Saturday, March 1, 2014

1 March 2014... Welcome to the Sandbox (UAE)

Well, it’s about time I got around to writing this blog. I promised I would do it quite a while ago but there just doesn't seem to be much time for these things when the options are sleep or blog. (On a side note, why am I always so tired here?) This particular post will chronicle my arrival in Abu Dhabi.

I am employed as a cycle 2 (middle school) science teacher in Abu Dhabi. I will not mention details about my employer or my school as it’s generally frowned upon to do so. That’s the first point you should note if you are also a teacher for the same company, do not post negative comments about the company, your school, fellow colleagues or students on any form of social media. People have lost their jobs over this. Pretty much keep it positive or keep it to yourself. You also do not take pictures of the women or female students here unless you have their permission. If they do grant permission, the picture should not be posted on any form of social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, etc.) but can be retained as a personal memento.

After a reasonably long wait (2 months), I was finally issued my visa and ‘golden’ ticket on 7 February 2014. [Insert sweet relief here.] This gave me the weekend to get my life in order and spend time with my loved ones. Now while the wait itself was near torture and put everyone under a lot of financial pressure, in the end I was somewhat grateful for it. That statement may sound ludicrous but the extra time allowed me to do the necessary shopping, get my documents in order, copy and scan whatever I needed to, pack, repack (and repack again) and weigh my bags a million times over. With all of this done, my last weekend was exactly what I wanted and needed it to be; quiet, stress free and spent with my family. It was much better than when I left to Korea.

I bid South Africa adios and headed to Abu Dhabi to start my latest adventure on the 10 February 2014. The goodbyes are always the worst. Leaving my grandparents was the hardest part for me but I couldn't be a hypocrite by crying after I had warned everyone else not to cry. So I sucked it up and walked through those gates. The flight to Johannesburg was pleasant and uneventful. My biggest mistake was travelling heavy. I had on several layers of clothing including a jacket, my 7 kg backpack, a 5 kg computer bag, my giant handbag plus a hoodie and snow coat in my hand. It made running around quite a mission and it was particularly difficult trying access my travel documents. My advice here would be to travel comfortably and light. Also it would be a very good idea to have some kid of document bag/wallet/envelope for your travel documents. It will keep them in better condition (mine looked like it had gone to WWII and returned) and will allow for quick easy access. REALLY IMPORTANT INFORMATION: the only copy of your visa you will need is the one you will use to enter Abu Dhabi because immigration will stamp this one. Don’t bother bringing extra copies of your visa, 2 should do (1 to use at immigration and a spare should you somehow lose that one on the journey). Carry a few colour copies of your passport, you will need those. Interestingly however, I have not needed any of the passport pictures that I brought along with me. I’m sure I'll need them at some point so err on the side of caution and bring the recommended 20.

The flight from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi was not fun at all, I felt green the whole way. I didn't get much sleep and deeply regret eating on the plane. If you are at all prone to motion sickness, take medication for it before the flight and carry a fair amount of motion sickness pills with you (remember to have a doctor’s letter/prescription for any medication that you intend to bring into the country). The roundabouts here will have you wishing for motion sickness pills on the many bus rides you will probably take during your first week here. When I landed in Abu Dhabi on the 11 February 2014, there was a representative from Nirvana waiting with a sign that had the company’s name written on it. They will lead you the rest of the way. Remember that document bag/wallet/envelope because there are no trolleys for your carry-on luggage and you’ll need your documents while shuffling through the airport (why did I pack so much?). Our first stop was an eye scan. From there we were led straight through to immigration where we got to skip the line (thanks Nirvana). This was a very quick process where they will stamp your visa and passport. There may have been pictures taken somewhere along the line. I was too tired at that point to remember the exact details. From there you will be taken through customs… literally taken through, not to, so we didn't have to declare anything. After that you can finally collect a trolley for your carry-on luggage (your back and arms should be aching at this point). Now that you are unburdened, you can collect your checked luggage and add it to your trolley. Once you leave the luggage collection area, you can do your foreign exchange (about 1500 AED cash is a good amount) and get a sim card from Du mobile. It costs 155 AED and comes with 10 AED credit and a little data. Make sure you get your sim card at the airport, unless you prefer to go with Etisalat (which you can get from one of the many malls), because you will need a UAE number almost immediately. The only documents you need for a prepaid sim card are the stamped passport and visa.

From the airport, Nirvana will take you to your hotel. I stayed at the Ibis Abu Dhabi Gate hotel. Some people complained but for a 3 star hotel, I thought it was fantastic. The rooms were what you'd expect (bed, bathroom, TV, airconditioning and a bar fridge), buffet breakfast was provided (6:00 - 10:30 am) and there is a gym and pool (there is a small charge to use these facilities but it is well worth it). The downside to staying at the Ibis is that it is far away from everything and as such cabs cost a lot so share a cab where you can. If you are placed at that hotel, finding food will be an issue and eating hotel food does get expensive. The burger special at the lobby was a good deal at about 25 AED. I personally stocked up on cup noodles, cheese and bread at the Lulu’s at Mushrif Mall. If you are not a picky eater then you can save a lot of money that way. If you prefer a hot meal, there is an ADNOC garage down the road that has a Burger King (the prices however are shocking) and an ADNOC quick shop (it’s garage food so it won’t be that good). Unless you are lucky enough to be given accommodation with a kitchenette, food will be an issue and your biggest expense aside from cabs. Depending on how much money you have, budget about 30 AED/meal for convenience food or 100 AED/meal if you prefer eating at restaurants. Most of us just had a big breakfast, skipped lunch and ate whatever we could rustle up for dinner. IMPORTANT INFORMATION: when you check in at your hotel, they will retain your passport and visa (it will then be given to Nirvana) until you get your Emirates ID. This may take as long as 2 months so don’t make any plans to travel and also ask the front desk if they can scan and email copies of your stamped visa and passport to you then print a copy of these stamped documents and keep it with you. I would also suggest that you get a passport cover. Nirvana stapled my passport and that just annoyed me because now it looks tatty.

If you land on a Thursday, consider yourself lucky as you’ll have some time to unwind. If not then expect to be on the move from day 1. You will have to go for your medicals (again that document folder is great so carry it with you), fingerprinting and photographs, orientation and possibly training. Fair warning, take everything you know about logic and order and toss it out the window. Do the same for any frustrations that may arise from a general lack of logic and order. This is not the western world and nothing is ever done in the way you’d expect it to be done. You should be used to this by now if you've also had to wait for your golden ticket. You will hear ‘Inshallah’ often. Remember you chose to be here so adopt the attitude of the locals. Things will eventually get done, just not as quickly as you’d like it to. Stressing out about it will do nothing to make it happen any faster. Patience really is a virtue. 

After your medicals and fingerprints, you will be given back your stamped visa, passport and a stamped receipt. Nirvana will collect your passport and visa from you but you keep the stamped receipt. Treat it like gold. It is the only acceptable form of ID you will have for many weeks. I suggest you make a copy to keep on you and keep the original some place safe. At orientation you will be given your contract (its actually pretty standard) which you will check for errors, initial on each page and sign. Make a copy for yourself and return the original. You will also be given your placement (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Al Gharbia). If your placement sheet says reserve on it, it means you’ve been assigned a region but not yet a school. Just keep an eye on your email or for a letter under your door. It’s not a bad thing if you’re a reserve, you will still get paid, it just means they are looking for a school that needs your skills. I was initially an Al Ain reserve but requested to be placed in Al Gharbia because I’m strange and prefer the quiet rural life. IMPORTANT INFORMATION: they will not change your region if you are in Al Gharbia and want to be placed in the city. My case was different because they have a lack of teachers in Al Gharbia so they were happy to place me there. A few people get upset when placed out west but it has its perks. For example you don’t have to pay a deposit on your apartment and depending on which town you end up in, there is a monthly stipend of between 1400 and 2000 AED. It’s a great opportunity to experience Abu Dhabi culture while saving some money. Don't worry, you will not be living in a tent or riding a camel to work if you end up in Al Gharbia. It's admittedly a little boring but it makes up for that in sheer beauty. They will also assist you in opening up a bank account with a debit card and credit card with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) and there will be representatives from Home Center (for furniture) and Hertz (car rental). These places usually have a discount for teachers (who work for the same company I do) but a discount does not always equate to a good deal. Be smart with your housing allowance and shop around.

I have not received my documents, Emirates ID, housing allowance or rented a car so I can’t really comment much on those matters. Instead let me share some of my thoughts.

  1. Ladies, do not pack too much. You can get just about everything here. Carry your favourite beauty products (e.g. Clinique) as they are a bit more expensive here and sample sizes of toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, etc. until you can get to the shops to buy full size products. Toiletries are plentiful and about the same price as back home.
  2. Carry clothing that covers all the way to the wrist and to the ankles for work. Some schools may allow clothing that only covers your knees and elbows but honestly it’s less of a bother to be fully covered. In fact, don’t carry much at all. You can buy abayas when you get here if your principal allows you to wear an abaya. They are loose, comfortable and cover everything. I prefer wearing them. As to whether you will have to cover your hair, that is up to your principal. I was asked to cover my hair and I really don’t mind. It takes nothing away from my rights or religion to show respect to the culture and religion of the country I have chosen to live and work in. I carried way too much clothing that I won't use here. Ankle length dresses also work quite well for work. Long sleeved cardigans and lots of scarves are a must (it’s cheap to buy them here). As for casual wear, as long as your elbows and knees are covered, you’re good. 
  3.  The air-conditioning is intense. It may be the desert but it’s always cold inside buildings so carry a jersey or cardigan when you head out.
  4. Carry a bathing suit. The pool/beach will call your name.

The process of setting up banking is a nightmare. To make it easy here's a step by step:
  • Apply for your bank account at the orientation.
  • After 7-10 days someone from the bank should contact you.
  • Arrange delivery of your debit card.
  • When you receive your card, activate it by following the instructions provided with the card.
  • Once you receive the text stating that it has been activated, go to an NBAD ATM and set up a pin code.
  • Visit a branch/email your bank contact and ask for your account details (account number, branch name, IBAN, etc.) if it has not been given to you by this point. You will need some of this information to set up internet banking.
  • Phone the NBAD toll-free number (8002211) and speak to a consultant to obtain your call center number and to set up your call center pin. You will also need this to set up internet banking.
  • Go to the NBAD website and register to set up internet banking.
  • You will need an RSA token (which looks like a key ring) to log on to internet banking. It generates a random code every minute to keep your internet banking profile safe from hackers. Keep this token safe, it's important.
  • You only get your credit card after you've had 2 salary deposits made into your account.
I hope that I have provided some helpful information for those heading over or considering heading over to Abu Dhabi. This blog is from my personal experience and nothing is consistent here so your experience may differ greatly from mine. Just remember to pack an open mind and a positive attitude. Lastly, let me tell you a bit about my actual experience. From the Ibis Abu Dhabi Gate hotel, myself and 7 other wonderful women were transported to the Danat Jebel Dhanna resort, a stunning 5 star resort in Al Gharbia located close to Ruwais. No one can ever say that this company does not take care of it's employees. I have an amazing suite, a king size bed all to myself, a delicious buffet breakfast every morning and I have my own balcony that overlooks the pool and ocean. I'm going to miss this place when I get my apartment. It's a little slice of heaven. I fully intend on joining their club once I leave so I will still have access to their amazing facilities. Again the downside is that it is far away from everything and food is not cheap. There is a mall in Ruwais for grocery shopping and shopping in general. Not many stores are open yet but it will get better with time. I've been buying a few groceries from Lulu's at Ruwais Mall on a weekly basis (bread, cheese, coldmeat, soda, etc.) and when I need a hot meal, the Golf Club is a short walk away, just past the Dhafra Beach hotel. They have very well priced meals which make it well worth the walk.

I have been placed at an all girls combined cycle 2 and 3 school in a town about an hour's drive away from my hotel. I only teach one grade and subject (grade 6 science) so there isn't much planning but the discipline issues make it a handful. I figure the girls are just testing me. Hopefully it will get better once they get know me and we have established some sense of routine. I really hope that I can help these girls excel in science during my time here. At the moment they are reluctant to learn in English. I can understand that, I really didn't enjoy learning Afrikaans when I was in school. Its only been a week. I'm sure the next two years will have many ups (and a few downs) both at work and in my personal life here in Abu Dhabi. I'm just trying to keep optimistic because waiting for me at the end of these two years is my love, my country boy, and everyday brings me closer to him. I might as well enjoy that journey because these will be the stories I tell my grandchildren some day.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

1 February 2014... Valentine's Day thoughts.

So… Valentine’s Day. Yip, it’s around the corner. I have a boyfriend. I should be all ‘lovey dovey’ and excited right? Well no, I’m not. It just brings back memories of last year and of probably every Valentine’s Day I've endured. I’m either alone or if I’m dating someone, the day usually turns out disastrous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a complete romantic but I just can’t get excited about Valentine’s Day anymore. I've only had one really great Valentine’s Day and that was many years ago, I think 10 years ago to be exact. Let me reminisce.

I was in college and dating the sweetest metal head. Valentine’s Day happened to fall on the first day of university that year and I decided to go old school romance. I had planned a picnic. He surprised me that day with a giant bouquet of yellow roses, a mixed CD with a heart cut into the case as well as heart and kiwi bird-shaped cookies that he baked himself. That still has to be the most thoughtful gift I've ever received from a guy. I got him a Metallica CD. My gift to him didn't even come close. We dined on my dry overcooked chicken, sipped on grape juice then we had Camembert and grapes for dessert and relaxed sprawled on a blanket under a tree in the science faculty gardens. That is a good memory. He was honestly way too good for me. I was young and couldn't really appreciate a love like his. We've lost contact understandably. I hope he forgives me one day for breaking his heart but he was never meant for me. He found the right girl in the end. He’s happily married now and I wish him all the happiness in life. I don’t have any residual feelings other than fondness but it’s nice to think back to happy memories once in a while.

I think I spent the next few years of my life paying for breaking his heart; karma and all that. Last year was particularly painful. I had been dating someone when I left South Africa and was in a long-distance relationship with him whilst I was in South Korea. I had just had surgery and was discharged from hospital a day or two prior to Valentine’s Day. I could barely sit up or do much of anything really but that Valentine’s Day I made arrangements with him to have dinner together over Skype. It would been an early dinner for him and a very late dinner for me due to the time difference. As sick as I was I prepared myself a nice dinner, lit some candles, put on my prettiest dress and did my hair and make-up so I would look nice for him and less like someone who had just had surgery. Anyway, he texted to say he’d be online shortly. I waited patiently. The time we were supposed to meet online came and went. I messaged, he never replied. I waited a long time and with each moment my heart broke a little more and more. Eventually I ate my dinner alone, took my medication and cried myself to sleep. I didn't hear from him for two months after. When I did, there was no explanation for why he stood me up on Valentine’s Day. I broke up with him by email not knowing if he was even alive because he had ignored my every attempt to contact him. I was very hurt but that’s the past now and I wish him well too. After that I picked up the pieces, hardened my heart and said never again.

Well, as you know that last part didn't work out because when I least expected it, when I thought I had ruled out love, it decided to sneak up on me in the form of my current boyfriend and the subject of one of my previous rants ( We've been apart from each other for 5 months now, as long as we were together and against the odds, we are still going strong. I love him with all my heart and my sexy country boy loves me right back. (Insert massive grin here.) This will be our first Valentine’s Day as a couple but we are separated by a lot of distance. He’s in Alaska and I’ll either be in South Africa or Abu Dhabi. I wish I could plan something amazing and romantic to show him how much I care. I wish there would be a pretty dress, heels and perfume, a candle-lit dinner and dancing in his arms but that’s not going to happen. I know that so I’ll save that dream for a future Valentine’s Day when I know we’ll actually be in the same place at the same time again. As for this year, I guess it is just daddy’s birthday and my parents’ anniversary but nothing special for me. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn't add nor take away anything from the love I feel for an amazing guy and what he feels for me. I’ll just get myself some chocolate this year. There will be many more Valentine’s Days in my future to make up for all the ones of my past. So to whoever is reading this, may your Valentine’s Day be beautiful wherever you are and whatever your relationship status.

Much love.

Monday, August 26, 2013

26 August 2013… The horizon is near.

I am now down to just 10 days left in South Korea and with so much to say, I doubt it would fit in a Facebook status so I decided to blog it. This past weekend has been absolutely amazing. It started on Friday night with our ‘Party to the Power of Four’ which was an epic party to celebrate both Kelly and Bonnie’s upcoming birthdays and a farewell to myself and Jasmine (and Ch Eng, Sam, Mathilda, Matt and everyone else who is about to leave).

We started the night off at one of our favourite bars, Osan Lounge in Songtan. I have amazing memories there; good times with friends and that’s where I first met my boyfriend.  It was quiet at first as no one is ever punctual but after the people started to arrive, the good times started rolling. The turn-out was absolutely fantastic. I am so grateful for all those who made it and lent their awesome to the collective awesome to make it the most awesome night ever! Yes… it really was that awesome. My boyfriend taught Sayida and I how to play darts which involved Sayida flinging the darts at the board with such force that I was sure she was going to break someone’s face/the darts/the dart board or the wall itself. I went for a subtler ‘throw-it-gently-and-hope-for-the-best’ approach. My approach must have worked because I won that game. We both had fun either way. Mmm… speaking of throwing stuff, I also threw caution to the wind and enjoyed some Baby Frog/Strawberry Aid slush. Aaaah, the sugar and booze-laden delight. I also had the opportunity to meet new people, including some of my boyfriend’s friends. One of whom decided it would be a great idea to introduce me to my own boyfriend. It was hilarious because just as he was asking Barrey if he knew me, my boyfriend was putting his arms around me in a giant hug.  Good to know that people who don’t know we are together think we would be good together. After a few drinks, games of pool and darts, we then gathered the masses and headed over to another one of our favourite bars and the place where morals go to die, Jammers. On the way there I had a few shots of Taiwanese ‘something’ so details may get blurry after this point.

As soon as we got to Jammers, I was unfortunate enough to have a confrontation with someone I never want to see or talk to again. Thankfully after (very loud angry) words were exchanged, he left and my awesome night continued. In typical fashion, soju-kettles were found on every table and shots flowed freely (as did the tears as people got ready to call it a night and leave). We all partied the night away side by side; military, teachers and even parents. Jas amazed us with her crazy dance moves. There was beer pong, games of pool (my boyfriend beat me even though he tried very hard to lose) and plenty of dancing. We sang along to ‘Mmm Bop’ and danced to the Macarena. We took dodgy pictures that should never see the light of day but will still end up on someone’s Facebook. We are a really amazing group and I hope that the future foreigner community of the greater Pyeongtaek area will also enjoy that sense of family and friendship that I have experienced in this past year. By the end of the night (actually some time the next morning) with speech slurred, wallets near empty and good judgement far behind us, we stumbled to McDonalds for our customary after party feast. After we had glutted ourselves on MSG and fries galore, we all headed off in our own directions. Some stayed to party a little longer but the Anjung crew headed back home for the after party which involved country music, drinks, dancing, laughter and more good times in the park. I think I only stumbled into bed around 6 am on Saturday morning. I wish I could I say I got some decent sleep but alas, Saturday happened.

Ideally I would have gotten to sleep until noon but I ended up having to get out of bed several times to sort stuff out like the birthday cake and mattresses. Eventually I gave up any hope of going back to bed and decided to make a nice big breakfast; sausage, scrambled eggs, curried baked beans and toast with chai latte. Just as I sat down to eat, a whole bunch of friends landed at my door so I whipped up some extra food then we all chilled and played a few games of Apples to Apples. Its our new addiction compliments of my boyfriend. Kelly, you had better keep it going when I’m gone. We can have a reunion game in a few years. That thought makes me smile. I really hope we are still all a part of each other’s lives years from now. Anyway, after that we all went home to shower and get ready then we headed to Pyeongtaek where we met up at Ashley’s for all you can eat cheesecake (and some other food too but mainly the cheesecake).  After 2 hours of marathon eating, we rubbed our distended bellies and groaned in stuffed delight then headed back to Anjung. Miraculously, Sayida decided to stay and we convinced Priya to come to Anjung too. I am not too sure what everyone else got up to that night but I crawled my exhausted butt into bed and finally got that much needed sleep.

I awoke refreshed and invigorated on Sunday morning after that beautiful, mostly uninterrupted slumber. I made breakfast for the girls and then we got ready. Shortly thereafter, everyone was back at my apartment but this time to celebrate Kelly’s actual birthday with white chocolate raspberry swirl cheesecake and iced coffee (Thanks Lisa and Mai). Thereafter we all headed off to a jimjilbang ( When I first came to Korea and in the 11 months thereafter, I vehemently refused to enter a jimjilbang. Just the idea of being the brown, tattooed, overweight, naked girl being stared at freaked the hell out of me. I could feel the eyes on me just thinking about it. Alas, it was Kelly’s birthday and she really wanted to go. How could I say no to her on her birthday so I grudgingly agreed on condition that I could wear my bathing suit. As it turns out, bathing suits are not allowed. So there I was, having already paid my entrance and soggy from my shower with my only options being leave or get naked. I decided to be brave. It was a bit awkward at first. I’m not a person who will ever fully be comfortable with my nakedness. Perhaps it was my lack of glasses or the fact that there were 3 other naked brown tattooed girls but after I while I stopped being so damn self-conscious. The adjummas weren’t staring (any more than usual) and maybe it was all in my head after all. I even signed up for the works which for about $40 (above the entry fee) included a full body scrub, oil rub and hair wash. It was definitely worth every cent but I haven’t yet decided whether I feel violated and need therapy or whether I enjoyed it. This was all done by a semi-naked adjumma who vigorously scrubbed me from head to toe at least 4 times and in places that have never seen the light of day. This is painful… very painful but if you can endure it; you will feel silky smooth, soft and brand new. After that, she covered me in soothing hot towels and then proceeded to beat me up (not so soothing). At this point I was silently mouthing to my friends ‘HELP ME’ but it got better. After that was an utterly delightful oil rub (which also included being rubbed down in some kind of milk), having something slathered on my face and getting my hair washed and conditioned. I do feel lovely. My skin looks amazing and my hair is super soft but I doubt it is an experience that I would repeat anytime too soon. The nakedness is okay but that scrubbing was pretty painful.

After that I went back to my apartment to clean, see Priya and Sayida off and then we all headed to a galbi restaurant in Poseung for dinner. Dinner was absolutely delicious. I don’t know how my body handled all the good eating I’ve been doing this weekend. It will probably reflect on the scales but I’ll worry about that later. For now, I’d rather cherish good food and good times with my friends and love. I’d rather take the calories and the memories over a skinny body. Afterwards it was back to my place for more Apples to Apples (which has now become a drinking game) until everyone was exhausted and buggered off to get some sleep.

And with that came the conclusion of my amazing weekend. On a side note, my boyfriend came through for me. He’s not going to end our relationship when I leave. We have decided to try long distance. It won’t be easy but it’s a fighting chance so I’ll take it. He’s worth the effort. I am officially exhausted and ready to head home. I hope you have enjoyed reading all of this. Adios!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

30 July 2013... Where the heart is.

I am 28 years old. I am neither young nor old. I have lived enough to know something of life yet I know there is so much more that awaits me. Today I find myself at a crossroad. I’m sitting in my apartment alone and contemplating all that has become of my life. Just over a year ago, I quit my job, sold my car, paid off my debts and got on a plane headed to South Korea. I have told that part of my story before. The first few months here, I honestly hated it but something changed. South Africa, even though it is my home, doesn't feel like home so much anymore. As the months passed, I stopped feeling like I was taking a vacation from my life and this… living here in South Korea, it became my life. The walls that surround me now have become my first home… not my parents’ home but the first home I made for myself alone as my own person. Here I learnt that I was strong enough to survive on my own but I also learnt that being alone is not healthy. I have made friends here who in this short time have rooted themselves very firmly in my heart. In living this life far away from all we know, we have bonded and transcended the mere title of friendship. These amazing women have become my family and I love them dearly. They were at my side for my worst and at my side for my best and I honestly would do anything for them. They know who they are. Hint: they are poutine-munching, chain-smoking, pool-playing, soju-shooting, shopaholic, dancing, cussing, crazy-beautiful women.  I am so grateful for every day I have had with them. In a few short weeks we will part ways but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I know that they will always be a part of my life... and I couldn't get rid of them even if I tried. Not that I’d try.

Korea has given me many gifts but the greatest gift that it has given me has to be love.  When I came here, I had a boyfriend. I thought it would be a quick year and that I’d be going back to him and that we would possibly build a life together but things changed. The relationship was not what I had hoped it would be and perhaps I was the only one in it. It certainly felt that way a lot especially as I sat in front of my computer waiting for a Skype call that never came. When it came time to let go of that relationship, I was ready. I had tried to save it and had failed. There was no regret. I know I gave it my all. It hurt so much to see it fall apart but I had tried. I hope he’s okay. He’s a good guy, just not the one for me. I guess we were right for each other at that point in our lives but not right to stay in each other’s lives.

After that, I had just about given up. I never expected to find love… especially not in South Korea of all places but somehow, it found me. It was the 30 March 2013, a few months after my breakup. I was at a friend’s birthday party. I had gotten up to go get my coat which I had left at the other end of the bar. As I was on my way to retrieve it, I felt a hand on my arm so I looked up. There was this big mountain of a guy, wearing a black shirt that fit perfectly, with a sweet yet sexy grin and amazing blue eyes. He opened his mouth and with all his country boy charm told me I was beautiful and asked me for my name. I’m the kind of girl that sits in the corner and doesn't make eye contact. I’m a people watcher, not the center of attention. For the most part, I’m rather invisible but he saw me. I remember giving him my name and saying thank you before blushing like a complete idiot and running for my life. I have never been accused of being smooth. I literally ran away. That is how my love story began.

After that, I went back to my friends and excitedly told them that a cute guy told me I was beautiful. They asked what I was doing there with them and chased me away to go and talk to him. So I went back to where I met him but I didn't have the fortitude to talk to him so I just stood there are talked to my friend about this mystery guy. Turns out she knew him and he knew her. She worked her cupid magic and sometime later that night he talked to me again. I had ingested some ‘liquid bravery’ by then so I didn't run away this time. We spent that night talking, playing beer pong, dancing and he even carried me in those big strong arms and kissed me. He took my number and when I got home that night, sure enough he had messaged me. Another rarity for the invisible girl, guys do not message me.

We talked and talked and a week later, we had our first date. It was unbelievably adorable. He took the wrong bus and got lost but eventually we found each other. It’s been a few months now that we've been together. I was reluctant to be in a relationship at first because I had been hurt so many times but when he asked me to be his girlfriend, I was helpless. I was his. Everything about us, every moment we are together, it feels right. He and I seem to fit like we were made for each other. I’m not saying we are perfect, we've had some hurdles but we've gotten past them. We have never had any major misunderstandings and we have never even raised our voices to each other. There’s serenity in our relationship. I am most content snuggled up in his arms on the couch watching television without saying a word. I am completely comfortable in his presence. I have not felt invisible a day since I've met him, how can I when he looks at me like I’m the only girl in the world and tells me I’m beautiful. He makes me feel so special. Dear Lord, when he kisses me, I feel alive. He is a good man and I cherish him. Somewhere in the last few months, I went and fell in love with him. It was not a conscious decision. I only realised how much I loved him when I was given a reason to walk away and I couldn't. I needed him, I wanted him and I knew that I would fight for him and work at our relationship. But the clock is ticking and now I have just a matter of days left with him. I get on a plane back to South Africa soon and the decision about whether we stay together or part remains in his hands. I've made my decision. I will always choose him. I hope he chooses me. All I can do now is enjoy the time I have left in his arms and show him how much I love him.

The difference between my last relationship and this is that this time I’m willing to fight for it, over and over again if need be. I have found the man I want to spend my life with. He gives meaning to my existence, he completes me. When I look at him, I see everything I have ever wanted and needed. My heart yearns to be with him and to make him happy. Seeing his smile, his dimples, gives me a joy like I have never known before.  I have been happier in these last few months than I have ever been in my life. As you read this, please take a moment to pray that this love story ends in happily ever after.  I am at a crossroad in my life but I am not steering. I know the road I want to go down but only he can lead me there.

Monday, March 11, 2013

11 March 2013… Winter blues :’(

Happy belated new year for 2013. I hope this year has been treating everyone well. It certainly hasn't been very kind to me but we’ll get to that soon enough. It’s been quite a while since I've gotten around to writing this blog. I had every intention of doing this is December but then life became rather complicated and somehow I found myself putting it off.

Winter in South Korea has been a rather unpleasant experience. I’m pretty sure that everyone around me has felt thoroughly uncomfortable with the actual weather but then add to that the expense of winter clothing and the astronomical heating bills and you get a bunch of very grumpy waygook. Now most of my friends here are Canadian and somehow those guys are built for the cold, perhaps it’s all that maple syrup flowing through their veins, but for South Africans like me, anything below 16’C is too cold. Unluckily for my sissy South African hide, this last winter dropped as low as -20’C. Prior to moving to Korea, the coldest weather I had ever experienced was around 2’C which is still above freezing point and I had a warm fireplace to ease the chill then. Winter has certainly been a shock to my system. Furthermore was the realization that I was completely unprepared for the cold. My warmest coat in South Africa wouldn't even be an autumn coat here so I had to stock up on the essentials (coat, boots, scarves, gloves, beanies, earmuffs, thermal underwear, etc.). Once that was done, at least I wasn't at constant risk of catching hypothermia. I also eventually figured out how to use my heating in my apartment and bought a nice warm comforter. That just left one hurdle and a major hurdle at that… snow.

Now snow was at first a novelty. It’s beautiful to watch, it’s all sparkly and makes that delightful crunch when you walk on it BUT that novelty wore off very quickly once the snow turned into ice and slush. The winter boots that I had ordered from eBay weren't exactly cut out for Korean weather seeing as they were neither waterproof nor had any grip on the ice. I can’t even recall the amount of times I fell down but I vividly recall my painfully bruised hip (for some reason I always landed on the same hip every time I fell). Eventually as a result of sheer desperation I walked into a shoe store in my sodden boots with a very pathetic look on my face. No verbal communication was necessary. The store assistant could clearly see that I was in need of proper snow boots. She was really nice to me and even gave me a pair of dry socks to wear. Those bright purple ‘ugly as **** boots’ (now fondly known as my Barney boots) may just well have been the single smartest investment I've ever made. While they went a long way in keeping me warm, they did not however ease the fear of ice and snow that I had developed prior to the purchase of the boots.

I was so incredibly terrified of falling down and killing myself that I literally refused to leave my apartment unnecessarily. I went to work (usually in tears and holding onto anything I could find to stay upright along the way or walking on the road itself where there was less snow/ice), to the grocery shop (which is on the way home anyway), back to my apartment and that was about it. Now I am not completely crazy, there is a name for this condition; chionophobia. Whilst I didn't have any severe traumatic incidents related to snow and ice to develop this fear, I suspect it was because I had never been exposed to ice or snow like that before combined with a horror story I heard of a woman around my age needing hip replacement surgery after falling. I’m fairly accident prone so this was a legitimate fear. After an argument with a friend in which she pointed out my somewhat irrational behaviour, I decided to brave the elements. I eventually got somewhat comfortable walking on the snow and ice, even if I looked like a bandy penguin doing so, and I did have quite a few close calls. At least I ended up enjoying some of the winter and did actually leave my apartment for some social interaction. I’m just glad that spring is on the way. I doubt I’d ever want to endure another Korean winter.  I will NEVER take Durban’s beautiful weather for granted again.

For the record, I did throw a snowball and make a snow man just to say I've done it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

24 October 2012... Such a great lunch :)

Wow! I'm sitting here at my desk with a full tummy and an enormous grin on my face. I just had a rather exceptional lunch. I eat my lunch at the school cafeteria along with the students and the majority of the other staff. It has been a great introduction to Korean cuisine but it can also at times be quite daunting for me. You see, I don't eat seafood. I'm not allergic to it or anything. It's not a strict rule either. If the inclination strikes me then I will indulge in a piece of fish or some Mozambique-style prawns. However it is more a matter of personal taste. I just don't like seafood. Perhaps it comes from having studied marine biology or perhaps it stems from having had pet fish in my youth. Either way, I'm not fond of seafood. I've even boycotted certain family meals because seafood was served. Over the years my family has realised that this is something I will not easily budge on and now cater non-seafood alternatives just for me. Got to love them... and I don't think they mind too much, more prawns for them!

Hmm... I've strayed a bit from my initial point. Oh yes, today's lunch... What made today's lunch rather exceptional was not the food being served but rather the kind service. Wednesday tends to be treat day at the cafeteria and I look forward to seeing what will be put on my tray each week. So far treats have included delights such as fruit salad and chocolate cake (not at the same time though). Today however I was out of luck. They were serving seafood! This normally is not a train smash. In the event that they do serve seafood, I usually just eat the rice, kimchi and soup. Today though they not only served fish but  the rice itself was cooked with anchovies! You can imagine my horror as I'm about to take my first bite of rice and there, staring up at me with their sad dead little eyes, are a pile of anchovies! Lunch suddenly seemed rather bleak. It was just going to be soup, kimchi and some sweet potato for me.

Thankfully, Mr Jung, one of my co-teachers whom I absolutely adore, came to my rescue. He's been somewhat of a father figure to me here. He even called to make sure I was okay recently when I fell ill. I really appreciated the gesture considering that I am so far from home and without the comfort of family. Anyway, he left his meal, tracked down the wonderful lady who runs the cafeteria and explained to her that I don't eat fish. She was then nice enough to bring me a bowl of anchovy-free plain rice. I was beyond touched my the gesture from both of them. I hadn't known the reason that he had gotten up until she arrived with the rice. It was so thoughtful of him to consider my dietary preferences and it was so thoughtful of her to indulge me. She even brought me a bowl of this really yummy sweetish dried-seaweed-covered-in-sesame-seeds stuff that I love and when I was leaving, she also offered me some extra sweet potato. So thanks to the kindness of two very thoughtful Korean peers, my lunch went from being bleak to absolutely great. No one can ever fault the South Koreans when it comes to their hospitality and for that I am ever grateful. Its these small gestures that make life here a pleasure.

And finally, on completely an unrelated  but happy note, I would like to wish my bearded-lumberjack-loving friend (you know who you are) a very happy birthday and on an unrelated but sad note, to the family of my ex boyfriend, I know that tomorrow is the anniversary of your mother's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with your family at this sad time. Rest in peace Aunty Romilla.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

10 October 2012... Rain rain go away!

Hello again.

Would you believe it? Its raining again! The last typhoon that I mentioned put the fear of God into me. On that treacherous walk back home, my umbrella was promptly ripped to shreds by the wind so I ran my by then drenched self to the nearest shop and bought the biggest umbrella I could find as well as a rain poncho. I definitely learnt my lesson. I keep everything in my backpack in plastic bags so should I ever get stuck in the rain again, at least my electronics will survive. I really hope that it doesn't happen again but I think I'm safe between the plastic bags, poncho and heavy duty umbrella. I am such a sissy when it comes to the weather. I'll be the first to admit that. I guess living in Durban has completely spoiled me. I'm way too used to sunshine and warm days. Although the irony is that since I left the weather in Durban has been a little crazy!

It's only October so early Autumn here and a lot of the foreigners are already feeling the cold. I've swapped my jersey for a thicker coat these days. I regret not packing a gown but weight was an issue for me. I sure could use one now for those chilly mornings. I have since also invested in a proper coat; the multi-layered type that can get me through the snowy winter. Luckily for me it was going on sale so I saved quite a bit. I also bought a Spirithood type thing but instead of an animal, it has a 'Nightmare Before Christmas' theme. I love it. I'm going to be running around freaking out the adjumas (old ladies) in winter. Lol.

I even bought some incredibly woolly thick socks. I also got some amazing sheets and a lovely warm comforter from The Arrival Store (TAS). They really do offer amazing service. If you are coming over, be sure to check the site out at As you can gather, I'm rather terrified of the cold so I'm slowly making my preparations (kind of like a squirrel with nuts except in my case it's clothing). I am terrified of heaters (long story) so I'm going for layering to keep me warm instead. I am however looking forward to winter for two reasons. The first is snowboarding/skiing. Its one of those things on my mental bucket list. The second and far more important reason is that I have applied for leave. If it is granted then I will get to visit my sister in Doha. I miss her and my beautiful nieces so much. I'm so sad that I can't go home for Christmas. This will actually be my first Christmas away from home but at least my sister and her family will be visiting South Africa so the only one who will be having a lonely Christmas is me. I'm sure I can figure out something to do with my friends to lift my spirits. In the mean time however, we have been having lots of fun.

In the previous post I mentioned going to Seoul for the Zombie Walk. It was absolute fun! I had such a good time and made new friends. It was amazing what a good job we did with budget make-up and a bit of fake blood. I even made a grown woman cry. It wasn't my proudest moment but at least it proves that I would make an excellent zombie. Hehehe... it will be quite a while before Hongdae recovers from the day the zombies took over.

The next day was also awesome fun but in a more touristy way as opposed to the previous day's craziness. We went to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. My word... it took my breathe away. It was so intriguing to learn about South Korean history and to walk through the palace grounds. I saw and experienced so much, from the changing of the guards to the folk museum. It is something I would advise any South Korean tourist to do. It wasn't expensive either and it was such an amazing experience. Be prepared to walk though. The grounds are huge! (PS. There are birds in South Korea. I finally saw some!)

I do not in any way regret my decision to move to South Korea. It is still difficult. I don't get lost as much anymore and am getting used to the weather, culture and language but home-sickness is certainly the most difficult aspect. I miss my family, boyfriend and friends so much. I am really blessed to have such great people in my life but at least Skype makes it so much easier to be away from them. I have never felt more South African than when living out of my home country. I guess I suddenly realised how good we have it back home. The food is cheap (trust me, it is) and delicious, the country is beautiful and clean (well cleaner) and we have such a rich heritage. The only down side is probably the crime and corruption but regardless, it's still home. I can honestly say I am proudly South African and furthermore proudly South African Indian. I made sure that I celebrated Heritage day even though I'm in South Korea. I don't have any Indian clothing here but I have my South African rugby shirt so I wore that and my friends and I went out for Korean BBQ (a substitute for a good old fashioned braai). It felt good to celebrate even though I am so far from home.

I also plan on observing as much of a traditional Diwali next month as I can. I found an awesome website that stocks Indian food and items (  I'm going to invite a few friends over and attempt to cook a proper Indian meal, light some candles and celebrate the Festival of Lights. Being in South Korea doesn't mean that I have to give up who I am or lose my sense of self. If anything, this move is helping me discover who I really am and what I want out of life.

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." -Neale Donald Walsch

Work has been okay. Some times its frustrating, other times boring and at other (rare) times, I find it completely gratifying. It all depends on which class I've just taught. Some learners are so passionate and motivated and despite their lack of English skills, they are ever eager to learn more. Other classes provide a constant challenge in trying to keep them awake yet alone motivate them. I did however pick up some very handy knowledge at the Autumn 2012 GEPIK orientation. It was 3 days of fun and learning. The summary of which can be seen here: 

I'm glad I ended up in the GEPIK program. The hogwan teachers sound like they have it much harder. I also finally got my alien registration card (ARC) so I am now all legal. That in turn means I got paid so I'm eating a little better (and shopping a lot more... shoes!) which was completely necessary as I had developed anemia  Food is generally expensive here especially fruit so come prepared with multivitamins. You will need it to compensate for you limited diet. Korean food is very carbohydrate rich which I'm not really used to so its hardly surprising I developed anemia. I don't have access to the iron rich food sources that I had back home. At least the problem was easily solved; 30 000 KRW later and I now have a 2 month supply of iron supplements. My ARC also meant I could finally get a phone. I was told that they do not have sim cards here and that it would be near impossible to find one here. BULLSHIT! I managed to find one at the SK Telecom/T World in my small town and it only cost 9 900 KRW as opposed to the 70 000 KRW I would have had to have spent for a second hand cash phone. At least with the sim card option I got to use my own nice clean new smartphone. Just make sure that your phone is unlocked (can work on any network) and will be compatible the networks (in terms of the frequency the operate on) in South Korea if you plan on bringing your own. Blackberries are not compatible as far as I know. Well I guess that's all there is for now. I have some more touristy things planned with my friends in the future so I will keep you posted on my adventures. Work is officially over so I'm off to my apartment for a nice rainy afternoon curled up in bed with a good book. Later!