Gotta love travelling at 50+
Life is not a rehearsal,
Quoting my niece Leanne.
Somehow I just have a wanderlust spirit! The desire to travel, travel, travel and not stop is a real bug. But, the only way I have been able to travel is through working overseas, in fact teaching. The country that for this novice traveller was the easiest to get work and gain access, was South Korea, my somewhat gentle introduction to the Asia and the East and a point of departure where the adventures began.
I have an early 50th birthday djembe drumming party to say goodbye to my friends, and am liberated by leaving things to the right people, before boarding my flight to South Korea.
Incheon Airport & Arrival
I don’t speak Korean! What’ll happen if nobody fetches me? I arrive. It’s huge, chaotic, noisy and very, very foreign! All goes well I am collected, then moved, and herded with other similar species of my kind and finally settled into an induction period. Phew! Everybody speaks English and I am in a little bubble with 4 South Africans. On completion of our induction we are taken by bus to our new postings. My fellow Saffa’s (South Africans) are being sent to Gochang, and for some reason I am separated and off to a place called Mujang.
Mujang is a farming village. It is a poor agricultural and very ugly village in a bad state of repair. The people are hard- working farmers, women bent double, major hip, and back problems from long days working in the fields and lots of plastic greenhouses.
My ‘go to’ contact on arrival in Mujang is a woman named Mrs Kim, who meets me off the bus. She kindly orders the first ‘good for your health’ introduction meal, baby eels! I am then driven to Jeonju a big town where I am to stay in a love motel. The motel is noisy and has an over-stimulation of neon signs, along with Korean script, and a restaurant with a menu that I could not read. For that weekend my diet was yogurt and banana from the life saving 7/11.
First Days & First Impressions
According to my contract I am supposed to be housed in a bachelor pad. This should have television, washing machine, bed, cupboard, fridge and a gas plate. However, I am dropped in a boarding school dormitory that houses two bunk beds and two prison type lockers.
I can cry or run! I admit that I decided to run. Which may not have been the best decision as I have little, or more often, no sense of direction. But still I took off and ran until it started getting dark and was time to go back. It was then I realised I was pretty much lost. I also happened to be the first foreigner to work at this particular school, as I was a rarity with fair hair and blue eyes.
I tried asking where the school is, but I couldn’t quite remember its name. What happens in situations like this? When, you don’t understand the language, the local people repeat things louder and slower, many, many times. Then they shake their head at the new village idiot, and move on – leaving me as lost as ever!.
By sheer luck and a process of elimination I finally made it back ‘home’ and into my new room. Everything is a challenge, the high tech loo with its multiple functions, wash front, wash back, blow dry, heating of the seat, flush and more. I need a half an hour tutorial on button pressing and exploration. State of the art loos, or in the school itself, smelly ‘hole in the floor’ squat toilets – squatty potties’.
I write a long message to Mrs Kim, this is not what my contract stated, living in a school girl residence at age 50, having left a 3 bed home with a garden was a rude awakening. And lo and behold, I was soon moved to a comfortable little teacher’s residence.
Where eating was concerned I had good days and bad days, especially with chop sticks. In South Korea and throughout SE Asia fish and chicken are chopped from one end to the other bones and all, rather than being quartered as I was used to. One day I would manage spaghetti with the chopsticks and be patting myself on the back, and the next day I was told my sleeve was dipping into my soup. This was obviously because I was concentrating on operating these chopsticks and getting fed. Koreans have flat steel sticks, which even Chinese find harder to use as theirs are round and wooden. So at least that was a small bit of comfort.
One thing that struck me very quickly, is that in South Korea you never eat alone. Everything is shared. You have a biscuit, you break it into as many pieces as you can and pass to the people next to you. I have been given all manner of food, mushroom juice, beetroot juice, ginseng juice, which tasted like soil. However, I’m told that taste is not really important if it is “good for your health”.
My school was a technical school. Students were studying to be future farmers, judo players, bonsai growers or mechanics. Their desire or need, to learn English
was just about zero, but the government wanted every school to have a native English teacher. The boys here have very little English, but have watched movies and seem to know “shut the f… up” expression. This was not said in any kind of testing way, it was just the kids trying their limited range of English. I had to point out this is not a great English phrase, and that if said to the wrong person they could end up with their noses somewhat realigned. But, those experiences are another story and another day.
What was amazing though was that the staff treated me so well. I was included on every excursion even if space was limited. I went on every mountain hike, every flower festival or outing as it was all so new and exciting and totally added to my experience and satisfaction with the decision I’d made having just turned 50.
Finally, and I’m really hoping someone out there can help here.
I always loved this artwork and seen it on various buildings but never found out what it meant? Does anyone have any ideas? If so please help me out!