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Where have the last 9 months gone?

28 Jun

Snowboarding at High1 Resort, Korea, December 2011

I remember arriving in Korea last September scared and anxious, sad to leave my family and  friends back home, hoping I’d like it enough to stay the year.

Well I can now honestly say it was better than I could have ever anticipated! I met amazing people, I tried new things, I went on lots of adventures and most importantly to me, I learned to adapt in a country entirely different to Scotland. I taught English to children, even though I’d never taught a class before in my life, I made friends with people who don’t speak the same language, I tried so much new food to remember and I even learned to read Korean!

I’ve had lots of ‘firsts’: my first taekwondo class, my first baseball game, my first time on a snowboard, my first time at a shooting range, my first taste of roller derby and my first sailing lesson. I reckon I’m the first ‘Derval lassie’ to visit North Korea, I went to a Buddhist funeral and  I appeared on Korean TV. I ran a 10k race in a different continent and I was lucky to have 3 people come visit me whilst I was in Korea. I learned how to converse with the crazy Korean taxi drivers, I can order 600 grams of pork at a Korean bbq. I’ve tried roasted silk worms, chicken feet and pigs lungs, but sadly no dog. And even though my time in Korea was cut short and I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to do (I was going to see the Stone Roses at a Korean music festival, cake myself in mud at Mudfest, jump off a tower and lie on the famous white beach in the Philippines) I’m grateful for every new friend I made in Korea, every new experience I had and everything I’ve learned in the past 9 months. I can confidently say I gave it my all.

Sailing course in Busan, May 2012

So I’ve been back home in Scotland for 5 days now and I’m about to embark on a new ‘adventure’. Sure cancer is terrifying, I might loose my hair and I might not be able to have kids, but trying to think positively, it’ll be interesting to see what I’ll learn about myself and how I’ll view the world differently when I come out the other end.

Wish me luck!

The ‘C’ word

18 Jun

I’ve always had the mentality that ‘it’ll never happen to me’, so when I found out yesterday that I have cervical cancer it was earth shattering. I think I’m still in shock. I have a thousand and one questions and thoughts going on in my head that I can’t make sense of yet, I’m gutted and I’m scared.

I need to go home, not because the treatment is bad here, if anything I believe it would be far better than in the UK, but I need my family and my friends now. I’m gutted that I have to leave Korea, I’m not finished here yet, I had so many plans and my tan’s not at its optimum. But at the end of the day my health is number one, so I need to pack up, ship out and head home, get on the battle gear and start kicking cancer’s arse.

It looks like this Korea blog has just turned into a cancer diary… I’ll try limit the depressing posts, I promise.

Kung fu panda – he’s going to help me kick some ass!

Glamping on Geoje

12 Jun

Summer is finally here! Oh yeh! I don’t care if it’s too hot to sleep or that I sweat 24 hours a day, summer means an average temp of 30 degrees, I can get my tan on and I can go outside without having to wear gloves!

Gujora Beach

I officially kicked off summer a few weeks ago when I went camping on the island of Geoje with some friends. Geoje-do (‘do’ is Korean for island) is the second largest island in South Korea after Jeju. It’s only 70 miles south of Daegu but it is a bit of a mission to get. A 2 hour bus journey from Seobu bus terminal in Daegu (at Seongdangmot subway) to Tongyeong (12,000 won), transfer there for another 30 minute bus ride to Geoje (3,000 won), then a 25 minute taxi to our destination – Gujora beach (20,000 won split 3 ways). Alternatively you can get a bus for the last leg, but it takes an hour…

We got a wee bit carried away with the face paints

The mission was worth it, clean-ish beach (cleaner than any I’ve even been to in the UK anyway), cracking view, good weather, lots of drink, makgeolli funnels, BBQ, banter and body paints! The night ended by singing Oasis songs round a camp fire.  Why doesn’t every night end that way?

Wall murals in Gujora Beach town

And here is a map showing where Geoje is:


My Korean TV Debut

9 Jun

Whilst downtown one Sunday in February with some friends, nursing a hangover and having lunch in Travelers, a Korean TV programme broadcast on SBS asked us if we would mind being filmed as part of the show…

The programme is about unusual and interesting Koreans, and that week it was about a 76-year-old ajumma (old woman) who left school at 12 and has since taught herself English. All we had to do was chat to her for 5 minutes in English then give our reactions to her speaking ability, all scripted of course. And before we knew it, we had made it on to Korean TV!

Being the shy, introverted person that I am, I told all the teachers and students at school about my starring role and told them all to watch the show at 8pm on Thursday. The kids were all suitably impressed with the new ‘celeb status’ of their teacher, but surprisingly they declined my offer of an autograph…

Kickin’ it in Korea

8 Jun

Kickin’ it in Korea is a picture blog that I’ve recently come across and now visit on a regular basis. Unless you’ve been to Korea and/or taught English abroad, you probably won’t find this remotely funny. But having lived in Korea for almost 9 months now and experienced many of these ‘cultural  quirks’ that the Koreans are famous for, this blog makes me roll about the floor laughing! And having been in similar situations to most of the references in the blog makes it all the more funnier!

Here’s a few of my favourite personal experiences…

Chocolate eggs no more

25 May

Since I was almost at the legal drinking age, and the chocolate eggs were no more, Easter Sunday meant bank holiday Monday, and therefore you could find me ‘religiously’ sitting in a beer garden with my friends, enjoying a drink or two… But not this year! Easter Sunday started with a 6am rise to make it to downtown to the 10k start line.

Posing for a photo with some ‘fans’ after the race

It was HOT, and despite my training, I can assure you no personal best was recorded! Done by 9.30am, me and my cousin headed back to my apartment to paint our boiled eggs and head up Palgongsan* (Daegu’s biggest mountain) to roll them down.

Ready for the mountain!

This was not the sole reason for going up the mountain. I had been wanting to visit Donghwasa Temple for a while. I’d heard about the large standing buddha, and along with the many colourful lanterns decorating the temple in preparation for Buddha’s birthday at the end May, we weren’t disappointed.

BIG Buddha at Donghwasa Temple

A monk on a bike!

Lanterns decorate the temple for Buddha’s birthday


I have a weird fascination with the eves of temples….

*How to get to Palgongsan: Take the red subway line to Ayanggyo, then take the number 1 bus. It should cost about 1,200 won, and after about 40 minutes Palgongsan is the last stop.

Two burst balls in Busan

22 May

When my cousin was still here, we went down to Busan for the day. Still hungover from another night on the makgeolli, we didn’t get there until 3 in the afternoon – we are officially the worst tourists!

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (the water temple)

With limited time, we went on several recommendations to visit Haedong Yonggungsa temple (the water temple), having already seen our fair share of temples, we were reluctant to make the hour-long bus ride out from Busan Station to reach it, but boy are we glad we did!

A monk broadcasting a chant from a prayer chamber

Built into the rocks beside the sea is what makes this temple so unique, as most temples are built in the mountains.  As is the way with every tourist attraction in Korea, it was swarming with Koreans – they love an outdoor activity! But even the crowds and the temporary scaffolding didn’t detract from the beautiful setting. What a stunning sight.

By the time we got back into the centre of Busan it was nearly 7pm. We were on a self-imposed curfew because we were running a 10k in Daegu the next day, so we really only had time to visit the fish market. But not just any fish market, only the world-famous Jagalchi Fish Market!

Jagalchi Fish Market: A man who loves his job

The ground floor was where the fish came in off the boats and all the various restaurants could be found upstairs. Quite literally from the sea to your plate. We opted for some seafood shabu shabu – a Japanese version of a hot-pot where you cook the meat, veg or seafood in the big pot of broth in the middle of the table. Along came the seafood, everything from giant muscles, scallops, snails and a live octopus… and being as ‘curious’ as I am, I removed the tongs (I later learned they were for keeping it grounded in the bowl) to take a photo of it and the little blighter squirmed right out of the bowl and onto the floor! What a fright I got! But I got my own back when I cooked it and ate it. Yum.

Seafood shabu shabu

By the time we finished dinner, we only had time for a wee wander round the night markets and a quick gander up to Busan Tower – where we saw a great panoramic of the city at night. A peaceful ending to a hectic day.

Busan Tower