In which I succumb to heavy drug use and violence.

Number of mosquito bites acquired this year until approximately 2am this morning: 0

Number of mosquito bites acquired since approximately 2am this morning: 17

Every insect in the country is following the lead of my ex-pet cockroach and taking up residence in my home. Taking into account the fact that I’d only just plucked up the courage to sleep with the lights off again and had also spent the evening swatting moths and jumping nervously every time I thought I heard a noise or sensed a movement, I was already somewhat uncomfortable when the latest guest showed up.

I woke up in the middle of the night in pain. In my semi-awake, disoriented state, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong at first – just that my legs and arms appeared to be on fire. Then I realised I was frantically scratching horribly familiar welts. And then I heard it.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Ah, crap. They’re back. And if the plague-of-boils-like appearance of my skin is anything to go by, they’re hungry.

It has not been a great week, readers. There was the cockroach trauma, which saw me temporarily living and showering with my most hated creature in the whole world, and which has rendered me a nervous wreck in my own home ever since. There was the eye infection, which is ongoing and possibly even getting worse. My days are  filled with pills and eye drops to the point where I keep forgetting whether I’ve taken the latest dose or not (as a matter of fact, there is a very strong chance that I am high right now). I seem to be coming down with a cold on top of that. And now the mosquitos are here.

I gave up at the halfway break during my French class tonight, mumbling a grammatically horrific apology to the teacher before heading home. My eye was burning and I could barely see the board. I was shivering – me! Shivering! In August! – under the blast of the air conditioning that usually isn’t nearly cold enough for me. I couldn’t even sit still in my chair due to mosquito bites in unfortunate and (you would think) impossible places.

As I crawled woefully along the street, squinting fiercely and trying to scratch by rubbing my knees together in a way that possibly made me look as if I had rickets, I spotted a stand of insect-murdering equipment in a shop. It was a little ray of happiness in an otherwise depressing day, and when I went inside and surveyed the (vast) selection, it gave me a feeling that I usually only get when I look at the menu of my favourite restaurant. So many choices! So many wonderful, irresistible options! Korean shops have more sprays and gadgets for dealing with insects than… ah, sod it, I am too ill and sore and cranky even to think of an amusing comparison.

Die, DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!

There were sprays with pictures of various dead bugs lying upside down with traumatised expressions on their faces. There were swatters of all shapes and sizes. There were sprays to kill and sprays to deter and sprays to do both while freshening the air in your house and perhaps cleaning the surfaces for you at the same time. There were pellets and poisons and tablets and lotions. There were patches for your clothes and stickers for your skin, to keep the mozzies away. There were scented candles and there were plug-in oil burners. It was overwhelming.

I started firing things into my basket like a madwoman, most likely cackling all the while, and am now home with a spray for cockroaches, a spray for mosquitos, a complicated “coil burner” contraption that appears to work like incense in an oversized ashtray , some kind of anti-bug mat, a swatter, and several body sprays and lotions as a final barrier. There is the tiniest hint of a possibility that – perhaps! – I have developed some kind of obsession.

And so I sit here, surrounded by my murder weapons and clutching my swatter, jumping nervously at every sound, my red, crusty eye twitching frequently as I listen intently for the next creature that makes the mistake of breaking into my apartment.

I will kill you. I will kill. you. all. Mwahahahahaaaaaaa.

Not so clever NOW, are ya?

The Rescue Operation

The old lady of the apartment building is sitting on the steps, as she often is when I return from work.

She likes to watch the world go by, and interrogate the residents of the building as they come and go. Many’s the time I’ve been late for my French class or a date with a friend because she’s stopped me on my way out to give me the third degree about something. She seems to have no concern whatsoever for the fact that I don’t understand much of what she’s saying, and that even when I do understand, I am incapable of communicating my response in a language that she’ll understand. She just keeps talking and looking expectantly at me for an answer.

Today, she lets me go past with only a smile and a nod and an “Annyeonghaseyo?”, but this time I am the one to stop and initiate a dialogue. I hesitate, reluctant to go back into my apartment where I shall probably have to feed my pet cockroach and put it to bed. Ajumma… um… I begin uncertainly, knowing already that my Korean vocabulary is far too limited for what I wish to communicate – i.e. that I have found and captured a Scary Bug in my apartment, that it is currently residing under a glass and a book in the bathroom, that I haven’t slept for two nights, that I live alone and have no one to come to my rescue in times of great emergency and crisis like this, and that I need her to send someone into my apartment to dispose of the Creature for me while I hide on the roof. Still, this is an emergency situation, and I must try. Now is not the time to feel self-conscious about speaking in another language.

Neh? (Yes?) She looks at me, waiting eagerly for whatever piece of exciting news I am about to bestow upon her.

Um… chae apat-uh aeseo (in my apartment)…um… beog-uh imnida (there is a bug). 

She looks spectacularly unimpressed by this revelation, and simply stares at me. Nehhhhhh….? she says eventually. Oh dear. I clear my throat nervously. Um, well… um… cheonun (me)… um…. beog-uh dul (bugs)… anchoahamnida (don’t like).

Silence.

Nehhhhhhh…..?

My palms are sweating now, but I plow on desperately. Um… ceop-uh-nun (cup)… beog-uh-lul ui-ae (on bug)…  imnida (is). Cheonun (me)… um, dulyaweo (scared).

I am miming the whole thing as I speak, of course, and she is looking wondrously at me as if she wishes she had another Korean next to her just so she could say “See? I told you they were weird!”. I try to look pathetic, which is not difficult, as I really really really do not want to go home to my pet cockroach and would be able to cry on cue right about now if necessary. I need help! I finish in English, wringing my hands and gesturing upstairs. Still staring incredulously at me, she rises to her feet and follows me as I head towards the stairs. I expect she is going to get the landlord and perhaps a team of burly men with specialist bug disposal equipment to remove the Creature for me.

I am a little confused, therefore, when she stops outside my door instead of continuing up the stairs. However, what with the language barrier and everything, she may just want to confirm that she has correctly understood what I am saying before she bothers the big rugged rescue men. This makes sense, so I open the door and usher her inside. We walk to the bathroom door and look down in silence at the Creature under the glass under the book. She looks at me, and then back at the Creature, and then at me again. She seems speechless, and I hope I haven’t frightened this poor little old lady too much by bringing her so close to the Creature. It was thoughtless of me. It was ver… oh holy crap, what is she doing?! She is stepping into the bathroom, removing the book from the glass, picking up the glass that is the only thing standing between the Creature and an innocent world…

I trip over my handbag in my haste to back away from this horrific scene, and proceed to fall over my bedside table and land on the bed with a crash. All I can do is remain there, staring in terror and disbelief, as the little old lady picks up the Creature with her bare hand, between her finger and thumb, tosses it into the toilet, and flushes. She glances back at me (a pathetic and terrified heap cowering on the bed) as she casually washes her hands before emerging from the Zone Of Terror. You know it was dead? (or something to that effect) she asks. I can only shrug helplessly, unable to tell her in Korean that although logic and common sense would indeed lead one to suspect that an insect trapped under a glass and a book for two days might at some point have ceased breathing, there was still the possibility that it was playing dead to trick us into releasing it, whereupon it would leap at our throats and pin us to the ground while emitting a shrill signal to thousands of comrades who would come pouring out from the cracks in the wallpaper and swarm all over us, devouring our flesh in seconds and leaving only our bones to be found days later by a search party.

If I could speak Korean and explain all of this, I would seem a lot less crazy. Instead, all I can do is shrug helplessly.

Neh, I say finally. Kamsahamnida! (Thank you!)

I have been rescued by a tiny, frail woman who looks like she’s in her 90s. This is humiliating and shameful. But the Creature is gone, readers. The Creature is gone. That is all that matters.

Look at me, Mum!

Often, living in a (very) foreign country makes you feel a bit like a child.

When you need someone to take you to the doctor, for example. When people take pity on you and try to speak slowly with big, positive smiles, and pat your arm encouragingly when you manage to say something correctly. When you don’t know where to get off the bus, and rely on an elderly lady – who seems to have taken charge of you – for assistance. When you go to an unfamiliar restaurant and don’t understand the apparently complicated ordering procedure, so eventually, feeling confused and overwhelmed, you just point to the table next to you and shrug, hoping you’ll be brought whatever they’re having.

But despite the feelings of helplessness this can bring on a regular basis, it also brings childlike delight in small victories. Navigating your way around a new city without assistance, for example, brings huge feelings of achievement. Having a short and simple conversation in the language gives you a glow of pride. Figuring out how that complicated restaurant works and marching confidently back in to order for your friends makes you feel momentarily grown up.

And that is why I am about to say a sentence with childish joy that I never thought I would utter. Today, I went to the doctor’s all by myself!!

I had to go back for my eye check-up before they’d give me more antibiotics, and my director – on her way to take my new colleague for her medical check-up at another hospital – dropped me off across the road like an anxious parent. Now, there is the clinic, look… call me if you need anything… you remember where to go? I half expected her to shout “Be careful crossing the road!” as I shut the car door.

I went into the clinic and checked the Korean-only notice board to remind myself of the correct floor… I went in and reported to the reception desk… I understood when I was told to sit, to follow, to wait… I had my check-up… I had my sore eye bathed and medicated… I did the laser thing (still no idea)… I listened and responded to instructions from the reception staff as they gave me my bill and prescription… I went to the pharmacy (and tried not to show my excitement that the pharmacist talked calmly to me in Korean as if assuming I could understand, without the usual hesitancy and embarrassment that people tend to show when they encounter a foreigner and fear that they won’t be able to communicate)… I returned to work alone, clutching my medicine and feeling like I had achieved something far more impressive than I actually had.

Truth be told, the only reason I was able to find the correct department was because I’d been there 2 days ago. The only reason the reception staff were able to deal with me easily was that they recognised me from that time and probably now have my problematic foreign name filed under ‘waegook’  (‘foreigner’) for easy reference. The only reason I understood what the doctor and the nurse  said was because it was safe to assume that they were simply repeating everything they said the first time, and also because they mimed any new parts. It’s also fairly easy to understand a pharmacist’s instructions about medicine when you know key words like “after”, “food”, “times”, “water”, and numbers. But still.

I went to the doctor’s, all by myself! I feel kind of the way I did the first time I was allowed to go into town with my friends, with no parents. Yes, today, I am a grown-up. At least for a little while. :)

Nightmare on Goejeong Street

I was just about to write a post about how terrified I am of insects, when I realised that I’d already written it, almost exactly a year ago. Clearly the Korean summer and I are enemies on many, many levels. And I’ve learned, since last year, that that Creature on my window screen was actually one of the horrible screeching insects that live in the trees and sound like faulty electricity cables or perhaps a thousand malfunctioning dental drills or car alarms. Honestly, they are so loud that I occasionally put my hands over my ears when passing under a crowd of them. As someone who finds the chirping of crickets rather soothing (as long as they are distant, obviously), I never would have thought that a group of insects would be capable of such an unholy and unpleasant racket. (Listen to the second sound clip, “a tree full of Cicadas in Greece”, on this Wikipedia page for an idea of how noisy they are. According to that article, they are technically loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans!)

But anyway, last August I was busy getting attacked by flying monsters in the street and fending off giant winged things in my apartment while swarms of fruit flies took over my life. This August has been relatively bug-free, apartment-wise, although I have been growing increasingly jumpy while walking home in the late afternoons, with gigantic dragonflies swooping down on me, and having to dodge something that may have been a very large, black butterfly but honestly looked more like a bat. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I just did a Google image search for giant black butterflies and none of the pictures showed anything even half the size of the thing that flew right at me in the street the other day. Maybe it was a bat, confused about the whole nocturnal thing, I don’t know. Anyway, the point is, the Things have spent most of their time outside of my apartment this summer, to my great delight. I did spend one week in July feeling a bit nervous as I went up and down the stairs, after encountering a cockroach on the floor below mine (having never seen one in real life before, I wasn’t sure until I Googled cockroaches when I finally got past it and safely into my apartment), but I never saw it again, and happily put it out of my mind.

So, let’s talk about last night, then, shall we?

My eye was killing me, so I went into the bathroom to soak a cloth in water to cool it. I didn’t bother turning the light on, so I was in semi-darkness. And as I was turning on the tap I happened to catch a movement at my feet – where there was a cockroach sitting looking up at me. I have never in my life had a cockroach in my home, and this is part of the reason for my inability to deal with it very well. I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed and no one came to help me as I am all alone in a cockroach-infested apartment in a foreign country, so then I sat on my bed talking myself into being calm and figuring out how to deal with the situation in a mature and sensible manner, and eventually (with a ridiculous amount of hysterical screaming and jumping and crying) trapped it under a glass, which I then weighed down under a heavy book (I don’t know how strong these things are. I am not taking any chances.). In case there were any more lurking there, I then hosed down the bathroom with scalding hot water from the shower while standing perched, trembling, on the step, with the glass and the book still sitting incongruously in the middle of it all, threw the bathroom bin into a rubbish bag and dumped it for good measure, and spent the rest of the evening sitting quietly gibbering to myself, in between jumping and shrieking at every sound or movement, while staring through the bathroom doorway to make sure that the glass and book had not moved.

I may now have a pet cockroach as I have absolutely not thought this through and do not have a clue what to do with it now. If I move the glass it may jump out and kill me.

I do not know how am I ever going to return to life BC (before cockroach). What if there are a million of them hiding under the fridge and the wardrobe?!!!!!!! What am I going to do?!! So far the desperate options in my head have been (a) quit my job immediately and leave Korea forever, (b) tell my director about cockroach incident and demand to have entire apartment building fumigated, and be known as girl-with-cockroach for the rest of my time here, or (c) spend rest of contract drunk out of my mind and uncaring about what’s roaming in my apartment while I sleep. I am leaning towards the first at the moment, to be perfectly honest.

According to ShowerHacks.com, they hide when the lights are on, I obviously slept with the lights on, wearing a Korean Air sleep mask. I use the word “slept” loosely, and only because I know of no word for the frightened, jumpy, wakeful, paranoid palaver that actually took place. Showering this morning was the least fun experience of my entire life thus far, as you can imagine if you picture taking a shower in the same room as a cockroach-under-a-glass-under-a-book, all the while glancing fearfully around in case there’s another one scuttling towards you, and feeling terrified that you’re accidentally going to kick over the glass and set the creature free to have its revenge. I don’t know what the feck I am going to do with it. Obviously I cannot keep showering with it for the rest of my time here, but I see no other option. Other than leaving the country, I mean.

Oh, they are probably everywhere, everywhere! Scuttling up and down the stairs, and wandering from one apartment to the next, and crawling over us while we sleep, and living in our rubbish bins, and swarming all over the building when it gets dark. I am starting to feel that life is no longer worth living.

Woe is me. Woe

Monster Teacher!

My name today is Monster Teacher, which doesn’t make me feel great about my general appearance, to be honest.

I have conjunctivitis for the first time in my life, and oh, the pain! Being unable to find an English-speaking doctor nearby, and reluctant to bother my boss or colleagues at the weekend, I spent Saturday becoming increasingly miserable and Sunday lying in bed with a cold washcloth over the infected eye.

Why didn’t you call me? asked my director this morning in her angry mother voice, inspecting my eye from a safe distance as I dolefully printed out worksheets while blinking painfully. I didn’t want to bother you at the weekend, I explained pathetically, at which she snorted in annoyance, gave me a slap, and ranted at me in Korean for a few minutes. None of this unnerves me at all, these days. In fact, I sort of like it – sometimes it’s nice to have someone treat you like a child, especially when you’re feeling under the weather! She rearranged my classes for the day and bundled me into the car for another one of those doctor’s appointments that always leaves my head in a bit of a confused whirl.

Well, I say appointment, but none is necessary. You just show up, check the notice board for the correct department (as the place is more like a hospital full of specialists than a GP’s surgery), and give your name and your symptoms to the receptionist. They find you on the computer and tell you to sit down, so you sit down – but almost the second your bum hits the chair, a nurse appears to whisk you into the doctor’s room. I have yet to meet a friendly doctor here. They have all been rather scary and old and frowny, and each one has barked “Anja!” (Sit!) and addressed all subsequent remarks to my director, who is practically holding me by my trembling hand by this point.

You are in and out of the surgery in the blink of an eye, which is probably why no one needs an appointment. Today was the most incredible yet. I had literally just sat down in the chair, put my chin on the eye-examining machine-thingy, and blinked as the light shone into my eyes, when he sat back, said about 2 words to Jennifer, and waved dismissively at us. And off we went. Shortest check-up ever. A cheerful nurse then sat me down in front of a machine, told me to close my eyes, and then left me there for a minute with no explanation as some kind of laser shone on my eyelids, by which stage someone else had printed up my prescription and bill (the equivalent of about £1.50) and I was being ushered downstairs to the pharmacy.

Handing over another £1 or so, I was given my drugs. Koreans love their medicine. I’ve always been too sick to think of taking a photo on previous occasions, but as I am merely half-blind and not ill this time, here is a sample of just two days’ worth of drugs.

They never give you more than enough for 2 or 3 days, so you have to keep going back – probably because it’s so cheap and they have to make money somehow, although my boss insists it’s because they want to keep checking on your progress and altering your medication as required. I don’t care this time because other than the pain in my eye, I’m healthy and well, and not feeling like death – during swine flu and food poisoning and allergies, the thought of getting up and going out to see the doctor every few days was enough to send me into floods of frustrated tears!

Anyway, I put the first of the eye drops into my burning eye (extremely proud that I have now mastered this skill, after a lot of failed attempts during last year’s allergy nightmare), waited for five minutes as instructed, and then put the other ones in. I expected soothing, cooling, instant relief, but instead discovered that my eye was on fire.

Yarrrrrghhhh!!!! I howled, clutching a wet wipe to the flames and blinking furiously. How something marked “anti-inflammatory” can feel like acid burning through your cornea is beyond me. In addition, it appears to have robbed me of my eyesight in the doomed eye, and I am squinting madly at everyone. Teacher, eye is red like monster eye! they’re all squealing. Scary, scary! 

Apparently this will last for 2 weeks. And did I mention that I’m not allowed any alcohol till it’s better?!

It is going to be a very long 2 weeks.

Blue Day

Today was Blue Day.

Not an official Korean holiday, nor a day on which to feel a little bit sad without really knowing why, but the second in a series of our school’s theme days. The idea is to get the kindergarteners excited about learning English by teaching them vocabulary and sentence structures while disguising it as a theme party. :) Red Day, last month, was such a success that we decided to have another colour theme – and the kids and the school looked so cute last time that I felt compelled to bring my camera along for this one!

The theme day takes place on a Friday, and normal classes are mostly cancelled during the ‘build-up’ week as we introduce relevant vocabulary and topics using art projects, worksheets, quizzes and so on. Our topics this time have been “the big, blue sea” and “my blue clothes”. Believe it or not, your average 5-year-old is capable of talking for hours on end when you’re asking them to describe every single item of blue clothing they possess. This is not particularly exciting for the teacher after the first ten minutes or so, but you get by, feeding off the children’s excitement and the caffeine in your coffee. The Big Blue Sea project was much more fun for Hayley Teacher:

Not only is it a fabulous work of art, but each child can now confidently talk in English about things that live in the sea, and tell me all about their favourite sea creature, since we chatted about it all as we were drawing, colouring and painting the poster.

And finally, this morning, I woke up nearly as excited as the little ‘uns, singing the Blue song as I put on my blue t-shirt and all the blue accessories I could find.

School had been magically transformed overnight into some kind of magical wonderland, with blue balloons and streamers and decorations made by the children.

Youngsters were almost falling off the school bus in their haste to get inside and see what blue clothes their friends were wearing, and everyone was clutching a blue toy for show and tell. They had blue-themed games in the gym with their Korean teachers, while we foreign teachers each spent time with our own classes, just playing with the toys and chatting about all their blue projects and their blue clothes. It is so nice to see the delight of a little boy when he proudly shows you his toy helicopter that carries a car inside, or a little girl cuddling her fluffy blue penguin, instead of having to shush them and force them to do their writing.

After lunch, it was face-painting time – with a blue or sea connection, of course! I was rather proud of my dolphins:

And my swan:

And finally, here’s a little video to let you have a peek around the door…

Happy Blue Day!

Dos and Don’ts in South Korea

First post in a series for the Blog Your Backyard project at WorldNomads.com. (Click on the link to read more about it.)

Do talk to the local people. It can be very easy to avoid contact for fear of the language barrier, but a little awkwardness is worth it for the experiences you can have just by attempting to communicate with someone. I’ve been to dinner with total strangers, none of whom spoke any English, and enjoyed myself each time, being introduced to foods and customs I would never have encountered before! I even regularly spent time as the “big sister” in a lovely Korean family before they moved away, the mother fussing over me when I had a cold, and the little boy keen to practice his English on me and educate me about his country. That experience came simply from trying to make small talk with the woman at the cash register in a shop. In general, Koreans are very warm, kind-hearted people who can be really hospitable.

Don’t talk too loudly. There have been several occasions when I – or one of my friends – have been on the receiving end of stern glares or requests to be quiet. You may not think you’re being noisy, but we get the impression that older folk in particular do not like the sound of English being spoken. Taxi drivers have barked at us to shut up, and a woman in a restaurant once shoved napkins in her ears to indicate how much distress our English-speaking was causing her. So, if you don’t wish to draw any more attention to yourself… speak softly! Or learn Korean, I suppose.

Do take your shoes off before entering someone’s home. I can’t imagine what they’d do if you tried to walk on in with your outdoor footwear still on your feet, but you wouldn’t be making a great impression! Remember that you also have to take off your shoes in a lot of restaurants, too – these are usually sit-on-the-floor places with low tables on raised wooden platforms. If you see shoes on shelves or on the floor in the entrance, take yours off. Many places will provide slippers for you to put on if you wish, but it’s perfectly acceptable to go in barefoot or in your socks.

Don’t refuse a gift. If you think it’s too much, then by all means show your surprise and gratitude, but don’t try to give it back. They would not be giving it to you if they didn’t want you to have it. This also goes for food (and paying for dinner, too). Try a little of what you’re offered. It’s OK to say you don’t like it, as long as you at least tried!

Do try the street food. I’ve had food poisoning a couple of times in my life, both of them from dodgy street food – one case, in Sweden, was mild, while the other, from Mongolia, had me fervently hoping for death for over a week. In Korea, however, I have heard zero reports of anyone being struck down by the dreaded traveller’s tummy. Street food here is not only cheap, tasty, and safe, but also a way of life, and it would be a crime not to experience it! You only have to wander outside and you’re sure to see some sort of stall, cart, wagon, or makeshift restaurant-in-a-tent by the side of the road – and if you head downtown, you’ll find entire streets lined with them. Although some of the snacks on offer may not be for everyone (boiled silkworm pupae in a tub, eaten with a toothpick, anyone?), and the smell from a few Korean favourites can be somewhat off-putting (processed fishcake on a skewer, you say?), there are many, many more tempting foods. Try some spicy tteokbokki, some deep fried veggies with hot sauce, a nice piece of grilled chicken or meat on a stick, crunchy fish-shaped waffles full of sticky sweet bean paste, deliciously juicy pineapple on a stick, addictive spiral-sliced potatoes (on sticks – yes, there’s a pattern here)… you cannot run out of things to try. And all washed down with some soju, of course.

Don’t drink too much soju. This is Korea’s national alcoholic beverage, and it is cheaper than water and knocked back in such a carefree way that you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s all it is. Your headache the next day will change your mind. ‘Nuff said.

Do learn to read Hangul if you’re staying for more than a week. It only takes a few hours of your time, and is extremely easy to understand once you’ve memorised the characters. Even though you won’t know what the Korean words mean, you’ll be able to read the names of food and drinks on menus, and on restaurant signs, helping you to identify the things you wanted to try. Lots of words turn out to be English ones written in the Korean alphabet, too! It’ll also be invaluable if you’re travelling in smaller, more remote towns and villages where signposts and maps are entirely in Korean.

Don’t expect to be understood when you attempt to say something from your phrase book. Pronunciation is very important in the Korean language. As a general rule, you can expect to say the same word over and over again, pronouncing in every way you can think of, before the person you’re talking to (usually a taxi driver) goes “Ahhhhhhhh!” and repeats it back in exactly the same way that you’ve been saying, but in a tone of voice that someone might use if you’d been pronouncing the word “yes” as “ginormous flying pink elephant”.

Do experience Korea’s “bangs” – that’s the word for “rooms”. DVD bangs providing a comfy sofa and private room with huge-screen TV to watch your choice of movie. PC bangs providing internet access and gaming facilities. And my personal favourite: noraebangs, or “singing rooms”. You, your friends, a private room with glitzy disco ball, a karaoke machine, drinks, and snacks. What more could you wish for?!

Don’t stick to the tourist spots. This is true of travel in any country, of course, but there’s so much more to Korea than the temples and mountains (although these are pretty spectacular). Get on a bus with the locals, and get lost in some quiet little fishing village where no one speaks your language. What’s the worst that could happen? Only that you end up accidentally ordering some live octopus, or giving an impromptu English lesson to some curious teenagers. South Korea is probably the safest country I’ve ever travelled in. You might get stared at a lot, but people aren’t out to hurt you. Seize the freedom that this gives you, and explore!

As a side note, I nearly didn’t write this post because it took me an entire morning to get over the grammatical issues that the title caused me. At one point I was wringing my hands in an agonised fashion in the company of a patient friend, exchanging such arguments as “But if one had an apostrophe, the other would need an apostrophe in the same place, and anyway, they don’t!!!” and “In what universe would anyone read it as “(MS-)DOS and don’ts”, anyway?!”. You see how fraught with anxiety my life is.