Friday, 26 December 2008

Tomorrow's just another day

Today is Boxing day but it's back to work for me. Others schools have three days off over Christmas but I have only one and to be honest while I appreciate time off I can get bored here and I like being in the classroom. Also, at Christmas the papers stop writing and TV is usually appalling. People are unwinding so there is not much to read or watch on television. I watched Jingle All The Way on TV here and regret doing so, but it was good in an Arnie is so bad-he's-good kind of way.

So basically Christmas is over. I went for dinner which could have been better but I got to spend more time with my girlfriend which is always great for me. I got some decent presents from her so I hoped she liked hers too. I had a great time at a co-workers party at Christmas Eve and ate quite a lot, but what's new there, but crucially I didn't drink as much as I thought I would. I need to shift some weight off me now though. Christmas was OK but as I get older is does mean less and less to me. It feels more of a kids and grandparents holiday now to me. I wonder how it will feel in twelve months time, back home. So onto the next thing. Whatever that is.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Interesting excuses

I'm just back from eating Christmas dinner downtown. Before the meal I was explaining the concept of Hit & Miss to my girlfriend and how the food in the place we were going is either very good or very average. This was most definitely a miss for the both of us. The meal was plentiful. I ate all of mine and some of my girlfriends too, but this was because I had paid for them, not because they were particularly good. I noticed that almost everyone else in the room didn't finish their meal either. Excuses heard included "I've been sick recently", "I'm full already", "Wow there's so much" (that's a lie) and my personal favourite "I'm not hungry". People kept saying it was great but the same people wouldn't finish their food. Maybe I am being simple but if my food is great then I don't leave it sitting on the plate. Nobody had the guts to say out loud that most of it wasn't very good. It wasn't very bad just a let down considering it was Christmas etc etc. It's always nice to eat out and I don't always fancy cooking but this time maybe I should have made dinner myself.

I have to say that my girlfriend loves the shrimp salad they make and I really like the chicken souvlaki so it's certainly not a bad place to eat but I have noticed that a lot of people go on about this particular restaurant as if its the best place to eat in Daegu but its not. It is run by a Westerner who seems nice enough but if it was run by a Korean then I am certain people wouldn't praise it that much. People seem desperate to cling to things from home, especially food and anything resembling Western cuisine instantly becomes good. Is it any coincidence that most teachers here happen to be Canadian and very few people seem inclined to criticise the restaurant or the owner who happens to be Canadian? It's a case of the Emperors New Clothes or new kimchi.

One interesting thing I have noticed since coming to Korea is how different Christmas is to people and how different Christmas meals are. I would usually have lots of turkey, mashed and roast potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, bread and gravy with sometimes stuffing or Yorkshire puddings. Things I ate here include cranberry sauce, pork tenderloin and pumpkin soup. All very different to my upbringing but interesting to try at least once. Perhaps my usual Christmas meal is boring to others or unimaginative but it is certainly better in my opinion. The moral of this story is that their is no substitute for home cooking. I already cannot wait for my Mum's Christmas meal of 2009. After four Christmas' in Korea that will be priceless for me.

Monday, 22 December 2008

30 degrees of suffocation

It's definitely getting colder but is not this cold. I am watching things very closely and I wonder if we can go any higher, or lower depending on your point of view. Certainly higher, if one teacher in the staff room has any say in the matter. She seems oblivious to the possibility that wearing warm clothes may improve things. If I hear one person say "it's cold..." in Korean again I may flip. The only place it is actually cold at work is on the stairs between the 3rd and 4th floors. I estimate that I spend approximately 1 minute combined on those stairs throughout the entire day. Apparently this is ample time for someone to spend all her breaks moaning about the temperature. Will she be moaning when Summer comes around?

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Lucid daydreaming

Some days start differently to others. This morning I awoke from a dream where Rafael Benitez had sacrificed himself on landmine to save others. I don't expect to wake up to that one again but who knows.

I spent Saturday completing my Christmas shopping, glad it's over and happy with what I'll be giving and receiving. My Christmas plans are completed but I have one wish left. That Liverpool can win the title in 2009. Right now we are top of the league but not playing 'that well'. I won't go into that here but at least we are in with a shout at the moment. The pessimist in me says it's just not going to happen. The optimist says it's unlikely. There are five months to go from now but I feel this weekends game away to Arsenal is paramount to any title aspirations.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Serving suggestions

Right now as I am typing I am eating my lunch before going to work. Just something to keep me going for the next few hours. I am eating sausages or what Koreans define as sausages and I am craving Bacon butties. Not Korean bacon but real bacon on real wholemeal bread with some brown sauce on there too. I'm not craving any pies despite what some people I know must think! But, I want food I can get back home. And my time will come.

On Saturday I pre-booked my return ticket back home for February. There's no real reason for going back home for the week, it's just something that I thought would be nice. To go back for a few days to catch up with some people, drop off some things I won't be needing here come Summer. It will also be nice to have some real beer and pick up some things I can't get in Korea and bring them back, such as food. The price isn't too bad and I can justify it because I'm not going out of the country when most people are in January for Lunar New Year. It will be nice to eat food where serving suggestions don't include bacon, toast and strawberries

Korean Conveyor Belt

From time to time people back home have asked me what are the differences between Korea and Western countries. Of course there are many, but they have many more things in common than you may think. One big difference though has to be marriage and weddings. From what I understand, for most couples the groom will pay for their house (they usually live with their parents before marriage) and the bride buys all the furniture for the house and other things like refrigerators etc etc. None of this joint payment stuff here.

Marriage is an important part of Korean society and older generations often ask questions of people of a certain age who haven't yet tied the knot. There is a definite pressure on people especially women to marry. I have worked with so many Koreans who have had many blind dates to find a future husband and also those who, seemingly, announce an engagement out of the blue. You get the feeling that some of these couples don't know each other and have to try and love each other as time goes by. Some must be marriages of convenience.

Over the weekend my Korean partner teacher who I also sit next to at work got married. She is quite shy and modest and not the kind of person who really wants any attention, but this of course was unavoidable. I went along with all the Korean teachers who I work with but with no other foreign teachers. I went because I was asked to and also because one of my classes was desperate to see any pictures or videos I could take. It is also nice from time to time to see how the locals operate in a relaxed environment where you can see some nice Korean traditional Hanboks too.

This was my fourth Korean wedding and probably one of my last before heading home next year. Each wedding has been a little different from the previous one. I've been to traditional ones where the couple wear highly decorative Korean outfits, one in a church and one at a convention centre. This time it was at some kind of a wedding hall.

Korean weddings, as my girlfriend has told me many times are a business. Instead of giving presents, guests often give money. this can be highly lucrative especially if you have a large family, are popular or hold some kind of position where many people work with or for you.

Something you will see and not get over is some people (not the majority) arriving in jeans. One man wore jeans and a baseball cap and I wanted to punch him. Always you see people on their phones, paying absolutely no attention to the ceremony. Quite frankly the whole thing is very noisy and must be a distraction to the couple. It just wouldn't be tolerated in any Western country. Even as the wedding was taking place, several guests upped and left. I can only be described as incredibly rude but that is often the way with many Koreans - particular in my city of residence, Daegu. It would appear that many of the attendees came to show their face and eat. That's right, just to get free food from the all you can eat buffet that each wedding has. Not everyone behaves like this and the majority act accordingly, its just that you notice and remember the major differences and attitudes of some people

This type of wedding which seems to be the most common type in Korea can be equated to a conveyor belt event. The whole wedding takes around one hour, often less and is filmed by someone, in jeans and sometimes a t-shirt, who goes all around the room ducking and diving to get different camera angles. The 'event' is covered live on screens for those who are too far away to get a close up. Even as the wedding is winding down the posters (very cheesy photo-shopped pictures of the couple) plastered round the hall are taken down and replaced with more of the like from the next couple. After the vows comes the pictures of the couples families then friends/co-workers. I didn't really want to be snapped again in one of those pictures but the bride insisted.

It's easy to be cynical about things like this, but it's just the way things work here at this moment in time. It's definitely a unique event and something which you need to see if you have the chance in Korea. Everyone was happy for the couple and I hope they have a great future together. My partner teacher is a very nice person and I hope she enjoyed the day and everything else that goes with getting married. A long time friend of mine gets married here in March to a Korean girl. It should be very interesting. Meanwhile I expect some of my students to press me again on when I'm getting married.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Sliding down the glass mountain

As mentioned previously, my voice and vocabulary have had to change a little out here in Korea. Not much but subtle changes. There is something else that is now different. I feel like my grammar is falling apart in the classroom. At home and with co-workers there is no change and I maintain a decent standard of English. Surely as an English teacher of sorts my English should be constantly improving? That is not always the case. I should know better after studying grammar intensively for my CELTA but that is four years ago and seems like a lifetime away. Besides, I'm not really teaching with my present curriculum.

Almost every teacher here does or at least has at some time mocked the locals for their broken English in the classroom. I know I'm guilty of it - it can be very funny what you hear and how things are said by people learning a language. Most Westerners I believe will go through what I am experiencing even if they don't know it. Obviously my students grammar is full of holes - it's my job to fix that. For the past 12 months I've been teaching mainly lower levels so I am not exposed to students of a higher ability. Consequently all I am hearing are mistakes. I can't correct every little mistake as a) I'd be doing that all lesson and there would be no lesson, b) Some students hate being told of mistakes or crumble under the weight of shyness if corrected c) I'm too lazy or too apathetic to do so, because they just repeat their mistakes again and again 99% of the time. Once you allow mistakes to slide, it's difficult to reverse the trend.

The constant and consistent class errors have resulted in me toning down my English grammar. For some situations it's been dumbed down in order to be totally understood. I find myself also adopting some of the Konglish (Korean-English) that my students come out with. I know I'm doing it but I don't always stop myself. In themselves, the changes are not significant but its a slippery slope and I must try to maintain standards even if it's just for my sanity. I spend large amounts of time before and after work reading but maybe I need to read more to prevent more damage. This doesn't mean I think my English is terrible, it just means I think my grammar has ironically become worse as a teacher.

Where will it end and how long will it take to be rehabilitated?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The luxury of hearing not so random noises

Unless I am having very lucid recurring dreams, something keeps waking me up on weekdays from about 9-10am. The reasons vary from day to day but it's either a very noisy kid jumping or shouting his way up and down the stairs, someone talking excessively loud on their mobile phone, very loud shoes or a ghost that likes waking me up. It's not every day but it is proving impossible for me not to shout "shut up" - the noise is that loud. It's not a big deal but something I could do without.

Some of my co-workers have it far worse than me. One couple lives above a piano school. It's very loud when they get going and that's from just listening outside. I can only imagine what its like having to put up with that. Another person I work with is being harassed by people in his apartment building where anytime he makes a sound they are on his back, threatening him with being evicted. This has never happened to me during my three years here. Where I am now I can play music or have the TV on as loud as I want and nobody complains. Perhaps it is me who is disturbing other people.

When I worked at my previous academy I lived on the 1st floor and heard a lot more noises than I do these days tucked 'safely' away on floor two. At various times of the morning I would hear or be woken up by men selling fruit, usually oranges. They would never knock on your door and you hardly ever saw them but you knew they were there because of the outrageously loud noise of the speaker on their truck which relayed the same message over and over again. Very Korean and something most foreigners will have experienced during their time here.

Looking back at my life before I came to Korea I always woke up before 9am, even when I was a student. I'm also a light sleeper. Once I'm up, I'm awake for a long time. I always had something to get up for, but these days there are still large holes in the daytime that I struggle to fill. Waiting for the clock to reach work time. I'm lucky to be in the situation where I don't have to get up until I want to. Some kind of luxury which I don't always appreciate. I wonder what it will be like for me when I return home. Will I be able to cope with the return to normality?

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