Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Break time: Eyes wide open

Today, mercifully and most unexpectedly my schedule changed and I was lucky enough to have a break from teaching for two classes. My first breaks for four months. I had lots of preparation to go through for the rest of the month so I made good use of my time. The teachers room was fairly quiet with the usual noises all missing and no English spoken at all, just Korean.

During the break time several Korean co-workers were busy but took out time for a necessary lunch. Each person (including the manager) took a maximum of ten minutes to eat. No time to waste at all and straight back to work. No leisurely hour lunches. That's the Korean style/way. Again reinforcing what I've known for a long time but not what everyone I've worked with in the past has really appreciated. 'They' work harder than 'us' but 'we' get more money, more time off and a massively easier job at work with less little or no stress. There must be some resentment from some people in some academies especially where some foreign workers are ultra lazy. What must 'they' think?

It's not fair and everyone knows it but right now that's the way it is in this line of work in Korea. Foreign/English teachers should really try to remember - and not in a patronising or condescending way - that their job is easy and well paid in comparison to their Korean counterparts. Make the most of it while 'you' can but try to be respectful, mindful and aware of who you're working with before complaining of how difficult life is for 'you' here, because it's not. For what little 'we' put in 'we' get a lot more than perhaps we should expect to.

Classroom visitor

This is what one of my students brought to class today. Amazingly it was still alive by the time the class ended. Amazing because it was let free around the classroom and nobody squashed it and amazing too because it's owner and most Koreans don't know how to handle and treat pets! This is most definitely not a nation of animal lovers but the girl who took it to class treated it better than I had feared. Maybe we'll see this little fella again someday.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Unit 1

The start of a new week and the start of a new unit at work. It would seem that all my brightest and best student's have levelled up to higher classes. Today and tomorrow I will see who they've been replaced by and will cross my fingers in hope that some real characters will be in the classroom. Knowing my luck I'll get a bunch of shy kids but we'll see. Got to think positive

Friday, 24 April 2009

Comic relief

Right about now we are in the midst of another slew of school tests for all of my students. That's Elementary schooler's and Middle schooler's, so both sets of student's are coming to the class like zombies half the time. In the evening's classes are depleted as some of the kids stay at home to study for the more important school tests - classes are sometimes down from thirteen student's to one or two. Whilst those who do come (Middle school student's) have either not done their homework or put in no effort in class whatsoever. All understandable but causing a problem for the teachers who have to try and find a balance between doing the work in class, trying to motivate the students and keeping things as relaxed and stress-free as possible. Yesterday one of my younger student's who is ultra lively decided to write me this note in Konglish (Korean English) and then translated to (broken!) English. A nice light moment in one of my favourite classes and much appreciated despite her being so cheeky.

"Hello, my name is Kim Seong Won. How are you? I love you. Oh! I'm fine but It's all lie and joking. Bye"

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Kirk and Vincent

From time to time you come across an unexpected treasure and it brightens up a few hours for you here in the Land of the Morning Calm. Last night I was flicking through the TV channels and quickly passed the Art channel but saw something familiar and took a second look. It was a film hat I thought I'd seen before but wasn't sure and regardless that was so long ago I didn't remember most of the story anyway. The film was Lust for Life, the story of Vincent van Gogh starring Kirk Douglas. Even though I missed maybe 70% of the film I just sat and enjoyed what was left. In the sea of mediocrity that is the majority of Korean cable TV movie channels this was a real treat.

Watching it again I was reminded of how much I like Kirk Douglas as a person and as an actor. Even his voice is fantastic. So too his maniacal eyes. I think he's one of my favourite old Hollywood stars along with Robert Mitchum and Tony Curtis, so many of his films have been enjoyable. From Champion to Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Spartacus. I am hoping to turn back the clock and revisit some of these again and also take some time out to watch some more that I haven't seen or don't remember too well, like Paths Of Glory, Lonely Are the Brave and The Bad and the Beautiful. Thank you Kirk for adding genuine colour to my evening.

Pushing myself

Tonight's hapkido was manic. The hardest training session in the entire seventeen months that I've been going. Right now my feet are not in the best possible condition so all the twisting and moving was making things even tougher. For the first time I've been there there were four people doing the training all of whom had black belts (Including the Master and his assistant) so we were moving at breakneck speed. To be honest I struggled to keep pace at times but I tried my best and that's all you can do but I really enjoyed it and it showed I am doing OK. Topping off a great work out, exhausting as it was I managed to do one of the manoeuvres that I'd only previously done once before. The last time I did it I was so happy for myself but the next day my house was burgled. Here's hoping the history doesn't repeat itself.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Jason Statham accent latest (2005)

Recently I've seen posters for a new Jason Statham film that's come out in Korea, Chaos. I checked out some reviews online but found out the film was made sometime in 2005 but was a straight to DVD release in most countries. It looks like Statham's star is rising in Asia so the film company may have tried to cash in on this with a belated cinematic release. It is hard to think of him as an actual film star (if that's what he is) due to his transparent lack of acting ability. Still his films are not bad, especially the tongue-in-cheek ones which are still on in heavy rotation on cable TV here. I managed to get hold of a copy of the film this weekend and watched it with the girlfriend. The film was OK but I am glad we didn't part with our money at the cinema. He managed to keep up his appalling attempts at an American accent. As mentioned before I do enjoy watching bad films/performances but this wasn't so terrible, if you take out the accent. I'm still waiting for a release date for Crank 2 in Korea and hoping it won't be too long away.

Selling Beer in Korea (a low blow)

Right now the poster below is plastered all over a lot of the bars in Korea. Proving once again that the only thing that truly sells big name products and brands here are celebrity endorsements. Those funsters Big Bang are at it again, only this time they are telling you to buy beer. Korean beer, and they are telling you that it's probably the most fun you can have known to man.

As many foreigners here have figured out, the local brews are of dubious quality and certainly not enough to get anywhere near this excited. Once again an example of Koreans over egging the pudding. A product cannot be good, it must be the most amazing product ever made and buying it will send you into a state of bliss. I have noticed that reactions to even the most mundane product are so over the top that you cannot help but laugh. Such is the exaggeration on their faces it looks like three of them have all been punched in the testicles mere seconds before the snap was taken. For the full commercial/music video and a further insight into how beer commercials run like click the link below

Monday morning

What a great start to the week. My hangover is gone and the heavens have opened and brought us rain. More rain than I can remember for months. It's stopped now but that hasn't dampened my enthusiasm and here's hoping the unseasonably warm weather abates for a while. More rain would be very welcome

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Phoning it in. Cultural differences you cannot ignore

Whenever someone asks me what the differences between the UK and Korea/Asia are I try to take some time to think about it. I mention the food, the respect for older people, the education system, the bright neon lights and the poor beer. I usually tell them that there are so many cultural differences but we also have many things in common. After all, are we so different? Then I see things like this, exhibit A.

It hits me straight between the eyes and says Korea is very different from the UK and everywhere else. For good or for bad, for better or for worse. The above is a commercial for a mobile phone starring five pop stars who are the hottest thing in Korea right now. At some later point I may post about how celebrities all across the fame scale attach themselves to whatever product they can for money but for now I will just leave this - some Koreans like to make money and will do whatever they are told to do to a) put coin in their back pocket and b) stay in the public eye and conscience for as long as possible.

Onto exhibit B. Another commercial but for a different phone. Boy do Koreans love phones - possibly more than there children. If you think Koreans rest on their laurels think again. Those boys working so hard to sell those phones came up with something else more preposterous and have four new faces (a new girl group here) with them. I do not know what came first, the commercial or the phone. I'm lying, it must be the phone and the 'song' is a real song not a thirty second snippet. So essentially they wrote a song to promote a phone. Split the cash for this one nine ways and whatever they got can't be much especially when their agents take their piece of the pie.

The quality is poor for the above clip so just to reinforce the point click here to see what one of the singers is prepared to wear as long as you slip money into his pockets. I struggle to think of an amount of number someone would have to pay me to wear that. When questioning my students, adoring fans of the singers, they just say it's "Big Bang's style". God bless the girls in my classes who swim against the tide and say they don't like or understand the fashion of these Justin Timberlake wannabe's.

Korea's history is long and proud. 5,000 years of hard work, tradition and culture, pride and achievement, war and bloodshed has culminated in this! It's a free country these days here and people are allowed to make money, but when you do a commercial as this surely you have no artistic credibility left. There is nothing wrong at all with the clips, the people in it, or the culture/fashion etc etc. But right now it's a slice of Korea, like it or not and it's very different to Western culture.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

New face in class

A nice surprise today as there is a new student in my hapkido class. I've been studying alone with two instructors for around eight months now but before that I trained with a Canadian co-worker. Training alone is OK (basically a private lesson with 2 teachers, very unique here) but working with someone else in the class helps gauge where I am going right and where I am going wrong. The new student had on his white belt (the belt issued to new students) so I assumed he was a beginner. Much to my dismay, fleeting though it was, it turned out he is a 2nd Dan already at hapkido from another dojang and also a 2nd Dan at Taekwando. He just has to start at white belt level because he is a new student at this dojang.

Actually this is probably the best thing that could have happened to me there. He can do some of the moves I can't yet do especially manoeuvres that demand aerobic ability but there are other areas like kicking where I have more power and am slightly better. So for the first time in months I can actually compare myself to someone on a similar level and have something tangible to aspire to. I seemed to train a little harder even after practice was over and it's given me new motivation to improve whatever skills I have right now. The new student is 24 (23 really) but alas speaks almost no English. He will be my new partner for self defence techniques which is a massive improvement on working with teenagers that I only see on test day! It should be more interesting now as I get back on the road to aiming for my 2nd Dan black belt.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

My own Korean credit crunch

The gravy train appeared to be coming to a stop last week as we received an email informing us that our company credits were coming to an end at the end of this month. I've been expecting this to happen pretty much from the time we first got them so it didn't come as much of a surprise to me. It's no big deal as they were a completely unforeseen bonus at the time. It looks like they're stopping for tax reasons, presumably also the reason why they started up in the first place.

Every foreigner (not Korean - unfair eh?) at my company was given a credit card allowance. Mine now is up to 300,000₩, which is approximately £150 to use on whatever we wanted. I've varied what I've used it on, from airplane tickets to clothes, groceries, gifts for my girlfriend, impulse purchases and nights out. By and large usually things I didn't necessarily need.

The silver lining to all this is that instead of losing the 300,000₩ it will be added to all of my future monthly wages. So although that money will now be taxed it's more likely that I won't be buying too many non-essential things, giving me the chance to save more money. Which, lets be honest is the primary reason I'm here right now.

Much has changed during my time in Korea including my salary. When I first arrived in October 2005 I was working six days a week for what I thought at the time was an OK salary, especially when you consider the very low taxes we pay here. From next month I'll be earning exactly 50% more than what I initially started on and working only five days a week. Could I have feasibly earned a 50% wage rise in three years in the UK? I'd find that hard to believe.

Naturally the exchange rate between the UK and Korea had fluctuated during my time here and it's not as good as in 2005, but it's still OK and enough to stay here and save. It's hard to say money doesn't matter in the current climate. Even in an English teacher's darkest moments in Korea solace can always be found in the amount of money us teachers can make either legally or illegally. It's a great place to save for your future and/or pay off your debts as well as explore a new countries culture and meet some amazing people too.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Still waiting

Much to my chagrin the boy who caused much trouble in class last week didn't turn up today. Let's see if he is back on Thursday and if the drama will continue.

The appeal of Nicholas Cage

Korea loves Nicholas Cage. Maybe not the most popular foreign actor here but possibly the most watched one on Korean cable TV for his movies seem to be on all the time. They even have Nicholas Cage movie seasons. Sometimes I think the script for Con Air to be the audio/visual equivalent of the bible for Koreans, so often can you see it here. Koreans love action and nobody does over action like Nicholas Cage right now. Nicholas Cage was born to over act. Korea loves Nicholas Cage for reasons like this.

A recent film review by the BBC's excellent Mark Kermode revealed that the press notes for his recent film Knowing claim him to be one of the most versatile actors of all time. Clearly he has shown his acting skills in some films but that's a bit over the top. I don't remember paying to see one of his films at the cinema but I may be wrong - but somebody is.

Nevertheless he has an appeal and as mentioned before, bad can be good. How can you not enjoy the ridiculousness of Face Off! My favourite example of his versatility in the most recent Nicholas Cage movies is his hair. Obviously thinning to the point of no return he bafflingly appears to be defying mother natures attempts. I wonder how much he pays for a haircut.

The entertaining film review can be found here. I expect the film to be on Korean TV within eighteen months.

Nicholas Cage has appeared in over 50 films and as long as Koreans have cable TV, he will always be with them. Here is my favourite piece of over the top Nicholas cage action from Ghostrider - 45 seconds in, just enjoy.

Waiting for the 8:30pm bell

The weekend is over oh-so quickly again and once more it's time to go back to work. Last Thursday one of my student's put on a show of extreme attitude and petulance. Subsequently he received a telling off from me, my partner teacher and the manager of my school. Let's see what he comes up with today. I am waiting for him - the slate is clean but I am not forgetting what he said and did. I wonder if he will continue to waste both his free time after class in the re-test room and his parent's money.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Surprise Sunday

I spent Easter Sunday in the company of people (barring girlfriend) that I hadn't met or had barely met before. I spent it at an Army base here in Daegu, Korea. We were invited a few weeks ago and to be brutally honest I didn't want to go. Not one little bit. I imagined it to be some kind of barbecue outside with lots of soldiers with extremely short hair drinking Budweiser and talking about America's influence on the world. How wrong was I.

The day was all about breaking down stereotypes and my preconceptions. The dinner was amazing and was spent in the company of a family where the mother worked for the army. I could not have wished to have spent time with nicer people. A truly interesting day with people of intelligence and whose children were unbelievably polite and respectful - I had forgotten what non-Korean children were like. I intended to stay for two hours but we ended up going home much much later. The day also helped me think a little more about what I want for my future and reinforced a few of my beliefs. Happy Easter.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Good Friday

Not being a religious person, this weekend's Easter celebrations will pass without event for me. In fact I didn't even remember it was upcoming until today when a Korean woman stopped me on the street to give me some gifts. Cheap things like tissues and a sweet. This is not uncommon in Korea as it's a friendship gesture from church goers who want you attend their church - there is plenty of competition. Pretty pointless though if you don't speak much Korean. Is it better to take the gifts and throw them away or to reject them when offered? I usually take them and give any sweets to my students. I figured it was Easter when she gave me this

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Side effect of the season

For now the evenings are cool but that won't stay that way for too long. The novelty effect of the weather may be wearing off after just four days as the thirst has kicked in much earlier than last year. I refer to the desire to have a beer. A cold beer after work or hapkido. There is no substitute that I can find here. Perhaps it's for the best that I momentarily have only 1,000₩ in the house, bar an assortment of coins. Not enough to buy even the poorest beer Korea has to offer (for some arcane reason my bank card cannot be used from midnight-7am so no withdrawals available as I type). There's always tomorrow.

If you ever wanted to know what a Korean bar looks like

A new bar opened recently just around the corner from where I live. Last night I went there to check it out. Here's a slice of bar life, Korean style. Normally I can't stand Korean beer. In fact it's the worst beer I've had in the world. I don't particularly like drinking it as it is mainly tasteless, gassy, too light and gives me a bad stomachache the next day. However, sometimes I will have a few pints and just go with the flow, like last night and a good time can be had.

Most Korean bars seem to be dark inside but conversely brightly lit with neon, making the experience feel very different from most bars back home. At first it can be a little off putting and doesn't quite seem right, but after a while it kind of grows on you. However, light is not proportionate to quality.

At these type of bars, foreign beers such as Heineken or San Miguel, Becks etc etc are nearly triple the price of the supermarket and double the prices of the 24-hour convenience stores so it doesn't make much sense to drink them instead of the local draft which is about 2,500₩. Along with the beer you always get some kind of snack, varying from bar to bar but usually some moreish polystyrene-esque 'thing', or fruit and sometimes even fish. Here they also gave us some baked sweetcorn and cheese. On tables in these bars (and restaurants) is a button which when pressed gets you the attention of the severs.

Korean bars never open early but often close late. Music is mandatory in these establishments. but not the kind you may be used to. It's pure pop, pure Korean pop. The kind of music that doesn't sit well with a beer. If your conversation is good then it's easily blocked out. Make up your own mind wether or not these places are tacky but there are worse places to spend some free time at night especially if the companies right. By the way, the new bar is called Stay-Holic, which is ever so Korean.

The other side of town

In dire need of something to do in the mornings before going to work, this week I bought a bike. I've been thinking about getting one for over a year now but I was inspired by a co-worker who looked like he was having so much fun with his. I'm pretty pleased with what I've got. It's second hand but in good condition and I managed to get it cheaper than it would have cost me one week ago and I got the shopkeeper to throw in a free lock too.

The weather has been great and I never expected to have so much fun, exploring, enjoying the sunshine and listening to my MP3 player. Long may that continue. I never noticed how many people here had a bicycle, but so many have, both young and old. I think in general many Koreans like to be healthy and active, more so than back home. Thanks to the bike I've now seen parts of the city I had never been to before so I would definitely encourage anyone here in Korea to take advantage of their free time and get on their bike. You may see another side of this country and get in shape too.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Spring splendor

In Daegu the weather is glorious at the moment. My favourite season is in full swing with blossoms on the trees. Right now I feel like a college student on Summer break with free time to spend or waste as I see fit. So not much has changed there then. Time to get out there.

Spring is the shortest of seasons in this city and the temperature has been rising steadily this week. In the office yesterday a few people said it was hot. Perhaps not quite, but I'm pretty sure we are set for six more months of warm, then very hot weather before September starts to cool us down. Winter seems only days away but the air conditioning may come on any day now. Here are some photos of my neighbourhood.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Songs from the North

Defying international pressure the rocket was launched today and to hardly anyone's surprise it was a failure. Now we have the even more interesting denials and propaganda from the North. Globally there is quite rightly condemnation of the actions with National leaders urging them to refrain from further such hostile activities. Predictably Pyongyang are claiming the whole thing to be a resounding success and that the satellite is transmitting the "Song of General Kim Il-sung" and "Song of General Kim Jong-il" as we speak. Ignoring the fact that this isn't happening, I would love to hear these songs.

I'm reading that the launch will be a morale booster (sic) to the people of North Korea as the South has so far yet to send such a satellite 'so far' into orbit, though they have sent an astronaut into space which Pyongyang will never be in a position to do. I will continue to follow events closely as it's all over the news of course but how long will it remain at the forefront of peoples consciousness here, including me? If I could hear those songs though...

Friday, 3 April 2009

My Vietnam

The battle is over. We lost. The fight to correct pronunciation is in tatters. Finishee.

Now onto the war. And Kickerly. Oops, I mean quickly. If the first casualty of war is innocence then somewhere down the line sanity ends up in the hospital. I am not only losing my temper but my faith in humanity right now. The persistence of some these kids in refusing to accept my pronunciation or to simply not be able to say some words is driving me crazy. I swear some are doing it just to drive up my blood pressure. Incandescent with rage, I persist with the struggle knowing that one of us has to lose.

Despite Korean students apparent love and flair for mathematics, they are failing to add this one together. Q+U produces a /KW/ sound, however they are coming up with /KI/ or /KEH. As an example, many of my students cannot say "Question" they say "Kestion".

Kestion? Kick, kickERly. KIEAT!! I KIT!
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