Countdown to Christmas

I absolutely love Christmas. It’s always been a big deal at home; huge, real Christmas trees, shopping for new decorations, big family get-togethers, leaving a Guinness out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. This is my first Christmas away from home, in a country that doesn’t really celebrate it, and it’s kind of strange.

My Korean co-workers seem to be constantly amused at how excited I am about Christmas, and how many cards and boxes have ended up on my desk. I’ve been counting down the sleeps every morning with my kindergarteners and teaching them Christmas song after Christmas song. Since December 1st I have been nagging Nath to let me put up my Tesco Value Christmas tree that I found in Homeplus, and this is the finished product!

My wonderful Mum sent me a package of proper Christmas decorations for my apartment so it feels like the next best thing to being at home (thank you Mum!). Another huge thank you to all of our parents for the growing pile of presents underneath the tree, and a big enough supply of Cadbury’s to last us until the summer! Thank yoooooooou!

Seoraksan National Park

Saturday 22nd October, we all set off bright and early (6.30am!) to Seoraksan National Park, on the far side of the Korean peninsula. As the coach departed Incheon Bus Terminal, there was a distinct feeling of being on a school trip – laden with snacks, ensuring we got the back seats of the bus, already needing a toilet stop, and even being told off by the bus driver for being too noisy!

Four hours, one emergency toilet break, and half a dozen power naps later, we arrived in Sokcho, the main town outside Seoraksan National Park. From there we headed straight into the park, to be greeted by a giant Buddha statue, and began our first walk. I say walk, it was more like a 3km long queue there was that many people there. Autumn is the most popular time to go to Seoraksan because of the trees changing colour and it was beautiful, well worth battling through the crowds for. The weather was pretty rubbish, but even the rain wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits. We even saw a chipmunk!

After our mini-hike, we decided to take the lazy route to the top of Mount Seorak – the cable car. Unfortunately though, the weather was so bad that when we got to the top we could barely see each other, never mind the view! So back down we went – after a couple of beers and Korean honey pancakes. It was getting dark by this point so we headed back to Sokcho to experience the delights of the fish market there. For someone who has a pretty big phobia of crabs it wasn’t the best idea. We were then taken to our cabin for the night, cracked some more beers open and got the barbie going. It was like DIY galbi! Several beers and a couple of bottles of soju later, after the sensible ones among us had called it a night, we decided to go down to the beach to light some fireworks and have yet more beer, somehow forgetting that we were getting up at 6am to visit a temple. Nevertheless I was shaken awake just before 6am, with a pounding headache, and off we went to Naksan Temple. It was amazing, right up on a clifftop overlooking the sea, and it was so peaceful and serene.

After packing up our things, we took what is probably the worst bus in the world back to the park. With all the rattling over potholes and being thrown around the bus (there were no seats left) our decision to finish all the beer the night before suddenly didn’t seem so smart. This time we separated ourselves from the hoardes of ajummas, fully kitted out in black and pink hiking gear, with coordinating visors perched on top of their standard issue perm and matching dark sunglasses. Up, up, and up we trekked, the footpath soon disappeared and soon we were just pulling each other up giant boulders and across rickety wooden bridges. When we got to the top we saw the most beautiful waterfalls, and after half an hour of trying to get our breath back we set off back down the boulders and bridges. A short while on that bus again and we were back at Sokcho coach station, ready to get back to Incheon – and hot water.

가위 바위 보 – Gawi bawi bo!

Rock, paper, scissors seems to be something of a national pastime in Korea. I am yet to make it through a lesson at school without hearing the kids hollering ‘gawi bawi bo‘ at the tops of their voices! Whatever the dispute may be, there is nothing that a quick round of rock, paper, scissors can’t resolve.

And it would appear that the obsession with the game isn’t limited to the classroom. I was waiting for Nath outside Homeplus the other night and a couple were standing opposite me, a few years older than us, having the mother of all arguments. I mean pointing, shouting, storming off, the whole works. Unfortunately my Korean doesn’t stretch to translating hysterical girlfriends – I can just about order a beer – so I have no idea what they were actually arguing about, but it seemed like more than just where to go for dinner. The next thing I hear is them chanting rock, paper, scissors! Seriously! Two adults resolving a row through a playground game! Where does it stop? Is this how business negotiations work here? Middle aged politicians bickering in parliament? A pair of ajummas squabbling over a subway seat?