Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rice Cake Making

Last weekend, I went to Gyeongju, which is situated in the south eastern part of Korea, for the annual Traditional Drink and Rice Cake Festival.

My day started with a visit to the immigration office in Seoul to register for my alien immigration card, which was fortunately a simple process and was not as painful as I was expecting(one of the things about travelling and living in foreign climes is having to sort out all of the paperwork, an unfortunate but necessary evil). I hate queueing and I hate having to get up early, especially knowing that I'm going to have to spend my morning queueing.

Everything was sorted out quickly, so then I was off to Seoul Station to get on the KTX, one of the new high speed trains which reaches speeds of around 300 kph. Booking the ticket was easy despite my lack of Korean and I learnt my first lesson about rail travel in Korea. At weekends and on holidays trains are often booked and full so getting a ticket immediately is often a slight problem. Fortunately I only had to wait about an hour and a half and at 3.30 I boarded the next available train.

I arrived in Gyeongju at 7.45 and I immediately jumped into a taxi and headed for the festival.

Although I had arrived late for many events that day it was still very busy and I got to see the live music performance which featured lots of Korean popstars. I also got to hear some easy listening music from someone who is apparently very famous, but whose name now unfortunately eludes me. Just picture the Korean equivalent of Tony Bennet in your minds eye and you're halfway there.

Afterwards I walked around and walked around and I sampled a few of the delicacies Korea has to offer in the various restaurants that had been set up.

The next morning I awoke relatively early nursing a slight hangover after inadvertently walking into a bar and staying there until three in the morning.

When I arrived at the festival I decided in the bests interests of learning about a new culture I should sample the various delights of Korean alcohol(and also because hair of the dog seemed like a good idea). I also got to try some rice cakes which were delicious and to see how rice cakes are traditionally made.

Rice cakes have a long tradition in Korean history and were important in many ceremonies and rituals. Today they are an important part of all holiday meals and served in important ceremonies such as weddings, a baby's first birthday, sixtieth birthdays (which are usually regarded as the start of a new life or rebirth) and ancestral memorial rites.

Known as tteok in Korea, they are different to the western style of cake as rice is used instead of flour for the basic dough material, with no eggs, milk or butter added. In total there are around three to four hundred different types of rice cake and many of the traditional ingredients may include beans, nuts, grains, mugwort or pumpkin.

The process varies from cake to cake but most are first made by grounding the cake into a powder. Then depending on what cake is being made the powder is moistened and steamed in an earthenware steamer or mixed with warm water and kneaded into a dough. The dough is then shaped, boiled or steamed. Some types of cake are also fried or pounded with huge mallets.

What I loved most about my first time travelling around Korea was how friendly everyone was. Wherever I went people wanted to come up and talk to me, be it about the traditions of rice making, the origin of traditional alcohol, popstars and singers or Korean culture in general. It gave me a greater insight into how warm and generous the Korean people are and I'm looking forward to visiting many more places in the near future.

For all the photos click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The school is very nice and I'm really enjoying the teaching. Everyone here is friendly and helpful and I feel as if I've fitted in straight away.

One of the added benefits of teaching children rather than adults in Korea are the hours. Teaching adults you invariably have to start teaching at some horrendous hour such as seven in the morning for a couple of hours and then again in the afternoon or early evening until nine or ten at night. Something I don't think my body was prepared to withstand.

My timetimetable is fortunately okay and lessons are from 10.00 until 6.30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 10.00 until 3.00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, although I do I to put in a few more hours than this with lesson planning, reports and marking.

In the morning I'm teaching kindergarten between the ages of four and six and in the afternoon I'm teaching children who are a little bit older and are at school.

Teaching kindergarten is great fun although it is extremely exhausting. In fact some of the time it's a little bit like 'Lord of the Flies'. Fortunately no fat children have been speared so far(touch wood).

I'm enjoying it greatly and lots of the children love it when I pretend to be a lion or tiger and then chase them around the room. In fact I'm often greeted with cries of 'lion, lion!' or 'tiger, tiger!' from many of the children whenever they see me, although I am gradually running out of new animals to impersonate.

The kids are lovely even when they try to eat glue in my art class. Telling them to stop just encourages the whole class to do it. There have been some escapees in some of my lessons from the younger students, although I do make sure I get to the door first now. I have considered tying the students to their chairs with rope or maybe using straitjackets, though I've got a feeling this would probably upset the parents.

All the classrooms are named after Cartoon Network characters and include Dexter, Johnny Bravo and the Power Puff Girls(Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup).

This is either a clever way of bringing the children into learning and allowing them to relate more to their environment or it is an extremely cynical attempt by media giant Time Warner to control the minds of the nations youth in it's continuing bid for world media domination.

For all the photos click here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I'm living in a place called Ori, in a city called Bundang which is just outside of Seoul. It's a relatively new place having been largely constructed in the past ten years and a lot of people who live here commute into Seoul. In fact lots of it is still under construction and huge cranes dominate the skyline on it's outer edges.

It's a really nice place and the school is only five minutes away by bus, which makes it extremely convenient for me and even though it is a new town, it doesn't the artificiality or sterility that other places such as Milton Keynes in England seem to have.

I'm staying in an officetel, which is a cross between a hotel and an apartment block. It's very nice. The room is huge compared to the one I had in Japan and it comes with all mod cons. My door even talks to me in Korean, although I haven't quite worked out what it is saying yet(or maybe I've just gone insane).

My room also has underfloor heating which at first I thought was a little strange but I've since learnt that there is a historical reason for this.

Underfloor heating is known as ondol. Traditionally coal was burnt in an oven under a clay floor, although this is now very rare. Nowadays modern apartments use hot water pumped through pipes and I have to admit it's a very good way of heating the apartment and keeping warm, although I'll have to be careful what I leave on floor. At least I know I'm not going to freeze in the cold Korean winter.

The area is very good with lots of bars, restaurants, supermarkets, shops, a cinema and a golf driving range so I'll definitely be trying to improve my swing once the weather gets a little warmer. There's definitely plenty here to keep me busy.

Fortunately I'm on the underground line and it also only takes forty minutes to get into Seoul by bus. Taxis too are really cheap being under ten pounds into Seoul, so I'm definitely very happy with the location.

Friday, March 06, 2009


I arrived at Heathrow at six o'clock giving me plenty of time to pick up my ticket and check in. Some people hate airports but I love them. It's the anticipation that I feel when I'm in one. Knowing that I'm going somewhere new but not really quite knowing what's going to happen or what I'm going to experience or see when I arrive at my destination.


The flight over wasn't too bad. Fortunately the plane wasn't full so I managed to have three seats all to myself, allowing me to at least get a good nights sleep in. It made a nice change from the usually cramped feeling that I have when flying.

Unfortunately my theory about not having jet lag because of my later departure from Heathrow hasn't proved to be correct. I still feel incredibly tired and everything feels a bit of a blur, as it probably will for the next week whilst I try and change my sleep pattern.

So it looks as if it's going to be another week of not knowing where I am or feeling part of the real world, until I finally readjust to the nine hour time difference. One bonus though is that at least this time I don't have the combination of jet lag and a hangover.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Well, it's been a while since my last post but that doesn't mean to say I haven't been busy.

I've been been back in Britain the past five months and now I'm all set for my third adventure in Asia. I've got a job in South Korea in one of the satellite cities just outside of Seoul, teaching young learners and kindergarten children. Now I've never taught kindergarten before so the experience should be quite interesting......

I've sorted out my visa and I'm flying out from Heathrow on the fifth of March. I'm really looking forward to it as Korea is a country rich in culture and history and I'll also get to see all of my Korean friends who I met whilst teaching at LTC.

Fortunately I'm not leaving until nine o'clock at night this time (previously I've had to catch flights in the morning which meant getting up at two o'clock and a last minute packing rush) so I'm hoping that the the jet lag won't be too bad once I arrive in Seoul.

I'm also definitely making sure I won't be boarding the plane with a hangover this time.