Monday, 17 September 2012

Whether the weather be hot...

It has been an eventful few months since I last wrote, but i'm not going to apologise for the gap in service as I managed to catch up with all (most) of my nearest and dearest during the longest holiday I have had in nearly 10 years, so you're all pretty much up to date. Just thought I'd record my thoughts about the Summer, leaving, seeing Blighty and returning to Busan.

Term ended after a flurry of busy weekends.

Firstly a  temple stay in Golgulsa near Gyeongju, that was great, so much better than the last one. It was situated in a beautiful, peaceful, wooded valley, with a giant, old, stone carved Buddha situated at the top of the steep path, smiling approvingly over all the activities going on below in his name. The highlights were a talk with a monk about why he became a monk and a 90 minute workout doing Sunmudo, a zen martial art that made me sweat a lot! Another notable moment was when I arrived at morning meditation at (just after) 4am, having walked very quickly up a very steep hill, i proceeded to drip sweat all over my prayer mat every time I touched my forehead to it when bowing. I did not feel like a contented, calm Buddhist at that point. In fact, at no point did I feel like a Buddhist, or even inclined to become one. I felt that living in the moment and denying desire for anything in the future is just really opting out of society with all its difficulties and complexities. Good philosophy for a short break from the madness of the world and everyday life though, I recommend it.

We also had the last Science Department 'Roast' of the year which was a BBQ on our roof. It was a glorious day and a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon - watching the sun go down. Nobody else in the building seems to use the roof so i think of it as my own, private space. We will have to use it more this year, the only problem being it is a bit of a trek down to the loos on the 26th floor . It has been a regular retreat of mine for reading on a sunny day and catching some rays (of which there were plenty before we broke up for hols.)

As mentioned last entry, I did turn up to a football match between the foreign supporters of the BTC and the Korean supporters. However, I ended up having to play due to a mix up over whether or not the game was going ahead which meant a couple of players dropped out. It was the longest 15 minutes of football I have ever experienced. Not having played a game since my Edmonton County days, ie a long time ago, I was not only lacking in foot / ball coordination but had no speed or stamina. Our opponents were very good to us and kept their lead to single figures. It was a hot day that had started with frustration but which happily ended with the drinking of beer in the sunshine and a decent curry afterwards.

International Open day at school was great fun - our stall had scones, welsh cakes, bara brith, scottish tablet (mmm) and a proper high tea. We also ran a knobbly knees competition and our Samba band played its first public performance. All in all it was a wonderful day, rounded off with a tearful goodbye to 2 colleagues who were about to retire. I always find retirement speeches moving, but these 2 staff had been teaching in International schools around the world for up to 40 years and their wisdom and experience will be greatly missed by the school.

The end of term was a hectic time and it was sad on the last day to be saying goodbye to colleagues who we had grown close to over the last year. Some were leaving to go home, some to go abroad and one or two were moving on within Korea. No doubt we will keep in touch with them and hopefully see a lot of them again. But strangley, it was just as difficult to say goodbye to colleagues who we would see again in 7 weeks time. Colleagues and friends become a big part of your lives when you are far from what you used to call home.

We eventually got to the end of term and ran out of time for doing anything else, and then it was time to go on holiday to see our friends in Jakarta. We packed a lot in to the 10 days we were on Java and during that time, never had Korea and Indonesia been compared and contrasted so thoroughly. We owe a lot to Chris and Lisbeth as it is their path we have followed into teaching abroad. We hadn't seen them for 3 years but the intervening time soon fell away as it always does. Skype, Facebook and email have a lot to do with how easily we can pick back up with friends.

Then it was onwards, home to the UK. We had a wonderful time seeing family and friends and reacquainting ourselves with the beauty of the countryside and visiting places we had never been before. We were told repeatedly that the weather this Summer had been truly dreadful and we tried not to smugly reply that we didn't mind because we had had lovely weather in Busan and Java, thank you very much. The sun took its hat off for us and made the UK look beautiful - we even did swimming and sunbathing on beaches in Pembrokeshire! (the sea was bloody freezing mind you.) We told people as much or as little as they wanted to know about our time in Korea, and sometimes that really was quite little! I feel sorry for those who we saw later in our trip as by then, we really had had enough of talking about it and were beginning to bore ourselves. It was great to see family in Wales and Scotland and most of our friends in between - sorry to those we missed - please keep in touch!

Nearing the end of our long holiday in Blighty, we were really beginning to miss our other home, Busan and felt we really should have returned earlier. Having said that, we could have no regrets about leaving it so late to return because one of the highlights of our holiday was watching Squeeze play at Cropredy and finally getting to see Richard Thompson who we had heard so much about (Sal!)

We left sunny Cropredy (where, honestly, at times it had been too hot!) and began our long journey back to a rainy Korea. We were back at school the day following our return flight - i have never really suffered with jet lag before but this time it hit me for six and i was in a daze until the Thursday of our first week back. We had really missed out on meeting the new staff (although part of me had been dreading meeting so many new people) and we are still making up for lost time.

Since being back, we have had our chance to bemoan the weather here - whilst it was as humid as we had expected, we have seldom had a run of 3 or 4 sunny days and various typhoons have threatened to blow or wash us away. Happily, as a precaution, we have had a day off school twice (this latest one giving me the chance to catch up with the blog) and both have been very welcome. I feel the prayers i used to say all through the UK Winter for snow, which never ever led to a single day off, were not wasted after all.

There has been carousing and socialising a plenty - the newly formed social committee came up with the fab idea of going on a boat trip in the first week back (it was my idea) followed by eating and drinking and, well, being social into the wee hours. The Science dept took it's monthly Sunday tradition on the road. It was too wet for a DIY barbecue so we went to a duck restaurant instead, much fun was had by all! We also went to our first Noraebang (Karaoke) and had a thoroughly enjoyable time celebrating the birthday of colleagues. I won the first poker night of the year and we have started tasting whisky in a monthly Bothy! As we approach middle-age, Bob and I find ourselves saying more and more often, we just can't drink as much as we used to - so we make up for it by drinking more often instead!

So thank you Typhoon Sanba, for helping me to catch up with the blog. If there are no casualties (another little prayer goes up) our samba band, who held their first session this weekend, will be able to call ourselves, Typhoon Samba! Keep that weather coming, talking about it reminds me every day that i'm British. As for using the term, 'home' as i said to a new colleague, for me, home has come to have a third definition: the UK (original home), Busan, our new home and in between, it's wherever me and Bob are together, having a good time.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

muesli, muesli, muesli…scotch pancakes and jam!

Variety is the spice of life and following a steady breakfast diet of muesli with Tesco Fruit and Fibre mixed together, I made these scotch pancakes after a colleague told me she has pancakes every weekend. I put one more egg than the recipe said and bicarb so they were fluffy and hyped up versions of the supermarket ones we've always had at home. That was a one off - I only bake when the spirit moves me, which is not very often. The only other variation to the muesli is adding red grapes - which i love, little bursts of juice straight from the fridge. 

I realize that the title of this blog (and hence the way it starts each month) could give the misleading impression that food is important to me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously I need food to live and i do enjoy the great variety that is on offer here in Busan, but, really i cannot be described as a 'foodie' by any stretch of the imagination. Left to my own devices i would survive on a diet of 'things on toast,' mainly Marmite (beans, scrambled eggs, sardines/tuna, and cheese - enough variety to get through a week, pretty much) Luckily for my taste buds, i have Bob to insist that we have proper food now and again and i have him to thank for Thai style curries, bolognese and hot-dogs to name but a few (actually, that's all we can think of - i'm afraid my monotonous taste in food has rubbed off on him. He is also the world's only known person to have developed a taste for Marmite, at my insistence, without being raised on it from birth) So, not being a foodie, i'll stop going on about it. I'll try to talk about Korean food next time, promise.

Spring arrived while Mum and David were here and in just a month and a half, Summer seems to have followed rather more quickly than i am used to.
Since the cherry blossoms of Spring there have been non-stop flowers everywhere - particularly bright and ubiquitous are azaleas. They lasted a long time and made our, already lovely, ride to work on the school bus, stunning in places. All this gorgeous greenery is just as well since we don't have a garden. Now i have discovered my sun spot on the concrete roof, the one disadvantage of not having a garden has been removed and I am happy. 
I have been running an elective (an after-school club) at work called Springwatch. I had the idea before the easter hols when the blossoms were about to burst and when all I really fancied doing for a compulsory hour after school each week was going for a walk. So i, and a happy band of nature loving 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders wander the grounds looking a the signs of Spring. I soon realized that bugs and creatures are much more interesting to this lot than flowers and trees and it has evolved into bug watch (with the occasional frog to liven things up!) I have an eagle-eyed 2nd grade boy who is particularly adept at seeking out the fauna - he turns up something interesting every 20 minutes on average. I don't question his methods, i just take the photos! I'm hoping to convert him from hunter to conservationist before long -he's almost there. 

Speaking of getting out in it, the running has continued and training was going well until i got a cold the week of the 10k at Dadaepo beach. On the day, i was Sudafed fit but not really on best form in the heat. I was glad to run all the way and proud of Bob for completing it too with minimal training and succumbing to some illness or other. I drenched myself at the finish line and then left puddles of water all over the metro home - which seemed to take an age. I was actually cold when we arrived home and welcomed the warmth of our sun-soaked flat like a cold-blooded creature basking on a warm rock.

 the runners the roof   

Time is speeding up way beyond my comfort level and we only have a few weeks left before we head for the holidays and home. As i see it, the only way to slow time down is to fill it with as much stuff as possible. So from here on in there will be more samba practicing for our spot at the International Open Day at school on the 16th June, cheering on the BTC foreign fans v Korean fans footie match this Saturday (more about the football next time), last of the ballet classes, singing in the school choir for said Open Day, running as often as i can and doing another temple stay. I also have report comments to write. 
Yesterday was Buddha's birthday and we went with some friends to eat some seafood then on to a temple near here by the sea and saw hundreds (thousands) of multicolored lanterns adorning the place. The Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (by the sea) is beautiful as it overlooks the rocky shore and breaking waves even on a grey, overcast day. With the lanterns at night, it was magical and breathtaking (especially as one rounded the corner in the staircase down to it and the extent of the rainbow of lights was revealed)

Pictures don't do it justice. Despite Buddhism not being the majority religion here in Korea, its history and presence pervades the culture and provides peace, calm and beauty in a country which really needs as much as it can get. 

This week on Springwatch i had planned to look at the river (stream) that runs alongside the school - i have seen egrets standing there. Imagine my horror today as i saw JCBs (or Samsungs as i imagine they are) digging up the river bank. I don't know what they're doing but i am guessing it is something to do with the huge tourism complex (amusement park site) that is being developed alongside the school - since we arrived 10 months ago the landscape (a pine forest clad hill) has been completely destroyed. I doubt the egrets will be hanging around for much longer. Sometimes we want time and progress to stand still so we can enjoy the moment and look around us. I think i can see why practising Buddhism is on the decline here in Korea - it doesn't fit well with the relentless march of development and advancement towards the future, but subconsciously people need the opposite and that's why, i suspect they were flocking to the temples yesterday. 
pre-Spring photo of the stream with little egret

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Hugs and kisses for Easter and panettone on the KTX

The great visit from home has occurred - it was wonderful, and now I have what's left of our Spring holiday to reflect on the past month or so.
Seeing Busan through the eyes of Mum and David made us fall in love with the city all over again - we had a fantastic time; saw new sights, explored fresh wandering grounds, went up to the big city and ate new things, of course!

These little shots of chocolate were all that could be mustered for Easter morning treats - the cadbury chocolate egg came courtesy of my friend and colleague, Mandy, whose husband works in Hong Kong. The Hersheys 'Hugs' and 'Kisses' were my last minute purchase in an effort to make Easter what it has always been in our house - an excuse to eat chocolate!

The other great breakfast we enjoyed while the visitors were in town was Panettone from the Ops bakery which we (mainly, I) scoffed on the KTX once we had joined the train at Gupo. I kept my cool as we travelled to the station by metro and the minutes ticked away - we arrived on the platform with 5 minutes to spare, much to my relief, having assured everyone that we really didn't need to leave the house until 8.20 (even though i'd never been to the station at Gupo before). Why am i pathologically incapable of leaving plenty of time to get anywhere? I'm serious, i want to know why. I wish I'd known about the Panettone before Xmas but I'm glad the Ops bakery is not on our doorstep as, by now, I would be the size of a house if it were!

Spring arrived on cue at the same time as Mum in the form of pale pinkish white cherry blossoms and on Easter Sunday we joined the throngs and strolled beneath the trees on Moon Tan road in Dalmagi. Everyone had a smile on their face; it was warm, it was sunny and the promise of more heat and light, longer days and the fertile growth of flowers (and no doubt, chillies) made everyone cheerful (apart from the drivers stuck in the tailbacks - why does anyone think cherry blossoms look better from inside a car?) We had coffee over-looking the blossom, the people, the light-houses at Cheongsapo and the sea beyond and felt very contented. (Mocha flavored coffee, naturally)
Lots of our colleagues were traveling around Japan and South East Asia, but I'm so glad we were in Busan at this time. We've experienced Winter here and so naturally, Spring is all the sweeter in the place we got so cold.

We showed off our school to Mum and David - we have definitely taken for granted the great facilities and it made us realize just how lucky our students are to have such a pleasant environment to learn in. My classroom plant was in full bloom and i was glad I had seen it like this - shame it couldn't have been in term time.

School has been going well, 2nd term finished and we are well and truly speeding towards the end of our first year. The PYP people from the International Baccalaureate Organisation came to visit to check we are preaching the good gospel of Inquiry and the Learner Profile and saw that it was good. They managed to ruffle more than a few feathers along the way and seemed to forget such qualities as empathy and respect in their quest for evidence and IBO knowledge. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! After a little word in their ears, they softened and became more human and by the time they observed my lesson, they were all sweetness and light.

That leads me (i wonder why?) to our visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with Mum and David. It was fascinating and atmospheric, due to the fog that took most of the morning to lift - by the time we reached the Dorasan Observation area only a thin line of mist hung in the valley between the previously tallest flagpole in the world and its South Korean counter-part (such childishness - the escalation in height of each one). I saw people going about their business on bicycles which evoked a past world that was simple and uncomplicated. It is far from that in reality but this short (bali, bali - hurry up in Korean) glimpse really caught my imagination - so little is really known about how people in North Korea live and feel, it made me want to see more. The North Koreans had, a few days earlier, launched a rocket, a satellite they claimed, and it had crashed into the Yellow Sea. The chosen few are allowed to spy on the rest of the world and know all about what's going on around them, but the people are denied this right to broaden their horizons. I hope that changes one day soon, but until the Sunshine policy of openness and cooperation returns, the fog looks like staying a little longer along this border.

fishermen in Mokpo doing something with nets - folding,
checking for holes?
We have been broadening our circle of exploration since the last post. We went to Mokpo in the south west, for the long-awaited first game of the season for our National League Football team, the mighty Busan Transportation Corporation Football Club (our Gimme a B chant goes on for minutes on end and is what first endeared me to this team's happy and loyal band of expat supporters). It's another seaside place so we went armed with beach related attire in the true spirit of away game fancy dress - although to be honest we weren't really big enough in our ambitions to make a real splash or impression on the good citizens of Mokpo, whose mayor (possibly) found it most bemusing - especially when he heard us shout Busan Fighting! after having his photo taken with us. It was a goaless, lifeless, draw with little incident and the sunny seaside feel gave way to arctic conditions. We eventually found a bar downtown and continued to drink away the chill. While Bob succumbed to the worst headache and throwing up bug he had ever experienced, i joined my non-welsh fellow fans in search of a bar that would show the Wales v Italy game. We found Lemon soju which was an excellent alternative to the kiwi soju we had asked for, and as consolation for not finding the match on anywhere, my BTC fellow fans spoke with flawless welsh accents all evening and played Tom Jones and the Manics on the jukebox non-stop - truly a touching gesture. Following this, at home games, we have persuaded the BTC to play at least one Jones the Voice track at half-time.  We sing Delilah if it's not on the list.

                                                                                                                                           I don't need to say how much i enjoyed watching Wales win the 6 nations, needless to say I wish I'd been there! Thanks to Russ for posting pictures of St Mary St through the day - i could almost smell the beer in the air!

Bob went to Thailand on a Maths course - he made a long weekend of it and really enjoyed himself by all accounts. I think he learned a bit more about Maths too! His colleague taught him how to use our big camera properly and his photos of Seoul really show what a difference a little knowledge can make!
Bob saw lovely things in Thailand!
I ran a half-marathon while Bob was living it up in Bangkok.  

Changing of the guard at Deoksu Palace, Seoul

In other news…we've been to a couple of classical concerts;  eaten gorgeous food at a colleague's flat for our monthly Science dept. roast dinner, rounded off with cheese and the most delicious single malt, Octomore;  i've tried egg cakes - little cakes with an egg in them;  visited Gyeongju (will tell you about it another time - when we go back, probably);  travelled by bus which was easy, efficient and cheap - will do again;  drunk Margharitas at Thursday Party (on a thursday) in Gwangalli Beach with our honored guests;  dined at the Westin Chosun buffet for David's 60th and bought a pair of bright pink, sexy boyfriend-cut jeans from the Gap and took them back a week later! Somethings never seem to change but I'm hoping that with the Spring, the Sunshine policy may return and some things may just change a little.

Another palace in Seoul

A beer in Seoul Station
Soulmates in Haeundae

Friday, 2 March 2012


Bore da i gyd! March is here and Spring is on its way. I had the last remaining welshcake for breakfast this morning. I do love the humble welshcake - easy to make and always turns out ok despite the wildest  inaccuracies of quantities and lack of equipment - only really essential item is a heavy bottomed pan or griddle. I made them in the base of a stir-fry pan so could only do 4 at a time but adds a suitably oriental twist to the whole process (although said pan was made in France - how is it that France can still make pans and export to the east, where did the UK go wrong with its manufacturing? Don't answer that, rhetorical question!)

Improvised cooling rack and water bottle rolling pin and a measuring jug with fluid ounces on the scale to measure the sugar and flour. My maths is not great at the best of times but the welsh cake forgives all of this and magically appears in the pan, with the addition of a sprinkling of sugar and 'dyna fe' (welsh for voila?) a little bit of Wales in South Korea. As one of my colleagues, whose mother was Welsh, said - seeing them brought tears to her eyes. Emotional business, food from home (or maybe they just looked ok but tasted awful!)
The following day i went to Homeplus (Tescos in Korea - no slave labour here - as far as i am aware?) and bought  some kitchen scales and a cooling rack. I think i'll give scones a try next.

We've had a few poker nights since i last wrote - January's session was billed as Burn's night poker but with no haggis or bagpipes, poor Burns was forgotten in the rush to accumulate chips. Great fun and i'm sure Burns would approve. Bob and I have not been the most successful players - i blame the alcohol and my inability to do a poker face (silence i also find tricky) I'm not sure what Bob's excuses are - he should be great at it - after 21 years together, i can still not tell when he's being serious!

Last night's was called Mad March poker but the Welsh theme predominated and Y Ddraig Goch adorned the wall. Again, the proposed recitals of Dylan Thomas didn't happen which is just as well as when i read Fern Hill after everyone had gone home, the tears came flooding - alcohol and poetry, a dangerous mix!
It had been an emotional late night last weekend that saw Wales beat England for the first time ever at Twickenham - i still can't believe that statistic! I have never had so much unwavering confidence of certain victory watching Wales play and  frankly, that confidence only just lasted until that final try. The sigh of relief was deep and grateful that such confidence had been justified.

The weather has taken a turn for the milder so I'm glad we got a few days skiing in during the mid-term break. It was almost like a proper ski trip but really had me hankering after a week in the Alps - a solid week of skiing and and drinking simply cannot be bettered. We had a good time with friends and i'm pleased to say the Hat game made its first appearance in Korea. I was slightly worried as i had never played with such an internationally varied group of people but Hat won the day, despite some very vociferous insistence on rules! On the skiing side, i learned a couple of valuable lessons from helpful fellow skiers and the slopes were wonderfully empty as it was mid week. I also found a great way to spice up the intermediate slopes - head straight down hill a la Franz Klammer and endure the burning thigh muscles while trying hard to stay on ones skis. Great fun.

I wore a helmut from the 2nd day after Bob collided spectacularly with a  snowboarder. The aftermath of the incident rumbled on and eventually Bob reluctantly gave the guy a chunk of money to end the threats of being sued. It had been Bob's fault admittedly but it caused a blip of unpleasantness in an otherwise great few days. Thanks to Jules for organising it.

Earlier in January, we had broadened our horizons a little more and took a trip to Gumi, a smaller town a couple of hours north of here. We saw a frozen waterfall and a great volleyball match. The area around the base of the waterfall reminded me of the one up at Tir y Cwm, except that a) it wasn't raining and b) it was swarming with hikers. Great to get away, though and do something different. Anyting to avoid routine and time speeding up.

And so to Spring. The freezing temps and wind chill factor appear to have become a thing of the past and forecasts on the site i look at are all in shades of green rather than the blue of winter months. The weather here appears to be mirroring the UK's. On the whole, i'd say i prefer the Winter here - cold and crisp and clear. Koreans tell me this sort of weather, ie dry, should be continuing but there is rain forecast. I went for a run in a downpour - it was my first run after over a week off so was doubly difficult. The downhill speed skiing, strenuous though it is, was no substitute for running and my training has taken a setback. I will try to get back on track tomorrow with another long run. At least i won't have to put three layers of clothes on with gloves, hat and scarf - I won't miss the strange sensation of feeling cold after running up a hill for 20 minutes while dressed up in winter woollies.

Bob will be away when i run the Haeundae half marathon - he's off to Bangkok for Maths training (it's a hard life) Then Mum and David arrive at the end of term and we can't wait for that. We need to plan some sort of itinerary as they leave on their big trip in a couple of weeks and may be difficult to get hold of.

Bob's helping with a soccer tournament at school and i am lazing about. Next week I start ballet classes - don't laugh! it was all agreed after watching Nutcracker at Xmas., so later i need to find some sort of acceptable get up that will hopefully prevent the spectacle from being even more ridiculous!

May catch a movie later - we saw the Artist and enjoyed it and Tinker Tailor on the TV via the laptop was really brilliant (cinema version would have been better) It's great we can watch some films here as dubbing isn't common.

I'm off to do a draft plan for an Eisteddfod next year - I think it's just what the school needs to consolidate the House system and celebrate everyone's cultural creativity. And people still really need to know what a great little nation Wales is - an Eisteddfod will do this a little more effectively than a plateful of Welshcakes could ever do!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Happy Lunar New Year

I missed out on New Year's Resolutions to write more often and keep in touch more regularly and here in Korea, one gets a second chance with the Lunar (Chinese) New Year which is today.

Nothing interesting to say about today's breakfast, sorry (muesli, Tesco Blueberry Wheats -catchy title - and banana), although I do have a couple of pictures from our Christmas holiday in the Philippines which fit the bill. This first one was my first course from an extensive buffet at the Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu City. I couldn't resist the the multi-coloured cereal and the wide range of dried fruit. The tea in this place, despite it's 4 stars, was diabolical!

We had an interesting time in the Philippines - despite having the Rough Guide, I singularly failed to read any background stuff, I failed to ask amongst lots of friends and colleagues for recommendations about where to stay etc and consequently I was surprised by the poverty we saw in Cebu City and frustrated by the lack of 'sites' and 'history' to explore, as well as disappointed by some of the places I had booked us in to. The variable weather also put paid to beach style activities such as sunbathing, snorkelling and drinks infront of sunsets. However, and I must stress this, we both had a relaxing holiday during which we both read alot and grew fonder and fonder of all things Filipino. By the time we were flying back to Korea, I was wistfully examining (if that is not an oxymoron) the mountains of the northern islands and planning a more adventurous return journey.

This second breakfast photo was taken at a resort on Panglao island which Asia Rooms said it had booked us in to but Yves, the Swiss owner, said it hadn't and they were full. He kindly offered us food and more importantly beer and we slept on his sofas with the mosquitoes. Yves (out of guilt for having cocked things up, I suspect) organised somewhere else for us to stay and a trip around Bohol so all was forgiven if not quite forgotten. This breakfast was scrambled eggs with toast (which is always a special treat breakfast in our house) but this one had added chocolate cake and a lovely cuppa. It was here that i finished my Kate Atkinson (Brodie no.4) book - never underestimate the power of a good book to help one rise above the petty irritations of life. She was a godsend and the book appears in the photo (now a photo of a Kindle would just not bring back the same memories would it?) I also sampled the delights of tea with Calamansi juice (sweet little limes) I drank it when i was seriously flagging and losing the will to live and it single-handedly revived my spirits and ability to cope. That sums up the Philippines for me, the rough with the smooth, the ups and the downs - altogether memorable. We ended our trip on a high - an afternoon and evening with friends in a bar called Magellan's Landing - i knew the history would feature somewhere.(Magellan's Ending would be a more appropriate name - it was very close to where he met his demise at the hands of a disgruntled native)

The best bit of our Xmas/New Year holiday was having a week to laze about at home in Busan (coming back from our holiday, we really did feel glad to be 'home' - late mornings and sunny afternoons in the flat - sun streaming in and pottering about. Freezing cold temperatures outside but we finally managed to work out how to achieve underfloor warmth after a prolonged process of trial and error with the heating/water controls. I have always been quite blase (blahzay - can't work out how to find acute accents) about pressing buttons and hoping for the best which is just as well because it seems to be the only way to get things to work here.

Winter here is not the grey, wet, miserable affair it can be at home. Days are bright, sunny, cold (around freezing) but most importantly, dry! Very dry - a humidifier is needed and copious amounts of moisturiser. It is cold enough for a mini ski resort very near Busan to make its own snow so last weekend we skied up and down a few short runs and said over and over - we can't believe we're skiing and only an hour away from home! Brilliant. Of course we now want more, so looking into going further afield. We will be skiing during the February break up in Yeongpyeong - which will be hosting the Winter Olympics in 2018.

The photo on the right shows the bright sunshine of Winter that highlights colour and brightens up life in general. My only gripe is that my classroom at school does not face the sun during school hours and so going to work at 7.30 in the morning feels like going somewhere dark. I've taken to leaving school as early as i can so i can race home and catch the sun before it sinks below the horizon. Every time i do this, i imagine what my Dad would say - he was always very disapproving of the 3.30 finishers - but now i know that if one sees something as being essential to one's well-being, just bloody go ahead and do it and be damned. With age comes wisdom on such matters! I have to add that school in every other respect is so far removed from the teaching experience at home that I am enjoying it and love teaching small groups of children to acquire and use more English.

I have signed up for the Haeundae Half-marathon in an effort to motivate myself to get out running more. I was feeling quite positive about this endeavour as i have 2 months to get my distance and stamina levels up. However, it turns out that it goes up a hill so that changes the challenge somewhat. But it moves things forwards so i will not back out. After all, what goes up must come down, so that will be something to look forward to. This is me in winter running gear - imagine gloves and a scarfy thing for the complete look. I have long since ceased worrying about what i look like running, just as well!

Well, I'm glad I've made the effort to write - it is nice to sit down and think about our experiences here in a summarising kind of way. I have mentioned 'home' a few times and not in the context of the UK(although in conversation here i use the word home, meaning the UK, all the time) I do feel at home in Busan (Bob thinks we should call it Pusan as it sounds more interesting, Pusan Perimeter etc) Nearly 6 months in and i feel very well settled. We now have friends, not just colleagues and the christmas party before the hols was great for feeling seasonal warmth towards them. Wishing people a Happy Christmas and a good holiday and giving them hugs at the end of term made me feel like I belonged and that i really cared about this group of people. But I am missing the hugs and good times with friends back 'home' too and so next Christmas will be spent in a cottage on the Gower, with friends, family, grey skies, rain, turkey, hugs and merriment galore. It's an emotional journey, coming to live so far away. And i love journeys of all kinds.
Happy New Year to all my friends and loved ones. And if you're not on Facebook - make it a new year's resolution to get on it so you can hear all the in between bits of news too! X