Weekend in Wonju (Or How We Spent $40 On A Claw Machine)

This past weekend, Marta and I traveled to Wonju to visit Marta’s best friend Andrea and her boyfriend Scott. As I had school on the Friday, we were not able to leave until around 6:15pm. But we didn’t let this dampen our spirits. Before we knew it, the bus journey was over and we had arrived. We met Scott and Andrea and immediately headed for dinner. We went to a restaurant describing itself as “Family Fusion”. Now, I am not sure what this is but we all had amazing meals. Everyone but me opted for delicious looking pasta dishes. I decided to have a pizza, which was amazing. I really enjoyed it.

After this, we dropped Scott off at his place (he had work the next morning) and headed to Andrea’s house. Once here, we spent the rest of the evening (around two hours) drinking some beer and playing Dante’s Inferno (which I enjoyed and would suggest to everyone). I woke up early the next day but it did not matter as we were all awake by 10am. We had a truly wonderful breakfast of breakfast burritos. It was delicious, even if mine did fall apart before I could eat it properly. After breakfast, we all decided to smoke some shisha (watermelon flavour) and spend time blowing smoke bubbles. Then, Scott arrived and we went to explore the local area for claw machines. We went to one that Scott and Andrea frequent near a local pizza place. We spent around $40 and won three things (a Pikachu, some kind of an alien and a pig dressed as a rabbit).

In the evening, we went for dinner again. We had chicken in a soy sauce with noodles. And then it was time for the event I was most excited for – the final part of The Hobbit. Now, I know that Andrea and Marta (along with other friends who were not there) didn’t like the movie. I am not saying it is the best movie I have ever seen but I have certainly see worse. I enjoyed it, partly because it was a part of my childhood and I remember talking to my Dad about it when I was a kid. I would suggest that people go and see it. It was reasonably well done. A little too much CGI but otherwise, not awful.

We then went to a bar, where Marta and I saw our energy levels crash. But they were perked up by some lasagna and a round of Cards Against Humanity. After this, we went back to Andrea’s and slept. Sunday was a lazy day, spent in bed and eating copious amounts of cheese before we headed back to Cheongju. The whole weekend was fantastic and I look forward to doing it again soon.

Ricky

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Or A Brief Overview Of My Christmas Day)

Yesterday was Christmas. And what a wonderful Christmas it was. I spent my day with Marta at home, eating a lot of amazing food and relaxing. After waking up at 4am, and laying in bed for three hours whilst waiting for Marta to wake up, we immediately sprung on our gifts. I got some amazing stuff (book on men’s fashion, new flannel shirt, t-shirts and an ironing board, to name a few things). I got Marta some baking equipment, a new hairdryer and a cool poster from Tee Fury.

After this, we at a nice breakfast of sausage, egg, tomato, hash brown, bacon and bagels. It was delicious. Lunch was a grand feast of BLTs and dinner was steak in a peppercorn sauce and homemade potato wedges with rosemary and garlic.

I also got myself Elite: Dangerous and played that for a bit. Most importantly, I Skyped home and spoke to my family. I hope that you all had a Merry Christmas. I will post again next Monday!

Ricky

So This Is Christmas? (Or My Second Christmas Away From Home And My Thoughts On Living Here)

‘Tis the season to be jolly, or so I am told. Christmas, my second favourite day of the year, is once again just a day away. But, living in a country that doesn’t really celebrate Christmas, I feel I am lacking in Christmas Spirit this year. I seem to move between feeling great excitement and a sort of…emptiness. Why, I hear you ask? Well, dear reader, let me tell you.

Christmas in Korea is just another couple holiday. People here don’t understand why you would be unhappy (or even a little sad) on Christmas if you are in a relationship. My girlfriend was told that she would have a great Christmas and not to be unhappy because she has a boyfriend this year. I feel that, in this, Koreans miss the hardest part of being abroad for Christmas. Despite what people say, Christmas just is not the same without family. And yes, we have Skype now and communicating is easier than ever. But nothing compares to waking up with your family, or knowing that you will go and see them later. In my house, Christmas was always a big family day. I miss that here. I miss having my cat thrown at me around 4am so I get up. I miss my Mum’s amazing Christmas dinners. I miss my loud (and at times, annoying) family. This Christmas will definitely be better than last year (when I spent most of my day alone) because Marta and I have plans to Skype home and eat amazing food, but we will both miss our families terribly.

What else is different here? Well, the fact that it is Christmas Eve and I am typing this from work. Not a special work day, either. Just a regular day, like any other. In Korea, it is business as usual until the 31st December (with the exception of Christmas Day). I understand that I am a guest in the country and I certainly don’t expect them to change their culture to fit mine. But it is still hard to be away from home, in a strange country where your efforts to communicate sink faster than the Titanic.

Another thing I struggle with living abroad generally is I am missing my family…growing up I suppose. I am going to miss two weddings next year, my little sister turning 21 and my cousins growing up. And every family event I miss makes it a little harder to cope with missing the next one. Now, I know my family will be reading this and I want to say don’t worry about me. I may seem down, or like I am pretty sad in writing this post. But I assure you, I love the benefits of living here too.

But, as with most things, there is another side to this coin. It has certainly made me appreciate the company of my family so much more. As I said above, I miss them terribly this time of year. I appreciate being woken up at a ridiculous hour by my Mum’s boyfriend to open presents. I miss the amazing bacon sandwiches he makes for us all. I miss seeing his excitement, which is always so much more than the kids in my family. I miss my Mum moaning that she has been up since 4am. I miss hearing her moan at me for being useless as I try to help her cook and fail. I miss my sister helping my cat unwrap his gifts. I miss her moaning at me, in the exact same way my Mum does. I miss hiding in the kitchen with my Dad and drinking and talking with the other (mostly) sane members of my family.

So, let me end this post by saying this. Merry Christmas to you all, where ever you are and whoever you spend it with. And to my family – have a fantastic day. I love you all. Make sure you have a drink for me and raise a glass to me. I miss you guys more than words can ever describe.

Seasons Greetings,

Ricky

Temple Trials (Or How I Spent My Weekend Like A Cold Monk)

It is finally here. The post you have always been wanting to read, but could never find. Or, you know, the post you don’t care about but are reading because of general interest or family obligation to me. What am I talking about, you ask with a mixture of fear and excitement? I am talking about my Temple Stay that I attended over the weekend of the 20th and 21st of December. This post will give you some idea of what to expect if you attend one and my thoughts on the whole thing.

We had to arrive at the temple by 2pm, so Marta and I set off to meet our friends Anna, Jenny and Karen at the bus terminal. Tickets secured and lunch eaten, we boarded the bus. It wasn’t long before we were out in the countryside heading towards Boeun and Songisan. And, to my surprise, there was a lot of snow everywhere. The weather here has been snowy but any evidence of it had all but vanished in Cheongju. The bus journey itself was uneventful, as most bus journeys are. We arrived at Songisan around 1pm and spent an hour walking towards the temple, stopping to take pictures.

DSC_0022 (edit)

We finally arrived at Beopjusa temple around 2pm, registered and were given some clothes (a vest and trousers that would make MC Hammer jealous) and assigned a room. I was sharing a large room with five other guys, all of whom were very nice. We didn’t have long to relax before we headed off to orientation and learnt about what the Temple Stay would entail. We didn’t have long to wait before the experience began. We had a great tour of the temple. However, I didn’t learn much myself as I was always close to the back taking photographs of things. This is one of my favourite shots that I took during the tour.

DSC_0056 (Edit)

This was followed by dinner (vegetarian, of course). We then attended an evening chanting ceremony, in which you bow to three great Buddah statues and the monks chant. This was an interesting cultural experience and definitely one of my highlights of the trip. The monks do this ceremony three times a day (early morning, late morning/early afternoon and night). We then attempted to make lotus flowers using paper petals and a cup. I abandoned mine before we left the temple the following day – it did not look good. It was then time to wash up and go to bed, ready for the 3am wake up to go to morning chanting.

The morning chanting was similar to the evening chanting, except with slightly more bowing and much lower temperatures  I was freezing in the room. We then met our monk host undertook meditation and the 108 Prostrations. I found this bit was perhaps my least favourite, I hate being trapped with my own mind for company and we had to sit silent for twenty minutes. The 108 Prostrations were also agony. I had hurt my back the previous week, so bowing 108 times did nothing to help it. After this, we had another meal (breakfast). I found the food to be OK but I am currently at my limit with Korean food, so I pretty much just ate rice. The best activity of this day was the traditional Korean tea ceremony. It is similar to those of China and Japan in someways but different in others. I definitely enjoyed learning about this part of Korean culture. Being British, I also have a special relationship with tea.

Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony

Finally, we undertook a meditative walk in the forest. This was an OK part of the trip for me but I was cold and once again, hated the silence. It was also quite chilly and we had already been awake for six hours at this point. I don’t have much else to say on this.

So what did I think of the Temple Stay overall? Well, I am glad I did it. It was a unique experience and I learnt a lot about Buddhism and Korean culture. But it is not something I would do again. I would suggest it is something everyone should try at least once, and indeed, many people on the stay had been to others before. It just was not my sort of thing is all.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post. Check out my other photos from the trip.

I will write again soon.

Ricky

Adventures In Photography – Songisan And Beopjusa Temple

Here are some shots I took during my Temple Stay this weekend. I will add more as I get them edited. Expect an actual post about this tomorrow.

The Monk/Nun that took care of us during the visit.
The Monk/Nun that took care of us during the visit.
The temple again.
The temple.
Shot of a bridge in the snow.
Shot of a bridge in the snow.
My friends walking to the temple
My friends walking to the temple
The temple itself around sunset.
The temple itself around sunset.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas (Or How I Am Occupying My Kids After Finals)

This last week has seen my First and Second Grade students completing their final exams. Cue stress on their part, stress on the part of all my co-teachers and me being left to desk-warm. Now, instead of waste all of my time at my desk reading (which is not a waste of time, ever) or watching movies I actually managed to get my winter camp planned. Then I read, drew and did a number of other things.

The problem then arose of what to do with a bunch of teenage boys, one week before Christmas, with no attention spans. My answer? Christmas movies. This year I have opted for the classic Home Alone 2. It was a movie I remember watching several times during my childhood, something the boys seem genuinely interested in and something I can enjoy (at least for the first five or so times I watch the beginning.

The weather here has also taken a sharp drop in the past few days. We seem to average about -7 Celsius at the moment. This means, naturally, my school has decided to turn the heating down. This means that my boys, my colleagues and me are all freezing all of the time. There is always a teacher in my office in front of the one heater it has. My hands are actually so cold, typing this is a struggle.

#school life

My Third Grade boys also have their High School Entrance exams tomorrow. One of my co-teachers told me that because of these, today we will be (and in fact did) eat rice cake with red bean in and flour on the outside. It is believed they bring the students good luck to pass the test. This comes from their sticky texture, which in Korean, can also mean pass the test (or something like that). You learn something new everyday.

Apart from this, it is life as normal here. Getting ready for Christmas. I finished shopping for Marta last night. I just need to finish wrapping her presents and I am done.

I will write again soon, for this weekend I have a Temple Stay. I will enchant you with tales of that in a later post.

Ricky