Christmas in Korea


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Asia » South Korea » Gangwon-do » Gangneung
January 1st 2012
Published: January 1st 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Happy New Year! Hope you all had a good Christmas and that Santa brought you everything you asked for.

Thought I'd give a little update to fill you all in on what's been going on here over Christmas.

The last week of school before Christmas was pretty fun, nice and easygoing. The week ended on Friday with a school trip to a chocolate making factory with the little kids. You can imagine the carnage that 50 little kids armed with tubes of liquid chocolate would cause. It was all over their faces, clothes, the floor, but luckily some of it made it to actual solid chocolate form which they could take home. Back at school we had a big buffet lunch with them all, after which Santa Claus (or Santa haraboji in Korean) paid a visit. Which of course meant that I had to put all the gear on and shove a pillow up my top, and spend an hour and a half handing out all the presents. It was fun for about the first ten minutes, after which the novelty ran off very quickly! I only made one kid cry though, not too bad I guess! I just pulled my beard back and showed her it was only Ross teacher, although weirdly that didn't seem to stop her from crying...

The afternoon kids had to perform their Christmas songs at the song contest, and also do their plays. I was so worried about their plays as I did not leave even remotely enough time to practice them in the past few weeks, and none of the kids had really bothered to learn their lines. However, on the day they all surprised me and most of them had actually gone home and learnt their lines, the little legends! At least I now know what to do for the next lot of plays. And luckily none of them sang the 'Jingle Bells, .... smells' version!

Thankfully Korea is not quite as crazy about Christmas as we are back in the UK. Which means that Christmas songs only start playing at the beginning of December, and the lights don't go up until a couple of weeks before. In fact, the Christmas lights at our apartment complex only went up on Christmas Eve. But people still seemed pretty excited about it, it still seemed like quite a big deal. So I was a bit surprised to find that actually on Christmas Day it was almost like any other day. All the shops were still open, everyone was still working, life was going on as normal. Bit of a weird anti-climax!

But that wasn't going to affect my Christmas. Having an oven in our apartment is a luxury that a lot of the other foreign teachers don't have, so we invited a bunch of friends over for Christmas dinner. I couldn't find a turkey, so just cooked 3 chickens instead, and did a bit of improvisation to try and get things similar to what we would normally have at home. Even managed pigs in blankets! It was a really good day in the end, plenty of eggnog and drinks all round.

Next day I set off at 4 in the morning to a place called Gangneung in the north east, not too far from the North Korean border. I had put a post on the surfing group for Korea on Facebook asking about where was good to surf in the winter. It had been 3 months since I had got in the water and I was desperate. Luckily a guy up in Gangneung offered me some floor space for a few days and said he would show me some of the surf spots in the area. What a legend! Just the matter of getting there - a 6 hour bus journey leaving from somewhere on the other side of Busan. So I hauled my backpack, wetsuit and surfboard in taxis, buses and on the subway. Got a lot of strange looks on the subway. People kept coming up and touching my board, trying to work out what it was. Trying to describe it isn't easy either! In fact when I finally arrived in Gangneung, I had a couple of hours to kill before I met up with Jake, so asked a taxi driver to take me downtown. So he took me to the beach. I guess he decided that when I said downtown I must've meant the beach, seeing as I was carrying a surfboard. Obviously. But whatever!

This was my first time out of Busan, so it was great to be able to see some of the country. The bus followed the coast road all the way up the east coast, and it was a stunning trip.
No surf in Korea huh?!No surf in Korea huh?!No surf in Korea huh?!

Big bottom turn from Dan
Huge snow covered mountains to my left, and glimpses of nice little a-frame waves breaking the whole way up the coast to my right. I was excited, although was still not expecting much from the waves. So you can imagine my delight when I turned up at the beach with Jake and a couple of his mates to find pretty perfect looking head and a half to double overhead waves reeling their way down the beach with no-one out. And the same again the next day. Tuesday we surfed 3 times, once at a spot on the 38th Parallel, which was at one time the site of the North Korean border, now the site of one of Korea's top surf spots. Day three was a bit smaller and more mellow, but still fun. By this point I was completely shattered, no surfing or exercise for three months has left me with absolutely no surf fitness! Thursday was just too big and wild to surf, so one of the boys, Rory, offered to take me snowboarding up at the local ski resort, Yeongpyong. It's only a half hour drive there, and pretty cheap to rent gear too. I haven't been snowboarding in a couple of years, and have actually never even been on real snow so I was really excited. Luckily I got back into it straight away which was nice, as I really didn't want to be spending the whole day on my arse. The Koreans tend to be a bit safety conscious when it comes to things like this, so the runs were always graded a lot higher than they really were, for example I did the double black diamond run which is not something I would ever normally be able to do at a resort in France! They have a few really fun runs there though, my favourite was the 6km gondola run which starts right at the top of the mountain and runs the whole way back down to the resort (apparently the longest in Korea). We had a big dump of snow while we were up there too which was cool. Koreans tend to ski and snowboard in a similar way to how they drive - without any indication and without looking, and so it was a bit of an obstacle course! One of the girls we were hanging out with actually ended up being taken out by an out of control Korean the next day, and is now in a sling.

We surfed again on Friday, and although fairly small it was still fun. Korea has to be one of the strangest places I have ever surfed. There are these huge mountains in the background, fighter jets and helicopters constantly buzzing overhead, and armed soldiers patrolling the beaches. Add to that the fact the beaches are covered in snow, and the crowds of Koreans cheering you on, hooting and taking photos every time someone catches a wave, and it's quite a different scene to the average day at Gennith! We even had a journalist from Seoul turn up and start taking photos and taking down information.

I couldn't have asked for a better holiday, good waves, snow, great company and some great food too (we cooked up some crab from the local fish market one day - absolutely stunning). I'm actually pretty gutted that I didn't know about this place before I came, I would trade living in Busan for living there any day. Although living in a big city has it's advantages, it's made me realise that big city living is definitely not for me in the future! The guys up in Gangneung have everything they could possibly want - waves, snow and a small, easy city to get around with their mates all living close by. Ah well, Busan should start getting waves in the summer...

I've had two new Korean experiences in the last couple of weeks - a noraebang and a jimjilbang. Noraebang translates literally as 'song room', yes that's right - karaoke. Luckily it's a slightly different concept to karaoke in the UK, here you just hire out a room between you and your mates. So no having to listen to strangers drunkenly singing at the front of the bar, and no strangers having to listen to you murder your favourite song. Koreans love it, when you go in you can hear wailing from every room - they say it is a good way to relieve stress at the end of the day. I personally find the exact opposite. It made me realise that the only words I know in any song are just the choruses. And I barely know them either. It didn't help that Chris kept choosing rap songs, and if there's one thing I'm worse at than singing it's rapping.

The jimjilbang was a more relaxing experience (to some extent) - a jimjilbang is basically a spa. It is dirt cheap to go, and they have everything you could possibly imagine there. Pretty similar to spas at home except for one big difference - men and women are seperated and you have to go completely starkers. Let me tell you, that first half hour in there was pretty uncomfortable. Sitting in a jacuzzi with a naked old Korean man staring at you constantly is not exactly my idea of chilling out. After you get used to the fact everyone is naked it's not too bad, and it's pretty relaxing. I accidentally fell asleep on a mat in there and woke up 40 minutes later to find a group of about five kids standing above me just staring! That was weird. You can stay there overnight too if you want, they give you pjamas and you sleep on the heated (ondol) floor, for a few quid.

I'll leave it there I think, hope that hasn't put you off your dinner. Hope you are all doing well at home and enjoyed your New Years celebrations!

Ross x

P.S. Make sure you scroll down and check out all the photos at the bottom - I've put loads on this week! (Don't worry - I didn't take my camera to the jimjilbang).


Additional photos below
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Brother and sister Matt and Raina


1st January 2012

Christmas
Hey Ross great to hear about how your getting on, always find your blogs a great read and keep me amused on my way to work! Sounds like your having an incredible time! Keep updating more blogs and happy christmas and New Year!
2nd January 2012

Thanks Soph! Hope all is well back at home, happy new year and all that! x
2nd January 2012

Still laughing....
just imagining waking up and those kids starring at you. THAT'S funny!
10th January 2012

I <3 Korea...
HAHA, Ross, after catching up on your blog not only do I miss having you around and witnessing you wind up the boys until breaking point but I realllly miss is the funny things that happen to you! Looks like you can go half way around the world and still end up waking up on the floor with people staring at you, granted this time it was in a spa and not 126, but you're still hillarious. Well done! Glad to know your ok and having fun! Miss you lots! Beth Xx P.s.... don't forget those I <3 Korea t-shirts :-D haha
12th January 2012

I miss you guys like crazy! Wish you could all be out here having a weird time with me! x

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