Spring Has Sprung

Over a month in Korea, and it feels like it’s been longer than that already. I still have to really get myself into the swing of things at my school, but now I’ve started teaching solo in the afternoons, it’s become more of a challenge for me. Every day, after we’ve all stuffed our faces (or, in my case, due to my strong fish aversion, accepting I will be hungry until dinner time after only eating a select few items), I head to a homeroom classroom and teach 25 grinning faces some English. Unless the class is sixth grade, and the grinning faces turn into surly ‘What on earth could you possibly teach me?’ kind of faces.

Taking the class alone is certainly something which requires you to be on your toes. Kids in one class panicked as they realised they weren’t going to have their Korean teacher to assist them or translate (good), kids in another went mental at the prospect of Miss Lawrenson alone for forty minutes, and kids in the sixth grade glowered at me through too-cool-for-school eyes. The children at my school don’t have an incredibly high level of English either, so it can certainly be a tough forty minutes to get through. Worth it, however, when a third year tells you ‘I love you’ at the end of your lesson. Quite what the reply to that is supposed to be, I don’t know.

Teaching, however, is nothing new – the same problems have followed me around the globe, along with the same rewards teaching brings. Children here are a dream compared to wily, wall-climbing Spanish kids. While some of them are a little naughty, it’s usually one per school year, compared to at least half the class, as I was used to all those years back in Barcelona. Korean kids (and adults) are really inquisitive, too. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked in virtually every introduction class:

“How old are you?” (No English/Spanish child would dream of asking this)

“How tall are you?”

“Are you married?”

These are the standard questions we were told to expect from pretty much everyone in Korea.

Other questions, such as “What’s your favourite Korean food?” were met with sniggers, as apparently I can’t pronounce Japchae…even though I am relatively sure one can’t really go wrong with that one. I should be the one laughing at them, considering there is both an L and an R in my name, but I’m supposed to be the adult here.

“What’s your blood type?” however, was an interesting change from the same old same old, and the child seemed rather surprised when I told them I didn’t actually know.

Teaching, however, is not something that interests most people, so I’ll move on to the juicy part of today’s post – cherry blossoms and spring springing.

Korea, as I’ve stated before, is by no means striking. It has a certain homely charm to it, however, which means everywhere you walk, you feel comfortable. It is hard to describe quite what the feeling is, but the very streets themselves emit warmth. It is somewhat beautiful in its ugliness. I would really like to find out the method behind the madness of rebuilding the entire country as one singular tower block (or so it seems), and I’m sure I’ll get closer to finding the answer by the end of the year.

Now it’s spring, the edge has been taken off the stark, sharp towers by the arrival of the cherry blossom. Trees all over the city have bloomed into pink paradise, lighting up our path as we stroll. Cherry blossom festivals are held all around Korea, and I was lucky enough that one was in my neighbourhood. Down the 온천천 (Oncheoncheon) river, stalls popped up and lanterns were hung delicately between the trees, ready for the thousands descending upon the banks to see the glorious cherry blossoms. Food stalls aplenty, we were faced with so much choice that we didn’t quite know what to buy – craving starchy food in order to do away with our rotten hangovers from too much Soju the night before. Soju is a Korean drink, and at a ridiculously low price for 18%, it is pretty much the go-to. Koreans pushed their way through the crowds to take selfies by the trees, and in among the small patches of rapeseed. The selfie game was incredibly strong. You only have one chance a year to get that cherry blossom pic, after all.

Reflections in the 온천천




Another spring festivity was today’s Holi Hai festival of colour, held at Haeundae Beach. Haeundae is packed with foreigners as it is, and today even more flocked to the area to chuck coloured powder at one another, dance around in the sand, and eat delicious samosas. Holi is a spring festival in India, which is becoming very popular around the world. Coloured dust is thrown into the air, sticking to everyone it comes across, and the spring festival sends out a message of frivolity, love, and togetherness. It is impossible to leave without a smile and ten different colours plastered on your face. You can almost smell the neon in the air. As it was my first Holi festival, I was unsure of how much this would just be some gimmick to get us to part with our hard-earned cash, but it was very much a day to remember – a time for us all to let loose and experience something new.

The beautiful people

Spring makes everyone happy, and as the days get warmer and the flowers creep out of their dainty buds, our grins here get larger. Here’s to the new season, and to many a new adventure that lies ahead!

Enjoying the colours
Not a selfie in sight for us
Whole potato, cut and then deep fried. Perfect hangover snack.
Not the perfect hangover snack. Silkworm larvae – an adventurous friend bought it, and instantly regretted it.
Crab, anyone?
Rabokki – a mix of tteokbokki, which is a spicy rice cake dish, and ramen, with egg and fishcake.
Making a human pyramid at the Holi festival. Gage professes his love to Soju.
Me and Ruth all coloured up
The face of happiness. Let’s leave it there.



Spanish people don’t hop…

After being in Spain for five days now, I’m beginning to get into the swing of things. The school days were a shock for me: children here start school (usually) at 3 years old, and the average day is nine until five o’ clock, the same as a working adult in the U.K – although they do get two hours for lunch. As you can imagine, for a three year old, this is very hard work. I took my first class of four year old ‘nens’ yesterday – and they were completely exhausted, sleeping away on their desks, even during a rousing session of ‘I’m happy, happy, happy, happy’. Which is probably a good idea on their part, considering the song is as boring as it sounds from that title.

‘Nens’ is the Catalan word for ‘children’ – similar to the Spanish, but as usual with Catalan, they like to take words you’re familiar with and give them a shake around, but not enough for you to notice in everyday conversation with an untrained ear. Many times in regular conversation, people in Catalunya can change from Castillian (regular Spanish to you), to Catalan in the space of a sentence. I take my lunch with the teachers, and conversation is of course, muy rapido, but when you team that with the fact that I don’t actually know what language they’re speaking in, I’ve taken to enjoying what’s on my plate and immersing myself in the banter, listening hard, hoping I’ll absorb it through spongy ears. Maybe one day I will wake up and find Catalan on the tip of my tongue, like a taste that I’ve grown accustomed to over a period of time: the red wine of the language world.

Through conversation with my Spanish ‘dad’, whose leg is broken, making him house-bound, I am discovering the subtle differences between our languages. His English is very basic, but better than my Spanish, and he was telling me he ‘jumps’ everywhere. I said, that, in fact, he was hopping, because he still uses one foot: but he didn’t understand. After which followed a great demonstration of me hopping and jumping around the kitchen to express the difference between the two words. After careful contemplation, he informed me – ‘Hop? We don’t have.’

Life here is very relaxed, despite the long days. Perhaps the long days are partly due to their relaxed attitude on life: at first, I was very surprised that the children of the family I’m staying with did not go to bed until around nine in the evening (they’re made up of three girls, one 2, and 6 year old-twins). Now, it seems to make sense. They’re not much more tired than most English schoolkids, from what I can see: and the late lunches and dinners make for a much  less rushed eating experience. Take your time, seems to be the message here. Although, for a country famed for its siestas, not once have I heard anyone mention they’re having a nap (apart from the two year old). The school, in fact, introduced a rule in which children were no longer allowed to take a siesta after lunch. This does result in quite irritable/despondent children at four in the afternoon, but doesn’t seem to affect them too terribly.

School trip to 'Pi d'en Xandri', a local symbol of Sant Cugat, a 230 year old tree: a walk to celebrate St. Francis' day.

The children can clearly see I’m English – pale, blonde hair, and a complete inability to reply to anything they tell me in Catalan spoken at a hundred miles an hour. They love shouting ‘halo, how you?’ in the corridors, and waving at me. I’ve become a big tree trunk to hug for the very little ones, swinging my arms from side to side as they hold my hand because it’s the only common language we have. With the older ones, I’m a welcome outlet for them to ask all the burning questions they’ve always wanted to ask – ‘What’s your favourite colour?’ ‘Do you like sport?’ ‘Are you American?’ I love being in the school, and I know it’s an environment I simply have to be around for the rest of my working life: I absolutely love the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis: will the kids listen to me, who will be difficult today, how can I engage them with subjects that on the surface seem too boring for words?

All being considered, I think it is safe to say I’m going to love my time here. Barcelona is loving me, and I’m reciprocating.

Ball de Bastons - stick dance, a Catalan tradition
'Tiger Mosquito' bites: the Godzilla of the little flying nuisance world.
Pi d'en Xandri, encircled by the zimmoframe equivalent for trees

The Final Day

I’m currently in the process of pinching myself, trying to force myself to believe that it actually IS real: I don’t work in a dreary, soul-destroying, life-sucking job any longer. My final day was yesterday, much to the surprise of a few regular customers (‘But you’ve only been here a few weeks’…no, a couple of months, but it feels like the longest few months I’ve ever had). I still can’t quite believe it, and enjoyed the relaxation of a lie-in this morning (I’d forgotten what they felt like), followed by a day doing WHATEVER I WANTED.

Whatever I wanted consisted of being bored to tears, in these few simple steps:

1. Watch Moulin Rouge. Cry. Wish Ewan McGregor were my husband.

2. Watch Jeremy Kyle. Wish I could have that hour back. Wonder why Lacy/Tanisha/Mercedes have boyfriends, and I don’t.

3. Pay in cheque. Possibly highlight of my day.

4. Get talked into spending more on a camera than I really should, but decide it’s worth it as the other useless one I got broke within minutes.

5. Come home. Sit and become distracted on internet. Learn Spanish for ‘jog on’.

How do people have no job? I got bored after ten minutes. Anyway, I actually did have a bit of a wander today, looking round York, making the most of what I can before I leave the country. As my packing rate at the moment is, well, non-existent, unless you count the socks I stuffed into a carrier bag in a fit of pique, I decided a procrastination walk was on the cards.

Walking around York with a camera makes you feel like you blend in rather more than when you are simply on your morning commute to work: tourists outnumber the average citizen at about 100:1. It has been something strange for me to get used to, as from being in Leicester, which attracts roughly 0.0001% of the UK’s tourism trade, it still feels like I’m in everyone’s way and am intruding on thousands of pictures. But then, they’ve got their own back, now, and got into mine. So here’s just a few snapshots of a beautiful city: and one I will certainly return to when I’m back in England for good.

The view from the end of my road
Bootham Bar, a sight I pass each morning
Stonegate, usually a place to walk down with your elbows raised in preparation
I do love that York is a mix of old and new, and quaint snickets and alleyways lead you to this sort of view
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone...