Anyong-hi kyeseyo Pyeongtaek
Pyeongtaek City, South Korea
I began this blog entry a few days ago while I was still in Pyeongtaek, I have now made my move to Gwangmyeong. The blog started 'Two more sleeps in Pyeongtaek', I didn't finish it that night and the following day changed it to 'One more sleep' and now I'm still in the process of completing it, no more changes though...
One more sleep in Pyeongtaek. I have just completed my first year in South Korea and first year as an English teacher at Pyeongtaek Girls High School. This has been one of the most exciting, rewarding and intense years of my life. As a vagabond I don't have a home, home is where I rest my head at the end of each day so Pyeongtaek has been my home for this very interesting year. In two days I will move to GwangMyeong. Its just a hop and a skip of a move but thankfully I'll practically be in Seoul now so my life outside of school should become a little more interesting.
But this post is about Pyeongtaek! Pyeongtaek is a relatively small city. It is jam-packed with restaurants and bars but has little else to offer. So yes, I have done my fair share of eating and beering over the past year.
The best part of my time here has been at school. This week has been sad, having to say goodbye to all my students, some of which I've grown very fond of. Building up to my last week it was a mix of emotions and I wasn't sure how i would feel saying my goodbyes. I'm glad to say it was sad, it reflects how much I enjoy my work. Below are some photos and videos I've taken over the year and during the last week.
The view from the outside of the school and the hockey pitch
Last Thursday night was my farewell dinner, we went to a Korean BBQ place just across the road from the school as a few of the teachers had to go back to work after the dinner. I wasn't complaining - I love Korean BBQ...I'm South African! Little BBQs (braais) are the center piece of each table and the meat is brought in raw. I like being able to cook to meat myself, its then chopped up and everyone tucks in. The little sections of meat are then wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with some red pepper sauce and a piece of raw garlic - superb! Of course the tables are very low, you remove your shoes at the entrance of the restaurant and you sit on little mats of the floor. Koreans, having lived like this their wholes lives, are quiet content to sit for an hour or two with their legs crossed, us Westerners suffer though. It can be painful after a while. I'm getting better.
The the uppermost photo is (from left to right) Soo-Hyeong, Lucy, Koo, James, me, Mie-Hye, Jiwon and Jenny (many Koreans assume English names!)
On Friday I almost missed my final class because I had to say goodbye to the principle. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've actually seen the guy but respect must be shown so James and I went and had tea with him in his office. James was there to translate, the principle was friendly enough and I had time enough to say my goodbyes to one of my favorite classes. It was one of Koo's classes and they're quite chatty with me. And Koo is quite a joker...
These are just some random photos and video to give you an idea of what it's like in class.
Below are some more random photos and videos taken during a Korean traditional music event in which our school and others in the area all played some tunes for our students! In truth I'm not the biggest fan of Korean traditional music. Most of it has a strange beat that I can't follow, the instruments are interesting though and I like that there are a lot of drums.
The annual sports day was a highlight and I laughed my head off throughout the event. I'm used to 'serious' and highly competitive sports days consisting of athletics in the winter and swimming in the winter. At Pyeongtaek High School its dancing! It answered a big question for me: Why, for weeks on end, we're girls dancing their free time away...why? This was serious!
After some sad goodbyes on Friday I was keen to liven my spirits. I met with my Canadian friend Joel (one of the last in the area) for some street food. Much of which I mention in this post is not particular to Pyeongtaek, as is the 'street food'. All over the country, in every city and even the smaller villages I have passed through, there are little tents dotted here and there and movable food carts (pojang macha), which all sell quite similar food and snacks, sometimes soju and beer. These tents are usually (wo)manned by an ajuma (an old married woman), a very friendly very old and very happy woman bustling with energy and warmth. This particular tent did not sell soju so Joel (a big soju fan) bought a bottle to bring along. To accompany our soju we ate gimbap (like sushi but wrapped in seaweed), ramen noodles and bokdo (a spicy rice noodle dish) - very yummy and very cheap!
Hidden down a back allay. this is the ajuma's makeshift restaurant Joel and I visited Friday night. Much of the roof was tin and cardboard but the food was great!
A few of the street carts dotted through town and the Korean version of biltong (beef jerky) - all from the sea!
The soju was quick and we headed downtown so I could take some photos of Pyeongtaek, I don't see me rushing back here but want to capture my first port of call in Korea! I got a few shots of the sights and sounds, the neon and the shadows and we found ourselves in the Pink Light District. These 'Pink Light Districts' are the same as the Red Light Districts we have in the West. Our mission was to sneak some photos but a bottle of soju, two tequilas and a White Russian later I was a wobbly, forgetful and stupid. I only got the one the photo before we chased out of the area by a pimp!
The story of these Pink Light Districts is very interesting and of course very sad. Like any prostitution in the world it is usually maintained through addiction. Here the addiction is plastic surgery and shopping and the girls get sucked in through credit card dept. The Pyeongtaek Pink Light District is one of the largest in the country and is the only one which has it's own union! If you wish to learn more click here...
The splash of neon of the main road through downtown Pyeongteak, summer shopping downtown and me outside the first bar or 'hof' I visited.
As said before, much of what I found fascinating or just different here in Pyeongtaek can be found all over the country. Two things I appreciated was the old folk who are constantly recycling and the small trucks that drive around advertising. The rear of these trucks are lit up with advertising and they'll have load Hangul (Korean) blasting as the slowly pass by.
We're all aware of the level at which Asian youngsters are addicted to computer games. You may recall the story that hit the news about four years ago of the Chinese kid who died after playing online games for three days straight. It is a serious problem here, online gaming is a intricate part of the culture and PC Rooms (Pishi Bang) can be everywhere. Form my apartment there was at least twenty a five minute walk away. These are open 24 hours a day and are usually quite full of kids and adults alike.
This is Harmony Villa where I lived, the snow which I woke up to a few months ago and my Elvis Cuts, my hairdresser around the corner.
Not too long ago Joel and I tried to embrace all of Pyeongtaek and we walked down to a reservoir in search of something to do. We did what any man would do after being stuck in a city for a few months...made a fire!
After all said and done I will conclude that I was very happy in Pyeongtaek. That happiness was mostly found in school. Pyeongtaek Girls High is a great school with great students and co-teachers. Pyeongtaek may not have been the most exciting place to be but it served me well and will look back fondly on my time there. I met some great people and made a few friends. I hope that Gwangmyeong brings me as much joy. Tomorrow is my first day of school. I'm settled in my new apartment - photos and stuff to follow. Wish me luck in my new venture! Here are a few pics of my new home.
Posted by JC Darne