Tonight, thank God it's them instead of you.

Well, 2011 is drawing to a close. A cliche though it may be, I have no idea where this year has gone. This time last year, I was working an awful, soul-destroying and morally dubious job whilst living in a windowless box in Cardiff. 12 months later, I'm back in South Korea -which I swore I'd never do - yet I find myself with much to be thankful for. It's cold, the people are angry, and the food is still shit. But there is something about this place that levels me out.

2012 may start and end for me on this bacon-forsaken peninsula - who knows? What I do know, wherever I will be, is that I will end it a better person than when I started it. I think we should try and do that with every year we are lucky enough to put behind us. In fact, fuck it - that is my new year's resolution every year until I die. I'll try and make it the first one I've ever kept.

So anyway, let me fill you in on the last few months of my 2011. As tends to happen, days, weeks and months have morphed into one long stream of Koreanarama and I find myself nearly 3 months into my contract before it even feels like it's started. Over 3 years since I first said I would, I started studying Taekwondo after I was handed an opportunity that was really too good to be turned down. I train in a dojang 30 minutes from the apartment, with 2 young black belts running the classes and the whole thing overseen by Master Yoon - a fantastic, if slightly intimidating, guy who speaks fluent English having run Taekwondo schools in Chicago for the best part of 15 years. One of my work colleagues and I are essentially receiving 1-on-1 lessons 3 times a week, and I fucking love it. I never really got martial arts before. My mate Teh has practiced Judo for as long as I can remember, and he was always on at me to join the classes when we were younger but I wasn't interested. Now, I totally get it. I've got my yellow belt after 2 months or so and Master Yoon has suggested that reaching black belt before I leave Korea is not out of the question. So, I'm going to knuckle down, train hard and see where it gets me. Achieving black belt in Korea's national sport whilst in Korea would be something special.

It was through Taekwondo that I got involved in one of the more fulfilling and satisfying experiences that my life in Korea - or perhaps my life as a whole - has provided me with. A fellow TKD'er is involved with North Korea Peace, a non-profit organisation that has committed to sending 1000 pairs of socks and messages of peace across the border into North Korea via giant helium balloons every month. Socks may seem an unusual cargo for such a route, but - as we learnt from Mr. Lee, the North Korean defector who runs the organisation and who I was honoured to meet - socks are extremely hard to come by in North Korea. Also, the higher-quality South Korean sock as compared to the more common Chinese sock can be traded for as much as 10kg of corn - that is one month's worth of food in famine-stricken North Korea. After hearing this, we just had to get involved so I rounded up the Canadian and some friends and got stuck right in. So that's how I found myself, at 9am on Christmas Eve morning, freezing cold, mildly hungover and clutching a Sausage & Egg McMuffin, listening to the most fascinating tales I have ever heard, straight from the mouth of a man who risked his life on a hunch that the bullshit he was being fed by his Government was, in fact, bullshit. He was right but, as he pointed out to us, the price he paid to discover this information has been high indeed. Any family and friends that he left behind have almost certainly been rounded up and sent to Labour (Death) Camps, and he must live with that his whole life. He also described the racism he suffers at the hands of South Koreans (is nobody safe from that shit?) and the incredible lengths he goes to to contact people in the North (a smuggled Chinese cell phone that can get reception in North Korea's western provinces, if you're so interested). It really was fascinating stuff, and it was a privilege to be involved. The success of the balloon launch is dependent on the winds at the time, and it seems unlikely that last Saturday's launch ended with any socks actually falling north of the border. However, with a strong media presence including Reuters, AP, Japanese, Korean and Russian press agencies (partly due to the recent death of Kim Jong Il but largely due to a huge PR push by NKP members), the other aim of North Korea Peace has certainly been achieved - awareness has been raised. In fact, you can even see us in the Daily Mail (have a bang on the comments section of that article, pretty standard idiocy from Daily Mail readers - although the comparisons to condoms simply cannot be denied). It was a great day, and something that I will certainly following up with in the future. Each one of these launches costs $3000, and that money has to come from somewhere. Maybe it could come from you?

Later that day, with work looming on Boxing Day, we had our Christmas Day on Christmas Eve in Incheon with some friends, a cooked ham with Yorkshire Puddings (hardly traditional, but totally awesome), a Doberman Pinscher and a lot of red wine. While those in my homeland were opening gifts and, perhaps, sipping a morning Buck's Fizz, I was taking part in drinking games, comparing Kanye West to The Beatles, seriously contemplating riding the Doberman around the flat and nearly decorating the inside of a taxi. Next thing I know, it's mid-morning, I'm waking up fully dressed in my bed, confused as hell, with the Canadian glancing at me witheringly saying, "Yes, you are still wearing your coat, scarf and gloves." Good night, it was.

So between Taekwondo, hitting the gym to run off my 'Canadian Weight' and driving the Canuck to desperation by repeating the same 4 guitar chords in my quest to become Alex Turner, I've found myself too busy to even tap out the odd blog every now and then. Work has stepped up a gear with the introduction of a new semester and, with intensives coming up, I've welcomed the change with open arms. I've got some really enthusiastic, fantastic kids this semester and that really helps make this job a pleasure. Sometimes.

And that's it. 2012 awaits.

All the best to you and every single one of yours.

Love, Smithy x


Lindsay said...

Another brilliant blog. Glad to hear you are so happy and all the best for 2012! Miss you but glad to hear all is so good for you. Im proud of you. Love you xxxx

smorphie said...

Good to once again see that you are alive on the net. Let's try to meet up again sometime soon!

Postman said...

Buck's Fizz! I would love a bit of that when I get back to Korea. And I have to make Adam his eggnog or he'll kill me in my sleep.

Man, it's sure good to hear about all the cool stuff you're doing now that you're back. I was wondering how the taekwondo lessons were going if there was a language barrier--and it turns out there wasn't! Good on you: get involved, get some hobbies, help out the poor saps north of the border. I must be more innocent than I believed; I didn't see the condom thing at all. At first.

A very merry (belated) Christmas to you, and a Happy New Year celebration.