South Korea 2015: Last Week of School in Sangju

I spent an entire week in Sangju, helping Scott to pack up two years of his life and saying goodbyes to friendly faces.

Buses chartering through cities in South Korea are some of the most comfortable I’ve sat in. It’s a pretty efficient means of cross-country transportation, and the conductors make sure you buckle up.
We finally arrive in Sangju, 2 hours south of Seoul.
We spent Monday, our first day, at the middle school. It was a beautiful wintry morning in the country. I was so amazed by the stark contrast between the sandy fields and the sheet of ice that covered part of it.
The mountain in the background is called Baeksan (White Mountain). How wonderful it must be to inhale fresh mountain air everyday!
Back at my favourite place.
Couldn’t resist a selfie – the rays of sunshine were too beautiful not to be a part of.
Wearing Viparo jacket, Nordstrom tights, Alexander McQueen x Puma shoes. Photo assist: Scott.
My favourite part of school in Korea is lunch time! I’m always a little excited to be a part of everyday living in a foreign place, and the way lunch is served in Korean schools is just so different from that in Singapore. It’s actually quite smart in order to ensure that kids don’t go hungry thanks to some bully taking their lunch money the way I suffered in primary school.
Also, strawberries!!! They were so juicy and yummy. I got extra strawberries to go after lunch… this was taken during the walk back from the cafeteria to the classrooms. The school populous generally doesn’t bother to switch back to proper footwear for lunch, so it was a bit of a bite wearing indoor slippers outdoors.
I had brought my Instax with me since this was the last time we were going to be there, and I wanted to leave behind some shared memories. I also brought along love letters from Chinese New Year and my all-time favourite jewel biscuits as souvenirs from home. 🙂
Our second day, Tuesday, was at the elementary school up the mountain. Teaching elementary grade kids has its pros and cons… the major draw for me is really just how cute the kids are. I adore their innocence and yet unjaded perspective on life, which is the major inspiration behind my art. I want to make books for children someday.
I introduced some of the kids to Daft Punk via my favourite medley by Pentatonix while they worked on farewell cards for Scott using English. It proved to be a distraction instead… but it was a good distraction.
I was so envious of the telescope one grade had at the back of their classroom!
Wish we could have been there at night, the stars would have been such a beautiful sight.
I did a couple of quick doodles for the classes.
The cute kids gave Scott their sweet heartfelt messages.
Two girls came up to Scott and I during lunch and handed us this handmade clay heart with our names inscribed on it. My name in school was changed to the Korean reading of ‘In Yong’ because there wasn’t an easy way to say the ‘r’ in my name in Korean.
School lunches, as usual, are the best. There was even a probiotic drink included.
Can’t close my backpack because of all the kids’ drawings! Wearing Viparo jacket, Zara cardigan, Hue tights, Stance socks, Alexander McQueen x Puma shoes. Photo assist: Scott.
It was a breathtaking sunrise on day three, Wednesday, as we went to a different school on the same mountain for middle and high schoolers. I remember commenting on how I finally understood what I had always thought to be grossly exaggerated picturesque landscape paintings. These scenes do exist; those painters weren’t making it up.
Re-acquainted with scenes from the school.
Photo assist: Scott.
The best toilet cubicle in the school. It had everything a Korean toilet bowl would have, except for the heated seat which I missed so dearly from my weekend in Lotte Hotel.
The cafeteria! I managed to take a shot of it before lunch commenced. Those chairs have to be pulled down to sit on, but they were pretty comfy.
Students serving lunch. Teachers get first dibs.
We had Bibimbap that day.
Just like the last time I was here, there’s always so much food to be had for sharing. Persimmons are one of Sangju’s claim to agricultural fame, but I’m not too sure if these are locally-produced…? I enjoyed them in any case.
That night happened to be a teachers’ farewell dinner. What’s interesting about the education system in Korea is that educators have no choice but to change schools after five years are up. This results in a lot of teachers living apart from their families, which was quite a sad thing to hear. Supposedly this eliminates teacher-student bias but I don’t understand the short turnaround time to successfully run a school…? I guess I’ll never be able to fully understand the rationale behind it. In any case, eating in Korea is always a feast. I was very fortunate to be able to partake in the foods thanks to the generosity of Scott’s schools.
Trying to suck out a small snail for the appetisers. It was a weird experience.
Bobo-sem challenged me to a drinking contest of sorts in downing four somaeks (soju + beer) in succession and I very quickly developed a reaction whenever I drink soju. It was such an eye-opener interacting with the teachers out of school. They really let loose around alcohol!
Day four, Thursday, went by in a haze, but it seemed to be a student graduation rehearsal and an official farewell for teachers whose five years at the school were up. Tears were shed, even by YY-sem, who was one of the teachers leaving. It came as a complete surprise because he’s always seemed so stoic (except when he was a very, very happy drunk the night before).
Scott and I retreated into the teacher’s lounge after enduring the cold outside, thawing in front of the huge room heater. Photo by: Scott.
Ever since I started the week of visitations to Scott’s schools up in the mountain of Sangju, I had been eyeing the sheets of melting ice that had formed in sparse spots around the grounds. It was February after all, and winter was coming to a close. I had to take whatever signs of winter I could get my hands on. Wearing Viparo jacket, Something Borrowed dress, Urban Outfitters tights, Forever 21 earrings & cardigan, Alexander McQueen x Puma shoes. Photo assist: Scott.
Pretty balloon arch in preparation for the graduation rehearsal. It’s been years since I’ve stepped into a school gymnasium.
I can’t get tired of school lunches.
Scott and I had a farewell dinner with HaeY-sem, another teacher who was leaving the school. She brought us all the way out of town for this joint. Loved those fairytale trees outside the restaurant.
Our delicious feast!
I’ll miss the mountains.
Friday marked the last day of school. It was also graduation day. Having never seen how it’s done in other countries, I was pretty excited about it. Anyway, I discovered a cute little pond in the school that day! How had I never noticed it before?
A replica of The Thinker sat above a pond frozen over. I was so close to attempting to walk across the film of ice, but the thought of potentially being drenched and miserable in -3°C weather was deterrent enough.
Wearing Viparo jacket, Zalora dress, Urban Outfitters tights, Alexander McQueen x Puma shoes. Photo assist: Scott.
The teachers had prepared flowers for the graduating seniors.
In return, some of the teachers got bouquets of flowers too. These were so pretty!
The graduation ceremony!
It was sweet how it was apparently tradition that second graders send off the seniors. They put up a skit on Don Quixote and sang together this year.
After that was a mad rush of photo-taking with the kids. It was our last time seeing them.
The teachers had a post-graduation lunch, which was a feast as usual. I was lucky to be a part of it once again.
Annie-sem invited Scott and I to her home during our last days in Sangju. She was Scott’s co-teacher for one of his schools, and had always been very caring towards him and I. Annie-sem warmly welcomed us into her home, where we met her husband and two cute girls. She and her husband had even laid out a splendid feast for our arrival! Scott and I were very humbled by their hospitality.
We’re not sure we could handle juggling two rambunctious girls, a teaching job each, and keeping the house so neat and tidy. I mentioned above how teachers have to move schools every five years, and next year is finally the year her husband teaches in a school in town. For two years, he’d only been able to get together with the family on weekends because his school was in a different town. I can’t believe just how hard educators in Korea have it.
Annie-sem gave us a game of Yut, a traditional game in Korea. It was pretty addicting!
Of course, we had to take some Instax photos. We’ll miss them sorely.
Sadly, we eventually had to leave for more packing and goodbyes to other people in town. Last photos with Peter & Candice, some of Scott’s best buddies during his time in Sangju.
Not forgetting this super cute puppy living in the house near Scott’s apartment. It was super energetic and friendly, but my heart went out to the small ball of fur because sometimes we would see it chained outside in the cutting, cold wintry air. It didn’t seem to mind the cold, but still. Frankly, the house looks like it’s home to hoarders, but I don’t know what the houseowners do. Perhaps they recycle trash? In any case, they were very friendly to me when they saw me take this picture.
I had acquisitioned some of Scott’s clothes while helping him to pack his belongings, and this green merino wool sweater was one of them. We originally bought it in the H&M in Singapore, but it shrank when he put it in the washer; his loss, my gain. Wearing H&M jacket & sweater, Marshalls shawl, Urban Outfitters tights, Alexander McQueen x Puma shoes. Photo assist: Scott.
One of the few nice pictures of the both of us. Sangju has been immensely kind to both Scott and I (by extension). It was difficult to part with this beautiful town, but our journey had come to an end. We’ll see you again someday, Sangju!