Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A briefer and perhaps slightly overdue update

I think from here on out entries to this blog might be briefer and more seldom. During the whirlwind of my first month here it was ideal to have an outlet for acknowledging cultural differences (or, if you will, "how weird is this shit" moments that couldn't be condensed into a snapchat) as well as letting everyone know how I was settling in. Well, I think I've settled now, at least for the time being. I think I've already noticed a lot of the more obvious cultural phenomena here, so it makes sense that I will have less to write about. Also, the more interesting trips will probably have to wait a bit given that we're heading into the depths of winter, for which I really need to buy some boots. Winter is long here and can run into March. We've already had our first significant snow, though I've yet to meet the famously bitter Siberian wind that often touches down here over Winter (the previously-discussed nerd in me thinks it's cool that I'm near enough to Siberia to feel its wind).
Anseong and Routines
Noodles have become a diet staple
As of about a week ago I've started to settle into a comfortable routine here. I've gotten to know the local expat/immigrant crowd (I'm pretty sure the only difference between those two words is both classist and racist), I've moved into a bigger apartment which is infinitely better than my first one, and I've started a taekwondo class. I'm pretty chuffed with the latter as it ticks a lot of boxes - it's a cultural Korean thing, it's physically demanding, it gets me out of bed early two mornings a week, and it's something new to focus and improve on; I think it might end up being one of the main things I take away from this year. I mentioned in an earlier post that I had hoped to getting back into playing live music here, which I had then realised wouldn't happen in a town this size, but the laughable truth is the national obsession with Norebong/Karaoke is taking care of that desire in a lot of ways. While playing in a band requires rehearsal, picking the right songs to suit the group/your voice and several other things, you can just turn up to a private karaoke booth on a Friday night with your mates, fire back a few beers and belt out pretty much any song you want - which as my good friends can guess, is for me almost exclusively hip-hop bangers and the forgotten gems of the 90s. It's a roaring good time and I'd love to see it take off back home too, I think with the right marketing it'd be a real hit (don't steal my idea and make a fortune now). That's it for me then; I'm enjoying myself here.

Creeping up on Asians is my new past time

A few quick points on Korea, in no particular order
Housing and Space
People live in shoe boxes here. My own boss is pretty wealthy but lives in an apartment smaller than the ones we were assigned on-campus when I was in UCD, and that's for her, her husband and her two kids. Asian cities are so overwhelmed with people that this isn't all that surprising. They're pretty stuck for space, and property is incredibly expensive. The cities I've seen so far, including my own town of 100,000, have countless ugly high rise flats on the outskirts of the town where perfectly respectable and well-to-do families have no space whatsoever to their name. Property is so expensive here that people start saving for it and their wedding as soon as they get their first job. And one other thing that surprised me, lots of people here don't sleep in beds. The older generation in particular, but also plenty of younger people, just have a sleeping mat - again, this is no sign of wealth or the lack of it. I thought that was something I would have heard before.
Seeing South Korea as an Island
I accidentally left this out of my post on the DMZ visit, but it was something I had never been aware of until that day. With the North as reclusive as it is, the South is essentially an island off the coast of Asia. You obviously can't pass through the North, and Korea is a peninsula, so all trade and travel must be done via air and sea. This is one of the big reasons some people pine for reunification (while we're on that note, many people are equally against reunification for reasons of having to spend huge money developing the North, were it to fall). If the north opened up its borders, they would be able to join up rail services into China, across Russia and into Europe, which would do wonders for trade, tourism and ease of travel. The most galling thing is they actually built a train line from the South all the way to Pyongyang (capital of the North, but you knew that, right?), which was completed in 2002, but never put in use due to cooling relations with that infamous Kim dynasty. I visited the station. It was new, and clean, and completely empty.
The train that never goes
Military Service
One thing the boys here aren't too happy about is their mandatory 22-month military service which they have to do after high school. The pay is rubbish and there's no way around it save a medical condition. Some of my students had their minds a little bit blown when they found out we didn't have it in Ireland or even the States. Seeing their reactions actually made me wish I hadn't told them. Again, it's something I've always taken for granted, but I'm pretty damn happy I didn't have to spend near on two years in an all-male disciplinary institution when I left school. Instead, I got to fart around and learn a few languages, get a degree and let myself ramble away on a travel blog to my heart's content. It's a good life.
All the best

1 comment:

  1. I'm so game for karaoke sessions in the future. But your skills will be highly developed at that stage and your friends may tremble in awe. Hugs x