The scariest

One of our vocabulary items yesterday was “the scariest.” The PowerPoint had been illustrated with a young kid screaming his head off on a rollercoaster (which can’t have been too intense as he only had a lap bar). So we got talking. Who had been on a rollercoaster? Not many, they were probably still too short. But it seemed many of them didn’t even want to go on a rollercoaster. Not even in the safety of the hypothetical where I would expect them to act braver than they really were. Many of the young boys openly admitted that The Viking was more than scary enough for them.

I had to chuckle at this. The other day I caught a bus. It was a local bus, meaning it was an old machine. The back seat was the only one available, so I shuffled my way down the isle as the bus took off, and climbed up into it. I thought I would feel safer sitting down, but oh no. Korean bus drivers do not drive with riding comfort or fuel efficiency in mind. As soon as the last passenger has climbed inside they hit the accelerator hard. Never mind the passengers walking to their seats or still trying to pay. Their stops are equally abrupt. And I was clearly reminded of this as I felt like I was on the back seat of The Viking ride, the other seats declining in front of me and then rising back up to the driver. I got air a number of times, bouncing and sliding on the stuffed vinal seats as I frantically tried to find something to hold on to.

I didn’t mention the bus, but proceeded to share stories of some of the scary things I had done. I’d been on rollercoaster’s and other rides at Disney World and Universal Studios. I’d been abseiling off the roof of Centre City, and rock climbing on Paritutu. I’d delivered a speech on a stage in front of 2500 people. I moved to Korea by myself. And earlier this year I’d been…

Bungy jumping.

The sharp intake of breath and the gaping mouths told me they were clearly impressed. Some almost disbelieving.

But it was true.

An optional extra to my DMZ trip was to extend my tour by a day to go rafting and bungy jumping on the Hantangang (한탄강). Having not done much rafting before I was keen to try this. I’d considered bungy jumps before but had never liked the look of things when the rope recoiled, it looked like it would be uncomfortable, so I hadn’t the desire to do one. But this jump would only cost me $30. That sounded super cheap. I checked out prices in NZ. To jump at Kawarau, where AJ Hackett pioneered bungy jumping in 1988 = $180, Auckland Harbour Bridge = $150, Taupo = $150. I started to think that it was just too good a deal to let pass by without a strong reason not to. I did consider the ‘you get what you pay for’ concept. Here I wasn’t going to be paying for the 52m of air I would hurtle through headfirst but rather the equipment and staff that were supposed to allow me to live to tell the tale. Korea really isn’t the most safety conscious country I’ve been too, but surely if they’d had a few fatalities they’d have to make some improvements or shut up shop…

I decided to do it.

Our itinerary stated we would be leaving our pension in the morning to go bungy jumping, having a lunch break, then going rafting. Nerves and excitement where shared over dinner that evening as we tried to mentally prepare for what we were about to do. Rain Sunday morning put things into jeopardy. The company wouldn’t let us do the jump. We were fortunately able to bring our rafting booking forward with the hope the weather would improve enough to jump in the afternoon.

Our bus, of mainly English teachers, pulled up at the rafting base. We disembarked wearing our togs, jandals and singlets. We watched tour groups of Koreans in matching ponchos and crocs, or raincoats, wetsuits and water shoes gathering around rafts (Koreans take dressing for outdoor pursuits very seriously). I’m not sure which group would have found the other more amusing.

Donned with lifejackets and wetsuits we carried our raft down to the river. We quickly changed the chant to keep us rowing in time from 1, 2, 3, 4 to 소주  (soju = distilled liquor, Korean vodka equivalent) 맥주! (mekju = beer). This of course added to our entertainment factor as we paddled our way down the wide bends of the Hangtan-Gang.

White water was in short supply, so to make things a little more interesting we went ashore a couple of times to leap off rocks into the water. It seemed that jumping was mandatory. Normally I might have had second thoughts, but as I was about to go jump off a bridge I figured I couldn’t let a few meters cause hesitation. As I waited in line to jump I instead turned my thoughts to the safety of the people jumping who clearly didn’t know how to swim. We hadn’t been asked before we set out on the water about whether or not we could swim. I would think that an important question to ask, but as I’ve said, safety doesn’t seem to be a big concern here. It makes me angry when I see professionals letting people think that they’re invincible just because wearing a life jacket.

As I pondered this I also pondered the wisdom of drinking and rafting, as set up along the river were tents serving soju and beer. Clearly we weren’t the first people to think of these things whilst rafting. But seriously, drinking and water sports is not a combination that should be encouraged. And it’s not like anyone’s journey down the river was going to be a particularly long one.

Of course you can’t have a drink here without having a smoke. Rain and rafting, not to mention splash fights with friends and jumping off boulders had ensured we were all thoroughly saturated. No logoed poncho or fancy raincoat would have saved us from that. And why would we want it to. Yet somehow dozens of Korean men had stowed their cigarettes and lighters away somewhere nice and dry, so that they could light up at that beer tent 10mins downstream from their buses. The mind boggles.

Back on land we received the good news that we would be able to do our jump after lunch. Dry and fed we boarded the bus and drove downstream to a big red bridge. We eyed it up quietly. It looked strong, that was reassuring. There were people jumping off it and, after a bit of bouncing, being safely collected by a man in a rowboat. This was also reassuring. But this bridge was definitely a lot higher than those rocks we’d just been jumping off.

No time for thinking though, After a short look over the side we were ushered into the office to be weighed (the results of which clearly showing my appreciation of the buffet meals on my recent trip to China) and sent upstairs to get our ankle harnesses. A waist jump was possible here, but we decided as a group that we wanted an authentic bungy experience. A couple of buckles around the ankle didn’t seem enough to be reassuring. But it was tight. A Korean came up to the ledge to translate the instructions. “Jump like this or like this, as if you’re diving. Don’t just do a little jump like this.”

That was it.

I discussed with the others the absurdity of what we were about to do. We were about to override our protective instincts that tell us jumping off really high bridges is a dumb thing to do. We were paying for a few seconds of ‘thrill’ (probably better described as terror) as we hurtled downwards. But mostly we were doing it for the feeling of accomplishment afterwards. I know I was. I hadn’t done something like this in a long time, and I knew I needed shaking up a bit.

I was about 4th in line from our party. The first guy jumped before we even realised he was on the platform. Clearly he didn’t want time for thinking. The second guy didn’t jump on his first or second count. I was glad to see them quickly send him to the back of the line before anyone else caught his nerves. The next jumper went in an orderly fashion, and then I was summoned to the line.

My new friends shouted words of encouragement. “Fighting!” “You can do it!” “You’re a New Zealander, you invented the bungy, this is in your blood!” To that I replied. “Yip. Kiwis can fly.” I couldn’t back out now. National pride was on the line.

I stepped forward and a purple rope was attached to my ankle harness. I tried to dismiss consideration of what would happen if that rope got tangled in anything. It seemed no further instructions were necessary, and I was given the nod. But to be sure everything was in order I established the protocol with the instructor. “3, 2, 1, Bungee.” I edged forward, swearing in my head. I fixed my eyes on a point across the river and let go of the railing.

Gulp.

“3, 2, 1, BUNGY!”

Falling, falling, falling, my heart in my throat.

Boing.

Exhale.

Down, up, down. Try to enjoy this. Wave to your friends.

Woah. Spinning. Spinning. Why do I have to be spinning? Hurry up little rowing boy. Catch me and stop me spinning.

Lying, ankles bound, head spinning in the bottom of the boat I tried to push my anger about the spinning out of my mind to think of a response to the inevitable question “How was it.”

I don’t think I came up with anything particularly profound.

“I did it.”

I kept my cool, and I did it, and yeah, I guess it was fun. And next time I go to do something scary I can remind myself of that.

Kiwis can fly.

My name’s Hannah, and I’m an addict.

I have an addiction.

I don’t quite remember when it started, but it’s become a significant part of my current lifestyle.
I have sessions once, twice, sometimes three times in a day. Sessions vary in length, I kinda loose track of time, but I’m sure multiple hours can be consumed by my addiction in a single day.

It’s time I came clean to friends, family, and random people who have found their way to this blog through keyword searches.

I’m addicted to flashcards.

Korean flashcards.

Not the rudimentary ones made with real card and print.
I’m talking sophisticated, computer generated flashcards.

The kind that give instant feedback, and which adjust the frequency of a cards appearance as you become more familiar with it. I’m tested for aural recognition of a spoken Korean word or phrase, translation of a printed Korean word back to English, and the ability to produce the Korean equivalent of a printed English word. When I can successfully do all of the above after not being exposed to a card for more than a week I am said to have ‘learned’ that vocabulary. If I can successfully complete all 3 tasks a few weeks after learning the card I am said to have ‘mastered’ that card.

Of course I didn’t become a full-blown addict overnight.

It started when I was trying to choose a country to teach English in. When I was 12 I leant a little Japanese. It was hard. Chinese, well, that’s one, or rather several, crazy languages with thousands of characters and tonal differences. Then I read somewhere that Hangul, the Korean alphabet, can be learnt in just a couple of hours. I thought they was talking crazy. I’m no language ninja. And Korean has all those crazy lines and circles…

I could waste a lot of English alphabet trying to describe this to you, but how about you check out this short video instead. This is how I got started. Before long I was able to read (though not necessarily understand) signs along the Albany Highway. Once you can read Hangul you soon realise that there are a lot of words written in Hangul that are just their best imitations of English, like 아이스크림 (ice cream), 커피 (coffee) and 뉴질랜드 (New Zealand). I’m always surprised and disappointed when I meet people who have been in Korea for more than a couple of months (some of them multiple years) who haven’t taken the time to familiarise themselves with this alphabet. Sure you can get around Korea pretty good without any Korean, but it makes life so much easier. And for me I’m sure it made the move here a lot less intimidating. Instead of crazy, arbitrary symbols surrounding me I saw something carefully constructed (it’s actually really interesting to read about the creation of this alphabet), with noticeable patterns and bestowed meaning. Sometimes, if I was lucky, my time to phonetically read a word was rewarded with the realisation that this was an English word. Café menus are almost entirely translatable in this way.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After watching this video I wanted more.

After trying several podcasts and websites I found I most favoured the learning format of Koreanclass101. I started with the free package, but soon paid for a basic subscription. This allowed me to access a whole library of audio lessons. I could stream these and listen to them while I was eating my lunch or download them and play them on my iPod when I went out running.

I had managed to stick to this whole Korean thing, and was serious about moving there, so I paid for a premium subscription. This let me download review tracks which I could flick through on the way to work, and PDFs so I could read transcripts of the lesson.  By this point I was becoming familiar with key vocabulary. I could recognise Korean when I heard it spoken and I would instantly identify Korean names when I encountered them.

Then one day whilst exploring more of the tools available with the premium subscription, I started my first collection of flashcards.

My commitment to learning Korean wanned in the last few months prior to my departure. I just had so much to do. When I first got here I found myself compulsively reading Hangul on everything, even if I had no idea what it said, but I didn’t engage with lessons. There was enough new information to be taking in. Names of people, places and students, and all the other essentials for life here.

A few months ago I felt settled enough to get back to studying. But I couldn’t be bothered sitting and listening to a lesson, and I didn’t take in a hell of a lot of new info when I was multi-tasking. Flashcards, however, provided me with an instant hit. I could learn several new words in a session. I could watch my statistics improving as I slowly learned and then mastered vocabulary. I could watch the progress bars on my decks inch towards completion, first the Core 100, then core 200….

My current stats are (and of course I’ve just had a good session before writing this to improve as much as I can):

Mastered: 876

Learned: 44

Started: 182

I must admit that there are some cards that seem to be doubled up between  decks, and my pronunciation of  words like 머리 (head, hair) and  멀리 (far) may not be different enough for a Korean to give me the thumbs up, but I think I can be pretty proud of my stats.

I’m finding that I’m able to learn words faster as I learn root words. I recently learned 사진 (photo) and today was introduced to 사진 촬영 (photography). I’m also loving that almost everyday I’ll encounter a word I’ve just learnt, whether it’s seeing it in the window of a shop I pass on my way to work, or hearing it in a conversation between workmates.

But now it’s time to admit that my addiction is not entirely healthy. I know lots of words, but will never be able to speak Korean until I know how they’re supposed to be put together into sentences.

I’ll get on to some proper lessons….

But first, just one more session.

Haves and Have Nots (Part 2)

So this is part two of my blog “Haves and Have Nots”. Part 1 took a look at just some of the things I have experienced since moving to Korea. Part 2 is a look at the things I haven’t experienced since being here either because I cannot, I dare not, or am yet to seize an opportunity to do.

Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way.  No I have not eaten dog.  Gaegogi (개고기) literally dog (개) meat (고기) is eaten in Korea. I have done my best to remember the name of the soup bosintang (보신탕) which features the meat, but still have to look it up. I originally wanted to remember the name of the soup so that I could try it. Provided an animal is fit for human consumption I don’t really see why anyone should take offence to it. I can understand that endangered species, such as whales, should be protected from ships hoping to stock the black market with some colossal kaimoana, and that whole deal of cutting the dorsal fins off sharks seems rather senseless. But what should make a dog (or horse or whatever) any different from a cow, a chicken a sheep or a fish. If you think it’s wrong, go the whole hog and become a vegetarian, and then I’ll respect your stance a lot more. Having not remembered the name of the soup, and hence not having found anywhere to eat it, I haven’t tried it. I’ve since heard tales of how terrible it tastes and how bad it smells. Having not liked much of the Korean food people think is good, I don’t really think I want to try something that is generally thought to taste bad. So now I’m trying to remember the word bosintang so that I can avoid it, if the smells emanating from the restaurant don’t warn me off first.

The second most popular question I hear is have I found myself a Korean boyfriend. The answer to this is no. This of course tends to be quickly followed up with the question “Would you?” I might try and share my thoughts on that in another post, as I’ve found much of what I’ve learnt about Korean dating culture and relationships very interesting.

Have I had tea with Kim Jong-un yet? No. It seems the majority of people think North Korea is completely closed off to foreigners, but you can legally enter with an approved tour company. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, and your time there will be highly regulated, but a visit there would be pretty special. I have just read that 2012 will be the last year that the Ariring Mass Games will be held. This event sounds absolutely mind blowing, and something I would have really liked to see. But none of the tour dates I’ve found seem to work in with my holidays here. It seems the closest I will get will be a trip to the DMZ in a couple of months. I will then have pretty much traveled the length of South Korea.

Still left high on the agenda of places to visit is Jeju-do. Labeled the ‘Hawaii of South Korea’ and ‘Honeymoon Island’. There are many things to do here, including hikes up Halla-San, and trips to the teddy bear museum (precisely where I’d want to go on my honeymoon) and Love Land (a park full of sexually themed sculptures). Of course if I’m there and I don’t have a boyfriend, (or suitable substitute), with whom I can wear matching outfits I’ll feel rather left out. This is very common in Korea. Stores specifically stock his and her outfits, even your underwear can be matching.

I’ve been really surprised to have not yet met any kiwis here. I’ve met people who know kiwis here, and have met Koreans that have studied in NZ, but I haven’t had the opportunity to practice the theory of two degrees of separation. I have had a NZ Pure Lager, and have seen Villa Maria wines in restaurant menus and Mainland cheese in E-mart.

I have not run out of Marmite.

I have not stopped saying ‘Kia ora’ to people despite no one knowing what I’m saying.

I have not (despite determining to at some point almost every day) learnt how to say “I can only speak a little Korean” and “I do not like spicy food.” This is especially pathetic since I think ‘a little’ and ‘spicy’ are the only words I don’t know. I think once I learn these terms I know enough Korean to put together decipherable Engrean (I’m penning this term as the opposite of Konglish – where the known language is Korean, and English is the attempted language) sentences to communicate these ideas.

I haven’t failed to learn my students names because I think they all look the same. I’ve actually been surprised at how different everyone looks. It actually took me some time to identify common facial traits that seem to be Korean.

I haven’t lost weight from eating all the Korean food. I’m not eating a lot of  Korean food, so am instead eating western food. I can get stuff from the supermarket, but with meat, fruit and vegies so expensive and working till late I don’t really feel that motivated to cook. As such I’m visiting the western style food stores in my neighbourhood a lot more than I should: Pizza School, Paris Baguette/Tours Les Jours Bakeries, the Belgian Waffle and Gelato café and (whilst considered Korean, it feels pretty universal to me) the BBQ chicken restaurant. As such I’ve put on an unknown amount of weight so that some of the clothes I brought with me, and even things purchased in Korea no longer fit.

I have not become a K-Pop fan. I can however hum along to a few songs that are big right now.
Wow. Fantastic Baby.

I have not picked up any tutoring jobs to supplement my income (which would be breaking the terms of my visa). What’s surprised me is that I haven’t really been asked by anyone. I think the guy who sold me my camera is about the only person who’s really asked.

I haven’t paid off my student loan and don’t expect to be the end of the year, or next should I stay. I have however put a little bit aside to send home. And hope to have a bit more go heading that way in the next few months.

I haven’t gone to a dentist or an optometrist. But these are definitely things I want to do, as their services are much cheaper here than in NZ.

I haven’t felt homesick for my family. I haven’t lived with them for 5 years. People don’t seem to appreciate that if you’re not making frequent visits there’s not much difference being 10km or 10,000km away from someone.  People who I spent a lot of time with before my departure have been missed more frequently. Mostly when I’m doing or seeing something I know they would appreciate.

I haven’t kept a regular, informative yet insightful blog that is of interest to both my friends and other people looking to share a similar experience. My close friends, however, tend to have Facebook to follow me on, so I hope they’re not feeling too neglected. And look, here’s two posts in as many days. That’s got to be a record.

The strange things we keep

I have come home to my parents for the long weekend.

It is strange how the land between Auckland and home can feel so familiar. After a week of typically changeable weather Auckland had painted her skies blue for my departure. As I cruised on down State Highway 20 I reflected on how much it had been developed in the last 6 years, just a short stretch through Mangere remaining untouched. Waikato was looking lush and vibrant, with many trees in flower. Things were a bit grey through Awakino Gorge, and the Tasman Sea was foaming as it hit Mokau beach, but things cleared as we left Urenui. I traced the familiar silhouette of Mount Taranaki seen faintly in the West. It grew bigger and bolder as the sky grew more orange. I knew once night surrounded it I would not see it again this weekend.

Whilst I shall return to Auckland in a few days some of my cargo shall not. Before leaving I packed a box full of things to store at my parents. It’s a box full of all those things that I have no intention of taking with me to Korea, but which I have chosen to keep. Being a highly practical person I’m often tempted to do away with anything that has no functional purpose, but there are some things that just shouldn’t be thrown away if you can help it, and the amount of stuff I have chosen to retain shows that whether I like to acknowledge it or not I am in fact rather sentimental.

Being the thorough person I am I took a few pictures to catalogue all my belongings before they got stored away. That way I remember what I have and provide a visual aid should I have to send my Mother in at some point to retrieve something in particular.

Photo albums seemed a given. There are other books too – piano music, a selection of favourite children’s books, and a few local history books including the family tree of my grandmother. There are a few special certificates and awards from school, my marching medals and Girl Guide sashes. A couple of scrapbooks are full of keepsakes from high school road trips and my summer in the States. Then there are a few random nick-knacks like my first pair of glasses, some of my best drawings, old ball dresses and an embroidered piece that won me $50 and made me a very happy 8 year old.

And so there they are. Treasures stashed away in a cheap plastic box tucked away and gathering dust waiting for some distant day when they’ll be granted an airing and some sentimental reflection.

                                 

But not all treasures can be stashed away in a box. Scenicpilgrimages home, great dances, and friends that laugh at your jokes can’t be kept forever. All my wonderful Korean adventures can’t be archived in some magical repository. I must therefore resign myself to taking as many pictures as I can and blogging about all my travels so I have some new treasures to add to my box on my return.

Kiwi to Korea

This week in my Sociology of Work lecture I learnt that a persons career consists not just of the series of jobs a person has in their field of interest that move in a stepwise fashion, but all the jobs a person ever has.

At the age of 25 I therefore have had a rather diverse career, featuring, but by no means limited to; babysitter, cleaner, line dance instructor, newspaper deliverer, registrar, usher, nurseryman, student, fast food crew member, painter, interviewer, retail assistant, camp counsellor, bank teller, fruit picker and peg maker.

Whilst this summary may provide interesting reading to you, the diversity of the collective masks the sheer monotony found within. Hours scrubbing black shoe marks off the school floors, filing for weeks on end, mindlessly entering data until I’m seeing double, asking for the fiftieth time that day “would you like to upsize your meal for 50c?” printing and binding student handbooks every semester, taking thousands of cuttings from big plants then trimming, slicing, dipping and setting them in potting mix in a some damp shed in the middle of the winter holidays…

To mix things up there were of course moments of panic; such as when my count of campers finished at 14 when I was supposed to have 15, disgust; as when finding the remnants of attempts to make 2 minute noodles in the basin of the boys bathroom (and other things I won’t mention), worry; which escalates after every passing hour that missing $2000 from my till remained unaccounted for…. all rather different emotions which seemed to manifest as an ominous feeling of sick in the pit of my stomach.

I have of course had many great moments during these jobs… or at least in a few of these jobs. But great moments do not prove to make particularly entertaining blog material and so have not found a place for themselves here. Blogability, of course, is not the canon by which I evaluate my life experiences. I do hope to have great, fulfilling, awe-inspiring and challenging experiences, I’m not prone to sentimental or inspirational monologues.

Consideration of employment options post graduation have led me to choose a rather unexpected career move. As it stands today the plan is to move to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English. I anticipate the challenges and rewards of teaching will be greatly fulfilling, as teaching and training has been an area of passion for a number of years. What is more the experience of living in a completely foreign environment will be hugely fascinating and growing.

I know that I cannot begin to anticipate what all this will really be like, in both good ways and bad. I do, however, expect that I will encounter moments of panic, disgust, worry and “what the?” No doubt my mind will be running on overdrive in the early months as I try to grapple with my new surroundings and establish a life for myself. The oddities I encounter in my daily life will surely have entertainment potential and as such I have determined to share these with you, and my future adoring fans, here in this blog.

In the months leading up to March when I hope to embark on this adventure I shall begin writing. I will first take a bit of time to explain a bit more about what I hope to do in Korea, and why I have chosen to teach there. March is really not that far away and there is a lot I must do between now and then. There may be ways that you can help me prepare, and no doubt opportunities to laugh at my feeble attempts to learn Korean and reduce my life to a 20kg suitcase. I also want to make sure I take opportunities to connect with friends in NZ before I go, and pencil in some couch bookings from those with future Asia travel plans.

So whatever your motives, whether they be for entertainment, cultural insight, interest in teaching English or you feel that as my Mother you should know what I’m doing with my life, I encourage you to follow me on my Korean, teaching and blogging journey. I look forward to your support, laughter with me, laughter at me, words of advice, encouragement and care packages of Whitaker’s chocolate, Kiwi music and Marmite.