Thursday, 30 July 2009

Contract offer

Good news this week. I received an email from one of my managers asking if we can sort out my next contract as soon as possible. In the email was a bunch of options that I can choose. More days vacation means less pay naturally but the pay offer is fair when I consider the actual amount of work and preparation I do. I've just emailed my manager back with confirmation that I'm opting for three weeks vacation (days off of my choosing) and raise of roughly £75 a month. The contract offer was expected but it's always nice to get things sorted as soon as possible. The actual contract is about £500 a month more than what I started on back in 2005 and with two extra weeks holiday. If things go to plan, I will be leaving Korea in October 2010, so just over fourteen months left here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Xabi Alonso fiasco

If todays reports are to be believed, Xabi Alonso's exit from Anfield could be just days away. The player has just come off the back of probably his best season in professional football and his value to the club is at its highest so this needs to be sorted out asap - one way or another. If Alonso is to stay he needs to say so and quickly. If he wants to go, he needs to spell it out crystal clear. Real Madrid have shelled out unprecedented fees this Summer but are trying to hold the club to ransom by not budging on their valuation and dragging this out for as long as they can. I can't see Rafa folding on his valuation so somethings got to give. Madrids whinging and moaning over the price tag is embarrassing and pathetic.

This ongoing transfer saga is as tedious as last Summers Gareth Barry story but for the first time since Michael Owen, a big name player looks like he will be leaving Liverpool. Alonso's importance to LFC is strong but not as strong as Gerrard, Torres or even Mascherano. He can be replaced but like Ronaldo leaving for Madrid, a like for like replacement will be tough to find. It could mean an alteration of tactics, maybe another striker coming in or perhaps a support striker being signed. One thing is for sure, Liverpool still won't have enough money to sign the players the fans really want. How much of the estimated £26-30million Rafa wants will he have to spend?

If all parties want to do a deal, then one can be done within hours (Arbeloa proves the two clubs are talking) and I expect one to be done by the end of this week. As I write this Alonso is still a Liverpool player but surely if he was going to stay he'd have come out and said so by now. Alonso out could mean David Silva and a few others coming in. Would this dilute the squad in terms of quality while adding quantity? Do the club still have time to sign the right players? He's a fans favourite and it will be interesting to hear how Rafa spins this one IF Alonso goes.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Latest hapkido test

Saturday's belt test has come and gone. On the whole it was a success but there is still much work to be done and many many improvements to be made. I didn't win any prizes and didn't expect to after my test but I did accomplish some things that I had been aiming for. The test took place at my dojang with roughly fifty other students in attendance, twenty or so adults and children watching and four judges observing.

On the negative side, my kicking was poor and as usual the self defence moves were not as fluid as they are in training - due to only meeting my test partner on the day of the test hence only being able to practice this with him once. So there is definite room for improvement. On the positive side, the combination moves went better than previous tests and I was also fairly relaxed on test day. So, looking at my situation, everything (test related) that I have practiced over the past months I can now do. I wonder what things I will be learning in the future. Maybe fine tuning is what's in store for now.

Watching the students then back at myself on the video, I feel and look ungainly and lacking the grace some of the youngsters have. Perhaps that will never come and I am realistic with how far I can go with this. It is a nice feeling though to see things getting better, things you practiced but couldn't do working out when it mattered.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

(an) End in sight?: Hapkido test approaching

My bi-monthly hapkido test is coming up on Saturday morning. I feel very confident. No nerves, my technique is sound, all the self defence moves practiced and honed over the last few weeks. There is no fear at all of not passing. How well I do in the test is another matter. I have reached the stage where I want to look good in the test. I don't want a pass, I want an unequivocal pass and one where I can pull off all the moves I attempt.

Deep down I also want some kind of recognition from the judges who attend my dojangs tests - four or five awards are given out at each test and I believe I came close last time only to be beaten by a boy who is young enough to be my son - humbling indignation! Being the only foreigner at my dojang I kind of represent not just myself but other countries as well and I feel it's important to prove that not just Koreans can do well at this martial art.

Day after day I practice a series of moves that I will 'perform' in the test. I hope adrenalin will push me to some kind of success. Niggling doubts remain on my actual ability but month by month I improve. This is not a feeling. It is borne out by being able to do things I couldn't previously. Hopefully I can show some of my progression this weekend. The tests starts in the morning and I am expecting mine to take place at maybe 12 or 12:30 in the afternoon. Hopefully there will be a nice nights rest for me on Friday.

Anyway, this test, should I pass will put me at a level described by one of my Korean trainers as 'almost 2nd degree'. After some talking on the progression I am going through I finally found out that it looks like (this is not set in stone but it is my understanding) that in September I will take the test to become a 2nd degree hapkido black belt. Finally some news that I have been waiting on for almost a year. This has been keeping me going at times in Korea, the prospect of getting that belt.

Later on I found out that it is supposed to take three more years to become a 3rd degree hapkido black belt. So unless something totally insane and unpredictable such as the exchange rate becoming outrageously good for me happens then that will be a ceiling on how high I can go at hapkido. Depending on how I feel it could be that I stop taking classes around March time next year. We'll see. Some big decisions in store for me after the turn of the year. If this weekend's test goes well I'll post it on this blog.

Sticks and stones: North Korea takes on Hillary Clinton

When North Korea speaks, the world listens. Partly because they are unstable and as a country are insane but also because nearly everything that is pumped out of their propaganda machine is hilarious. You can always rely on them to come out with something entertaining especially when responding to criticism (mainly from America).

Following another comment on the almost total isolation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the guys from the North drop a bombshell on the Obama administration. Clinton's comment: "There is no place to go for North Korea; they have no friends left that will protect them from the international community's efforts to move towards denuclearisation."

This came this from one of a North Korean spokesmen. "Her words suggest that she is by no means intelligent. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping. Anyone making misstatements has to pay for them."

So there you are, take that Clinton and Obama. Kapow - North Korean style. How can she recover from the mortally wounding blow of being called a pensioner AND a schoolgirl. I look forward to hearing more from Pyongyang in the future. Entertaining as always.

Monday, 20 July 2009


It's just started to throw it down here in Daegu, Korea. Thunder and lightning, the whole violent works - the loudest lightning I think I've ever heard. This is actually VERY VERY LOUD and I am thankful I didn't walk out to this after hapkido. I can see the lightning even through my kitchen window which has a restricted view of the outside world. This is the story of rainy season 2009. Compared to last year it has rained a lot but I wonder why this Summer this is happening at night. Most of the rain has come after midnight which is good for most people but not me. I like the rain, it reminds me of home and takes the sting out of the heavy Summer days. The rainy season is coming to an end possibly this week leaving us with eight or nine weeks of oppressive heat. Perhaps next Summer we will get some more day time rain. Again, always thinking about the future.

H1N1 testing

My school has started testing both the foreign and Korean teachers for the H1N1 virus (swine flu). This is not at the request of the staff at my branch but a request seemingly from the people at Head office. No big deal and to be honest if someone was sick at my school I think everyone would like to know asap. There have been reported cases of the virus in both Korea and in my city of Daegu so it seems like a sensible idea.

So far so good but why aren't the students being tested? They come into contact with far more people than us teacher do. Even though their schools have broken up for Summer they could still have been carrying this around. Anyway the testing process is basic (and possibly inadequate). Someone sticks an electronic instrument in your ear and press' a button and waits for the temperature to be taken. The process takes four seconds and is painless. I wonder what would happen IF someone had a high temperature, had to leave work and had to be taken to hospital. Would the school close down? Would I still get paid? All questions I hope never need asking.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Up and down

I'm struggling for motivation right now. I'd like to leave my job but there are three months left before I can pick up a considerable bonus, then twelve more months in store for me. Have I done all I can do here at work? That's the way it feels right now. Doing the same thing week after week. but that's how most people feel in their jobs isn't it? Perhaps this is just my feelings in the aftermath of another Wednesday where some of my higher level students have seem to have the imagination of a brick wall. I'm sure it's just a Summer lull with no immediate holiday to keep me going. Leaving isn't an option though for personal and financial reasons. Besides that, I'm not leaving Korea until I pick up my 2nd degree black belt in hapkido. When the weather eventually cools down and I get my break then things will be much better I'm sure. I may need some form of retail therapy this weekend.

Wednesday class artwork in Korea

Here are some more pictures from one of my Wednesday classes. Three of the students are levelling up so it's almost certain I won't teach them again. With the 'artistic director' and 'creative controller' moving on, I doubt there will be any more pictures like this on future Wednesday's. Perhaps we will do some actual studying in class next week. Though I will perhaps miss some of their fun and unique personalities I am glad I am not their grammar teacher.

It's last!

Unflattering picture!

Cooking Man and Big Man's girlfriend

Garbie house

Gavig - I don't know why I am surprised to see another wrong spelling of my name

What a charming expression. It's a common phrase amongst cheeky Korean youngsters

I think this is my favourite picture from this class

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Summer insomnia

I estimate that we have maybe nine weeks left of Summer and it can't end soon enough. The rainy season is coming to a close and the heat and humidity are now becoming less and tolerable and will only get worse. The problem is that now I cannot get anywhere near enough sleep. I'm finding it harder and harder to get some shut eye. As uncomfortable as the days can get here, the nights are worse. One good thing to come out of Summer so far is that I've lost a small amount of weight through good eating.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Spider on the stairwell

Spider on the stairwell, I wonder how your day was and whether it was better than mine.

More Wednesday art class

More Wednesday fun from one of my classes who are never boring or tired by student life in Korea. Each week I am 'surprised' by these students who have the lights turned off before I get to the classroom. I open the door and some kids are hiding, dancing, singing and shouting. One girl has taken a liking to poking me in the belly and calling me Big Man. And there are always these sketches on the board. At least they spell my name right.

We are buy the Gavin

Big Man ~ Gavin

Big Man - helloW

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

All work and no play

As the rain poured down for most of yesterday I was reminded of home once more, but I was not homesick. There is no great desire to return home just yet but there is a growing need to go somewhere, preferably soon.

I have had two vacation requests turned down lately - only for single days and unsurprisingly turned down because I asked at too short notice. Many of my co-workers are coming back from holidays, on them or ready to take them very soon. Countries such as The Philippines, Japan and Vietnam, places my co-workers are having travels and places that have never looked so appealing or so out of reach. It's in the rainy season so I don't feel desperate for a break but this will end sooner or later and I'm pretty certain I'll feel the need to recharge my batteries. All I can think about is travel, food and beer.

Looking on the bright side, having no holiday this Summer means I can save between £500-1,000 but some time away from working is probably needed. My next holiday is in October some three months away and will probably be four days in Hong Kong & Macau. Something to look forward to but still some way off in the horizon right now. One thing is sure, when the heat cranks up I won't want to be traipsing all over Korea. It's a stamp in my passport or nothing.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Koreas forbidden fruit

It is Sunday night and as usual there is nothing on TV and I don't really feel like leaving my apartment to go out either. I toy with the idea of getting some beer (there is none in my house) but I'm trying to cut down and also to lose weight but still the idea of having a beer interests me. I can either go to a shop to buy some or go to a bar. As I consider my next move I find an article on the BBC website - a commercial for North Korean beer. Wikipedia considers to be 'resembling a British ale' - can it be true? Whilst I admit to drinking South Korean beer from time to time it is vile, tasteless, impure and not really beer. Taedonggang beer on the other hand is reported to be stronger and significantly better than it's peninsula partners. At the time of writing, my findings lead me to believe that it is very hard to get hold of and is perhaps now not even imported to South Korea - god damn Korean instability. Perhaps if I lived in Seoul I could come across it. I truly wonder what this tastes like and whether or not I will ever get my hands on it here in the ROK.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

It's raining

We're currently in the middle of the rainy season where showers can last mere minutes or hours, at random times. It doesn't seem to be as heavy as previous summer's but it's a welcome respite from the usual seasonal temperatures (38°C+ when it really gets going). In this midst of this, I see that it has been hot back in the UK and some people are struggling to beat the heat - hard to believe and I wonder what 'they' would make of here.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Chinese babies 'sold'

This is a heartbreaking story. Even if you don't like children, people or China this is a chilling read. Perhaps it is not true but how can you put a price on a life, especially one so young? Is this really adoption or is it child trafficking? Immoral isn't a strong enough word. From time to time I bitch and moan about Korea as do many a foreigner here but at least these draconian measures are not in place on this peninsula.

Michael Jackson's most surreal speech. In the UK!

If you put every word in the English dictionary and every name of a celebrity over the past fifty years into a hat and had to pull out seven words and names then the chances are that 'Michael Jackson', 'Uri Geller', 'David Blaine,' 'football', 'Exeter City' and 'AIDS' would not come out. Even if they did you may say I can't make a sentence with those words. What is clear is that you probably could not come up with a story as surreal as what happened in real life just a few years ago.

Seven years ago, Michael Jackson (the biggest name on the planet) was made a director of Exeter City (small professional English football club) in a staggering effort to give illogical credence to a potential takeover of a lower league football team - the phrase, over egging the pudding doesn't quite cover this effort!. Long time spoon bender Uri Geller was central to the story and is captured alongside fellow oddball and illusionist David Blaine standing right next to Michael Jackson. You can read more on the incredible story here. Actually that story is a really good read.

This may not translate well to people outside of the UK, but to people from the United Kingdom, Exeter City, though a fine club with many merits are one of the smallest clubs in England and to a great many people are considered irrelevant. This is Michael Jackson, THE Michael Jackson turning up NOT at Man Utd, Liverpool or Arsenal, but Exeter City. Folks this is bizarre as I can remember. I remember this happening back then but it didn't truly dawn on me how insane it actually was. an amazing publicity stunt that in hindsight didn't work out (because this is Exeter!). A further report and clip of superior quality than that at the bottom of this post can be found here.

You cannot have avoided the news of Michael Jackson's death. Anyone over the age of twenty cannot help but be in some way affected by what has happened. When someone who everyone knows about and who everyone has an opinion of passes away then it is very hard to not spend some time, be it seconds or whatever mulling over a life of someone who has touched so many. I digress, ignore the video for it is irrelevant and frankly unwatchable, just listen to the audio of this surreal peace of Michael Jackon's remarkable history.

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