back to the hostel.
People started arriving in my dorm and I met a great bunch of girls- 4 Germans: Steffi, Anna, Vera and Sophie! They were so friendly and welcoming, I felt more relaxed than I had in Vietnam up until that point. They invited me to drink beer with them on the roof of our hostel and invited me along to dinner. A Canadian Girl, a German Guy and a Norwegian Guy came along too. It was so festive and made me feel so much happier about being on my own in a strange new city.
I had a fairly relaxing morning the next day- the other girls headed off to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. They came back around lunchtime so I joined them for the afternoon. We decided to go and look for the Women’s Museum, via a delicious Sushi restaurant! And looked we did- and could we find it? No. I suspect our hostel has it misprinted on the map they gave us! We did however find a delicious coffee shop and very much enjoyed our time there. We headed back to the hostel to relax! That evening another guy in the hostel called Derrik took us to a delicious ‘Hole-in-the-wall’ place for dinner! It was 35,000 dong (1 pound!!) for a HUGE plate of delicious Vietnamese food! I definitely felt way more comfortable and happy then. Despite my natural introversion, I think with travelling meeting people is a good way to share experiences and feel connected to others whilst away from home.
The next morning Anna, Steffi, and Sophie left so I ended up spending the day with Vera! Sadly, this is the day the weather turned bad and sadly most of my first week was spent dealing with mist and drizzle. We went to the train station where I bought my train ticket for Hue and she bought her’s for China! (She teaches English there!). We had a really nice morning and in the afternoon, the German guy, Manuel, came with us. We had delicious cheap Pizza for lunch and then headed off to Hoan Kiem Lake again.
In the centre of the Lake, there is a temple (Ngon Soc Temple) which was kind of cool and had amazing views. They also has a giant embalmed tortoise which was kind of creepy! After this was tried to find the ‘Memorial House’ which is apparently a traditional Vietnamese house but we couldn’t find it which was disappointing. Instead we visited Bac Ma Temple which is a small temple in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It was small but it was interesting to see the things people were offering- beer and choco pies among other things!!
We got back to the hostel and met a new person in our dorm, Kal, a woman from Australia. Manuel was off to Sapa that evening so after free beer, Kal, Vera and I headed out for dinner and had 3 delicious courses! It was a great evening because it was Vera’s last night in Hanoi and Kal’s first so it felt very symbollic! After dinner I had to say goodbye to Vera which was really sad- she was my first proper ‘travelling friend’ and she took great care of me!
However, the next morning Kal and I got up bright and early to go and pay a visit to Ho Chi Minh! After he died in 1969, the Vietnamese had him embalmed and he is kept in a special mausoleum here in Hanoi. Walking there took a good hour. Before we could go inside all our bags were scanned and anybody wearing inappropriate clothing was turned away! (I passed both. Phew!). The mausoluem itself was pretty imposing, this huge dark building. We joined a queue to go inside and filed slowly and silently in, past guards in shiny white suits. Ho Chi Minh’s corpse is in a glass case in a dimly lit room, with four honour guards around him. He honestly just looks like a wax figure.
The whole experience felt pretty mad to be honest. All these guards and the huge buildings- I’d never experienced anything like that before. I think I’ve found it surprising just how much he is still respected and remembered by the Vietnamese; I’ve seen several houses and hostels with a picture of him on the wall!
We got kind of lost trying to get out of the mausoleum so we ended up seeing the outside of the Presidential Residence too, which was quite a cool building. But afterwards Kal and I were tired and retired cheerfully to a coffee shop before continuing our journey, this time to the Temple of Literature.
I was fairly unimpressed by the temples from the day before but this one more than made up for it. It was huge and gorgeous, with beautiful buildings and gardens. We probably spent an hour there, exploring.
After this we walked all the way back to the Lake which was some distance. We ended up having lunch in a restaurant overlooking the lake which provided us with some gorgeous views!
Whilst we were sat there I mentioned to Kal that it looked like a Halong Bay trip I’d been trying to organise had fallen through and she invited me to join her. She was leaving the next day, one day earlier than I had planned to. I decided to throw caution to the wind, to scrap my plans and to join her the next day! This was fairly spontanaeous for me!
We then went for an amble around the lake and headed back to the hostel to organise things for the next day. After that we decided to take the opportunity to go to Hanoi’s Night Market which is only held on the weekend. I was able to buy a smaller backpack for my trip to Halong Bay. The street food was okay but not particularly exciting. So I’m still on my hunt for a market with decent street food!
And that pretty much rounds up my adventures in Hanoi. Despite a rocky start, I was really quite fond of the city by the end. My second hostel was lovely and I really enjoyed the hustle and the bustle of the city. It was a very different place and I didn’t even do half of what I wanted to do- I skipped all four museums on my list. I definitely feel like with Hanoi my travelling has started properly. It’s taught me a lot about meeting people on the road (which I actually really like) and I feel much more prepared for my future adventures!
Moving on from my previous post, now I can talk about my first stop on my travels- Hong Kong!
I must admit last Thursday felt super odd. Leaving Korea was a weird sensation, probably because it didn’t feel particularly real. (And it still doesn’t). My co-teacher and her boyfriend picked me up from my apartment early in the morning and I was able to catch the 8am Airport Bus. This was faaar too early and meant I did a lot of hanging around at Gimhae.
My journey to Hong Kong was fine- my transfer at Shanghai was much, much simpler than my transfers at Beijing early last year which calmed my stress levels a lot. I had no desire to run in to any North Koreans again!
Arriving in HK was simple too and I made it to my hostel at around 10pm. The first part went pretty well, huzzah! I was rather surprised by just how cramped it was but it was nice and clean and the staff were friendly. (Here’s a link). It was also located right in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui which was awesome- the entrance to the MTR (subway) was just downstairs.
On my first morning I headed out for breakfast and to get my bearings. I had forgotten just how busy Hong Kong was and I did feel a bit overwhelmed at first! I also discovered that my camera had zero battery so I had to go back to the Hostel for an hour and wait for it to charge!
But after that it was all systems go. I ended up walking along the Avenue of Stars which is one of the nicest places to view Victoria Harbour from (I think the view of Hong Kong Island is more attractive than of the mainland). After that I headed north to Wong Tai Shin where there was a Taoist Temple. It was incredibly beautiful and much more interesting than some of the Korean temples I have been to. There were statues of all the animals of the chinese zodiac- people were rubbing their zodiac statue, I presume for good luck. Since the Year of the Snake was just last year, it was me and all these Mum’s putting their babies hands on the snake!
I was also overcome with a sudden urge of ‘You Only Live Once’ when I saw some English speaking fortune tellers. Over I went and spoke to a guy- I gave him my date of birth and my hour of birth. He told me that I was in poor health and that I needed to ensure that I went to bed early. He then told me that I would meet my future husband this summer and that I’d get married in 2016! I’d have two children, a boy and a girl, I’d be happy in my job and I’d live until I was 75! (Please remember all this it is fairly important for later on in my story!).
After heading back to my hostel and a nap, I went downstairs to meet Catherine! Catherine is my best friend’s little sister (and I guess my friend in her own right too!!) and she’s teaching in Hong Kong right now. I met up with her and boyfriend Phil who took me to the world’s cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant called ‘One Dim Sum’. The food was delicious and it was insanely cheap, costing us maybe around 15GBP for a full dinner!
The next morning was also a time for meeting other people- this time my errant cousin Tom! He’s not teaching English, he’s a Pilot with Cathay Pacific and I had brunch with him and his girlfriend which was very nice. It’s kind of weird to see people from home in a foreign setting, it feels a little out of place, but it’s also really nice. We had a lovely time and a nice catch-up!
After that I headed to Hong Kong Botanical and Zoological Gardens. There were really beautiful and had some lovely views. I’m not 100% sure that I approved of the way they kept the animals but it was cool to see them. After that I had a wander through SoHo and found a British Pub where I could get FISH AND CHIPS. It’d been actual years since I’d had any so I treated myself and it was love.y
After this I had a wander around the IFC mall, which is pretty cool even if it is aimed at high class shoppers. After that it was a quick trip across the Harbour on the Star Ferry. I decided to head to the History Museum even though I was feeling pretty worn out by then. This was a mistake- I was exhausted and the strange new bed was giving me some bad back pain so back to the hostel I headed!
After a little rest, I headed out to Temple Street Night Market. I went to a Night Market in Taipei and was super impressed but this left me a little cold if I’m honest. In Taipei it was half-market, half-street food which was what I was kind of looking for again. Temple Street seemed more focused on catering to big groups and there were less options for the budget traveller. I did pick up a few bits though which was nice!
The next morning I woke up relatively early and met up with Catherine again. This time we headed out to Lantau Island to see Tian Tian Buddha which I believe it one of the largest outdoor Buddha’s in the world. You have to take a cable car up which was fine except it was super foggy. Some things were indistinct but eventually it reached a point that we were just floating through cloud which was quite errie! The cable car itself took about half an hour which was really cool.
Once we got to Buddha, we couldn’t even see him. He was right up the top of a couple of hundred steps and he was totally hidden by the fog. We did climb and eventually find him but still- it was a bit disappointing on the weather front!
We had a wander in the general vicinity, walking along the Wisdom Path (I feel very enlightened now) which was cool if also also creepy owing to the fog. Back in TST, we had delicious pizza for lunch and then Catherine headed home.. I spent the evening researching Vietnam and heading to the local Marks & Spencer Food Hall for some dinner. (They had cheese!!). I also made friends with a girl in my dorm which was really nice- her name was Seloni (I think that might be the correct spelling!)
Monday morning, I was feeling pretty tired. I tried my hand at some handwashing which is absolutely not my favourite thing and decided to visit a local H&M. I did have some clothes already but I picked up a couple of long sleeved shirts and some long skirts. Yay shopping!
In the afternoon I decided to head back to the History Museum to finish it off. It was well worth it- I was there for 2 hours and had a great time wandering around soaking up the information. Yay knowledge. I also saw Seloni again- I told her about the temple and the fortune teller and off she went… only to be given the EXACT SAME FORTUNE. Not even a bit different. The exact same one. Nuts. Ah well, it was a fun experience!
In the evening I met up with Catherine and Phil again and they took me for Hot pot- I’d had it in Taiwan but the one in Hong Kong was much nicer, though I was pleased that it was still all you can eat! It was extremely delicious and a nice-round off to my trip. And after a quick wander through The Ladie’s Market it was time to head back to the hostel and pack my bag!
Yesterday morning I headed to the airport and here I am in Hanoi, thus far not having the most amazing time. I’m just a bit freaked out really. I’m going to try and find a new hostel and hopefully that’ll make me feel better about the city, since it does seem pretty cool otherwise. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!
P.S. Pictures are on my facebook, this PC is so ancient, I’m pretty sure that loading pictures will be a bit too much for it!
I’ve arrived in Hanoi and my hostel is being fairly sketchy, to say the least.I booked a bed in a dorm and when I arrived I was told two guys in the dorm were sick and that I should stay in a single room for one night. Fine, whatever. Now I’m being told that their ‘sickness’ could last 3-4 days and my single room is no longer available so I should go to their ‘friend’s hostel’.
I’m looking for a hostel with a dorm, that’s clean, not too expensive and not one of those party places. Any recommendations for hostels in Hanoi?
The Last Post (Sort of)
So, I think can safely be called my last blog post in Korea. I’m still going to be using this blog to write about my travels and maybe a little afterwards, to address what it feels like to be going home after being away for so long. I’m probably going to start a new blog in the Autumn too, though I have yet to decide on what topic.
I’m still open to answering questions about Korea. Feel free to email me, send me an ask or to send me a message on facebook.
I also have another tumblr for stuff I’m interested in: It’s thedamehannah if you are interested in following me elsewhere.
I never imagined when I started this little blog that I’d end up with almost 400 followers! Thank you everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!
Today marks 2 years, 6 months and 7 days since I arrived. Or 922 days to be precise. When I stepped on that plane on the 17th August 2011 I had zero idea that I’d only leave after 2 and a half years and that I’d leave feeling like such a different person.
2010 and to some extent 2011 too, were not particularly amazing years for me. A lot of negative things happened in my personal life that I found really hard to deal with but almost 3 years (!) later, I’ve come through the other side of that and I feel much stronger, more confident and sure of my self. I don’t know if I’d be in as good a place if I hadn’t come here.
There are things I know I’ll never understand about this crazy, contrary country. There are some things I am looking forward to no longer experiencing. But there’s no doubt that even the negative aspects of living here have made me more relaxed, more tolerant and more open-minded. That dealing with things that I find frustrating has taught me a lot.
And there’s so much I’m going to miss. I feel like a small piece of myself will always belong to Dong-gu, to Ulsan, to the friends I’ve made here. I can’t deny that living here has been one of the most formative experiences of my life and I’m pretty sure will continue to shape me as a person for some time to come.
And I’m scared. I’m scared to leave you. I remember walking down the street one day almost a year in and having the sudden realisation that I live here. That it was my home. And now I keep realising that next week I won’t. My apartment, my school, my home- they’re all going to become part of someone else’s journey.
And I’m okay with that. I’m ready to move on, to take the lessons I’ve learned here and take them forward to another stage of my life. To go on another adventure.
And all I can really say is Thank You. For everything Korea. You’re amazing and annoying and wonderful. I’ll be seeing you.
Things I am Going to Miss
It’s now a week and two days until I leave Korea. It still doesn’t feel quite real. I’ve got one weekend left and then I’m gone. Anyway, now is certainly the time to write about the things I will miss about living here.
1) My apartment
I love, love, love, love, love my apartment. I really lucked out when it came to where I live. In Korea, studio flats are referred to as ‘One Rooms’ and my little one room has been perfect for me. It’s cosy, it’s in a great location and really… it’s been the perfect home.
I do tend to get very attached to the place where I live and since I haven’t lived anywhere longer, other than my parents house, I’m pretty gutted to be leaving. I’ve also enjoyed living by myself and I’ll probably have to have house-mates when I move to Edinburgh because of finances. Having a lot of my own space will be missed.
Also, my bed is queen sized and like sleeping on a cloud. If I could pack anything, it’d be the bed.
2) My neighbourhood
When I first moved here I was kind of annoyed at being so far from the city centre. However, as time has gone by it’s shown itself to be a blessing in disguise.
Dong-gu is a friendly part of town. Most people I meet are welcoming and kind, if curious. I have people I say Hello to every day- an engineer across the road, an elementary school student waiting for his bus- and being by the beach has been amazing. And since I’ve arrived the facilities have improved immensely- there’s lots of restaurants and bars now that weren’t here before and a wider variety of food too.
Everything has been within walking distance and I’ve just loved the neighbourhood feel. I’m sure wherever I live in Edinburgh will be lovely too but there’s no denying that Dong-gu in Ulsan will always have a place in my heart.
3) My friends
Of course this goes without saying, but I’m going to really miss all the incredible friends I’ve made here. Some of them have already gone and I miss them already but it’s going to be harder to leave people behind, particularly my Korean friends. My foreign friends and I are pretty big travellers so I can see us crossing paths again but I can’t see myself returning to Korea in the near future- maybe a few years down the line but not soon. So I really worry about maintaining my friendships with the people here.
But with facebook and skype it should be doable! I’m going to miss my little group here though.
4) The weather
I’m British so the weather is of prime concern to me! In particular this is because British weather is super changeable- there’s no real set pattern to the weather at home. In Korea, it’s different. Summer is humid and hot and there’s a significant period of rain. Winter is dry and cold with a very small amount of rain. Typhoons happen in the late summer and early Autumn. There’s been a cold snap and a heatwave that I can think of but otherwise the weather does what it’s expected to do.
The UK has spent the past Winter being battered by storms and all sorts of terrible weather. I’m not looking forward to facing such inclement weather so regularly and not really having an idea what the weather will do. I like Korean weather for it’s predictability and pattern. It’s definitely got the edge over home on that score.
5) Delicious restaurants
Samgyupsal! Galbi! Duck Barbeque! Bokumbap! Shabu-Shabu! Donkatsu! Kimbap! Mandu… all these are foods that I am going to miss. Unlike countries such as the US, Korean food has a very limited presence in the UK. So much so that I’d never tried Korean food before coming here. Finding good Korean food after I leave is going to be really difficult and whilst my school lunches sucked, a lot of the food didn’t and I’m going to miss it a lot!
Even when I went home last winter I was craving Tuna Kimbap so I can imagine all the Korean food I’ve taken for granted I’m suddenly going to crave as soon as I step on the plane!
6) (Most of) My Students
Some of my students have been true terrors to teach. Some of them have been amazing and helped me realise how much I’ve enjoyed teaching. Most of my students are funny, interesting and entertaining and I’m really going to miss them. In fact, out of everything at my school I know it’ll be my kids that I’ll miss the most.
They’ve made me laugh and we’ve had fun together and I hope I’ve taught them something to. To be a cliché, they’ve definitely taught me a lot of really important things. I only hope the best for them- really even the annoying ones. I just hope their new teacher is good for them.
7) Cheap and Efficient Public Transport
Travelling on the buses and taxis might feel like a brush with death, but it’s also really, really cheap. And efficient. And regular. And pretty awesome.
Korea craps all over the UK when it comes to Public Transport. It’s clean, it’s modern, it’s (usually) on time, it works well and it’s affordable. For the price of a return ticket to London, I can get to Seoul on back on a train that travels at almost 200mph! It’s crazy. Back home, part of the main train route to my home town has just been destroyed by the sea during a storm and it’s expensive! Buses come past my apartment at least 10 time an hour. I don’t think buses run 10 time a day through my home village and it’s 5 times the price of what it is here! Taxis are plentiful and cheap and generally simple to use whereas at home they are expensive and you usually have to order them.
Home could really stand to learn some lessons from the way Korea operates it’s public transport. It’s successful and it works- we’re doing something wrong.
8) Best Internet In The World
Korea has the world’s best internet. Seriously, google it. It’s fast, pretty cheap and did I mention fast? It’s also everywhere- you can even get WiFi on the bus (If you’re not too busy trying to stay alive). I’ve been a pretty heavy internet user what with calling home and downloading all my television and I’m going to miss good download speeds and generally have access to the internet wherever I go!
9) Cost of living
Korea is cheap. With the exception of certain foods, living here is incredibly affordable. I can live on half my salary with relative easy and still enjoy a very nice quality of life. I suspect that moving home may be a bit of a shock at that score- I’ll be paying rent, bills and buying food for myself. I’d imagine my salary will be similar to Korea’s but the cost of living is so high at home I doubt I’ll be able to save much, particularly if I want to have a nice life and do things.
Hopefully, my saving here will help me out in the next couple of years as I seek to financially re-establish myself at home. But I’m going to miss being able to justify eating out several times a week just because it’s so affordable.
10) Korean Cosmetics
Along with everything else that is cheap, Korean cosmetics are also very, very cheap! And I’m a bit addicted. Some of the make-up doesn’t quite work with my skin tone- but I love the nail varnishes! And some of the lipsticks! And the mascara.
I don’t generally wear a lot of make-up but I do wear a lot of nail varnish and I love buying lots in different colours and experimenting. It’s more than double the price for a similar product at home so I think I’ll have to curb my enthusiasm for cosmetics but still, it’s been fun. Even if the lady at the Nail Polish stand thinks I’m nuts because of how many I buy!
11) Convenience Stores Everywhere!
Run out of an essential at home? It’s at least a 15 minute walk to the nearest store. Here. I have 3 within a 2 minute walk of my apartment.
In fact, if Korea can be accused of anything it can only be of possessing too many convenience stores. There really are that many! And they’re great for grabbing snacks and random essentials you didn’t even realise you needed! But it really does make life easier and I’m kind of sad that being able to pop out to a shop is going to be more difficult. But perhaps better for my wallet!
12) Easy Travelling in Asia
Since living in Hong Kong when I was a baby, I had never been to Asia. Europe is so cheap and so near and there’s so much to do, it’s almost a bit silly to head this way unless you’re planning a big trip. But coming to Korea has enabled me and will enable me to visit places I never even thought I’d visit! I never dreamed I’d visit Taiwan or Japan or even Cambodia. I’ve been to the first two and I’m going to so many new places this year… it’s incredible. And I never would have done this without Korea.
So whilst I’m excited to travel in Europe again, I’ll be sad that Asia isn’t on my doorstep. I suppose I’ll have to make the most of my 2 months in SE Asia!
13) Korean Springs and Autumns
The UK definitely has four seasons but they’re nowhere near as beautiful or distinct as Korean seasons and in particular, Spring and Autumn are beautiful.
With Spring comes the blooming of the Cherry Blossom which is stunning. Seriously, there are pale pink trees everywhere and it’s beautiful. It reminds you that summer is coming and has such a beautiful ambience.
Korea’s Autumn is also beautiful. Obviously at home, trees change colour but they lack the vividness, the sheer beauty of the colour of the trees here. I’m sad that I’ve finished my final Autumn and Spring here. Whilst those times of year are my favourite at home they’re just not as visually appealling.
14) No Worries
Despite my complaining about work, my life here has been fairly worry free. I’ve had a job that I’ve finished at 4.30 every day. I’ve had mostly empty weekends. My life has really lacked commitment and responsibility for the past two years. And it’s been great. I think after University and the stress of my job in retail, this little brain break has been just what I’ve needed to help me focus.
And whilst I’m extremely excited to move home and start studying again, I am sad at the prospect of my free-time dwindling. Since I’ll be working and studying I’m going to have to be extremely self-motivated to be able to meet all my commitments and to do my best in my professional and academic life. And I suspect after being so relaxed here that’s going to be a fairly hard change to deal with.
15) Living An Adventure
Pure and simple, I’m going to miss the experience of living abroad. I’m going to miss the sensation of everything being strange and familar all at once. I’m going to miss ‘simple’ experiences being a venture into the unknown. I’m going to miss my life being a story.
Obviously I’ll be doing new and exciting things at home but it’s not going to be quite as interesting. All I know is that if someone offered me the chance to live abroad again at some point, I’d definitely take it.
Things I Won’t Miss
Time is inching by and I now have only 3 weeks until I finish school and leave! As a result, I thought I might write a little about the things that I will and won’t miss about Korea. This isn’t intended to be a Korea-bashing or praising session, but an honest appraisal about aspects of my experience here as I prepare to leave because I do have very, very mixed feelings. There’s so much I am going to miss and so much I can’t wait to get away from!
I’ll start with the things I won’t miss because it’s always nicer to end on a positive.
So first up, things I will definitely not miss.
One thing I have never gotten used to is how acceptable it is to spit in public here, particularly for old men. People still do it at home but far less often. I’ll be standing at the bus stop and won’t realise until afterwards that I was stood in someone else’s saliva. It’s not pretty. It also appears to be okay to be indiscreet about any spitting you might do, making a properly loud noise which also makes my stomach turn.
On the plus side, when you have a cold and have all the nasty gunk in your nose and chest, spitting it out doesn’t attract a second look if you find yourself without tissue, but well… I think I’ll much prefer a silent, mostly spit free world.
2) Korean Comments on Appearance
This was one of the hardest things I found to get used to do- I suspect that this is because I’m quite sensitive about appearance and Koreans have no problem with telling you exactly what they think about your appearance that day. I’ve been greeted with ‘You look terrible’, and ‘You look tired’. One of my friends from home was a bit put out on my behalf when a Korean friend of mine commented on my current facebook profile picture to say I should wear make-up every day! I also won’t miss comments about my size!
Whilst I’ve gotten used to it but I’m looking forward to being back in a culture where there is much less candour about certain things!
3) School Lunches
I spent my first year in Korea thinking I didn’t like Korean food when really I simply didn’t like my school lunch. The Korean teachers assure me that it’s a bad school lunch all round but I will not miss stodgy rice, cold vegetables, kimchi and a watery soup five days a week! Just yesterday it was a fish day (which is always a sad time. Getting the bones out with chopsticks is really difficult for me!) and today is tofu day. (I brought a sandwich).
As a foreigner, if you don’t eat the lunch it’s kind of seen by some as a sign that you don’t like Korea so not eating it was never really an option. However, as of next Wednesday I’ll be school lunch free! Huzzah :D
4) Never Knowing Anything Ever
Seriously. The language barrier is a big part of this but also being last-minute with everything is normal here, so I’m mostly wandering around my school with a somewhat perturbed look on my face. I had one situation when on a Monday I was told my classes on Thursday would be cancelled only be told FIVE MINUTES BEFORE class that my classes were in fact on. It was worse in my first semester because I didn’t know how to find out anything- I did get much smarter, using the school calendar and stuff but I still think I’m probably aware of maybe 30% of what is actually happening at this school.
I’m looking forward to being able to be more engaged with my work environment and contributing more.
5) Western Food Being The Holy Grail
I want bacon, I want cheese and I want it to be in a shop around the corner and not cost me half a month’s wages! (Slight exaggeration, obviously)
Finding western food you like in Korea can involve treks to other cities and ordering online. I think if you’re American it’s easier to get brands you’re familiar with but as a Brit, it’s been nigh-on-impossible to find brands I like. I can’t wait for things that have been difficult to find to become easy again. I think it’ll take a few months for the novelty to wear off.
6) Being stared at
Whilst I no longer tend to notice the attention I attract, I’m still aware of it often enough that I’m looking forward to not noticing it! I understand that I’m much taller and bigger than Korean women but I’m not really comfortable with being the centre of attention and the repeated staring and shock at my existence has become a bit boring. So I’m looking forward to fading in to the background once again and my appearance being unremarkable! Unless I’m all dressed up. Then everyone should notice!
7) Being unable to buy clothes or shoes
I can.not.wait to be able to go clothes shopping and shoe shopping and to be able to buy all the things and look cute and have nice dresses and not have to order things online that arrive and don’t fit. Yay shopping. (In all seriousness, family and friends, all I’d like for my birthday is money so I can go shopping.)
8) Staff Dinners
Since my Korean is pretty poor and most of the Korean teachers are afraid of talking to me, any social situation involving them and me is pretty awkward. My co-teachers might attempt to engage me a little but mostly they talk in Korean, which I understand and appreciate, but kind of leaves me sitting in a corner on my own, fairly bored.
Not only that, but at staff dinners, we can’t leave until the Principal says we can. I’m fairly lucky that as a female teacher I’m not expected to hang around and get drunk with the senior teachers! In Western Culture, spending time with your work colleagues isn’t as important as here so I kind of find it a drag to have to do this. I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just not for me. I thought I’d have one more left but in excellent news, we’re having a lunch rather than a dinner together- these are much briefer affairs usually since we have to go back to work at some point! But enforced recreation time with my co-workers is something I’ll happily say Goodbye to!
9) (Some of) My Students
There are some students who I will not miss. They are a mixed bunch but mainly involve some slightly snide, high level second graders who need to fix their attitude and learn some manners. They give the other teachers hassle too so it’s not just me. Their absence from my life will not bother me and I suspect the feeling is mutual.
10) Freezing Cold/ Boiling Hot Work Conditions
So unfortunately I’ve been living in Korea whilst there has been a national energy crisis, which means Government organisations including schools have to save electricity. What does this mean exactly? Well, firstly no air-conditioning in the summer. Secondly, no heating in the winter.
This makes working and teaching incredibly uncomfortable. In the summer, the heat definitely affects the students’ performance and the teachers! The cold isn’t so bad as it doesn’t make you sleepy but teaching whilst wearing full-outdoor wear is not my idea of fun! Schools are also really poorly insulated here so it’s freezing in schools in the winter- buildings are built in a different way back home (since it’s never really hot!) and we’re not having a national energy crisis so it should be better!
11) Crazy Bus and Taxi Drivers
The problem with Korean Public Transport is that each trip leaves you with the feeling that death is imminent. As I’ve discussed here before Korean traffic laws are definitely more like guidelines and it means red lights, speed limits, pedestrian crossings etc. all becoming meaningless. It also doesn’t help that Bus and Taxi drivers here are some of the meanest, toughest drivers around. They really don’t care. Whilst I definitely appreciate how good the public transport is here, I won’t mis feeling like I’m about to die.
12) Internet Explorer
There’s something you’ve got to get over and that is your love of Internet Explorer. It really is not the best browser around and the fact that you optimise your websites for it is really problematic. Not to mention all the software required to access Korean websites via internet explorer (Looking at you Nonghyup Bank) just clogs up your computer and is rubbish.
You need to move on. The time of IE is over.
13) Funky Smell in Summer
In Korea’s defence, it has a fairly old sewage system but it does mean that in the summer you’ll regularly pass random sections of smelliness. It’s not pleasant for anyone and whilst I know it’s no one’s fault and no one place ever smells perfect, I won’t be sad to no longer pass random pockets of stinkiness as I walk everywhere. Also, to live in a country where it rarely gets that warm in summer- I’m not too sad about that!
14) Korean Work Culture
Korean Work Culture… man, it’s tough. And funny. And frustrating. Often during one day.
The thing no one seemed to mention when I was moving here was how hard adjusting to culture in the work place would be. Small things at home you take for granted are so different here, like how to approach your boss and how to suggest ideas. It’s a very top-down culture with your boss making all the decisions and you having to accept them and I’ve found that hard. The lack of initiative has been surprising- Korean work places generally like to do things the way they’ve always been done- and it’s been hard to adapt to. In fact, I don’t think I’ve really adapted to it. I’ve accepted it, out of necessity, but I am looking forward to being able to have a dialogue with my superiors and being able to innovate a little more. I’m looking forward for information sharing to hopefully be easier and generally feeling like it’s the quality of your work that matters, not the amount of time you spent doing it.
I don’t think Korean work culture is bad and I’ve had very few issues really, but I think being back where I understand how things work will make my employment experiences smoother.
15) Being so far away from friends and family
Being away from my family and friends has been hard- the Christmas period in particular is difficult to adjust to. I feel like I’ve missed out on so much- birthdays, engagements, babies, hell even just dinners. I miss those things and I do feel very out of the home loop. I can’t wait to be able to spend time with my friends regularly and to be able to call and text them easily rather than a pre-arranged time limited skype. It’s small things you take for granted. I can’t wait for Christmas at home and not just Christmas- the whole Christmas season! I can’t wait to watch Downton Abbey with my Mum and go to the cinema with my friends. It’s going to be awesome.
Korea has been an amazing, life-changing, learning experience and I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. The knowing nothing, the being stared at, the rude students- it’s all been worth it because I’e learned so much. But the time is definitely right for me to go home, reconnect with the people who mean the most to me and really… it’s time for me to get back to real life.
COMING SOON: The Things I Will Miss
Piece by Piece
4 weeks, 1 day to go. Time has the queer feeling of both rushing past and crawling by. I’m still feeling fairly emotional about the whole leaving thing- it’s difficult to try and reconcile the parts of you that are excited and ready for the future with the parts that are sad about letting go of the past.
'I'm leaving home to go home' is a quote I read about expat living the other day and it feels true. Korea has become my home- I know how to do things here how things work and I'm comfortable. I feel oddly unsettled at the thought of being back home permanently, like I'm starting from scratch again, which I suppose I am. And it's terrifying.
Slowly but surely, my life is being eroded here. I’ve sent home one box of belongings, thrown out a lot, sold a bit and generally you can see that my apartment is changing, bit-by-bit, from my home into just a soulless box.
But a part of me is really proud of that- I remember my first night in Ulsan, the sheer alien-ness of everything affecting me and feeling like these four tiny rooms would never mean anything to me. But I worked hard and I made them into my home. Gradually, I imprinted myself upon them. I’m going to miss this little apartment. I’m going to miss my home. It’s good that it hurts to be doing this. It’s a testament to the fact that I came here and built a life and that it meant something.
A lot happened in these four walls. Christmas, birthdays, conversations, building things, so many experiences happened here in this little apartment.
Taking apart the pieces of my life in Korea is hard. But doing so helps me to know that I can put them back together again anywhere.
Discoveries and Rediscoveries
Apologies for the quietness lately guys. It’s not been for a lack of anything happening- in fact, I’ve been fairly busy!
I’m almost finished with my very last ‘Camp’ in Korea! I actually have very mixed feelings about this because after months of feeling flat and uninspired by my job, I’ve finally discovered my enthusiasm for teaching again. I’ve been mostly teaching the youngest children- they’re 7 or 8 years old in western age and it’s been awesome. I went in a lot stronger with the discipline at the beginning and it’s really worked. The kids were well-behaved and enthusiastic about learning English. They’ve been the perfect antidote to my apathetic Middle Schoolers. Even though I’m really fond of the vast majority of my students, sometimes trying to engage them seems very much like an uphill battle!
Not only that, but seeing the same kids daily means that we’ve had a real rapport and I know the kids really like me because everywhere I go I am greeted with a chorus of ‘Hannah Teacher!!!’. When I walk into the classroom every day I am greeted by hugs and on days when I haven’t taught those particular children, at break time I’ve been accosted for hand-holding and group cuddles (which turned more into a bundle when Hannah Teacher ended up on the floor). I’m realising more and more that sometimes teaching is just the luck of the draw- it can depend on the mix of students you have in your class. Obviously, your teaching skills should help draw out more difficult classes but it’s far more enjoyable when you just happen to end up with a bunch of really good kids.
Tomorrow is the final day but rather than any teaching, we’ll be going to the cinema to see Frozen! Being a bit of a Disney nut (and an Idina Menzel fan), I’m a bit over-excited for a children’s movie. We’ll also probably have a staff lunch together and then I’m officially on vacation for 2 weeks!
My vacation plans are fairly relaxed- I’m going to Busan for the day on Saturday, and then I’m off to Seoul for a couple of days on Monday evening. After that, I’ll mainly be spending time with Suzanne who now leaves in under 2 weeks. I’m sad about this, because obviously we’ll never live close to each other again, but the knowledge that I’m leaving only four weeks after her does soften the blow a little.
Things are full steam ahead with my preparations for leaving. I have a leaving sale in full swing and I’ve packed one box ready to ship home. I’ve applied for my Vietnamese Visa letter and sorted out travel insurance. Vaccinations wise, it seems I might need a top up on my Hepatitis A and I’ve even started packing my backpack. It does feel weird to know that in 6 short weeks I’ll be leaving Korea forever. It’s been my home for such a long time, I know it’s going to take a while to get my head around the fact that I don’t live here anymore.
I’ve been making the most of the time I have left though. Last weekend, I went with Suzanne and our Korean friend Helena to see some of Ulsan’s sights! We headed out to the west of the city to see some Petroglyphs (Prehistoric Carvings). I actually went on a school trip over two years ago to see them so it was nice to visit them again prior to leaving. They’ve updated the Museum there since I went last time and there was a lot more English which was great! Going on a walk on a sunny winter’s day was awesome too.
We then had lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant and had Bulgogi- in Korean this literally means fire meat and it’s delicious. This restaurant was recommended to us (by a lady at the museum no less) and it was phenomenal. One of the best Korean lunches I’ve had in a very long time!
After that we then headed to Shinwha Art Village. This is basically a neighbourhood between Downtown Ulsan and a Petro-Chemical Industrial plant. It was fairly run down so as a community, everyone got together and invited local artists to come and decorate their homes. And the effect is outstanding. Some of the murals are simply phenomenal. I think some of the art was better that some of the rubbish I saw at Madrid’s Modern Art Gallery a few years ago. I was definitely, definitely impressed and kind of cross with myself that I hadn’t been before!
And that’s about everything with me. I’m hoping to update a little more now I’m basically free for the next couple of weeks.