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.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Baby P and the triumph of mob attitudes

So I frequently read the UK newspaper websites during my breaks. I find it especially amusing to see different slants put on the same story. So, seeing as they're political (and quality) opposites, I read the Guardian and the Daily Mail's pages. The story that has dominated the news the last few days has been the lifting of the identities of the killers of a certain Peter Connelly (or Baby P during the trial), who was subject to a frankly horrific experience at the hands of his mother, her partner and their lodger (revealed to be his older brother). The reason given by the presiding judge was that the move would "restore faith in the legal system". The vitriol raised at the case is partially understandable, as it is part of our nature to be protective of the very young, regardless of relation. It's a survival instinct. This is not the issue. The issue is that the legal system should not be subject to the whims of easily riled up emotional people. And my two sources are interesting opposites of the reactionary spectrum.

The Daily Mail reverts to its Modus Operandi of using emotionally charged language, bandying about words such as "evil", "helpless", "inept" etc. in order to stir up a burgeoning e-mob. And by and large, they have succeeded-Facebook and comment boards the world over are sharpening knives and pitchforks and preparing a mobile gallows. It's not their reaction that peturbs me; as I outlined before, it's a human instinct to be protective of the young. However, what riles me is that this mob will die down as soon as Russell Brand gets back onto primetime radio. Like most things in life, it reminds me of the Simpsons. At a moment's notice, and for no real reason, the citizens of Springfield turn into an angry mob and then disperse just as quickly. The same is true of cases like this; no less than 30 children have died in similar circumstances to Connelly since his death-where were the moral watchmen then?

The Guardian, in its inimitably reasonable style attempts to appeal for calm. It calls for restraint and an attempt to understand the nature of the crime so that future crimes of this magnitude can be avoided. It's a noble idea, to be sure, but at the same time far-fetched. Any attempt to persuade the mob that this is an important and worthwhile practice (it is, in my book) is the equivalent of a gerbil standing up to a steamroller. People think it is akin to locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Without remembering, to stretch the analogy to ucomfortable levels, that there are a multitude of horses left in the stable. Unfortunately, this baser instinct permeates through decision-making bodies who are scared witless of the tabloid press. So rather than letting the seeds be sown to intercept and cut down on cases of this type in future, they're stuck on reviewing the events of the past. This is the problem with the Guardian-until its contributors can incorporate gut human instinct into their solutions, it will forever be dismissed as a pretentious liberal paper which wipes the arse of Twitter on a weekly basis.

As for where I stand, whilst I believe that anonymity should be awarded for all suspected criminals during high-profile trials (after all, being acquitted on paper is one thing but recovering one's reputation is quite another). After conviction, well, that's up to people more qualified than I. It certainly shouldn't be influenced by a group of armchair NIMBYs whose actions are informed by hypocritical, emotionally charged articles about "the hunt for Maddy" or "How the wonder drug that we promoted several months ago may now actually KILL YOUR CHILDREN AND PETS". But at the same time, it shouldn't be left in the hands of people who are intrinsically incapable of offering realistic solutions.

Fuck it, I'm going to read Al-Jazeera.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

List #1: 10 Things to do in Korea

So, in spite of a lack of contributions, I have decided on my 10. In no particular order:

1) Nude up at a Korean Sauna-just like home, except I'd have a bunch of Koreans staring at me. Somewhat off-putting. Did this in Samcheok.
2) Go to the DMZ- Well, duh. It's the only place where the Cold War is still hot anywhere in the world and it's on my doorstep.
3) Take up Taekwondo again-probably the one that's least likely to happen to be honest-I have issues about being beaten up by small children.
4) Step up my Korean- I want to be able to have a rudimentary conversation by the time I go.
5) Teach my kids 10 outdated slang words-Gadzooks, Egads, Ahoy-Hoy, Contraption, What-What, Tally Ho!, Spiffing, Top Hole, Salutations and what the Dickens?
6) Get beaten by a Korean kid at Starcraft-not too hard. Go to a PC Room, boot up Starcraft and find an opponent. I could probably do that now.
7) Buy a midrange camera and use it ALL THE TIME-with the extra scratch I'll make from intensives, this will happen pretty definitely.
8) Chat Up a Korean girl (in Korean)-loosely connected to number 4. Did this at Global Gathering.
9) Do a temple-stay- like a sleepover, but in a temple. Give a bit to the monks for the upkeep and its apparently OK.
10) Go to Jeju Island-my window for this is fast closing.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The 5 Month Mark is closing in.

Yup, 5 months. Feels like only yesterday that I was wandering around the British Museum with Hugo, embarrassing the shit out of him by taking a boatload of pictures. Or sitting in Bar T'At sipping on a pint of Warsteiner while Tom drinks a strawberry smoothie. Or meeting Dave at the Starbucks outside St. James' Tube station 10 hours before my flight.

So, what have I achieved while I'm here? A small checklist:

1) I've drunk a lot.
2) I dove head first into a culture that, besides reading the lonely planet, I knew nothing about.
3) I've made good friends.
4) I persuaded Alex to buy some converse that were at least 1 size too small.
5) I now know that I want to teach for the forseeable future.
6) I'm trying out a new hairstyle.
7) I'm learning a new language.
8) I danced like a retard on a nightclub stage.
9) I now know the reason why Soju is unheard of outside these lands.

And yet, I want MORE.

This could be cabin fever brought about by being hungover on my first real day of holiday with nothing planned or booked, but dammit, I need to do more. Which is why I'm giving into cliche and drawing up my very own lists: 10 things to do while in Korea (only 7 months left now), and a slightly grander "50 things to do before I'm 50". Seeing as I'm over 2/5th of the way there, I'd better get cracking.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

I forgot!

In the midst of my other rantings and ravings, I never mentioned one of the most surreal experiences of my life: A Korean first Birthday party.

One of my co-teachers invited us all to her kid's first birthday. Now, I assumed that it was a thing mainly for the parents and their friends to chat and drink at whilst the babies played in the corner. Nuh-uh. The baby was definitely the star of the show.

We arrived at about 12 (after being told to dress up) at a Wedding Hall (A set of reception halls that can hold multiple weddings/functions at the same time) style place in Migeum and went downstairs. The baby, and mum and dad were all dressed up to the nines and welcoming people in. We sit down, talk to some of our co-workers (hierarchy is such that mingling at formal gatherings is frowned upon; you stick to your group unless someone formally introduces you) and get some buffet food. Then the lights go off and an announcer comes in and starts heaping praise (according to the front-desk girl who translated for me) on the baby, before a little slide show comes on.

So far, so normal. But then, spotlights up, techno music on, and in come 2 Korean waitresses wearing fairy wings and things on their heads, who proceed to do a 10 minute dance with sparklers for the baby!

It was most bizarre. And now I want a similar party for any of my children because it looked friggin hilarious.

In other news, the topic of what I want to do in "the real world" has reared its ugly head. Part of me still wants to qualify as a teacher, but at the same time I have a nagging feeling that if I were to choose teaching, that I would be shutting down all my other options. And I don't want that.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Time to walk a tightrope: Religion.

Before I start this out, I should probably share my own religion with you guys: I would say that I am an agnostic; I have no strong feelings one way or the other to any one faith.

But in Korea, the word agnostic is as alien as gadzooks or antidisestablishmentarianism. And here's why: Korea is one of the only countries in the world to "self-evangelise"i.e.: to convert itself to Christianity without outside help. And now that they've done it they're hellbent on getting everyone else to do the same.

So what does this mean in the real world? Well, there are hordes of Ajummas and Ajussis in the subways and streets handing out free packs of tissues to foreigners with directions and a little map to the nearest church. Not so different from home, I hear you cry. And you'd be right-many was the time in Newcastle where I would be stopped by Mormons. The only problem is that these guys are far, FAR more determined to get you to sign up, and exploit the fact that you probably don't know enough Korea to tell them to go away in a respectful manner. They will follow you through the subway, through the streets and occasionally to your building.

And it hasn't stopped since I moved to my new town. Last week, I was accosted 3 times by Koreans with a very impressive grasp of English who deduced that I worked in a hagwon and proceeded to tell me how evil and sinful the Korean education system is. Normally, I'd agree-the amount of pressure put on my students is epic-but the fact they were using this as a springboard for their own ideas, and not as a cause in itself, was what turned me off. Not to mention the irony that it is the self-same system which allows them to be bilingual; an impressive talent in anyone's book. I eventually gave them my old phone number and caught the bus.

This week at work I have been bouncing between schools to cover other classes in my break periods. Meaning I'm working my classes, and 40% of another teacher's (the other 60% is covered by her campus-frankly I don't know how they manage), whilst trying to juggle phone calls to my students. This makes me a saaaaaaaad panda.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Tired, hungry, bored, thirsty, hungry and tired.

So I'm approaching the end of my fourth month in Korea, and I can't help but feel that I've been wasting my free time.

Sure, I've been to fortresses, palaces and Korea's answer to Blackpool, but I feel as if there is so much more that I could be doing than just sleeping in, teaching and drinking on the weekend. Which is part of the reason that I have decided to stay in Korea when my summer break rocks around at the end of next month. The fact that all my friends will be in a booze induced haze in the Phillippines because they have their holiday a week before is also a major factor.

But the fact remains, I need to get the flock out of the cities. Hopefully my upcoming white water rafting trip will give me an opportunity to see some of Korea's apparently beautiful countryside.

Monday, 8 June 2009

The BNP and other animals.

So I know I decided to keep this blog to document my ramblings on Korea, but there's something a bit closer to home that I feel needs to be discussed. That's right: Elections.

Before I continue, I should point out that I was born too late to register in 2005 and I haven't voted in the recent European elections for obvious, geographical reasons. Now I'm not sure why, but England seems to have a track record of political apathy. People are of the mind that "my vote can't make a difference". However, the rise of the neo-fascist BNP should hopefully put that dangerous thinking to bed. I don't care how they package themselves: THE BNP ARE RACISTS AND NO AMOUNT OF "NICE LANGUAGE" WILL CHANGE THAT. They are a party who seek to maintain the purity of the white race and see minorities as sub-human. They exploit the fears of the silent majority to their own bigoted ends.

And, thanks to those who stayed at home in protest at the expenses hooha (Nice protest guys!), their leader has been elected to the European Parliament with just 10% of the popular vote. 10%. And to add insult to injury, this has happened in the county which I call home. For the first time ever, I am ashamed to say that I come from Yorkshire.

I don't know, maybe this is a blessing in disguise, and we've given Nick Griffin enough rope to hang himself. Hopefully he'll expose himself as the hate-monger he is.

Back to domestic news-one week into work and it's going fairly well. I am teaching three out of four slots every day, but I don't have to prep the lessons like I did back at the old place. The new teachers are all pretty cool too-my boss is English so I don't feel quite so "special" anymore. We have a new teacher who is currently under isolation and should be joining us at the end of the month.

North Korea have finally shut their noise holes, foreign teachers are still treated with total suspicion after the government singled us out as modern day Typhoid Marys, and I sent home 1,000,000 won (at least I sent it-if it makes it into my bank account is another story) so now I feel better about my finances at home.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

It's been a while.

This last few weeks have been full of upheaval, international tension, presidential suicide and swine flu.  Here's the skinny:

I've been transferred out of my current hagwon for being, and I quote, "too boring".  However, considering certain other circumstances (one of our teachers recently renewed his contract for another year, dropping attendances, the fact I am one of 2 English teachers at this level) I suspect other forces are at work.  I start at my new place on Monday.

Speaking of new starts, the latest government panic is about Swine Flu.  Over 50 foreign teachers (from other schools) have been quarantined so far, and all new teachers (for all schools) are being isolated until further notice.  What does this mean for me? Well, apart from having to jump in at the deep end by covering a shedload of classes at my new school without knowing anything about the syllabus or indeed how to teach elementaries, I have to have my temperature taken daily and "avoid public areas".  Not only this, but I get the feeling I'll be treated worse than usual by the average Korean, as the media focusses on the fact that THE EVIL FOREIGNERS MAY HAVE SWINE FLU!!! (As opposed to the 20-odd Koreans who DEFINITELY have it).

Also, the North has been threatening "military strikes" against the south in the aftermath of this nuclear test.  Before, I would treat these attempts at sabre-rattling as precisely that.  But after the last few weeks, well, I'm paranoid.  I have signed onto the embassy's mailing and calliing lists, but have stopped short of preparing an escape bag.

I'll be back.

Monday, 11 May 2009

I can't think of either a witty or an appropriate title.

Since the last time I updated, it has been a whirlwind of veritable misadventure:

1) I went to Busan for the first weekend in May.  For those of you who aren't in the loop, Busan is the second city of Korea and it's principal port on the south coast.  You can catch a ferry to Japan from here if the mood strikes you.  I went and met up with partners in crime Jason and Forrest.  

In addition to being known as an inexpensive way to get to japan, Busan is famous for 2 other things: the Jagalchi Fish market and Hae-Un-Dae (yes, as in the car) beach.  The fish market is unique, in that you can buy ridiculously fresh (as in: live) fish and take it away, or you can go to the seafood restaurants, tell them what fish you want, and they will go into the market, buy it, kill it, and prepare it for you.  The end result is the best damned fish I've ever eaten.  It was so good, we went back the second day and bought a king crab between the 4 of us for £12 each.  And this was a BIG crab.  Hae-Un_dae beach was a very chilled place, mainly because it's off season.  In Korea, most people inexplicably take vacation in the same 10 day period and the the beach becomes the holidaying equivalent of D-Day.

So, in between eating fine fish and having random Koreans join our group, we drank.  This was something that would continue the following Tuesday, AKA: Children's Day.  A day where children get treated as gods, and most foreigners or non-parents get drunk at the baseball game.  After this whirlwind of excitement, a fairly standard week; I got 2 new students (both of whom are good eggs).

Come Saturday, we went to Namdaemun.  This is one of the traditional markets in Korea, and this one sells pretty much everything.  Clothes (including fairly-good-fake-Levis), hats, fish, watches, digital cameras, stuff that's been smuggled out of the supermarket on the US garrison, you want it, you can probably find it there.  

And on Sunday I saw Star Trek.  Twas good.

Catch y'all later!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

News-time, children...

So nothing of any real importance happened this last fortnight (I love that word) at work because the students are doing real-school exams and don't have the time to come here.  Still, it doesn't stop parents complaining about us.  

The real impact of this is that for the last 2 weeks we've essentially done an office job.  Sitting at the desk for hours, and hours, and hours, making sure we have cover sheets on our TPS reports (anyone who gets that reference gets a prize-answers in the comment box), knowing that the work that we are doing will get ripped off by people who will take all the credit.  It's reminded me why I wanted to come out here in the first place, given me a little perspective, and now I can't wait to get back into the classroom.  My co-teachers are starting to give me their bad habits; I caught myself referring to my jeans as pants, maths as math, and football as soccer.  I need to reposition the Union Flag on my desk to remind me to stand up to their poor English!

Outside the office, life has been pretty cool.  My second baseball game was awesome (I may be getting into it; It's £5 for major league games! Compare that with watching the frickin' Magpies), made a few new mates, stayed out on an all-nighter (I feel I need more booze next time I do it) and got broadband in my flat.  To cap it all off, I got my movie-geek hoody and T-shirt from home; nice to have some new threads!

I leave you with this thought that has popped suddenly into my head.  I now weigh 96kg.  For the first time since 2004 I am actually back below triple figures.  All down to a mostly fish, vegetable, and what-I-hope-is-Chicken diet.

Peace out y'all!

PS: I'm now in the market for an early morning  (6am) Taekwondo class, despite my old mates urging me to go to the kiddy class just so I can "Feel like a giant".  Tempting, but I do that almost every day. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

More Muzings

So, since the last time I did this, stuff has happened.  Here are the highlights:

1)I received 2 packets from home; the Fruit Pastilles were very well received!
2) I went to a baseball game.  A surreal experience, given I had never seen one before, had a very basic understanding of the rules and it was all in Korean.  Still, a good day.
3) I carried a sofa across our neighborhood, complete with all the weird looks that entails.

But most importantly of all: My employer may be bringing in Saturday classes next semester.  No-one at the office is happy about the prospect of working a 6 day week, especially if it keeps the same hours as our normal week.  However, there is a clause in the contract giving us an extra vacation day for every weekend we have to work and any work we do on weekends has to be voluntary i.e.: They cannot make us.

We'll see how this potentially problematic issue develops.  You'll know more once I do.

Seongnam out.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Normal Service will now be resumed.

Wow, that was a surprisingly heavy post for me.  Now, we can get back to the light-hearted ramblings of a young, foolish, single British guy!

This week I finally bought a mini Union flag for my desk to remind me to stand up to the relentless tide of US and Canadian accents in my office.  I mean, on Friday I caught myself saying "Math".  I was duly ashamed.

I took the plunge and ordered stuff off of a Korean website.  With the help of my very patient Korean colleagues I managed to order 2 pairs of shorts and a chair for my apartment.  I just hope those are the things that actually arrive.

I have discovered the sheer mentalness/awesomeness that is Costco.  For the uninitiated, Costco is a discount cash-and-carry that sells pretty much everything, from tractor tyres to iPod touches, via hiking boots.  It's popular amongst us expats because it carries a large range of imported foods.  And I made the cardinal mistake of going without eating.  I promptly spent 70,000 won on junk.  Including a 32oz bag of KETTLE CHIPS.  I am now afraid that if I open them, they will either go bad within a couple of days, rendering the thing a major waste of money, or I will eat them all in a single sitting and put on all the weight I've lost since coming here.

I paid myfirst visit to a Noraebang with a stirring and, in places, voice killing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.

That's the latest bulletin, gang.  Stay tuned!

It's Politics time: The North

Now, today the North attempted to launch it's "Satellite" into orbit.  The north claims it is transmitting data, although quite what that data is is anyone's guess.  However, the US, Japan and the South all claim that it was a dud and broke up somewhere over the Pacific.  I'm inclined to believe that the US are right on this one, but the larger question is really: How does this change anything?

The UN will send a very-strongly-worded-letter to whichever Party aide opens the late Kim Jong-Il's post.

The North will continue with it's human rights abuses and attempts to bring its technology into the 1990s.

The South will continue with the frankly foolhardy policy of rattling the North's cage, so long as it has the backing of the US.

The rest of the world will tut and get on with their lives, knowing that whatever happens, the North can't hurt them.

I can't act as if I know all the answers.  To be perfectly frank, the actual missile launch and North Korea's plans to build a weapon that can hit Alaska (Yes, that hotbed of US and global politics) don't really bother me.  The north has had the capability to strike anywhere in the peninsula for the last 15 years, and they haven't used it.  So it's not the maybe-they-will, maybe they won't worry about invasion in the short term that bugs me.  

The fact is that there is no real solution to this problem.  As long as China backs the North, any attempts to lay economic smackdown on the North by the UN will be vetoed.  As long as Lee Myun-Bak stays in office, he'll keep cutting off the aid (both economic and material) to the North that it's people sorely need.

The problem is similar to one that is endemic in Korea; that of pride and competition.  Parents send their children to hagwon to make them better than their classmates.  Men treat their best suits as a second skin.  The confucianist culture has created a society where keeping face is everything.  And now, when the eyes of the world are on the Korean peninsula, this concept of not losing face (be it through not backing down on the missile launch, or by cancelling the much-lauded Sunshine policy) is perpetuating and exacerbating the mother of all Mexican standoffs. 

So, unless the governments on either side of the DMZ shake off thousands of years of the same philosophy then no-one can move forward.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

One month in...

So far so good; the teaching is going fairly well (read: I haven't gotten any complaints) and I'm starting to pick up some Korean.  No amusing stories to recount this week, but I feel comfortable enough to talk about one of the never-ending perks of teaching here:  The Konglish.  The crazy mixture of words that only people speaking it as a second language can master.  Some of the choice examples include:

Adviced (as in "My parents adviced me to...")

And in terms of sentences:

" My friend was popular at the start of the term, but became unpopular after revealing her personalities"
"Friends resemble each other by communication. The friend should be a person who gives me good effect."
"According to a research, Koreans don't usually get well with stranger, first-met people"
"If you satisfy the quality of life evenly, it is much ideal person for the globalization world."

More to come later.

The only difficulty I'm having is meeting people outside of the office, which is most definitely down to the hours I work.  Nothing I can really do about that except try and find fellow night-owls.  But where to begin?  Dilemma.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I have been reliably informed that I haven't updated this thing in 10 days! Shameful I know, but there is a very good reason for this: I still don't have broadband at my apartment. Every time I try to write a post it cuts out. So, what's been happening in the last 10 days?

1) The annual joint US/South Korean training exercise has been taking place. This pisses off the North something fierce so they start moaning and making threats. But the main effect of this is that chinooks, blackhawks, and Apaches fly over my neighbourhood at regular intervals, and that armed guards were stationed at several subway stations across town.

2) I went to see Watchmen. I kinda liked it.

3) We went out for drinks on the 14th, which was 51% awesome.

4) I'm getting into the flow of teaching a bit more; I'm starting to have a bit of banter with the kids which makes everything a bit easier.

5) It was my birthday and, due to a mis-translation, I brought a cake when one was provided for me!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Trial by Classroom and My first weekend

So this weekend I went exploring.  I rocked up to the end of the Bundang line and found the hospital I need to go to for my physical, then stopped off at a few subway stops nearer to home to have a nosey.  Pretty much every store I went into on Saturday was hopelessly out of my price range.  Bundang is a very rich area, and the store-owners know it!

Which is why I, along with trusty exploring companion Alex, decided to look closer to home in Ori.  During this time, we found more amazingly expensive stores, accidentally wandered into a Korean wedding reception (who has their reception IN A DEPARTMENT STORE!?) and then we discovered the E-Mart.

E-Mart is like a 24 hour Tesco Extra store writ even bigger.  It is 4 floors of homewares, electronics, food, sports, clothes, coffee, nail salons, and toys.  And what's more, the prices are actually reasonable.  I got myself a toaster, coathangers, bedding and a week's shop for under 50,000 won (£25).  We also found an awesome but pricey Korean restaurant nearby; there's this pork dish (galbim, possibly) that is simply brilliant.  For less than 4 pounds per person.

Then Monday came; after 3 days of hurried training I was let loose on a classroom.  And I floundered like a freshly caught fish in a net.  I drew massive blanks on all my prepared topics and rushed straight through to the excercises in the textbooks, leaving me with almost 20 minutes of "dead air" at the end.  Not the greatest of starts, but I got back on the teaching horse and, in the gap between classes, rewrote my notes, made a catalogue of my mistakes and wrote a checklist of things to do at the beginning of the lesson (if I had done these at the beginning, I would have had 5 minutes of dead air; not a good thing, but better than 20), and the second lesson was a vast improvement; I was calmer, more collected, more clear in my lecture.  True, I still managed to run under, but I thought that a Q&A would fill the time, and it did.

Until I was reminded that I didn't go through the homework with them.  


Still, third time's a charm.  But today I also have my first Speaking class, which means I'll probably go through the same bout of terror once I realised I fluffed a line as I did yesterday.  Oh well, live and learn.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

My first day at school!

Right, today was my first day and I am still suffering some minor effects of Jetlag, so apologies for the incoherence.  But now I feel ready to give you a more in-depth version of events:

As mentioned last night, the cab driver from the airport to the apartment was very "friendly" by Western standards.  I probably shouldn't have sat in the front seat due to the gratuitous hand holding and groping that followed for the next hour, not to mention the arse-grabbage at the apartment.  I have since been assured that this is common between males in Korea (and yet they're in denial about homosexuality...).  I decided to forgo the pink bedding that Avalon provided for me and will attempt to purchase some before I finally grow tired of the paper thin quilt designed as a supplement rather than the main thing.

The TAs (Teaching Assistants, although the ones who showed up at my door looked like Korea's answer to Minder) arrived at 4pm and took me to my school.  As I had suspected, it wasn't the elementary school in the heart of Seoul that I had thought it was, 
but a high school in Bundang.  Part of me is glad of this; I think the challenge of teaching the kids there will be good.), but the rest of me is wondering how this will affect my contract.  These are issues I may have to address with my foreign head teacher on the morrow.  But I digress.

There are 3 other westerners in the school besides me and the head (who takes some classes of her own as well as mine for this week!  A present of some kind may be in order!)  They're great people, very patient.  It's a little overwhelming, with me being a fresh-off-the-plane, jetlagged Brit graduate and they all having some form of experience in teaching before there, but that should fade with time.  I'm probably also finding it overwhelming by virtue of the fact I have 3 days to cram 5 days of training into.  Which means I get 2 lessons to observe before doing a "mock lesson" (presentation) in front of th head and her big boss! 

However, I am going to have to go clothes shopping, as the dress code is far more lax than I had expected.  I'm just glad I didn't wear a tie or else I would've looked slightly more foolish.  I'll need a new jacket too, although apparently it starts to warm up from now so that shouldn't be an issue.

Et Finalement, here is my teeny-weeny Korean apartment.  Still, at least I have a shower.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

I've landed. But my brain is still somewhere over Russia.

So, 36 hours of fretting, flying and fending off the advances of a very "friendly" cab driver later, and I have landed at what shall be my pad for the next year.  It's not bad at all (photos to follow).  However, several clues abound the place that lead me to suspect that it has been only vacant for a matter of hours.  Not only this, but I'm pretty sure that this was a girl's apartment.

None of this is of any importance, it's just that my brain is wired on flying the wrong way around the world (travel with the turn of the earth, people! WITH!), coffee and more than enough in-flight food to last a lifetime.  And on that note: Who has CROISSANTS with chicken, rice and cabbage? 

Air China do.

Anyway, if I can find some clues as to where in Seoul I actually am, I can start trying to find my way around the place.  There's a gym on the top floor of the building across the street, so that's one less thing to do.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Away I go!

So, here I am, in a rather swish hotel overlooking the beautiful vista that is Paddington Station.  

Tomorrow, I have to go to the embassy to collect my visa, then it's straight to Heathrow.  But first I have to calm my nerves.  Y'see, I did something very, very dim: I googled my school.  Isn't it amazing how much more vocal the people who hated their jobs are? I must have read the exact same person's account (word for word, spelling mistake for spelling mistake) across a dozen websites.  But the whole episode has given me probable cause for doubt and panic (as if I actually needed any more) about the whole sorry mess.  Oh well, it's too late to back down now.  I already got a leaving present from work: It'd be plain embarrassing to go back.  

Sunday, 15 February 2009

First things first...

Introductions: In case you haven't guessed, I'm Andy, I'm a 21 year old British guy and I'm about to embark on what will probably be a life changing trip.  In a matter of weeks, I will be moving to South Korea to teach children how to speak English.  The purpose of this blog is quite simple: to keep friends and family updated on my travels (I'll probably keep in touch with most of you on Facebook but this allows me to vent my spleen more), be a soapbox for my opinions of things I may find strange about my new home, as well as offer any people thinking of taking this route an impartial guide to what happens.  So what makes this different from any other Korea-based blog that you may have happened upon? Not a lot, to be honest.  But the way I see it, if you find more opinions and stories about teaching and life in general, the better informed you are before making a fairly important decision.

So, the first thing I did was sign up to an agency; you can (and many do) look for a job yourself via the internet, but at the same time this can lead to trouble and you ending up in a bottom-of-the-barrel hagwon in the sticks where they consider payment to be an optional extra.  Agencies, by and large, screen the schools for you.  While you're waiting on them, its best to get all the visa documents you need in order; it took about 6 weeks for me to get everything together, and once I got the contract I sent stuff off to Korea within the week.  It sped things up no end.

Right now, I'm trying to get my head around the Korean alphabet and some basic phrases; the schools say that the less Korean you know before you arrive, the better.  But not knowing any is just plain dumb.  It's all well and good making your kids think in English by maintaining a language barrier, but once you're out of the classroom, the barrier is a hindrance again.  I don't know about you, but I want to be able to do most of my food shopping without the need of a translator or resorting to Pictionary.  Needless to say, it's tough going; I haven't mastered any phrases as of yet  But there is still time.

I'll probably update this more once I get to Korea (this is, after all, more about introductions and the planning) but I hope you keep checking back in on this every so often.