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SEOUL SURVIVORS. We spend our debut year as English teachers, teaching some of the world's smallest people in one one of the world's biggest cities. Our original plan was to spend a few months there but we ended up spending more than 5 years in the Far East, first in South Korea, then a few years in Taiwan, then back to South Korea in 2001.



We lived in a massive apartment complex in Kaebong-dong, a 'suburb' of SW Seoul, between December 1997 and December 1998. We learned to cope with the smell of Kimchi (ubiquitous pickled cabbage and chilli concoction) and the absence of blue skies. We were lucky enough to make some wonderful friends and enjoy some interesting experiences - like the strange passion Laetitia developed for dried, peanut butter-coated squid!!! (She's not well), as well as for a local make of chocolate slab named after the African country, Ghana.  The winters are freezing, the summers cooking, and the women beautiful. Most of the city goes underground half the time as Seoul's subway system covers the entire city and probably ranks as the best metro in the world - it's brilliant. Cheap too, like the taxis.

Long Weeks, Short Weekends

The fact that we worked alternate Saturdays meant that it wasn't that easy to get away for the weekends.  The city's grey smog was often offset by really nice weather, which showed off its more traditional beauty to very good effect. We'd spend very nice days eating local food and drinking local beer, or when the weather permitted picnicking with friends and enjoying the cherry blossoms.





Foreign Flatland.

Our flat looked out onto more apartment complexes, and was about half an hour's walk from where we worked. The view changed a lot when it snowed, and it did that. A lot. Winter dropped to -18C, courtesy of the icy gales straight off the Siberian steppes way to the North, and summer climbed to the late 30s. These are two contrasting views from our shared flat in Kaebong - one in Summer, the other in Winter.

A QUESTION. "Why not spend the whole day oozing at home?" Well, that would have been difficult because we didn't have our own place. Yup, we actually lived in a huge flat with a Korean family. Our boss had a spare guest-wing and used it to put us up. It kept costs way down, but it did limit our social life, forcing a wholly external one. The family were great, though, and we spent a lot of time socialising with them and theirs, just like part of THEIR extended family. 

Where We Worked.

>This is the E2 English Academy in Kaebong- dong, where we spent most of our time in 1998. The school itself was on the 2nd floor of this building, above a Hyundai dealer.

<The snowy pic is of another school where I used to work every Tuesday afternoon. Looks warmer than it was.


Who We Worked For.

Our boss Mr Myong-Soo Kim ended up becoming a local MP or Senator, and was constantly busy making appearances with pop stars and celebs. There was an upside, though. Plenty of top-quality food and drink on tap. His wife Yun-Mi is a great woman whose friend 'Grace' owned a couple of restaurants at which we spent quite a bit of time. They recommended quite a few good things to do in the city, big parks and museums as well as a brace of trad palaces etc, but it's hardly a place which rewards a tourist in a very obvious way at first. During our entire time there, we probably left Seoul about 6 times.

Ryan Visits From Taiwan.

My brother Ryan spent a couple of days with us in Seoul in April 1998, learning to cope with the traffic, the smog and the absence of fish and chips. He'd already been living in London for a while, but had recently shifted to work in Taiwan where he'd been spending a couple of months with friends in Taipei. He was in Seoul to renew his tourist visa for Taiwan, and was pretty taken with the huge video screens which are everywhere in the city. He was also taken by a dose of food poisoning, which spoilt his visit a tad - not the perfect introduction to Korea...

On his first day in the country, we took him to Minsuk- chom, the Traditional Folk Village near the southerly city of Suwon. For lunch, we tucked into some samgye-tang, old-style ginseng with whole baby chicken hotpot stuff. This is probably where he picked up the tummy bug. As you can see in the picture, the place looked a bit grass-hutty but it was actually very interesting. Winter was still making its presence felt, though it was almost the height of Spring.  WITH RYAN AT MINSUK-CHEON.

Khangwa Island.

Exit Seoul (well, for a day, anyway). We used one of our valuable Sundays off to join a group of friends for a trip to the island of Khangwa, not too far from the coasts of China and North Korea. The blossoms were out in full spate during our visit to a famous Buddhist temple complex in the lush hills, so what else could we do but picnic! This was actually a very nice day, which we wound up by spending the early evening on the Wolmido promenade of the port city of Inchon (the place where the UN army made a 1950 D.Day-type landing during the Korean War). It's from here that the ferry services leave for China and Japan, as well as for other parts of Korea. 

LAETITIA AND JULIE ON KHANGWA ISLAND The island of Khangwa is also the place where you can find some interesting monuments to Tangun, the mythical 'First Korean'. Legend has it that a Tiger and a Bear prayed to God to make them human, but God said he'd do it only if they were able to remain in an unlit cave for 100 days, eating nothing but garlic. The Tiger didn't like the idea but the Bear went the distance and turned into a gob-smackingly beautiful woman. God's handiwork so impressed him that he got busy without delay and that's apparently how Tangun came to be. I'd be a tad nervous about that kind of ancestry.

 We had a very nice day and it gave Laetitia the chance to show off her recently- permed hair - and me the chance to sport my ski-beanie which had actually been used as such on the ski slopes of Northern Seoul. Yup - this is where I took up a new sport for the first time since High School! Skiing! We were to do a lot more of it when we returned to Korea a few years later.


Friends are a vital part of any foreign culture-coping network. We met some excellent people in Seoul, and became firm friends with a colleague at our school, Jung-Eun Lee, or 'Julie'. She was an English teacher with us, and has been in the UK for the last year or so. We generally worked the Asian average of a 6-day week and got out of the flat as early as we could on Sundays for coffee, lunch or a daytrip somewhere. Anywhere. I also bumped into a familiar face from my old University, Michael Holme, who'd studied English with me back in South Africa in the late 80s. Other friends you can see on our Friends pages.


And It's Goodbye From Them.

Anyhow, it was interesting. Despite the fact that our salaries suffered with the onset of the Asian financial crisis at the end of 1997 (the value of the Korean Won dropped by about half, effectively slashing the value of our salaries by 50%), we stuck it out.  Our time in South Korea was a mind-opener in so may different ways, and we made friends that we've generally retained to this day. The time came to move on, so we were more than happy to get the chance to relax on the beaches of Thailand once our teachin contracts ended at the end of October 1998. 

Then, it was time for a new country - we went to Taiwan...  




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