I said in a previous entry that I didn't really have any friends here yet.    I thought about that afterwards, and I think it was just my frame of mind at the time, because I was thinking just about the ex-pats here.    In reality most of the ex-pats here are just casual acquaintances, but I am starting to make a few friends.    The key is in picking the right ex-pats.    But how do you find the right ones?    I'll give you a hint: NOT in the International Pub. :-)

I've been trying to learn a little of the Korean language, but with so many other things to do every week, sitting down to learn verbs and syntax has just slid right off the bottom of my agenda.    In a mostly vain attempt to motivate myself I've been going to language lessons once a week.    Every Tuesday night I go to learn from a Korean teacher for about nienty minutes.    It's down in a hall in town, and the teachers are all just interested Koreans who come there to teach foreigners.    That's pretty neat.    They give up their time one night a week, and don't get paid for it.    Maybe just another example of Koreans wanting foreigners to love Korea, or wanting to share Korean culture etc.    So it's great for me to pop down there every Tuesday and learn some little Korean for the week.

Really that's only half the reason I'm going there though.    I guess the true reason is that I'm going for the social life.    The Koreans who go are all outgoing, friendly, english-speaking locals - a big step up from the screams of "Hello!   How are you?" too often encountered.    Better again though, the ex-pats who go are all there to learn the language, and so you've automatically preselected the foreigners who are interested in Korea and likely to be more the type of friends I'm looking for.    In general, US citizens don't seem to learn Korean, nor do Aussies or Kiwis.    On the other hand, Europeans, Canadians and especially Chinese, they all seem to have a much "healthier" approach to life in Korea, or at least to learning the language.    Foreigners and Koreans alike all head out to the pub after the class, and this is the part that I enjoy most.    It's great to talk with locals and people from many different backgrounds and cultures and just exchange ideas and information about whatever happens to be on our minds at all.    Not that I mean to insult the Kiwis and Americans etc., but just I've met a lot of them on my travels before, whereas meeting with Koreans and Chinese people seems much more appealing from the cultural tourism point of view. :-)

It's been working out pretty well for me, and I have three 'friends' of a sort there now.    Sunny - or Soo Ni - is a Korean guy who would remind you of your favourite uncle.    He's always helping us out whenever we need anything explained to us, or need help understanding how something works in Korea etc.    Christine is a maple syrup-guzzling Canadian who arrived about the same time I did and has almost exactly the perfect attitude to life in Korea.    (... the same as mine ;-) ...)    Finally, Fabrice is an ethnic Frenchman, who grew up in China and came to Korea to meet a nice girl.    One of the other people we know through the language classes, an exchange student from Poland, had a 21st Birthday Party recently and I popped along.    I was sitting there on the floor, counting the nationalities in my head, when Fabrice changes the CD - it's French music, but they're singing something about Connemara...    To say that I was ridiculously pleased doesn't even begin to describe it.    A grin like a madman, and an ego to match! :-)

I've acquired another group of friends through my Caligraphy class.    I attend at a caligraphy academy every morning for an hour or so, around 10.30.    The advantage of going at this hour is that the kids are all in school, so the students at the caligraphy academy are all adults.    Of course, because of the time, they're a particular group of adults - either housewives, or retired men.    They are all there explicitly to learn caligraphy, but I reckon that it's as much a social club as anything.    They sit around and make idle conversation, little jokes or comments and are a really good-natured, tight-knit group - like you'd meet propping up the bar in any small town back home.    I wish now that I had a photo, or could give you a real taste of the atmosphere there,.. hmm.... does anyone remember Stephen Brennen and Dinny Byrne from Glenroe?    That's exactly what the two men I sit near remind me of. :-)    These guys are grandfathers and are always inviting me around to their houses for dinner with their families etc.    It feels lovely.    Best of all though was earlier this week.    I was sitting there meditating on the mystery of why my black paint just wasn't black enough, when a new woman enters the class.    They all greeted her like the prodigal son returned, and I figured out that she was an old student who hadn't been attending in the last few months.    Then the guy besdie me introduced me to her in Korean.    Wuri Jingu    ... our friend. You've no idea how happy recognising that little bit of Korean made me feel. Our friend    Once more I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat!

The final group I'll mention are people I've just run into recently at a local festival.    Foreigners tend to stand out at these events, and if you're anyway outgoing at all, you'll go over and talk to any foreigner you see out and about.    So it was that a woman in her 40s came over to me when I was sitting with some Koreans and introduced herself.    We were talking for about half an hour and then she was heading off with her friends and asked me if I'd like to come along.    Well, I'd no idea who 'they' were, or where they were going, but what the hell, off I went.    Turns out that they are from the Philippines, and meeting those guys and girls was like a breath of fresh air.    The first thing that I noticed about them is how outwardly friendly they were with each other.    They smile a lot, they laugh great bellowing laughs right out loud whilst slapping each other playfully on the arms or backs.    I suddenly realised that I'm missed that sort of companionship since arriving in Korea.    The locals aren't at all unfriendly, but they're just not into showing it too physically.    Suddenly being in contact with people like that again, being playfully punched or clipped on the ear... it was like I was alive again, not having even noticed that I had been dead to all that in Korea.    I spent the day with these people and when the day was winding up they all hugged each other goodbye.    I even gave one of the women there a hug - you've no idea how much I've missed hugs!

What I miss even more though is the very first friend I made in Korea.    One teacher here at my school went out of her way to help me with everything when I arrived.    This was at the time when almost everyone else was too busy to take any notice of me or help me at all.    After that we just became fast friends, and did so many little things together.    One day myself, this woman, and another teacher headed off on a daytrip to a famous tourist town in Korea.    It was probably the most fun I've had in a single day here.    I loved it to bits, every single minute of it.    She was from Seoul, and so we were both newcomers and outsiders here in Changwon City and it sort of brought us together, so much so that people started asking us if we really were together together.    Then a couple of weeks ago my friend moved back to her hometown - Seoul.    About as far away as you can get and still be in Korea.    This is the person I'd been spending my free time with, getting to know and putting lots of effort into becoming friends with.    For what?    It was all wasted.    She was heading off to Seoul- and I'd pretty much never see her again.    Then the other day she phoned me for a chat! :-)    Sometimes you just gotta keep the faith!

So that's pretty much the round-up of my friends in Korea.

And as good and all as it is making new friends, there's nothing like seeing an old friend.    For the last week or so I've been playing host to a friend over from Ireland for a little visit.    He's been staying in a makeshift bed in my apartment's sitting room, taking little trips hither and thither during the day, and heading out with me at night.    There's nothing like talking to someone from back home like that.    Catching up on the news with all the people we know and just talking nonsense about old times.    I'm not lonely here at all, but seeing someone from home again.... that meant more to me than I could have possibly expectecd.    I'm a fairly independent, solitary, do-my-own-thing sorta guy, and even moreso since I've been travelling on my own, but having an old friend hanging around my apartment!?!?    Once more, the Cheshire Cat grin. :-)
(somewhat badly represented by that three-character smiling face!)    Then the other day he left and things back at the apartment just seemed empty in comparison.    I wasn't looking forward to going back there again, but just as I was leaving work, my boss handed me a letter that had arrived that afternoon from a friend in Europe!    Talk about good timing!

So this little diary entry is to my friends, old and new. :-)


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