Friday, 30 October 2009

DMZ Halloween plans

Tomorrow a large amount of the foreign residents in Korea will head to the bars and clubs where they are currently living to 'celebrate' Halloween. Doing largely the same thing many of them do weekend after weekend but this time some with costumes getting into the 'holiday' spirit. Not really my cup of tea so I'm heading off to do something different.

Tomorrow morning I am getting the early morning train with a few co-workers and heading to Seoul, but not for drinks and shenanigans. We are heading to Seoul to start a tour to the DMZ, the. A quick scan of Wikipedia will tell you more than I can but briefly, it is the area of land between North Korea and South Korea. It runs 155 miles long and is just over 2 miles wide. And it is "the most heavily militarized border in the world". Sounds interesting doesn't it so I'm hoping my camera can pick up some decent pictures for a change.

Technically the two Korea's are still at war so you can understand the serious nature of the border. Of course tensions have been high over the last few years when you consider the North's nuclear ambitions. Whatever they are. Anyway, reading the details of the tour it looks like some interesting history in store. Certainly I am not expecting laughs and games during this tour. I am just hoping for no International Incidents this weekend!

Going on the DMZ tour has been something I've been hoping to do for a long time. It's one of the must-see things I am trying to do before I leave Korea around this time next year. Other things to do include going to Jeju island and visiting the War museum in Seoul. I'm sure there are a few more on my list but the DMZ has been top for a while. I wonder how I will find it and how insightful it will be. Being married to a Korean has only increased my curiosity of some of the things on this peninsula.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Back in the dojang

As the cold starts to ease out of my system it's time to get back to where I was a few weeks ago. Today I managed to go to hapkido for the first time in a few weeks. In truth since my 2nd dan test I have been about only five times, and the test was about a month ago. Back at the dojang today and things were tough. We didn't do much just stretching, kicking and a gradual series of combination moves that I have done hundreds of times before. At the end I was shattered but in the best possible way. It's good to back and with a bit of good luck and hard work perhaps I can still manage to participate in the next test at the end of November.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Torres: A hangover cure for a Liverpool fan in Korea

Yesterday I nursed one of the worst hangovers of my life. Bedridden for nearly the entire day it was left to my wife to 'get me back to some kind of normality'. She did a great job I can tell you. And the wonders of Korean medicine did the trick too (god bless the sweet liquid I took). I may have had the worst headache of my life but some six hours after waking up it was gone. The pain was over but the body still ached and only time, and pizza would fix this. However something else would make me feel as if I had never been sick - Fernando Torres, Liverpools number 9. Any game between Liverpool and Man Utd is bigger than big but this time Liverpool were coming off the back of four consecutive defeats. Staring the end of the season down the barrel, Liverpool duly obliged with the win courtesy of Fernando and co. Almost nothing can top a win over them. However bad the day was when I woke up it couldn't have got much better as the day came to a close. The season is alive again.

Papering over the cracks once more

Shaking off this cold is proving harder than I'd anticipated. I've had it for about twelve days so far and its in its last stages but I still have the sniffles at times and my throat becomes sore after I've been talking in the classroom for a few hours. Could be worse though. A work email today revealed that there have been more H1N1 deaths in Korea but this time not elderly sick people who were in the vulnerable bracket. This time its reportedly students of similar age to the ones I teach that have passed away. Though the number of deaths through H1N1 is only 20 out of a nation of over forty million people, some fifty nine schools across the country have been closed indefinitely. We have been told that H1N1 vaccinations will reach school populations within 2-3 weeks. We shall see.

It's noticeable that classroom numbers have been down again recently. In light of these recent developments the 'Mask policy' has been reintroduced/reinforced. All teachers are now 'expected to wear masks throughout the duration of the work day'. If my reading of the email is correct, and it may not be, then that means I must have the mask on at all times. Is this manageable? I tried today to have mine on intermittently during some classes and I was getting a major headache. To keep it on for over six hours is just not going to happen. I presume that here will be times that I can take off the mask. It's hard to imagine it making any difference. This is flu season and people just have to get through it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Five days in Hong Kong

A break away from it all. Time to leave the behind the day to day working life of an ESL teacher in Korea. Over the Chuseok (추석) period I spent most of the time in Hong Kong with my wife. We also had enough time to visit Macau, twice. On reflection though we enjoyed our time in Hong Kong I feel that we didn't do as many things as we did last year. If I could do it again there would be a few things done differently but of course that's not possible, still perhaps next year. Still the point of the vacation was to relax, enjoy the days off and to be with each other. We definitely achieved that.

We had planned to go to Hong Kong a few months before Chuseok arrived but we didn't actually book the flight and hotel until a couple of weeks before departing. For a time I thought that the holiday might not happen or may be truncated but thankfully we both managed to have five consecutive days off together. The day we departed for Seoul-Incheon-Hong Kong was also the day we got married so the vacation turned out to be a honeymoon. Too short for a honeymoon I know but next year we will more than make up for that.

We arrived in Hong Kong before midnight on the Thursday. As it takes up to one hour to get out of customs and to arrive at the hotel most places were closed or would have been closed after dropping our stuff off at the hotel so we decided to relax, get some beer and some food from the local convenience store. We were pretty tired to do anything else. Myself, I only slept twenty minutes the night before and we had a long day, setting off for Seoul at seven AM and spent most of Thursday lugging suitcase and heavy bag around the city.

After a fine sleep that night we headed for Macau the next day - write up to follow. We got back from Macau in the late evening but instead of going back to the hotel to freshen up we headed out for a meal in the Soho area. Last year we spent time there too and I can tell you that pretty much every restaurant there is superior to all the foreign restaurants in Korea. Such a choice of places to eat. I immediately felt at home again in that area. In Korea, especially Daegu where I live there are precious few places to have a good quality non-Korean meal. We went to an Italian restaurant and I ordered the finest Lasagna I have ever eaten and still, three weeks later wish I had more of that on my plate. Washed down with some decent beer, i.e. not Korean OR Heineken the meal truly hit the spot. The night was coming to a close we headed back to hotel ready for what lay in store on the Saturday.

Little did we know that we would end up in Macau again just the very next day... Aside from going back, temporarily to Macau we decided to spend the morning and afternoon shopping. We took the excellent MTR train to the Citygate Outlets mall (near the airport). I perhaps selfishly stocked up on some hard to find food supplies that I wanted to take back to Korea. We also spent quite a bit of money buying clothes, shoes and other items that are a bit cheaper there than other parts of Hong Kong and Korea (wish I had taken more money in general though away with me). After that we ate and headed off to Macau and after coming back we again headed to Soho but to a different restaurant, this time a Mexican one that we went to last year. Initially we didn't want to go back to somewhere we had eaten in last time but we couldn't decide where to choose to eat and we were running out of time. We were both thankful that the place stayed open after all the places had closed down as they let us eat our meal in peace enjoying each others company. The clocked ticked down and before we knew it, it was late and we were tired and headed back to the hotel.

Onto the Sunday and I owed this day to Boo Young and tried to let her do as many things as she wanted to do. We took the Star Ferry across Hong Kong and initially headed to Tsim Sha Tsui. We knew what were looking for. I was buying a wedding present for my wife (we agreed to try to find ones in Hong Kong). We were headed for the Tiffany jewellery store. After trying two of their stores we managed to find a necklace which my wife loves and seems to be very happy with. Then we decided to go window shopping in the surrounding area but couldn't find what we were looking for so headed to Kowloon park and had some ice cream. It was one of the only times we were able to sit down and enjoy the scenery in the hot weather. It would be nice if there was such a park in down town Daegu. Stopping for a rest gave us time to plan our next move as we headed to the very large Langham Place mall in the Mong Kok district of Kowloon. Having been before we knew what the place was like but it's such a big building, fifteen stories of shopping. Boo Young enjoyed herself there. We also took time off to have lunch, a korean looking dish which was from Japan. Similar to bibimbab here in Korea but with beef and rice and some vegetables. Very enjoyable, the meal gave us the energy to sift through all those stories.

The day was far, far from over. After the shipping we headed to the Ladies Market in Tung Choi Street. We went there again last year but at that time it was late evening. This time was a different experience. The street just doesn't seem to stop. Stalls and stalls and stalls selling mostly similar stuff ranging from the Asian looking to the cheap Western looking clothing. Most of the things on sale were clothing, artifacts, pottery, DVD's and watches but there were some good stuff too. If you go there just MUST bargain and haggle and never ever pay what they ask for. By bargaining and having a tough stance you can get 30-60% off everything. To be honest the things they sell are made at ultra cheap prices and not worth much at all but some do look good. Bargains can be had, I picked up a nice leather bound pocket notebook, some scarves and two nice looking Chinese style bowls, plus some tat. I enjoyed the bargaining and could have bought much much more but to be honest we didn't need anything and our bags were already filling up so we headed back to the excellent Star Ferry and headed to the hotel on Hong Kong Island.

Feeling refreshed after taking showers we decided to leave early, around 6pm to go to Victoria Peak. This is one of the premier attractions for tourist visiting Hong Kong. The 'Peak' is actually a mountain, Mount Austin which has a tram which climbs the mountain at a steep gradient to take tourists to the top. At times the ascent appears to be improbable as it looks just too steep but the tram manages it and when you get to the top it is more than worth the wait. The view is magnificent. To our astonishment there was a mighty cue when we got there which I thought might take two hours to get to the front. It only took us one hour but headed up the tram to take in our night time view. After a meal which wasn't as good as last years we took many pictures of the fantastic view of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Victoria Harbour. At night the view is a sight to see. So many lights it feels like all of Hong Kong is lit up. Very picturesque. Sadly we couldn't manage to take a decent picture of ourselves there but paid for a professional picture which was worth the money. Again, it was getting late and after a long day, our last full day in Hong Kong 2009 we made our way back to the hotel.

Waking up early to take advantage of the free shuttle bus we departed from the hotel. Alas our plane back to Incheon was for 2:30pm so we didn't have much time left. We again headed for the Citygate outlet to take in some more last minute shopping. I managed to cram my suitcase full of much needed items for Korea life from the supermarket there. If only there was a supermarket like that in Daegu I would be so much happier here. Such choice and quality it was refreshing and stimulating to be able to get whatever I wanted. Our time in Hong Kong was over but never to be forgotten due to the circumstances. I'm sure we'll be back again as there is much to do and enjoy but not for another year or so.

Some great points about the holiday were; We relaxed, spent wonderful time with my wife, managed to pick up some souvenirs and see some more places in one of the great places of the world. It was also reinvigorating for me to eat several quality meals and enjoy the diversity of drinks there, specifically the choices of beer.

Some not so great points; lot of travelling around left me tired and ironically needing some more time off, we didn't go to some of the places we planned to, some of the Chinese tourists (not the Hong Kong locals) were the rudest bunch of people we've ever encountered. Koreans have something of a bad reputation and rightfully so at times but they have nothing, nothing on the Chinese people we met in Hong Kong. I found this stange as it wasn't like this last year or when I was in China in 2006 where the Chinese people were pretty kind and in general not rude at all. Perhaps we were unlucky...

No matter, this didn't sour our much needed time out in Hong Kong. At no stage did I miss Korea or think about work at all. Having said that I felt good when I returned to Korea, it is my home away from home for the time being.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Far away from home

Today is my brothers 40th birthday. Just one of the many occasions I have missed since coming to Korea some four years ago. I can just about remember when my brother was a teenager which now makes me feel a little old, though I know at thirty one that is not the case. Has time really flown by so quickly or have I just pretended to be oblivious of its inevitability? Time is easy to define but becoming harder for me to measure. Stuck in my self-inflicted bubble of comfort, at times I feel like I will be home soon and sometimes an age away. I would love nothing more than to wish my brother happy birthday in person but that will have to wait. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Many happy returns, dear brother.

Classroom cheer

Work over the past few days has been pretty routine stuff but there have been a few changes. This week my academy has been taking the H1N1 threat a little more seriously. It would appear that a lot more students from the schools in the surrounding area have been getting flu, though I don't know the severity of 'these cases'. Numbers from my classes have been slightly down, probably due to this. Starting this Monday every student has had their temperature taken before they've been allowed into the classroom. Also they've had their hands sprayed with some kind of hand sanitizer. Teachers have also been instructed to try and wear their masks on the way to and from the classroom. Over the past few weeks most teachers had stopped doing this.

A lot of my students have been ill with colds etc, etc and one of them has presumably given me the cold that I'm currently carrying. Having a cold is a common occurrence for me especially at this time of year but this particular one has been in my system for over five days now. It's nothing serious just the snuffles, a bit of a cough and a sore throat. Still it's no fun having to speak as much as I need to in class right now. Today my voice was closing down on me as the classes went on and i was glad to go home when I did. Still I had a lot of fun with my students today. I watched one girl draw something in her notebook for about two minutes and as the bell rang she told me "teacher, it's your name". See her artwork below.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Random photo: Looking for coffee

Saw this on route to the coffee shop. I've never seen an insect on the street as big as this back in England. It was around 5 inches long and I think it's a stick insect.

Friday, 16 October 2009

What's in a name?

Are there any more ways to incorrectly spell my name?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Classroom picture of the day

In an effort to avoid after school retest for not finishing his homework, one of my most likeable students showed me his "crazy finger".

Monday, 12 October 2009

Blue Monday

This time last week I was still in Hong Kong, relaxing and enjoying my time away from the mundane routine of work. Now I am sitting at my computer in my apartment in Daegu, South Korea waiting to go to the classroom for five more days of repetition before the weekend is here. A bit of a comedown but everyone has to go to work. What else will pay the bills? Still, just one year from now and I can take as much time off as I want, travel to different places before succumbing to reality once more.

Today sees the start of a new series at my academy. A series refers to four weeks of lessons for my students, after which they either level up or stay at the same level. After some series, your schedule changes either for the better or for the worse. After months of no changes (apart from Wednesdays) I've got rid of one of my more 'challenging' classes and had it replaced with a higher level. I haven't taught any high level classes for over a year now but don't anticipate any difficulties. I'm just hoping the students are motivated and are interesting kids, not middle school zombies. I hope to post a write up on Hong Kong as well as some decent pictures over the next few days.

End of year bonus

What does a years worth of coins look like in Korea and how much are they worth? From talking to a few co-workers I think I accumulate more coins than most people. This comes from a decision here to only use notes when paying for something which means I get a lot of change as the weeks go by. The theory is that by using only notes, the coins add up slowly and when it comes round to cashing in the coins I have money that I haven't been accounting for and feels like a nice bonus.

Korean coins come in denominations of 500, 100, 50 and 10 won. The 500 won coin is not actually worth much, about £0.25. It would be nice to have the equivalent of the British £1 or £2 coins. I don't think the picture below shows clear enough but the four jars and bottles were heavy. The larger bottle is actually a two litre water bottle filled almost to the top with 100 won coins. This time last year I had about the same amount, before someone climbed into my apartment from the window and stole them from my home, so I am thankful not to have a repeat this year. For the record I saved 336,190 won which works out at about £182.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

365 days to go (fingers crossed)

My new contract starts today. So there are 365 days left to go before I'm scheduled to leave. Who knows, I could go sooner or perhaps even later (unlikely). My official last day of work in Korea looks like it will be October 8th. Can I and will I make the most of the time left? Am I supposed to do anything significant with this time?

My departure seems so far off right now but in reality it is within touching distance and much of what I am doing is geared to my life after leaving Korea, mentally at least. So one more year left of the same boring lessons at work with only the students making the working day worthwhile. Will the next year fly by or will it drag and feel life a lifetime? Time to set some targets I think. How much money can I make, what places can I see and can I get fitter etc, etc.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Early Autumn splendor in Korea

This week in Korea we have seen a noticeable change in the seasons. Autumn has been with us for a while now but temperatures were still high until this week where we have seen a 4/5° C drop. The daytime is much cooler and it is nearly cold at night. Students begin to complain about the cold after the excesses of Summers heat. The wind has picked up and I even wore a jumper to work on Wednesday.

Other noticeable changes though are in the nature that surrounds us. The leaves are slowly starting to change colour and beginning to fall onto the floor. Korea seems to be alive after the long drawn out Summer. Now is the time to enjoy what nature and the season of Autumn can give us with its beautiful colours. I look forward to this, one of my last Autumns in Korea with affection and enjoyment. This is Koreas best season.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Double take

Every day at work I get my temperature checked at work. I have been doing this for around a month or so now. I don't mind or object to these. I am not sick and have nothing to hide and understand it is for my benefit as well as for my co-workers and students - though why the students don't have them I still can't figure out. Now I am back from Hong Kong, where there is NO hysteria regarding H1N1. Korea seems to think that place is flu city central.

Yesterday someone working for my academy came to my house, before work, to check my temperature. I thought this was a one off especially as I then had my temperature checked later at work. Just now the same guy as yesterday came to my house and checked my ear temperature again. Will this carry on all week? When will the hysteria in Korea die down? Hong Kong didn't seem to be in such a panic. This is all such a waste of time.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving

Over the weekend here in Korea we had one of the major holiday periods, Chuseok (추석). Chuseok is a traditional Autumn festival where people celebrate over three days. This is a time where a great majority of the population go to their home town to visit their relatives or to the place where their oldest relatives live. It is a very important time of the year and people make great effort to navigate their way across the country to go back home. I spent the holiday time out of the country with my wife in Hong Kong and Macau.

The holiday can be viewed as an equivalent to the North American holiday Thanksgiving. . During this holiday, families celebrate by eating a large meal consisting of lots of traditional Korean food. During this time people also visit tombs of their ancestors to pay their respects to older generations. Traditional costumes such as the hanbok are also worn at this time and the family sometimes gathers around to play games.

People also give gifts to their families which can be purchased in most shops during the run up to Chuseok. Examples of gifts, which are in gift boxes, would be expensive fruit, alcohol, toiletries and food such as (bizarrely to me) spam. These gifts can range from the easily affordable to being very expensive, depending on what the gift is. Often bosses of companies give employees such gifts as a token of appreciation. At my previous academy I don't recall ever getting one but where I currently work everyone seems to receive one. My girlfriend got some expensive seaweed and I got what you can see below. I won't need to buy toothpaste for a while.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Coffee and gambling

In the Venetian Macau, hotel/casino/resort/shopping mall. Having a quick coffee to keep me sharp before heading off to the casino. Doubt that I will spend much and instead just enjoy the atmosphere. This place is huge and easy to get lost in. Here's hoping I don't get lost when the rush of gambling takes hold and I end up a winner at blackjack or the slots. Viva Las Venetian.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Wonderful times ahead

I am at the airport lounge playing out the remaining time I have before my plane leaves for Hong Kong. Today was spent in Seoul where I had some very important business to take care of. Regarding that, everything went to plan and I can now look forward happily the future. More on that when I get back to Korea. Last night I had about twenty minutes sleep. It's now nearly 7pm and I'm exhausted but I doubt I will get any sleep time on the plane as that normally never happens. Tomorrow I am headed to the casino...
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