A little bit late with my recap this week because we were having too much fun at the weekend to do any writing, as you’ll see…
SUNDAY (4th March)
Jod and I have started a new tradition; each weekend we have each get to have a whole day where we choose exactly what we both do, and the other person can’t complain (much). For Jod this generally means not getting up until the afternoon and generally being hermits and not doing anything of value…ahem. Last weekend we did that on Saturday, although I did clean the whole apartment so I didn’t feel like a complete slob. That meant that Sunday was my turn to choose, and I definitely prefer doing more social/outdoor stuff!
We left the apartment at around 10am and headed to our favourite bakery to get some snacks, then to the entrance of a hiking trail in Pungam (our neighbourhood). We were definitely under-prepared compared to all the Koreans in their specialist hiking outfits with poles and backpacks, but we managed just fine carrying our plastic bag of sandwiches as we scrambled up rocks on some parts of the trek! It was a beautiful day and we definitely didn’t need our coats, we ended up carrying those all the way up too as it got hot really quickly.
It was incredible to see such great views of the city and we were so impressed at how well maintained the trail was with steps, walkways and signposts. There was also absolutely no litter except for tons of orange peel that people must have been munching on as snacks all over the mountains! All together there we 3 or 4 little peaks and we finished the highest one feeling pretty great but with tired legs! It took around 2.5 hours to do the whole trail (including stopping to eat our sandwiches!) and it was a great way to spend a Sunday morning. I put the name of the tallest peak into into google translate and it said that it’s called “Golden Mountain” and it definitely lived up to it’s name with the sun shining on all the fallen leaves. We’re so lucky to have a walk like this less than 15 minutes from our apartment.
Once we got back home we chilled out for a while before going to a Holly’s Coffee across the main street from our apartment to do some work. We wanted to write some plans for our morning classes for the week and also think about our introduction lessons. Jod had an iced vanilla latte and I opted for a strawberry cheesecake hollycino which was every bit as delicious as it sounds. I just love how pretty cafes are in Korea and this one is no exception.
We had been out to eat the night before and it ended up being a complete failure with us both eating really expensive and bland pork tonkatsu in some kind of sports bar, so I was determined to be braver and go to a traditional Korean restaurant in the evening. We picked a place, took of our shoes, sat on the floor at our table, looked at the menu and thought “now what?”. Our Korean is still pretty terrible but we can recognise odd words so pointed at the two things on the menu that we could read “gamjatang and mandu”, pork bone stew and dumplings to you and me. The server brought over our banchan (side dishes) which was swiftly followed by the main part of our order. We shared everything although my favourite was definitely the dumplings filled with minced pork and spring onion and dipped in chilli oil because I’m a fatty fat fatso. The whole thing cost just over £8 and was totally delicious, we’ll definitely visit that restaurant again.
The next day it was time to head off to school for our first full week of teaching. The vast majority of our classes just involved us introducing ourselves to the kids and playing some ice breaker games to help learn their names, so it was a nice, easy first week.
Lunch on monday was vegetable curry and rice, noodle soup, salad with sesame dressing and a mini bulgogi (marinated beef) bun.
Our only afternoon class was cancelled so I spent the time drinking coffee and finalising my semester plan for my morning class. I have to admit I’m loving having my own classroom as it’s really nice to have somewhere to sit and think quietly sometimes. I want to try and make some more fun and interactive displays for the walls, any ideas?
Feeling brave thanks to our excellent dining experience the night before, we decided to visit a different restaurant for dinner. This time we went to a different traditional korean place specialising in soups and stews, but this time we sat on chairs as I don’t think Jod could take another cross-legged experience so soon after the last one. We each got spicy broth with beef and different types of noodles. This place was a bit more expensive (the meal was £12) but the banchan was better. I think this place does cold noodles in the summer too which will be great when it starts to get really hot and humid. It’s already 21 degrees here as I write this post!
Another day, another school lunch. This time we had rice and barley, seaweed soup, eel (or mackerel) stew, some kind of leafy kimchi, chicken drumsticks and glass noodles in soy sauce and some kind of crispy fried dough thing. I actually had three absolutely dreamy classes today full of bright and chatty kids so even though this lunch wasn’t my favourite, I was on a real high all day.
After school we went on a half hour run to stretch our legs around the reservoir in our neighbourhood. We got there just after sunset and the lights all around were so beautiful. One of our co-teachers said that when the cherry blossoms arrive in spring it’s even better, so I can’t wait to see that.
We went out to eat (AGAIN!) to the same restaurant as the night before, except this time we got some grilled pork to make lettuce wraps, a milky beef and dumpling soup and some extra dumplings too. This was waaaaay too much food but that’s what happens when you convince yourself that a 5k run is equivalent to a marathon because you’re in a new country.
Wednesday had some more great classes and I got given my first little handmade gift from a student which was super sweet! A girl in one of my fifth grade classes made me a little sign to keep on my desk with all my rules on – so cute!
Dinner on this day was fried rice, pork bone soup, pickled veggies, kimchi, yakult and a mini waffle with strawberry jam. Really tasty.
I’m pretty sure for dinner on Wednesday we had veggie stir-fry but I can’t find a photo! We definitely cooked at home, anyway…
On Thursday we had our first experience sub-teaching a creative thinking module to second graders. This involves them watching a video about a “mission” that they then have to complete using provided materials with a time limit. There isn’t really any actual teaching as the video explains everything, so it’s more about crowd control. The little kids are pretty adorable but boy to they get giggly and nervous when a strange teacher they’ve never met before asks them a question in English!
Lunch was rice, spicy pork and potato soup, kimchi, some kind of meatball and little fish nuggets in sweet and sour sauce – yum. We were both starting to feel a little tired by this point in the week so as soon as we got home from school I slipped into my snuggly Glossier sweatshirt and leggings and did a total pampering facial including a face mask. It was exactly what I needed and even though it will never be as good as a bath (I miss bubble baths so much!) it was a pretty decent substitute. Dinner was basic rice, veggie stir-fry and fried eggs for me, with pork for Jod.
Woo hoo! This was such a fun day because our lessons got swapped around at the last second and first thing in the morning we suddenly had to each teach a class of 30 fifth or sixth graders. I pulled a drama lesson out of thin air and in forty minutes managed to get four separate mini plays written and performed by the students. It was an awesome feeling to see them speaking English and having fun as these kids are so busy and don’t often get the chance to just mess around and be silly.
The total high from that lesson was somewhat dampened down by the end of the day, however when we were told that from the following week almost ALL of our regular English classes would be replaced by creative thinking classes following the program I mentioned before. That meant no scope for creativity or lesson planning and just repeating the same four lessons for a whole month with different students, so I was pretty deflated. It’s really tough to expect students to conduct that sort of lesson in English 100% of the time so I was pretty sad that we wouldn’t be able to help them develop their speaking skills in a measurable way. As of today (Wednesday 14th) the school has reversed that decision and we will be teaching regular lessons again from next week, but we’ll see as things can change very quickly here…
Lunch on friday was rice, seaweed soup, glass noodles and fishcake, kimchi and spicy chicken wings. After school we went to the big Lotte Mart super market near the World Cup Stadium to get food and some jackets for hiking so that we don’t need to bring our coats along in future. There is a huge outlet store next to Lotte Mart and we each got an Asics hoodie for less than £20 – with zipped pockets too!
Saturday was my choice again and I sure as hell made it count! We started off by getting a bus into the city suuuper early and met one of our co-teachers at 7.30am as she had invited us along on a trip with her hiking group. Gradually the coach filled up with around 40 people who were all super kind and welcoming even though we didn’t really have any idea what anyone was saying…
We knew it was going to be a good day when the organisers handed out bottles of water and tangerines to keep us going on the hike, followed by mini buckets of fried chicken for breakfast. Why don’t we do this in the UK?? Imagine driving up the the Lake District at 8am for a spot of walking and just munching a deep fried chicken leg on the way… We drove into the countryside for around 45 minutes then stopped for a bathroom break (which my tiny bladder appreciated) and then maybe another 40 minutes to our destination – Sinsido island. There was also a quiz on the bus and they very kindly asked a question in English so that we could win some prizes. Don’t worry, we did share them with the rest of the bus 🙂
Once we arrived at the island it quickly became apparent (again) that we were under-prepared compared to the Koreans! Everybody had proper walking gear on as well as backpacks and we wondered what they were carrying. We just had trainers and our new jackets that we had been so proud of the night before… It started off a little chilly but soon heated up as it was a beautiful day – I even got sunburn.
We walked for a couple of hours around the island including scrambling up some pretty steep and rocky bits for some beautiful views. I was fine going up but terrified going down, I seriously felt like I was just going to fall over and roll all the way to the bottom! I really don’t think the pictures do this place justice as it was just beautiful and we couldn’t believe that it’s so close to Gwangju. It’s connected to the mainland by a huge bridge and is obviously very popular with hiking groups as we saw loads while we were there, so I imagine in the summer it gets really busy. I feel like I should also mention that there were tons of food stalls, vending machines, clean and free public bathrooms and water fountains all around the island too.
After a walk along the beach we stopped for “snacks”. Jod and I each pulled out our tangerines from the bus as well as the two cereal bars we had brought, and got a pretty huge shock when everyone else started unloading their backpacks…
Suddenly the picnic table was covered in an amazing spread including noodles, kimbap, kimchi, tons of side dishes, an amazing sashimi salad prepared by our co-teacher and then cake and fruit. We felt so guilty that we hadn’t brought anything to share but everyone kept saying “eat, eat!” and pretty soon we were absolutely stuffed. As we were eating other members of the group started chatting to us a little more which was great as they were all so kind. I think some of them were nervous to speak English, but their English was definitely better than our Korean! Some lovely people gave us sake and beer too which definitely made it easier to talk…
After this we walked back to the bus and drove to a tall building where we went up to the observation deck to look out over the islands. We were starting to feel really sleepy by this point and thought we were going home when we boarded the bus again, I think Jod actually dropped off at one point. Suddenly, however, we pulled over next to a bustling fish market and all headed upstairs to a restaurant. We sat on the floor at long, low tables and watched as bubbling pots of fish stew cooked away and multiple side dishes were presented along with big trays of raw fish. We were already so full from the “snacks” from earlier but the food was so good that we couldn’t help but eat more! There were copious amounts of beer and soju consumed as many different people stood up to make toasts and we made new friends with those around us. Everyone was so nice and we were made to feel really welcome all day, we can’t thank our co-teacher enough for inviting us along. We will hopefully go on more trips with this group including a weekend in Jeju island in June which should be amazing!
Once we eventually got back to Gwangju at around 6pm we made plans with a friend I made through Instagram called Laura who is from Manchster. We met up in a coffee shop in Sangmu (espresso was needed) and hearing her accent was like a hug from home! She took us to her friends’ apartment where we spent the evening hanging out with more kind, lovely and hilarious people. Our super cool hosts Chris and Amanda taught us how to play beer pong, I got eyelash extension recommendations from new friend Kat, and William cemented our opinion of Korean people as some of the nicest in the world by helping us get a taxi home after midnight. Such a great day and night, safe to say we were shattered on Sunday and Jod definitely exercised his right to stay in bed all day! Here’s to another week…