Nanta- The nonverbal must see show

When my mother came to visit me I really wanted to take her to watch Nanta but was a bit worried that a) you needed an understanding of Korean or that b) it was another tourist trap. I’m incredibly happy to report that we needn’t have worried about either of those. Nanta completely exceeded our expectations and blew us away.

For the entire duration of the show, we sat enthralled by what was happening on stage. We laughed, we clapped along, we bobbed our heads and tapped our feet in beat with the music. It truly was a wonderful performance so full of energy and kept us thoroughly entertained.

So what is Nanta exactly you ask?

Nanta is a non-verbal comedy show created and produced by Song Seung-whan and incorporates traditional samul nori rhythm. The musical has a simple backstory of three cooks attempting to finish preparing a wedding banquet within a strict time limit while the manager installs his incompetent nephew among the kitchen staff. The show involves acrobatics, magic tricks, comedy, pantomime and audience participation. The unifying element throughout the musical is the use of traditional Korean samul nori music, which in this case is performed with improvised instruments, such as cutting boards, water canisters and kitchen knives. The performance is almost completely non-verbal. The very few words which are spoken are mostly in English.

Nanta is the longest-running show in Korean history.  The musical made its international debut at the 1999 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it received an award for best performance. Since then it has been staged in 57 countries around the world. Nanta opened Off-Broadway in New York City in 2004 and ended its run in August 2005.

There are now three shows in Korea (Myeongdong, Hongdae and Jeju) and one in Bangkok.

discountsThough there are other third-party ticket sellers I would recommend going through the website as they do offer some good deals if you book in advance or at certain times.  If you book in advance you can get an Early bird ticket and the 2pm shows on the weekends are also well priced.

 

 

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Besides being able to buy tickets on the website they also give you very clear directions and instructions on how to get to each theatre.

 

 

 

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If you are lucky enough you get to actually participate in the show. Either as a bride or groom or as some other parts.

 

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If you are chosen to participate they post your photos on the website for you to download.

 

 

 

Nanta is really something worth doing while in Korea. It is fun, family friendly and can be done in any weather. Perfect for the upcoming winter months.

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If you have already seen Nanta let me know what you thought. If you loved it and want to watch some other similar things have a look at my bucket list that has a section on non-verbal shows.

New Years hike to end all hikes.

I’m not a hiker, let’s just throw that out there right now.  In fact, I don’t even really like hiking all that much.  I’m more a team sport, dance class or just lie on the couch type of girl.

But, I have a bucket list of things to be completed and it is for this reason that I decided to do the Seoraksan Mountain New Year’s hike.  The hike would let me cross off 2 things on my list-  84. Hike Seoraksan AND 119. Watch the first sunrise of the year on a mountain (which is a Korean tradition).  Seoraksan is the 3rd highest mountain in Korea and it was only after the hike from hell that I was told it was considered a rather “difficult” hike.

Little did I know the horror that would be waiting for me and that this would be the most extreme/ crazy thing I have ever done.

The day before I departed for Seoul I had a quick look at the weather and was not at all happy with what I saw.  The weather said the mountain would be -18 and near the top with the gale force winds it would feel like -30 to -40.  I could not believe that this was real, could it even be real.  I then also realised a very serious shopping spree was in order as I was not nearly prepared enough to be hiking in those extreme weather conditions.

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Off I went to the outlet stores as I was seriously not prepared to pay through my ass for gear that most likely would not be worn all that often (ok, whom am I kidding, it definitely wouldn’t be used that often).

I found the most beautiful pink hiking boots, only to discover they only go up to a 250. ALL women’s hiking boots only went up to 250. (250= 6UK= 8,5-9US size).  So I had to buy men’s hiking boots.  After an hour of shopping around I got everything I wanted and felt more at ease about the hike.  We layered up, I had a pair of fleece leggings, proper ajusshi hiking pants pants,  hiking socks, hiking boots, under armor long sleeve thermal top, another long sleeve thermal top, tank top, fleece pullover jersey, snow jacket, face mask, head band, beanie, gloves and a scarf…I thought I’d be fine.  Filled with some nervous trepidation but also excitement we headed to the bus meeting point.

The group we were doing the hike with was Seoul Hiking Group.  A group that I had traveled with before and whom I found fun, easy going and up for adventure.  You can find them on Facebook here.  They do many other trips besides just hiking and I enjoy going with them, most of the time. 😉

4:30 am we started the hike, by 5 am I realised that this was going to be much more intense than I expected and I wondered if I had indeed bitten off more than I could chew.

Our leader told us it was 5 km to the peak, when I got to the 2,5 km mark I was proud.  I was a little winded but still going strong, it seemed I would be able to do it…till we go to 500 meters after that sign.  The snow had started and I had nothing for my boots. So we plodded along, trying our best not to slip and fall down into the river that lay next to us.  Luckily earlier I had been a good Samaritan and loaned my spare torch to a girl who didn’t have one and now she returned the favour by giving me her spare crampons (spike things you attach to your shoes so they dig into the snow and you don’t slide).  The spikes definitely made a difference and I was more sure on my feet.

As we continued up it started getting colder, the wind started picking up and the stairs just wouldn’t stop. So many damn stairs, all covered in snow waiting for you to slip and crack your skull open.

I was shivering and I was hungry but we couldn’t stop as we had to keep going so we could see the sunrise and for fear of freezing.  By this stage our water bottles had frozen over.

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The sun finally started rising and we found a gap in the trees to take a shot or two.

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As we got nearer the wind grew even stronger than before and all the people coming from the front seemed to be running and they had ice in their hair and eyelashes.  I feared for what lay ahead, and rightly so.

We neared the top and rounded the corner and OH SWEET MOTHER OF MARY was it cold, it was beyond cold, it was horrible, it was freezing, every part of me was cold no matter the layers on.

We stopped for a while to eat some biscuits and admire the view but we did not stay long.  I was unhappy, I was cold, I was grumpy and my body was not happy with me.

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If I thought being at the top was bad, going down the side with the wind blowing from all directions was worse.  I seriously thought I might just die. I wanted to cry but was to scared to, I didn’t know what would happen to my tear ducts if the tears froze in them.  So instead I just made little chunking sobbing noises as I went as fast as was possible towards the shelter that was only 700 meters away.  My fingers started freezing inside my gloves, I couldn’t feel them anymore.  At one stage I thought my pants were sliding down and I took my hand out of my glove to try pull it up but I couldn’t bend my fingers, I couldn’t get them to do what I wanted.  The sobbing chunking noises continued till I got to the shelter.  Never have I been so happy to arrive at a wooden establishment.

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Once inside I did not want to leave.  It was warm, it was dry and there was no wind.  People were busy cooking away and it seemed that some had even spent the night there.  We had no idea that you would be able to buy food up on the mountain and so we had no money.  We just looked at the other people eating until one person felt sorry for us and gave us each a piece of candy. While we were standing there trying to defrost Juan asked me if there was something wrong with the top of his one ear as he couldn’t feel it.  I had a look at it and it was FROZEN, as in rock hard frozen.  He had been so cold he did not feel it happening.

It came time for us to leave.  I wasn’t ready for it, I had even thought about if it would be possible for me to stay there till the next day or whenever it was going to get warmer.  The only comfort I had was that from now on we would be going down hill.  My gloves were still frozen solid but I discovered the best way to keep my hands warm was to bunch them into a ball and put them in the palm section of the glove.  Leaving the frozen fingers part well alone.

We braved the cold and on we walked till we got to a 3 way split.  I had remembered our leader had told us to go to a temple and I saw some other people going left and so we decided to follow.  I was much happier as we were out of the wind blast and going down hill.  I even commented on how I was glad we were going downhill and not up.  What a silly thing to do!

We got to the temple at the bottom only to discover we had GONE THE WRONG WAY.  Words cannot describe what I was feeling at that moment.  I just wanted to sit and cry.  We would have to go back up the 2 kms we had just come down from.  I was broken.  On the walk back up I literally had to just concentrate on one foot in front of the other.  I was so angry and annoyed with us for being so stupid to go the wrong way and put ourselves through this extra pain.  Luckily there were 5 other people who made the same mistake so we knew we weren’t last.

We got to the top and turned the right direction.  It said it was only 10 km but it could take up to 6 hours.  We were starting to worry we would be getting back really late and hold the bus up.  I started formulating plans for a helivac and wondering the cost involved.

2 months prior to this hike I had fallen down some stairs over Halloween in Busan and twisted or sprained my knee.  I thought it was all better prior to the hike…it was not.  My left knee started paining with every downwards step I took.

The one really fun thing about going down the mountain is that at some stages the path was too steep or slippery to walk down so we literally slid down on our butts.  It was fun albeit a bit painful at times when you hit some stray rocks.  It also took some pressure off my knee.

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Unfortunately the fun didn’t last long and we hit the valley!  The valley with so so so many stairs.  Some covered in ice.

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At this stage the tears had started flowing, every step was painful, I was cold and I was hungry.  The worst of this was not having the option to stop.  The mental strain was exhausting.  No matter what my body felt I just had to keep going.  If we stopped we got cold and it pained to start again.

In my mind I was wondering how I was going to describe this, what Facebook status could I formulate that would adequately convey what I was going through.  My thoughts were torn between that, the constant thought that if I just sat down and waited surely someone would come rescue me, and possibly in a chopper, and how grateful I was that none of the friends I had invited with had actually come (they were smart).  It was bad enough that I was suffering and that Juan was suffering but it would have made me feel so much worse if I knew I had been the reason my friends were suffering too.

It was getting later by now and the sun had disappeared from our view in the valley and with the lack of sun the temperature seemed to drop even more and my knees were killing me!

Somehow I managed to do the last few kilometers.  I’m honestly not sure how my body pushed on through, but I’m happy it did.  The last 2 kms were on relatively flat ground which I think saved me too as it was the going down the stairs that killed me.

My neck was sore for having stared at the ground for the last 12 hours, my knees were throbbing and every muscle in my body was aching but I had made it!

I had survived the toughest thing I had ever done.  It had taken 12 hours to do 20-21 km (half marathon) on a path labeled expert most of the way with only a few advanced parts before the last 2 kms which was labeled easy.  My body has been put through some painful experiences before, and this one was definitely in the top 2, but it was the mental side that got to me.  I had never hiked for long, had to focus for so long or was cold for so long.  The option of giving up was not available, if it had been I would have taken it ages ago.  I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the the other and keep telling myself I could do it, I had to do it, there was no other option.  I just pushed through all the tears.

The end

P.S. Not everyone else took the strain we did.  They were fitter, had better equipment and also didn’t take a detour like we did.  Some seemed to have enjoyed it and I’m sure it could be a pleasant hike it you are prepared, we were not.

P.S.S Having the right gear is so important.  If it wasn’t for the gear I had bought I would have never made it.  The correct shoes are a must and the right pants made sure my legs were never cold.  The only thing I would deem a failure of my gear is my gloves, they did not work as intended to.

P.S.S.S My phone didn’t like the cold so wouldn’t take many photos. So thanks to my friends Eva, Darren and Juan for letting me use theirs.

P.S.S.S there isn’t a photo of us at the end because quite frankly I didn’t care.  I just collapsed onto the bus and refused to move.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows

I wanted to first complete some more bucket list posts before I started with other posts but this one has sort of presented itself to me in two ways.

Firstly, I was talking to a friend back home and they mentioned that I am living such a dream life here, I have it so easy. Secondly, I have heard a few stories of people (one recently) that literally packed up their flats overnight and left the country without giving their schools any notice because they couldn’t handle it.

So many people think that coming to Korea is going to be grand, they’ll be living the life.  Travelling every weekend and vacation with all their amazing friends they have made, work will be rewarding, fun, non challenging and they will get on with all the staff.  And while this does happen there are other parts they don’t realize.  It is these things that they can’t handle and you see them being miserable or bailing out on their contract early to go home.  It is also these things that no one posts about really.  I would much rather post vacation photos than post about when I’m homesick.

So, here is a list of things that might cause trouble.

1. Not being able to communicate!!!  This falls into three parts:

a) Not being able to read. A person does not realize how much they actually rely on reading till they can’t. Signs, bus times, menus, directions, my apartment’s heating system and even my school computer is all in Korean.  Grocery shopping is difficult, I choose my laundry detergent based on whether it has pictures on the back or not.  I feel like a child again surrounded by all this knowledge but just not being able to access it.  It sucks and it makes me feel stupid.  Luckily the Korean alphabet is incredibly easy to learn and you can learn to read in about 2 hours, if not less.  Just a pity I can’t understand what I’m reading as easily.

b) Not being able to write. While this does not play as big a role as the other two it does still cause problems.  You find something you want to read, you can’t, so you want Google translate to try help you, you whip out your phone only to realize you can’t type in Hangul on your phone, unless it’s a Korean phone.  You first need to go download a Hangul keyboard app.  You do that and then you painstakingly take forever to type out the characters just for it to tell you it means hot water.  It also takes forever when you are trying to write out your address in Korean.

c) Not being able to talk Korean.  I find that with this it is very much dependent on where you live.  If you live in bigger metropolitan areas the chances are you will encounter English.  I live in a small rural town where English is basically non existent.  I can’t even say the words ‘train station’ to my taxi drivers, I have to use the Korean term.  Which is ‘gichayeog’ (기차역) btw.  At the moment I have basic survival Korean skills.  So while I can’t have a conversation in Korean I am able to ask things such as, “Where is the …. (toilet, bus, shop, taxi etc.)?”  “What time is the bus to …..?”, “How much is this?”  “I don’t understand.”  “I’m hungry.” “I’m full.” “It is delicious.” and then the all important, “Can I have some beer please?”

Here is an example where the lack of the above abilities can clearly be seen.  It was my first weekend alone in Korea and Alex and I wanted to go visit friends.  After getting the ticket operator to understand where we were wanting to go I got a ticket with no terminal number on, no time and funny squiggles for writing.  We then had to walk down the terminal line till we found one whose board matched the squiggles on my ticket.  After we got to Chungju, where we had never been before, we decided we were hungry and headed to a restaurant.  We found a restaurant, sat down, got given a menu…and it was all in the funny squiggles, with no pictures.  I luckily remembered what one dish was called, ‘Bulgogi’.  I then Google searched for the word in Hangul and then we looked over the menu hoping the restaurant would have it and we could find it.  Luckily for us it did.  Our next step was getting in a taxi and trying to explain where we wanted to go.  After a few trips around the block and in the wrong direction we finally ended up where we wanted to go and then proceeded to have some well deserved beers.  The return journey was the same thing, except I was hungover and I ended up getting off at the wrong town and needed to buy another bus ticket to get home.

Even though my skills have vastly increased since then it is still an effort to do some basic tasks: trying to work out instructions on my ready mix muffins, figuring out if I’m buying the correct dumplings, asking someone the price but then not understanding the very fast reply, trying to give the taxi driver instructions or trying to find a sign for a shop you want among the hundreds of signs.

2. School can be a very lonely place (each situation is different).  Not everyone will be able to speak English.  At some schools there might be no one.  You might sit in the teachers room with the other teachers or like me you will sit separate in your own room.  While this does give me the freedom to search the web for whatever I want and shop online as much as I want I can end up going a whole day without speaking to anyone.  Yesterday I had no classes so I spent the whole day in my office by myself.  The only time I spoke to someone was at lunch when I got asked if I had had a perm done. (The answer is no btw.)

3.  You don’t know how your Korean co-teacher will be.  You could have the nicest, sweetest, most friendliest teacher to work with or you could have someone from hell.  Luck of the draw.  Luckily mine are great.  This is a gamble you will take with any new job though, you never know how your coworkers will be.

4. Friends are transient.  Everyone here is on some sort of journey.  Some stay for a year, some for longer, but they all have one thing in common…eventually they (or you) will leave.  With modern technology you will always be able to stay in touch, chat and follow their journey but the chances are slim that you will stay in the same place again.  This does allow you to meet people from all over the world and make connections with people you wouldn’t normally encounter but saying goodbye is difficult.

5.  Dating is more difficult.  You find someone you like and, if they are a foreigner, one of the first things you ask is, “When are you leaving?”.  This will set the tone of your time together.  You will be forced very early on in the relationship to think about the future.  If you are both in it just for fun then it isn’t a problem, but if it is serious you need to think of the ‘where to next?’ question.  If you are dating a Korean, the same applies. Are you going to stay longer or are they prepared to travel with you?  Depending on when, in your contract, you start dating the person will determine how soon some of these really big decisions need to be made.

6.  Not being able to find things you are used to.  Lamb chops require a special trip to Seoul. Braai spice? Forget it. Deodorant? Only available in summer. Niknaks, creme soda, BILTONG….get used to life without it.

7.  Having a smaller apartment.  Most apartments here are small (like matchbox small), you just have to get used to it.  And if you’re South African you have to get used to cleaning everything by yourself.

8. The time difference between home and here.  Luckily South Africa is only a 7 hour difference which makes it a tad easier than most to communicate with loved ones back home, some friends have 12-17 hour differences, but it is still hard and special Skype times have to be set aside for chats.  I can’t just pick up the phone when I want to.

9.  Missing out on the people you love’s journey back home.  Your friends and family are getting married, having babies, starting new careers and you can’t be there.  You miss out on watching your nieces, nephews and god children growing up.  In my case I missed my grandmothers funeral.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love living here, challenges and all, but it’s not for everyone and I’m not living this amazing dream life, none of us are.  Sure my life now comes with amazing perks and upsides, which I am really grateful for, but it also comes with some downsides and trade-offs that often people don’t think about.

If you are considering moving to Korea then have a look at the list and decide for yourself if you can handle it.  Or if you are envious of my life let me assure you that there are aspects of your life that I am envious about too.

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