Happy New Year!
So the days are stretching out and it's been a long long time since my last diary entry. In my defence though, it's holiday season here and no one was in the mood to do any work. :-) At home, after Christmas, and New Year's, you settle into a long, cold, wet winter with not all that much to break the monotony this side of Summer. It took me a little unawares here then to find myself in the holiday mood once more in the middle of January. While Korea has become very western in many ways, it still maintains the Lunar Calendar. This means that they get our regular New Year celebrations, and also enjoy the delights of a second "New Year" according to the movements of the moon. This has some interesting advantages for both adults and children.
- Adults get to make two sets of New Year's Resolutions. You promise to give up cigarettes, or lose weight or whatever other hopeless attempt at self-improvement is tormenting you starting January first, but the Korean twist is that if you don't manage to stick with it, well, not to worry. You get a chance to 'renew your vows', as it were, for the Lunar New Year's Day. :-)
- On the other hand, for Korean children, it means another big holiday from schools and better again, the academies shut down too. Not only that, but you go bow to your grandparents and reap in their cash crop for the New Year. I hate to be an old fuddy duddy, but if my kids are to be believed, some of them have gotten ridiculous amounts of money for New Years. Then again, my kids are not to be believed. :-)
For the ex-pats here it's like a free holiday we just weren't expecting. We're tied to the school's timetable for holidays, so every teacher here got their vacation days at the same time, whether you wanted to take days off or not. (I guess in theory there might be someone who didn't want the day off...) We all had plans. No one was staying in Korea. Not when we had so many days off in a row...
The standard four or five day trip away is the package tour to Beijing. China is Korea's "big brother" in some ways, and there are a lot of flights and tour groups zipping in and out for a short hop on a long weekend. Five of the six expats in my school took this option, and all of them came back very much satisfied with the experience. Reportedly the Chinese aren't as outwardly friendly as the Koreans almost always are, but everything there is on a grand scale. "It sure is a Great Wall" as Nixon said, and my co-workers here report that it's still pretty good today. Best of all is that if you go there you can leave your busisness card on top of the wall, and that way people will be able to see it from space. Don't worry if you don't have a calling card though. The only thing you really need for China is a large empty bag. Either they were cheap genuine goods or reasonably-priced rip-offs, but in any case the expats return loaded down with NorthFace jackets and Nike shoes.
For the more adventurous, the other end of China beckons, and sliding your finger around the map you'll see that Vietnam is only about four inches away from Seoul. Knowing almost nothing more about the country than "G.I. Me love you long time. Only five dollar.", you can board a flight and find some fun. One teacher here came back fairly impressed. It was hot. It was humind. There were rickshaws. This was Asia. Or at least the Asia we've seen in the movies. ;-) Dark alleys and dodgy deals, the dirt cheap escape from the humdrum life of an English Teacher in Korea.
No matter where they went, all the expats here seemed to come back full of life and energy, and with nothing but complaints about Korea, and praise for the holiday destination in comparison. In fairness, they all know that to visit a country is very different than living there, and doesn't even drop a hint of the hassles you'd face working there. But it's hard to be that evenhanded when you've come from a beach in the tropics to a cold Korea complete with kids.
But for a while you've had your fun. You've visited another country that you'll probably never get to again. So you return, swap stories, show photos and settle back into teaching. Glad to know that you've enjoyed the benefits of a calendar system you probably don't even understand. 2003, The Year of the Goat, has just begun, the locals all say they're a year older, but a short rest has taken the years off your shoulders. :-)
Happy New Year everyone!