Sunday, 3 March, 2013
Ulsan, South Korea
Life is a series of personalised chapters. Take your last day of high school as an example, as wonderful or cruel as that period of time was to you, it did eventually come to an end, and you soon entered a fresh adventure. While I’m excited for the future, ending the South Korea chapter of my own metaphorical book was certainly difficult.
My year in Korea essentially felt like a second round at university. I have been participating in plenty of silly pranks, getting drunk about four days a week, and even bought both a bird and a broken chair whilst under the influence. It’s been a pretty wild year, and one I will never forget.
So, why leave? It just felt like the time was right – as great as drinking four nights a week is, there is a time limit on that kind of behaviour if you want to see thirty. I’m leaving South Korea on a high with great memories, rather than with a giant beer belly and piss-stains on my trousers. Basically, to put it simply, I just don’t want to overdo a good thing.
I fully believe that nostalgia will one day take me back to South Korea. I don’t think it will be to such a long term capacity, but I’m already craving daily kimchi and karaoke drinking. Come to think of it, I should probably plan that trip sooner rather than later – a nostalgic trip to Korea when I’m eighty would probably kill me.
Plus, the sooner I go back the more chance I will have of still knowing people within the country.
It was pretty tough to leave my buddies behind. After all, the reality is that these guys are not university friends, thus, they won’t be just heading back to Newcastle or Sheffield when they’re done. They’re from various parts of the world, and as time passes by, will begin to rescatter. Realistically, I may not see these people collectively again.
Perhaps a Korean reunion when we’re all eighty may not be such a bad idea after all. We can be each other’s carers and ultimately support each other to survival – soju dripping down our chops as we have wheelchair races alongside the Taehwa River. I’ve given you all plenty of advance notice, so no excuses.
One thing that I won’t miss though, is my failure, as a timid man, to ever gain a member of staff’s attention in a restaurant. The Korean way to express your desire for services is to simply shout,’Yeogiyo (여기요)’ as loudly as you possibly can. This basically means ‘I’m here!’.
I couldn’t bring myself to scream that at people. I was raised with manners; I don’t live by this Korean Neanderthal mentality of, he who shouts loudest eats first! Therefore, it would always take me a long time to ever get any sort of service. I just gave up on food in the end, and instead, survived for a year on a liquid diet. That is probably why my body is now demanding that I call time on this crazy adventure.
That’s actually a mile away from accurate; the food is far too nice to give up on. I would possibly even go as far as to label Korea as the best country in the entire world for grub. I like it that much!
Just like the people and the lifestyle, the food will also be incredibly hard to leave behind. Obviously, I’ll quickly get over that once I’m tucking into a bacon butty dripping in brown sauce on my first morning back in England, but, you know, it’s still decent!
They have a very sociable way of eating here, too, with most orders being shared between multiple people. Your usual table will be made up of a huge main that gets placed in the middle, while a thousand refillable side dishes are installed around the focus meal. The great thing about this set up is that I was usually eating with my bigger, braver friends; therefore, they would ‘Yeogiyo (여기요)’ on my behalf.
I particularly like gamjatang, which is a large spicy soup made up of vegetables, potatoes and the spine of a pig. Yep, just as I thought – there is simply no way of selling that meal with words. If you think pork spine is weird, they eat chicken’s feet in China, and even crazier than that, some people in England actually eat black pudding (which is made of pork fat and pig’s blood).
So, all things considered, a pig’s spine really isn’t that weird. If you can remember the name, gamjatang, without thinking too much about the bowl’s ingredients, you’re on to a winner.
With this being a reflective blog, I should probably touch upon my role as an English teacher – it was, after all, five days of my week for an entire year.
I will be very honest now, and admit that my reasons for signing the contract at the beginning of 2012, had very little to do with a desire to teach, and more so, for the experience of living in another country – a country that likes around the clock drinking nevertheless.
I remember stepping out of the building after my first day of teaching, and thinking, I had my work cut out for me – I then met Ben and Jason, friends from Leeds that also live/d in Korea, got drunk and forgot all about my concern. However, after day two, and teaching with a hangover, it really did hit home that I had a lot to learn.
Gradually, I started to find my feet, and feel as though I did teach my students a thing or two in the end – mostly about Leeds United, you would not believe how adored Don Revie now is in Ulsan. On a serious note though, much to my surprise, I became passionate about the role – I monitored test results, did my best to stamp out recurring errors, and continuously tuned my methods to get the best out of the students. I’m still an amateur, I’m not arrogant enough to think otherwise, but I’m getting there.
While the company I worked for were far from desirable, I did enjoy the job. I could certainly see myself taking up a similar role, albeit in a different country, in the not too distant future.
However, my next move still remains undetermined. The immediate future is easy – fish and chips, a good cup of tea and Saturday afternoon football. After that, I’m not entirely sure. I just hope that the next adventure can live up to the standards set by the last one.
So with a tear in my eye, I will miss you Korea!
For one last time,
김용 (Kim Yong)