Is that strange?

10 things you get used to living in Korea

After eighteen months here, so many things that once seemed awkward or strange now pass for normal.  Occasionally I recapture the wide-eyed amazement of my early days and smile at the big steel cauldrons of soup bubbling away on gas burners outside a café, or the tiny old ladies bent double from a lifetime of work in the rice fields, dragging wheeled baskets of pumpkins or cabbage down the street. Other things have already faded into normality.

1. Squatting to pee

There’s a lot of sense in the floor mounted urinals in the Ladies; good exercise for the leg muscles, no sitting on someone else’s splashes and it feels just like camping, but indoors.

One for the ladies

2. Not flushing paper

No sense at all that I can see.  Though there is probably a whole eco-argument to be had around the use and disposal of toilet paper, overflowing bins of smelly, used tissue cannot be the best method of dealing with the problem.

3. Eating with chopsticks

It is hard to imagine how a grilled fish can be dissected using a cumbersome knife and fork.  And if things are bigger than a mouthful, then yes, cutting it with scissors is a simple and effective solution.

4. Eating things without knowing what they are.

“Try this”.  “What is it?”  “It’s a ….. a…a kind of… a  … it’s too hard to explain, just eat it.”  Related to:

4a. Eating things you wish you didn’t know what they are. Boiled octopus head, loach soup (a kind of fish/eel/leech) or spoon worms – best eaten quickly without too much reflection.

Spoon worms - a.k.a. 'sea penises'

5. Bowing

Handshaking is equally strange if you think about it.  As a woman, I’m not called upon to do the full bow too often; I usually get away with an extended nod of the head on meeting people.  The in-car driving bow never fails to amuse me, and there is a certain pleasure to be had from receiving a respectful ninety-degree-er from students as they pass in the street.  And any class that didn’t begin with the ritual “Attention – Bow” just wouldn’t seem right.

6. Being kidnapped

No, not by the North Koreans.  By colleagues or acquaintances who sweep you along with the collective activity like wildebeest moving across the plains.  Any plans that you thought you had are now cancelled.  Get over it.

7. Running the ‘hello, nice to meet you’ gauntlet.

Every child, and even some young adults, will use the opportunity of passing you in the street to practice the little English they have learnt.  Old ladies will stop, smile and stare, now prepared to die happy having seen a real foreigner.  Enjoy it while it lasts; one day you may become invisible again.

8. Being asked how old you are.

Age is important in Korea.  Peer groups are as binding as a Masonic pledge.  Personal names are used less than other forms of address; ‘older/younger sister/brother’, ‘aunt’ or ‘teacher’ even from people you have just met.  My first name has fallen into disuse – too many ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds for the Korean tongue.  My surname is easier for people to pronounce.  Well, if it’s good enough for Morgan Freeman, it’s good enough for me.

9.  Free gifts

Packs of toilet tissue every time you put fuel in the car, free samples when you buy cosmetics, free socks when you buy shoes.  Rice bars and fruit left on your desk at work.  Beautifully packaged gifts of shampoo, toothpaste, towels, seaweed and noodles for no reason at all.

Spam - a popular Chuseok gift

10. Can you eat spicy food?

Grrr.  I CAN eat anything I want to, and anyway I’m British – the nation that invented the vindaloo.

And things I may never get used to?  Table manners; spitting bones and unwanted bits directly onto the table, eating at a volume that requires very loud music to drown, slurping soup and noodles.  Everyone’s spoon dipped into a shared pan of soup doesn’t bother me, though when a man at my table took a big slurp directly from a bowl of broth I was a bit reluctant to pick out more of the pressed fish floating in it.

Though I don’t dislike it, I struggle with the ritual of drink pouring.  Koreans fill each other’s glasses so no-one ever drinks alone.  It is admirable, but laced with rules that I never quite master.  I recently got it right when offered a glass by my school Principal at a teachers’ dinner.  Everyone applauded.  Good job, waegookin.

On the Road

Only weeks after buying my car,  I am beginning to understand the rules of the road here in Namhae.

  1. Junctions: Cars bigger and better than yours have right of way.  You can try, but they will cause more damage.
  2. Stop lights: for advice only; in the absence of cameras/ pedestrians/ other traffic you may ignore them.
  3. Speed limits: a guideline for passing safely under speed cameras; all other stretches of road should be covered at the preferred speed of the impatient driver behind you.
  4. Overtaking: If you insist on driving within legal speed limits, stick to the centre line, so allowing faster moving cars to pass you in lay-bys, petrol stations, road junctions and any other suitable space to your right.
  5. Other road users: Again, stick to the centre  to avoid hitting scooters, mini-tractors, old people dragging wheeled baskets, people with cows and hikers walking four abreast.
  6. Use of the horn: replaces the need for other inconveniences such as indicating, slowing at junctions and patience. Particular useful for reminding oncoming traffic that they are speeding towards you in the centre of the road.
  7. Parking: Triple parking in narrow streets is acceptable only if you pick up your take-away dinner as quickly as possible and/or respond promptly to horns.
  8. Drainage ditches – the 3′ deep, 2′ wide concrete channels that abut the road edge.  Don’t drive into them.

While I acknowledge these local rules I do tend to stick to the more conventional ones, much to the annoyance of the locals.  I have been practicing my ‘resolute and unperturbed’ look as I tootle around the narrow roads like a mother duck on a trip to the lake.  Partly it is my car’s fault – a ten-year old Daewoo Matiz with an 860cc engine is hardly a Jeremy Clarkson experience.  For the rest I take full responsibility.  Better annoying than dead, I say.  Though some drivers around here may disagree.

Another Bridge to Cross

I hate cold mornings.  I hate early starts on Saturdays.  Today is a cold Saturday and I have to be on the 8am bus.  I am not in a good mood.

Steeling myself I take a deep breath, exhale with a sigh that hangs visibly in the December air then heave myself from my warm bed.  A lick of a lukewarm shower, a slap of make-up and a slurp of coffee later and I am on my way.

The weekend traffic has yet to hit the road making it easy to manoeuvre through the narrow, cluttered streets.  The walk from my flat at one end of town to the bus terminal at the other takes only fifteen minutes.

At the terminal, I state my destination – ‘Jinju’ – and take my ticket.  The bus is already waiting.

Winding through the country roads, I check my Christmas list.  There are only a few weeks left before my visit to England, the first since I left over a year ago.  I want to take back gifts that show the essence of Korea.  It is not an easy task; gift shop offerings of ginseng, black garlic and dolls dressed in hanbok don’t really convey what I love about this country.   Resigned to a tortuous and probably futile trip to the city, I shove the list into my handbag, slump further into my seat and stare out of the window.

Terraced fields of garlic roll by.  Women squat along the roadside, selling heaps of cabbages and bags of ‘yuja’ for making ‘yuja cha’.  More fields and hills and terraces and I’m beginning to mellow a little.

Stainless steel rails sprout up on the verge signalling the outskirts of Noryang village and I sit up in anticipation.  Just a little further on, the red steel of Namhae Bridge rises into view.  No matter how many times I see it, my heart always leaps, just like the first time.

It was October when I arrived in Korea.  Stepping out from the stuffy airport into the warm sunshine I expected to feel a sense of adventure or trepidation, but all I felt was the dull numbness of a fourteen hour flight.

The information I had was minimal; I would be transported from the airport to my new workplace, a school, somewhere in South Korea.  Strangers collected and deposited me by taxi from airport to hotel to bus terminal without revealing anything of the ultimate goal.  I gave up any pretence at control over my destiny.  At Nambu bus terminal in Seoul, my taxi driver handed me a bus ticket and pointed towards stop number two.

“Your bus will arrive at 2pm.  Stay on until the end.” he told me as he dashed off to avoid a ticket for double parking, “the driver knows you will be on the bus” he added mysteriously.

I boarded the bus, taking the seat the driver indicated – the centre seat of the back row.  With a clear view down the aisle I observed the rows of heads that rose over every seat, each of them sporting a range of black hair; curly, straight, shiny or greying.  I was the only red-head, the only Westerner.  I felt like some kind of inverse Rosa Parks – minus the animosity.  My fellow passengers seemed curious or indifferent about me.

It was an hour before we reached the outskirts of Seoul, a few more before we pulled into a service station for a break.  After five hours stops became more frequent and the bus slowly emptied.  The dull motorway views gave way to rural scenes – mountains, fields, small towns and villages.

The roads became narrower, winding along tight curves revealing, every now and again, a glimpse of sea.  I had no map and no clue where I was.  Only four passengers remained on the bus.

Then, turning another bend, I saw it: a magnificent replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. Glistening red in the setting sun, it stretched across the sea to an island just a short distance from the mainland.  Korean flags fluttered along its length, drawing the eye to the neon-lit village at its base.

‘I want to live across that bridge’ I said to myself, almost fearing to hope.

I had always loved bridges.  I recalled happy moments; standing on Charles Bridge in Prague, Westminster Bridge in London, Augustusbrucke Bridge in Dresden, the Galata Bridge in Istanbul.  I loved the symbolism of bridges; crossing them, burning them, water under them.  They spoke of change and movement and new chapters.

The bus made a tight left turn then – we were on the bridge!  Tears of excitement pricked my eyes and I wiped them away, my rational self telling myself that it was just exhaustion from the stress of the journey.  But my irrational self knew already – I was home.

My heart is still fluttering as I cross over to the mainland.  I am only going to the Jinju for a few hours shopping yet still I feel a reluctance to be led away from Namhae Island.   I turn in my seat, look back at the bridge as it disappears around the corner and wonder – how long before I look for a different bridge to cross?

Barrow-in-Furness Revisited

Three men in flat caps and leather aprons are frozen in iron as they go about the business of shipbuilding.

“That’s new” I say to my sister for the sixth time today.

“It’s been there for years” she replies, rolling her eyes. The town is her place of work, but for me it is a place of memories.

“It looks vaguely…hmm…communist.”

She nods in disinterested agreement.  On this cold, windswept day, a post-Christmas hush brushes past closed shop fronts like tumbleweed, the statue adding another level of bleakness.

“Take our picture” I say, handing her a camera and grabbing my daughter’s unwilling hand from deep inside her duffle coat pocket.

“When I was a kid the Jesus statue stood here”.

My sister frowns; more than fourteen years my junior, she wasn’t born when I spent Saturday afternoons with my older sister and cousins at the park or the library, or just hanging round town eating ‘willy sausages on Jesus’.  We knew it was really a statue of Lord Cavendish, one of the town’s founders, but found it hysterical to misname him and our hotdogs.

We continue down the main street; roughly patched paving pulling the eye past the pound shops, the charity shops and the ‘To Let’ signs, to the shipyard cranes on the skyline.  Seagulls caw-caw overhead tainting the air with the smell of dirty seawater.

“Do you think the baked potato man will be open today” I ask, suddenly hungry.

“He left ages ago,” my sister informs me, “he’s got a karaoke bar in Spain now.”

“What about chips? asks my niece.

“Good idea” I say, “where’s a good chippie?”

“In Ulverston” says my sister flatly, referring to her home town ten miles away.

It starts to drizzle and we retreat further inside our coats.

“Hell-oooo stranger! Long time no see. What’re you doing here eh?”

A woman – cheerful grin, cheeks bitten pink by the cold – stops in front of me.  I grasp for a context to help recall her name.  She provides one.

“Me and Christine were just talking about you the other day and, you know, I turned round to our Tom and said – you remember our Tom don’t you? – I said to him ‘didn’t she do alright for herself eh? You’re dead lucky, you know.  I bet Barrow looks dead boring to you now eh?“.

She bubbles on and I blush, without knowing why.  We say our goodbyes.

Back at the car park – one of many spaces created by a WW2 bomb – I note that the old Victorian church is still derelict, its circular stained glass window missing a few more panes.

“Ha, look at that” laughs my niece, pointing to a wall – the back of a row of terraced houses – “classy Barrow.”

She urges me to take another photograph – the two girls  grinning against the backdrop of a three-foot high illuminated reindeer, stars, a jolly Santa and a ‘Merry Christmas’ wish.

As we drive out of town down the tree-lined road, past the park and the abbey and a sign to the coast, I think of all the places that I haven’t had chance to visit.

Maybe next time.

Man on the Metro

It’s a cold Friday night in November and I’ve decided to spend the evening on my own at the cinema.

On the metro I find myself sitting opposite a man who is obviously homeless.  He has an old battered shopping trolley with a canvas bag hooked over the handles.  Leaning forwards, elbows on knees, he is eating his dinner in the warmth and comfort of the train.  I suspect that, with no place to call home, the ride from Cerny Most to Zlicin provides a much needed hour of relief from the cold of this November evening.

Dinner is a bread roll and a tub of salad dip – some kind of fish and mayonnaise thing. His hands are black with dirt, his stubby fingernails are even blacker and though his hands don’t look arthritic in that knobbly, painful way, he doesn’t seem to be able to make much of a grip.  His fingers are short and thick and unbending and I imagine that they feel like your fingers do when your hands are really, really cold.  Both the tub and the bread roll are balanced in his curled left palm as he scoops out the contents with a grubby looking fork that he holds in his right hand.  Every now and again he balances the fork in the tub so he can grab the bread and take a bite.  I can’t really see his face, as he is looking down concentrating on his food, but I can tell that he is chewing and chewing, making the most of every mouthful.

Inevitably, the fork over-balances and the tub tips from his hand, landing on the floor underneath the seat.  We both see it happening, but his stiff hands can’t catch it in time.  My heart sinks for him.  If that’s his food for the night, gone, he’ll stay hungry.  He pauses for a minute, then bends down and reaches under the seat and picks up the tub.  I am relieved; it landed the right way up, most of the contents still in its package.  He shakes his head and starts to eat again, but he’s looking down between his legs to the spot where the tub fell.  I can’t see what he’s looking at because the shopping trolley is set between me and him.  I can’t see but I know, from the way he keeps looking and keeps shaking his head, what is going to happen next.  I hold my breath, try to restrain a cringe – as he reaches down with his fork and scoops up a blob of fishy mayonnaise from the train floor and pops it into his mouth.  He continues carefully chewing and chewing then bends down once more to recover the last of the spilled food.

At Florenc, the train comes to a jerking halt and this time the bread rolls from his open palm across the stretch of floor between us.  Instinctively, I move to pick it up for him but even before my muscles respond to the thought, I envision a potential awkward moment in which he politely accepts the bread but is unwilling to eat it because I’ve touched it or because it is dirty.  In the same moment I recognise the absurdity of this idea, considering that his hands are black with grime and he’s just eaten mayonnaise scraped from the floor.  He reaches the bread before I do anyway, shaking his head again, perhaps at the injustice or the inconvenience of not having a dining table to eat at.

The fork handle, which is made of a delicately turned hardwood, is now covered in mayonnaise, making his dirty hands sticky.  He carefully wipes them on his calves.  His trousers are so shiny with dirt that it is impossible to tell what colour or fabric they once were.  He takes a second forkful and again wipes his hands on his trousers. After the third time he stops to inspect the fork and appears to make the connection between his sticky fingers and the mayonnaise covered handle.  He carefully scrapes off the mayonnaise from the handle with his stiff black fingers and then, very slowly, licks them clean.   He finishes his bread roll, opens the grubby canvas bag and fishes around inside, retrieving more bread.  Before he closes the bag, I see what looks like two grey box files in there and I wonder what he keeps in them.

I’ve been sitting watching him for ten minutes now, while people get on and off at each stop.  I notice those who head for the empty seat to the left of the man, look at him and change their mind, choosing to stand instead.  To his right is a middle-aged couple. The husband is carrying a casserole dish wrapped in a carrier bag which I guess is their contribution to this evening’s dinner party.  They are well-dressed, sophisticated and look awkward and uncomfortable at having found themselves sitting next to this dirty, dishevelled stranger.  Still, they are too polite to move seats.  I wonder if they are thinking, even briefly, of offering the contents of the casserole dish to this person less fortunate than themselves.  I imagine myself giving him a big, hot bowl of stew or soup; my favourite comfort foods on cold evenings.  I wish I had a pack of baby wipes with me so I could offer him one to clean the mayonnaise from his hands.

I’m trying not to stare, but I’m fascinated.  He hasn’t once looked up and I suppose that he has developed a mechanism to cut out the stares and the sickened looks he must attract all the time.  I look around at the other people on the train and they are either pretending they haven’t seen him or are looking at him with revulsion etched onto their faces.  I think they are being mean.  I think ‘there but for the grace of God….’

I wonder how I would be if I was homeless.  I’m certain I would want to find some public toilets somewhere with soap and warm water and clean towels.  I imagine the feeling of ingrained grime and wring my hands in an unconscious mime of washing.

I try to imagine what unlucky twist of fate could bring me so low as to eat food scraped from the floor of a metro train, but I can’t.  I’m pretty certain that everything that makes me ‘me’ – my upbringing, my genetic inheritance, the social environment I was born into, destined me to become something similar to this woman with newly-cut hair, wrapped in a warm coat on her way to a cinema in Prague city centre.  Certainly I made decisions that brought me here, but I’m also sure I’m not capable of making decisions that would lead me to this same place with dirty hands and nowhere to sleep tonight.  He probably isn’t much older than me.

The film was good.   I’m walking out of the cinema into the golden lights of Obecni Dum.  I love it here, Namesti Republiky, at night.  It has all the glitz and glamour and excitement that I associate with city life.  Entering the Metro reminds me of the homeless man and I wonder where he is now, while I’m heading home to my warm flat and a cold beer.

January 2007

Wise Moves in Noryang

A change in wind direction and the temperate winter weather switches overnight to bone-shivering cold with gusts blowing straight from Siberia.  Its journey over Mongolia, China and North Korea has not lessened its chill and as it sweeps off the South Korean mainland, before arriving on the island of Namhae, it passes over a fleet of ships preparing to do battle in the Noryang Strait.

A huge Japanese fleet sails in from Sacheon bay, ready to break through the Korean forces and return home.  In the early hours of the morning, the native ships attack; canons blasting from the portals of Korean ‘panokseon’, return gun fire skidding across the iron-spiked roofs of turtle ships.  The battle rages and the enemy flee, beaten, only to be pursued by determined Koreans intent on absolute victory.

This was in 1598, under the command of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin.  The battle I am watching is a re-enactment under the command of the Chungmugong Noryang Haejeon Seungcheopje Festival Committee.  Canon shots and blasted hulls are recreated by fireworks, panokseon and turtle ships by the dressed-up boats of local people.  The wind, though, is just as real and just as bitter.

I have been here since eleven this morning and it is still a few hours until the start of proceedings; I am cold and bored.  Retreating into the sanctuary of my padded jacket, I say nothing, but my eyes ask the question.  My Korean friend, employed today to photograph the festival, doesn’t speak but his face answers; ‘We’ll be here for a while yet, sorry’.

Sporting important looking passes – mine specially labelled in English with “Staff” – we trudge through the almost empty streets.  A few early birds brave the cold December weather, browsing the stalls as they set up for the day, warmed by hot coffee or ‘sikae’, a sweet rice drink.

We have already visited the burial site of Admiral Yi to snap the men paying respects to his shrine; a typical Korean structure with blue and green pagoda roof, though the grassy green mound is, I am told, empty.  The great Admiral’s remains were disinterred and buried in his home town of Asan some time ago.   We have already been to the draughty committee HQ, where I was given a paper cup half-filled with sweet coffee and directed to a leather couch to sit alone while the men mulled over plans no less important in their own way than those of Admiral Yi in his final and decisive defence against the invading Japanese fleet.   Organising the annual celebration of Korea’s 16th century battle against its long-time enemy is a serious business, not one for the ladies.

With nothing else to do, I go in search of the dried fish that I saw when we drove into town.  Hung by its neck from the rafters of a store front, dressed in an orange net gown, I felt it deserved a memorial ceremony of its own, or at least a photograph or two.  It doesn’t take long to find it in this tiny village.  I take a few pictures despite the now howling wind when the shop owner spies me and comes rushing out of his shop.  He doesn’t say anything – he is Korean and I am clearly not – just grabs the fish and as swiftly as his icy finger will allow strips it of its orange coat.  Naked it looks less interesting, even pitiful, but I take a few more pictures to respect his efforts.

My friend and I have an indifferent lunch of kimchi jiggae in a restaurant on the hillside overlooking the town.  Even just a few miles from home we recognise prices hiked for tourists and our meagre budget doesn’t allow for anything more interesting.  After a sneaky cigarette on the balcony – provincial Korean society does not look kindly on women smoking in public – we make our way back down to the slowly gathering crowds.

While my friend goes off to do his photography thing, I browse stalls selling Namhae’s famous black garlic, tourist trinkets and street food. Wending my way back towards the main stage I find he has introduced himself to some foreigners – a rare sight in Namhae.  Ann-Mari is South African, her friend American.  We exchange pleasantries and, in that way that becomes second nature to experienced strangers in a strange land, summarise our respective histories in a few short sentences.  My friend takes a couple of photographs of the three of us and, no doubt impressed by his audacity, is joined by the local newspaper photographer who directs us to do ‘thumbs up’ and takes more shots.  ‘Noryang Festival’, the headlines will surely read, ‘Attracts Foreign Visitors.’

Finally, the show begins.  We watch drummers drumming on traditional Korean drums, soldiers igniting 16th century canons and dancers dancing the dance they danced for Admiral Yi on the night of the final battle.  There is no English translation of the angry, impassioned dialogue between the Admiral and his Japanese counterpart, Shimazu Yoshihiro.  Ann-Mari, after seven years in Korea, understands some and explains snippets.  For the rest her friend Mark and I just admire the costumes and soak in the atmosphere.  They are eager to get back to Masan, a drive of an hour or two, and ask what else they should wait to see.  With feigned authority (despite my ‘Staff’ badge and that this is my second time at the festival, my understanding of the event timetable is as blurred as a cocktail menu to a drunk) I tell them that the battle re-enactment will begin in half an hour.  Just then my friend returns with the urgent request that we leave – now.  He wants to shoot the sea battle from the mainland and I find myself running to our car, hastily waving goodbyes to my new found friends with promises of keeping in touch that we will doubtless never honour.

Ten minutes later we are on the opposite beach, watching boats retrace the movements that led to Korean victory.  I look on, concerned only for the poor souls who, for the sake of entertainment, have ventured out in vessels no deeper than a bathtub on the half mile or so of choppy, narrow straight that lies between mainland Korea and Namhae Island.  It is difficult for me to appreciate but for Koreans they are celebrating the accomplishment of a worthy hero.  By 1596 the Japanese had almost conquered Korea, nearly a third of the population dying in the fight to fend off the enemy.   With almost the entire Korean fleet destroyed while Admiral Yi was held prisoner and tortured at the command of his own King, he was reinstated and under his command the final and decisive sea battle was won.  Sadly, it did not end so well for the Admiral who was killed by a stray bullet on December 16 1598, right here on this cold and intimidating stretch of water.  Brave to the last, he told his son “do not announce my death” until victory was assured.

We wait for the fireworks and the illumination of Namhae Bridge, newly decked in neon, before we head home to Namhae town.  In the car I shiver myself back to life and we discuss the day’s proceedings.  There is good news.  The prudent men of the Chungmugong Noryang Haejeon Seungcheopje Festival Committee have made a wise move.  They will change the event from the December anniversary of the great Admiral’s death to the day of his birth.  Next year we will be reporting from Noryang in sunny April.

Assignment 1:1 Travel Writing Publishing Opportunities

1. World Hum http://www.worldhum.com

Publishes highest quality travel stories. Types of features include first-person narrative travel stories, how-to, interviews, travel book reviews, photographs and videos. Submissions or a short pitch and a short bio should pasted into the body of an email and sent to dispatches@worldhum.com. Writing submissions should be no more than 2,000 words and the section you want to write to should be included in the subject line Payment varies, assignment and payment details confirmed by a contract. Editors are Jim Benning and Michael Yessis

2. Wanderlust http://www.wanderlust.com

A magazine for independent and semi independent travel, with a preference for insightful work on local cultures. Limited opportunities as most articles are commissioned and written by experienced journalist. Still, the guidelines are very specific. Email to submissions@wanderlust.co.uk. Send a one-paragraph proposal outlining the story, the proposed first paragraph of your story, brief details of how you undertook your journey, including any tour operators used. Include up to 5 photographs if you have them. Also include any relevant experience you have, with links to / cuttings from previously published stories if possible. Alternatively, if you have not yet undertaken the trip you wish to write about send a one-paragraph proposal outlining the story, proposed dates of travel and brief details of the journey as well as the experience noted above.

They suggest first-time writers target shorter slots such as Dispatches and Wanderlust Weekends. Destination features should be in 1st person past tense and between 1,800-2,200 words. Weekends between 700 and 1500 words, Dispatches 1200 words

Submissions by post to Wanderlust Publications Ltd, PO Box 1832, Windsor, Berks SL4 1YT.   Editor: Dan Linstead

3.  REAL TRAVEL   www.realtravelmag.com

Specialising in real stories from real travellers. Send 200 words about how you see the piece working, the angles, the destination and places. Send photos to Hannah@realtravelmag.com

4. INSIDEOUT TRAVEL MAGAZINE

A bimonthly online publication for independent travellers – interested in those who like to learn about other cultures. Possible articles include short briefs and tips, Destinations (1000 to 1500 words) with a unique angle, Lingua Franca – about language, Traveller interview, Returning home and Anglophone destinations. Pay is $10-20 but they don’t ask for full publishing rights. They are also very open to experienced travellers and inexperienced writers.  Detailed queries should be emailed to submissions@insideoutmag.com without attachments

5. GoNomad www.GoNOMAD.com

Asks for honest, accurate, well-written and detailed articles and destination guides that speak to an educated, curious and well-traveled audience. They list specific destinations that the want to feature and are also looking for women’s and family travel material. They accept photo, audio, video and anything else you can think of. Stories should be 800 to 2,000 words, optimum 1400 Queries by email to the editor at editorial@gonomad.com, no attachments. For features, query first with a one-page email describing the proposed article, dates of trip, writer’s background and/or writing experience, which department the article is for, date of delivery and whether or not the article has been published elsewhere. Send an MSWord file, low res photos, detailed photo captions, a headshot of yourself and a one-sentence bio to accompany your story as well as your name, address, phone/fax and e-mail Response time for queries is 3-5 weeks. Payment $25 for full rights

Editor Max Hartshorne, GoNOMAD P.O. Box 4 8C Sugarloaf St. South Deerfield, MA 01373

And a bonus one for reading this far….

6. ODEhttp://www.odemagazine.com

A magazine for intelligent optimists. Covers positive news that shows people and ideas that are changing the world for the better. Advises that stories in the ‘Exchange section’ are frequently picked up by editors and used as content. Alternatively, send an email to editor@odemagazine.com. A short pitch and concise outline of the proposed subject. Include your bio, a list of already published articles or links, and any story ideas you may have.

A Room of One’s Own

To say that time flies would be to suggest a rush or a soar that misrepresents my first six months in this little backwater of Korea.   Time moves quickly but with the fluid speed of oil poured on palms, slipping through fingers.  The gentleness of flow, along with the thick muffling blanket of a foreign language lulls me into hazy realms that many people would pay good money to achieve.  It would be quite pleasant if it were not for the necessity of interactions with real people in the real world – a sporadic and annoying inconvenience, like being shaken awake by a stranger on a long train journey.

Sometimes in these quiet, lazy days, I miss Prague. Perhaps it is only hindsight that bathes everything in the mellowest light, but I miss the easy, hypnotic sway of life that had me moving to its rhythm before I even realised I had picked out the beat.  There is something so unmistakably bohemian about Bohemia, where even the tamest of friends seem wild; the most innocuous of activities seem avant-garde.  No doubt my recollections are coloured by who I was then, and who I became.  It was in Prague that for the first time in my life I had a room of my own; that marvellous isolation, that space to be, that time to think.  I can close my eyes now and be back in my first apartment with its wide windows and wooden floor, dancing in a shaft of sunlight that warmed the strange, oversized bed, listening to music and to the sound of children in the kindergarten across the street.  Having nothing to do and no-one to see, no telephone or television or distractions of any kind, just a decadent emptiness waiting to be filled and the time and energy and creativity to fill it.

Here, too, I have time and space.  Long-ago when I was still flailing around in the noisy ocean of domesticity I dreamed of the space I have now – a room more garret-like than any dark place under the eaves, outside my window just sunshine and fields and muted conversations, inside warm, dry, comfortable, quiet.  Back then I could only imagine the long solitary days and nights that I now enjoy.   I have to work, but it’s not hard.  I have to spend time in the classroom, but there are many more hours spent in the staff room where I am invisible, left in my own silent world.  Beyond work I have few duties or social obligations to bind my time.

And this easy occupation provides enough of that other essential commodity; cash.  The melody of Prague was too often interrupted by the hungry howls of the wolves at my door.  Here there is a new experience to enjoy – here I am financially secure.

A room of one’s own and five-hundred a year – according to Ms Woolf, prerequisites for any woman if she wants to write fiction.  Reading Ginny’s essay recently only confirmed what I always knew and what I have been inching towards for many years.  A room of one’s own and five-hundred a year – it is a deep truth, though an incomplete one.  How else to explain why – while sitting here in this perfect environment with ample money, abundant time, lavish space  – why am I scratching out a blog and thrashing around to find any available distraction?

A room of one’s own, five hundred a year and an enormous amount of self-discipline is what I think Ms Woolf meant to say.  I expect that at the turn of the 20th Century there were fewer distractions.  At the turn of the 21st Century the potent trinity of Facebook, spider solitaire and CSI re-runs turn potential creativity into a lost moment.  Still, this is no excuse.  Here, in circumstances so ideal they almost seem stolen from the pages of a quixotic author’s biography, here, in my little room in Korea, there is nothing left between me and that great novel, that marketable short story, that lucrative article, but the vast expanse of my own apathy and indiscipline.  No wonder I reminisce about Prague and its small but worthy diversions.  Here I am naked and exposed for the spineless malingerer I am.

It is six months since I arrived in Korea.  Time enough to acclimatise and adjust.  Time enough to know that I do not want to spend too much more time teaching English indifferently to indifferent students.  Time to realise that if I can’t do it here, I can’t do it at all.

POSTSCRIPT

It is now almost a year on since I wrote this piece.  This website contains my burgeoning efforts at writing with the intention of being read by others.  It will include course work from the writing courses I am taking, old blog posts and new observations.  Thank you for taking the time to read.  Any constructive comments will be welcomed.