Tag Archives: Friends

Hanoi Reunions

I had an early flight out of Bangkok, I was up at 4am to get to the airport on time. But it was so worth it because I was going to be reunited with my wonderful friends in Hanoi, Vietnam. Double whammy!

Thailand had made travel so easy. It was a good place to start in. Hanoi on the other hand is a different story. There was nobody at the airport rushing up to me with a colour-coded sticker, ushering me to a bus, predicting my desired move. Hanoi hit me with some realities of travel.

This person looked at me with hungry eyes, ‘jump in my taxi’ they said. That person, much more official looking, looked at me with weary eyes, ‘my taxi is more expensive, but I’m much more reliable’ they said. ‘Where is the bus?’ I asked. They warned, ‘don’t take that bus, it’s very slow.’ Then they were all around me at once. I was the deer in the headlights. The clueless tourist. That was my own fault. I hadn’t checked my options, I hadn’t planned my moves, I hadn’t written down the address of the hostel where I wanted to go. The taxi driver assured me that he knew where ‘Hanoi Hostel’ was. I believed him. I jumped in. The other eyes followed me. I was on my way into Hanoi.

It was an interesting drive. Vietnam seemed a world apart from Thailand in terms of development. It also didn’t help that the sky was hanging low and grey, cold. Bicycles, scooters, cars, buses and pedestrians swarmed the highway in certain areas. I blinked my eyes shut as we squeezed past them. Houses stood like tightly packed matchboxes, their contents overflowing, bursting out of the front windows.

Every inch of space is used in Hanoi.

Every inch of space is used in Hanoi.

As we sped into downtown Hanoi my mouth couldn’t help turning into a smile. It is just like in the pictures, just the way people describe it. Narrow, chaotic, full, colourful and dirty. I loved it. And then the taxi driver started his funny business. He all of a sudden didn’t know where the hostel was. He could only deposit me at the doorstep of a different place, where he would obviously then get a cut. All of a sudden the 4am start, the chaos, the hustle and the confusion of Hanoi didn’t seem so good. I am terrible at finding my way. I was not looking forward to shouldering my backpack and wondering the curving streets of Hanoi trying to find a matchbox shaped building in among all of the other identical matchboxes.

Trying to navigate the streets of Hanoi.

Trying to navigate the streets of Hanoi.

But I did it! And I was reunited with two very special friends, who are, thankfully, way better at following maps and getting their bearings than I am. They are generally also way more prepared and have a plan for our 3 weeks in Vietnam. Luckily they had also figured out how to cross the streets of Hanoi, which is no easy feat for a first timer- it pretty much involves a slow and steady pace, and no fear. Just go. Join in the hustle.

Freinds, Hanoi, mini plastic tables, beer and street food!

Freinds, Hanoi, mini plastic tables, beer and street food!

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The season of ‘homesickness’.

After you leave home, you might find yourself feeling homesick, even if you have a new home that has nicer wallpaper and a better dishwasher than the home in which you grew up.

Those are some wise, wise words from Mr. Lemony Snicket himself. And if there is ever a time to long for drab wallpaper and bad dishwashers* I’d say that the time is nigh. The festive season. The time of endless family gatherings, delicious foods, tasty beverages and, being from the southern part of this fair world, summer.

[*Korean abodes most certainly have nicer wallpaper than any I’ve ever seen in South Africa, but I’m not so sure about the dishwashers, my Dad is ever so good at that and as back up there was always the electric-powered dishwasher, not yet widely available in Korea.]

Last week was Thanksgiving, which wasn’t a big deal for me, (although I did say ‘thanks’ and teach my students all about it) but it was a big deal for all of my American friends. They were dreaming of roast turkeys, pumpkin pies and football. It also, pretty much, marks the ‘one month to Christmas’ point. And then there’s New Year. So, basically a whole bunch of family fun and merriment. Except you aren’t at home, and you might be feeling a little sorry for yourself. Maybe just a little? This is my second festive season away from home, and here’s how I plan to deal with it, being an expert and all.

1. The Care Package. If you are very well-loved and cared for you can ask one of the people back home who love and care for you, to send you a package fill of love and tasty treats. It always feels wonderful to receive mail when you live abroad, especially if you have to go to the post office to pick it up. Ask someone to send you your favourite chocolates, festive treats or something that you can’t buy in your new home country.

2. Make festive plans. If you are one of those types of people who are super organised and love to rally people together, organise a Christmas party. All of your less organised and ‘leave everything to the last minute’ friends will love you. But seriously, when you are away from your biological family your friends are your new family, so make use of them,or be used (depending on your level of organisational skills).

The Christmas feast that was lovingly prepared by 2 wonderful friends. PS. Check out the AWESOME wallpaper!

3. Friends! Like I mentioned in the previous bit of expert advise, your friends are your family when you are far from home, so spend time with them. Hopefully some of them will love the BoneyM Christmas carol collection as much as your mother. And hopefully you can also tell him/ her: ‘Turn that wretched music off! It’s only allowed on Christmas day!”

4. Skype. From time to time, although you love your new-found family of friends, you will need ‘the real thing’, so just call them. Technology is a wonderful thing, so use it.

5. Embrace your new home. Do things that the natives do. In Korea Christmas is seen more as a couples holiday as opposed to a family one, so if you have a better half, hold hands, give each other giant teddy bears, or if you’ve been together for 100 days buy a ‘couples look’. If you don’t have a better half, well, see points 2 and 3.  Natives of Korea also love to go around wearing ridiculously festive jumpers and leggings with reindeer frolicking across them. I must admit, it is very festive.

Festive jumpers, festive socks, festive hats, festive mood.

Follow these 5 simple steps to endless, if somewhat different, festive fun. And remember, the wallpaper is always brighter on the other side. Or something to that effect. And here’s to a fantastically, friend filled festive season!

Aside

“Kate Teacher, we must teach Grade 6 about Thanksgiving.” “Uhm, ok. They just say ‘thanks’ and eat turkey with their family. Right?” “Huh? You don’t know? You have no Thanksgiving?” And the answer to that is: No. I’ve never celebrated, … Continue reading

What makes Korea a great place to live

Last week I was fed up with Korea. So today I decided to be more positive and share with you a few reasons why I love life here on the Korean peninsular, in no particuler order.

1. I have a job! A job that pays well. A job that is different day to day and fill of endless surprises.

Hardly ever a dull day in Korea!

2. I’m like a celebrity! People stare and giggle when I come near, I get screams of “hello Kate teacher!” all day long. And some mornings, if I am very lucky, I get students making arm hearts and shouting “I love you teacher” from the 4th floor windows.

3. The food. Korea sure does have some deliciously tasty food. Samgyupsal, dakgalbi, kalguksu, bulgogi, jjimdak…and endless other delights. But more about that coming soon. Stay tuned!

A little taster of Korean cuisine.

4. Super fast internet.

5. Transport. It’s really easy, and cheap, to get around. The buses are so luxurious- the seats are huge, and the trains have singing rooms in them!

6. The people. All of the Korean people that I have encountered have been so willing to help. Waitrons are known to hang around making sure you know how to eat the food they place in front of you. Perfect strangers will help you pay at a market when you have no idea how much to whip out of your wallet, without ripping you off. It’s simply wonderful!

7. New friends. I now have friends scattered around the globe which makes the prospect of travelling so much more exciting.

Andong friends

8. Did I mention that I live rent free? In a furnished apartment, with super low bills.

9. I get to travel. So far, since being in Korea, I have been able to visit China, Singapore and Bali. With tickets to get me to the Philippines and Hong Kong and grand plans to travel through Asia starting in March 2012.

So, really, life is sweet. And with only just over 4 months to go I really have to make the most of what time I have left.

Do you live in Korea? If so, what do you love about being here?