Tuesday, 18 March 2014

[I got] this party started on a [Friday] night

With E on Valentines at Exit.
At a cafe with M and A
Back in January after my first date with myself, I wrote down a series of days I could set aside for myself up until July. However, life has a way of interrupting the best laid plans of mice and Maggie. I had wanted to do something for Valentine's weekend but when that weekend rolled up, I'd several dates with friends. Valentines was spent at Hongdae Park and Exit Bar near Hongik University in Seoul. A friend was DJ-ing so we danced the night away. The following day I met up with some other friends in Hongdae for a falafel dinner, cake and coffee (and in my case a glass of wine!). Needless to say, when you are having so much fun with friends, a date with yourself is the last thing on your mind. However, I was up in Seoul again two weekends later to say goodbye to some very dear friends, E and D, and a huge welcome to a friend, CG, who is newly arrived from Ireland. I decided that I'd go up Friday and get plenty of sleep so that I could party the night away on Saturday.

On that Wednesday, my co-teacher told me that the principal had decided that I could have Thursday and Friday off to spend how I wanted. I already had plans for Thursday evening with the same co-teacher so I decided I'd head up around noon on Friday afternoon, check-in and then head on my date to an art museum or a palace for the day. Sadly, I wasn't prepared to leave by noon but eventually, I made my way to Seoul. At this point, I'd decided to not bother with the date and to just while away the time reading my book, eating dinner and sleeping. However, I realised that the department store I was eating in had a cinema. One of my aims with "dating myself" is to do things that I am nervous to do alone or at all. Going to the cinema by myself ranked high on that list!
Caramel popcorn
Cinema ticket!
My ugly jumper on date night
So, despite the fact that I was in sweatpants and a jumper, I decided to "get over myself" and courageously went up the escalator. Thankfully, there weren't many people in the foyer and I bought my ticket  to Non-stop with Liam Neeson (swoon!) with ease. Loaded up with a concealed bottle of water (I'm cheap, don't ya know?) and a visible bag of caramel popcorn, I passed my ticket over and made my way to screen one. I have to admit that I enjoy going to the cinema with friends/family more than going by myself. I love the inevitable chat afterwards, the sharing of the treats (seriously, I ate an entire bag of popcorn by myself) and, if a moment is crazy, weepy or hilarious, having someone you can share it with.  That being said, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. You do feel judged and perhaps it is worse in Korea than in Ireland. Everyone was there either as a couple or in groups of friends. I was, literally, the only person by myself, sitting on the edge of an row. I forgot myself at a few points and went to grab my neighbour's arm. Thankfully, I restrained myself in time: I don't think his girlfriend would have been too pleased!

Big Bread, Sinchon (exit 3)

On Saturday, I knew I'd be busy from

 the afternoon onwards saying goodbye to E and D, so I decided that I'd use the morning for the rest of my impromptu date. I got up early and headed over to Sinchon to eat at a restaurant I'd read some reviews on. When I arrived (it was a little after 11, I think), I made my way downstairs and walked into Big Bread. I was the only customer. It freaked me out enough that I seriously considered turning around and finding a coffee shop. Whilst eating alone is not so intimidating any more, eating alone in a restaurant as the sole customer is. The restaurant was large enough to make me feel like an ant at a picnic. Consequently, although I was ready to eat after two minutes of perusing the menu, I was hesitant to press the bell to call the waitress. Instead I waited until I could wave her over. Whilst, I do think the bell is a wonderful invention, there is something very demanding about using it when you are the only one there!
(City hall, exit  2)
 A veggie sandwich and a cup of tea later, I decided to head to Deoksugung and attend the exhibition of Masterpieces of Modern Korean Painting.  My favourites were A deep valley by Noh Soohyeon, Autumn by Kim Kichang, The gate of youth by Chun Kyungju and Han Mook's Spiral Blue. This exhibition was quite busy as many families and couples were taking the Saturday morning to view the exhibit. I love taking my time at museums so I found the pace a little off-putting and I got quite a few stares when I lingered overly long at the above paintings. As this museum is in the grounds of the palace and the weather was delightful, I spent about another 30-40 minutes wandering around the palace grounds afterwards. I have visited this palace many times, though, so after a while, I decided to make my way back to my hostel and friends with a stop off for hot chocolate and cake. 
Cocobruni Earl Grey Cake

So, you might think I'm mad to have gone to an exhibit at a busy time considering I prefer my art and history in moments of quiet. Seriously, though had I known how busy it was going to be, I probably wouldn't have gone and I would have, possibly, missed out on a really nice exhibit. You might think I'm mad to go to the cinema by myself. This one I can totally understand and I even agree with! When I told some friends of my adventure, most of the girls told me they'd never done it either. Despite the fact that you sit in a dark room to watch a flickering screen, going to the cinema is such a social event. It wasn't easy for me to go up and order that ticket or to walk in alone. Luckily, once those lights go down everyone is concentrating on the screen and no one is even thinking about you.  So next time your want to see a movie that causes your boyfriend/girlfriend to roll his/her eyes in despair, remember you can take head on out with a big bag of popcorn and enjoy the movie without him/her!

PS This post was inspired by my second impromptu date and P!nk's song " Let's get this party started!"

With CG & D at Thursday Party
With CG & E at Thursday Party
PPS A huge shout-out to my friends E and; D - they are the people I visited Seoul so often for in the last 1.75 years and I will miss them terribly. E especially has been so kind, and I am so grateful to my brother for sharing his friends with me. And to CG - I look forward to sharing many adventures with you over this next year!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

There was an old lady who swallowed her fly

Do you ever get in your head that you want a particular book for yourself or as a gift? Has it ever happened that because of that, despite the fact the bookshop has millions of books you feel as if there is nothing there? Welcome to my world!

I'll be honest, this usually doesn't happen to me. Mostly, if I don't find a particular book that I am looking for, I spend hours wandering around looking for a substitute.  Sometimes, I will even change the genre completely. I've gone from searching for a Wilkie Collins to buying a Tintin. So, this winter, when I was in my favourite Irish bookshop (Chapters, for those in the know), I was alarmed to find myself becoming increasingly irritable in a bookshop. I mean, how is that even possible? I've spent entire Saturday afternoons in bookshops, never bought anything and still went home happy! I went to my next favourite bookshop (Easons) and again was getting more and more annoyed. I couldn't find a book that I was looking for or a substitute that I liked.

What was this infamous book? A first edition of a lost masterpiece? No. The newest Lee Child (Jack Reacher novels)? No.  50 Shades of Grey?  Not in a million years.  No, it was something much more elusive -  a book version of There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. We had a great copy when I was a kid and I wanted to share something with my nephew that was fun and catchy. My plan was that we would each have a copy of the book, so that when we have our Skype story time we both have a book to look at. I spent over an hour just looking by myself for the book in both the new and second hand sections. When this failed, I asked for help, and sadly that book hadn't been in stock for years. I didn't have time to order it as I was flying out that same week. So I began to comb the shelves to find a substitute. However, all the books that I looked at evaded my interest - the pictures were unattractive to me, the content either too wordy or barely any words and several stories uninspiring. In Easons, it was the same story and I was so frustrated with it that I decided to give up matching story books. I wanted these books because I don't own any children's books in Korea.When I have read to him in the past, I've had to bring books home from school and sometimes I didn't know I was going to get to talk to him that day so I didn't have a book. He wasn't impressed either with the stories I made up!

Eventually, thanks to one of my other sisters I got Chicken Licken and The Enormous Turnip. My nephew has his copy that he can follow along with at home, and I have my copy here in Korea. We tested it out a couple of weeks ago, and besides one or the other of us turning the pages too fast this went really well. This love of being read to doesn't stop at Skype. When I was home, he was read to by everyone! He loves kids stories, comics like Asterix and even factual books about trains and animals. His train one is a firm favourite. I think, in one day, I read it 3 times and his Mam easily double that! Whilst I was home, he got to go on the Luas (a modern tram) and a train to and from Athlone. I think he thoroughly enjoyed both trips as he was full of questions and chat about both modes of transportation. On the train, pulling into each station the announcer would say "Mind the gap" and by the end of the day, he was mimicking the phrase. He'll probably die of happiness whenever he is on the London Tube and hears the exact same expression. You might think I'm mad to believe that a negative experience in a bookshop is something that I am now glad has happened. You see, I realised that I had to "swallow my fly" to be able to find what I was looking for. Until I had put aside the absolute NEED for that particular book, I wasn't able to see the potential in all the other books. However, once I could the possibilities were endless.

Reading to my nephew has a few distinct advantages over reading to my students. While he may not know all the words, I rarely need to explain anything to him. Another distinct advantage is he asks questions for what he doesn't understand. I hope that someday, my students will have fostered their independence in English enough to have the courage to question everything.  I know sometimes my students have questions but they don't have the vocabulary to make the question. And as annoying as "But, why?" can be, I wish for nothing more than to hear those two words frequently from my nephew and eventually from my students. But, why? Well, it shows their inquisitiveness and investment in the story they are being read. It challenges me to find the answers to give them. To expand their thinking, to encourage their love of the story and their desire to know everything. For my students, it will help them to build their confidence in English and in their abilities.

Digging a hole with a stick
As you can probably tell, except for the one frustrating day in bookshops (still shocked that could happen!), I had a wonderful trip home. Some highlights for me included seeing some friends, having Afternoon Tea at the Gresham Hotel, my niece's christening and getting to see most of my relatives, and just hanging out with my sweet, sweet niece, wonderful nephew and amazing siblings, brother-in-law and parents.You might think I'm mad to be quite happy to just sit at home and giggle at a baby's smiles. You might think I'm mad to be happy with a short and busy two weeks in rainy, cold Ireland instead of a warm beach in Bali. Well, I thought I was mad at first to go home again so soon after my last visit in August. However, even the lure of a beach couldn't drag me from meeting my new niece. So, considering how much I enjoyed both these trips home you might really think I'm mad to have decided that, should I stay in Korea a third year, I will not visit home again until the end of that contract. It was a tough decision to make but I decided to follow my initial goal for living in Korea, outside of teaching: to travel and see the world.
At the museum

PS. This post was inspired by my trip home, a negative experience and a favourite childhood book: There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.

PPS. I've bought us each a copy of that elusive book! It's his birthday present!