Thursday, March 22, 2007

46 Pizza and blueberry jam

Husband called from the office Friday afternoon last week to say he had been called to a Happy Hour with his department so he would be later home.

Expecting him to then roll in after midnight smelling of beer and regaling me with talk of the "one shot" Korean drinking style, I was quite surprised when he rocked in at 8.30, not a hint of beer about him and not asking for supper.

Turned out the happy hour was a pizza happy hour and so instead of getting to leave the office nice and early on Friday night to go and hang out with your friends, go to the pub, maybe have dinner with your wife for the first time all week, these hardworking accountants like to really splash out on some Pizza Hut delivery items and eat at their desks. Cool. Yeah!

But what a Pizza Happy Hour it turned out to be. A Special Pizza experience was had by husband which he will surely never repeat, but will live long in the memory.

Koreans love to, VERY occasionally, eat Western food. I don't especially blame them for finding our foods odd, indigestible (lots of cheese and batter and stuff) and unpleasant since the main experiences they have of western food in Seoul are Pizza Hut, MacDonalds and Burgerking, and those Steak places called Outback which are ranker than rank.

But still they persevere, and instead of all piling out to a cheap, atmospheric local street bar for noodles or barbecue and a few beers they ordered the "pidja" and tucked in.

But in Seoul, the Pizza Hut offerings do not come with extra pepperoni, or cheese crust. No, the crusts here can be stuffed with sweet potatoe puree. Can you imagine?

Husband is not a fan of pizza anyway, being a self-diagnosed lactose intolerant. But he was doing his bit for team spirit and munching away when one of his colleagues looked at him, and asked, "But don't you want to dip your pizza?"
"In what?" he asked (what would I want to dip my pizza in? he thought)
"In the blueberry jam?".

Pizza practially hanging out of his mouth he said, he looked around, and everyone was doing this. "Mmm, very yummy pidja with boobewwy jam, MashiSOYO!!!"

Has some cruel american had the last laugh here? Did someone once tell a lie to a Korean about the secret to enjoying a good pizza? Any ideas?

46 Eating car tyres

We are getting quite into rocks in our reading. Magic School bus goes to the centre of the earth, Why do caves have stalactites? - that sort of thing.

And when we were reading about caves the other day we came to a section on Bird's Nest Soup. So I read about how the tiny birds weave the nests using their own spittle, and then I said to the girls,
"And guess what? People in China like to eat the nests in soup!"
"Eeeuuww," they said. I think this sounded even worse than having to eat vegetables.
"Mmm, well, people in China like to eat all sorts of strange things that we wouldn't like to eat," I continued.
"Do they like to eat car tyres?" asked one of my daughters.

44 How to hide 5 goldfish for a whole day

With Number one's 6th birthday coming up, I asked Number Two what she would like to give her.

"A pet," came the unsurprising reply.
"What kind of pet?" I asked, fully expecting it to be a puppy/kitten/hamster/horse.
"A goldfish'" she said.
"It's a deal," I thought.

Number two is quite savvy. She had obviously worked out what kind of living creature she might get away with, and she was right. No objections to pets that kind be cheaply and easily replaced without anyone ever being any the wiser.

So the Saturday before the Monday birthday, Number Two and I set out to Lotte Mart at Seoul Station and headed for the pet department. We bought five fish, two plants, a bubble machine, some black stones and some food. Highly successful.

Took them home and put them in the vase we have, hidden in the bathroom (we have two, so Number One was not allowed in). But Number Two just could not stop talking about the fish. "When can we feed the fish, Daddy?"
"Oh, you are a silly one, what are you talking about fish for? ha ha ha" said Daddy, trying to cover up the give away at breakfast the next day.

Skyping the grandparents in the evening, she wanted to tell them what she had bought for her sister, so I took Number One away to chat in another room. After she had divulged her secret she came wondering through.
"And I am going to call the last fish Selina", she told us proudly.
"What fish?" asked the soon-to-be-birthday girl.

A noisy, change the subject tickle attack seemed to put her off the scent and she was delighted and seemingly surprised to be presented with a tank of fish the following morning. Sometimes life is so simple. Number Two received a comprehensive lesson in how to lie about things and keep secrets from her sister. Perhaps not so simple for the future.

43 Six year old in da house

Big event this month was not Big Seoul Sister's 35th birthday, sniff. No, I have been usurped by my offspring who commanded attention and fantastic quality presents galore. BSS had to make do with a fairly severe hangover (but not as bad as the one after the surprise Karaoke party which saw me vomitting through the first day of my 34th year muttering to myself through gritted teeth, "have you learnt NOTHING in the last 10 years, you idiot?"), a walk in the rainy park, and a small (have you seen the prices?) Hyatt-baked birthday cake.

The big Six finally arrived for daughter number one, a small mountain of presents making its way from the UK in the weeks preceding the event (thank you everyone). Her birthday wish was to go to MacDonalds after she got back from school and have an Oreo icecream (big dreams when you are six). So that was a good, easy wish to satisfy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

42 Coming back to Korea

After 3 weeks away from Seoul, as I rode the bus to the airport, I was wondering how it would feel to be going back. Would I be dreading leaving the cosy world of the UK with its soothing Radio 4 Today programme as a constant background, fresh porridge for breakfast every morning, fabulous countryside and its wild and windy beaches? Not to mention the fantastic shopping. But we don't mention that since the credit card bill arrived.

In fact, sitting in the departure lounge in Dubai (don't ask why, long story... and even longer route) the sound of Korean being spoken all around me was lovely. The departure lounge in Heathrow had been silent, but here were people chatting happily to each other and the sound was good.

Studying the faces around me, I was struck by what a strong-looking bunch the Koreans are on the whole. They generally have good skin, are stockily-built and have expressive eyebrows that show a lot of character.

Yet the way they wear their clothes is very different. To a foreigner, the style can be quite remarkable. Korean men tend to wear their trousers held up by a belt that is not very far at all below their nipples. This makes even the ones who are in good shape look pretty womanly. Most people wear glasses, and the older guys (often the rich ones carrying the real Vuitton attache cases) wear the big, plastic frames so loved by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (and which probably provide the confirmation that the rest of the world needs that he is utterly bonkers).

Culture shock or not (see the Horrible Hangang post), I like the Koreans so far and can only imagine that three years here will give us a good glimpse of a very unusual people.

41 Horrible Hangang

Could it be that after such a seamless and enthusiastic arrival to this place, I am beginning to suffer from delayed culture shock? It is either culture shock or the delayed effects of the 9 hour jet lag on returning from the UK that have served to make me see the place thru different eyes of late (and perhaps combined with the total frustration of not being able to fully understand the lingo).

On Sunday afternoon, we decided to take the girls for a go on their new scooters. They have what they call a river side park here which runs along both sides of the huge Han river.

Unfortunately they also built Seoul's major motorways along both sides of the river. Normally we go to Yeohido, where the cycle path is further from the road, but we didn't have time so we went to the place closest to our house. We had to park under the motorway in the middle of four lanes of traffic then cross the traffic with kids and scooters to get to the underpass into the park (Nice!).

As we went through the underpass we could see the river. "Oh, how lovely," I thought.

Emerging from the subway into the "park" (notice the use of inverted commas) we found ourselves in a concrete jungle. The "park" is actually a cycling track which runs under the motorway along the river, surrounded by concrete pillars and waste ground and with the muddy banks of the river sliding by. "Gosh, this is a very urban place," my husband ventured to say.

Hangang Park was quite busy with cyclists wearing full body gloves, shades and air filters over their mouths sometimes playing loud music from the speakers attached to their bikes. They also had cycle bells which did not adhere to the traditional "ting ting" of an actual bell. The bells on these high-tech wonders sounded like you were being shot at by an invading army of aliens.

We also saw a really very fat lady standing on a skate board which was being pulled along by a small, pug-like dog. The dog was wearing a harness that looked as if it could quite possibly have been purpose built for the job. She stood, poker-faced as she glided along the pathway while the dog made strange rasping noises as moved along.

This being Korea, the infrastructure is all very well maintained, but ii is all, sadly, so far from the traditional interpretation of the word "park". If, like me, you had just flown back from a glorious weekend in the stunning Hampshire countryside complete with pheasants, deer and enormous views of magnificent pastural land, you too would have been almost crying.

There was so much petrol in the air it made our mouths taste odd. Looking across the river we could see lots and lots of utilitarian, severe-looking blocks of flats and yet more motorway. Looking ahead we saw the Banpo Bridge which is a two tier bridge of, you guessed it, motorway. The only thing puncutating the wasteground was a series of red signs saying "Danger". What of, we wondered? Falling cars? Later on we saw some English graffiti on one of these saying "Again... what of????". Deep frustration felt by many perhaps?

When we got home, husband said to the girls, "Well, that was fun, wasnt it?"
"No, not really Daddy! We will not go back to that place", our eldest daughter replied.

40 Panic attacks in the classroom

It has been a while since my last blog session. Been away, got back and went straight to school having missed a few days. You would think I had not spent a whole term slaving away at this wretched language. Unbelievably difficult to learn, I have zero capacity to remember the sounds of the new vocabulary that we learn. And I have retained a tiny proportion of what we covered last term. All a bit depressing really... if I hadn't put so much effort in already I would be tempted to give up, but I feel that I have done so much that I shoudl push on to get results. I had to resist a strong urge to throw my book at the teacher, burst into tears and stomp out of the room, shouting "I can't DO it" on Friday.

I resisted the urge, did masses of homework over the weekend, listened to nothing but the practice CD on my ipod and seem to be getting back into the swing of things.

Imagine my delight after another tough study session, to finally get up to the computer for a relaxing session on my newly upgraded blog site, to find that the whole bloody thing has been turned into Korean script. AAAAAAAAgggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.