They keep you on your toes…

My fifth grade class, the ones I’ve taught since my first day (when they were about 8 years old) are getting bored. It’s that horrible time when they’re about to morph into teenagers and go all Kevin on me, and I have no idea how to deal with it, having only taught young, smiley, happy kiddos up until now.

The thing is, they’re still children. The devastation of puberty has yet to hit, so for the most part they’re still sweet and polite and enthusiastic. But you can sort of… sense it. In the air. Hovering, circling, creeping up stealthily like a lioness on a wildebeest. The signs are growing.The chorus of excited chattering about their day’s adventures when they arrive each afternoon is still there, but is increasingly punctuated by the odd sigh of “I’m in a bad mood”, “I’m tired”, “I don’t want to study”. Most of them still work hard and try their hardest to join in with conversations, but there’s always someone intent on maintaining a listless, too-cool-for-school expression, or slumping over the desk looking perpetually bored. There are groans at everything: get out your books, sit down, let’s start, homework, spelling test, listening practice, roleplay time, speaking class… groan, groan, groan. It’s starting to panic me. I mean, I’m a kindergarten teacher. My 5-year-olds would cheer excitedly if I told them they were going to spend an hour picking specks of dust off the floor.

The problem is magnified by the fact that our school has never had students above the age of about 9 before. Mine are now 11. For one reason or another, the elementary kids drop out over the three or so years after kindergarten, some due to lack of interest or ability, some (far too many, in fact) due to stress, some due to changes of address, etc, etc. Our reputation and experience are therefore solely connected to little children – beginners. This little class is the only one that has kept coming year after year, and the powers that be don’t have a clue what to do with them. They present me with books that are far too easy, and then offer me replacements that a native-speaking university student would struggle with. There’s no curriculum in place, and no structure. We are flailing around cluelessly, and the kids – as I started to say at the beginning of this typically rambly post – are getting bored.

I realised today that I was starting to dread that final class of the day, the one that used to be my favourite, full of laughter and jokes and conversation. The glassy stares, the long silences, and the groans and complaining are getting me down and taking away my own enthusiasm along with theirs. Then it hit me that I didn’t have to keep fighting them like I have been doing. I could do whatever the hell I liked. I’d probably get permission to take them all on a field trip by myself, if I wanted (but my nerves would not survive the experience). So why was I still ploughing away through this book that they didn’t want to study?

I sometimes need to remind myself that I finally have a job where I really can do it my way. And all I really wanted to do when I was their age was… well, watch Friends. So… we watched Friends. Oh, sure, I spent time selecting the right scenes, making a previewing vocabulary list, writing a few discussion questions and suchlike. But basically, we watched Friends. We watched the same scene over and over and over, with new discussion points and exercises between each viewing.

For 50 minutes they worked harder than they have in ages, listening, concentrating, thinking in English. The beauty of it is that they genuinely didn’t think they were working. Bahahahaha! They thought they were having the afternoon off. To them, we were hanging out and watching a funny TV show. As far as I was concerned, they learned a couple of dozen new words, expressions, and contractions, practiced listening to normal-paced conversation until they understood it, and got a grasp of the concept of sarcasm for the first time.

For the first time in weeks, I left work buzzing with job satisfaction instead of feeling tired and defeated. I love how my job is all about staying on my toes, adapting to change, rolling with the punches, and being creative. I’m still relatively new to it, and I’m constantly learning.

That’s why, every time I get an email from a reader considering moving abroad to teach English, I always respond with a whole-hearted “Go for it!” – because I can think of no more valuable and rewarding experience than this one.

Advertisements

E-things

See this post for an explanation. And here are some things I love beginning with E…

1. Eeyore.

“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.

“Why, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

Not only is Eeyore my favourite Winnie the Pooh character, and not only is he drop dead gorgeous (What? He is.), but he’s a wise old sod, and the sort anguished, tormented soul that I am for some reason particularly drawn to in real life. Sad people don’t make me happy, but they bring out something in me that wants to take care of them, love them back to themselves, take the pain away even when it’s obviously impossible. I think that’s why I’ve loved Eeyore since I was a little girl reading about his missing tail for the first time:

“That Accounts for a Good Deal,” said Eeyore gloomily. “It Explains Everything. No Wonder.”

“You must have left it somewhere,” said Winnie the Pooh.

“Somebody must have taken it,” said Eeyore.

“How Like Them,” he added, after a long silence.

Poor Eeyore! My 8-year-old heart was broken on his behalf, and therefore I went on to spend much of my childhood feeling sorry for a fictional toy donkey. Which really tells you quite a lot about the person I am today, and all the donkeys I fall for.

2. English.

The longer I spend in parts of the world where English isn’t the primary language, the more grateful I feel to have been born and raised somewhere where it is. Only through travel have I realised what a complex language it is, and how insanely difficult it is to learn. And yet learn it you must, if you want to travel outside of your own country. Being a native English speaker cuts out a lot of hard work! Oh, and plus, it’s a wonderful language, full of quirks and eccentricities. Much like myself. ;)

3. Eastern Europe

Well, Europe in general, I suppose, but there’s something about the East. I really, truly loved Estonia, and I’m now at the point where I know I can go back without being haunted by memories of what went before. Tallinn is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life.

But as well as all the old, pastel-coloured buildings and cobbled streets that characterise the Baltic states in my mind, there’s so much more. It’s the history, I think. The grey Soviet architecture and monuments that remain amongst the picturesque towers and turrets. The intermingling of the cultures and languages of the now independent nations with those of Russia. The struggles and sadness of the past remembered in the determination and progress of the present. I will probably live in Eastern Europe again, if only to indulge my strange fascination with Soviet history once more.

Hails and Stalin in Tallinn

4. Eggs

Boiled, the yolk still runny, with hot buttered toast, for the perfect breakfast. Fried, served atop a plate of kimchi bokkeumbap, the yolk breaking and seeping through the rice in a delicious gooey mess. Scrambled, for the ultimate hangover food. Hard-boiled and dipped in a little salt at a picnic. Poached or Benedict, with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Stuffed/deviled at a buffet table, the first thing I’ll go for.

I love eggs so much that I had to stop writing at this point and go make deviled eggs at 11pm. 

5. Emotional reunions

Not my own… I’m not very good at them. But one of the things that makes spending time in airports more bearable for me is watching people come and go. The loved ones they can’t bear to say goodbye to. The frantic searching of the crowd at arrivals until they see the one face that matters to them, and break into a run. The hugs, the tears, the kisses. The stories I write in my head to explain the brief moments I witness before the characters are lost in a sea of faces. The goodbyes provide much better material for me as a writer… but I friggin’ hate goodbyes, so it’s the reunions that bring me the most pleasure.

6. Equality

Something has been bugging me lately, and it’s getting to the point where I’m either going to have to accept it as a cultural difference, or accept that I can’t accept it, and move on. I’ve been aware since I first got here that women don’t have quite the same status as in the West. I always took equality for granted, and can’t think of a single incident in my life where I lost out or received ‘unfair’ treatment simply because I’m female – at least, not that I was aware of. In Korea, women appear to have equal rights, and no one could deny that there are plenty of successful, independent women here, but it doesn’t quite filter down to the core of society. If a woman pays the taxi driver, for example, he will often ignore her outstretched hand and pass the change to a male passenger instead. In restaurants, I’ve asked questions about the menu, only to have the waiter turn to look at Irish Friend One as he replies.

We mostly laugh it off, of course. That’s just the way they are, here. We joke about it. Why are you asking me? I’m just a woman, what would I know?! What I do find hugely upsetting, though, is the way it plays out in my workplace. My male colleague (the only male teacher in the school) arrived when I had already been here for a year and a half. Within a few weeks, he was the golden boy. He practically has a fan club, and I struggle to keep my head held high and know that I am still valuable in my own way. The appreciation shown to me for the work I do and the hours I put in is minimal at best, but I try to remind myself that it comes in a different form – being given more responsibilities, being  trusted with designing my own curriculum, being asked for my input and advice. I know I’m doing a good job, and I know my employers see it. But the one who gets all the recognition and praise, and who is always the first to receive information (and has recently been delegating work to me as if he is now my superior – which you couldn’t really blame him for thinking), is my male colleague, who has been here for a third of the time that I have. It makes me want to scream “It’s not fairrrrrrrrr!!!” but I tend to just kick things occasionally, when it all gets to be too much, and then get on quietly with doing my job. For that is the Korean way… if you’re a woman.

7. Evenings

Mornings are really the bane of my existence, and I would have them banned if I could. They make me angry with the world, and I want to kill everyone when my alarm goes off. There’s a wee mobile shop thing that goes around our neighbourhood approximately 2 minutes after my alarm sounds (for the first of many times between hitting snooze), every single day. It plays a voice recording in a robotic and distorted-sounding man’s voice, through an echoing megaphone. Blah-blah-blah it goes. Then: Odeng. Ddeokbokki. Kongnamul. The only three words I can pick out. Over, and over, and over. Every. Fecking. Morning. I do not know the man who recorded this spiel, nor the person who drives the van past my window at 2mph, nor the one who cooks the foods on sale.  It does not matter. I want them all dead.

Evenings, though, are wonderful things. The sun setting, the city lighting up in a sea of neon, the people heading out for dinner, the steady drone of crickets outside my window. Evenings are when I have achieved things with my day, and am ready to wind down and relax. Evenings are for cooking, writing, reading, relaxing, thinking, talking to friends, savouring a cocktail or a nice meal. Evening is my time, and it kicks morning’s ass!

8. Elton John

I can’t help it, I am a slave to Elton’s ballads. It may be that they are just so much fun to sing, either alone as I do the housework (because I never, never grab a hairbrush as a microphone and strut around the apartment like a pop star), or at an actual karaoke night. Your Song, Sacrifice, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Daniel… all much-repeated favourite karaoke songs of mine. Thank you, Elton. I love you.

 

Beautiful Gyeongju

For the past three years, I’ve taken a trip to the city of Gyeongju as soon as Spring arrives. And yet for some reason, I don’t seem to have written much about it… I wrote about the traditional accommodation and the ancient burial mounds, but that’s about it.  So, third time being a charm and all, here we go.

I have visited a pretty large number of places in Korea during my time here, from huge, bustling cities, to quaint little traditional towns, to seaside towns and cities, to green tea fields and farms, to tiny islands and isolated mountain villages. I can honestly say that of all of these, Gyeongju is the most beautiful, and the one that will always stick in my mind as a tranquil, picturesque getaway spot.

It was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla, and as such contains several UNESCO world heritage sites, including Bulguksa Temple (apparently the most impressive temple in Korea, and they make you work for it – it’s quite a trek up into the mountains to reach it!).

Having visited pretty much all of the sites during my first trip in 2010, the past two have been more about relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. Last year, we timed our visit perfectly for a rather hippyish day of picnics and cherry blossoms:

This year, we were a little early (or the flowers were a little late), but had a lovely weekend all the same. The best way to enjoy Gyeongju is to rent bicycles (very cheap at 10,000 won for the whole day) and just take off down a random street.

Or, as we did on Saturday night, just go for a walk and soak up the late evening sunshine and the atmosphere of the busy street markets.

Of course, I ended up sunburnt as it was the first hot weekend of the year, and I have no sense and no memory of all the other times I said “never again”. But other than that, it was a lovely trip!

R is for Rambling On

See this post for an explanation. And here are some things I love beginning with ‘R’…

1. Reading As an adult, I don’t read nearly enough – especially when you consider that, as a child, I was the biggest bookworm you can imagine. I always had my nose in a book. Usually an Enid Blyton one. Her tales of ordinary children having exciting escapades and discovering magical far-off lands appealed to my curiosity about the huge, unknown world, and my desire for adventure. As soon as I learned how to read, I was hooked. From the age of maybe 6 or 7, I read at least a book a day, holed up in my room, or sitting in the sun when forced outside for some fresh air, or in the car (explaining why I suffered from car sickness!). I perfected the skill of propping up a book on the edge of my cereal bowl with the rim holding it open at the right page, unable to put down my book for long enough to eat. Once, I finished a book and found myself struggling with a physical sensation I couldn’t quite identify. It was like hunger – I suppose, looking back as an adult, I’d call it what I know (from far too many kinds of experience!) to be a craving. I ate a snack and felt no better. Then I picked up another book, and instantly felt sated.  I later told my mother: “Sometimes, I feel hungry, and I don’t know whether it’s because I want to eat something or read something.”

Nowadays, there are too many distractions. The internet is a huge one for me, as it takes some serious willpower for me to switch off the computer, ignore Facebook and my email, put my phone on silent, and focus for long enough to get started on a book. If I force myself to do it, though, I’m just that same, addicted book lover that I was as a little girl. Nothing can drag me out of the world I’m holding in my hands. Well, until sleep finally gets the better of me, and I wake up with the lights still on and an open book on my head. This has happened more than once over the past week.

2. Restaurants There are some restaurants I love simply because they hold fond memories for me, and because they are chilled-out, relaxing places to sit and linger over a meal and lots of wine with friends for hours on end. But in general, I love trying new restaurants. The downside of this in Korea is that more often than not, this involves sitting on the floor – such a fun, novelty thing to do at first, but my legs really do not cope very well with it! Women are supposed to sit on their knees, but sod that, I’d be screaming with leg cramps after five minutes. Even cross-legged, I have to shift position constantly to avoid seizing up.

I endure the discomfort, however, for the food. Korean restaurants are my favourite that I’ve experienced thus far in my travels. So cheap, so basic, but so, so good. The food is packed full of flavour, and there’s more of it than you could possibly eat in one sitting. Copious side dishes (banchan) cover every inch of the table – and they’re all free, with as many refills as you want. Many types of Korean restaurant involve sharing one meal that is cooked in the centre of the table – barbecued beef (galbi) or pork (samgyeopsal), spicy chicken in a pan (dak galbi), various soups and stews bubbling in a huge pot. They just keep bringing you more and more extras until you can eat no more.

I eat in restaurants far more often in Korea than I ever have before, mainly because here, I can easily afford to. It’s by no means a luxury – usually, it works out cheaper than cooking. Whether with friends as part of our socialising, or alone at little diners and ‘hole-in-the-wall’ places, I dine out at least 2 or 3 times a week. I’ll probably never be able to live like this again, so I’m making the most of it!

3. Robert Downey Jr. ‘Nuff said.

4. Ruins My favourite sites to visit when I’m travelling. Thousands of years old, like the ruined amphitheater in the mesmerising ancient Italian town of Aosta, or just a few decades, like the abandoned cottage that used to sit near my granny’s house, a rusty old teapot still on the stove. Ruins feed my imagination and stir my desire to seek out the stories behind what I can see. Who was here? What did they do? What happened to them?

5. Rice Despite where I come from, I’ve always preferred what my grandparents would call “foreign food” over the traditional staples of my own country – that is to say, the potatoes, the casseroles and the stews. My mum is a great cook, and she was always trying new recipes when I was a child, so I grew up with a pretty varied diet and taste buds that like a lot of different things. I would eat my bangers and mash, my shepherd’s pie, and my baked beans cheerfully enough, but they were never my favourites. It was the pasta and rice dishes that had me scraping my plate clean and asking for more. Spaghetti bolognese, chilli con carne, pasta bakes, stirfries, curries… anything with a bit of spice and sauce, nothing dry and bland. When I taught myself to cook, after moving away to university, it was first by following my mother’s carefully-written recipes for my favourite meals. After a while, I began cautiously creating my own pasta dishes and Chinese-style stirfries, and then – finally, in my tiny Korean kitchen – following and tweaking recipes for Korean food using totally unfamiliar ingredients. Just about every meal I cook or buy involves either pasta or rice. And it’s fortunate that I love rice, because in Korea, rice IS your meal. Everything else is just for flavour, really. The rice here is fabulous – sticky and soft rather than thin, hard grains like other varieties. I love it!

6. Roast Beef Monster Munch This follows on from “Crisps” in the previous post, so you’re probably getting an idea of how much I love these various unhealthy snacks. Monster Munch have been around since before I was born, and even the sight of the packet takes me back to my childhood. The roast beef ones beat the other flavours hands down.

The generally accepted method for eating Monster Munch is to bite off one toe at a time from each monster paw, and then eat the rest. I used to be quite particular about following this procedure. Nowadays, in my crisp-deprived life, I tend to go a bit crazy when I come face-to-face with a packet of Monster Munch, and only manage to eat a maximum of three paws in this controlled, restrained manner before tearing into them and eating them more like the name would suggest.

7. Rain I think I may be a little unusual in this one, but I love a good rainy day. I love the heavy, dark clouds threatening to burst, and the dramatic, gloomy feel that the world has when it’s overcast like that. I love the tapping sound of the first few drops of rain as they start to fall, the tapping becoming soft pattering, then pounding as the downpour gets underway. I love the sound of torrential rain pelting against my window, and I love watching the streets become roaring rapids as people scatter for cover. I even love walking in the rain, providing I’m going home for a shower afterwards and don’t have to be anywhere looking presentable. I love the feeling of the cool rain on my skin, running down my face, particularly in the Korean summer when it comes as a blissful relief from the heat that torments me. And although I’ve only done it once in my life, I love dancing in the rain. That’s something I fully intend to do again!

I love the expression of the passer-by in this picture. :) The rain really was coming down in torrents!

8. Renting People always told me it was foolish, a waste, risky, money down the drain. You might as well buy, and be paying off your mortgage instead of your landlord’s mortgage. At least you’ll own something at the end of it! But they didn’t want the same things as me, I later discovered. Buying a house with my then fiancé was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Instantly my life was transformed into something I had never wanted it to be. Possessions. Accumulation of stuff. Financial pressure and responsibilities. And above all, confinement. This house, this thing I had purchased in order to fill it with yet more things, this was my world now. This was where I belonged. And unlike most people, I was devastated at this realisation. No freedom, no chance to explore the huge world of possibilities, no adventures, no travel. Just a life of bills, restrictions, and suffocation under the mountains of “stuff” that I would gather over the years.

I won’t say I’ll never buy again, but for now, renting suits me down to the ground. I don’t need a fancy home full of proud possessions. I need a place to sleep, cook, shower, rest, write, and store my clothes, books, and laptop. That’s all. If there are any problems with plumbing or maintenance  or whatever, they’re not mine to worry about – I tell the landlord and it magically gets fixed for me. If I decide to move to the other side of the world on a whim, I simply pack up my clothes and laptop, give away the books, and leave the rented apartment behind. I’m free.

9. Rest And I really could do with some of that right now.

10. Reminiscing There are some stories that I have heard, told, and shared with my family and friends dozens of times, if not hundreds. Some of them, I know word for word – my mother’s story of how she met my father, the funny stories my lifelong friend and I share about the things we got up to in Sixth Form, South African Friend Four’s regular retelling of tales about various nights out we’ve had. I never tire of them. I will listen to (and tell) the same stories again and again, because, for me, they are what I have to show for my life. Not possessions, not a house filled with stuff (see point 8). It’s about people and experiences and adventures and laughter. I don’t have a house, but I have the time I leapt in front of a moving bus in Korea to stop a crazy driver “kidnapping” my friend. I don’t have a car, but I have the Saturday afternoons I spent in the Blues Club with my parents and friends. I don’t have any furniture, collections, or ornaments, but I have the time I did vodka rituals in Mongolia, and the time I tried to calm down Irish Friend Two as she raged at a bus driver in Japan, and the time I dressed up for the Rocky Horror Picture Show with my university friends, and the time Becs and I got told off at the age of 16 for “playing with dollies” (!) in class, and the time I practiced my French with Le Flatmate in Lyon by watching dubbed X Files episodes with him, and the time I lived in a grand house with my own swimming pool and spa and drove my temporary Mercedes around Switzerland and beyond and learned (in French) how to take care of an entire roomful of parrots. I might not buy things, and it might look like I have nothing… but when I reminisce? I feel like I couldn’t possibly want anything more.

Contemplating C

See this post for an explanation. And here are some things I love beginning with ‘C’…

1. Coffee No surprise there, really. I first started drinking coffee when I was 17 and studying for my A-Levels. I remember sitting at the kitchen table one night, drinking so much of the stuff that I wasn’t even aware of refilling my mug, eventually waking up in the early hours of the morning with my head resting on a French literature essay I could not remember writing. It was wildly poetic and enthusiastic, involving entire paragraphs in complicated French I hadn’t even realised I knew. It also contained the most insane interpretations of a Camus novel that have ever been put forth by anyone in the history of literary criticism – an opinion backed up by my teacher when he returned it to me after attempting to grade it. He actually asked me if I’d been drinking when I wrote it. Coffee, I replied dizzily.

Coffee in the morning, bringing me back to life. Iced coffee on a hot day. Expensive, rich coffee in a pretentious artsy coffee shop. Smooth, foamy cappuccinos enjoyed with a friend and a chat. Powerful espresso shots for stamina. Simple black drip coffee. I love it. I am a caffeine addict, yes, but I don’t just need coffee – I love it!

2. Cuddles  Who doesn’t?!

3. Cats  Also no surprise there to long-time readers. I accepted my eventual status as a crazy cat lady many years ago, although I am currently catless as I couldn’t cope with the thought of putting Kat the Cat in a box on a plane when I abandoned the settled life and became a traveller. My attempts to befriend the local strays have not gone very well. I even resorted to visiting a cat cafe in Seoul once, where you can basically sit and drink your coffee while cats play all around you and jump on your lap and nuzzle you.

I miss my cat. We had a lot of drama in our relationship, but every night without fail, about ten minutes after I switched out the light and closed my eyes, I would hear a little thud downstairs as Kat jumped off whatever she’d been snoozing on. The tinkling of her collar bell would follow as she performed her nightly patrol of the house, possibly checking that there was no chance of food in the near future, and then the pad-pad-pad of her making her way upstairs. The creak of my bedroom door as she nudged it open would be followed by a brief pause as she sat down and did that wiggly thing cats do as they prepare to leap. Then – thump! – she’d land softly at my feet, walk up to my head, give me a sniff and a nuzzle if she felt so inclined, and turn and stroll back down to her sleeping spot at the crook of my knees. A few turns, around and around, to make a comfy nest, and then the final collapse against my legs. A soft little sigh of contentment. And yes, I know this is all dangerously crazy cat lady territory, but I always said “Night night, Kat. I love you.” at that point. Yeah, yeah, I know.

4. Cheese  Good grief, how I miss cheese. Korea doesn’t really understand it. You have to go to western shops for proper cheese, and it’s really expensive. I went a bit crazy the other week and bought mature English cheddar, smoked cheese, Brie, Camembert, and even a pack of Laughing Cow triangles and one of Philadelphia. It cost me a fortune; I think I was in the grip of the cheese madness. Cheese in Korea is generally bland, tasteless, processed individually-wrapped-slice stuff. When I live in Europe again, I will eat nothing but fabulous bread and smelly cheese for at least a month.

5. Cars  Not in the way that you might think – I know absolutely nothing (nothing) about cars. Makes, models, mechanics, aesthetics, nothing. I can’t tell a Skoda from a BMW. I could not care less about what a car looks like or what superpowers its manufacturers claim it possesses. I only care that I can get into it and direct it to wherever I want/need to be. That is freedom, to me. I love driving. I miss driving. Cars are one of the best inventions of all time.

6. Cities I am not a nature lover. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a walk in the countryside, because I genuinely do. It’s lovely to get away occasionally and just be quiet, breathe the fresh air, etc. etc., but I am always pleased to return to city life afterwards. I grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and restaurants were closed by 10pm, and bars not long after them. When I had my first experience of living in a city (Glasgow, aged 18), I fell in love instantly. Hustle and bustle, noise, anonymity, lights, movement, excitement, variety, entertainment. More streets and areas and venues to explore than I would ever have the time to do. Since then, I have lived in a few different cities, and visited  roughly 40 others, with no intention of stopping adding to that list. Cities make me feel more alive, somehow.

7. Crisps (Or chips, if you’re American) I also include crisp-like snacks under this heading. You know what, no one makes crisps like the British and Irish. Investigating the crisps aisle of various supermarkets in Asia, Europe, and, yes, even in the US, is a hugely disappointing experience for a crisp lover. Korea’s crisps are a complete disaster, to be honest, with about 20 variations of sweet pepper or shrimp flavours and not a single cheese ‘n’ onion, salt ‘n’ vinegar, pickled onion, or roast beef. Irish Friend One got a box of goodies from home in the mail recently, and generously presented me with a bag of Meanies from it. I think my response was to deliriously tell him I loved him.

8. Cold I am sad to announce that winter has ended and the temperature actually reached 20 degrees (C) one day last week, which is basically summer as far as I’m concerned. :( I love the cold, you know this already. No point in going on about it again. I have accepted my fate, fetched my classroom fan from the school attic, and placed a paper fan in every bag I own. Goodbye, cold. I will miss you so very much.

9. Chopsticks I have done a serious U-turn on the chopsticks issue. I couldn’t use them when I first moved here, and now they actually make much more sense to me than the whole knife and fork set-up. They are truly a multipurpose tool, like a swiss army knife of eating, once you get a the hang of it. There are things I genuinely struggle to eat if I’m given a fork instead of chopsticks – noodles, for example, or kimchi. Plus, because mastering them took me such an embarrassingly long time,  I feel like I’ve achieved something every time I use them. ;)

10. Cheers. By which I mean the bar I call “The Local“, whose real name does actually begin with ‘C’, too. I do love it, as sad as that may be! I’ve had so much fun there, just chatting, or doing karaoke, or playing games. I’ve danced the night away on Saturday and then cuddled up with friends on the sofa to watch a movie or a TV show on Sunday, kicking off our shoes and perhaps ordering in a pizza as if we’re in our own living room. I’ve been wrapped up in a blanket, sneezing, with the staff bringing me hot toddies in the absence of my mother. I’ve cheered on rugby teams, and played countless games of darts and pool. I’ve eaten ‘home-cooked’ meals, from an American Thanksgiving dinner to shepherd’s pie on St. Paddy’s Day. I’ve made new friends, and grown closer to old ones. I’ve had heartbreaking conversations full of hugs and tears, and craic that has me sobbing with laughter. And when I walk in at the end of the working week, I’m welcomed with a cheerful shout of hello from a bartender or the regulars, and usually a few warm hugs. Who could fail to love that?! Where everybody knows your name…