A Family-Filled Chuseok

For ESL teachers in Korea, Chuseok is a godsend. The variable-length break falls shortly after the start of the summer semester. It has allowed Kris and I to escape from child-induced madness for a few days every year. This year, Chuseok is even sweeter. Kris’ mother Dalene and her boyfriend Dave have visited us all the way from South Africa!

Dalene and Dave arrived last week, in the middle of our final week before Chuseok. Both Kris and I were strung out from the semester and looking forward to the visit and upcoming Chuseok break. Our batteries were drained, and we couldn’t wait to recharge. They arrived on a Saturday of an Ultimate weekend. Their first taste of Korea was the glorious insanity of a ROK-U weekend. While it wasn’t Dalene’s first time in Korea, Dave must have had a peculiar first picture of foreigners in the ROK.

In the following week, Dalene and Dave had to entertain themselves during the day. Kris and I still had five more days of child-wrangling before Chuseok. They took the Seoul city tour buses, zooting about between all the tourist attractions. In the evenings, we did our best to give Dave and Dalene a taste of Korean cuisine. We have eaten more different Korean dishes in the past few days than we had in the previous few months. By day, Dalene and Dave took in the sights. By night, we devoured our way across Seoul. There was a brief interlude in the Korean eating for a surprise birthday party for me. Kris and my friends in Seoul plotted behind my back. They gathered in secret to celebrate my birthday and that of Cam, another friend in the group. Dalene and Kris even managed to make and hide a birthday cake. I was surprised, and didn’t stop smiling the whole time at the party.

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Once we had served our last remaining time at school, we packed up and headed on a day hike of Manisan, on Ganghwa island. The tour was organised by Seoul Hiking. We stopped at various cultural points of interest before hiking the mountain itself. We saw a medieval fortress, neolithic rock structures, and a cultural market. Then it was time to lace up our shoes and tackle Manisan. It took us an hour or so to reach the top, slowed by Kris’ recovering leg and sightings of squirrels. At the top, there sat an ceremonial alter and various cultural implements. It was a meditative reward for our hour’s exercise. It was a delightful day trip.

Next, we set our sights on Busan. Kris and I have been to Busan many times, but most of our visits have been for Ultimate. We hadn’t visited Busan as tourists since our second month in Korea. We were excited to explore a place where we were far less familiar than Seoul.

Our first destination in Busan was BIFF square, a massive street market. Like Myeongdong in Seoul, we wandered between the food carts and storefronts. We took in the wares and eats on sale. The selection rivaled that of Myeongdong, particularly in the food department. We ate Turkish kebabs and rolled ice cream, and bought more than we probably should have.

Our next major highlight was Gamcheon Culture Village. A large suburb in the hills on the edge of Busan, Gamcheon is a hub of shops and artists. It is famous for being mostly comprised of small, single-storey houses. This is in contrast to other areas, where houses are rare but apartment complexes litter the land. We thoroughly enjoyed walking among the colourful houses. We read stories of the area’s history and marveled at the artwork displayed in the streets.

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Our last two days in Busan were mostly spent in the Haeundae area. The only major excursion not in this area was to Busan Tower, the beautiful building featured at the top of this piece. In Haeundae, we first visited Busan Aquarium, where we saw, amongst many other marvels, otters being fed. Kris squealed in delight at their cuteness. After leaving the aquarium, we walked the streets once more. We explored the hills on the edge of Haeundae’s famous beach. Then, we lazed about on the beach, reading books and taking in the beauty of the area. It was a good way to refresh our bodies after the running around that we had done in the previous few days.

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Dalene and Dave’s time in Korea is drawing to a close. They leave on Friday afternoon, leaving only one more full day to show them what Korea’s got. Kris and I adore having family visit, as showing them what we love about Korea reminds us as well. Our hearts will be heavy when we say goodbye to them, but we will treasure the memories of the things we saw when we were all together. We will go forward refreshed and ready to face the months ahead.

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Subway Book Club

In my recent move to Seoul, many things about my job and my life have changed. One of the aspects that I notice every day is my commute. Previously, I would walk, cycle, or take a cab to work, depending on how lazy I was feeling or how cold the weather was. Now, I take a 4-stop subway ride every day. One problem quickly arose – how do I fill this time? I am currently without a cellphone, so mobile games or browsing the Internet are not an option. I certainly don’t want to just stand and watch the time fly by. I settled on an old pastime of mine that I have let fall by the wayside in recent years – reading.

When deciding on a book to read on the subway, I have four main factors to consider: the size of the book (if it’s not an eBook), the length of the chapters/scenes, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and the overall mental capacity required by the book. All of these factors play a role in determining whether I think a book is well-suited to my own particular subway reading situation.

The size of the book is the first feature I consider. I don’t want to be lugging around a massive hardcover book every day. As I am most often standing on the subway, reading such a book could be awkward and uncomfortable, leaving me less motivated to actually read the damn thing and more likely to twiddle my thumbs and wait for my stop. This is obviously not a consideration if my options are eBooks which, now that I have found and charged my Kindle, open up books that I previously would have excluded because WHY IS THIS SO HEAVY AND LARGE.

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Just a bit of light reading

Once I deem a book physically fit for my needs, I flick through the pages and see how long the average chapter is. As my commute only lends itself to about 15-20 minutes of solid reading time, depending on the wait for the subway, I like to read to the end of a scene or chapter and then stop. I’m not someone that can put a book down in the middle of even the most inane conversation between characters. I found that this feature was less of a significant detractor than I thought, as for the most part, it is possible to find a break between scenes at a regular interval.

The penultimate factor I consider is whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. I see fiction as the only type I want to read whilst on the subway. This is because I use the act of reading as a divider between the different phases of my day. I have my morning phase, I get ready for work, I read, I have my work phase, I read, and then I am at home spending quality time with Kris. As of this moment in my life, I like the break from reality that reading a fiction book gives in order to properly compartmentalize my day.

Finally, I consider how much mental capacity I need to read the book. I don’t exactly want to be getting deeply engaged with metaphysical anomalies and words containing twelve syllables on a regular basis when I also need to make sure I don’t bump into people and don’t miss my stop. While I can read most books, ones that are incredibly layered and require the full use of my entire brain whilst reading are not ideal for subway reading.

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From all of these considerations, I determined that the first book I would read would be Tom Robbin’s Still Life With Woodpecker. It is a book that the best man at my wedding has been recommending for a long time, so I thought I would finally get around to it. I burned through it far quicker than I thought i would, and have already moved on to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, another book that has been on my radar for years.

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While a commute is little more than an unfortunate reality for most, I see it as a chance to briefly engage with another world and prepare my mind for the assault of small children ahead. Not every book is suited to my current reading style, and my requirements are most likely not a general rule applicable to everyone, but they certainly helped me narrow down the list of books I could potentially be reading on my trips to and from work.