Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ah, Globalisation

Over 18 months in Korea and 30 days before I leave, I find muesli. That's just not right. That's about 540 days without the breakfast cereal I pretty much lived off during uni. However,to say that I just found muesli would only be telling half the story. I found a Tesco (cue lights and choir of angels). A huge Tesco Homeplus, comparable in size to the local monstermart: E-Mart, but lacking it's crazy atmosphere. It might have been my Anglo-centric conditioning that stirs in me great pride in seeing a British institution so far from home, but it seemed so much nicer than the E-Marts and Lotte Marts of Korea.
It did let me down however. I was really hoping for some good cheap tea. Tesco own-brand, Tetley or PG Tips (the pyramid bags, of course). There was Tesco value green tea in abundance, but the only black tea on offer was the Twinings range. Fancy tea, by appointment of the Queen no less. Slightly crestfallen I picked up a pack of English Breakfast Tea. 25 bags for about four quid. Still, the three kilos of Swiss Style Muesli I had newly acquired was more than enough to put me in a great mood. Coupled with an evening of David Attenborough wildlife documentaries I was definitely indulging in my cultural heritage.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Quick Update

Today Courtney and I handed in our 30 day notice. We're flying out on the 27th of August. We're pretty excited about that. We've put a few of our appliances on craigslist, so we're well on the way of cutting our ties with Korea and getting ready to move on. Our main activity in preparing ourselves for leaving, and more importantly, making this month as enjoyable as possible, is eating as much delicious Korean food as possible. Off to have some barbecued meat tonight. 
I've also been accepted onto a farm in Costa Rica. It's run by an Elizabeth Hawkins and is in the Puriscal region of Costa Rica. More details when I get them.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Another year, another couple of countries

Things are winding down for me here in Incheon, South Korea. Just one more month of teaching, then I'm off. Hopefully it'll be a quiet month. Regular classes have just finished and just the after school program and a four day morning camp remain. When I finally ship out, I would have spent 18 months in Korea. Quite long for living in a country I'll never fit into.
While I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in South Korea (split into a one year term and a six month stint with some travel in between) I'm looking forward to a change of pace. During the in between time I was fortunate enough to spend three months in Thailand. The tropical climate and laid back pace of life was very appealing. However the tonal language (five ways of saying ma, each with a different meaning), rampant tourism and continuing to stand out in the crowd has pushed me towards moving out of Asia.
I've got a trip to the states planned (Route 66 Road Trip!), but getting a work visa was too much red tape for me to untangle. So the rich, green land of Costa Rica seems like a great place to go kick it for me. I'm planning on doing at least a month volunteer work on a farm in Purical to get a feel for the climate and culture, as well as to give myself a chance to establish some connections to find some teaching work.

There are several reasons I want to volunteer in Costa Rica.
  1. a Latin based language, so much easier for me to learn than anything here in Asia!
  2. amazing biodiversity in such a small country
  3. the chance to work physically, a welcome break from the purely academic requirements of ESL teaching
  4. the opportunity to connect with a culture more similar to my own
  5. learn new skills. Never I have I ever milked a goat. Or picked coffee. Or ridden a horse.
So my journey to Costa Rica is beginning over 8,000 miles away. Let's hope it's a fun ride!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making Cordage

A few weeks ago I collected some bark to turn into cordage. I'd stripped the rough outer bark and left it to dry. The outer bark is brittle and will weaken the final product, so it needed to be stripped. The inner bark was dried because it shrinks the most the first time it dries, leading to a more tightly woven final product. 
Since it had been dried, the bark had to be soaked to make it supple enough to work with. About 15 minutes did the job.
Here are the two strips of bark, ready to be cut into strips.
I had driven the tip of my knife into a piece of wood so I could cut the bark into strips with greater control.
However I found that it was much easier to tear the bark into strips.
In no time at all I had a bundle of suitable fibers.
I took one of the longer strips and started at a point a third of the way along. This way, when it comes to adding in more material, I wouldn't have to add it to both ends. The process of turning the strips of bark into cordage is remarkably simple. Just twist the fibers.
 Eventually, the twisted fibers will create a kink. This is the beginning of the cordage. I just kept twisting the fibers, encouraging them to twist around each other.
It progressed pretty quickly, adding in more and more as each strand ran out.
Pretty soon I had about a meter of cordage. Not very neat but I was pleased with my first effort.
Once you have some cordage, you can repeat the process on the cord itself to make it thicker and stronger.
Here are the final fruits of my labor. At the top is the meter length, coiled. In the middle is a finer, more neat section and below it is a doubled up section of cordage. 

Soon after it had dried I found that the material was quite brittle. If I were to use it, I would either have to tie whatever needed tying while it was still wet, or soak it again before use. Some sections of the cord weren't very neat or uniform. For a while one section was wrapping around the other, rather than them both binding together. I've since been informed that to correct this, I need to twist the section that isn't binding more, to encourage it to 'kink'. 
Overall I was pretty pleased with my results. I'm definitely going to be giving it another go. Things to improve on:
  1. make more uniform strips of bark to begin with
  2. try to keep the twists even and the thickness the same throughout
  3. practice adding new sections without so many ends poking out.

Friday, July 2, 2010

My woodcarving tools

Here are the tools that I use for the wood carving that I do. At the top is a Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet. It's used for the rough shaping of the wood. It's possible to do most of the carving with this as it's a surprisingly versatile tool. On the left is a Leatherman Wave. This doesn't get a great deal of use but the small saw comes in handy at times. Next to it is a Mora crook knife. This is used for hollowing out spoons, bowls and kuksas. Finally I have two general purpose knives. The first is a Mora clipper. It's a cheap carbon steel knife that holds a surprising good edge. Next to it is a much more comfortable, and much stronger tool steel knife with an apple wood handle. This knife keeps it's edge better than the clipper and I find it much more enjoyable to use.
Soon I'll post some picks of the various carvings that I've made.