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Published: April 21st 2010
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…and we can find beauty in the most unexpected places. Before leaving England, when we informed friends and family of our decision to call a city in South Korea home for the next year, the common response we received was ‘Why South Korea?’ I myself must admit that before arriving in South Korea, I had not dived into any kind of meaningful research on the country, its people or its customs. In fact after stepping off the plane, we were neither fluent or competent in saying the words ‘Hello’ or ‘Thank you’ (something we overcame by actually writing the words on our hands for the first day, all the while looking ridiculous thanking local people with our hands in front of our face reading sweaty writing!).
Indeed, after a rather enjoyable few days spent exploring Seoul staying in a hostel (an experience we shall revisit in a later post), we were taken to our new home (above a restaurant!). The smell was not the best and the cleanliness was a little worse! It must be taken into consideration that the previous night, we were provided a hotel room to rest our heads in
Yeonsu-Gu, where we were afforded the luxury of cable television, heated toilet seats and multi-head jet showers! Our new home was therefore something of a culture shock! But Amy being the lady she is, we(she) rolled up our sleeves and got to work and hey presto! we now have an apartment we are actually rather fond of (and a new housemate, more later)!
The town of Yeonsu-Gu, our new home, is a city in Incheon to the south east of Seoul. It is a truly interesting place. Starting with the local supermarket, named ‘Lotte Mart’, the place sells everything from lizards to extortionately overpriced processed cheese, costing the equivalent of £12!! However, if you can evade the peculiar shopping assistants attempting to sell you a shower curtain (whilst speaking completely in Korean), then like many places in Korea there is a bargain to be had - most noticeably with Soju, a Korean spirit that is somewhat similar to vodka but costing a tenth of the price! If you have any questions as to the potency of this spirit, our first day in Yeonsu-Gu, we were provided an interesting anecdote about a tourist defecating himself on a local taxi roof!
But hey…it’s cheap right?!
The weather here is very seasonal and indeed during our first few weeks in the country, a couple of times we experienced sunshine, snow and rain during the same day with ranging temperatures from freezing to the high teens!
Like most cities in South Korea, the economic growth cannot be ignored. On just our short walk to school, we bypass several new office block construction projects well underway. Similarly, like many Korean cities, Yeonsu-Gu attempts to cater to a western clientele, with somewhat conspicuous looking franchises including McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Outback Steakhouse juxtaposed between the countless local seafood restaurants!! Having explored some of the local foods, we have already begun to identify some favoured dishes…including Bibimbap (rice, egg, seaweed, soy sauce, carrot, radish and lettuce mashed together), Shabo Shabo (a three course meal in a large soup) and Gimbap! We have yet to sample any significant seafood dishes yet; however, I have managed to try Octopus and for anyone yet to try it, it’s something I would highly recommend, its salty chewy flavour proving quite delicious!
The place does contain a number of rather glaring oddities. One of which is to
understand how business competition can possibly exist in a place where, for example, we ventured down one street completely filled with small Garden Centres (and believe me, this example can be translated to many other business sectors)!
It is however once we step from our front door and begin to understand our new home that we can start to appreciate its undervalued appeal as a community! On our doorstep, we have a decent sized mountain, which we decided to hike up. Rather than the expected quietness you may expect of this place, we found it a common outing for a family hike, and by family I do mean the full generational tree! A mantra I am already finding about Korea is that its beauty exists in the finer and easily missed details. A place where tradition and the new wave of western influence clash, Korea’s continued beauty will exist in its tradition and sustained closeness of community, things sometimes easily missed or ignored amid the neon monster!
Of course beauty can also be found in the company you keep, and thus far we can count ourselves as fortunate to have made such good friends so early in our
stay. Each here for different reasons (everyone has a story as the saying goes), we can now count New York, Alberta, Dallas and Incheon among the roots of our friendship base! Indeed, it has been a pleasant surprise to me to find our Korean co-teachers such kind and considerate people! Prior to coming to Korea, we had heard mixed reviews of how Korean and western teachers interact, however we can absolutely say we have found our Korean counterparts most welcoming, be it trying to teach us Korean or one particular teacher (Rio) taking on board my request for advice on buying a new camera as his own personal crusade!
Oh…and the new housemate? That would be a white and black rabbit we have decided to name Archie! Formerly owned by a previous American teacher, Amy decided the rabbit needed a more loving environment than the staff room in school and so, much to my chagrin, decided to bring it home one day! She does not believe me when I tell her I am fattening old Archie up for a final banquet before leaving Korea (think Homer Simpson eating ‘Pinchy’)…I will keep you posted on how that goes! But that’s
all for now…
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