Thursday, 22 January 2009

Four day weekend

This weekend sees the start of the Korean New Year (Lunar New Year), or 설날 (Seollal) as its called. As it starts over the weekend we get only two days holiday but that means a four day weekend and time for fellow foreigners in Korea to travel. I know people who are going to Japan and some going to Taiwan but I'll be going to Seoul for three days for three reasons. Firstly, the Korean economy is not doing well so the exchange rate to most Asian countries is currently very poor and you won't get great value for your money. Secondly, My girlfriend and I are both trying to save money. And Thirdly, in just four weeks I'll be going back home for a week anyway, so I'm calling that my proper holiday.

Despite not going to warmer climbs, we are both greatly looking forward to our break and are looking for relaxation, some shopping, good food, plenty of beer and anything else we can get. Before getting onto the KTX train I have a hapkido test in the morning. Right now I have a damaged toe and an aching shoulder/arm. These won't greatly affect my test performance as adrenalin will see me through but mean leading up to the test I can't practice very intensely. Perhaps that's a good thing. It's best to think positively anyway. The test shouldn't be too difficult as I have prepared and haven't had to learn many new manoeuvres but on a more serious side, my technique on a few things still disappoints me. Will it ever improve to the level I want it to? I'm getting better, but I know my level and am frustrated with my limitations on a few things.

So what do Koreans do at New Year. Well I can tell you that so far none of my students has admitted to liking the holiday and none of them sound excited at all, apart from it meaning they don't have to go to any academies. Random yet popular answers to "What will you be doing?" include "Visiting grandparents", "Staying at home" and "Playing with my cousin". It seems like they (students) really don't care at all about the holiday, though they should be receiving money from their family (they have to bow, seriously, in front of some their elders and give new year greetings I think). Perhaps some will dress up in the traditional clothes of Korea, the hanbok. I know that some of the teachers at work will be helping their families/mothers prepare food or something like that. It all sounds not particularly enjoyable and is perhaps more of a traditional holiday than a favourite one of people. I think some Koreans don't enjoy much at all (aside from saying "I'm cold" or "I'm hungry"), or perhaps that's just some of the people I've worked with. This is of course an over simplification based one what I can remember being told. Christmas seems to be a million times more enjoyable.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The future is NOT mine

Below is an excerpt of a recent email and yet another example of motivation and leadership from our esteemed boss/academy owner.

"Hello, my ********* family:

How are you? Time flies just like an arrow. It is so fast that I sometimes feel that I don't know where I am. You would feel the same if you were responsible for the success of a business and your personal dream. The future will be mine as long as I keep my eyes on my goals. I don't want to be a loser in this harsh race of life."

I am just so glad that I can be a part of this man's quest for perfection and wealth. That's going to make me try oh so much harder from now on.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Coffee break

Panic stations over as a friend of mine has kindly given me some tea bags to tide me over for the next few weeks. Over the past fifteen months or so I have divided my time equally over coffee and tea but my recent tea bag situation has led me to appreciate much more how lucky I am working in the building where my academy is housed. This is because on the second floor there is a coffee shop.

I usually have one or two drinks a day there (especially in Summer) and even sometimes pop in over the weekend with my girlfriend. The actual coffee is quite good, better than Starbucks or the other chains that can be found in Korea and a take out is less than £1.50 - not bad if you ask me. Most Korean coffee shops I've been to usually give you either a straight black coffee or a cup of foam unless you specifically state otherwise, but this place is much better. If there had been a coffee shop under my previous workplace in Korea I probably would have stayed on there.

The shop has been open for just over a year now but is doing badly. It must be. The location is not ideal so you don't see many people in at any time of the day. There used to be two people working there but for over six months there has only been one. At times I have felt sorry for her. Always kind and friendly she has often given me free refills or given me free cake or something which has led me to go in perhaps more than I would otherwise and it has now become part of my usual daily routine. For a long time now I have felt that one day I would turn up to work and the coffee shop will be closed and perhaps that day will come, but hopefully not soon becaue it's nice and quiet and a good place to relax and forget about work.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Minor emergency

Panic stations in my apartment this morning as I found out that I've ran out of tea bags. It's OK because I can buy some more in just six weeks but lately I've been having two or three cups a day, with each one leaving me in a great mood. What could be more quintessentially English than a cup of tea? Maybe I can somehow get some in Seoul or find someone in Daegu that can give me a few. I may revert back to green tea or even fruit tea but it looks like I'll be on the coffee for a while.

Saturday, 10 January 2009


Time away from home for prolonged periods changes you. A criminal (ridiculously over-exaggerated analogy) is sent to do time inside for crimes committed to society and can return a changed man/woman. Time on your hands can be both a blessing and a curse. Unlike any (unwilling) prisoner I am free to walk away whenever I choose to but for me there has been some solitary confinement and certainly far too much free time on my hands most recently. I can't say I've been using it well.

At the moment I am in the midst of a downloading spree that has lasted about eighteen months or more. Films, music, album artwork, language tapes and more have been downloaded for future use. I'm doing it not because I want to but because I can. Last year I bought a 300Gig portable hard drive and never imagined it would ever be full but this weekend I find there is less than 20Gigs left. I have to buy a new one in February.

There seems to be no end to the downloading because just as I find myself satisfied with the mp3's or TV series downloads something else crops up into my mind and the hunt begins again to find it and 'have it'. I read quite a lot and it leads me down other paths which need exploring. Music in particular is something that I return to again and again as I constantly remember tracks I heard in my youth and want to revisit. I've been downloading mp4's for a new I-pod that I won't even have for a few months but already have enough material to fill it several times over. I don't know when exactly it will end but know it must before I get back home, to finally watch those films etc, etc.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Mind Games / Simple pleasures

I've just got home from work and my girlfriend asked me a grammar question which led me to google something to try and help her. Once more that led me onto Wikipedia and I've spent the last thirty minutes reading about fish and chips, perhaps my most beloved of all meals and certainly the one I miss the most, out here in Korea. Reading about it has been a mixture of both torture and pleasure as again I am reminded of some of the things that I would take for granted but are unavailable for me out in Asia. I could probably write a novel about fish and chips, most certainly a long thesis of how important that particular institution and culture is to the psyche of people back home, especially those in Northern England. Instead of going to the chippy now, as would be my want around this time at home, I have to wait six more weeks. As my good friend once said to me, "Hunger is the best sauce."

Saturday, 3 January 2009

A simple plan: Lighting the fuse

I'm expecting major changes in my life at various points of this year. Some plans are already under way whilst others are on the back-burner but my vision for the next twelve months is very clear. If I had a New Years resolution to try and keep to, it would be to go home when my current contract finishes. At the moment, with present world financial uncertainties as they are, leaving a very easy, well paid-ish job to return home to a country in recession seems a little risky doesn't it. Despite this I must go home, for however long it takes to 'rehabilitate' myself, for want of a better word. Perhaps 're-invigoration' is a better assessment for the ongoing situation. I am very aware of how much of a bubble I live in out here and it can't go on forever.

In February I will be home for one week, primarily to relax and have a change of scenery whilst being able to have a few proper pints and better food, but also to hopefully continue with some plans. Between then and now I will have a lot of things on my mind. The break cannot come soon enough and will hopefully do me the world of good. I must admit that financial concerns have started to crop up in my head but they shouldn't be causing too much trouble and I need to appreciate that my time here has left me debt free. I believe at some stage I will be tempted to stay here but I know that would be a mistake and the Summer will again hammer it home to me that it's time for some travelling in Asia before making the sweet trip home. However, I wouldn't rule out a return to Korea or Asia for another year or two.

Friday, 2 January 2009

A random sheepish moment

During an average day at work (Mon/Tues & Thurs/Fri), I mark maybe roughly between 60-130 books a day during various parts of my classes. It's not hard at all. Just need to check there are no blindingly obvious mistakes, but more importantly to see if the student has done the homework and correct where appropriate. I don't need to look at every word or every question but do try to read as much as I possibly can. Obviously I've seen many mistakes so I often don't remember them after changing the words but this was my favourite today, found under the word in yellow. Just a random mistake, one of thousands I see every month.

It is supposed to read, Keeping Sister Safe. No big deal at all, just a simple mistake but it made me laugh. For this particular part of the homework the students hear a story over the Internet and have to write down the words but sometimes they appear to hear something quite different. Perhaps this shows how different or difficult learning English is. Or does it show how lazy my students are?

Another boy in this class has this week told me that I looked like someone out of C.S.I. Not watching the show regularly I assumed that he was being yet another cheeky lad having a crack at my age and meant Grissom, but today he brought a picture taken on his camera phone of the "C.S.I. captain". I am now supposed to look like Gary Sinise. Though the only likeness I can find between 'us' is white skin and dark hair, it could have been worse I guess. And I have definitely been called a lot worse here!

New faces

Only two days into the New Year and already major changes at work. Three co-workers have left, two of whom have departed for adventures in Asia before returning to Canada whilst another has left for a different branch. A couple has already started work and someone else joins on Monday. Another departure was our Manager. Some excuse was given for her departure, but that's what it felt like. I guess I'll never find out the truth nor ever need to.

The new manager has been in this week and will my fourth one at my academy in the past thirteen months. I don't know how things will work out but am hoping for the best. I can't say I have really enjoyed working with any of my managers at this academy because I hardly see them and have very little interaction with them either which I am sure will continue come Monday. Personally I just hope my schedule doesn't change too much as I like the levels I teach right now. The atmosphere has changed radically as we all get to slowly know the new teachers. Before it was certainly livelier but maybe changes are for the best. I have seen so many people come and go since I first came here that I've lost count but it's always nice hear from new faces with different perspectives on life. One of the hazards/benefits of the job is that you meet a lot of people but also say goodbye many times too.

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