Asan puppyMy weekend turned out to be eminently leisure-based, beginning in Amy’s apartment on Friday evening with the baking of many cookies and a game of Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot. I was thoroughly pleased that I’d managed to to justice to the excellent hosting normally carried out in the place, and traipsed out to Asan with Animal Rescue Korea the following day ready to accomplish more things.

It turned out to be tick spray day – slightly less effort than heartworm treatment day (as we don’t have to make the dogs eat things), but still a significant undertaking. I also managed to get time to walk some of the caged Jindo dogs, avoiding the concrete road (due to the intense heat) and blazing new paths in the forest. Make a proper trail would be a brilliant project, but we’d need to check who actually owns the land first.

Shadows over CamelotI did a little work on Sunday (having sneaked out early on Friday to go to Yongin), and then went out to Hongdae for more board gaming. We played a rather complicated but well-put-together game called Shadows over Camelot – we each played a Knight of the Round Table and, working cooperatively, simultaneously repelled the Picts, got invaded by the Saxons, completed the quests for Lancelot’s Armour, the Holy Grail and Excalibur, got beaten up by the Black Knight and eventually managed to boot the forces of evil out of Camelot. I found the game atmosphere to be pregnant with impending doom, much like Pandemic, but with the added headache of keeping track of the various Quests and the knights’ abilities. All in all, it was well worth the evening spent playing.

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With the spring semester over in a flash, Amy and I packed a few lesser-done activities into the weekend to start the exam-marking session off with some more stimulating stuff. On Saturday, we met up with a couple of people from KMPL and took the bus up to Bukhansan (북한산) National Park to tackle that pile of buried rubbish we came across on our last trip. This time, we were armed with trowels and after about an hour’s digging had cleared most of the broken glass and noodle wrappers from the bottom of the spring. I then took a quick look around for any rubbish we might have missed, and to everyone’s horror discovered yet another enormous cache from 1986 (dated from an old packet of salt). It took us another couple of hours to dig everything out (we carried about 80 litres out of the park), with every other hiker stopping to see what we were doing (most thought we had found some rare mountain ginseng; one person asked us if we were looking for snakes).

Once off the mountain, we had time for a short shower and then jumped back on the subway for the long ride north to a regular board game meeting. Not only was Tom generously offloading a whole load of seldom-played games, but there was a game developer from Switzerland in attendance to add a real air of expertise to the room. We began with a goat-themed card game, and stopped before the final round after a series of lucky hands put me in an unassailable position. My lucky streak ended with a particularly poor round of Yahtzee free-for-all though, with several no-scoring rounds. We also played Pandemic, in honour of the WHO upgrading H1N1 to level 6, and managed to beat it for about the second time ever.

Park rulesAfter an inspiring fund-raiser for Animal Rescue Korea (a wine and cheese evening at a wine bar in Itaewon, where I got to find out what >$15 wine tastes like), I went out to Asan the following weekend to get some doggy enthusiasm again. Out of the dogs I’d met on my previous visit, one had been adopted, one was at the vet (heartworm, poor guy) and the rest were as happy and excited to see new people as ever (meaning they pretty much bowl you over as soon as you get within leash range). I quickly found that the recent rain had made the steeper paths muddy, which was manageable up to a point and downright dangerous when trying to manage a large hyperactive dog (many of the shelter’s residents are Jindos, which weigh between 10 and 30 kg and are extremely strong). I elected again to exercise some of the larger tied-up dogs, broke up a few fights and tested the semi-mythical Jindo fear of running water down at the river (current tally: 4 afraid, 2 unafraid).

Back at the main building, five lucky dogs were being prepared for an adoption drive on the airbase over at Osan. This meant a thorough bath, blow-drying, brushing and isolation from other (muddy) dogs overnight. Most of the dogs going were fairly small, but the real test came when an enormous (must have been 50 kg at least, he was the size of a small bear) Old English Sheepdog turned up from a rescue. He resisted all attempts to brush him, but the shelter owners took him to task in the bathroom and emerged quarter of an hour later with a positively glowing dog ready to be dried off.

Shelter Jindo (1)Shelter Jindo (2)

The next day, I found myself going back to pretty much the exact same spot (actually one hill over) for a board game meeting with Amy’s friend Tommy (who you may remember from our introduction to Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot). The highlight of the evening (for me, at least) was a game called Genji – based loosely on The Tale of Genji (an ancient Japanese tale of courtly life and lady-wooing), we had to win the affection of various noblewomen by composing Haiku poems appropriate to the lady’s tastes, the season and the prevailing fashions at the Imperial court. Needless to say, there was much inter-player ribaldry.

With mid-term exams approaching, the frequency and depth of my students’ post-lecture questions increased – one also managed to retroactively spot a mistake I’d made in the very first week. While I’m delighted that my students have the comprehension and confidence to ask questions in the first place, I wonder if my status as a lecturer might not be undermined somewhat by my slightly haphazard arithmetic. However, if my students turn out to be brighter than me then they’ll all get excellent marks and will go home happy.

The week passed in a flurry of chalk dust and numbers from statistical data sets (for upcoming case studies and assignments), faster than usual but not so frenetic as to deny me eight hours sleep a night. My quest to customise the ringtones on my sparkly new cell phone came to a gradual halt as attempts to connect via the data cable met with little success and the store staff rebuffed me with a rather inflexible “that’s impossible”, but I did meet with some success on the computer front as I reacquainted myself with an old friend in the form of Starscape.

On a point of principle, I spent half a morning at the local Hana Bank organising a new account – while they, like most Korean banks, won’t give credit cards or international ATM cards to foreigners as a matter of course, they were happy with me as a customer after a brief chat and I transferred my financial dealings to them immediately, apologetically severing my ties with Shinhan a couple of days later while making it clear that it was entirely due to their ethnocentric (some would say outright racist) policies. It remains to be seen whether Hana’s card will actually work outside Korea, but that’s another matter entirely.

Having dedicated one evening a week to the ongoing fixing-up of my apartment, I began dealing with the unacceptable squeakiness of my bed and hit the streets looking for some wooden slats to place between the mattress and creaky base. The local wood store turned out to be closed, but they had a waste area outside that contained just the few planks I needed. A few nail removals and some cutting to size later, I had a significantly quieter place to sleep and had brushed up on my carpentry skills (next week’s task: the rest of my furniture).

On Friday, Amy and Ju Kwan came up to Sinchon for some food and drinking in (early) celebration of Dan’s birthday. We hit an Indian-Polynesian place near Ewha and then settled into a few bars – inevitably stopping by Mike’s Cabin for some Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers. Amy and I took a long walk around the Itaewon area on Saturday, for no special reason other than to explore the neighbourhood and get a little exercise on the steep streets. We emerged in time for a film at the local DVD-bang (like a small, personal cinema room – yet another Korean first for me) and then the Veggie Club meeting at Petra’s – a more intimate affair this fortnight as only a tableworth of people showed up (which actually allowed for better conversation across the whole group). We hotfooted it back to Yongin before the hour grew too late and ended up having time for a long round of Killer Bunnies with Dan.

Termite ExpressAs it was a celebratory weekend, we took Dan out for that mixture of entertainment, confusion and horror that can only be found at Everland. On arriving, out first stop was the Global Village – a homage to Disney’s It’s a Small World After All, but done in a rather disturbing way. We entered to the pomp and circumstance of stereotypical Europe, oddly grotesque dolls twirling about in their national dance or quaffing beer (or both). France appeared twice, several countries were absent (though there was only limited space) and we began to wonder what horrors lay ahead. Both Christmas and the Moon appeared as countries, and then we entered the dangerous African region with spear-brandishing natives coming out of the bushes. Civilisation returned in the form of the USA, and then we were swept into the glory of Asia and the Korean peninsula in particular. There was a moment of panic as the car appeared to be going round again, but we escaped into the sunlight and quickly regained our scattered wits.

Intelligent chimpanzeesThe day was hot, and we consumed many an overpriced soft drink on out trek around the site. Dan and Amy braved the T-Express, a giant rollercoaster constructed entirely from wood (we speculated that the “T” stood for “Termite”, and we fought ghosts in the haunted Strathmore Mansion with laser guns that the Earl of Strathmore himself developed (apparently). There was also the usual slew of animals, including exotic fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda), coati (Nasua spp.), mara (Dolichotis spp.) and big cats. A new primate section had opened as well, and we got to see a cageful of squirrel monkeys (Saimiri spp.) bickering over a drinking straw that someone had carelessly dropped into the cage, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), orang-utans (Pongo spp.) and even some ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). The queues for other attractions showed no signs of diminishing, and so (despite the newly-created pastime of spotting couple- and family-style outfits) we called it a day and returned to Amy’s apartment for delicious soup and birthday cheesecake. If we can somehow engineer a circle of friends so that there’s a birthday every month or so, we’ll have the ideal outing + Amy’s awesome special event food frequency.

Spring came practically overnight (to Seoul at least), and I walked into work one morning to a warm breeze and the sight of white blossoms lining the road. Sadly the clement weather had little effect on my students and they insisted on having the central heating set at the usual 30 degrees (come full summer, they will lobby for the air-conditioning being set at 10). The daily grind of extracting pertinent information in a form I can teach continued, with my only student uprising forcing a change of chalk (the stuff supplied was too squeaky).

With the advent of the weekend, I went out to Itaewon for the first time in a while to meet Amy and Dan for some first-rate pancakes at the deservedly-praised Flying Pan. We then repaired to my apartment with some Crown Royal to admire the new curtains and play some Order of the Stick adventure game (which Dan looked set upon winning until the hour grew too late/early to continue playing). The following morning, Amy excused herself for a lunch meeting and I set about upgrading my almost-in-two-pieces phone. I had initially researched the national provider SK, but due to their foreigners-only W200,000 deposit policy (my old nemesis we meet again etc. etc.) I voted with my feet and got LG’s almost-cheapest plan and phone. Shiny!

With a pleasant afternoon at our disposal, we wandered into Hongdae (where I sampled juk, traditional rice porridge) and walked around the university campus a little. Our travels took us to the top floor of one of the taller buildings, from where we noticed a rooftop garden on the next building. Sadly it was closed at weekends, but little prevents a return visit. In the evening, we’d been invited out to a barbecue in Bundang – we made our way there by subway and bus, and arrived to the sound of furious yapping from the resident dogs (they’d just had six puppies, but weren’t less interested in visitors for it). As expected, there was a large amount of food and drink indeed.

The Seoul Vegetarian Club meeting had come around again on Sunday, this time in the high-rise district of Yeouido (often marketed as the Manhattan of Korea, to the simultaneous amusement and irritation of New Yorkers). We briefly threw a frisbee around in the park afterwards (surrounded by other recreationalists and blossom-photographers), and got a little lost on the way back to the subway station. In doing so, however, we stumbled upon a small marshland eco-park which may form the venue for a future outdoor Veggie Club meeting. When we finally got to where we were going, I bid Amy sweet dreams (for she was off home) and prepared my travel-honed haggling skills for some laptop shopping. The result was a sleek piece of hardware which, while not top-of-the-range, more than meets my computing requirements and is also the most powerful computer I’ve ever had by quite a significant margin.

The majority of my free time during the following week was spent cleaning my apartment widows (using a nifty Korean gadget that’s two cleaning pads with magnets inside them so they attract each other and you can clean the outside of your apartment window even if you can’t reach around) and getting Ubuntu installed on the aforementioned laptop (this took a while mainly due to the difficulty of backing up the pre-installed Windows Vista, which also managed to hog more than two-thirds of the total disk space). Wednesday was local election day, which in Korea is a national holiday (UK Election Agency take note) – whether this actually improves turnout is a subject of some debate. I tied up a few loose ends, and went down to Yongin for lunch – Amy and I spent the (rainy) afternoon playing Candamir with Anne, eating Amy’s banana/chocolate/peanut butter loaf and catching up on some television (neither Anne nor I have one). Thoroughly fed and entertained, I got back to Seoul in record time and began making grandiose plans for things I’ll be able to do once I get home internet access.

The unexpected holiday on Wednesday whetted our collective appetites for more of the same activities, and the weekend kicked off in Yongin with more Candamir, films and food. The weather on Saturday turned out fine and breezy, and after several rounds of more delicious munchables and some computer fixing (principally updating my laptop using Amy’s internet connection) we took a walk out along a cycle/pedestrian path along the river. This path is extremely well-maintained (though admittedly brand new) and the river atmosphere both relaxed and refreshing, but the path starts out in the middle of nowhere (with no easy way to access it) and wends it way for miles (we’ve not had the time to walk the whole length yet). My best guess is that the city council will eventually get around to extending it into the downtown area and maybe provide a bike hire service, as otherwise it’ll be a lot of cost and effort for very little actual use.

We woke up on Sunday to a huge brunch of French toast and fruit, and glorious weather (it having previously threatened rain). Amy and I checked out a just-opened general store at the traditional market (always a good place to find things you didn’t realise you needed), avoided a stall selling dog meat, stockpiled some fireworks for next weekend and returned to bake up a giant pizza and catch up on one of our preferred television shows (The Wire). I elected to stay in Yongin overnight and caught an early bus back to Seoul in the morning, sneaking onto campus around mid-morning with the rest of the people who’d stayed out late.

The week began in promising style, with the majority of my assimilation into Korean society being completed. I was given my Alien Registration Card (an ID card for non-Koreans, which kind of parallels the Korean ID card), and managed to open a bank account at the campus branch of Shinhan. The assimilation then ground to a halt as, after a few phone calls to the Shinhan head office, I was flatly denied an international ATM card and credit card due to “foreigner fraud”. Presumably Koreans are easier to track down if they fail to pay back what they borrow, but given how much my building superintendent was complaining about people not paying their utility bills I lean more towards the opinion that this (illegal, according to the Korean government) activity is down to good old-fashioned institutional racism. My old nemesis, we meet again.

Back in the world of inquiry-based learning, having made it a point to pay my utility bill on the day I got it, my lectures took a turn for the more interesting as I began to figure out how much content I could reasonably expect to cover and the value of worked examples. I paid a visit to the library, and found the (English-language) fiction section rather heavy on the classics (as might be expected from a university) – with little time for browsing, I heaved a copy of C. S. Lewis’ collected works out of the door (in order to finally get round to reading The Screwtape Letters) and went to investigate the gym (quite quiet, and mainly full of students walking on the treadmills at a placid 4 k.p.h.).

At the weekend, I was greeted in Yongin by the smell of one of Amy’s frankly excellent soups and sneaked several bowlfuls during the course of the evening. My pancakes in the morning didn’t turn out as well as expected, though – I’d tried to modify a vegan recipe as we only had cow milk, and it went predictably awry (though the vegan ones I made later on made up for this mishap). The plan for the day was to gather a few munchables and head out to downtown Seoul to meet our urban exploration guru, who’d promised a rather unique experience. In this, he didn’t disappoint – we gained entry to an abandoned hotel (closed due to the entire city block being torn down and replaced), still full of most of the trappings that come with your mid-range Korean accommodation establishment. Apparently it had been too frightening to explore alone (one of the drawbacks of watching The Shining at an impressionable age) and so we tagged along for some investigation and photography (this has been more thoroughly blogged at daehanmindecline.com). The place looked like it had almost been abandoned overnight – bottles behind the bars were still half-full, there were unfinished drinks in the room salons, toilets had been sanitised and the rooms were ready for guests. We finished our tour with fruit and wine on the eleventh-floor restaurant and then left the place for the steeplejacks.

On Sunday we repaired to one of our preferred board game cafes in Hongdae, and spent a few hours vying for supremacy over Middle-Earth in a rather corpse-heavy game of Risk, Lord of the Rings-style. The battle could have gone on for days before someone eventually got an unassailable upper hand, so we called it quits and went home to face another week of our respective jobs. I arrived back in the office to find that a computer had been delivered, but that both the power and network cables had been misplaced, so, despite cannibalising my printer for the power, had another week without the distractions of immediate internet access (possibly a good thing from a getting-work-done point of view). I had my mandatory health check (including a chest x-ray – the unlucky dormitory students have to have one every month), my first student rebellion against work (with ten minutes of the lecture left I attempted teach a side topic, to universal moaning) and the near-daily experience of student reactions to the campus feral cat population (some are so afraid of the cats that they can’t walk by them; other feed them whatever snack they have handy e.g. Starbucks frappuccino).

The weekend saw Seoul Veggie Club’s long-awaited potluck dinner at a member’s fantastic apartment in Itaewon (I may have raved about the apartment last time I was there). The table was piled high with animal-product-free goodness (including a down-to-earth pie from me and chocolate cake from Amy), and I once again ate more than is probably healthy in one sitting. Amy and I completed a major shop as well, picking up a unreasonably aesthetic Mac Mini for her and the peripherals to turn it into one mean desk-occupying machine.

The next week of work went by extremely fast – despite finally getting internet access, I was preparing lectures significantly more efficiently having moved on to more familiar topics and gained some experience as to what kinds of things to include. I set my first assessment (an assessed worksheet) to wry laughs as the students realised that I’d personalised each paper to prevent blatant copying (collaboration and copying is expected, but at least each student will have to do her own sums), and had a large weight lifted from my shoulders on Wednesday as I received my first salary for the first time in well over eighteen months.

Friday came, and with it my inauguration into Shin Sa Hwe (approximately: New Teachers’ Club), the Department of Education men’s association. This was set up sometime in the 1970s, when feminism (at Ewha, at least) was at its height and the male members of staff (traditionally the big cheeses) felt rather downtrodden. It meets once a quarter for dinner and drinks, and as a male member of staff the dues are taken directly from my salary. I was expecting something suitably high-brow, and the sushi restaurant we went to was certainly that. The staff prepared several vegetarian courses specifically for me, we were treated to a short presentation about Prof. Kim’s recent trip to Easter Island (the same guy who recently went to the North and South Poles), and I got to meet some of the elusive faculty. After dinner, the party moved on to a bar and I bowed out to meet Amy and Dan at a different bar (that played generally excellent music) a few blocks away.

Having done a lot of shopping for Amy last weekend, she wanted to return the favour and we went to Dongdaemun (a market area for clothing and fabrics) to search out some curtains to replace my dingy and uninspiring ones. The fabric market caters to every taste and requirement you might have, and there are hectares and hectares of floor space crammed with booths specialising in just a few things. I found some reasonably-priced fabric (from someone who turned out to be an Ewha alumnus), ordered my dimensions and arranged to have it made into curtains for a mere few thousand won extra. We ventured into the “fashion” arcade across the street, only to be assailed by endless rows of eye-wateringly psychedelic golf shirts and blouses and quickly retreated to a safer establishment. I tried a few shirts in the “Dandy Club”, but my Western frame was sadly incompatibly with even the largest ones – we headed back to Sinchon for some nachos, cable television and Carcassonne (I found a copy in my local department store and quickly snapped it up).

Seoul Forest deerSunday proved to be nicer weather-wise, so we caught the subway out to Seoul Forest, a park just east of the city centre (I’d been expecting an actual thick forest, with hindsight perhaps a little over-hopeful in Seoul). We’d intended to go straight in, but got sidetracked by a flea market outside – small stalls lined the road selling items scrounged from places we couldn’t even begin to imagine. Aside from ancient valve-driven electronics and old army gear (including ammo crates – hopefully without the ammo), there were the usual obsolete games consoles (which means Playstations over here), bizarre ornaments and a “luxury” stuffed squirrel. We finally tore ourselves away and hired some bikes to zip around the place with, investigating the newly-built marsh ecosystem area and doing some deer-watching. In a final victory for recycling, I found a second-hand furniture shop on my way home and managed to lug a table and chair back with me (admittedly in two trips) to get me a step closer to having a fully-equipped apartment.

RogerAmy’s rabbit (which, I should point out, actually belongs to her friend Laura – Amy’s looking after him while Laura does some travelling, which, like mine, could end up taking a very long time indeed) continues to delight and entertain us. He has an excellent selection of rabbit food (two types), hay, greens (three types) and sundry vegetables (carrot) but still prefers to gnaw on a cardboard box, sending echoes around the apartment (it’s two-ply corrugated and quite sturdy). He also has a penchant for books, and, having been dragged away from important volumes like Amy’s Korean dictionary, seems happy with the Supreme Master’s Guide to Instant Enlightenment and a Hare Krishna recipe book – paralleling Manny’s encounter with The Little Book of Calm (from Black Books, which Amy introduced me to – are there any brilliant shows she doesn’t know about?), we’re going to have one spiritual bunny on our hands.

Back on the farm, the pumpkin field seems to be full – though I’m wary of more baby plants being produced from somewhere. As I was busy planting, my host produced a weed-whacker which didn’t resemble a trimmer so much as a sharpened helicopter tail rotor complete with a backpack-mounted supercharged engine, and proceeded to ruthlessly cut down all vegetation within two metres of the field. Apparently, potatoes had been growing underneath the greenery and it was now time to dig them out – a job made difficult by the lack of any visible potato plants. Therefore, I had to carefully dig up every square foot of the row with a homi (Korean trowel; like a small, sharp, triangular hoe) until I hit a potato seam and then extract the potatoes without damaging them too much.

It started to rain again in the afternoon, so we headed into town for “shopping” – and actually did none, unless one counts buying dinner. First of all, we met some council employees and drove out to where the city is building a new road. My host pointed out some kind of plant (it looked a bit like heather), and everyone tasted some. Then they uprooted it and took it away – I can’t figure out whether it was rare and needed protecting from the road work, or just delicious and able to be cultivated. After this, we went to the local supermarket where my host negotiated to get his pumpkins on the shelves (with some success, I believe). A florist was next on our to-visit list, but this was just a social call (I was given some books on Korean paper crafts – in Korean – and a tea box), as was the junior school football match we went to afterwards. By this time, we were getting a bit hungry and my host made numerous calls to local eateries to try and find something vegetarian – he succeeded, and (of course) when the food came it was full of shellfish. The junior school football coach joined us, and we went to pay a call on the mayor of Hwaseong afterwards but he wasn’t in. I seem to be something of a minor celebrity.

Friday came round tolerably quickly, and I zoomed back to Yongin and Amy’s amazing lasagne (two types – one tomato; one aubergine) and desserts (two types – one chocolate courgette cake; one chocolate tart). We ate, played with the bunny, had a quick round of backgammon and made some weekend plans. Saturday was initially mooted for a half-day in Seoul shopping for various electronic goods, but we went straight to meet Amy’s friend Tommy in a yoghurt cafe in Chungju for a game of Killer Bunnies. This is a complicated card game, devised by engineers and full of science fiction references and nerd-friendly quirks. Despite playing brilliantly (for a total newcomer), unleashing such horrors as the Cyber Bunny, Trojan Bunny and an earthquake, the Magic Carrot wasn’t one of mine. We filled in the time until the next bus with a round of Condottiere (a Risk-like conquest game set in renaissance Italy, which I won) and, due to me mixing some times up, missed the last bus to Yongin. This necessitated a diversion via Icheon, but we got back with a logical puzzle and several Puzzle Quest quests under our collective belt.

Michael Jackson taekwondo tributeSunday dawned bright and sunny, and (at my suggestion) we cleaned out Amy’s fridge – giving, as ever, a fine sense of achievement. We then headed out to Yongin Multi-Cultural Festival, a fairly large event to celebrate the culture of the various Asian migrant workers in the area (one vendor took me for a Russian, adding to the long list of nationalities I’ve been wrongly assumed of being). There was little vegetarian food, but we did get some excellent Bangladeshi rice, samosa and yoghurt before heading into the event proper. Each country had a small area stuffed with traditional artefacts and clothing, and after painting a fan (nominally an activity for children) we wandered around for a while watching some of the goings-on and taking the opportunity to try on some Mongolian clothing. The cultural performances mainly centred around music and dance, but the Korean taekwondo demonstration stole the show with a Michael Jackson-themed display of energetic gymnastics and precision choreography.

Philippines danceBack at the farm, my tenure was renewed until the end of October (and possibly later – talks will recommence nearer the time) and I went back to digging potatoes (my kingdom for a garden fork). We went out to Hwaseong City Hall one morning to (presumably) check out planning regulations and plans for an area of fields (again, I think I was there to add credibility to the farm as an international institution), which seemed to go well. On the way out, my attention was grabbed by a large display entitled Mars Belongs to Hwaseong City, with concept art of Mars after terraforming and settlement by (presumably) some of Hwaseong’s adventurous population. This is not a joke.