Friday, 9 October 2009

September-a potted history

So, this September was, to put it mildly, an experience. To begin:

New semester. Out with intensives, in with entirely new kids. Seriously, I didn't have one of my old classes. This made for an awkward start, but now it's like I've been their teacher forever. Plus, no problem kids and no problem classes! Win win!

Mid-September I went to a dance music festival by the name of Global Gathering. You may have heard of it. This being Korea, however, there weren't a bunch of twats parking corsas all over the shop. Instead, it was a 48 hour dance party, during which I managed to knock another thing off of my 10 Things to do in Korea list. I went with my old Ori partner in gatecrashing Korean wedding receptions Alex and her coworker Erica, and 3 of my friends from Dongbaek joined us on the Saturday. During the weekend, we also collected 2 Britons, a Korean girl (well, I collected her) and 2 Air Force guys, who managed to alter my preconceptions about USFK (United States Forces Korea) by being pretty cool. I also realised that I love dance music. Best act? Prodigy by a country mile, followed closely by Underworld, MSTRKRFT, Royksopp, 2NE1 (better than Dylan) and then G-Dragon.

I also stepped up my football with a trip to see South Korea play against Australia. A pretty good match, with beer, random Koreans and Park Ji-Sung aplenty. He even managed to be Man of the Match without scoring a goal or contributing to one. I have also been planning my travel escapades for March-countries on the list include but are not limited to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Egypt, Morocco, the Phillippines and China. Although I really want to try and squeeze Hong Kong in there too.

Something else hit me this month too: It's something that I've noticed (you'd have to be mad not to), but westerners are an ethnic minority here. It's an interesting experience to have a lot of the under 10s and over 40s hating you because of your skin colour. It's something that among other things has given me even more respect for civil rights & race equality campaigners the world over. Perhaps some of the more pronounced racists back home should be flown to predominantly non white countries to get a taste of their own medicine.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Life In Korea-The Movies

I love movies. Freaking love them. No movie is too bad (andd yes, I have seen The Room) to be watched by me. And since coming here, I find out that the Koreans love movies too.

The Korean film industry has really jumped on the success of films like Joint Security Area, Oldboy (and the Vengeance series), The Host and, most recently, Haeundae, a Day After Tomorrow style disaster movie about a tsunami hitting a resort city. Don't get me wrong, the majority of Korean movies are not that great by western standards-there seems to be a requirement that each one has a slow motion shot of their lead characters emoting as best they can-but every so often you get a diamond from the rough. Part of the success comes down to national pride. I ask my students why they like Haeundae (incidentally, I think it's awful) and the most common answer is "It's Korean!". Korea makes so many movies that international hits (District 9, Inglourious Basterds) are pushed back to the autumn.

And it got me thinking about the weakness of our own film industry. And I realised the problem. In Korea, cinemas are required to show a certain amount of Korean movies on their screens. It's the same in France. But in England we are not burdened with a desire to build an exportable good and service.

This is why the local cineworld is awash with sequels, hooligan movies and torture porn. If there were a guaranteed audience for our films, either through regulation or incentives, then it would be a real boost. Some of my favourite films are British ones (Dead Man's Shoes, In The Loop, Sunshine, Millions, Hot Fuzz) and only one of these has made real cash money. If the UK cared half as much about its industry as the French and the Koreans, then it would be a viable source of income and jobs in a period where both are sorely needed.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Dongbaek Dispatches

Right, now that I have second to myself, I can give a skinny on some of the more recent developments in my work an personal life. Here we go:

1) I have been giving a lot of thought to what I'm going to do once my visa expires. I have been invited by a friend of mine to go travelling throuh SE Asia with her for a good while, and with the money I am saving I should be able to afford it. If I do do this, however, then I cannot start a PGCE next year (the general consenus from the handful of universities that will hold my interview is that if I come home STRAIGHTAWAY then they may be able to accommodate me). I'll still apply this year in case travel plans don't work out, however.

The way I see it, the opportunity to train as a teacher will be there a while, but my window for travelling, backpacking and getting into various misadventures is getting narrower by the day. I may do another TEFL contract in a different country if I get a 6 month gap between interviews and starting training. All of these ideas are half baked at best, remember-so any input on them is appreciated.

2) The new semester has started at school, meaning I get a grand total of 3 break periods every week. My energy levels are suffering (I keep sleeping through my alarm clock meaning I never get anything done before work starts) but I figure that once I get into the full blown swing of things then I will recover. I am also trying to find a balance between making my lessons fun for the students and getting through the workbooks and keeping the Korean mums happy. Scary? Yes. Stressful? Definitely. Rewarding? Totally.

3) Most of 2) wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for one thing: I've given up alcohol for at least a month. It's mostly for vanity reasons-I reckon a lot of the empty calories I get is from the demon drink- but also this will give me a great opportunity to do more cultural stuff this month; I'm already looking at doing a temple stay in the last weekend of September and I think I can do more local exploring with the time I'd normally spend being a hungover gibbering mess.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Most of you who knew me back in the real world (because, to me, Korea is like a Twilight Zone where people are paid to enjoy a uni-esque lifestyle) will know that I am not a sportsman. Sure, I did Taekwondo at university but I was still an apathetic kind of person when it came to non-international football.

Until now.

Maybe it's being far away from home, but I've become far more interested in the antics of the Premier League (or EPL as the Americans, Canananananadians and Koreans call it) than I've ever been. I am even considering staying up all night saturdays just to watch the matches, despite the fact that I have no team to follow (We can thank a mixture of Mike Ashley and 50,000 batshit crazy Geordies for that). And, simply because of the dirt-cheap prices I find myself getting to football matches every so often (£4 for a general admission ticket!). One of these times was Sunday night. After finishing the weekly game with the local contingent of foreigners (Yes, I play it too-I even have boots) I rocked up to the Seoul World Cup stadium and checked out FC Seoul vs. Ulsan.

The standard of football doesn't exactly compare with the Premier League or La Liga, but at least the player's aren't diving or fouling each other at every opportunity. I was reliably informed by my Korean friend (and FC Seoul supporter) Hyun that they were top of the league and needed to retain this title from underdogs Ulsan. Which they failed to do, as Ulsan became giant-killers and walked away with a 2-0 victory.
The really sad thing that struck me about this match was that Koreans care surprisingly little about football. For a country that purpose-built 7 world cup stadia only 7 years ago, unless Park Ji-Sung or Manchester United are involved, they just don't want to know. It's a shame that Seoul World Cup stadium has to have a mall in it just to keep going when it is an awesome stadium and venue in its own right. I'd be surprised if it was half full when we were there.

Still, hopefully the Korea vs. Australia game on Saturday will provide a more entertaining spectacle.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


So in my last post I committed myself to a fresh start; start living life as I ought to, no more depressing BS when I get drunk, to start taking things in my stride.

Great. Sounds great to say it, looks good to read it. But how the hell do I reverse 17 years of fatnerd mental conditioning, topped off with 5 years of self-imposed "cancer boy" stigma?

Well, I've decided that Stage 1 is being more positive. Just in general, I've been selling myself short for too long. It's time that I looked at my positive achievements and lauded them. For example, I have now been living here for damn near 6 months. 6 MONTHS. In the Far East. For a Hartlepool born, Bradford bred guy that isn't bad going.

Stage 2-owning my fear. Everything I do, my brain second guesses it to the point where I bottle it or the opportunity has passed. The thing is that I have become so used to letting my fears own me that I cannot fathom how to live outside of its shadow. It's hard to describe, but its best likened to a blind man trying to find his way through a maze. I am aware that that is a retarded analogy, but it is 2:40 am here.

So Stage 3? I know what it is, but it isn't as easy as just bigging myself up. I need to end my crippling shyness. And fast. I reckon that once my fear is appropriately owned, then this will be relatively simple.

So, as per usual, I am open to comments and suggestions on how to realise my 3 stages. And, as ever, your patience in helping me deal with my own unique brand of mandrama is appreciated.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A New Dawn, A new Day...a New Life?

So today marks the 5 year anniversary of my finishing chemotherapy. I have a lot of random thoughts in my head, some of them serious, some of them not so. First impressions are good ones-I have succeeded where very many people have not, but then I think about those who I knew who didn't make it: Hoody, Emma, Tom, Christian, Fliss, Dave, Dan, Karen, Jen and Ian (to name a few)-RIP.

These people deserve to be remembered. And the best way to do that is to live; something I haven't really been doing since 2004. I've been letting my fear own me. Last night, all of these things popped into my head into a massive rush. It occurred to me that I need to make a major shift in my attitude. Firstly, I owe it to the people that didn't make it. Secondly I can't use what happened as some sort of justification for, well, not living my life. So, in the interests of making a fresh start, it's time to get several things off my chest:

1) Until a few moments ago, I was a compulsive liar. I cannot help it-I would make up shit to compensate for the fact that I feel my life is somewhat lacking in interesting experiences. I don't think there is anyone outside of my family who knows the whole truth about me. These lies range from little to absolutely stinking huge ones. But no more lying.

2) I have crippling self confidence problems. I realise that that announcing it on my blog is somewhat paradoxical, but it's true. Outside of my circles of friends I have a total inability to have a relaxed conversation with anyone. Amplify this by 1000 when a cute girl is thrown into the mix, as anyone who saw me completely bottle it last night with the blonde in Jane's Groove (along with any cute girl in Korea thus far, and 90% of cute Newcastle girls) will testify. Despite all the positive reinforcement in the world, this is one thing I just haven't been able to get over yet. This in turn leads to a major inferiority complex, despite the fact that that is the one thing in the world that I *shouldn't* have. I'm very well aware why this is-I have a mental image of me being a morbidly obese, bald, nerdy, awkward 17 year old that I can't shake the hell off no matter how hard I try.

3) I can't figure out how to deal with number 2. And until I do, I'm going to stay the sad-sack drunk in the corner.

Those are the most coherent of my thoughts right now. More will probably come. And, at this junction, I'd like to thank those of you who helped me make sense of these things over a period of weeks, as well as actually listening to my ramblings: Crystal, Jessica, Tara, Joel, Jalice, Krista, Big Dave, Stuart, Jason, Hyun, Amanda and Taylor.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Now that I have a second to think...

Right, much has happened in the intervening times when I updated this with my Korean misadventures. So here we go:

The reason I have been so stressed out lately is that I have been working what our academy calls "Summer Intensives". We switch from our usual 3pm-10pm working day to an 8:30-6:30 marathon. While I'm sure many of my kindergarten teacher friends will tell me to man the fuck up, I, as both a semi-nightowl and a lazy bugger, have reason to complain. We teach all our regular classes, plus a 40 minute extra class for each one (during which we cover an insane amount of boring-ass material), then some of the other teachers teach a 1 hour intensive class, THEN I teach a reading club Monday/Wednesday/Friday. It's given me a chance to work with the lower level kids, and the lessons are way funner than the normal ones. Mainly cos the company gives me and my coteacher the books and then we plan our own lessons. It's probably the closest I've felt to being a real teacher since I got out here. And while it'll be good to get back into the regular rotation of 3-10, I'll be sad to give up that class.

Also, I've lost a few good friends over the pst month or so and its bummed me out a tad. So, big shout outs to Chris, Alex "Busta" Bustamante, Travis "Eye of the Tiger" Hauan and Dee. Plus I stand to lose 4 friends over the next fortnight. Which kinda sucks.

The other big thing that has happened recently is that my thoughts have turned to what happens on the 4th of March. For those of you that aren't me, that is the day after my ARC (and my work permit) expires. Whilst the original plan was to return to England and conduct interviews for PGCE, I have been invited to go travelling with a friend of mine for a few months instead. I guess it's the classic fun vs. career debate. I'll report back once I've made a decision.

Oh, and scratch #1 off the 10 Things To Do in Korea list.