Thursday, 31 December 2009

End of year post. 2009 highlights

Like most people, the past decade has been full of surprises. I could never have predicted what has happened to me. Overall it's been a very good time with more ups and downs. Living in Korea for four years has been a true experience. I have also been lucky enough to have travelled to many wonderful countries too. I also managed to get my degree at the start of the decade which is one of the best moments of my life.

This last year in particular has been a very significant for one thing specifically. Before writing this post I felt that apart from one huge that, perhaps not too much had been going on in my life but on reflection that's not been the case. It has been a very good year. Here are some of the great things about my 2009.
  1. I got married. I love my wife and feel I am an extremely lucky man.
  2. Got my 2nd Dan hapkido black belt. I feel very proud of this achievement especially as most of my training has been spent on my own. I worked hard and made many sacrifices but it's all been worth it.
  3. Travelled to Hong Kong and Macau. Had a good time there and would love to go back and see what we didn't have time to get around to.
  4. Managed to go back home to England and see my family. Hadn't seen them for some eighteen months and felt much better afterwards.
  5. Started taekwondo. I hope this will last because I have had a great time so far. There's a real family atmosphere and it's going well right now. Getting a third martial arts black belt would be fantastic.
  6. I've managed to save a decent amount of money. Never a bad thing to be able to put the pennies away. I am lucky to have a job that leads to my outgoings being so low.
  7. Continued to stay debt free. For over a year now there has been no debt above my name. It's a great relief and release that so many people don't have the luxury of enjoying.
  8. I've been happy for most of the year. I also haven't been homesick very often. Most of the credit for that belongs to my wife.
  9. Bought a DSLR camera and seen the benefit of much better photographs. I really enjoy this technology and love my camera.
  10. Signed a new contract at work which gives security for both myself and my wife. In a time of Worldwide problems it's good to be in employment and allows me the chance to save a bit more for my future.
  11. Worked with and met some good people. People come and go but memories remain.
  12. Against expectations, most work days have been full of fun, laughter and good times. I enjoy my job and wish more people felt the same way about theirs.
  13. Went to the DMZ. A day I will hopefully never forget.
  14. Moved into a significantly better and larger apart and live here happily with my life. It's nice to have more than one room and some actual natural light for the first time in a long time.
  15. Downloaded, watched and listened to some great films and music that I wouldn't have been able to in the UK. God bless Korea's Internet.
  16. I remain healthy and optimistic for my future.
  17. Enjoyed the thrill of Liverpool's challenge for title. Despite coming second, at times it was very close.
  18. Closer to leaving Korea, closer to travelling and coming 'home'.
I wish anyone reading this a very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Lunar New Year intentions

And now attention turns to February. Tomorrow is pay day and it's probably the most eager I've been to get my money in months. I've been short of cash ever since I sent home a chunk of money at the beginning of the month. Christmas has been tough but I've made it to here and now I'm thinking of what I can do with my next two pay cheques. The talk at work is at times focused on vacations. One co-worker is spending the holiday season in Hawaii. I am pretending not to be jealous but it's pretty much impossible, given the seasonal weather. One co-worker also just won a free holiday to the Philippines. Another has a week off in February and is planning a trip to Thailand.

During the second week of February comes the Lunar New Year in Korea. This year due to it starting on the weekend we get one day off work (at my academy). I have managed to get a second day off so I can have a four day weekend to go somewhere. Lunar New Year, or Seollal (설날) is one of the big traditional holidays of Korea and is also a time where most Westerners go for a trip away from Korea. My wife doesn't want to go to China and I don't want to go to an Island for just four days. So what are my options?

For a start, staying in Korea is NOT an option. I badly want a holiday and to use my opportunity of getting off the peninsula and travelling but I don't want to go far and spend my vacation on an airplane. Hong Kong would probably be the best choice but we've been twice in the past year and want to try something new. Singapore and Malaysia are places we intend to go to AFTER I am finished working here. The same goes for Vietnam so all three are ruled out. This pretty much leaves Taiwan and Japan.

Taiwan is attractive because it's probably the cheapest to get to but I know little about the country and it's possible that some attractions may be closed (because they also celebrate their new year at the same time). Right now we're thinking of spending four days in Tokyo, Japan. I've been to Japan twice before and my wife has also been, but we haven't gone together. This may be the last chance for me to visit Tokyo so I think I'm going to take it. Japan is also very close, maybe one, two hours on a plane and we probably don't have to get the plane in Seoul. We can probably get a flight from Busan which again, save us time. It's not going to be cheap but it should be a great trip. I really hope this one comes off.

Once more, my plans are on the future and travelling. Seems like it's all I think about.

Monday, 28 December 2009

A Means to an End

Back to work. Back to normality. Back to boredom.

Christmas Day: Eating till I burst

Last years Christmas Day meal was a real let down so this year we were hoping for a relaxing time spent eating some good quality food while enjoying our own company. We certainly got that. Our choices were eating with co-workers, cooking for ourselves or going to a buffet in downtown Daegu. We opted for the latter at the Novotel hotel where we had three hours to eat as little or as much as we wanted. The price was 40,000won each (£20) so if the meal was poor then we'd feel a bit cheated but thankfully the meal was really good. I ate a lot that's for sure. I can't wait for next year and my Mother's home cooking because you can't beat home cooking.

Checking the wine menu

Wow. Pork, chicken, duck and salmon. All as good as it looks.

Our first Christmas together as a married couple. I'm so lucky.

More chicken as well as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.

My wife enjoying her seafood.

Don't want to waste any of the food!

Dessert. By this time I was feeling very full up. But must press on!

Grey skies on Christmas Day. Not a real snowflake in sight.

Two Father Christmas'?

She must have been a good girl this year.

We won a bottle of red wine in the after-meal raffle.

Up on one of the hotels balconies.

I was happier than I looked. Trust me!

Mrs Father Christmas apparently plays the electric violin.

No rest for the wicked. All the shops were open. Business as usual for these phone vendors.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Student Christmas messages

Two of my favourite students gave me Christmas cards this week. Here are the messages inside. They may have errors in them but the sentiments were genuine I think. It's the thought that counts isn't it? I'll have to try harder to help their English improve. I hope they had as good a Christmas as I did.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

End of my temporary liberation

It's Thursday and I haven't watched TV for four days. A record for my time in Korea. It's not because I like Korean TV, its just that I like hearing the English language while I'm at home, particularly as I am trying to sleep. The reason for no TV is because of a change of apartments - my new place having a TV but not having cable (or a remote control). That's about to change. Today the Internet 'guy' is coming round to sort out my new Internet account and presumably to hook me up to a basic cable TV package. This week we have been preoccupied with the moving process and have spent a lot of time listening to music and talking about things while we eat so there has been no need to watch things, but come the weekend...

I can't say I have missed the telly too much. There has been a slight sense of liberation. For the most part Korean TV channels are full of repeats, some from around 2006. Korean programs range from OK to Oh My God This Is Diabolically Bad. This is why I mainly watch the English language programs or the film channels. I do miss being able to watch the news. Though I have had to settle for CNN I have become attached to being able to watch it, regardless of the quality of some of their segments or programs. Also I miss the sports channels. I really need to have live access to football games from the Premier League. Without that, I really would go crazy.


The Internet guy came, but the cable TV guy is somebody else and they aren't coming today. Guess I'll have to go through Christmas without this time.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Monday, 21 December 2009

Fitzcarraldo kind of day in Korea

After about four days of cleaning and packing, yesterday we moved most of our things into our new apartment. The place had yet to be cleaned (done today, and what a great job she did) so we didn't sleep there last night, instead choosing to stay at my old place. Today was the day of actually starting off at a new place. For some reason this morning I decided that it would be a good idea to change mattress'. The idea based on my old place getting a new one just a few weeks ago and my ex co-workers saying that their mattress was worse for wear.

I convinced my wife to help me lug the mattress' to and fro to their 'new houses'. This sounds easier than it actually is. I have a new found respect for removal men. When we got the 'new' mattress to our new place we found that it was too small to fit in the bed structure provided. I can't fully explain how annoyed this made my wife. After much persuasion she agreed to move them back their original homes. At one point she did refuse to help me though and I had to shift the big mattress up a whole bunch of stairs. If you have seen Fitzcarraldo or the famous scene with the boat then you can picture the struggle I had. Despite all this, the move has gone well though and I hope to have plenty of things to say about how things are going.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Packing up

I've spent most of my free time recently trying to clean my room and tidy up ahead of this weekends move. How did I let my place get so messy I wonder. As I was taking all of my stuff off the walls I noticed how dirty and how damaged they were (the wallpaper is ripped in many places). I feel a touch sorry for the next teacher living here. They will have to spruce up this place greatly - I'm sure I'll get the blame even though it was like this when I moved in two years ago. Today we started packing. As you can see, my room is a mess. We're nowhere near finished and there's still the kitchen stuff to sort out. I expect to be slowly unpacking and moving stuff around for most of next week as we settle into our new place. Fun times ahead. Christmas can't come quickly enough.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

On the move

Finally some good news about my apartment. There have been two years of downs but mainly ups but I've lived in partial darkness due to a lack of natural light, put up with noisy neighbours and had a break in. I am on the move and I couldn't be happier. I'll still be working at the same English academy but I'll be changing apartments. This will mean that I will have three actual rooms instead of the one room that I have now. Yes I live in a one room apartment (though there is a small kitchen and bathroom too). The move will cost me a little but only 100,000 a month, about £50. Well worth the price.

The move will take place on Sunday and Monday so I have to clean up and tidy my apartment as well as figuring out what I want to take with me and also packing my things. Luckily my new place is just thirty seconds away from where I am now. My wife is even happier than I am about the move. My new place is where my now ex co-workers Mitch and Cordia live. It will be strange to live there at first but I am more than happy to hear that their apartment building is quiet. No noisy neighbour there right now. Touch wood. Christmas should be very special for my wife and I.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

New Asahi beer in Korea. Style Free and taste free

Being in Korea, for a drinker like me, means a limited choice of decent beers. There are convenience stores seemingly on every street corner but they are littered with a poor selection of Budweiser, Miller and Korean beer which is, FACT, the worst quality of beer in the world. Big chain convenience store will have Heineken, maybe Hoegaarden and usually Asahi and from time to time different lagers or even Guiness. It's the supermarkets, particularly the bigger ones where you find a decent selection.

I have to say the selection is light years ahead of what it like just four years ago, so I am thankful. Browsing the local Lotte Supermarket I found this beer over the weekend - Asahi Style Free. Here I point out that I prefer Sapporo infinitely more to Asahi but I haven't found Sapporo in Korea for nearly a year now, much to my great sadness. However, Asahi does produce a few quality beers.

Intruiged by the packaging and the name I bought a few to try. Sadly the name should be Taste Free. It is similar but not as bad as Korean beer, having many of the problems of Hite, Cass etc etc. Some research into the matter and I find out that it is sugar-free and seemingly not made from malt or hops. What demographic does this fall into? Who buys beer based on its sugar or lack of? It is also only 4%. No style and no substance. Despite this I am eternally hopeful of stumbling on more beers in Asia that I haven't sampled before. I wonder where my drinking will take me?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Hapkido 2nd dan black belt at last

A day of contrast. Today was my first day wearing my 2nd dan hapkido black belt. Usually there is some kind of ceremony but because of swine flu scares this was abandoned and I simply picked mine up as I was leaving last Monday. No fuss and to be honest it didn't feel the same as when I picked up my 1st dan. It was something of a let down. After today's Taekwondo success I headed for Hapkido in two minds. One the one hand I was buoyed with how things have been going at Taekwondo. On the other, as I cycled to my dojang in the freezing cold at 11pm to practice alone, not for the first time I kept asking myself why I keep going.

Thankfully another great session made me again realise how much I enjoy even the hardest days. I feel the sacrifice is worth it and it is a sacrifice to go especially now when the nights are getting colder. I will probably quit some time around March-May next year so in that respect I won't be too hard. I have to say I really enjoy wearing my new belt. At times I can't believe that I've reached this level. For nearly two years I had longed to get my hands one and now I finally have it. Now there is no real way of progressing through the ranks, barring a few sub-levels I cannot reach 2rd dan level because it would take three more years. From now on it's learn, practice, improve and most importantly, enjoy.

My name on the new belt

The name of my Korean dojang where I train

Septembers 'best of the best' trophy and my new belt and certificate/folder thing

Inside the certificate/folder. I also have a card/license proving my dan level

Me with the 2nd dan belt (yellow stripe)

Taekwondo: First test

I started Taekwondo just two weeks ago and already I've had my first test. It seems like my Master is tailoring the classes to meet our 'standards' and he's already satisfied with how we're doing. Even though I am a 2nd dan hapkido black belt I don't feel any awkwardness or frustration starting from scratch in Taekwondo. If anything it has taught me humility and to realise though I may know some moves in Hapkido, I don't know it all.

Afterwards he told us that it usually takes two months for kids to be able to take this test (the same as it takes me to test for hapkido) so our progress is well under way to getting the black belt. We are the first non-Koreans that he has taught so it's an experience for both of us. I couldn't be happier with how classes are going - fun and relaxed - and I think my co-worker feels the same way. As you can see from the pictures we all passed. Onwards and upwards.

Adios white belt

Diana and the Masters wife, who also started classes when we did

Me and the Masters wife and my favourite kid who practices there

Diana with the kids who want to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with me every time they see me

Group shot

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Korean co-worker wedding

I have written about Korean weddings before so won't bother this time. However this was much the same as many of the ones I've been to previously. The bride seemed to enjoy the day though more than the previous weddings I'd been to. Congratulations to the couple.

10 to go

A look at my calender and I realise I'm already two months into my new contract. That means there are just ten (scheduled) months left before packing up and leaving Korea perhaps forever. I say ten because there is a chance that I would try to extend for one more month depending on circumstances next year. We shall see. Signing for another year or even six more months would be the biggest mistake I could make. I'm not even entertaining such thoughts even though going through my mind constantly are thoughts like "Do I have enough money to last back home", "How difficult will life be back home without a job for while" amongst others.

We're over a third of the way into the month and I know it's December, I'm not blind, but apart from buying and talking about Christmas presents it doesn't feel like it. Is December supposed to feel differently? I have lost touch in things like this, living away for so long. This will be my fifth consecutive Christmas away from home and my family. At least I have my wife with me. We've/I've made the decision that I don't want to cook on Christmas Day so we'll be going to a hotel to have a three hour buffet. One hope is that the food is better than the restaurant we went to last year. It should be, judging by the price of our tickets. Despite a temporary mini-malaise there are plenty of things to look forward to over the next few months starting with tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Slow day

Not very hungover, but hungover. Can't say I enjoyed today at all but perhaps that was the price I had to pay for last nights dinner with co-workers and drinks afterwards. I got back home at around 4am, I think. Drinking a deadly mix of Korean beers and Soju left me nursing a small headache, dodgy stomach and a lethargic body. I hate soju AND Korean lager so why I drank both last night I can't quite explain. I deserve my hangover for putting those two foul, alleged drinks into my bloodstream. Korean beer is the worst in the world. No exaggeration. Soju has all the taste of nail varnish.

Work dragged today. Predictably, but I tried to make the best of things. Being a bit more relaxed (tired) led me to enjoying class even more than I usually do. I seemed to have a lot more conversations with the students who by and large were funnier than usual. One of my more rambunctious classes were up to their old tricks. Acting stupidly, being noisy and leaving me dumbfounded at how some of them ended up at such a high level despite not being able to understand English so well. Random quote from one of the bigger, 'individualistic' boys to his friend next to him, when they were play fighting "Don't do gay. Don't be gay!" I couldn't help but laugh as he corrected his sentence. Maybe it doesn't read as funny as it was at the time. You had to be there I guess.

Above. Me hungover, letting the students use my camera to take as bad a photo as they could manage.

My Korean door

Every day I find an assortment of advertising plastered to my front door. Sometimes these are there at night, sometimes during the day. Usually these are adverts for new local restaurants, pizza places, the local supermarkets or education academies. Essentially a load of unwanted crap that I seldom take notice of these days. Today I woke up to an unusually large amount of paraphernalia taped on or stuck on with magnets. I count eight on my door as I write this. What an eyesore.

When I came home from work tonight they were all gone. Who is the mystery person who cleans up all the doors in my building?

Monday, 7 December 2009

My Canadian AM alarm clock won't turn off

I still have a noisy neighbour. After a week or two of relative peace and quiet last night saw a return to my megaphone voiced Canadian neighbour's usual ways. This girl is incapable of speaking in a normal voice. Is it possible she is part deaf? I feel sorry for her boyfriend. I'd hate to hear her shouting. Does this woman snore? Heaven forbid. I wonder how her students or co-workers view her. It's like living next to an amplifier.

Last night she was on the phone for well over two hours (no crime, obviously). How do I know? because I head most of her conversation. At five in the morning. It was that loud. I assume she used a telephone though she could probably be heard in Vancouver without one. One thing I don't understand is how can the people in the other apartments not hear her and why are they not complaining like I am? I should be moving out in about two weeks. It may be time to use the ear plugs.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Game, set and match?

Here is my latest student mistake photo. By mistake I mean another incorrect spelling of my name.

This is from one of my absolute favourite students. One who I help more than others, am nicer to, give more chances to AND try harder to help her because she is a great kid. She thinks my name reads Gȯvin. Is that supposed to be pronounced Goyvin, or maybe Govin. I am touched by the invention and use of the Ȯ but I shake my head and wonder.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

태권도 & 합기도 can go together

Taking hapkido and taekwondo so far has gone well. Neither class has been too intense while both have been enjoyable. One thing I can say is that my legs are now sore, specifically my thighs. They are a bit sore and very stiff. I take this as a sign that I'm getting a much better workout than I've been used to recently. There is no real pain and the stiffness can be shaken off after some stretching. Apart from that I am not finding things too difficult, right now that is. I think the taekwondo will definitely, eventually help my hapkido kicks. I'm very pleased with how this is all going right now. Things should get more intense in a few weeks time as test times come closer.
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