We made haste to Seoul on Friday night as I’d been invited to dinner by Sean and his wife, the traffic was ok entering Seoul but gridlocked outwards as Chuseok fever gripped Korea and people made their way across the country to spend the festival with family.
Originally the plan had been to take –in TGI Friday’s but the hour-long queue at Lotte in Guemjeong made that particular idea untenable so we settled for Mexican instead, a good decision as the Burrito with triple cheese was excellent. My left big toe joint was horribly painful but Sean had helped me purchase strong painkillers which made it bearable. I was worried that if it failed to improve my Seoul schedule would fall apart.
Rising on Saturday to some excellent home-made pancakes and imported Lurpak butter made me initially forget about the discomfort. After taking some more pain killers and taking line 1 to Jongno, I felt confident that the holiday would continue as planned. I’d decided that on Saturday the schedule would be Jangchungdan Park and Namsan circular but my joint was too inflamed, I therefore took a stroll (an uncomfortable one) towards the Dandaemun area. I passed through the cohorts of Makeoli fuelled Baduk players near the Jongmyo Shrine and over the Jongno 3 main road towards Gwangjang Market (Gwangjang Market. Exit 12 Jongno-3-ga Station).
The area between Jongno and Dongdaemun feels like “old” Seoul, the atmosphere sets it apart from the rest of central Seoul. Bearing west along the Cheongye stream feels like you are stepping into an older, less sophisticated but more genteel part of the city.
It’s the centre of the textile trade but Gwangjang Market is most renowned for its food. Running through the nucleus of the market are two interweaving corridors. Ranks of tightly packed cooking stations radiate out from the central square. Vendors sell a range of Korean street food classics. Vast coils of sundae roost indolently on slight countertops; boiled, hairless pig trotters await conversion into jokbal; and adroit ajummas stir up flawlessly shaped mandu. The market is a commotion of motion and aural excitement and initially can seem like sensory overload but it is quite an affectionate, hospitable place.
The unqualified “must eat” street food here is Bindaetteok. The first recorded mention of bindaetteok comes from the Eumshik dimibang, a Korean cookbook written around 1670. It was originally food for commoners who couldn’t afford meat. It is also known by the name nokdujeon. Mung beans are ground into a batter by huge rotating stone pestles, then fried up with beansprouts, green onion and garlic. The result is a thick, crispy pancake, served simply with kimchi and an onion and soy sauce dip. The pancake is superb and has a great crispy hash brown consistency.
Exiting the market it is hard not to look over to Cheonggyecheon Stream and beyond that is Pyeonghwa Market, this is a clothing wholesale market with a history of around 50 years. There are more than 2000 stores inside. Some 5 minutes walk east is the site of the old Dongdaemun Stadium (baseball stadium), which is morphing itself into the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park. Surrounding this new complex are a range of markets and stores which as a whole are known as Dongdaemun or East Gate Market. The East Gate name after the Heunginjimun Gate built in the Joseon Dynasty and a market has existed here since those times. The Heunginjimun Gate is one of the eight gates of Seoul Seonggwak (Fortress Wall).
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, will house a fashion design information center with seminar rooms and a lecture hall. There will be a multi-purpose convention hall and a number of exhibition halls. It will act as a test-bed platform for various corporate design products as well as a place for international cultural exchange and co-operation. This inspirational hub provides an essential link between contemporary culture, historic artifacts and emerging nature at the centre of Dongdaemun. An educational resource for designers and members of the public combined with an urban sanctuary for leisure, relaxation and refuge, its uninterrupted landscape aims to engender fluid thinking across all design disciplines.
The project of course is incomplete and 2 years over schedule and budget (costing nearly 500 billion won thus far). Former Mayor Oh Se-hoon envisioned the project as a place that would become a glitzy hub of fashion and design, featuring a mall, multipurpose convention and exhibition halls, and a park. Dongdaemun Stadium was dismantled in 2008 to make way for the mayor’s vision.
The Seoul Design Foundation says it is working on changing the concept of the building. Park Won-soon became mayor of Seoul after a by-election and unlike Oh, who prioritized fashion and design, Park is more concerned with public welfare and residents’ input. Consequently, he cut funds allocated for fashion projects. The foundation stated its new concept is a “citizen’s design market that’s made by the people and enjoyed by the people”. It’s clear that while the word “design” was key for Oh, for Park it is “people”. Among the uses under consideration is a public library. The foundation is reportedly spending 200 million won ($176,327) on the concept-change alone and pushing back the opening of the building to next April.
I believe it is a “world-class” design and something Seoul should be proud of, though my feeling is the short-termism which characterises the quality of construction in SK may mean it’s cutting edge design may not fully recognise Ms. Hadid’s vision. The people in Korea think of immediate payback from these gargantuan infrastructure projects, a view which misses the projects ability for self-actualization, both in its mission and generation of economic growth. The building should be the catalyst for a long-term boost to the local economy and should be part of the strategy of branding Seoul as Asia’s happening city.
I left the area feeling a little despondent and disappointed that my current “favourite” city should let this project fall into disrepair and damage the reputation of Seoul as the shop window for the emerging Korean nation. I limped back to my guest house needing to place ice packs on my own failing project my big toes “joint effusion”.
Sunday arrived with my injured limb in better fettle and so I made plans to visit both Seoul Art’s Centre and the Seoul National Museum of Contemporary Art. I decided to head for the MOCA first and therefore headed to Seoul Grand Park. To get to the museum walk from exit 2 of Seoul Grand Park Station on line 4 in the direction of Seoul Grand Park. On arrival I decided that the 1.3km trek to the botanical gardens and MOCA would be more palatable using the trolley bus (around 800 won). I disembarked at the Seoul Zoo as I am always fascinated as to the research and educational mission of zoos in major world cities. I fundamentally believe zoos only have a place if they have a breeding programme for the world’s rarest animals. Unfortunately I could not find the information but went off-plan to visit the zoo anyway.
The zoo is well established having opened in 1984 and this is reflected in the mature nature of the grounds and botanical garden. This was my first visit to the zoo and my general (and unequivocally non-expert) notion of the zoo was that it comparable to the standards of most zoos in Europe. With some exceptions, the enclosures for the large animals were reasonably large. This was particularly true for the lions, giraffes, and elephants. In saying this I was not impressed by the facilities afforded other big cats such as the Jaguar and Panthers, the Tiger enclosure was bigger but the cats (when not sleeping) paced up and down and appeared frustrated and uncomfortable, one of the reasons the poorly behaved Korean’s as noted below!
The propensity for visitors to feed the animals, is pretty poor. I observed this on more than one occasion, but I also observed signs on most enclosures that instructed visitors to not feed the animals. This is certainly one area in which the Seoul Zoo could be improved, I think it would need an intensive public education campaign and stricter monitoring. I have to say whilst I saw some staff, generally they must have been working behind the scenes or may just have been thin on the ground. It was also Chuseok so they may have run a skeleton staff. The most disappointing aspect of my visit to both the zoo and other tourist attractions is the behaviour of Korean’s themselves. Parents allowed their kids to shout, scream and throw food at the animals which is appalling. Many laughed at their children’s behaviour. As usual the grotching and spitting by most Korean men made any thought I harboured about eating at the facility redundant. Korea get a grip! This is not culturally acceptable whatever comments you volley at me.
The topography, whilst sloping (as the zoo sits on the foothills of a mountain), is fine. There is a slope, but not an excessively steep one. I should also note that the paths for visitors were generally very well maintained. They were very wide and well-paved. The landscaping was quite good. There were also plenty of places to sit and relax, and food opportunities spread throughout the park. Overall, I thought the Seoul Zoo was very good. It was not, by any means the best I have visited but the setting is one of the best and the cable car a very inviting way of descending when your brain says no a pied!
I had to endure one more session of sensory overload as I approached the cable car station. A family with traditionally dressed children subjected me to more aural diarrhoea and a demonstration of their defunct spatial awareness. The boy managed to stamp on my sore toe and the girl head butted my derrier as she chased him towards the pay booth. The parents laughed uncontrollably at my misfortune and as the mother opened what can only be described as her foghorn, I was amazed how I managed to control my mild irritation. I have decided to buy myself a stun gun for my next excursion in Korea.
The cable car ride is a pleasure and deposits you adjacent to the MOCA, visually at least. On disembarkation you are ushered right to exit. On wandering through a “Forest” exhibit I found myself at the MOCA car park but unable to gain access through locked gates! Doubling back to cable car station I found that what should have been a simple feat, walking the 20 metres to the gate of the MOCA became a 10 minute excursion around various locked gates and close walkways until I stumbled across the entry road…by accident. Once again completely none visitor friendly, no signage and poor access. As I approached the MOCA entrance I realised that a simple gateway added to the cable car enclosure wall would have meant a 10 second walk to MOCA after leaving my carriage.
A large and impressive art gallery spread over three floors, this museum also has sculptures in the garden. The landmark exhibit is The More the Better – a 1988 installation of 1000 flickering Samsung TV screens piled up into a pagoda shape by leading Korean video artist Nam June Paik. Viewing this exhibit is like channel hopping without a remote. Other exhibits by the same artist include a piano jukebox – log onto www.paikstudios.com to learn more about this artistic pioneer.
As I was starving by this stage I visited the MOCA Italian café for Chicken tagliatelle and Cream Sauce, excellent! The museum itself is we’ll worth a visit with a variety of sculpture, paintings and when I visited The Korean Artist of the year competition. Of course the usual etiquette enjoyed the world over when visiting such a space was alien in SK. Their was little peace around any of the exhibits in fact one family thought it amusing as their two little boys tried to dismantle one of the prize entries. The exasperated lieutenants who are the guardians of the works of art looked embarrassed as stunned foreign visitors stood open-mouthed as the vandalism becoming comedy to the domestic tourists. I retired to the second floor wandering up the circular walkway that encloses the main permanent exhibit. I wallowed in the calm of this area for some 30 minutes before noticing a small garden designed I thought for quiet contemplation….not in SK. As I sipped my water the calm was destroyed by yet another cohort of overly loud Chuseok monsters, fuelled bu sugary drinks and chocolate! Time to leave. To summarise the international section has a sculpture made of dice and another one utilising squashed petrol cans. Overall, the permanent collection of Korean modern art is disappointing, a mishmash of pictures with no real stand-outs or themes or styles, but the special exhibitions can be more worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed two of the main competition exhibits.
The landscaped gardens contain a variety of unusual and some captivating sculptures, none of which I will pretend “I got” but many of which I liked. As I descended through the garden I felt someone was watching me, they were. “Are you alone?” “No I am legion” said I, a biblical note for those uneducated in Christian bullshit. “Read this passage”……”do you believe in God?”, “I don’t even believe in myself anymore”, I retorted “though I do believe in peace and quiet, contrary to the mindset of most Koreans “. He looked confused “read the passage, I am a Jehovah’s witness and you need God”. “I need ****** peace and quiet, go away and set fire to your pointless tome”.
I continued down the hill passing Seoul Land on the right and a beautiful lake on my left. “are you an English speaker?” “Yes, but I’m not a representative of Jehovah”, “neither am I , I am a representative of Buddah”, “Hallelujah!”. I had met Woo Chi Eun, a Korean English Teacher whose husband managed the temple stay programme and Buddhist education across Korea. She lived nearby and was exercising her 16 years old poodle called Phooh. We chatted and walked around the lake for around 90 minutes and I was invited to visit the family home for Chuseok. Unfortunately I had other plans relating fried chicken and beer so gave my apologies and headed escorted to the subway.
Without my pleasant excursion the museum would have been approximately 20 minutes from the subway station. Also a free shuttle bus operates from exit 4 in the opposite direction.
Monday arrived, I took the free toast and tea at Sonwontel before heading through Jongmyo Park towards the stream. It was like a scene from “21 days”, desolate and free of humanity. Is it possible that Seoul can be so quiet? Yes it’s a holiday but still! I presumed that Chuseok Sunday had taken its toll, the mountains of makeoli bottles, I think, confirming my theory.
The Korean Times has thus posted tips on enjoying a healthy Chuseok Holiday, maybe the residents of Seoul failed to imbibe the details along with their Soju. Here are the tips:
1. Massage your legs while driving: Your legs can easily become swollen if you are stuck in the driving seat for too long. At worst, this can result in the onset of thrombosis where blood coagulates inside the veins. Get out off the car at least once every hour. Get some fresh air and do some stretching exercises.
2. Eat boiled garlic for diarrhoea: Many people eat too much on the holidays. They get indigestion or diarrhea. Eating persimmon or boiled garlic is good for diarrhea. Boil five to six cloves of garlic and drink the water with some honey. Mandarin skin tea is effective for indigestion.
3. Press between the thumb and index finger: Some women become stressed by having to cook, clean and take care of the whole household for the holiday. Anxiety can be reduced by pressing the flesh between the thumb and index finger. Of course the best way to deal with this stress is for husbands to appreciate all the hard work their wives have done.
4. Drink arrowroot tea for hangovers: The holiday is when you visit loved ones not seen in a long time and many people tend to drink too much alcohol. The next day, drink some arrowroot tea in the morning to get over the hangover. Also eating some mung bean gruel will help calm an angry stomach.
5. Drink some milk vetch tea when feeling burnt out: Milk vetch is good for stamina. Have some milk vetch and you will find your energy levels rising.
6. Skip meals for indigestion: If you feel stuffed up inside, the best way to calm your body is to skip meals for a day. However, if you still feel uncomfortable, drink a few glasses of salty water and put your finger down your throat to induce vomiting. After vomiting, try to eat soft foods such as gruel and drink a sports drink.
Feel better? Well I do as I did as my dad used to say “everything in moderation”, please don’t forget Korea that includes work and study!
It was a beautiful morning and thankful that I did not have thrombosis, a hangover, indigestion, Tsutsugamushi (disease resulting from tick bites), exhaustion, diarrhoea, indigestion or stress, I headed for Cheonggyecheon. My ears had recovered from the previous days verbal tripe and my toe was virtually as new and I made my way along the stream towards Cheonggyecheon Plaza. I stopped off at The KTO booth to collect some new literature as I had passed on mine to Bao (the middle school GET).
“Do you have the KTO Seoul guidebook?”,
“Does that mean yes or no?”
” We have but not stock”.
“Ok, when is it in stock?”,
“Maybe never”! “Not here, KTO main office”.
“OK thanks for being so helpful, goodbye”.
100 metres along the stream I came across a giant puppet being constructed on the footbridge, it seems it is part of the Seoul Festival 2012. It was like the Giant Puppets, Royale De Luxe who recently performed in Liverpool, but on a smaller scale. I watched a young “little Hitler” full of his own self-importance directing operations with a Stalinist demeanour; his minions cowering as he issued instructions then laughing as he sped off on his motorised skateboard!
I then came to the open 24/7 KTO information centre where I was welcomed with green tea and offered a free “participation”. The participation involved dressing up in traditional Korean costume ad having your photo taken with a “real” Korean in traditional Korean costume. I declined the “participation” but accepted and enjoyed the free tea. The assistants were, I have to say, a delight, informative, articulate and very helpful. I obtained both the Seoul guide and the Korea guide within 30 seconds, the contrast between the main centre and the street information kiosks in terms of customer service is gargantuan.
Moving along the stream I noticed what appeared to be a well dressed tuk tuk, which in fact turned out to be a work of “street art”. Locals gazed with bemusement at the decorated contraption which had no title or explanation about why it was lodged in a very valuable Seoul parking space. Just along the street some death metal outfit were preparing to perform at the coming festival. The weather was glorious, the sky “Man City” blue and I was due to meet Frank around midday (Korean time 12.00-2.00pm) so I just had time to visit the newly opened City Hall and Seoul Plaza. I knew Frank would follow Korean protocol, which would test the patience of Job, and arrive nearer 2 than 12 so I had plenty of time to explore the new structure and take tea at Deoksu Palace.
From some angles the City Hall is imposing and impressive and from others one ugly duckling. From a former engineers perspective, the space frame that supports the glass exterior is cumbersome and “over designed” but also looks amazing on photographs taken at strategic angles. Inside there is a spectacular chandelier which cascades some 30 or metres, the full height of the atrium. The old City hall building has been re-developed as Seoul central library and is twinned to the new structure by a glass bridge. The jury awarded the prize to Yoo Kerl of iArc on February 18, 2008. Yoo said, “Major keywords for designing the new building are traditions, citizens, future. I analysed low-rise horizontal elements, curvaceousness and shades of leaves in our traditional architectural characteristics, and I applied these to the design so I can recall comfortable feelings of old things.” Wow, Yoo I am impressed, though I don’t see the concept meeting reality. It seems to me that it lacks the fluidity of Zaha’s design for Dondaemum which itself has been the object of much criticism. It is striking and a bold statement but is not organic enough for me and sits uncomfortably against traditional Korean architecture and tradition.
The tea room at Deoksu is a treasure, beautiful (usually peaceful) surroundings, a place for quiet contemplation by the palace ornamental pond. I had my favourite ginger and honey tea. Ginger and honey are well documented to help the immune system but the combination is also simply Moorish. It is also said that the health benefits of honey and ginger in treating respiratory problems are unmatched by any other concoction. Furthermore, honey is an excellent medium for transmitting the benefits of herbs such as ginger to the body. Well doctor Gaz lesson over it just tastes bloody good and is refreshing on a warm Autumn day. I had a little wander around Deoksu which also contains a branch of the National Museum of Art which is being refurbished.
On leaving the ground sit was approaching midday and Frank had still to confirm his arrival time to I wandered towards Gwanghwamun Square. The square was hosting the Bountiful Harvests Festival which includes traditional performances, traditional games, traditional crafts, food and an exhibit showing how rice is harvested. It was a packed hive of activity and the energy was great. This was a place to celebrate the best of Korean family life, kids lapped up the events and experiences overlooked by proud parents. Maybe the good parents go here and the lazy dysfunctional ones go to the zoo but there was certainly a marked contrast between Chuseok Sunday and Monday. I recieved a call from Frank that he as on his way and we had to meet for lunch at 1.30pm adjacent to the Bosingak Bell Tower. Nearby we found the spiciest noodle place in the world for lunch!
Later, as Frank had never visited the new Dondaemum History Park we re-traced my steps before returning along the stream for a shower and change before having an Indian dinner at Durga. My foot was improving and a few beers in Jongo ended an eventful day.
The plan for Tuesday was to circumnavigate Namsan. The Namsan walk had been on my Seoul “shopping list” for a while. The walk starts at Jangchungdan Park and snakes upwards along the tree-lined approach road to Namsan Tower passing through forested areas and occasionally meeting the Namsan Fortress Wall. Then there are two descents. Before the final push to the summit you can turn right and go down to the Namsangol Hanok Village or carry on to the Tower, and passing the cable car station you can take the steep walkway down to Namdaemun Market and the shopping mecca of Myeondong.
We took the latter option, passing through Jangchungdan Park, shadowed by the university, we passed old folk exercising, walking their dogs and playing croquet. We passed a beautiful restaurant and tea house which promised “well-being” food. This pleasant urban park is small but historically important. It contains several symbols of Korea’s patriotism and fight to retain its independence, and is always colourfully busy with Seoul citizens taking their leisure. It prominently features the Jangchung-dan Monument and Altar, which was originally built on the site of the Hotel Shilla across the road to the east. Jangchung-dan was established by the order of King Gojong (the Joseon Dynasty’s last ruling monarch) in 1900 to honour the many public officials who had sacrificed their lives for the sake of the nation, as the Japanese proceeded with their imperialist conquest of Korea. On exiting the park we climbed a steep staircase passing a buddhist cairn and then the road twisted past an Archery centre before plateauing out and offering another steep climb to the summit. We took the more leisurely and less demanding route passing all manner of strangely clad and masked joggers and cyclists. One seemed desperate to carry a lampshade on her head, another had a mask resembling support tights!
As we reached the higher points on the mountain, we came across further sections of the Seoul Fortress Wall which is Historic relic No. 10. It was built along ridges of Bugaksan(Mt.), Inwangsan(Mt.), Namsan and Naksan(Mt.) by Lee Seong Gye, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty to protect Seoul from foreign enemies. It was damaged during Japanese colonial period and Korean war but has been restored to its original condition. We were also afforded fabulous views across the Han River and Southern Seoul from some excellently placed viewing platforms. At the summit we met a band playing South American Pan Pipes which seemed a bizarre occurence during the Chuseok holiday period. As we had travelled up the tower in a previous visit we made our way towards the cable car station passing a “beacon”. Namsan Bongsudae was established after moving the capital city to Hanyang (present day Seoul) during the third year of King Taejo’s reign (1394) during the Joseon Dynasty. On Namsan, five beacons were built at its peak to report political and military information to the king. One beacon was lit at normal times, two when an enemy appeared, three when an enemy approached the border, four when an enemy invaded the border and five beacons were lit when a battle with an enemy had begun at the border.
Namsan Bongsudae served as the central destination point for all beacons in the peninsula because of its proximity to the King. At the peak of the Chosun dynasty, 673 beacon towers transmitted military and political information from around the peninsula to the capital Seoul. Historical records state that it took 12 hours for a message to travel from Busan to Seoul, two cities approximately 500 kilometers apart. Namsan Bongsudae was used for about 500 years until 1894, the year after Gabo Gaehyeok (Gabo Reformation of 1894). Namsan Bongsudae was also called “Mokmyeoksan Bongsudae” as Namsan was once called Mokmyeoksan, and was even called “Gyeong Bongsudae” as it was located in Seoul.
We decided against the cable car which proved a very sensible choice because as we descended the steep pathway which exits at Namdaemun Market we stopped to view it. Travellers were packed in like sardines and I have to question the legitemacy in terms of health and safety. It seemed to me to pay 8000 won to be shoved out of the way by Korean mothers who are intent on getting their little ones window views is relatively expensive. They (the mothers) pack quite a punch as I have commented on many times before. On our walk down Namsan we passed all manner of humanity, young folk tossing coins without consideration for those down below, chunky out of breath mothers and daughters with faces so miserable they could turn milk sour, laughing happy kids whose demeanour is not yet destroyed by the Korean education system and folk spending time enjoying packed lunches in the shade.
In Namdaemun we came across a small area of well stocked second-hand camera shops with what I thought were some excellent prices such as the 12.4 megapixel Nikon D2X. In Namdaemun it was around $1200, more fool me, Amazon used price around $1000! We made our way to Myeondong picking up some after shave toner and taking in a great late lunch. Later, having been impressed by the tea room in Jangchungdan Park, we returned by subway, the peach tea was immense. From here I recognised skyscrapers in the distance that belonged in Dongdaemun so we decide to walk back to the hotel. I as usual got the estimate wrong predicting a 30 minute walk which turned into 50!
Wednesday was the final day in Seoul and we headed to Itaewon to seek first a Museum of Art and then a hearty American breakfast as Frank craved Chicken Fried Steak southern American style. As it turns out, chicken-fried steak is a variant of schnitzel. The dish is a cut of beef that is pounded until very thin, breaded and fried. The cheapest, least tender pieces of beef are usually the ones that are used for this dish, since the pounding softens the meat and the majority of the flavor comes from the fried coating and the cream-based gravy that the dish is inevitably smothered in. And even aficionados will tell you that the best parts are often the coating and the gravy. Anyway the museum came first, the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art houses the collection of the man who began Samsung. Unfortunately they wanted a $10 entry fee for a museum which appeared to be “under construction” and whose advertised Louise Bourgeois exhibit had been dismantled. On this occasion we decided to pass and moved on to hunt out the breakfast or as it was fast becoming, brunch.
Frank spoke to an ex-pat American lady pushing a pram who was unsure if the dish existed in Itaewon. She suggested we had more chance if we headed towards the American base, as more American restaurants inevitably were located down there. After a 45 minute wander and pulsating aches in both my knees we decided to give up the ghost and the second string breakfast, that is, full English, became the preferred choice. I remembered that I had read that the Wolfhound did “full-Englishy” so that is where we headed. I am pleased to say we were not disappointed by the quality but the price was double that in the UK. It was Frank’s treat for which I will be eternally grateful. Itaewon would not be my preferred destination in Korea but I do understand its Western attraction, particularly the food and shopping. The best sight was a bull-dog escaping it’s shackles and the midday sun to head into the indoor shade.
The closest attraction to Itaewon is the War memorial of Korea, I had been recently and Frank many years before. It was perhaps folly but we walked down through Itaewon and went there again, the law of diminishing returns meant we were not greatly enthralled and neither seemed the coach-loads of young soldiers whose visit I suspect was a compulsory part of their military service training. It was time to head back to Jongno, pick up the luggage and make our seperate ways home, Frank to visit his sisters to pick up his car and myself to the megacity of Chungju.
Arriving back from another packed few days, I felt satisfied and surprised we had covered so much particularly when the Joint Effusion had threatened my participation altogether. Thursday meant a return to work with students preparing for next weeks mid-term tests so I am writing up Speaking and Listening assessment reports which will continue into next week.