Monday, 29 June 2009

Still trying to settle in but.....

It is hard to settle back into life in Oz - plenty of things to do and I'm busy - but I'm still sorting my life out. I had the ear trouble in South Korea and have been to my doctor twice - first she wanted me on antibiotics (despite there being no evidence of an infection) and when I went back and asked again for a referral to an ENT specialist, I was sent for a hearing test. The Audiologist confirmed that there were problems with my ears and I should see an ENT specialist. Duh!

My doctor wanted me to make another appointment with her to "discuss my hearing test" and I left a message for her that there was nothing to discuss, I was aware of the report, and the recommendation. "Just give me the referral." What???!!!!

Anyway I got the referral (at no further cost too!) and now have an appointment with an ENT guy. Most people will know that getting into a specialist is not easy. I will have to wait until August, or take a very long trip to a suburb on the far side of the city. I've chosen the latter as every day I am reminded of my ear problems. It continues to feel like someone is pouring liquid into my head! And it is 10 weeks + that I have had to endure this!

So, on Friday week I get to see the ENT guy. This week I will have the 24 hour Blood Pressure Monitor connected. There's been an issue with hypertension for some time, and I don't like taking medication (which doesn't always work!) when there is no identified cause. So, perhaps I will get some answers to that.

Meanwhile, I'm writing some TESOL course material, and trying to catch up on friends, tax, etc.

All good fun!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Fresh Figs anyone?

I'm getting my head around being back home in Australia. But I've come at a good time. Just days after I arrived my fig tree which looks a bit lame with no leaves but 13 fruit ready to ripen. I have 10 picked ones in the fridge and have not decided what to do with them. I have eaten one.

If I had my way I'd live on a small block and grow some fresh vegies and fruit - and I've got quite a garden even though I have been away and MM has had to look after everything. Why the leaves dropped off I do not know, but the figs are ripening and now I have to decide what to do with them.

I think I am the only member of the family that eats them. I will try some figs and Camembert cheese tonight - but maybe I will have to cook them. I've done a search for recipes but not found anything that appeals as yet.

Figs are very common around the Mediterranean counties - but not all that common in Australia. They are one of the fruits mentioned in the Bible, so have a long history.

As well some of my orchids are flowering, and some tomatoes I planted in February have huge fruit waiting to ripen.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Jan Power's Farmers Markets at Manly

When I realised the Markets were on at the weekend, I happily went. It had been a while since I'd visited these iconic markets run by Jan Power at Manly. I didn't have a lot of time to spend there, and I juggled a camera, a bag for my purchases and an umbrella, for it was spitting with rain. Not heavy, but threatening. I'd have liked to have more time to spend there, but perhaps a day with better weather will be best.

I hadn't been there five minutes before I bumped into someone from the writers group - someone I had not seen for a while, so we chatted for a short time.

I had come to buy some things - especially the anchovy filled olives, and I found them easily. I was surprised to learn that these huge olives actually came direct from Greece - where I was told the best olives in the world are grown. It is probably true - there's certainly a long history of olives there. Great Olives at Yianni's.

Next I bought some mushrooms. I've been looking out for the small mushrooms I enjoyed in Korea, and have not seen them here in Australia,but I was pleased to see them on a poster promoting the various varieties of mushrooms available in Australia. I will keep looking out for them - perhaps they are seasonal. There were several muso's playing to keep the crowd happy - quite unusual performers too. Great stuff. I had a good look at the other stalls - and planned to come back with more funds next time.

Lunch by the Bay

I love the sea - would love to have the money to lie in a house on an island, or with a seaview, but they are beyond my budget. However, the sea is not far from home, and so it was that we had lunch by the Wynnum Wading Pool last week.

The fare? A meat pie! I'm not a big pie eater at all - but I was keen to avoid Asian food for a while, and so it was that we went to our favourie baker and bought two Pepper steak pies and sat by the pool to eat our lunch.

It was one of those balmy winter days - with little breeze over the bay. It was even warm enough for someone to swim in the pool - a little cool for me, but I was impressed to see it was warm enough for someone.

Back home in Oz

I have been back home for just on a week now. I'm finding it a little challenging to adjust, and like I did last time, set two weeks aside to relocate my brain to Australia. My ears are one concern after the nasty cold I had in Korea. I had seen an ENT specialist there (and that was an experience that was hilarious - not only because I couldn't understand what he was doing - but the strange treatment....) I have seen my own doctor and had a course of antibiotics, but still not 100%, so will see what happens.

I've applied for a position teaching English in the city - but not sure I want it. I haven't heard from them as yet anyway, so will wait and see.

I will be helping with another TESOL course - so will see what develops there. This week I will be minding my two grandchildren who are on school holidays - at least for one day of their three week break, and I have a few other things to do.

Just not sure what I want to do. Will make a decision or two in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Garden in Seoul

Gardens and flowers in South Korea

When I arrived in Korea in April, just after winter, there was little greenery. The trees were mostly brown and lifeless looking, but when I left the whole scene had changed. Lush green foliage on trees, the ground cover green with various grasses, and in the fields the new rice crops were like a painting of green - pale green, dark green, bright green.

In the cities the pots that had been planted with annuals were showing their blooms, petunias, poppies, penta's, and so forth. Great splashes of colour everywhere. Hanging baskets of petunias from power poles, dotted the streetscapes.

In some places there was a lot of colour. I'm always frustrated being in a bus, which makes it very hard to take good photos, but I managed some out of the window of my bus from Incheon to Seoul.

One of the other features was the climbing plants that covered the entrance to bridges, or wrapped around dreary cement columns.

In some places, especially traffic intersections which were often surrounded by lawned areas, there were amazing plots of colour, just like this one above.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Tour Guide

I was quite thrilled to see even the tour guides in their Hanboks. They are beautiful costumes and look so beautiful on the girls.

Her English was quite good, though I had cause to smile over some slight errors. Korean's do have problems with the "r" sound, which resulted in some amusement. One student spoke about the "looster" in the hen house, and the guide above, spoke of the walkway to the palace. The King walked in the middle, the civil servants on the right hand side, and the military on the "reft".

The information though was most interesting and I was not keen to leave, but I had wanted much more to see the re-enactment of the King's banquet.

A Day in Seoul

I had a day to spend in Seoul before my flight to Brisbane. I had pondered a trip to the DMZ, but in the end I chose to have a quieter day, and in the end caught the bus from the airport to Gyeongbokgun Station which is right near the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

The bus stopped near the station, but initially I found it difficult to find my way to the Palace, but I ventured underground into the train station and discovered directions there. Interestingly it took me through two galleries which were fascinating and as I climbed the stairs out in into the sunshine I found myself in the grounds of the Palace.

When I looked towards the Palace I could see guards in uniform. This excited me as I enjoy the traditions of countries and it is clearly a golden opportunity to show more than just the buildings. And what a golden photo opportunity.

I couldn't work out if it was a changing of the guards, or just some exercise the guards do - as I imagine standing still for long periods would not be easy. They marched in formation out into the grounds in front of the gate of the Palace, and hundreds of cameras clicked.

I had been told that at 1.30 pm there would be a tour of the Palace with an English speaking tour guide, and I had time to explore inside on my own before going back to meet the tour guide at the appointed time.

I had quite a good look around on my own, and discovered that at 2 pm there was going to be a re-enactment of an event known as the King's Banquet, so I planned to do that too.

The Palace is at the foot of a mountain - a delightful spot. Nearby is the Blue House - (not to be confused with "the White House" of US fame, but the house of the South Korean President) - again in beautiful surroundings. I could have spent many hours within the grounds of the Palace, so will visit again if I am lucky enough to visit Seoul again.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Out of the bus window

Riding is a bus is very comfortable in traffic, but I get the urge to call out from time to time (luckily I quell the urge) for the driver to stop so that I can take a photo. I've discovered though, that I can get good shots from a moving bus and through the window. Not perfect, but enough to show folks what it is like.

These photos were taken from the window of the bus between Jeonju and Incheon. As it turns out, it was nearly 5 hours of travel.

Everywhere there is rice growing, and everywhere is lush green foliage from the many trees and gardens along the way.

Really refreshing.

The huge cities nestled between the mountains, and the new housing complexes neat, tall, close together as if like a group of ants nests.

The Han River

Rice fields.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Praise to the Incheon Best Western Airport Hotel,

My booking in was painless. The guy on the desk spoke English and everything was fine. I set off to my room on the 7th floor. Oh, what luxury after where I have been living.

I was a little hungry and didn't like the Room Service Menu so went to explore the restaurant downstairs. Oh, what bliss.

A glass of white wine. Korean Reisling. Great. I had two glasses. Then I had a Smoked Salmon Waldorf Salad. Again a great meal, although it was entre and very small, and then the dessert. Now I'm not usually keen on cheesecake and had opted for the cheese and biscuits but was told it was a huge plate, so I chose the cheesecake. I'm not usually a fan of cheesecakes, but this was exceptional!

I would rate this meal as one of the top meals I have every had. Simple, tasty and the service was exceptional. So if you every visit Seoul, I'd recommend the Best Western Incheon Airport Hotel!!!

A night in Incheon

Well, I have left Jeonju. I don't like leaving, so it was a bit hard to do. I fought back tears with every goodbye.

The guys took me to the bus, or limousine, the name which is pretty apt really as the bus is very comfortable. But on a Friday afternoon the traffic was busy and it took five hours (a week or so ago I did it in 3 hours!), but it was very comfortable.

As it turns out I was sitting next to a lovely lady who spoke great English. A Korean lady who was coming to Seoul to see her daughter near Gimpo. We chatted for much of the trip which made it a bit more pleasant and time went quickly.

Eventually I arrived at Incheon Airport and was transported to the Best Western Hotel which is just nearby. I think I paid too much to get here, but my luggage was heavy and I was tired. I'm OK about it.

And so it is that I now am sitting in the 7th floor of the Incheon Airport Best Western Hotel.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Blowing an egg out of it's shell

Perhaps it is some sort of party trick, but one of my students "performed" this act several times last night. When plates of boiled eggs came to the table he gently crushed one end of the shell, and removed a few pieces, then put the egg to his lips and blew the whole eggshell off, and presented a cleanly shelled egg.

Amazing. Who would have thought of doing that??


One of the students gave me a face mask yesterday. One that I can wear to keep the sun's rays from my face. Koreans are so focused on beauty that they have some strange rituals. Many women who go outside wear these full face masks, and sunvisors with a long peak, as well as long sleeves and long pants to keep the sun off of their bodies. They like being pale.

I've written before about these strange women that walk along the river and the streets. Weird.

When the women drive they wear two long sleeves to ward off the rays too.

As well, I've never seen so many people focused on looking at themselves. They judge everybody by their "beauty" and set out to keep themselves beautiful. Most have mirrors in the mobile (cell) phones and can spend all day checking up on the direction their eye lashes are pointing. Really it is weird. Men and women do it.

Koreans and their cell phones are seldom parted. They are constantly talking or texting, or checking on their current state of beauty.

Korean Drinking Culture

My course is over and so there was another celebration. I've had at least two farewell parties and several "rehearsals". One of the students was endeavouring to get me drunk! Ha. I said. And so I have survived despite the fact that he and the other students were filling my glass every time I took a sip. I don't drink beer, though would be safe on the local brew, and have been drinking sori. It is like vodka. No taste, but deadly. They have mixed it with Kiwi Fruit (though I suspect it is some sort of Kiwi fruit powder.) Does not appear so deadly and tastes OK.

Still, I remained sober, and with any luck I will avoid any more challenges to my sobriety. I have one more night left in Jeonju.

One starts having dinner, and last night it was in a barbequed pork restaurant where the tiny port slices were cooked at the table on a metal plate over a fire at the table. Everyone helps themselves. There are various side dishes, kimchi, white radish, bean sprouts, lettuce leaves, shredded cabbage and mayonnaise, and other things that I couldn't clearly identify. With the metal chopsticks you select a piece of cooked beef and dunk it in a hot sauce, and then in some soy and vinegar mix and then pop it in your mouth. Or you take a piece of fresh lettuce leaf, add the pork and other vegetables from the side dishes.

It is here the drinking starts. Beer, sori etc.

So when the table is a mess, everyone is ready to move to the next venue. So off one goes to the next place. The drinks come first - the table is soon littered with bottles, and jugs of sori. Then the food comes. Food again???? Well, that is the only way to get to drink in these places. They make money from the food. The drinks are cheap. Not much profit.

Last night an array of food arrived. Some vegetable and seafood mix bubbling on a tray, two trays of boiled eggs, larvae of some poor creature, vegetables, kimchi, and then the noodles, and later "fruit salad" - small pieces of fruit swimming in some sort of savoury dressing which to me spoils the fruit! Later battered fish and chips arrived. The table was covered in bottles and plates of food. The latter is not all eaten.

When I ask about the waste - because at each venue there is so much wastage of food - at no time is it all eaten, the Koreans shrug. You can't drink at these bars unless you have the food.

The bar itself is made up of about 40 small "rooms" - each holding between 10 and 20 guests. Everyone drinks. There is no dancing, but sometimes loud music is played through the sound system.

Later we moved onto the next bar. When we arrived at the bar it was closed. So the others went on to another bar. I walked home. It was a short walk along the street to my house, and after all it was 1 pm. I didn't want to eat or drink, so time to leave them.

I'd guess that they'd drink on to 3 am. Not my style. And all of them have to be at work this morning.

The drinking is alarming. The men in particular drink until they drop. The streets are littered with staggering Koreans, mainly men. Young girls with flimsy clothes strut their stuff amongst the drunks, and some of course end up in "love hotels" where the rooms are available day and night by the hour.

Korean Airlines calls their magazine "Morning Calm" and it is a joke that the morning calm is because everyone is suffering hangovers. I've spoken with a Korean/Australian about the work culture here, and it seems that "work" is very badly affected by the drinking culture. Being out night after night until the early hours, and over indulging in alcohol is not conducive to good work practices. It is not surprising that many Koreans sleep at lunch time. And it is no surprise that many spend their time at work aimlessly watching something (other than work matters) on their computer screen.

I do notice "the morning calm" - it is deadly quiet until after 9 am!

One of my students, who is single and lives at home with her parents describes the days when all family members are hungover. She is a hard drinking hard living lovely girl - but one wonders what they are doing to themselves.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Money Matters

One of the things I have found in my travels is that it is not always easy to access cash. Some ATMs don't accept foreign cards. The first few weeks created a challenge for me, and I found I had to go to KEB bank to get money out of the ATM. All the local banks found it impossible to process the card.

So here it is two days before I leave and I find an ATM in a corner shop, not long after I've drained my purse of cash buying some gifts when my Visa card did not work. I figured the ATM might work, and lo, it did. All along I could have just gone a few minutes from "my house" and got the cash. Mind you, it has saved me a lot of money as I clearly would have spent more if I had access to more cash.

Two students took me out to shop - I had wanted to get some things to take home to grandchildren. Clearly it helps to have a local with you, although, not surprisingly for me, I had to show them the way to the tourist village. How come?

Asians seem to be spatially challenged. They don't read maps well, and they get lost. Usually they ring someone who might know, and get the directions. Much to the amusement and embarrassment of my students I directed them to the place. "OMG" one said. "And you don't even live here. How do you do it?"

Simply I am used to finding and remembering landmarks or places I can remember. One of the buildings where we have to turn left has a huge phone number on the top 222.2222 - easy for me to remember and I know when I'm in a taxi, I need to turn left there. The girls had no clue about this finding landmark theory of mine. They just think I am very clever.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Why are Koreans afraid of foreigners?

It's true. They are scared. Little children go pale and some scream when the see me. (Not good for the ego!!!) School children are the same. Adults too. (But I've yet to have an adult scream!)One thing that I find very weird is that walking around the streets or on the river bank, no one speaks to you (unlike Australia, when we are likely to wave, smile and greet anyone who is walking towards us.) And we look them in the eye.

Why is this so? Here in Jeonju there are few foreigners anyway. So we are a "novelty". The only English speakers students know are their English Teachers and they don't necessary like them. They generally hate learning English. It is compulsory, requires a lot of "drill" work, repeating inane sentences, learning complicated grammar and frequent difficult examinations go with the territory. No wonder they don't like much English.

It is because of culture and language according to my observations. For a start English speakers have been used to communicating with people around the world. For years before computers came along, we would have pen friends and write in English. Many many letters ago, I had pen friends in the UK, America, Phillipines and in Australia. Language prevented Koreans or Chinese from doing the same. Their mailing systems were not as sophisticated as ours either, and both countries since the war have been very poor.

The Confucian philosophy has not helped either. Their strict cultural systems - and their strong family ties have also played a part in this.

These are some of the reasons that, despite the huge per capita expenditure on English language skills that these two countries are some of the worst in the world. Around 140 th in the world.

Chinese students learn English for 12 - 14 years and most are still functionally illiterate.

They "try" to be more western (American particularly) and wear clothes with English on them. Our waiter last night had on his shirt "Drink, Pee, Repeat" and a student had a t-shirt that described her in very unflattering terms. They don't read, nor understand, but feel they are "cool" in a shirt with English on it.

They are being taken for a ride - (as we Aussies would say) by their governments and their schools.

And no one is doing anything about it. Korea is about to reduce the requirements to be an English teacher in Korea - university degrees will no long be necessary to work here, but I think that won't help.

They must reduce the emphasis on grammar, and create a communicative learning enviroment where students learn to converse in English. They don't and they can't.

Dried Fish and Squid

I think I will be haunted by the smell of dried fish for a few days. I've been told that Koreans eat these foods because after the wars food was scarce and the people were starving. These day they "enjoy" eating it. It smells awful and I just can't imagine eating dried fish as a "snack", but the Koreans do.

The photo above was from Sunday night's venture to a traditional restaurant, and last night, and I have no photo, it was dried squid with a very pungent odour. Yuk.

Monday, 8 June 2009

The name of the restaurant is....................... oh, you can read it on the photo below. This was a meal to celebrate the end of the course, and it was a short walk from the university. It is a famous restaurant here in Korea. (There are so many famous ones.) The specialty here is beef and octopus - not exactly a combination that I would have though of. It comes in a big pot which is put over the gas fire and slowly cooks, and then the food is spooned or you can use chopsticks for some and just eat. Just do it. It was an interesting restaurant - with a log frame, and the walls made with mud and kimchi pots. Inside it was all bamboo. Good meal. Good friends.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Korean Food

As my last day in South Korea is fast approaching, I am being treated to more meals here. Fattening me up? In any case it is an interesting experience.

We went to a restaurant famous for it's Bibimbap - and as usual the various plates of food arrive. Every time it seems to be different, although some dishes are always there. Like kimchi (picked cabbage).

Everything is good for your health!!!! I hear that all the time.

But there certainly is an emphasis on vegetables. I've come to like some strange foods. Bean Sprout Soup, Bibimbap, strange jellies made out of nuts or bean sprouts, seaweed and so forth.

Oh, another one tonight.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The banks of the river near Incheon

Pictures of the mud flats/sand on the banks of the river near Incheon Airport.

All Day on a Bus

I managed to get to Seoul one Sunday. A friend was arriving from Australia so I caught a bus from Jeonju and travelled the 3 hours to Seoul. A lady I had met previously was there to meet me, and we went to a wonderful restaurant for lunch. The bus trip was very comfortable, but a long time to sit on the bus, and I was keen to walk around when I arrived.

The restaurant had an all you could eat buffet and we had a glass of Chardonnay too. Quite civilised. It was in the big Seoul bus station which was very flash. The bus trip was very comfortable, but a long time to sit on the bus, but I did enjoy sitting at the restaurant.

The Restaurant was called Muscus and was an award winning place. After our rather long lunch, and after we'd eaten more than we should have we walked around the department store which was above the bus station.

Wow! A very upmarket place called Shinsegae, which backs on to the Seoul Marriot Hotel. We walked around a little, but time was short as we had to catch a bus to Incheon Airport, which was an hour away.

So back on a bus, and we were soon out of the city proper and travelled for a long way on a road beside the Han River. It was a lovely sunny day and thousands of people were picnicking along the banks of the river in the many parks.

It is a wide and beautiful river. The airport must be on the northern side of the river and there are quite a few motorways, bridges and expressways going in all directions. As we approached Incheon Aiport it was interesting to see the mountains in sandbanks along the rivers edge. I'd never seen anything like it. Not flat with little gutters the way it is at low tide anywhere I have been, but quite large areas with deep narrow water courses through out. I'll post a picutre, but as it was taken out of a moving bus, it does not give a clear picture. There were grasses growing on the sandbanks, so maybe it is some sort of seaweed.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so had a cup of coffee, while we waited. The planewas not listed on the huge arrival board (too many planes arriving I think) and I had to ask at Korean Air Information desk and found that Sue had arrived over 20 minutes earlier, so we didn't have a long wait for her. These days it takes a little longer as there are now Swine flu checks.

Soon, Yoomi, Sue and I were chatting on the pavement waiting for yet another bus. Yoomi went in one direction (back to Seoul) and we caught the bus back to Jeonju.