Thursday, 6 January 2011

Our First Xmas and New Year's in Korea

This Christmas and New Year's Eve was our first away from home so it was always going to be a bit weird but it turned out to be a good time.

Our neighbours beautiful tree. It was much nicer than ours so I thought I'd put a picture of theirs on here instead! The decorative ribbons actually came off pizza boxes.

We started off the festive season some time in mid December when our Canadian neighbours downstairs had a Christmas decoration making party - basically an excuse to get drunk, play silly games and mess around with air dry clay. Jen and Leif, our neighbours, are both very artistic people having been to art school and all so they made some really nice decorations as did the other folk who came. Rowan and I however, were a bit more leftfield on our designs! Rowan made a special pink, Christmas penis to go the tree and I made a more traditional reindeer head plus a more modern classic - Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo, of South Park fame. Our lovely decorations eventually went up on our Christmas tree.

Some of the decorations that were made at the party. Rowan's clay willy had been left to dry in a less conspicuous place I think!

My reindeer head and Jen's Xmas tree.

Jen's tree and her Santa face.

Christmas Eve got off to good start for me as I was allowed to go home early from school to wait for the delivery of our brand new oven. Ovens are a rare and beautiful thing in Korea and something that you don't normally have in you apartment as standard so for the last 7 months we have been cooking using the more usual rice cooker, microwave and hob. A while ago, our friend Dean gave us an old toaster oven which had been useful for heating stuff up and performing very basic grilling duties. However, we (by that I mean Rowan as he does all the cooking!) had been missing having an oven. No baking, no proper grilling, no roasting....a sad state of affairs. But just before Christmas our schools told us that they had a bit of money to buy stuff for our apartment and what did we want? Of course a decent oven was the first thing we asked for and luckily for us my school sorted it out almost immediately. It didn't arrive until 9pm (couriers here are as bad a their British counterparts it seems) so it had to be left with our neighbours downstairs but when it did finally arrive it was a beautiful sight. The best Christmas present ever! The school also got us a brand new, huge, leather sofa that was actually soft, another rare thing for Korea where most sofas and beds range from pretty hard to muscle achingly rigid. Double win!

We spent Christmas Eve at a friend's place in Hanam, a city fairly close to our little Gwangju though bigger and more modern than the Gwang. It was a good night, with plenty of wine, soju and snacks. From what I remember, at some point we all ended up recreating the opening credits from the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which was pretty funny, though I don't think any of us is cut out for a career in rapping based on that performance!

We had been invited to our Canadian neighbours apartment for dinner on Christmas day so after a much needed lie in (to counter the effects of the previous night's soju) Rowan got to work on roasting and baking things to take with us - a good excuse to test the new oven. We had decided not to bother with proper Christmas presents this year as anything we bought would just end up being another thing to carry on mail home when we finish our time here. Instead, we decided to spend our money on buying lots of delicious cheese, deli meats and booze. This was definitely a good idea. Rowan had ordered a load of stuff from an online deli company and we had been stockpiling booze and cheeses from Homeplus (a Korean supermarket part owned by Tesco's) and E-Mart. By the time Christmas day came around we had a fridge rammed full of good bottled beers, a bottle of Kahlua and one of Absolut vodka (for Black Russians) and at least 7 different types of cheese including: Gouda, Gruyère, feta, mozzarella, Camembert, cheddar and smoked Austrian cheese. An incredible haul given that cheese is another rare thing to have in Korea as though some types of cheese are quite readily available from the bigger supermarkets they are expensive so cheese is a definite luxury here. We also had a big pack of luxury Italian deli meats too to add to our crackers so we were in foodie heaven!

A small selection of some of the cheese and meats we had on Christmas Day.

Being the lovely, kind, generous people that we are, we brought our cheese, booze and meats with us to our neighbours' to add to the Christmas spread. And what a spread it was. Jen, Leif and their friend Amy had done a stellar job making dinner. We had roast chicken that was basted to perfection, wonderful stock, cranberry sauce, cinnamon spiced sweet potatoes, honey glazed carrots, and even mashed potato (brought by David - apparently this is a traditional thing to have with Xmas dinner in North America). Rowan had made some tasty roast potatoes and pork stuffing balls too. It was a great dinner and we even had crackers as Rowan had made some earlier out of toilet roll tubes, wrapping paper and ribbon. He even made some party hats out of an old poster and wrote some terrible jokes to go inside (very traditional).

Jen making a good job of carving the chicken.

Rowan's homemade crackers. They looked lovely but they didn't "crack" so we had to make our own sound effects.

Our bar, names by my good self - "Mingle Smells"!

Pork stuffing balls and pigs in blankets.

Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.

Our neighbour Leif putting his party hat on.

After dinner we played a few games including charades of course. I think it might have been the most traditional Christmas I've ever had weirdly enough!

Leif acting out his phrase for Charades.

Boxing Day was great too. It was a day for just lazing around and eating loads of cheese and biscuits, a perfect way to spend the day in my opinion. Unfortunately for us, we're in Korea where they don't really celebrate Christmas in a big way so we were back to work the day after Boxing Day. In fact, we didn't actually get any extra time off for Christmas as Christmas day fell on a Saturday so it was just a normal weekend. Bit of a shock to the system considering I usually got 2 weeks off for Christmas and New Year in jobs I have done in the past. The big festival here in Korea this time of year is the Korean New Year festival which celebrates the first day of the lunar calendar. It is the most important of the traditional Korean holidays and apparently it will fall on Feb 3rd this year, so here's hoping we get a few days off for it! No, Koreans aren't big into Christmas though many of the shops were decorated with Christmassy stuff. I've heard that many Koreans think that Christmas is a kind of winter Valentine's Day and view it as a time for couples, not for families and kids though I don't know if that's definitely true.

For New Year's Eve, we went to our friend Charlotte's apartment in Seoul. That was another great night, with plenty of booze, sparklers and norae bang (Korean style karaoke). This wasn't our first introduction to norae bang - we had been a couple of times before just recently after having managed to avoid it for the first 6 or 7 months. It seems, however, that once you start going to norae bang there's no looking back.

NYE sparklers - inside the apartment - dangerous!

Basically, a norae bang translates into English as a "singing room" and that's exactly what it is. A room with a TV screen displaying the words to your chosen song and some random Korean video that has nothing to do with your song, a microphone or two, usually with a little disposable cover on it for hygiene purposes, a table and chairs for your captive audience made up of your friends, a song catalog with the most random English songs in it and a disco ball to add that celebrity, stars-in-your-eyes feel. After you've finished your song you get given a score out of 100 for your efforts amid some recorded cheering or boo-ing (depending on how well you did). The score generation often seems quite random and we're starting to wonder if getting a high score is actually based on volume rather than by being in tune or accurate with the words. Who knows. I never thought I would be the kind of person to get into norae bang but once you've had a few sojus it always seems like a good idea for some reason! What more Korean way could there be to welcome in 2011 than by singing your heart out drunkenly in a smoky little room with your friends!

Our room at the norae bang with the usual TV, 2 mics and disco lights.

Rowan and Darren going for it whilst singing Anarchy in the UK - rock 'n' roll!


  1. Sounds lovely :) Alas no stilton.

    Enjoy the oven Rowan!

  2. The lack of stilton was a shame but blue cheese is hard to come by here. However, we have now found a place near us that stocks loads of types of cheese, deli meats and even foie gras so Rowan is very excited.

  3. Sounds like you really had fun on your Christmas and New year celebration in Korea, with tons of foods and drinks. LOL. And I thought Christmas is such a big event in Korea, but I was wrong. Yet, still it's good to know that people there celebrate Christmas no matter what races they came from.