As I look out over the bustling city of Seoul, 19 floors up in the Australian Embassy, it is still amazing to think that I am really working in another country. I have been assigned to the department called Australian Education International, which aims to promote study in Australia and strengthen education ties between Korea and Australia. My first project is to write a story about the successes of Australian University researchers and their innovative projects with regards to environmental sustainability. Surprisingly this is a very similar task to what I do for Sydney University World, a magazine distributed by the University of Sydney, and so I am finding this really enjoyable.
This is actually my second day at the embassy and I am patiently waiting for people to reply to my interview requests. On my first day I was introduced to several people who work in the Embassy; Jinny- who is heavily involved in the Australia-Korea Foundation (who sponsored our internships), Jenny- part of the political section who had to answer all of my questions about North Korea ( it is amazing hearing her experiences first hand as she makes regular trips over the border to look at the success of aid projects), and the lovely people who work in my department, Juhee, Emily, Dean and many more I would meet but they have taken leave.
After a quick briefing there was not much time before we headed out for lunch. Jinny took myself and Rachel out to a traditional restaurant where we ate Shabbu Shabbu (or at least that is how it sounds), which involves cooking an array of vegies, noodles, dumplings and thinly sliced beef in a broth and then dipping them in a wonderfully tangy sauce. The flavours here are just amazing, I am going to have to find a Korean recipe book for kimchi, bibimbap, shabbu shabbu and all the other wonderful dishes I have tried.
From my office window I can actually see the mountain ranges which divide the north from the south and there is a beautiful view of the president's palace called the Blue House. It is surrounded by guards and tanks for fear of attack from North Koreans who have made it into the country. I am hoping that one weekend I will be able to do an army tour of the demilitarised zone and view the negotiations room. It is interesting to compare the different attitudes towards the North Koreans. The Australians in the embassy have been several times and don't show any fear so much as sadness for the people over there, whereas the South Korean people would not dare go anywhere near even the border. A block away is the US embassy which has a staff of 400 people and their own building, we only have the 19th floor of one building!
I also witnessed another cultural difference at taekwondo tonight. Every person has their traditional uniform called a Dobok but apparently women are supposed to wear a shirt underneath as the uniform has a v-neck. In Korea that is apparently too much skin and so even though my master understands western culture (as he taught in the United States), the other girls in the class asked if i could wear a shirt underneath to cover my skin. This was a bit embarrassing at the time but again, just goes to show how different the two cultures are. The amusing fact is, that Koreans can show as much skin on their legs as they want- to the point where women walk upstairs with their handbags tucked behind their backs to stop people from seeing their underwear. It is confusing.
Training taekwondo is amazing here though. They are meticulous in their technique and force you to practice until you have all the patterns (called Poomsae) and kicks engrained in your memory. Master Hur teaches in both English and Korean and so I am slowly learning more words. He also teaches a separate martial art called Gumdo, which is the art of the sword and is really fascinating as there are so few schools in Australia which teach this curriculum let alone have such a recognised teacher. My forearms are sore though because the sword is extremely heavy and a lot of the moves require lunging and balancing.
Tomorrow I will be going to POSCO, the second largest iron ore steel mill in Korea. We are going to tour around the plant and see how our Western Australian iron ore is transformed into steel for cars and industry. This trip was organised by Jinny and the AKF and so we are extremely lucky as we will be able to see what life is like outside of Seoul. we are also lucky that we are heading south towards the equator as it will be -14 degrees tomorrow and i don't think i can fit any more layers of clothing on!
Another day, another adventure!