Monday, 31 August 2009

Something in the air

Am I imagining things or have the last few weeks been a cacophony of noise in the mornings? The novelty of change has become the sad inevitability of planes flying overhead virtually every morning out here in Daegu. In about three and a half years here, the last few weeks have been vastly different from previous times. I don't know what is going on. Has there been a new air base developed? I don't know the answer but I cannot help get the feeling that someone is preparing for something. Daegu has an airport and I can safely say that the noise is not coming from commercial airline flights. I wonder if this is happening just in Daegu or other parts of Korea.

Hapkido: Dedication and focus time

Four weeks to go before my 2nd degree Hapkido black belt test. That's only twenty days left of practice (Monday-Friday's). Right now I don't feel ready or perhaps as ready as I should be. I'm hoping that as the weeks fly by I will have learned enough new techniques to feel comfortable in myself.

The thought of gaining my 2nd degree belt has been keeping me going on a certain level for a while now. Pushing me to keep exercising, trying to improve myself and attempting to keep some form of discipline. I know that as long as I train hard enough I will pass the test but I feel that I am coming to the end of something rather than the beginning. Perhaps I will feel differently after the test. Lately I have considered learning another martial art concurrently.

Lately I have been preoccupied by a few things and not been training as hard as I should be. I need to redouble my efforts. One thing that will help is the temperature changing. Summer is coming to a close and it's much cooler at night than in previous weeks. Training now is now a pleasure instead of the torture of a few weeks ago.

Why is a 2nd degree black belt so important? It's not super important but there is a need and desire for me to come out of Korea with something (other than money) to show I haven't wasted my free time. For some that would be a bunch of part-time friends they have acquired on Facebook. For others it might be a good command of the Korean language. For me, getting a 2nd hapkido black belt will show to myself that I have committed myself to some form of improvement.

Black belts are relatively easy to get here, it just takes some time and a limited amount of dedication. However a 2nd degree black belt is about self improvement, honing things you have learned and devoting time to something you enjoy. In other words I am sacrificing something but it will all be worthwhile. Besides, the 2nd Dan belt looks cool.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Eyes wide open in Korea

Two days a week I have reading classes and while the students are doing their test at the beginning of the class I have about five-seven minutes to mark up to twenty six books. During this time I am also expected to check if they are copying each other doing the test too. I must check (very quickly) up to one hundred pages in total to see if they have completed the sections of their homework. I am not supposed to change any mistakes but I need to check who is doing the homework, if it's improving, if they keep making the same mistakes etc, etc.

It's not too difficult because I can scan pages quite quickly these days and I know what I am looking out for. However, most students think I don't actually look at the homework and just mark it with a pen. Even today, I noticed that two students had the same answers to every question, including grammar mistakes. Cheeky. As we can see here from one of my favourite students, some kids try and write anything and think they can get away with it, just like students everywhere probably. I ask myself what will they try next.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

No more surprises left in Korea (for me)

One of todays time killing activities involved roping in a student to write some names and later countries onto the whiteboard. Here one of my kids is writing names of teachers at my workplace. You would think that after teaching him for over six months he may be able to spell my name properly. He is clearly taking a lot of pleasure writing my name incorrectly. Every time I think I've seen every conceivable way of misspelling my name another one pops out. Gavien, sounds like some expensive French water.

I don't Chinese!

Whilst collecting some test papers the other day I noticed something on the reverse side. Sometimes my school tries to recycle paper used in previous tests but I never look at those. I chanced upon this piece of Korean English grammar on the second line. *I don't chinese*

Monday, 24 August 2009

Appreciation in chocolate form

Every once in a while a student does something nice that is very touching. Today a student gave me a small present when they really didn't need to but I felt quite touched. Last week one young student of mine left her pencil case in my class and went home when the lesson finished. I found it in the classroom and figured out whose it belonged to and gave it to my Korean partner teacher to return to her when we taught her again. I didn't give it any more thought but today the student thanked me and gave me some chocolate which really surprised me. What a great kid, I thought. Already one of my favourite students because she tries so hard and is polite and respectful I can now add appreciative too.

I don't teach to get presents, I teach to get money but I do enjoy being in the classroom and having fun with my students. I teach a wide range of personalities and being brutally honest, there are a small number of students that I teach that almost encourage you to want them to fail in some aspect of their life. Some of them, and it is a small minority, are just so ungrateful and rude that it makes it impossible to root for them. From time to time something like today makes you still want to try for those who don't appreciate it and don't deserve it.

Must win scenario for LFC: Sotirios Kyrgiakos (and the lack of ambition)

Liverpool are already off the pace in the league and we've only played two games so far. Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Man City have started strong and we can't afford to be playing catch up. Tonight's home game with Aston Villa is quite simply a must win for everyone concerned at Anfield. No mercy must be shown and we must go for the jugular with attacking play down the flanks. Benayoun must start and Voronin should not even be on the substitutes bench. A repeat of some of our pedestrian displays of last season cannot be tolerated. Our record against Villa in recent times has been excellent. More of the same is needed tonight.

Onto our recent addition. Our odious owners have stitched Rafa up by giving him relative peanuts to spend on transfers this Summer. One thing a lot of fans hadn't talked a lot about in pre-season was the exit of Hyypia and its implication. Quite frankly now the matter is serious as we look woefully stretched at the back. Of course the likes of Lescott and potentially Upson are ridiculously overpriced and overrated but, surely Hicks and Gillett could have given Benitez more than the reported £2million he was given last week. I'm hoping the new signing of Sotirios Kyrgiakos pays off but it would be a brave man to claim he's fit to replace Sammi Hyypia. A lack of ambition could end up costing much more than £2million. I'm reminded of a saying about peanuts and monkeys...

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Korean bug

Talking with a co-worker today revealed that he is having some problems with ants in his apartment. I mentioned that I couldn't remember seeing any where I live, only a few flies in the Summer. Guess I was tempting fate because later on I saw this guy on my kitchen floor. One thing that is different in Korea compared to the UK is insects. Over here they are bigger, much bigger. I've seen things that I think we just have back home. I don't know what this fella actually is, and I haven't seen 'him' before in my twenty two months in this apartment. I don't think it's a cockroach. It may be a silverfish or something I have never heard of. Whatever, I just hope we don't meet again.

Mr Hangover: Recovery, Korean style

Today I find myself suffering from a good nights drinking with some good people. Headache, bit of stomachache and general lethargy from last nights booze. Back home I would probably just go through the pain barrier and hope that the day passes quickly. Also I'd eat some greasy food like a bacon sandwich or something comforting like a curry. Out here I can't quite get the food I want to aid my recuperation so I have to think of something else.

Getting my hands on some Lucozade would probably do the trick but alas that's not an option out here in Korea either so I need a different pain reliever. I do not like taking any form of medicine but out here I choose to go down that route. A quick trip to the pharmacist and I got hold of some liquid that didn't taste too bad and two pills. Medicine here is cheap, around £1.75 for this hangover cure. It seems to be working. Adiós Mr Hangover, see you next time.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Cricket in Korea

Ever heard a cricket? Because that's the one thing that I cannot avoid when I open my window at night time. It must be a cricket. It's incessant. The noise is unmistakable. At times reassuring and soothing, the repetition is like a clock, never deviating from its pattern. In Korea there are many sounds that you cannot escape. Six weeks till my vacation. Tick tock.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Wednesday nightmare returns

Today I began four Wednesday's of potential hell. My schedule has changed and for the most part for the better. Despite losing some good students I am now teaching only four middle school classes so now I have more respectful and motivated kids in the classroom. The apparent trade off is that out of the 8 periods I teach, the first 6 are spent teaching the SAME material. So I teach the same lesson for 75% of the day. That's not good as I'm telling the same jokes, saying the same things and hearing the same predictable mistakes. For the last two periods I have a listening class where I for the most part press play and then pause on a CD player, occasionally explaining how to improve your chances of understanding a listening test. To be fair, today was the first day of this and it went better than I had predicted. I count down the Wednesday's left. Fifty Nine to go.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The clock starts now

Yesterday I signed a new contract to stay at my workplace for one more year. It starts in October and finishes at midnight October 10th 2010 (which is a Sunday so I will be finishing teaching two days earlier). I'm happy with the terms of my new contract. I'll be getting around £75 extra a month along with three weeks holiday of my choosing. I'm not as happy with the work I'm doing but the need to stay for a bit longer outweighs the need to come home for now. Got to make the most of the next sixty weeks here and got to start saving some serious money!

Monday, 10 August 2009

A senior moment

Last Friday one of my co-workers left for pastures new. Her contract had ended and she decided it was time to move on after two years of working at the same place. She has been there the entire time I have, joining some two months before me. Thinking about all the people I have worked with at my current workplace and out of all the teachers, managers, jaeshi teachers (university students who mark test papers) and even receptionists, there is now only one person who has been there since I joined and she's the assistant manager.

I won't even bother counting how many people I've worked with at my current school but at a guess it'll be around thirty. People come and go, a fact of life here making the job feel extremely transient. I guess now I am the 'senior teacher' meaning only that I have been here for the longest. Still there is some fourteen months left to go which hopefully will fly by. Well I'll count my money, run down the clock and enjoy making plans for my future. With the departure of one comes the entrance of another. Looking forward to what may lie in store.

Doctor Fish (passing time in Korea)

This weekend one of my girlfriends Canadian friends was in town with some of his family to visit Daegu and we showed them around a few places in the short time we spent together. Daegu not being a visitors paradise, left me thinking what we could do apart from visit a park, go shopping and go for a meal. After a while I thought of something fun that they probably may not be able to do back home. Dr. Fish - a popular one time experience for many foreigners that to come to work in Daegu. Something that you can find in other parts of Korea and other countries around the world too.

Put simply you put your feet in a small tank for fifteen minutes and fish bite your feet. Sounds disgusting but the fish aren't very big and the sensation, though uncomfortable at times, is comparable to tickling. The fish are supposed to bite off the dead skin on your feet leaving healthy new skin to grow. I don't know how hygienic this actually is or what good it really does for people who have no skin ailments. Bizarrely the setting for this is in a coffee shop but no-one bats an eyelid or thinks it is strange. We'd tried it before but only managed to last five minutes or so with our feet in the tank but lasted the full fifteen this time. Anyway, they seemed to enjoy it and I have to say my feet felt better afterwards.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Execution in India?

Back home from an easy days work and as I check read through some sites that I read from time to time I see this report of what is being dubbed a 'daylight execution' by the police in the streets of India. I don't know if the item is 100% accurate but it highlights the way 'crime and punishment' are dealt with in different ways by different nations.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Kop that: Liverpool/Man Utd mind games begin early

Last year's Premier League was pretty exciting wasn't it? For the first time in a long time the rivals for the title were Manchester United and Liverpool as the season went down until the penultimate game. Although Utd won out in the end, it was uplifting to see Liverpool in with a chance for the first time in over a decade, but the long wait for title number 19 continues.

Optimism came and has kind of gone now with the imminent departure of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid and an unimpressive string of results and performances for LFC in pre-season. Financial worries continue to dog the club and a failure to bring in high profile signings (so far) do little to inspire confidence. There are some injury worries too before the season's opener away to Spurs. Key signings have not yet been forthcoming. Hyypia has not been replaced, no wingers have been brought in and horror upon horrors no striker has been signed and Voronin has returned to the club.

Pending a medical, Alonso should bring five years service to the club to an end with a £30million move to Madrid. Adios Xabi, you will be missed but if you want to go then goodbye but be careful what you wish for. Congratulations too to Rafa for sticking to his guns and squeezing every penny out of Madrid. Could it be that Benitez will be given all the money to sign the three players we need to challenge for the title? Will some much needed flair be added to the side? It looks like a replacement has already been lined up in Roma's Alberto Aquilani but should it have been the cheaper and more experienced Gareth Barry? Enjoy counting your money Mr. Barry.

Now Alex Ferguson has stoked up the fires with some pre-season mind games. Remember last season ans Rafa's supposed rant? It was nothing of the sort but it DID get up Fergie's red nose and he didn't like it. A sure sign that he knows Liverpool are a force to be reckoned with these days. Now he cannot shut up about Benitez and Liverpool Football Club. Questions remain to be answered about their post-season dealings too. Ronaldo has gone but who will score their goals now? For Utd there are more questions than answers.

So what has Fergie said now?

"Liverpool have just had probably their best season for 20 years, finished up with 86 points and still finished four adrift. It will be hard for them to match that, let alone improve. Other teams will read Liverpool better. It has to be Chelsea as the main threat. Ancelotti will change how they play."

The English press are making this out to be Fergie writing off LFC's title bid before a ball has been kicked so you can bet that this will get tasty at some stage. I look forward to Rafa wiping the smile off Fergies face come May. Chelsea remain strong but their players are hardly getting any younger. The mind games have begun early. Should be another interesting season.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Only Tuesday?

A conversation this week with a co-worker brought home some harsh realisations. He has some five months left on his contract and is ticking off the days till his time finishes in Korea before going travelling. He said he didn't know how I coped with so much longer left for me here, especially at the place I work.

It's not bad, repetitive but not bad. The pay is comparatively good for the work and effort I put in and I always get paid on time. I am, in general, left alone to do what I feel is right (within the narrow class framework) in the classroom. No matter how I feel at work it could certainly be a lot worse for me here.

From time to time I do have a 'lean spell' where my longing to return home appears stronger than at other times. I am in such a lean spell now. On Mondays and Tuesdays I teach six classes each day. Out of those twelve classes, I teach only three lessons plans. that means I teach one level in one class, one level in four classes and one level in seven classes - so I teach one particular lesson seven times over two days. This week has been difficult so far and we're only at Tuesday.

Easy, boring, repetitive, tedious but fun sometimes. I could do with a change but with and end of sorts in sight, though far away, I have to continue. Am I wasting my time? Am I losing more than I am gaining? To both questions I say no because soon my life will be changing forever and for the better.

I'm saving for my future - and just maybe I can get back some of the things I may have lost over the past few months and years here in Korea. Can I make it without cracking up? Well something to pick up my spirits is my holiday in October. It's in about eight weeks from now and will be four days off work hopefully somewhere sunny. It cannot come quick enough.

Clinton Vs North Korea (Part II)

Former American president Bill Clinton has arrived in North Korea to reportedly discuss the futures of two American journalists who were found guilty of illegally crossing the Chinese/North Korean border earlier this year. Presumably Clinton will try to negotiate as early a release as possible. Is this another chance for their regime to stay in the media spotlight with some outrageous statements or will something good come out of the meetings? Hopefully a resolution can be agreed on and the two women allowed to return to their homes. I look forward to reading what comes out of the North Korean propaganda machine over the next few days especially in the light of recent comments Pyongyang made about Hillary Clinton.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Post for my mother

For the past twenty five years or so for some reason TV bosses in the UK of the major channels, BBC and ITV, have bought and showed a number of Australian soap operas. Presumably they are cheaper than making actual programmes, hence the plethora over the decades - I can name six without thinking about it. These have been of varying quality, from bad to very bad to Prisoner Cell Block H bad. A number of these I used to watch with my mother when I was growing up. One of these shows, Neighbours is as bad as the rest but when there was literally nothing else happening in this show, one character would bake something called 'Lamingtons' leaving us both perplexed.

Clearly these were kinds of cakes but they were ones we had never seen before, never mind eaten. For years we used to wonder what they tasted like. Now I have solved the mystery, but in Korea, not Australia. A chance stop by a Starbucks over the weekend brought back long forgotten memories and I bought two, one chocolate and one lemon, for approximately £2. They were essentially a variation of a sponge cake with coconut flakes on top and tasted not bad - light and sweet. Mystery solved but I wish my mum could have been there with me.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

So far so good

Onto August where its going to get hot hot hot here in South Korea. But, so far so good this Summer. The Rainy Season is not as dramatic as the name suggests but it is still trickling on and temperatures have remained cool for the season. I don't remember last year being so cool at this time. I'm expecting it to change any day soon but the short term weather forecast suggests more of the same for next week. I estimate that we have seven-eight weeks left of what can be described as hot Summer weather. Not so bad after all.
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