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Thick grey clouds rolled in across the mountains like smoke, and this evening it is raining in Yangsan. The past two weeks have been full and busy in that ‘start of summer’ kind of way and home-based life occurrences, such as putting a wash on or writing this blog, were whirled into the side lines. So now the washing machine rumbles, the raindrops drum and I am back at the keys.

There have been national occasions since I last wrote. For the Buddha’s birthday (which here is bigger than Christmas) brightly coloured lanterns were lit in temples across the country, and we all celebrated with a three-day weekend.

Similar to Mother’s day in the UK, Korea has a ‘Teacher’s Day’ which this year fell on a Wednesday. I was given a pencil case, notebook, iced coffee, chocolate, nail polish, a giant fan, a Hello Kitty ice-cooler and some lovely cards. I decided that Teacher’s Day rocks.

Generally students and sunshine have been making my days bright. The relationship between teachers and students can be so warm here. Some girls come into my classroom on a break between lessons just for a chat. Cycling through town on Sunday I was spotted by a few different groups of students who hollered “TAMJIN TEACHER!”  and waved enthusiastically. Regardless of nationality, I think teaching at a public school and the comparatively smaller size of this city leads to a mini celebrity status for all teachers. And any day that starts with lampposts singing 80’s power ballads and people screaming your name can only be a good one.

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Soul is still here. The longer she lives with me the less I think about finding her a new home, conveniently avoiding thoughts on the Landlord’s avid dislike of cats and the cost of flying her home. Together we are making her round-bellied. She wakes me up at five in the morning, copies me stretching on the yoga mat, bites too hard when playing and follows me to the bathroom.  We are getting used to one another.

Yesterday I had a chat with an old friend. The two of us talked about how all the things we thought were cool when we were twelve are actually still the coolest things around. Like games.  And adventures.  And making up recipes.

Last week, missing my friends back home, I sought solace in my re-discovered twelve-year-old interests. I hiked an obscene amount, at first choosing the ‘interesting’ way and by the fourth hike of the week simply finding myself scrabbling through mountainside undergrowth as if drawn there by an unseen force. I joined Yangsan board game group for the first time, which was great. I experimented in the kitchen, watched Game of Thrones and ate too many biscuits.

Sunday morning found me playing chase through the apartment on all fours, like a loping human-gazelle hybrid. At midday I was picked up for a picnic and tried to introduce Soul to my co-teacher and his daughter. She freaked out and hid successfully under the bookshelf, leaving my guests looking doubtfully at the series of cardboard boxes and dangling paper pieces that has become my front room. ‘It’s her playground’ I explained, and watched their bemused expressions shift focus, from the boxes to me.

Last week I went to Seoul for teacher training. I came back with new friends, a pair of climbing shoes and a kitten. The friends came from the training. For one week public school foreign teachers from around Korea were bundled together in a dormitory-filled building for thorough, well-meaning institutionalisation.

During this week it occurred to me that there should be a joke starting ‘how many teachers does it take to make a power point presentation?’ but I’ve yet to find one.

I can answer other questions, like ‘how do you inspire English teachers?’ Answer one:  Find some great speakers to give them inspirational lectures. Answer two: Remind them how it feels to be legally coerced into attending lots of lectures and make some of those lectures dull… It was in the wallows of compulsory dullness that my fifteen year old self resurfaced, at her sullen, chair-swinging, doodle-drawing best. I had to remind myself seriously to behave like the grown up I’m supposed to be, and swore then to make my lessons interesting if it kills me.

By the final Friday I had remembered what I like about cities: cool cafés, an abundance of people, and the feeling that anything is possible and everything exists.  Walking down a market street in the sunshine, having discovered climbing shoes that fit (in that toe numbing way they’re apparently supposed to), I only just noticed the small creature crawling towards the road.

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It took a second look to realise that the creature was a small, black and white, dirty kitten who was clearly sick and very thin. I was told by a well-meaning old Korean lady who was trying to feed her milk (or drown her, it wasn’t quite clear), that she didn’t have a Mama. My first thought to myself was ‘you’re not taking her home’ only to be found hours later – having ascertained that Korean animal shelters kill unclaimed animals after ten days – clutching the little beast to my chest while boarding the train for Busan. Cats are considered vermin by many older Korean people and our journey was accompanied by a few reassuring ‘crazy foreigner’ glances.

So, my climbing weekend turned into a kitten caring weekend, and extended into the week. She’s called Soul and she lives, much to the vet’s surprise. Thus it is I find myself awakening to clean up poo, pick fish bones out of mackerel and syringe medicine into her reluctant mouth. She celebrates her health by lying on my lap less – instead waging war with her new nemesis ‘THE RUCKSACK STRAP’ or stalking my feet from her under-the-bed lair.

Belén Lobos

Out of the ordinary stories in images and words Periodista independiente

Sophia Sheridan

en-route to something, somewhere, it began...

another side of the world

Teaching in Yangsan, South Korea. Travelling where the wind blows.

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