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.