Sunday, 15 January 2017

Winter Update


Hello all! Time for another overdue update. Speaking of things overdue, I'm currently sitting in London Heathrow waiting for my flight back to Korea after a long overdue visit to see family. But more on that later. Here are a few highlights from the past few months.

After a couple of successful evaluations in November, I can now announce that I've signed on for another year of teaching here. I've learnt so much over the past year, particularly in terms of teaching. I've also gotten to know the students really well. This year, I will continue to teach as best I can, and help the students to be more confident speakers. I'll keep working on my Korean, and I'll keep being a part of the amazingly vibrant, faithful community at Namwon Church.

In September, one of the two Korean English teachers at school left on maternity leave. Her replacement was a hugely supportive, experienced teacher who I got along with really well. I learnt a lot from her firm but encouraging teaching style.

I had a few memorable trips towards the end of the year. The first was to Seoul, where I experienced the gathering of over one million people protesting against the country's president, Park Geun-Hye. She's since been impeached. It was quite an experience to be in such a massive crowd without any fear of violence - I have Korea's ingrained culture of respect to thank for that.

The second trip was to the beautiful, seaside city of Mokpo. I enjoyed hiking up craggy hills and visiting museums. It's definitely worth a return trip.

Also in November was the school festival and the Namwon marathon. The former featured some of the school's talented actors, singers and musicians. It was a fun day, and the next day was the Elementary School Festival, which was also great fun. The latter (a half marathon in Namwon) was a bit of a miserable experience - it was freezing cold (literally), with the average temperature at one degree. However, it seemed to help my running, as I bet last year's time by three minutes at 1:25. I caught up with friends for lunch after the race, forgot that I had lunch plans with other friends, and had a second lunch. All in all, not a bad day!

In mid-December, I travelled to Busan with teachers from school. Despite the three-hour driving time to get there, we made the most of the day. A highlight was eating pufferfish soup. The pufferfish is highly toxic, and has to be very carefully prepared in order to be edible. I hadn't twigged as to what exactly what I eating until after the first bite, but I've survived to tell the tale!

For the students in their final year at high school, the nationwide university entrance exams in mid-November caused a huge amount of stress. It's a pretty big deal - people are strongly urged not to travel in the morning in order to ease traffic congestion, and flights are even stalled for the listening part of the English exam! In the days following the exams, the students sill had to attend school, even though they had no formal classes, So I made the most of having some extra time with them, and we did some cooking together and played some traditional 
ori games.

As for my other classes, we did some more hands-on activities in the lead-up to Christmas, such as cooking and making Christmas crackers. One Wednesday morning, I did pikelet and cookie decorating with my four elementary classes - you can imagine the mess they made!

The school exams happened at the beginning of December. After lunch on the final day of exams, most of the teachers (including me) went on an overnight trip. Of all places we could have visited, we went to...(wait for it...) Namwon, On the way, we went for a great walk in Gurye, but it was a bit weird staying in a hotel just around the corner from home!

Christmas in Korea is a bit of a let-down. The shops and cafés all join in on the hype, but for most Koreans, it's not a special day at all. It's not a public holiday either, but that didn't matter too much, as it was a Sunday anyway. On Christmas Eve, I went to Namwon Church. After a shared dinner, the young people performed a number of skits and songs, then we all joined in on some well-known carols (in Korean, of course), before going home.

The next day, I joined the South African family down the road (who have become good friends since my early days here), and we settled down to a huge meal together, eating and talking until late into the evening.

The final week at school for the year was fairly chilled, and we spent class time wrapping up the year.

Now, to stop waffling on about incidental events. Here's the important part.

Finally, on the morning of New Year's Eve, I made my way - via two buses and two flights (with a fourteen hour stop in Shanghai for the New Year) - to England. Coming out of immigration at Heathrow airport, I straight away saw the beaming faces of my auntie and uncle, who'd come up from Berkshire to collect me. It had been seven years since I'd last stepped foot on British turf, so I was pretty stoked (to say the least) to see my rellies again.

After 24 hours of (almost) non-stop chat, eating, tea-drinking, and catching-up, my Dutch cousins came and picked me up. As it happened, they arrived at a fortunate moment. I was out on a muddy run with cousins, and distracted by the cousinly catch-up, we lost our way. Standing at a junction, who should pull up but our uncle, auntie and two cousins from the Netherlands!

Destination number two was the charming market town of Marlborough, to see my (our) grandparents. It was great to see them as lively as ever, even if physically they're wearing down a tad. It was also good to settle in to the traditional British daily routine of dog walk - breakfast - tea and chat - dog walk - lunch - tea and chat - tea and chat - tea and chat - dinner (- pub...). It was great to catch up with the (wise and 'young at heart') oldies.

Then, onwards to the quiet wee village of Newnham, to see my not-so-quiet rellies. This was probably the most strenuous visit, as I was made to drink copious amounts of tea, eat huge amounts of excessively delicious food, walk the dogs for hundreds of kilometres, try (and fail) to keep up with my cousin's incomparable snooker skills and keep up with my uncle's never-ending wit. Haha... In all seriousness now, it really was a great visit.

Unfortunately, only two out of three of the cousins were at home in Newnham, so we drove up to Guildford to visit cousin no. 3, who was in the middle of her university exams. After a pub dinner (of pheasant - yum!), we dropped her off home, and were saying 'see ya' when we thought 'actually, why don't you take a day off from study and come with us?' So on we went to Marlborough together to stay with the grandparents. It was great to have more time to catch up!

The last stage of the journey was spent in Wales, for a day and a bit to see my wee cousin. They've phased out dragons as the common mode of transport in the country, so I was picked up in an ordinary, non fire-breathing car with four wheels. Lots of meaningful chat ensued and I was just as excited as my cousin to visit her school the next day. Check it out at ('Special Guest'). I was sad to leave Wales so soon, but the time I spent there - as with all of my family - was really valued. I only missed out one cousin (at the first stop), who is currently in India. To my family in the UK: I'll be back soon!

Anyway, here I am on the plane back to Korea (via Shanghai). And, as sometimes happens in this big-but-small world, the guy next to me is a Wellingtonian who studied at Otago for a few years. Out of all the seats on the plane, I'm next to a Kiwi. He's a good fella though.

Back at school tomorrow. Keep well everyone!

P.S. I only took a few photos from my UK visit. The best pictures are memories.

A trip with teachers to Sunchang to see the autumn foliage.

Face-painting at the School Festival.

Marathon training.

Protest in Seoul.

Teachers' trip to Palsongsa.


Pufferfish soup! 

Sunny Busan.

Futuristic Busan.

Teachers' trip to Gurye.

Christmas lunch.

Koreans, and especially teachers, like snacks. With thanks to cooking classes and generous teachers.

The first (real) snow.

In Shanghai at midnight - happy New Year!

Leeds Castle.

Faversham market - it's been held in the stilted Guildhall since medieval times.

Come on, Lilly!

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