Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Blood, sweat and beers

Every few weeks or so I try to push myself harder when I go to hapkido especially as a test appears on the horizon. This is because I often feel that I'm not giving it everything when I train even though I always have the best intentions. At the moment pushing myself harder is very difficult. We're in Summer and it's not just roasting outside but inside buildings get deceptively hot. I am sweating buckets every night, washing my uniforms nearly every night too.

From time to time I see my technique improve and it's really a thrill. I still see myself as a novice who is bumbling his way through the ranks but when you can see and feel yourself getting better and doing things you couldn't previously then it makes all the effort worthwhile. Right now I am laying off the beers despite the extreme temptations provided by the heat. I'm crossing my fingers that it works and that I can lose weight, become healthier and also save some money. It won't last but for now my intentions remain good.

Today I trained as hard as my body and the heat would let me (not as hard as I want to though). I took my camera to film a move or two that I've been working on for many many months but have started to perform ok. In the video I am doing a neck spring and sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can't. Usually I do this while in motion (jumping up and backward then rolling backwards to spring up onto my feet) but I've been trying to do it sitting at the start. The clip was taken at the end of a long day (midnight) and at the end of the training session. If you stumble on this blog and watch this clip you may think it's easy to do or not impressive - and maybe you're right, but I know that I've tried for months and months to do make this look a little easy and it feels good to get something right after struggling for so long. I still look a little awkward but things are improving.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Guns in American church. Bang bang

I read with some surprise and disgust this article from the BBC where a pastor in the US state of Kentucky has encouraged his parishioners to come to church with handguns. One particular quote sprung to my attention: "If it were not for a deep-seated belief in the right to bear arms, this country would not be here today". The article is very interesting and enlightening for someone who does not live in or has never been to America. The rationale of the pastors actions are to encourage safe gun ownership. If everyone in your neighbourhood has a gun then you probably will have to end up buying one too just to defend yourself but if nobody has one, then why would you ever need one?

I am glad to live in a country right now where crime is not overt and in your face. Even as a victim of crime in Korea I still feel a hell of a lot safer than I did back in England. I walk the streets here oblivious to the worries of the world and I hope that is the way it stays. I still find the sight of a gun shocking. You do see some people in Korea with guns, but they are usually bank workers, postal office workers or police officers. I don't really agree with regular police officers having guns anyway, but at least they may need one at some stage. I find it hard to comprehend why you would bring a gun to church, surely the last place you would need one. Well intentioned the pastor of the church may be, this is plain wrong. Violence begets more violence, does it not?

TV turn off

Perhaps now is the time to cut down on the old TV. Recent changes to my (apparently free) cable package have been on the negative side. I probably watch too much TV anyway but I like to go to sleep hearing some speaking English and am now restricted to either falling asleep to CNN or some film that's been on a million times before. Whilst many of the channels remain the same, some, like the Discovery channel have been replaced by a Fashion channel. Some of the more low profile film channels have been replaced with even lower quality 'entertainment' channels that show repeats of shows up to and beyond two years old - still better than having Dad's Army on endlessly! A quick flick through the channels tell me that there is now a fishing channel, a Chinese language channel, a Japanese language channel, two channels that show old men and women singing all day, three religious channels, two video game channels and two golf channels. I hate golf.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Robots in disgusT

If you have not seen the new Transformers film, don't bother. Hitting yourself in the head for 147 minutes will cause you to feel the same way as I did coming out of the cinema yesterday. At least I can say that it didn't cost me much. God bless Koreas cheap ticket prices. If you have seen The Rock, Armageddon or unlucky enough to have seen Pear Harbour, then you've already seen most of this monstrosity already. This Summer there have been films of varying qualities but this is right at the bottom, making Wolverine look good. I look forward to talking about this at work on Monday.

Korean comedy and Jerry Lewis

This is one of the funnier things I have seen on Korean TV recently.

Maybe it's a case of damning with faint praise. 48 million people seem to like it though. I think that probably means 6 billion people probably may not make it. I could be wrong. Perhaps.

Korea does not seem to have what we would traditionally call comedians/comediennes, someone who either tells jokes, anecdotes or has funny observations on life. Korea has people called 'Gag Men' or 'Gag Women'. They are people who don't tell jokes no invariably do they do say funny things. They SEEM TO just say funny things based on other peoples comments and their comments come quite quickly and frequently. They seem to be reactionary 'entertainers' who would be close to redundant if they had no-one in their company to make comments about. Some of these people are definitely funny, even if my lack of the language prevents me from being in on most of the jokes I can say some of them can be funny. There are a few people on the TV that you can definitely say are smart and quick witted but from my time here I can only say that Korea has no comedians, they have only clowns.

Every now and again here in Korea you seem to notice that trends here are off the pace from other countries - understandable as Korea is a country that has come a long way quite quickly, but is playing catch-up. However, Korean comedy is sixty years behind the Western World. Watching Korean TV makes Jerry Lewis look funny. I have never said the words "Jerry Lewis" and "funny" in the same sentence before, without using the prefix of "UN" (unless I am talking about The Day the Clown Cried). There is a place in the world for slapstick comedy but that place shouldn't be in the form of mainstream entertainment. For that is what we have here as the norm in Korea, slapstick comedy (custard pie in the face standard) usually at a hundred miles an hour and repeated week after week.

Gag Man is perhaps my least favourite Konglish word as it is usually a euphemism for unfunny and an indicator of a poor show. The high level Gag Men and Gag Women are on TV here ad infinitum and present shows on both TV and radio. At the top end they are on a lot of money, relatively. For what it's worth, the people who are on the comedy shows appear to be good at what they do, but that doesn't mean what they do is good. It is family entertainment stuff, but by that I mean that you do not require a brain to understand or think about what's going on, the lowest common denominator. Maybe there is an underground comedy circuit. Once again I wonder if Korea is hiding something from me.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

A room with(out) a view: ESL life in Korea

The exciting day to day life of an ESL teacher in Korea whilst at 'home'.

There are no bars on my prison here, but I'd hazard a guess that the view from a Strangeways prison cell is better than the one I am faced with. There is also precious little sunlight at times given my present surroundings, leaving my home here dark quite often and making me feel like someone in the Taliban hiding in a cave in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The pictures here contradict those thoughts but are taken at noon in Summer with sunlight especially strong.

The view from my bedroom window. A delicious shade of faded grey/white with the added bonus of being able to see someone else's window

A side view from my bedroom window. Can you see how close four buildings are together?

Different side view from my bedroom window, with more buildings.

Here is the view from my kitchen window, much better than from my bedroom. As you can see I am facing another apartment, this time with the added bonus of seeing someone else's room - they can see me too.

A side view from the kitchen. not too much to see.

Finally something to actually see. Some remnants of plant life (a rarity in Korean surroundings) and also the street.

The walls in my apartment building here appear to be paper thin. You can hear almost anything. Other buildings where I live are so close together that you can here what everyone else is doing too. Right now we are in the midst of Summer heat so most people leave their windows open which exacerbates the problem. I often listen to music on my computer which to me is not loud at all but when heard from outside is clearly audible. I haven't had any complaints so far but that's probably because of the noise coming from everywhere else.

Babies screaming, doors slamming, children yelling, people jumping up and down the stairs of the apartment building, people having showers, people crying, drunken men shouting at their wives, pianos and recorders playing in the day time, men hoiking up phlegm and spitting, grown men shouting over alcohol, airplanes flying overhead, sirens that sound like the four minute warning and continue to disturb me, vans selling fruit and vegetables that carry loudspeakers blaring out messages and many many more sounds that I hear at various times of the day and night in my apartment. My current 'favourite' is the religious types who knock on peoples doors and then ask for some water, then try to stay in the apartment. This is life in Korea.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Robocop's family feud

Today in one class I sat and pitied one of my students. I teach one particular child (10 or 11 years old) who appears to be joyless and miserable. He is smart but possibly introspective, insular and seemingly emotionless, like Robocop. It is also almost impossible to make him smile. His work is OK but he cannot interact with other students and appears to have no friends in class (though seems to make no effort to). At his level (young and low ability), 90% of students just want to talk about something, have fun and just be happy kids, but not this boy!

Today's class theme was family. I tried to get the students to try some kind of word association with family. I got some decent words back from most kids but this boy kept coming up with words like "bad", "hate" and "terrible". Later on I got the class to come up with a sentence about one member of their family. Without a trace of emotion in his voice or face he said "I hate my father". Poor lad, I wonder what his father has done to get his son to come up with that. Like father like son? Korea still continues to puzzle me.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A room in Korea: ESL teacher homelife

For most ESL teachers here in Korea their housing is much smaller than where they come from. You usually live alone so there is no need for extra rooms. Life is more spartan than 'we' are used to, but you adapt and get more used to the conditions and the limitations. In my current housing I have one basic room where I live. For better or for worse that is what many teachers have.

I don't consider my home here to be good but as it's just me that lives here I am now used to it. If I had to live here for the rest of my life I would probably go mad in my little 'Korean padded cell' though. Of course I have a bathroom and a kitchen too, but they are pretty small. A few months ago I took this video to show what my apartment looked like. My room has changed a little since then but not a lot. From what I know, some Korean homes are a little similar, just on a larger scale due to there being more than one person living there. If you come to Korea to work, don't expect to live in a palace of a penthouse suite.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Jackie Chan Mystery

From time to time I find myself watching things on TV here in Korea over and over again. I've seen certain things so many times that I know what line is coming next - a sure sign of being here too long. One thing that has always puzzled me is this. The film, Drunken Master is a staple of Korean cable TV and is on probably at least once every two or three weeks but... for some reason that I can't work out or find on the Internet, the film is in two languages.

What I mean is that of course this being a Hong Kong/Chinese action film the language spoken is Cantonese not English. When it's on TV here in Korea there are Korean subtitles but the spoken language is half in Cantonese and then half of it is in English (badly dubbed but very funny American accents). The alternation between languages is seemingly random and without thought and has no baring on the plot whatsoever. It remains a mystery to me but must be something to do with various dubbing's of the film distributed. Despite this, the film remains a delight.

Korea loves Jackie Chan, and why not? What is not to love about this guy? I think Korea loves the fact that firstly many of his (earlier) films are excellent. Korea also loves Martial Arts so many people will have seen his films over the years and perhaps taken more out of them than other audiences. Jackie Chan is also Asian and a star in Hollywood. Korean stars are rare in America. For me, his style brings back early childhood memories of films by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. I await the next time I come across the Korean Jackie Chan mystery.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Ralph Macchio and me

I've just spent the last few days downloading and watching the Karate Kid series (Obviously not the fourth film, starring Hillary Swank) purely and simply because I am in Korea so therefore I have time to kill. I hadn't seen any of the three films since watching them on video over twenty years ago and I rather enjoyed revisiting my youth. There's something about watching 1980's films that I cannot resist. Surely that's because it was the decade I grew up in. So many 80's films are cheesy and cheap looking but have some naive or innocent quality that I seem to enjoy. Here is a sobering thought, Ralph Macchio is 47. Time sure flies

Monday, 15 June 2009

Korean food delights: Part 2 삼겹살

Practically everyone in Korea has tried eating galbi (thin cuts of marinated meat which is then barbecued) at least once, but a similar dish here is considered by many people to be almost as good. Samgyeopsal or 삼겹살 is thick fatty pork slices which you cook alongside some vegetables just as you would galbi. This meal is similar but different to bacon. Similar to bacon found in North America but different from the bacon more popular in the UK. Samgyeopsal translates to three layers of meat (visible before and after cooking). It has taken me quite a long time to acquire a taste for this but recently my girlfriend and I stopped by a local restaurant to try and the experience was much better than the other times I'd tried it.

First you place the meat onto the hot plate where you barbecue it with some vegetables. As you can see there is a lot of fat on the meat, which on one hand adds some flavour but on the other makes it a little too greasy for some people.

Here you have a slice of it nearly ready to eat. You have to cook this a little longer than galbi.

A view of what you see on the hot plate. Here there is 삼겹살, mushrooms, kimchi, potatoes and garlic all cooking.

After the meat has cooked you can either just eat it, or as most people do you can wrap it up in lettuce leaves with other vegetables then eat it. Here I have some spicy sauce which compliments the meat, and some mushroom and garlic too.

This really is the best way to eat it but it's a little messy at times.

As per usual there are many side dishes with your meal. Koreans love side dishes. Me, I don't usually care for them but as always you are given a selection with whatever you order and wherever you go.

Proof that I am in Korea.

So the meal is over and the restaurant is about to close with the staff eating their meal before going home. As you can perhaps see, the place I went to here is bigger than most restaurants in Korea. thankfully here you can sit down to enjoy your meal unlike some places. While this is not my favourite Korean meal by a long way, it is a very popular one here and there are many places where you can go and eat this.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

One in a million

According to some people, the millionth new English word has been declared. Highly unlikely indeed, but here is a link to a story about it. I just don't believe this. An interesting discussion on this can be found here. Bravo Jeremy Paxman. I wonder how many words there are in Korean. The words I hear at work and in the classroom (in Korean) appear to be pretty much the same week by week, day by day. But they can't be, can they? One particular word drives me mad.

One thing is for certain, the average Korean has a very poor English vocabulary. No matter how much money the country throws at learning the English language, the low level ability will continue until someone realises it's time to change the way people study and puts less emphasis on studying to pass exams and more on actually communicating with people. Perhaps I will pay more attention to trying to give my students more words to learn. Perhaps they will listen

Is Web 2.0 really a word? I have my own favourite English words that change from time to time. 'Lenticular' and 'Decorum' always sound nice to but nothing beats 'Yes'.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

99% certain

So this week I got the email I was hoping for, confirming that my academy wants to know if I am interesting in extending my stay with them. It's always good to know there is a job on the table if I want it. I emailed them back asking what pay options are on offer and got confirmation of what I thought would be on the table. And it is a pretty good option, pay-wise. I've indicated that I am 99% certain to stay but there is still time to change my mind (probably another month). If I stay for one more year that will be over fifty months working in Korea with only a three month break during the middle. A long time for anybody. My current situation basically demands that I stay here and save as much money as possible. Two more summers here in store for me I guess. I know I will be staying but it's time to mentally weigh up the pros and cons.

Student hit-list

I've started to take a closer look at what some of my students are doing when they think I am not watching. Whenever they get a chance to put pencil to paper they do not hesitate. This is the latest offering from one student whose favourite sentence is "Kill the people." and who seems to have some kind association with death and destruction. Perhaps he is waiting for the North to invade and a chance to get some his hands on some weapons. I am last on his list, after revenge. At least he spelled my name correctly!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Today. Classes repeat sections of a story that the students have studied over the past few days and that the class has gone over during the first part of the lesson.

Opening words: "Sam looks at the stars in the sky. 'I want to be an astronaut'...."

Student: "Sam looks at the stars in the sky. 'I want to be an Australian'...."

Monday, 8 June 2009

Snapshot of Seoul

Back from a weekend spent in Seoul, capital of South Korea. Again we both enjoyed our time there despite not venturing out from most of the places we usually we go when in Seoul - we stayed in the Myeongdong area. The short trip also again reinforced the belief that I am right in not choosing to live and work in Seoul. It's a nice place to go to with infinitely more things to do in Daegu but if I lived there I am sure most of my money would be spent on entertainment, going drinking and buying unnecessary things. That's not to say I like living in Daegu, but right now I'm here to work and make money, not to drink all my money away in bars. Here are a few pictures of what we saw.

Another language

One of today's classes was about someone whose dream was to be an interpreter. As a gentle opener I threw out this question

Me: "Can you each give me a language that people speak? Don't repeat what another student has said"

Students: "Korean", "English", "Chinese", "Japanese", "Spanish" ......*pause*......"Body language!"

Friday, 5 June 2009

Yanks for nothing. LFC red alert

The football season is over but today's British press is focusing greatly on Liverpool Football Club. Despite the continued progress of the playing side the coverage today is of doom and gloom and rightly so. By all accounts the finances of the club are a mess. Even though the club recorded a record high turnover, Liverpool's latest accounts reveal that Liverpool paid £36.5 million in interest on their debts in the financial year ending July 31, 2008. If the current owners don't leave the club we will become paralysed by debt and the recent optimism will be gone. Today's read is indeed a depressing one for any Liverpool fan. The interest loans are potentially crippling.

The others in the so called big for of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea continue to remain in significant debt but probably less alarming than Liverpool. The long term future of the club is the most paramount thing but what have we had in the short term? Despite Man Utd being taken over by the Glazers they have just recorded their third straight Premier League title and got to the Champions League final again whilst signing a number of lucrative commercial deals. Chelsea continue to be funded by Ambramovich via soft loans and with the promise of more summer spending. Arsenal had a modest season by their standards but they have actual bricks and mortar to show for their debt which will bring in substantial funds in the future.

And Liverpool? Despite all the promises of the new stadium coming, so far nothing. Without the new stadium we continue to fall further behind financially week by week and also would appear to be a less attractive option for any potential new owners. We continue to miss out on transfer targets as evidenced by Gareth Barry's move to Manchester City this week. Will Benitez be given enough transfer cash to sign any top quality player?

There are more questions than answers for this regime and the sooner they are forced out the better. what will happen if the club cannot refinance their credit deals with the banks? The Americans have until July 24 to refinance their credit deals with Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia. Could this be another key day in the future of LFC? It would appear that Liverpool is a house build on sand, hopefully not quicksand. What would Bill Shankly think?

Observation update

Last weeks observation seems to have gone better than I thought. I got my feedback this week and it was pretty positive stuff. Some things to improve on but reassurances that my classroom management is OK. Now I have to wait for a new contract offer. That may take a month or so to come as my contract doesn't expire until October this year. I now cannot see any reason (so far) not to be offered new contract. The sooner it's done the better and then I can start doing a lot of planning.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Déjà vu. Again

Today at work I taught 6 classes. Two of those classes were double periods - there are eight periods on Wednesdays, each consisting of thirty five minutes. Out of the eights periods, I taught the same lesson plan for the first six periods. I found myself teaching material that I could swear I've taught thirty times before in my twenty months at this workplace. The pictures for the classes looked the same as the ones I've been supplied with for twenty percent of all previous Wednesday lessons. This was not really a case of déjà vu, but more 'can I keep teaching this again and again without wanting to shoot myself?'. I feel a little like Dr. Sam Beckett in the TV series Quantum Leap, lost in time wondering if and when I will make the leap home. At the end of the day it was a relief to leave the building but I know I will go down this path again some time soon. Tomorrow is another day, with much more positives in store. This weekend should be fun too.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Slide away

We could be set for another North Korean missile launch some time this week here in Asia. Apart from concerns over the stability of the peninsula and the region, something else has started to come into my thinking. What will happen to the Korean Won ()? Whatever happens, the currency of South Korea is unlikely to benefit. The currency has fluctuated over the past year or so and has not been so favourable with the British £ so I am anxious about where the possible Korean uncertainty may affect things. What will happen to my money?! I keep an eye on things quite regularly but if the rate starts to slide at a more dramatic rate maybe it will be time to take all my money out. I may be in a job where I don't have to work as hard as some people but no-one wants to see their money slide away.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Korean food delights: Part 1 해장국

From time to time friends and people I've met or taught have asked me what Korean food is my favourite. Over the years I have changed my opinion, but still love the things I did when I first came here back in 2005. I now have a definite favourite. A few months ago a restaurant opened up near my workplace called 뼈큰 청진동 해장국. It's open 24 hours a day and sells different Korean dishes, many of which are very good. The restaurant sells something called 해장국, or haejang gook which is essentially a soup dish.

I have tried many meals at this place and my favourite without a doubt is 뼈큰 전골. this translates roughly to a casserole dish using pork backbone with spinach, leeks, mushrooms, rice cakes all thrown into soup. It might not sound nice or even look good but it's very very tasty.

The meat is already cooked but you crank up the heat on a gas range and wait for the meal to come to the boil. After simmering for a short while it's ready to eat. You place your meat into a bowl along with the vegetables and soup and separate the meat from the bone. There can be quite a lot of bone and it can be messy, but eating is worth the wait.

For me the soup is the best part. Very rich, flavoursome and a little spicy too.

This meal is very filling but for some, like me, there is more to come if you so wish. My girlfriend and I always order some rice which is fried in the pan that the meal was cooked (of course most of the soup/meat has been removed) with a few vegetables and seaweed. Koreans love rice but to me just eating rice is not enough, it has to go with something else. I place this rice in a bowl which I saved some of the soup and create a new dish which again is very good

Like every other Korean meal there are several side dishes but here I love the kimchi. I've never liked kimchi until this place. It's crunchy, spicy and tasty. Like most Korean meals this is cheap and tasty and has some nutritious value too. Definite value for money and always satisfying

North vs South

Again not many people are talking about North Korea, here in The South. Attention has largely been focused on the suicide of ex-President Roh Moo Hyun. and its aftermath People seem to be taking the situation a little too lightly for my liking. Today I took the step of registering with the British Embassy. Giving some contact details and little else so that if 'something happened' in Korea then they could easily contact my family and let them no I'm safe. British citizens who spend a prolonged period of time abroad are advised to do this, and I've been putting it off but recent events made me think again just in case things get significantly worse. The alert level has been raised on North Korea and I wonder how things will turn out.
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