There are places in life we visit and then forget all about. There are places that become hazy memories that are only reawakened by a picture or a song or a smell. And then there are those places that you can never forget, where every last detail is etched onto your brain whether you want it to be or not.
For me, Haesindang Penis Park is one of those places.
A few months ago, over the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving/Harvest) holiday, I headed up north to Gangwon-do to pay a friend of mine a little visit.
Having only experienced the fast-paced waygook-magnet cities of Seoul and Busan, and everything my “little nuisance” province Jeollanam-do had to offer (my province is famous for its protests and inability to do what it’s told) up until this point, I was eager to explore more of the country and see what a small coastal city had to offer.
It’s general election day in the UK and, for the first time since I turned 18, I won’t be voting.
That isn’t to say I didn’t want to.
I mean, with this dynamic range of middle-aged, pasty, Oxbridge-educated “every men” to choose from, how could you resist?
In fact, I always feel that it’s my duty to vote. Women weren’t just given the right; They fought and died for it. And, as a champion for the sacredness of sisterhood, that’s a fact I just can’t forget.
So why am I not voting this year?
It’s simple: I live abroad and missed the deadline to send it by post.
By the time my application was received, they told me that they couldn’t guarantee a postal vote from Korea would make it back to the UK in time to count.
I also missed the deadline to vote by proxy – Having someone go and cast my vote for me – so that means that, this year, I’m just going to have to shut my mouth, sit back, and watch the results come in.
Which is kind of what I’ve been doing for the run-up to this anyway.
Being an expat/immigrant/nomad is a weird thing. I love my homeland but don’t have any plans to move back there yet.In fact, I can’t see it happening at all in the next five years.
So should I even be given the opportunity to vote?
It’s a country I care about and it’s where a lot of my loved ones live. I want them to be safe and live good lives. I don’t want my home to be handed to traditionalists and I don’t want it to leave the EU. I don’t want it to continue on its downward spiral under the current government and I also don’t want immigration to keep being seen as a bad thing – After all, I’m doing exactly what most people back home condemn.
I moved to a foreign country and took a job that could have gone to a local. I also did the same in Mexico.
There’s no difference.
Oh, no, wait, there is a difference. I get to keep the money I make and spend it on myself. A lot of people who move to the UK for work are doing it to support the families they left behind, living in conditions worse than any of us could imagine.
I don’t mean to get on my soapbox but I still care about what happens to my home. At the same time, I don’t want to live there so what right do I have to do decide what happens?
A friend of mine has lived outside of the UK for 17 years now. 17 years. How could you possibly know what life is like after living away for all of that time? I was only gone for a year and a half when I moved to Mexico and even I was shocked at the changes when I finally returned.
The longer we live away from our home, the more out-of-touch with the realities of life there we become. We settle into a different society and begin to care about the politics thereinstead.
Should I be voting for a country I’m living away from? When does the cut-off point occur? After all, it’s my British passport that helps me qualify for these jobs abroad in the first place.
These are questions I go back and forth over and would really like your opinions on actually so, please, take a second to vote in the poll underneath. If you want to elaborate more, leave it in the comments.
When people find out I teach at a beauty high school, their curiosity automatically peaks and the questions start to flow.
What kind of English do I teach? Is it beauty specific?
Are there boys at the school?
What will the students do when they graduate?
Are they creative?
Just general English. Yes, for every 10 girls, there’s one boy. They’ll probably end up at beauty salons around the province.
As for the creativity? Saying ‘yes’ would be an understatement.
These kids may not be going to college (which is a huge thing when you live in an education-obsessed society) but they have some incredible talent.
I’ve heard it remarked from fellow native English teachers in my area, teaching at middle school, that they’re disappointed when the end of the school year comes and a few of their students are heading to the beauty high school rather than an academic one. They see it as kind of a failure.
But, for me, I get to witness something more than the practical hairdressing and make-up skills they’ll use to support themselves after school (rather than dive straight into poverty); I get to see them work hard at creating their final 3rd grade products.
They get to do whatever they want, without the influence of a teacher, and express themselves in whatever artistic way takes their fancy.
Then, at the end of the year, they get to showcase their work in the school’s annual festival:
Holy crap, this year is going fast. March is less than 2 hours away and that also means the start of a new school year in Korea.
A few people from home have recently sent me messages asking if I’ll be moving on now that my contract’s about to end. I guess I haven’t painted the best picture of life over here in the last 12 months so I can’t blame them for wondering.
Well, I’m here to tell you now that in a couple of weeks I’m actually going to be renewing my contract for another year. That’s right. I ain’t going anywhere.
I don’t know what this year’s going to bring – there’s a hell of a lot of change happening in my schools – but January and February have been pretty fantastic so far so here’s hoping that this is a good sign for the next 10 months.
I’ll be doing a proper “one year in Korea” post a little closer to the time so, for now, here’s my February wrap-up with my five favourite things:
1. A Naju visitor
For the Lunar New Year holidays, my friend Rachel came down from Donghae to spend a week in my rural city of pears and skate fish. I showed her a few of the (limited) sights, we hung out, got drunk, ate amazing food, and mostly just enjoyed the downtime.
I’ve got to give her major credit for being the ultimate houseguest though: Not only did she manage to unblock all my drains (something that’s been bugging me for months now because I’m an incompetent child) but she willingly pushed me out of the kitchen after every meal to clean because she “loves washing up.” (Who are you, Monica Gellar?)
It’s always fun when we get together but later this year it’ll be time to say goodbye to her. In September, she’s officially moving on and away from Korea so who knows where our paths will cross after that?
January has come to an end already. That’s mad. Where have the last 4.5 weeks gone?
I do wonder if this is a sign for things to come. Is 2015 going to fly right by if we’re already into our second month? I kind of hope so because, as is tradition at the start of every year, I’m already planning my next adventures and future travels. (More on that to come. ;-) )
In the meantime, I’ve decided to bring back my end-of-month wrap up posts – the Five Favourite things of each month. (Well, actually, this month it’s six because I really couldn’t narrow it down.) That way, I can at least keep this blog present. There are so many things I didn’t blog about in 2014 that the last thing I want is for this space to become a backlog of past stories and trips. At least this series will give a little insight into what I’ve been up to in the last month.
Here are January’s top Five Six Favourite Things (in no particular order):
Anyone who follows me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook will know how much I loved this city. It snowed so hard when I was there but that didn’t put a damper on anything.
The people were friendly, the architecture was gorgeous, and the atmosphere was just amazing. I felt so comfortable and at ease. While the snow made it seem like a beautiful winter wonderland, I got the feeling that Autumn would be the time that really makes the city feel magical. The oranges, reds and yellows of that season would give it an internal warmth that you just can’t get from summer.
I really wish I could have spent more time exploring everything it had to offer but I guess there’s always next time.
One of the most amazing things I did get to do while I was there, though, was finally meet up with my blogger friend, Amanda (from The Zen Leaf).
Amanda was one of the first people I ever met through blogging (back when we were avid book bloggers) around 7(??) years ago (That’s a wild guess) and was the one who left me my first comment (back when I was hosted on blogger; I can’t believe it’s still there).
It’s always strange to finally meet someone in person after chatting with them online for so long. You wonder if it’ll be awkward and whether you have anything in common to really talk about.
Amanda and I were like old friends though. The moment we met, we hugged each other over and over and just didn’t shut up. I could have sat there gabbing away until the sun went down. She was everything I thought she would be – So fierce and strong and so much fun to be around. I just wish I’d had more time to spend with her.
Ah well, there’s always next time, Amanda. (And you know that I’ll be moving a bit closer in the near future. ;-) )
I’ve been travelling around the East Coast of the US for 2.5 weeks now and feel amazing. Even though America isn’t home, it definitely makes me feel comfortable and at ease when I’m here. I feel like me again.
People love to imitate my accent here and point out the differences in the way we say things, and it’s hilarious. I can get away with a lot by being the ‘weird foreigner’ but, much to my surprise, there are a few Koreanisms – Korean cultural mannerisms – I’ve manage to pick up that are also shining through.
I keep going to bow when saying ‘thank you’ to people and then suddenly halting when I realise what I’m doing. It just ends with me hunched over and staring directly at the person in a kind of deer in headlights way.
2. Greeting everyone when I walk into a place
Last night I walked into a 7-Eleven and exclaimed “Good evening” to the two people at the checkout. One frowned and the other looked at me as if to say, “Oh great. The crazy lady’s here.”
Hellooooo, everyone! I’m heeeeeerrrre!!!
3. Removing my shoes
I traipsed through Cerena’s mother’s house in my boots yesterday and it felt so wrong. I felt rude and dirty and just uggghhh.
Today my boots are also right next to the hotel room door. I had no idea this had suddenly become a thing for me.
4. Being overly girly when flirting
So let me introduce you to me: I’m a tough ass chick who can hold her own anywhere. I don’t really change a whole lot when I flirt except to perhaps be a bit more friendlier than normal because my theory is, if you like me, you like me for who I am normally.
Then why am I suddenly turning into a dainty, bashful girly girl when I flirt these days? And everyone who’s lived in Korea knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the same overly-feminine daintiness that girls there are brainwashed into doing.