Friday, 29 January 2010

Korean kid verdict on Bill Gates

Me: "So, tell me about Bill Gates"
Student: "He make microwaves"

11 in 11: Simple 2010 personal goals

I've been reading a few blogs recently and seen some people have been coming up with lists of future plans (plans are what go through my mind all day long and keep me going!). I've seen a lot of lists where people have come up with 101 tasks to complete in 1001 days. I think this is a good idea for many people but not applicable to me because my future after Korea is very unsure. I'm not certain on what I'm going to be doing in one years time never mind three years. The uncertainty is exciting though.

February is almost here so I've given it a quick thought and tried to make a list for the remaining eleven months of 2010, trying to lay down some goals for the rest of the year that I want to achieve. The list is not particularly ambitious but everything there is something that needs to be done and can be done, barring procrastination or laziness. I wonder if I'll manage all of them.

In no particular order
  1. Leave Korea and go home to England. This has been an ambition for a long time but I have set a deadline of December 2010 for when I want to be home. The only thing that can prevent this is lack of money, leading me onto the next one.
  2. Save more money. I have a target in mind but I think I will have to readjust this and be more realistic. I plan to take a decent amount of time off after finishing work here in Korea so I will need some cash to have some kind of lifestyle back home.
  3. Lose some weight. I've put on a few kilograms since Christmas and they need to come off. To do this I need to make some changes in my diet and drink more water to start with. Ideally I would like to lose 10+ kilograms. Perhaps that much is a pipe dream but at least it's a target.
  4. Walk more. I've noticed that I don't walk anywhere near as much as I used to back home. This has caused me to put on a little more weight so walking more will help me lose it more easily. I really enjoy walking around, listening to my mp3 player and taking in life. I should get out more.
  5. Get my taekwondo black belt. I'm on belt four of nine so the ball is rolling there. I'm confident I can pick this up if I practice harder and of course that will be easier if I lose weight. I think it will be pretty cool to have three black belts.
  6. Travel to at least two countries that I have never been to. I love to travel so this should be easy providing I have enough money. I am thinking Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia would be good to go to.
  7. Finish reading all the novels I have on my bookshelf right now. I have around twenty sitting there just waiting to read so before I buy more I need to finish them off, even the ones that I didn't buy or get as presents. One of the books is War and Peace though.
  8. Become more familiar with my camera and be comfortable with the settings with the intention of taking more pleasing photographs
  9. Be more positive about things in general and be more optimistic for the future. My wife is helping me with this.
  10. Spend Christmas with my family at home in England. My last Christmas at home was in 2004. Such a long time ago.
  11. Be a better husband for my wife.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Taekwondo: Green belt

Taekwondo progress continue at a great pace. I still feel like we're going to fast. The early stages aren't so difficult and we aren't actually doing 'that much' but compared to the slower pace of learning of hapkido I feel the tests are coming too early. Today's test was my third in under two months since starting. Contrast that to hapkido where I've been tested only every too months. The gap between tests there allows you time to improve and hone your technique. Eventually your mistakes will be ironed out for the test and for the long term. You have two months to be test ready. If you are not, then it's your fault and you deserve to fail.

The big difference between hapkido and taekwondo right now is that I'm doing significantly less than I would be at hapkido. Hapkido is more challenging in my opinion and is more useful in self defence. I'm sure others would disagree with me. Taekwondo is though a lot of fun. My classes feel less serious and less intense than hapkido and not as punishing on my body. I have begun to enjoy throwing my body about, even if it's just to get a "Well done" from my hapkido master.

From next month our class times change from 1:40pm to 11:10am. I think this is better as it leaves me a lot of time before work to get things done. I spend more time preparing for classes these days so I could do with the extra few hours. I also can't think of a better start to the day right now. As we speak I am at the tail end of taking a month long break from hapkido to spend more time with my wife in our new apartment. I hope to once again combine practicing the two martial arts together very soon.

Today's test went quite well. We all passed (my co-worker, the Masters wife and myself). I am now a green belt. Our next test will be for the purple belt. I presume this will not be in twelve days time like the gap was between the last test. The next one looks a good deal harder but seems like a good challenge. One difference today was that our tests were done together and in front of the other students who practice at the same time (kids aged around nine or ten I think) which is very similar to my hapkido experiences. It was fun to watch the other kids take their tests too.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A Weekend in Seoul

I'm feel refreshed from a weekend spent in Seoul. When I first lived in Korea I never really liked it's capital. It felt too crowded and the places I went to didn't feel special. Nowadays, I enjoy every time I go. Despite the freezing cold weather of Saturday we both had a fun time and can't wait to go back the next chance we have.

On Saturday my wife and I went to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Seoul Museum of Art. I thought parts of this were good - I'm no big art fan - but there were too many people packed into too short a space. I saw some pieces that I hadn't seen before, which was good. The translated English grammar was very poor though, and there weren't enough details explanations about the paintings in English or Korean. Too many kids as well, but what can you expect on a Saturday. It would have been nice to have been able to take some pictures of the exhibit but they prohibited.

After leaving we were temporarily lost but chanced upon a procession. We followed this and it lead us to the royal ceremony of the changing of the guard at Deoksugung palace which takes places three times a day. We enjoyed this and I've been looking to watch one of these for some while. I took many photos (see below) though most were of low quality and were we were standing wasn't the best of places. I'd like to check it out again next time in Seoul.

Later on we met my wife's cousin and her husband. This was the highlight of the weekend as her husband actually spoke some English. So far most of the relatives of my wife that I've met haven't been able to communicate with me. It's a challenge that we live with but it does limit how well I've been able to get to know her family so far. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant and later went for drinks. Hopefully we can meet up in the coming months.

Sunday was pretty relaxing. We went shopping in Myeongdong as we always do. I really like that area and we both ended up buying things we can't get in Daegu. Later we went to Itaewon where I went looking for books. I picked a few up but not as many as last time. We had some beers with fish and chips and nachos before heading home. Sounds uneventful but we had fun getting out of Daegu. I'm now looking forward to my February trip off the peninsula.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Crazy laughs in the classroom

I walked into my third class today and straight away burst out laughing. I was in stitches for a long time just looking at one of my favourite students. He was wearing a cap/balaclava. He looked like a terrorist. I joked about the gun he should have. He then pulled out a replica luger. It may not sound funny but it was priceless. Perfect comic timing. I couldn't resist taking a few snaps before trying on his hat. And then class rolled on. Some Korean kids have an, at times, unhealthy obsession with guns. This I let slide because it was a joke that was poking no fun at anyone. And it was pretty funny at the time.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Sunny days in January

I am off to Seoul for the weekend. At this moment it feels like my time in Korea is drawing to a close. Though is far from the case I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It may me Winter but I am in the Autumn of my Korean adventure.

Observation result

I figured my observation went well. You usually know when you've made mistakes. I've just got my feedback and the write-up was better than I was hoping for. For feedback you get important comments and a marking system. There are eighteen categories of assessment and they are graded as Needs much improvement, Needs improvement, Good and Excellent. I got four good and fourteen excellent grades. Leaving me feeling pretty pleased with how I did. Hopefully I won't be bothered by any Korean teachers watching me for the foreseeable but I know that won't happen. My managers never seem pleased enough to mention with how my classes may be going. Five or six months from now I'll go through it all again but next time I won't be re-signing. Unless they offer me seriously big bucks.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Student imitates teacher

Positive reinforcement. Telling the kids they're doing well and to keep going. Dishing out praise when it's needed is important as it lets the students know that they're doing well. Some of my (all too) often repeated phrases include "well done", "nice work" and "good job!"

Alas, this poor kid has mixed up "good job" with "good gob". Gob is UK slang word for "mouth". As in "you've got a big mouth!" Perhaps he is giving me a subtle hint about something. I wonder.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I ♥ Piano. Final word

And this is the tune that I hear the most (that could be the one that makes me not ♥ Piano). But played very badly. Over and over again. Every day. But still loveable. Just about.

Being watched

Yesterday I was observed by one of my Western managers. Though I have a Korean manager at the branch I work at, the Western manager is in effect my real boss. She decides whether or not my contract will be renewed or if I'm not doing my job well enough. Observations come every six months, give or take a few weeks even if you don't want to renew your contract.

So far I've had five meaningful observations from my managers and got good, helpful feedback on what I'm doing right and wrong. In fact my current manager is pretty good all round and always emphasises your good points. Recently the curriculum at my academy has changed. I think most teachers if not all are making some mistakes. I know I am, in particular I am not getting enough of the work finished that they want done. I felt that this was not the best time to be observed, but on the other hand if I was doing something wrong it would be better to know now than in several months from now.

Usually the manager gives you a time or a choice of what class you want her to watch. This time was different, leaving me having to prepare even more than I would normally for all of my classes. I wasn't nervous but I do wanted to do well - you never know, I could extend given the circumstances of the time. The concern for me on the day was the later classes where the students are taking longer to adjust to the new changes. However I think it went well. The class she picked was my best class of the day with only four students who are all doing well. We'll see what she really thinks when I get my feedback

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

I ♥ Piano

Koreans love to send their kids to academies. There is a need to study,to compete with others and not to be left behind. It is also a means of showing off for mothers who can brag about how much they spend on their child's education. It can help teach some children respect for adults. It gets them out of the homes and gives the mother some peace and quiet too I guess. Right now it's the Winter vacation for all school kids and this is when they spend even more time in academies. I make my living from one such academy so I'm not complaining.

Last month I moved into a bigger apartment and now I live above a piano academy, wonderfully named I ♥ Piano. You can find many of these types of places without much searching and there are three just thirty seconds away from my apartment. Every week day from about 10am to 4pm (when I go to work) I hear an assortment of familiar tunes. The quality of the playing ranges from OK to beginner as they bash out the notes, but most are in the middle of that range.

One former co-worker used to bitterly complain about the noises coming from I ♥ Piano, especially during the Summer months but I don't know why. The sound in my living room is not so bad, in fact if I watch TV or listen to music I can't hear it at all. I don't mind the noise though. it's always nice to hear some live music. I find it relaxing. Right now someone is butchering Scott Joplin's The Entertainer (made famous by the film The Sting) and it reminds me of my youth and this classic sketch from Morecambe and Wise - skip to 8:40 for the best bits.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

46 bottles of booze on the wall

Here's a sobering thought for the day. Data analysed by the NHS Health Scotland has revealed that on average, adults in Scotland are drinking the equivalent of 46 bottles of vodka a year. That's forty six bottles per person per year. Breaking it down to a more likely choice of booze that's around 537 pints of beer or 130 bottles of wine per person. The figures also reveal that adults in England and Wales on average drink 25% less alcohol than those in Scotland.

I know people back home drink a lot, me included but the figures mentioned are pretty sensational. At whatever standard you drink to and whatever is your poison 12.2 litres of pure alcohol per person in a calender year is some going. When you factor in that some of the people in the review will be drinking less than others, then some folks must be spectacularly rampant alcoholics. Still, this is what can happen when alcohol is so cheap in supermarkets these days. I'm getting thirsty...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Orange belt

Despite some pre-test nerves and an appalling practice effort, today's taekwondo test went very well and I passed. I only made one mistake on the poomsae when I usually make two or three. Afterwards the Master showed us the poomsae for the next test. Then we practiced around ten times or more. It looked difficult but after a few tries it seemed easy. I think this one will feel straightforward pretty soon. In fact we've been told that our next test is in two weeks time. Some progress eh.

So now I am an orange belt. What's next on the road to a black belt? Here is the belt ranking system.


Thursday, 14 January 2010

Test day approaching

Tomorrow I have my second taekwondo test. Going by how the first one went then things should be OK. However I do feel under prepared. Perhaps we are going at too fast a pace - tests coming too quickly. The classes are going very well, I think and continue to be fun but should I be having my second test already? I've only been taking classes for five weeks or so.

The things we'll be tested on aren't difficult. The kicks come relatively easily to me given my hapkido experience. The poomsae (품새) is not difficult either but I am still making basic mistakes, leaving me frustrated. Will I screw up on the test? I think my taewondo master would still pass me unless I made a huge error. We shall see. This pattern is part of my test.

Perplexing Korean store banner

I don't know what to make of this bizarre combination...

Monday, 11 January 2010

Quality of Life Index - food for thought

I read with some interest the recent Quality of Life Index ratings, published by International Living magazine. I have been lucky enough to have lived in or visited seven of the top twenty five countries, whilst have lived in, travelled or plan to travel to several more lower down on the list. Great Britain is ranked a lowly 25th (a fall from 20th in 2009), whilst Korea comes in at 42nd. Britain outscores Japan (35th) but lags behind Andorra, Lithuania, Uruguay, Hungary and Luxembourg. Predictably Canada (9th), USA (7th), New Zealand (5th), Australia (2nd) and France (1st) are higher placed.

In the UK there have been some predictably over the top reactions with many right-wing newspapers up in arms over Britains rating. Living away from home this does give me food for thought. I am undecided on wether or not the way the list is worked is fair out so I don't know if I agree with the ratings but an explanation can be found here. I know that the UK is NOT the best place to live in but know from experience that is isn't the worst either. Some of the criteria for the rankings include cost of living, climate and economy. Unsurprisingly these are the lowest scores for Britain.

Living here in South Korea as an ESL teacher there are several limitations but life certainly isn't bad. Luckily my job brings a certain freedom about how my days go. I am under no stress and lucky enough to make decent money. North Korea rates as a better place to live than Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I wonder how do you, wherever you are, feel about the quality of your life?

Top 25 countries

25. Great Britain
24. Czech Republic
23. Andorra
22. Lithuania
21. Portugal
20. Hungary
19. Uruguay
18. Finland
17. Spain
16. Denmark
15. Malta
14. Liechtenstein
13. Austria
12. Norway
11. Netherlands
10. Italy
9. Canada
8. Belgium
7. USA
6. Luxembourg
5. New Zealand
4. Germany
3. Switzerland
2. Australia
1. France

Sunday, 10 January 2010

ESL teacher life. Constant vs variable

On Friday the assistant manager at work said her goodbyes. She's received a promotion to be the manager at another branch in Daegu. She has been one of the friendliest, kindest and most helpful co-workers (Korean or Western) that I've had the pleasure of working with.

After some four years of working as an ESL teacher here in Korea I've seen many people come and go. From teachers to managers, receptionists and of course students. These days there is little or no affect on me. This time it was perhaps slightly different.

Now, at my academy, everyone I work with joined after I started. In effect, I am the senior teacher (by the way that means NOTHING, other than the fact that the longer you work the more pay rises you get). Right now I have some nine, ten or eleven months left on my contract, depending on a few things, before I hit the road for pastures new. I know that in that time maybe half of my co-workers could also have moved on.

I remain a constant rather than a variable. Have I wasted my time here? Should I go now or should I have even left earlier? Am I making a mistake by being 'stuck' in this job? The answer to all of those is no. Though I still feel I need to ask myself those questions. Emphatically, being where I am now is the right place to be and the right thing to be doing. No matter how I feel at the inevitable low points this is the best option.

My days as a constant end this calender year (I hope!). I look ahead, passively at times, yet in anticipation of the unpredictable variables that lie in store. The safety net has to come down eventually.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Thursday student artwork

Context (a): There is a popular mobile phone in Korea called Magic Hole. An advert for this can be seen here. I consider the commercial to be a crime against humanity. A picture of what the phone looks like can be found here.

Context (b): Some students like to call me Galbi teacher.

Context (c): My student is crazy.


Taekwondo update

I had my first taekwondo class in two weeks yesterday. The place was closed for the seasonal holidays and I hadn't done much exercise in the meantime so there are a few aches and pains today. Again the class was relatively easy but more importantly fun. There's a feeling of frustration when I can't do something as well as I want to. My Master is always pushing me to do better and tells me what I'm doing wrong, so I feel I am improving with his help.

We've been practicing a set pattern of moves called a poomsae (품새). On their own they are all easy, but together I seem to always make a few mistakes. Yesterday we found out of next test, for the orange belt, will be next Friday. At this rate we should be on for our black belts around June/July. I think I'll be ready by then. We also received a New Years gift. One pin for my Chinese Zodiac sign, the horse and one for the year we are now in, the year of the tiger.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow day in January. Korean surprise

Surprise surprise. Yesterday we saw the heaviest snowfall I'd seen in the four years here in Daegu. In fact it was heavy snow for most of Korea. And it was real snow. The kind that sticks, that can made into snowballs and takes a while to clear. I doubt the kids round here have been so happy in such a long time. Shame most of them had to spend their day in academies. People could actually play in the snow, but this also meant people had problems dealing with it too. I saw one elderly street vendor dealing with the snow by using water to clear it away. Blissfully oblivious to the fact of how dangerous ice is.

When I say people here have problems I mean pretty much everyone. This part of Korea, in fact most parts of Korea are not used to snow and do not know how to deal with it. Drivers here are poor at the best of times but yesterday they gave more thought to the conditions. However not having regular experiences with snow this lead to people over compensating. I saw several cars going ridiculously slow, perhaps around 5 miles an hour in parts.

It only snowed for about two/three hours but it was enough to leave its mark. I hope the kids enjoyed it while it lasted. I know I did. Might be a long time till they see snow round here like yesterday.

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