Friday, 31 December 2010

Handy Christmas bonus

New Years Eve and it's going to be a busy day at work. Next Monday it's the start of a new month's session, new students and new classes for me with significant changes to Middle school curriculum. Also we're moving to a new building and we have a new manager. We have to move some of our stuff out of the old building into the new one tonight after work. My co-workers are very unhappy about this as none of us can figure out why we couldn't just do this before work today and not after.

Still, I'm in a very good mood - despite almost everyone at work being sick now, including me. Tomorrow is the start of a new year and I've enjoyed 2010 a lot. On reflection I didn't do too many things but I've had fun in my own way. I know that time is winding down for me in Korea but I don't feel in any great rush to do anything or see anywhere. I've had my chance to do and go to the things I've wanted and now my focus is on finalising our exit and saving as much money as we can.

And work gave me a great boost last weekend. At the Christmas Party the owner handed out a lot of cash prizes. Myself and a few others who have worked at the company for three years or more were given one million won. that works out at just over £550 at the moment. I'm very thankful because it has come at a great time. My wife is leaving her job at the end of January so that will be one less income for the remaining months left. She's had a lot of stress this year at work so it will be good for her to have a change of pace. The money comes in very handy right now. I feel lucky to have a stable job at this moment and will miss the relative ease of it and the money when I am back home.

So what have we done this year? We had our 'wedding' in May, managed to save a decent amount of money and I got to know my Korean mother in-law a lot more, I passed my taekwondo black belt test after taking it up only seven months before, went home to visit family and friends for a week. I kept my sanity and had a lot of fun in a job that is mentally tiring and felt a lucky man being married to my wonderful wife. I missed some of my targets for the year though but that means I have so many for next year, a huge year for my wife and I.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Students make me laugh

I had a great day in the classroom if not at work in general. I can't remember how long it's been since I laughed as much as I did today in all my classes. Right at the end in my lowest level of Middle school the boys were pulling all sorts of tricks. Making fun of the others and really causing me to burst into fits of laughter.

The class objective was understanding and using simple past tense sentences such as;

I ate steak,
We watched TV,
She played tennis

Student: "xxxx xxxx ate viagra"

He repeated this several times throughout the lesson which blew the mind of the boy he was talking about because he had no idea what was going on. On paper it doesn't sound so funny but in practice it was. The class didn't recover and we had a vast array of jokes and physical gags all of which made to a great end of the day for me and for that class as I won't be teaching them again.

Korean notebook riddle

I continue to enjoy the notebooks my students bring to class. This has no spelling mistakes but has the usual positive messages. What are these pink dreams? After yesterdays class about wishes I am hoping that my students really do have better dreams than to get a new pencil case.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Daegu snow snaps

Woke up to some delightful snow this morning. It's snowed a few times this Winter so far but I think today's was maybe the heaviest I've seen in Daegu in my fives years here. It was still falling as I headed to taekwondo so I stopped to take a few pictures but didn't have much time but enough to take a snap of the person plowing on with their daily exercise. After the session finished the snow was melting and the roads were swamped with slush but two hours later and it started to come down again a bit. how much more snow will we get this Winter?

Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas wrap-up

Back to work after a good Christmas in Korea - my 6th in a row. You know it's never going to be the same as back home but my wife and I had a lot of fun. We now look forward to next year and all the excitement and challenges it will bring.

So no days off for me. Unluckily Christmas fell on a weekend this year so we were given no time off at work. I'm OK with that. They pay me very well and if I have to work when others don't so be it. There'll be plenty of time to relax when I'm done here. Having said that, I am knackered and could do with a small break. Luckily there's a five day weekend coming up at the beginning of February.

I had a very good Christmas eve at home with my wife. I often enjoy this day more than the 25th. I drank a little too much though and watched a film afterwards so only had about four hours sleep. I was a bit hungover all through Christmas Day. My mother in-law came round for most of the day. I made Christmas dinner as best I could and it tasted not too bad. Turkey will taste wonderful next time though. My mother in-law ate all the food on her plate and said she liked it which made me feel very happy.

At 4pm I made my way with Ivan to my work Christmas party at the Interburgo hotel in Daegu. I wasn't going to go but was persuaded by my now ex-manager on Thursday. After some brief introductions everyone tucked into the buffet dinner. It was better than I expected and both Ivan and I went back for seconds. Afterwards I was stuffed and the party went on.

The room where we were was very big, and had around two hundred people there, mainly Koreans because it was pretty much compulsory. Most of the Korean staff at my workplace made it and it was good to see them in a different environment. Then came the talent show. It consisted of around fifteen or so acts of varying quality broken down into two categories which often merged, musical performers or comic performances.

The good ones were very good especially a very pertinent work themed version of the Twelve Days of Christmas and one comic skit that envolved chewing gum which I won't forget in a while. We had a brief break from these acts which was filled by a professional musician playing I think the clarinet. He was fantastic and well worth however much he was paid. I wish I had videoed this.

The 'talent' acts went on a bit too long and many people were glad when it ended. The owner of my academy chain then gave out a LOT of prizes, namely money. Through a translator it was claimed that he was spending 600million won (over £300,000 ) of his own money on this day, of course not just prize money. Everyone who entered the talent contest was given money, and then came prizes for employees given for various reasons.

I think maybe 10-20% of people in attendance won something. We were told that if you weren't there you wouldn't get your money. Harsh but those were the rules and you can't argue with that as the owner was very generous on the day. A few people from my branch won money including the receptionists and I think I did too (they got my name slightly wrong when they read it out).

Last Thursday I left my ipod at work and went back to collect it and my manager told me I should go to the party because I would maybe get something. I couldn't read her properly but decided to go just in case. Good job I did as every foreign teacher who has worked there for three years or more was given a prize. A nice Christmas Day gift for me and my wife, but I'll believe it when I see it this Thursday come pay day. I'm not counting it till I've got it

The party ended late but I had fun regardless of what I think I had won. I got a taxi home and told my wife the news and we watched some TV and relaxed after a long day. The holiday wasn't over though as on Boxing Day we met our good friends in Busan, Ian and his wife Nari. They came over from England to spend a few weeks here with family and friends and we caught up with them on a frosty Sunday. We didn't have a lot of time together so had a quick bite to eat before heading for the warmth of a bar.

Time went quicker than we wanted but again we had a great time with our friends. We got back to Daegu to be met with the aftermath of snow. Daegu's drivers could not handle the partially icy roads and there were no taxis to be seen at the train station. When we got home we enjoyed the warmth of our apartment to end our Christmas 2010.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Give me present!

"Teacher, give me present." That was a popular line yesterday from my cheekiest of students and I think I'm going to hear it quite a bit today and tomorrow too. The reminder of what time of year it is. I gave a few kids chocolate and snacks if we played a game and will probably do the same again in some classes if they behave. I have to work on Christmas Eve and everyone will be on autopilot that day but it's expected that most of the kids will come to the academy.

It hasn't seemed like Christmas yet here in Korea. Perhaps I am more isolated in Daegu than those living in Seoul but with just two working days left to go it's only just started kicking in. In general I don't think Korea fully understands Christmas but it is trying. It feels more like a couples holiday here rather than a loving, family occasion.

There are much fewer advertisements trying to sell you products and thank god there are NO ads selling toys, which seem to start running on TV back home from August. In fact I don't think I've ever seen a (non-computer) toy advert here in my five years - another great plus point Korea has and that I will miss when I return home. The lack of snow perhaps continues to lessen the festive mood.

At the weekend my good wife finished decorating the apartment. She always does a much better job than me so despite not having a tree this year our place feels cheerful enough. Tomorrow I am making a Costco run, stocking up on some booze and getting all the Christmas food. My mother in-law is coming round on Christmas Day and will be trying some of my cooking. She is always making food for my wife and I so it will be nice to be able to offer her something for a change. I wonder what she will make of it.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

You don't know my name

Another student mistake over my name. How can you mistake Gavin for Gival? I applaud this kids imagination and wonder if any more will leap out at me before my time is up here. I think this is almost as bad as the time my now ex co-worker thought my name was garden.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

When your pension isn't really your pension

Not surprisingly, because it happened twice before, my observation was delayed due to my manager having a meeting yesterday. I will now be watched next Tuesday which probably works out better for me because I can have a trial run of what I'll be teaching on the Monday.

At work though I was met with more news. The foreign teachers all received a letter from the National Pension Service - A guide to the National Pension for Foreigners. The letter included information on how much you and your employees have paid so far, how to claim this and other stuff.

For the record, I have known that I will not be getting any of this money since 2005 when I first started teaching in Korea. This is because my country, the UK does not have a pensions agreement with South Korea. I don't know why but it doesn't. Other countries that supply teachers here such as Canada and the United States all have agreements that mean everything paid in goes back to the teacher when they leave. In some cases double the amount. A quick glance at the list of those countries that do have agreements and Hungary, Slovakia and Romania jump out.

After yet another search on the internet to check whether or not things have changed it seems clear that this is dead money and I will never see it again in my life. It would appear that I cannot even transfer this money into a pension in the UK. After working here for a while I have paid a significant amount that would be a godsend if I ever saw it again. A conservative estimate is that it would be five months rent for the place I want to live when I go back home.

Even though I have known this for a while, when you see exactly how much money is there for you but you can't claim it it feels pretty sickening. I'm still full of Christmas cheer though and and going to reach for a beer right now to prove it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Observation day

Today I am being observed again. Every year we have two observations from our real boss, a Westerner who evaluates teaching staff, handles curriculum, deals with teaching questions and also has a significant say on contract extensions.

This is my third manager and I have to say the previous one was great at her job. I think I am biased because she gave me some good marks on the evaluations especially my last one which I do not think is possible for me to beat. I don't know the new manager well so it's a bit of a step into the unknown. The mantra that she is looking for though is repeat, repeat repeat. I can do that.

Half of me feels that I shouldn't be observed because I've been here a long time and am leaving in five months so there is no carrot of a contract being dangled before me. But being observed from time to time is a good thing. All teachers are prone to fall into habits whilst teaching and some of these can be bad. I know that I do some things that head office doesn't necessarily want me to so it's healthy to get back to basics and spend more time preparing.

I didn't sleep too well last night. I'm a little nervous and I know that doesn't make sense. Perhaps nervous is not quite the right word. There's a little bit of apprehension and excitement which I hope will give me the energy to do well. I've built up enough credit to last me for my remaining time here but I do want to show what I can do. Who wants to look bad in front of their boss? Also, as I've got the most experience at my academy shouldn't I be the one who can do this easily?

I don't like being watched though. I'm not the same person when someone from 'outside' is in the classroom. Neither are the students. I like to joke around in class, have fun with students, tease some and in general like to make the kids feel so relaxed that they can express themselves without being nervous. I don't think that will be possible today.

My previous manager would ask what class I would like to have observed but that's not the case today. I know it's one of the first four but more likely not my first class. Over those four periods I teach two lessons twice so preparation is not an issue. Classes one, two and four - no problem, great kids, enthusiastic and fun. Class three, oh dear. There is one boy who is considered to be the worst student at my academy and though I like him, he causes trouble, distracts others and worst of all speaks Korean a lot.

At least there is no pressure on me so this should make me feel relaxed when the time comes. As long as I try my best, prepare and don't make any big mistakes things should be fine and whatever will be will be. I'll be glad when it's out of the way and can move on with my remaining five months. However, we have a new manager at my branch and it's a certainty that she'll be watching everyone's classes over the next few weeks too.

On a side note I won't be going to the big Christmas party that my academy is holding. A few months ago It was suggested that it would be mandatory but in the end that didn't turn out to be true. After some thinking on the matter I decided that going would be OK and maybe fun so I asked if my wife could go with me, as did a lot of other teachers at other branches. On Saturday we got an email telling us that nobody is able to bring a partner.

I understand that and accept it after all my wife doesn't work at the same company as I do so why should she get a free lunch etc, etc but letting everyone know just one week before Christmas is poor. It would have been nice to have gone with my wife because she knows a few of my co-workers and some staff at other branches but it's not to be. Now we're going to have a nice Christmas at home with me cooking and I think we're going to have a great day of eating and drinking.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

That's not how you spell Richard

One of my students is having a lot of difficulty with spelling week in week out and there is very little I can do to help him other than to point out the mistake and correct it, which I always do and he always ignores. I am sympathetic with todays big spelling mistake - Richard - because many Koreans pronounce it RE-CHARD. I think he is in the wrong level for now so I need to help him as much as I can.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Daegu in top 10 places to visit (2011)

I have just come across a Rough Guides list of the top 10 places to visit in 2011. And Daegu is on it. Of course the list contains places a little out of the ordinary and off track with none of the usual suspects being mentioned. There have been a lot of changes in parts of Daegu since I arrived here and most of them are certainly for the better. It is an improving city and will host the 2011 athletics World Championships so is hoping to attract more people to the area.

I have lived here and worked here for about five years so I am happy with the place and feel comfortable. My wife and her family are from here too so that's another reason to like here. This city has given me a lot to be thankful for. But, I would struggle to recommend it to a visitor no matter how much I like it because there is little to do and little to see when you consider other places in Korea and of course other countries just a few hours away. Perhaps I am missing something.

Delaying the inevitable

My plans are always changing it seems. Last week we got a bill that we weren't expecting for about 1.2million won (£650). This tipped us over the edge and it didn't take much thought to decide to stay another month, providing work would agree to it.

I emailed the woman in charge and she got back to me very quickly and confirmed that it would be OK and then sent me my amended contract. I'm happy to have got this sorted out so quickly and feel lucky that they just agreed it basically on the spot. This is my final extension and there is no turning back when this contract is over.

Working one extra month (May) doesn't bother me one little bit. May is a great month here. Fine weather, sunny skies and not too hot so I'm going to be ending on a high note, hopefully. After finishing up we hope to have got my wife's visa by then and set off for a few weeks of travelling before heading home to the UK.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Tasty Korean duck lunch

Today some of my co-workers, past and present and myself met up in Chilgok to go for lunch. Instead of having a normal Korean meal we went near Palgong mountain for duck. Today was a bitterly cold day and I didn't know what I was expecting. Would it taste great or not? I decided not to eat beforehand so that I would be sure to be hungry.

It only took fifteen minutes by car to get there and just minutes after arriving the duck was ready to eat. It looked fantastic and smelled great too. I haven't eaten duck many times but knew this would be delicious and it was. As well as the meat It was filled with rice, some ginseng I think and ginko plus some kind of nuts. I also enjoyed the side dishes especially the cabbage soup.

We ordered two ducks, one for each group of five and I wish we'd ordered more, so nice it was. I definitely want to eat this again. Along with the meal we had some dongdong ju - which is similar to makgeolli (alcohol made from rice) but this has some rice floating at the top. It hit the spot after a while. When the meal was over we all relaxed before playing a game - 007, or gong gong chil bang. The game has a simple premise but after drinking more of the dongdong than anyone else ju I started screwing up and took some hits on the back but so did everyone else. I had a lot of fun and a great lunch . I hope we can do this again some time soon.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Taekwondo hockey

Back from taekwondo today and I had a great time. After warming up the Master said we could play a game for twenty minutes or so but this went on to last the whole class. We played hockey but with an inflatable ball with unpredictable bounces and used kicking mitts instead of hockey sticks. Sounds like it wouldn't work but we had a blast - wish I had pictures. It was an all body workout and I was shattered when it was over. Times like this are the little things I will miss when I leave here next year.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Snowing in Daegu

The first snow of the season today. I actually thought it was raining so I ignored the window but was happy to hear of the snow when the classes had finished. As usual most of the students were so excited that they ran out of the academy when things were over and started enjoying this rare treat. I had a quick walk round before it began to melt and took a few snaps. Tonight feels very Christmasy.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Paper hazard

Another day and another paper cut as blood was drawn at work once more. Over the past year or so I have been prone to slicing open my fingers in all manner of inconvenient places. It never used to be this way. Photocopying, checking books, sorting out tests all hold major hazards for my fingers these days. A minor quibble of course and these happen in many, many jobs but I'm just fed up of foolishly cutting my fingers week after week.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Sick day or not?

Still sick but much better overall than yesterday I ask myself if I should take the day off work. I have just under three hours before I head to my academy to teach and can't see myself getting worse in that time so is it worth phoning in sick?

I've only taken one sick day in my five years here and that was at my previous academy which gave you two sick days per year in your contract. Where I work now there is no provision for sickness. If you can't work you either get docked money or they take one of your vacation days off you. Judging by my last pay check any deduction in money would be about £50 and I can't afford to throw that money away.

Also, work makes it difficult for you to take the day off. If I was going to call them I probably had to have done it two hours ago to give them enough time to cover my classes IF they could. Every few months or so we get emails telling us that now is a bad time to be sick. Also I seem to have the type of body that doesn't like lying in bed if sick. I've found that moving around makes me feel a little better so I'm going to struggle on and take the money. 파이팅! (fighting!) as they say here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sick as a dog

Holed up in my new apartment watching films and trawling the internet. Sneezing and sniffling all the time, with the worst sore throat I can remember in ages and praying the medicine from the pharmacist will kick in soon. Once again, thank you glorious students for giving me a cold. I will have my revenge.

Friday, 3 December 2010

I love(d) piano

I won't be hearing the piano every day now. Finally we moved apartments yesterday and said goodbye to the piano academy that we lived above for eleven months. It took us a long time to pack everything up as we've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years so we knew moving would take a long time. Luckily my wife was able to take the day off work and we definitely needed it.

We were told that the 'team' who help deal with things like this would start moving our stuff at 1pm. They came at 3pm and I had to leave for work not too long afterwards. I hadn't been able to eat as I'd been expecting them to come on time. This left me very tired at work as all I ate was some noodles and a few sweet snacks.

There's no point going over the details of the delay because it turned out OK in the end for us. The apartment we've moved into is one that a co-worker was living in, before the landlord decided he wanted her out of the building. It's an awkward situation and my co-worker has legitimate cause for complaint though I am sure there are two sides of the story.

She is upset and angry and everyone understands why and sympathises with her. She's had to downgrade apartment and at short notice. If I were her I'd be very angry given the reasons for her move. Having said that, we had to move apartment too and for pretty poor reason - my company didn't like my landlord.

Up until about 2am my wife and I were sorting things out and they still aren't finished yet. Things still need to be unpacked and moved to a good place. We need to figure out where we want furniture but the majority of the items are in their place and the internet is already working with the cable TV being sorted out tomorrow. When the place is finished I will post pictures. I already miss the pianos a bit though.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Five to go

December has come around so early this year. Yesterday I sent some money home and I feel like the end is in sight. That'll probably be the last money I transfer until I'm finished. I have five months left on my contract and it's looking more and more likely that's when I'll be leaving. Recent events in North Korea mean I am a little less likely to stay an extra month now. But we'll see how my wife and I are doing for money.

Big changes this month I think. Tomorrow I am supposed to be moving apartment. Finally. It's been a two month wait but the move is set to go ahead on Thursday. The new apartment is better than the one I live in right now and my wife feels very positive about the move. It's just a pity we had to change place with just months to go on my contract. We're still packing and tidying things up so tonight may be a long night.

Additionally I heard yesterday that my brother has passed his Master degree and been awarded a Merit. I'm very happy for him and enormously proud of my older brother. I wish I could buy him a pint but that can wait till next year. 'The' year for me.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Korean 2022 World Cup bid pros and cons

Having been a football fan for over twenty five years I have been following the World Cup bidding process carefully. Being from England, naturally I hope we get win the right to hold the 2018 cup. Recent events mean though that the chances of winning are not high with Spain/Portugal and Russia seen as more likely to be successful. As long as the vote is a fair one I think people can cope with not winning especially when the attention of the Government should be on more pressing matters.

South Korea, as well as Australia, Qatar, Japan and the United States are all bidding to be hosts, but for the 2022 World Cup. Bearing in mind last weeks events on Yeonpyeong island and the ongoing uncertainty on the peninsula I find these quotes interesting from bid team member Hyo Jin Ahn, "I don't think this incident will make a negative impact on our bid,". For what it is worth I have always thought Korea had no chance of hosting the tournament but hope to be proved wrong, having lived here a fair while and being married to a Korean, etc, etc.

Some things in South Korea's favour - The stadiums are already here. They are of a very high quality and the bid would only need to build one more, in Incheon which is already in construction whilst increasing capacity in six more. The transport infrastructure as proved in 2002 should be able to handle things. In particular, Incheon airport is fantastic and a gateway to Asia and Europe. 2002 is still fresh in many peoples memory and although the tournament was low on quality (not the fault of neither Korea or Japan), overall it was a success. South Korea is Asia's best team and now enjoys a higher world wide profile with the likes of Park Ji Sung and Lee Chong Young and others playing successfully overseas - this is not an 'unknown' football nation. Clutching at straws here but the 'bid for peninsula peace' may entice some to go vote for it - but that hasn't helped Korea's bids for the Winter Olympics so far.

Some things not in South Korea's favour - They only recently co-hosted a tournament (2002) so perhaps it is not Asia's turn. The recent Korean F1 Grand Prix was not a total success. This may have little bearing on the bid but press coverage was critical in some nations. If the 2018 bid goes to an 'established' nation such as Spain/Portugal or England then Fifa will possibly be more inclined to hand 2022 to a 'new' nation such as Australia or Qatar in a bid to create a legacy somewhere. On the legacy theme, what has been the legacy for 2002? Many World Cup stadiums are white elephants i.e. Daegu where I live. The K-league may be improving but attendances overall aren't so great and this will always be a baseball nation. If there aren't enough hotels in England, something their bid was criticised for then are there enough quality hotels here? Remember Korea only co-hosted 2002 so dealing with so many travellers represents a problem for all host nations. Kick off times here are not agreeable with Europe (too early and not at 'prime time') which would possibly reduce television income. And of course what happened on Yeonpyeong island is impossible to be out of peoples minds - what incredibly bad timing for South Korea. Unsubstantiated rumours persist that China is going to bid for 2026 which would only happen if 2022 does not go to Asia.

Bearing all these in mind I expect Korea to be eliminated in either the first or second round of voting. The vote for the 2018 and 2020 bids is held on Tuesday, December 2nd. Good luck to South Korea and England this week because we both need it.

Pay day bonus

Pay day and I've finally got all of the bonus which was due two months ago. I'm crossing my fingers that the currency won't tank over the next twenty four hours because I want to send home a little bit of money just in case the value does goes down over the next few weeks and months. Please be nice North Korea!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Friendly rivalry

On Tuesdays and Fridays I teach my youngest and lowest level class with just four students. This class is always a lot of fun and full of incidents. One boy is a little different to the others - he once had to be dragged out of class by the jaeshi teachers like a prisoner from Guantanamo bay. He has calmed down and seems to enjoy class and also the learning process. The others make fun of him but I make sure to give him lots of encouragement.

On Wednesday they are taught by my co-worker Ivan. From all accounts they really love what goes on there. Myself and Ivan are trying to make our classes more interesting by making the class more fun and asking the kids questions that make them think more. Often they give a funny answer but always they are very engaged by the whole thing.

Recently I have begun a 'rivalry' with Ivan. I let the students think that we are enemies and always competing against each other with the hope that they use their improving English with creative sentences. I think it's working but we'll see. On Wednesday the situation is reversed with myself teaching Ivan's low level class. Here the class has begun making great questions about the rivalry between myself and Ivan. An example can be found here.

Right now it's a lot of fun and I wonder what's going to happen next. For what it's worth I think Ivan's class like me and my class likes Ivan. As long as they enjoy learning I think we are all happy. At least both classes are never boring.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Work changes

"As you know, I'm leaving. You do know I'm leaving don't you?" said our manager today at work (I am paraphrasing). Of course most of us didn't. Again, back of the line when it comes to news at work. She is leaving in three or four weeks time to take on another branch. I'll be on manager number five when the new guy arrives next month.

This is probably a change for the better. I just hope the new manager leaves the teachers alone to teach and doesn't spend his free time patrolling the corridors watching for mistakes. I am hoping for better communication and less of an 'us and them' situation.

A more significant change at work too. We're moving location in December. To the building next door which is currently being finalised. It will look a lot newer and fresher than the current one which has graffiti on a lot of the classroom walls. Maybe this will entice new students into our academy. We shall see.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Not panicking yet

Not much of a reaction from my students yesterday despite North Korea attacking Yeonpyeong island. One class said in unison "We're all going to die". After telling them that I wouldn't because I can buy a plane ticket out of here the class continued. Whilst another class described what happened with actions and smiles because they are a low level so couldn't do it verbally.

But seriously, hardly any students or anyone at work again would talk about it. Avoiding it won't make it go away. I wonder how much more of this nonsense South Korea and it's people can tolerate from their Northern brothers. Again, I feel no less safe than I have previously. I am glad though that I do no live near the border.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Checking out villas

An update on the move situation. Today my wife and I were shown three apartments just two minutes walk away from where I live now. The first two were pretty poor and there's no way I'd pay 100,000won a month to live there. The last place was pretty good. It was a lot more spacious and had more natural light which are two things I value right now. We both agreed that this would be good enough to live here for the few months we have left. It felt good to finally be able to see where we might be living.

A second option was given to us - pay an extra 50,000won a month and move to an even bigger, newer villa. So on Wednesday or Thursday we're going to see another place. My wife seems keen on this idea but wants to see the place first. Either way both villas (when I think villa I think of sunny Spain) are in the same area which is also near all the other teachers I work with. It looks like we may be moving perhaps this time next week. Over the past 24hours the communication with work has been better and this is because my wife has got involved. The ball is now rolling.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Waiting to move

Some two months ago I was informed that I would have to move apartments in November. It's now the 22nd and work hasn't told me when I'm moving or where I'm going to (though I don't expect to be any more than ten minutes walk away from work). It's pretty obvious that they haven't found a suitable place yet but time is running out as I'm due to pay rent on where I live this Friday. This gives us only a few days to finish packing if indeed we need to.

I expect to hear something today on what's going on. Last Thursday I received a call telling me that the move was going ahead and would get an email back that night. Four days later and no email. Moving house is a bit of a pain considering I never asked to change. Lot's of packing and cleaning up. We've amassed a lot of stuff over the past eleven months so the guys at work who deal with these things and have to help me move everything may wish they'd decided to keep me here. I don't know what the apartment will look like or how big it will be - but I have been assured it will be the same size as where I live now.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Student confession

I have one student who is - as all the others who've taught him will say - one of the worst students in my academy. He rarely brings his book to writing class. Even rarer still are the days he brings in his homework. He spends most of his free time after classes in the retest room. At times he is a real pain, distracting others whilst making it hard to teach the way I would like and the way the class needs to be taught.

But, having been his teacher for a long time -about a year in total - I actually hate to admit it but I think he is pretty funny. He is not the brightest in class but often says the funniest things, often at the right time. Ironically his actions make the class a lot more fun that it might ordinarily be.

Today is presentation day and of course he didn't do his homework. I gave him help and enough time to practice but before he was due he held his head in his hands and came out with this.

"Why me? I am loser. I am life loser!"

You had to be there but once again he had the class in stitches.

Really bad spelling

I don't know how my student got this word so wrong today. He was supposed to write television.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Eiffel Tower notebook

Ask any Korean student about the Eiffel Tower and they will know it's in France and probably tell you it's in Paris. But ask them who designed it (Gustave Eiffel) and it's no big deal but usually they won't know. And neither does the designer of this Korean notebook who spells the name like they fell asleep on the keyboard.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Departure dilemma

Time is really flying by right now. There's nothing particularly special that my wife and I are doing but right now we are enjoying ourselves. Last week was a tough one for me. I got a bit stressed out with work and was pretty angry towards the end of it. Over the weekend I relaxed and ate some really good food and now I feel so much better for it.

For the past few weeks we've talked over and over again about when we leave Korea. It's THE thing in our lives right now and will be up until my wife gets her visa for the UK. Do we have enough money? What do we need to prepare? Should we leave early? etc, etc. Making decisions together that are right for us.

I am determined that we have a decent amount of money when we finally arrive. There is no guarantee of a job short term or even long term so we need enough to be able to stand on our own two feet for as long as possible. My wife is set to finish work at the end of March and I have a contract till the end of April. And here we have a dilemma.

One of my wifes best friends, a Korean who lives in England, is getting married here in Daegu at the end of May. We would both like to go to the wedding but if things don't change we won't be in Asia then. Do we a) forget about the wedding? b) go on a trip for a few weeks after finishing and come back for the wedding before going to the UK? or c) I extend my contract by one more month and we go to the wedding then have a nice Asian holiday?

If I extended it would be no big deal to me. The work is easy and often painless. We would be able to save a decent chunk of money for that month. But, we/I am always delaying, extending and putting off our departure. Until yesterday my wife was 100% dead against me extending a little but last night she said it would be OK which has given me this dilemma. IF I extend for one more month it would be just that. There's no way I would stay till October. No way.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Where's mine?

Them: "Give me Pepero!"
Me: "Why?
Them: "...Give me Pepero!"
Me: "I think you've got this the wrong way round!"
Them: "I want Pepero"
Me: "Where's mine?"
Them: "Pepero"

And then I roll my eyes in semi-disgust as the conversation is shut down. Luckily this was only happened a few times today, today being 빼빼로 day once more in Korea. The day where people, often youngsters, give others this chocolate covered biscuit stick thing. It's harmless but when my students demand food from me I really get annoyed. Especially as over the past two years or so I have been fairly generous in giving out treats and snacks to classes.

I have some wonderful students. Some kids who you know will unfailingly grow up to be good, maybe great adults but I have dealt with far too many spoiled brats. Kids who take but never give. Those who whenever they see you eating their lunch act like a starving child who hasn't eaten for days and demand some of your food. And more often than not, those kids are also the worst students. I ask myself if this is a Chilgok thing? A Daegu thing? Or a Korean thing? I really don't think it's the latter.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Lights out

A few more computer problems at home meant that I got to work later than usual. I walked through reception to relative darkness. There were no lights on so I thought there was something going on. Maybe a birthday being celebrated or whatever. The receptionists told me something was wrong.

I walked into the teachers room and was told that there was no power. Everything was off so no computers, no landlines, no heater, nothing. But why? The landlord had turned off our electricity. Last week we heard that he wanted us out and today he proved it. Someone high up at our academy phoned the police and it was being dealt with when I arrived, with some people being interviews. I missed the drama by a few minutes.

Everyone in the office was excited. We al harboured hopes of being sent home for the day but it was not to be as a few minutes later the lights came on and we had to go teach. I don't think we've heard the end of this story. Hopefully there'll be a happy ending - for someone. I don't know what's going to happen next week or even tomorrow. As always, we are kept in the dark.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Good news but the signs aren't good

This week some good news at work. At least on the face of it. Starting Monday, every foreign teacher will get a break in the week, apart from the new guy who is supposed to start next week. This is great and nobody is complaining. It's something to look forward to and hopefully I can use my time productively, be that preparing stuff or reading a book.

In the three years I've worked at my academy only Korean teachers have had breaks. Everyone has had them on Wednesday's but that kind of doesn't count. Also, we do get breaks in between classes but only of five or ten minutes. Now we're getting a free period each but only because numbers are down on our Middle school students. It means that there aren't enough numbers for us to teach. Which is a bad thing. Elementary students seem to be in steady supply (so far) but not the older kids. Clearly my branch is suffering from the new and shiny academy that's just opened up down the road.

My job isn't affected. I have a c0ntract for six more months and there is no worry of me being out of work but I like where I work and don't want the place to do badly. On top of the numbers issue we were told this week that the owner of the building wants 'us' out too. That though is not bad news as moving to a cleaner and possibly newer building will be great for both teachers and kids. Oh, and a new teacher started on Monday but quit after only three days. I feel sorry for my manager who must be under a lot of pressure.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Korea, taxis and TV's

On Saturday my wife and I took a taxi to go somewhere to try and fix my broken laptop. To no avail. But the trip was not uneventful. The driver had one of the TV's/hard drives that are increasingly common in taxis these days. During our ride the driver proceded to change the channel he was watching (whilst driving!) several times. At one stage he was flicking through the hard drive trying to find the music videos he wanted to see. We didn't crash - it was a Saturday afternoon, luckily not at night - but I was amazed at how this is legal.

I've posted about this before I think, but how can these things not distract the driver? I'm not a big fan of a lot of drivers here. Even if most are good behind the wheel there are a lot that take the mickey with the things they do, like using their phones while driving, people parking oin the pavement with no thought of pedestrians and those who stop to go to the corner store and leave their engines on. This is worse as surely it affects the drivers ability to drive safely. I know bad driving is a worldwide thing but I don't get this fad.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Pencil case art

Today two of my students storyboarded a 'fun' scenario involving myself and my partner teacher. 가빈 is, of course, me.

Six to go

Six months left in Daegu, Korea. Not time to wind down yet or pack up my things but it feels great to know that the end is in sight.

Over the weekend we went to a travel agent that we've used a lot for trips and she told us that we may not be able to get cheap flights to Hong Kong. We were planning to go there for Korean New Year. If we can't go then we can't go but the both of us would really like to go somewhere then. Still, if we stay in Korea we will be saving a lot of money.

Money, always on my mind. With six months to go almost every thing I do I am scrutinising. Do I need that expensive coffee? Do I need another beer? My Costco membership is up and I'm faced with the dilemma of renewing or now. I think I will because I can't go without the food I get there. Luckily, beyond day to day expenses, birthdays and holidays I don't need to buy many things from now until we leave.

I need to step up my saving. Every month I have a target and it's not always easy to meet it. Now with so little time left and no big bonus OR pension at the end of my contract if I don't try harder to save I may not meet the target I have set for my wife and I for moving to England where everything is much, much more expensive. Hopefully a cheao month for me.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Time flies

Today marks five years since I arrived in Korea. Hard to contemplate at times but here I am. Five years does seem an awful long time doesn't it? A quick look at my calender at work on Friday and I saw that I've twenty six weeks left here. Seems somehow shorter than six months. Hope time flies in the best possible way.

Alas it's not plain sailing. Work is dragging along. I can't say that I am enjoying most of my classes. There are ups and downs as always. This time last week my laptop screen broke. It's not worth fixing so I will trundle on till I get home and splash out then. Luckily my wife has one and is even planning to buy a new one soon. My laptop is almost indispensable. My music, my photo's, my movies and of course the all important internet access. Beholden to technology it would seem.

Friday, 29 October 2010

When teaching in Korea, check your payslip

Last week I received my contract completion bonus but the total was missing some 600,000won or so. Work let me know that it was a mistake and it would go onto my next payslip, so no big deal. Yesterday was pay day but still no bonus. I made a few enquiries and work got back to me and told me that again, it was a mistake and if I really needed it they could pay me now but would prefer to pay it in a months time at the end of November.

As a sweetner, the guy in charge of this - who has always been helpful and accommodating - said if they can pay me next month then they will throw in an extra day of holiday of my choosing (or the money for it if I don't use that day). Of course I chose the extra free day of holiday. I'm lucky that my work has never cheated me over money and has always been fair even if they have made a mistake but I also know not every academy works as fairly as mine does. Anybody teaching teaching in Korea reading this, make sure you check your monthly payslip as sometimes your work does make mistakes.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Taekwondo clown

For the past two months or so we've been joined at taekwondo by a Korean ajumma (아줌마), which means a middle aged Korean woman. Although she is there primarily there to improve her English - and she kind of admitted that to me - she does join in with the practice and is getting better. I kind of admire someone who goes out of their comfort zone like she has done to take this up.

She is a lot of fun. Of course her skills are much lower than us but that's not really the point. She seems to enjoy it and we laugh a lot more than we used to, and we've always had fun as a group. Her English is not bad and improving. She uses phrases that don't always work but we get what she means. Today she explained about when she was having a baby, describing it as an "Extreme activity." She is in her element when we play a game and seems to enjoy it more than us. She plays the clown really well and helps keep things light hearted when they need to be. She also is helping our Korean get a little better too.

Taekwondo is a decent way to kip fit but to improve you need to practice hard and try your best to get better. Recently we've been doing a lot of stretching and strengthening our leg muscles in order to improve our kicking. Today we spent a lot of time on that and at times it was bordering on painful, but in the best possible way. It really was difficult. At one point the taekwondo Master made me do some leg stretches while balancing his phone on my foot for the duration.

It was a bit tough on Lucy- her English name - as she had to do stuff she hadn't before but everyone else kind of had.stage which made us all laugh a lot. Importantly she didn't quit when it got difficult. Lucy is a white belt and is slowly getting ready for the next level, yellow belt. Her test is set for this Friday. Should be funny but in a good way like taekwondo is right now.

Winter already?

We had a nice few weeks of Autumn weather here in Daegu but yesterday it took a turn for the worse and it's much colder. I don't know if there'll be an upturn in tempteratures but for now we'll just have to deal with what we're served with. It's not super cold, just that for the past six weeks or so the weather has been about perfect. As I have said before, I'd rather deal with the cold than the six-eight weeks of insanity you go through in Daegu's Summer. Anyway, the cold reminds me of home and the fact that I'm coming home soon, making me pretty excited.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Playing screen golf in Korea

I'm really no big fan of golf even though at the end of my street back home in England there is a private golf course. In the UK it is seen by many, but not all, as more of an elitist sport/pass time where middle aged rich people go for some fresh air. I dislike the moral high ground that some people who run the game have as if it's some how above other sports and only played by gentlemen. To me, golf the sport makes itself hard for you to like it.

Anyway, when I was growing up I would watch golf on TV and played golf computer games which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed the skill level and decision making and also the feeling you'd get when you improved. I remember vividly playing my brother and beating him so he cheated by winding me up to affect my play, which he did. And since then I have gone off golf a bit. Until yesterday.

I've never played golf properly. Never had anyone show me what to do and never known how hard it really is. Yesterday my wife and I played screen golf here in Korea. We had a great time and will play it again. Korea lacks space and everyone really is crammed in so I doubt there are many actual golf courses, but people here do like it. There are driving ranges dotted around the cities and of course screen golf.

Screen golf is similar to a singing room, or noraebang. There you pay some money, go into a room and are given a large book of songs to pick from and tap the number into a machine and you sing. It's insanely popular. Screen golf works the same way. The room is largely the same size, there is a computer screen image projected at one end and equipment to simulate a game of golf. You whack (if you are like me) the golf ball at the screen and watch the ball fly. It's easy to play but difficult to play well. The room itself was air conditioned, clean and felt welcoming. I wish I could say the same for my classrooms at work!

As we were trying for the first time we only played nine holes. I don't know if the course we played on was tough or easy but I found the game difficult though after a while we both got better. I now have a new appreciation for the people who play golf for a living. After a while my wrist started to hurt because my technique was awful but waking up the next day I felt fine. For nine holes it cost 10,000won each but for the full eighteen it would have been 15,000won each. We'll definitely go back again as it's a fun way to kill a few hours.
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