Saturday, 30 May 2009

Hapkido: Latest belt test

Today saw me take my latest Hapkido test at my Blue Dragon dojang here in Korea. Up to this point I have been making steady progress but lagging behind some of the students who have been taking classes for longer than me - in my opinion. My flexibility hasn't been so good and at times I've looked a bit sluggish too. I have to keep remembering that I am in my thirties and this is still new to me while some kids have been taking lessons for years. Today's test went so great that hours later I am still buzzing. I'll give it a seven out of ten. I managed to do some things I haven't done before in the test and made some big technique improvements. It's nice to feel improvement in practice but doing things well in the test felt good. One thing I also noticed was how much the kids there were smiling. It was really uplifting to see so many happy kids especially considering how miserable some of my actual students are. Anyway here is a video of today.

As well as I felt I did, clearly I have a long way to go before I leave Korea and probably Hapkido behind. I feel like I did well deep down inside and a lot of the students kept saying well done to me in their basic English. In practice my kicking is a lot better and so too is my self defence. Being honest I thought maybe I could win an award (trophies and certificates are given to outstanding performances of the day), but it was not to be. Regardless, today was a big improvement. Perhaps in the future I can do well enough to win something but that's not my primary objective. My next test is two months from now and I know that I cannot let up. This is the time to push on and work even harder. After that I think there are no tests for my level until maybe January where I should be testing for a 2nd degree black belt. Truly something that is keeping me going in Korea-land.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Passed to death

Last night's Champions League final was a showcase for possession football and what to do with it when it really matters. Although the scoreline was 2-0 the margin of victory in terms of class on the night was far larger. Manchester United fans would argue that if they had scored the first goal then it could of been different (based on the fist 10 minutes) but they didn't and Barcelona did. The side from Old Trafford have certainly had a good season and deserve plaudits but the midfield saw a massive gulf in class between the two teams and Guardiola certainly won the tactical battle. Messi rightly grabbed some headlines but watching Xavi and Iniesta was delightful. For Utd, Ronaldo was perhaps their best player but so many didn't really turn up. If Ferguson could have his way again, surely Park Ji Sung and Giggs wouldn't have started the game. Personally I think Carlos Puyel is a liability waiting to happen but somehow Utd didn't take him on and put him under pressure. On the night Barca showed up not the weakness of Utd's squad but the deficiencies of various parts of their team right now. It will be very interesting to see what affect this will have on both Utd and Ferguson. Will they splash the cash this Summer? Regardless, Bryan Robson's outrageous pre-match claim that if Utd went on to win the game then they'd be the best team EVER was blown out of the water.

Being a Liverpool fan for over twenty years I was in two minds whether or not to watch the game as I couldn't bear the sight of seeing Utd winning a fourth European Cup but I stayed up till 6am here in Korea and I'm glad I did. Usually I really miss the English language commentary on football games but was delighted not to here ITV's Clive Tyldesley waffle on about 1999 and "That night in Barcelona" as he has for the past ten years. The word Barcelona is now a memory of a different kind as well as carrying a different resonance. In the aftermath of the game I can't get it out of my mind at how overrated (though still very good) this Utd team has been this season. Surely based on the past three months evidence winning the English Premier League was something that my beloved Liverpool should have done. Perhaps we have blown our best chance for years to come - unless Benitez gets some serious spending money. Never mind, "This time next year we'll be millionaires"...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Fingers crossed

Today is a pretty important day for me at work. Every six months or so, all foreign teachers at the company I work for are observed by one of our foreign managers. Later on we get feedback on how well we did or what mistakes we need to try and cut out. The feedback and some other things go into consideration when deciding to offer a new contract or not. I am not worried about my observation but like to well so I feel a little stress and I'm confident enough in the job I have done and am doing.

However, IF things go badly and I don't get a new contract I don't know what I will do. The chances of that happening I feel are slim. So far observations have gone very well from both my foreign and Korean managers. Also, though I don't know the percentages, overwhelmingly the company likes to keep its teachers. Unless there have been serious problems with staff they like to re-sign teachers as hiring new employees is always risky. I expect to get a new contract but it feels wrong to presume I will get one. If I don't get the new contract some of my plans are in jeopardy and the immediate future would be most uncertain. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Korea loves Steven Seagal

Wow, didn't this happen just six weeks ago? Maybe. Korean cable TV is running another Steven Seagal movie season right now. I cannot explain the love affair that this country has with him. You can maybe go back to some early films of his and say they are OK B level action movies but anything after 1992 with him in it is shockingly bad. Yet curiously enjoyable.

Last night's film was Glimmer Man. In case you haven't seen it, here is the plot summary taken from Wikipedia.

Jack Cole (Steven Seagal) was once a government intelligence operative known as "The Glimmer Man," because he could move so quickly and quietly that his victims would only see a glimmer before they died. Having left the Glimmer Man job behind him, Cole—steeped in mysticism and not used to working with others—has become a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. Cole is partnered with Jim Campbell (Keenen Ivory Wayans), a tough, no-nonsense cop who has little patience for Cole's New Age philosophies and outsider attitude. Cole and Campbell have to set aside their differences when they're assigned to track down a serial killer called "The Family Man," for his habit of killing entire households.

So Seagal is steeped in mysticism and is not used to working with others...hmmm, and we have a no nonsense cop. And they have to work together to solve murder cases. OK you may have seen something like this before but wait. Seagal demonstrates his powers in one scene, in a morgue overseeing a dead body his colleague comments on the dead girls dead body. Seagal "A little bit too nice" then promptly takes a scalpel and removes her breast implants and tracks down her identity from this. You had to see it to believe its outrageousness. In another scene, Seagal demonstrates that he can actually fly.

Usually Steven Seagal AND Keenen Ivory Wayans are straight to video guys, but not this time (1996). How can you not watch this when it's on Korean TV at 3am? Somehow they got Brian Cox to stoop low enough to be in this film. Shame on you Brian. Literally unbelievably Wikipedia claims this had a budget of $45,000,000. If so I wonder what it was spent on. Clearly not on Seagal's wardrobe. Perhaps on his lunch.

It is easy to parody Seagal and many have done so, but just like Jason Staham, fun can had watching his films. Yes the quality goes down film by film, as we see him grow larger and larger. Yes Seagal carries not weight of expectation but only the weight of ridicule. BUT how can you not enjoy this clip?

I guess my standards are slipping blame Korea! Glimmer Man, I think I have seen the film maybe four times here during my time in the ROK and I still don't know how it ends because I always fall asleep. A perfect cure for insomnia so everyone is happy.

Friday, 22 May 2009

A day in the life (in Korea)

Today was another glorious day here in Daegu, Korea with no clouds in the sky so I tried to chronicle my walk to work with some photographs. I ended up taking more than I expected to. Unlike most people, I live less than ten minutes away from the workplace, which has it's obvious advantages especially no travel costs. With travel time for short there are only a limited amount of things that I come into contact with. Despite seeing these things almost every day for the past nineteen months sometimes there are a few surprises on my way. Things I didn't really look at before. Unlike my last area, I pass no bars.

This is the street I live. I can't tell you it's name as there is no sign post. Oh to be a postman in Korea.

My street viewed in the opposite direction.

In my area and I guess many residential places like this cables fill the skyline. Disturbing for someone from the UK, but I've seen similar in Canada.

Littered around every street in my town are academies where you can learn many things. This one is for piano students. Co-workers of mine live above here. Do they love piano too?

Onto the small park just seconds away from my house. A place to rest and hide from the sun if you choose to.

You can find several of these in Chilgok, the area I live in. Free exercise machines, mostly loved by middle aged women. I have never seen these particular ones used though.

More park shots. Kids often play baseball or basketball ball here on weekends or evenings. Night time in particular is very popular.

In the middle of the park is a slide and other activities for children. My area is pretty child centric which is admirable when you conside how many kids live close by.

Another shot of the slide and swings. In the background are flats, a church and a restaurant that serves pigs intestines. I'm never going in there!

A rare sight. A gardener! Tending the grass of the park. When I say grass I mean straw with some green patches scattered around.

First noticed this today. I can't believe I have never seen it before. Presumably rubbish.

The fountain that I pass by. Only alive come Summer time. Kids also love just seeing this in action.

Some kind of sculpture. I cannot give more information. I kind of like it but don't know why.

Street sellers with fruit on offer. These guys only seem to be here on Fridays. I'm yet to buy from them. Fruit here can be found on so many street corners.

I first noticed these 'berries' if that's what they are, today. Perhaps I should take out more time to notice my surroundings in future.

Next to the ATM machine is this stone turtle. I presume there is a significance to Korean culture as I have seen several in other places, but I don't know what they mean. Yet.

Again, another new find. Though slightly off my normal path I took a further look around and found this kiddies slide.

Apartment buildings dominate the skylines of pretty much most cities in Korea. How different is my life to these people? Very. I do find these omnipotent structures a tad depressing.

More 'grass'. Well Korea's equivalent to grass. How can you live in a country with no grass? It's weird but you get used to it. Pretty much no-one has lawns here.

Another sculpture, this time with seating. Again I like this but can't explain why.

A corner shop with a delivery. This time the truck has brought only alcohol. Koreans love alcohol but their beer is appalling. If you get the chance, try some Korean soju. It's vaguely similar to vodka but not as strong.

Nearly at work now. Just minutes away. Though I do only live minutes away.

A corner shop with good outside. It's common to see some of their items actually outside the shop. This could never happen in the UK.

Academies dominate this street, which also has restaurants and convenience stores. It's absurd how many shops and buildings selling education that fill the skies here.

Not just ordinary buildings here, but restaurants (there must be millions of those in Korea), phone shops and PC rooms. Those along with academies are ubiquitous here.

A fish restaurant. The fish tanks are hidden because it's not opening time yet but when open you can see whatever fish they have close up.

A church. Koreans also love churches. This time two side by side. I'd like to know the ratio of churches to people who go in them. I wonder how they fill them.

And here we are. My workplace on the right hand side of the picture and here the day begins in earnest. As they say, it's not the destination, it's the journey.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Seeing double in the classroom

Defying all expectations, the small creature (I believe it's a terrapin) that my student brought to class has survived and has now been joined by another of its species. Again, the two animals roamed about my classroom as I tried to teach, half in fear of standing on them or accidentally kicking them. The student who owns them said she's saving up for another one - we'll see if I teach her next month. Once more I found myself in disbelief at how badly the kids in class tried to treat the animal. nothing cruel, just ignorance as to how pets should be treated. The terrapins were kept in a small pencil case whilst resting. Korea cannot truly call itself a nation of animal lovers.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

More signs of Korean Summer

Summer beckons us in Daegu, Korea. I will reserve my contempt for the coming season until later and try to enjoy the days that pass by. I don't know what the temperature is right now and it doesn't feel 'that hot' but it is slowly creeping up on us. Tell-tale signs that appear now and then are adding up. This week the air conditioner has been on in the office and also in the classrooms without any request from the teachers. Personally I feel that this is coming on slightly too early because when Summer hits, it hits hard and I doubt we will feel the true benefit of the cool air conditioner - I won't even have my fan on for a few weeks. I try to tough it out as long as possible because it's worked for me in the past. The air con won't go on till July at my apartment unless I am struggling. Another sign is this fountain that I pass by everyday to work which is only turned on during the Summer. I will jump in this at some point. It is inevitable.

Korean elephant: more class artwork

My students capacity to both amuse themselves and avoid studying continues to surprise and delight me.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Korean roses in Spring

Saturday's rain was a welcome change for some of us here in Korea and by chance I came over some more local scenery including these roses.

Not to be: Liverpool dream over for now

So that's it then for another season. One game left but the best we Liverpool can finish is in 2nd place. Despite setting a personal club record best points total in the Premier League, Man Utd's draw on Saturday gives them a record equalling eighteenth title, level with us. A feat that not even the most pessimistic fans could have seen coming back in 1990.

Is it never to be? A question most reds will surely be asking themselves right now. Sure there this season was good at times. High points being two league wins over Utd, but too often we flattered to deceive just when we needed to perform. Signs of progress? Definitely. Benitez can be pleased that we have lasted the course but the margin between success and (ultimately) failure is small, but we are lacking in some areas. Food for thought for the backroom staff then. What cannot be argued is that this Summer is a pivotal point in the future of the club.

Rick Parry's (welcome) ousting means we face an uncertain immediate future until a new Chief Executive is appointed. Rafa has what he wanted - careful what you wish for? The press reports suggest the owners loans will be restructured but the debacle of club ownership still rumbles on with no end in sight. And lastly, the matter of Summer club transfers. It is clear, as Rafa is inclined to say, that 'we' don't have much money to spend. I do not envisage us having a large transfer war chest. But we MUST buy and buy quality not quantity. Last season's transfers hindered us rather than helped. A repeat just cannot be allowed to happen.

The side is desperate for three significant signings. Players for the flanks and a striker. One thing is for certain, the other sides will spend and maybe heavily - especially Chelsea. Continued press reports suggest Alonso may be sacrificed to sign Gareth Barry. I doubt any Reds fan would like that as Alonso has inarguably had his best season at Anfield. What is certain is that players will have to leave. Voronin, Dossena, Itandje, Deggen and maybe Babbel and Riera won't be missed but will hardly bring in the money for super signings. Replacing Hyypia's professionalism and influence in the squad may prove difficult too. It all points to three massive months for Liverpool FC. Will we push on, stand still or fall back like we did under Houllier? It could still end on an even sourer note. There's the small matter of the Champions League final in Rome. Viva España!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Star Trek chair update

My Star Trek chair has died!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A window in Korea

I cannot deny that I am a slight mini-slump at work almost certainly brought on by the warmer weather. The realisation that my job may continue for another seventeen months is a blessing and a curse. Guaranteed wages and a chance to save. Potential tedium and growing indifference in store. If my company re-signs me then I have until October 2010 to go, doing the same thing, seeing largely the same students. Easy though it may appear, it becomes less and less enjoyable. A slow erosion of joy as the realisation takes full hold that the 'game' is far from over. I look out of the windows in my office at work and contemplate the future. Both mine and Korea's.

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