Monday, 30 March 2009

April fool?

Recent events in the news have led me to think again about the tension/s in Korea. You may or may not know North Korea is set to launch some kind of rocket/satellite into orbit some time soon (April 4th-8th). America has now stated that it will not attempt to stop any rocket launch but I find that hard to believe especially as they have a vested interest in the area and have over 25,000 troops already here. This comes after the Japanese have openly said they will intercept any rocket that may fall upon its territory. Pyongyang has said any attempt to shoot down the rocket will be result in war.

How seriously should I/we take this latest development? Are their intentions sinister and is it wrong to be cynical? It is impossible to take anything the North Koreans say as fact as most things that come out of theDPRK are merely self satisfying propaganda as evidenced by the recent elections with only one candidate. And of course we have continued health speculation of their leader, KimJong Il and who may or may not succeed him. It is hard to believe that they do not have future nuclear intentions but perhaps it is an exaggeration to call it a delicate time. It is possible that this is another bargaining chip for future aid and another attempt to be taken seriously as some kind of power.

I have started to follow the situation more closely than in previous years because after a while it is impossible to ignore 'the elephant in the room'. The latest course of events are more than a curiosity. It must be remembered that Korea is still actually at war. No declaration of peace has ever been signed, only the armistice of 1953. Certainly tensions have been heightened since the current President in Seoul, LeeMyung-bak took office last year. The relative peace of the previous administration appears to have dissolved under new hard-line policies.

As a neutral observer in this peninsula. I have never heard a Korean co-worker or friend actively broaching the subject, nor a student for that matter. Is this talked about seriously by locals? Perhaps I have become blasé over the matter but not now! For the record I am not worried about next month and feel extremely safe. Ironically much safer than back home in England. However, I shall be watching developments with great interest. Is this just another example of attention seeking and posturing from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?

Failure. But whose?

I found this last week in one of my classes and one of my more likeable kids. It took the student one minute to figure out his mistake. I'm not taking the blame for this one!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Nemesis update

Work remains the same but something is starting to grate. Little by little, day by day one offender has been gnawing away at my patience and sanity. There is someone at work who cannot walk properly. I will point out here that some of my co-workers wear something resembling slippers whilst at work. Presumably for comfort reasons. But what difference could these slippers make to being able to walk correctly? Rather than lifting one leg up then going forward (repeating with the other leg etc etc), this person is making no attempt to walk, only shuffle their slippers ever forward. The noise is not loud but relentless. Like a butcher sharpening a knife but worse. The laziness of this person beggars belief.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Korea Vs. Japan

Today was the final of the baseball World Championships. Korea played Japan for the gold medal. I can't talk about baseball with any authority because I just don't know the game, but whatever the game is between these two nations it is more than a game. I can tell you that Korea likes nothing better than beating Japan at any sport or any occasion possible. A look into the history of the two countries will show you why some Koreans literally hate Japan. Personally I feel that a lot of the kids I've taught have been a little brainwashed into hating Japan, but Koreans are proud people and will not let history or it's injustices be forgotten. This is very understandable. Of course there is still the matter of Dokdo and its ownership which is disputed, bitterly.

Despite Korea's long history with martial arts, many people consider baseball to be the national sport of the country so expectations were high. For what it's worth, Japan won 5-3 (Korea are the more prestigious Olympic champions though). The mood of several student's was quite bad across the age ranges, predictable so. I sometimes feel that Koreans are bad losers, but this is not always the case so to test this I played on their emotions a little and took advantage slightly of the situation by asking them all to answer the loaded question "I like/don't like Japan because...". The following is a list of some of the answers I got, all the quotes are literal quotes, grammar errors et al. Interestingly, nearly the younger kids said they don't like Japan but the older ones weren't as vitriolic.

"They is win!"
"Japan people is Korean people"
"They are terrible"
"Korean history is Japan very bad"
"Japan Kill Korea"
"Because Japan steal Dokdo"
"Japan is Koreans rival"
"Japan kills many Koreans"
"Long time ago Japan kills lots of Korean people"
"Japanese is gay"

Of course what I am writing is not new and many have chronicled this in the past. It is clear feelings remain as intense here as ever. I wonder how Japan feels about the matter. I feel that this coin has only one side.

Monday, 23 March 2009

This surprise is a Given

As mentioned before in a previous post, I thought I'd seen and heard every possible way of saying and writing my name out in Korea. This is due to the G sounding like K/C and V sounding like B to many people in Korea. I used to work with one Korean who insisted on calling me Gevin for the fifteen months we worked together. Even on my medical insurance my name (in Korean) is spelled with an E, not an A. But as you can see there is now another way of spelling my name. Given teacher. My students continue to surprise me

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Summer in Spring

What tremendous weather we've had the past few days. The yellow dust appears to have come and gone leaving blue skies and above average temperatures. It feels like Summer already. Can it really be three months away? Everybody at work has been in a very positive mood this week. Spirited lifted by thoughts of future travels and exciting times to come. I loathe and despise Korean summers but what comes round goes around so I'm going to try and enjoy it as much as possible this time round. This week I returned to hapkido. I'm probably five weeks away from being back to the level I was before, but at least the problem with my feet is improving by the day. It was great to be back at hapkido, everybody smiling, laughing and having fun. The hamster is back on the wheel.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Reoccurring problem

Just another ordinary day in the peninsula, but not quite. The sun is shining, the weather is warm, but why can't we really see the sun and why is there no blue sky? The answer is straight forward. What we are experiencing right now is Yellow Dust (황사) coming mainly from China. Trying to sum it up, strong winds in China and Mongolia push dust and soil over China, Korea and Japan. Pollutants have exacerbated the problem which can affect the health of millions across the continent. Efforts have been made to improve the situation, but the problem is a significant one. Due to it's geographical location Daegu is not hit as badly as places like Seoul, but it still gets here.

This appears to be an annual occurrence around about this time every year. So far it doesn't seem to be too bad. Visibility is good so unless you knew it was here you wouldn't suspect anything was wrong. I've just come back from a 45 minute round trip to the shops and I can feel something wrong with my throat. During this period it is wise to stay indoors as often as possible to avoid any medical problems. If the situation becomes more visibly evident I will try to take some pictures.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Sign of the times

During my second spell in Korea I have paid a little more attention to the dialogue and vocabulary used in my classroom. I have noticed a worrying and depressing trend with some students. There has been a rise in the aggressive language used by some of the kids. Words I continue to hear constantly, by a few students include "Kick", "Punch", "Hit", "Psycho", "Crazy", "Nuclear", "Kill" and "Die". I must add that the majority do not use these but those who do are boys, usually in elementary school. Korea's a pretty peaceful country on the surface but the recent shootings in Germany and a discussion with my new partner teacher has led me to think more about what should and shouldn't be allowed in class.

Where are they getting these words from? I don't like to use these words in class but admit I have used some of them, but mainly in response to them using similar words. I am conscious of the example I set to some of the students so try to use appropriate language as much as possible. My theory is a) Computer games, b) Over-exposure to TV/Film violence, c) The North Korean situation that hangs over the peninsula.

Ask many a student here about what they want to do in their free time and they will more than likely say play a computer game. Usually in a PC Room. I find it utterly depressing that these youngster's do not want to play outside more often - yes there are not so many parks as back home, but there are things to do outside. I played my fair share of video games when I was younger but not to the extent that they do here. 'It' is everywhere. It cannot be a coincidence that so many kids in my classes wear glasses compared to the amount of kids I knew when growing up.

Regarding TV/Film violence, that's a worldwide problem I guess. I have though noticed being in a cinema where some kids have been allowed in to watch some films that are indisputably unsuitable for children. Onto the ongoing North Korean drama, perhaps kids are oblivious, perhaps not, but the existence of Nuclear technology in the North is known by my students but they don't seem to talk about that much. It could be a passing phase, or boys being boys, but it's disconcerting to hear children talk so much about death and destruction and as one student (who drew the picture) keeps saying, "Kill the people".

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Lazyitis cure found?

During one of yesterday's breaks at work some of my co-workers were playing a learning game with Korean words. I was amazed at how good some of my newer colleagues vocabulary was. Perhaps it is time to start a fresh assault on the Korean language. I kind of gave up on it about a year ago and am semi-reliant on my girlfriend at times.

I admit that I find it difficult to learn but given the situation I find myself in, where I am here for longer than i expected I think I should try and start the ball rolling again and at least learn some new words. It is more than possible to survive very well here with only a smattering of Korean but I believe my experiences will be much more positive with a greater command of the language.

Unlikely Hero

What do Nicholas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal and Jackie Chan have in common? Apart from currently being action movie stars who appear to have limited acting skills, they are all big names in Korea and have their films shown repeatedly on Korean cable television. Currently one of the film channels is in it's Steven Segal season, and boy are some offensively bad. Can we now throw in another name into the pantheon? Jason Statham.

There is no doubt he is a C-list name but Jason Statham's films have been on TV here over the last twelve months countless times. Transporter 1, Transporter 2, War, Snatch and of course, Crank have been on heavy rotation here. He is certainly a rising star here in Korea. Defying all pre-Korea logic I went with my girlfriend to watch Transporter 3 recently at the cinema and I can tell you its utter cheesiness plus good action sequences, was very enjoyable. My girlfriend now seems to be hooked on all things Statham and we've since downloaded and watched more of his films. Perhaps it is the fact that he seems to take his shirt off a lot rather then his 'acting skills' which she likes.

But what is his appeal to some of the public? He doesn't seem to take himself too seriously in his films and there are plenty of funny moments (especially Transporter 3 and Crank) and his gruff exterior, I guess, is popular with the ladies. But for me his preposterous mix of faux cockney/mockney and appalling American accent are what seals the deal. In fact his American accent is so bad it flirts back to straight English 70% of the time especially when he shouts, which he likes to do. A lot.

To be honest, his attempt at an Americanised voice is so ridiculously bad this now equals good. Somehow he has developed a career as an actor in Hollywood as an action hero and perhaps now he is more established he can drop this his attempts at such an accent. For some reason he appears to be unable to smile no matter the situation, and is always in a Dr. Banner "you won't like me when I'm angry" type way. Jason Statham also regularly appears in Guy Ritchie films, especially Revolver. This is said to be one of the worst films ever made. The baffling appeal of Jason Statham continues.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Thinking out loud

Next week one of my Korean friends goes to Australia to travel and work for the next ten months. I must say that I am a little jealous, but in the best possible way. Other people I know have been on some pretty adventurous trips around the world so right now I feel a little incomplete and unfulfilled. Leaving the UK has not made the world seem smaller, rather the world now seems so much larger with many more places left undiscovered for me.

I cannot turn back the clock, only hope to go forward to new sights. The more you are are exposed to the possibility to travel, the more you want to, desperately at times. Moving to Asia has opened up a new world for me that I hope I have the time and money to explore. I've been lucky enough here to see Korea, China, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong but there are plenty more places to go to. Just to mention a few on my hit-list, Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and Vietnam.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

W.C. Fields for the day

Saturday saw the wedding of one of my best friend's. The wedding took place in Seoul and as you can see it was a traditional Korean wedding with all the costume and ceremony. I had the honour of being an active participant where I had to dress up in traditional clothes to be part of a team of people who carried the groom in a wooden chair. Thankfully there were no mishaps and everything went as planned. The whole ceremony was conducted in Korean so I can't say that I understood any of it but it was enjoyable none the less.

The couple looked magnificent on the day and also at the post wedding meal in the evening. A picture of happiness. I couldn't be happier for the both of them and wish them a wonderful life together. I hope you enjoy the pictures of me in the outfit I wore (for two minutes). I felt like W.C. Fields in the straw hat and my red nose with considerable paunch in the slightly unflattering costume. This was an almost certainly never to be repeated experience and something to be remembered for a long time.

Monday, 9 March 2009

New equation

Horror Movie + Rock/Heavy metal Music = Cinematic disaster
Being a long time horror genre fan I challenge anyone to dispute my theory. They just don't seem to make them like they used to.

Not the taking part that counts

Life for natives in Korea seems to be a never ending popularity contest. The more I see, the less I understand or want to. Style over substance. Appearance over content. Face over heart. A constant stream of award ceremonies to reward those who have achieved nothing of any importance and have almost certainly had plastic surgery to change what they didn't like or what wasn't deemed good enough. People whose talent is not always obvious to the untrained eye or to those who have not been brainwashed.

Korea also seems to have created a culture of Internet users who are so critical of people at times, for no real sane reason that some celebrities have taken their own lives. You must succeed, you must look good, you must be loved and you must not make mistakes. I have never pretended to understand the Korean people or mentality and perhaps I never will.

It's not just exclusively for the more famous people, it is there for the common man too. It seems like the pressure is there to look good, not just appearance-wise, but to have the perfect life/family/marriage/job. To appear successful, powerful and to be accepted by as many people as physically possible. The higher up the ladder you go, the higher the stakes. The idea of this blog is NOT to be as cynical as can be or be bitter about my Korean experiences but occasionally disillusion creeps in.

It takes a very special person to not care what people think about them, but at times here I feel like those people are as rare as unicorns. Stay with the group, don't be an individual. I genuinely wonder sometimes if people here are happy or are content to look in the mirror and see what they want other people to believe, not what is real. I am left wondering is it any different in my own country?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A timely boost

Today's overcast skies and drizzle were in stark contrast to yesterdays coming of Spring. I found myself having a mixed day at work with plenty of laughs but more than my fair share of struggles explaining things to new students and also what perpetually turn out to be false expectations of some of my students. Thankfully my latest trip to the doctor brought some encouraging news. I was certain I'd need more injections in my feet but that's not how it turned out. Instead, I was given more pills to take with the aim of drawing out the problem. This was most unexpected and most appreciated. I go back in two more weeks and let's see how this goes.

Since the first medical assessment I haven't been able to go to Hapkido but yesterday I received a call from my Hapkido Master. I reassured him I'd be back but needed more time. It was a boost to hear from him as he too seemed glad to talk to me. It reinforced to me my already high opinion of the man. My absence from training has given me time to do more things but also left me bored and kicking my heels in frustration. By not training, there's no way I can be ready for this month's test which is a blow but not the end of the world. Also by not training, I'm not going forward or even standing still (technique-wise) I'm going backwards, so next week will surely be a difficult one for me presuming I can get back to the dojang. Meanwhile I don't seem to have put on too much weight, which would seem a minor miracle given what I've been eating and drinking.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Extreme reaction

Spring is apparently here. Today's weather is glorious - not too hot, not too cold with brilliant sunshine and few clouds in sight. Such a change from the drizzle and sullen skies of home right now. Just back from the supermarket I walked through the apartment buildings which surround my area (and most areas in Korean cities). That route takes me past many children at almost every hour of the day, many whom I have taught/teach at my present workplace.

From time to time I get stares or acknowledgements accordingly. Often (younger) kids who have never seen me before or maybe even never seen a foreigner try to speak to me, either in Korean or English. Today was pretty normal and I said "hello" to those who tried to talk to me. A pair of young girls (maybe 8 or 9 years old) seemed giddy at seeing me and one of them plucked up the courage (I can see some of them actually thinking about doing it) and said in her best English, "Hello!". I replied "Hello", but in Korean - not difficult for me. Well this girl had never seen or heard anything like it. She said something like "Wuh wuh wuh wuh wuh wuh!" and then bumped into something on the street and fell over. She was so surprised to hear a foreigner actually speaking Korean. Funny to see such an honest reaction this has made my day.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Back to normality (sic)

Back at work today. Not much has changed, except for my new partner teacher who is male (a rarity for Korean English teachers in Academies) - I'm hoping all goes well there because it will make my life easier. It seemed like most of my students were happy to see me back (with one notable exception!). Whilst I did enjoy my time at home I do actually enjoy the process of being at work and interacting with people so in that sense it is nice to be back.

Today's also the first day of the new month (teaching wise) so this week there is no time for rest, with more preparation due than usual and also trying to figure out the names and abilities of some of my new students. Right now, I'm still experiencing some jet-lag and my sleep pattern is not settled yet. I woke up at 2pm today, almost unheard of for me lately. I have a busy next few days. No rest for the wicked. Plenty of coffee this week I think.
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