Friday, 30 April 2010

Seeing red - 2 steps away from black belt

Up the ladder once again. White, yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, brown and now red. Today was taekwondo test day at my dojang and I passed and got a new belt. However it didn't all go according to plan. My condition was pretty good, preparation was fine, practice went OK and I felt extremely confident and then the test started.

First we did the 6th and latest poomsae. This went very well and I didn't make any mistakes. Then came numbers four and five and my technique collapsed. I made so many mistakes it just wasn't funny. Three hours later and I'm still furious with myself. The mistakes were stupid mistakes too, things that I don't get wrong when I practice. Usually it's the easy poomsaes that I screw up.

Luckily our master gave us both another chance to take the poomsaes and they went much better. He said we need to be at 60% to pass but he wants us to be at an 80% level soon. I'm supposedly at 70% which is OK for now but not good enough for the black belt test in maybe two months time. I repeat to myself that I must improve, must work harder and must try my best even when I don't feel up to it. It's not going to get any easier from here on in.

When we get to the black belt test there are no second chances on the day, it's pass or fail. Today would have been a fail and a two month wait till the next time. On the up side I feel I'm getting better and I've got rid of that ugly brown belt. Now I have a HUGE red one which is so long that I have to wrap it around my body twice. You win some you lose some but you can see in the picture how pleased I am to get rid of the previous one. I anticipate the next test in about three or four weeks and then we will be practicing for black. This is going too fast but it's something to look forward and something to aim at.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Some Seoul pictures

Name calling

Yesterday in class I got some new Wednesday students and as usual I asked about their names.

Me to student A: "OK *** *** do you have an English name?"
Student B: "His name is Hitler"
Me (in disbelief): "What?!
Student C: "His name is heil Hitler"

I think my jaw hit the floor but I nipped this one in the bud and they won't be saying that again on Wednesdays.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


All of my Middle school students are in the process of studying for or taking exams. This is both good and bad for me. Bad because classes are disrupted, disjointed and lacking most of the kids so sometimes there are one, two or three there because most don't have to actually go (punishment exemption). Small numbers are often harder to teach because all the energy comes from you and not the students. Those that come often don't have the material of haven't prepared which makes the class pointless and usually drifts off to a juncture where things end up being a waste of time for all concerned.

Then there is the good part. Sometimes we do get breaks if no one turns up. I've had three during these tests but I think that's that now. Others have more, some have less and one co-worker has had none at all. Tough luck for him. Even though my last class was a no show I still had to stay at work. I've been trying to give myself an easier time and prepare some of next weeks stuff but there is only so much you can stomach when you could just relax. 'Teaching' to some is very boring but from my experience counting down the clock when you're on these breaks can be equally tedious.

Tuesday taekwondo struggle

More mistakes at taekwondo today resulting in the postponement of Wednesdays test to Friday. And it's a good thing too. It would appear that after a weekend of no exercise or practice the first day back in the dojang I am hopeless. Stupid mistakes and unforgivable gaps in my memory made the poomsaes (1-3) much harder even though they are the easiest. The later more difficult ones including number six I feel confident doing. The only answer is practice, practice practice. In an ideal world I would go there every day but that's not to be for now. My body has limitations but I must work harder.

After todays practice I got to spend about thirty minutes with my Master talking about things. Even though his English is limited we can communicate quite well and he is getting better by the week. We talked about future tests, exercise and even the weather. I'm very lucky to be studying under someone so kind and relaxed. I asked about getting another uniform next month, a more expensive one and we checked some out on the internet. I look forward to buying one in the near future. Sweating in the dojang proves I need another as the humidity is on the rise as Summer creeps ever closer.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Watching taekwondo black belt tests

Yesterday was a really busy day. With only four hours sleep I just about managed to get up and head to my dojang to meet my taekwondo Master. Some of his students were taking first and second black belt tests and Diana (co-worker and taekwondo comrade) and myself were invited to go and watch those taking part (people from the Bukgu area of Daegu). We drove downtown and none of the kids in showed any sign of nerves. Perhaps too young to think about it or perhaps it's not really a big deal for any of them.

The tests were around the Samsung Lions baseball stadium and the first thing that hit me was how many people were actually having their test at once. I think my master said around four/five hundred people although it is sometimes double that. When I took hapkido tests at my dojang there were sometimes around fifty people watching and I always was very conscious of being very conspicuous but this was on a much larger scale though to be honest nobody will be watching me when I get to take my test.

Watching all the action I was very impressed with most of the participants. First we saw a demostration which was a lot of fun to watch up close. I made a video and hope to post that soon. Then it was the turn of the kids who start off with those taking their 1st 'poom' test all the way up to those taking third or fourth ones. This being a small world and all, I naturally I bumped into one current and one ex-student of mine taking part. I watched them and they did well. When the kids finish it's the turn of the adults who take their 'dan' tests and here is when the arena emptied significantly.

About the tests themselves first the participants do the Taegeuk Pal Jang (eighth and final poomsae before being award a black belt) then two other poomsae's afterwards - these are drawn at random and could be the first two you learn or numbers six and seven which was what yesterdays students had to do, so in all three poomsae's. Finally there is a fighting element where you attack and defend yourself against an opponent supposedly not making contact but you do wear a helmet. This is similar to something I did in hapkido and is the easiest section. When doing these four sections you start off at one end of the arena and end up at the other and you take your test with five or six other people. The whole thing took about three hours though if there are more people then of course it takes longer.

As it took three hours there was plenty of time for consideration and reflection. I still feel inferior to many of those who I saw taking part yesterday. I am not fit enough yet, I need to lose weight, I am not flexible enough, my technique is inadequate right now. Will I really be ready to take part in two months time or will I have to wait an additional two more months? Right now that looks very close and although I would be confident of passing I am not so confident about actually being any good. I don't want to embarrass myself, my Master of his dojang. I cannot help thinking ahead of myself but need to stop and concentrate on what I am doing now. So overall it was good to see what's in store for me but there's a hell of a lot of work to be done between now and then whenever test time is.

Nicholas Cage kicks Ass

Yesterday I found myself in the cinema watching a Nicholas Cage film - only the second one I have paid to see (the previous one being 1999's Bringing Out The Dead). Despite logic defying evidence I like him yet know he can be really terrible and though I've seen some appalling films on TV starring him I went in really expecting something good and thought Kick-Ass was fantastic. Cage is a staple of Korean film channels here and the last five or ten years have seen some stinkers from him but this was the best film I've seen so far this year.

Granted this is not a Nicholas Cage film but he is in it and he's one of the main characters. And he's actually very good playing the role of Big Daddy, though Hit Girl steals the show. The over acting is intended this time and his lines are quite funny. The Adam West style voice was spot on though I think I was the only one in the place who got it. I'm surprised the film wasn't banned because it's pretty violent, be it comic violence. Mind you Korea seems to like violence. Alas, back to National Treasure vehicle you go Mr.Cage.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Busted in the classroom

Yesterday I caught two kids cheating as they took their test. I knew they were cheating so I nipped it in the bud silently without making a big deal. They have a test with three sections and for the first part they had to memorise over twenty words (maybe fifty, I am not sure). Inside their pencil cases they had written the words in English and Korean. I simply took these and placed them on my desk and checked them after collecting the papers.

It was obvious they had cheated but bearing in mind I caught them early AND that right now they are in the process of revising for some high pressure exams I let the matter slide but let them know I am watching them and don't expect it to happen again. One of them had tears in his eyes. He knew what would happen if the matter went any further - four weeks of retests etc, etc. I tried to deal with the matter as best I could but from now on I will have to be more vigilant.

Also busted is the person in 'editing' who wrote up a section for the listening homework and test. The paragraph is about some films and actors and what kind of films they are starring in. Instead of actually writing the names Jonny Depp and Colin Firth we have John Depen and Colin filth. Yeah, Colin Filth. That's great editing and they clearly deserve their desk job for having such imagination. What purpose does it serve to change their names? No one in Korea knows Colin Firth anyway.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The beast is awake

The strangest Spring in all of my time in Korea. Temperatures hit 24°C as today brought fantastic weather to what was predicted to be a lousy grey week. Sweating for the first time in a while in the taekwondo dojang on Monday and Tuesday I could tell that this week was significantly more humid as well. And despite all this, one Korean teacher covered herself with a blanket today in the office. If she was cold today I suggest she goes to a doctor and gets her blood checked out because she must be more reptile than human. It's still only April but Summer is coming.

Dog day afternoons

One of the big reasons I changed apartment some four months or so ago was for some peace and quiet. Where I live now had no people in the building other than the landlord which was a huge bonus considering my ex-neighbour was a noise machine. I'm used to noise here with fruit sellers pumping the streets with their loudspeaker at various times of the day. I live over a piano academy and I'm OK with that and have no complaints but recently a family moved next door to me.

A family with kids - I don't mind kids, I've been teaching them for over four years. But these kids make a bit of noise like kids do (do they need to shout "Mum" when the leave and come back to their apartment so often?), and now the play recorder in the day time, badly, and sometimes wake me up in the mornings, on weekends, when I need some kip. And now they have bought a dog.

If I had a gun I would shoot that dog or be tempted too (Korea has made me a little grumpy in that respect) - and it's not even making noise all day. It's not even a real dog, it's a little yappy one that serves no purpose in life other than to yap away. Reading this anyone might think that I am neither an animal lover or a dog person but I grew up with a loveable dog in the family and like them, just not small ones that look stupid. Koreans in general just don't get the idea of pets and many mistreat their animals in some way. Why would people who live in an apartment building here keep a dog? I think my neighbours are looking after theirs so that's something good. At least it's sunny outside right now and the kids are in school.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Volcano on my mind

This week I have to make a few decisions, not life altering ones but some that need a bit of thinking about. The most pressing one is about a plane ticket. I am hoping to go home to the UK for a week at the beginning of May. I have reserved a plane ticket (via Finland) but it's a bit pricey. The times for departing and arriving are great and represent a best case scenario. The alternative right now is a cheaper flight (via Dubai) but with worse times and a much longer in the air and in the departure lounges. The Dubai flight is on Emirates airlines which is the best airline I've travelled on but the actual flights just takes so much longer than flying over Europe. However right now I have a small temporary cash flow problem and saving money on the flight would help me out in the short term.

Another concern for me is the volcano in Iceland which has left thousands upon thousands stranded at airports and is causing a pretty chaotic situation with the UK a no fly zone as I write this. I am hoping something positive happens with that this week as I have to pay for my plane ticket by Saturday. I need a break and if the current situation does not change then it'll have to be postponed indefinitely. There are things I need to do back home and things I really want to bring back to Korea. I don't know when I'd be back home next because I have to book vacations about three or four months in advance in order to successfully get them. Everything that I am reading is saying that their is no end in sight and the volcanic ash is still spreading but that means the 'next few days'. Surely the volcano will start abating some time soon but when?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Red fail

During practice yesterday my taekwondo master conjured up an exercise designed to strengthen one of our kicks - a side kick - which we really need to improve. The exercise went well and by the end of class we both felt a difference and hoped that we would be doing this every week. The practice involved repetition of a kick but with blocks placed in front of us that we had to clear. Later on the blocks were placed nearer to our body and again we had to clear these. I found it difficult but also felt it was worthwhile and that I was getting better.

As a form of motivation the master told me if I could successfully repeat the action ten times with both legs, clearing the blocks every time and with a red belt balanced on the outside of my foot, then he would give me my red belt early. Of course I failed but practicing for it I could do the move a few times with my right leg but not my left. I'm hoping he will give me another chance next week because this red belt looks so much better than brown. It was very tantalising being given the chance to get it this early but again it showed me that I have a long way to go.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

2AM singer demonstrates 'Power of beer'

Here is a recent beer commercial for Hite lager starring Korean singer Jo Kwon of boyband 2AM. 조권 is a staple of Korean 'family entertainment' programs of late, a ubiquitous presence who dances in an exaggerated fashion whenever he gets the chance and is representative of the prevailing 'humour' shown on Korean TV. Meaning that he does everything over the top and does something even more stupid than whoever is doing something before him in order to get a longer laugh.

A less convincing beer commercial I am yet to see. I know when I make the mistake over drinking the appalling beer here doing the limbo is the last thing on my mind. I also like the way he finishes his pint in under one second, without actually swallowing any of it. I'm crossing my fingers that we get a follow up.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

April dream

Last night I had a dream in which I packed in my job in a fit of pique. Something didn't go my way, something that was pretty trivial and I just told them that was that and I left the building, giving them no warning. Oh how I wish it worked that way in real life. Today I got an email from my company congratulating me on working there for six months. The reality is I've been there two years and six months.

On a side note it's only Tuesday and the week is almost over for me. Yes I have to go to work till Friday but these days I only really 'teach' much for the first two days of the week. After that it's pretty much easy street for me and I'm counting down the hours till the weekend already. Easy days for me but on the whole many unsatisfying ones at work.

Black belt on my mind

Back at taekwondo after missing two classes last week and my body is feeling it. I had - and still have - a cold all last week which had been compounded by the yellow dust which left me lethargic, a dry throat and with a lengthy headache. I think this week I'll be doing a lot of stretching. My kicks were pathetic today and IF I'm going to get better then I need to be more flexible.

Last week we started learning (properly) the new poomsae. The one we're currently studying is number six (Taegeuk Yuk Jang) which will be for the red belt. Previous to today we'd only practiced half of the movements but we ended up finishing the entire pattern. It felt difficult but as the class was ending everything clicked and I didn't want to stop practicing. I'm now very confident of passing the belt test, be that next week or the week after, health permitting.

Looking at my calender, and if all things go according to plan we could be taking our black belt tests at the end of June. I say according to plan because that depends on passing the upcoming tests, being in good condition and reaching a standard that means we are ready to take, pass and excel in the test. I don't want to make up the numbers. I want to pass and look as good as I can and not be the token 'foreigner/외국인' who is given a pass just for turning up.

That's about eleven weeks to go so plenty of time to improve and to reach some kind of peak condition. I'm used to these type of tests but nerves will start to kick in the nearer it gets to it. In order to do well I need to loose some weight, get fitter, become more flexible and practice a lot more. That means exercising more, getting out more and stopping the drinking for a bit. Easier said than done. A plan at the very least.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Korean World Cup slogan revealed

Continuing to butcher the language. Why are these things never checked?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Korean evening blossoms

Right near my apartment. I see these every night as I walk home. I think they look better here than they do in the daytime.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

North Korea finds perfect Summer match

Being a football fan living in Korea and also from a Commonwealth country, todays news that North Korea will train in Zimbabwe before heading to this Summers World Cup in South Africa sparked my interest. I've been keeping as up to date as I can with stories of the North Korean football team are doing and from time to time wonder how their participation will covered by the Media here in the South. They will almost certainly win no matches and are unlikely to score any goals - they are grouped with Brazil, Portugal and The Ivory Coast - but this is the first World Cup since 1966. Both regimes leave a nasty taste in your mouth but for different reasons. North Korea and Zimbabwe, a perfect match it would seem.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter temptation

11:05am here in Daegu, South Korea. Brilliant weather again. I don't even need to open my windows to know that today will be a fantastic days weather. Sunshine pours into my apartment reminding me of my old place that could only ever illuminated by a light switch.

The weather forecast says today may reach 19°C, the highest temperature of the year so far. Barely a cloud in the sky. I check the forecast for my home town back in England and the forecast is possible rain for five days. Again.

Thoughts for another day. I digress.

Today is Easter Monday, but there is no four day weekend here in Korea. I'm not religious but being a child born on Good Friday a long time ago I take an interest in the time period. I do miss the time off work that I would be having back home but I get that back at Lunar Year and Chuseok. Am I really missing much? Repeats of Ben Hur and other other Biblical films starring Charlton Heston. And fat kids eating chocolate.

Yesterday we went for a wedding anniversary celebration dinner. We went to the same hotel buffet that we went to over Christmas. The meal was overpriced - hence the legion of empty seats - but enjoyable. I basically ate meat, meat and more meat and desert. Lamb, duck, rabbit, chicken, pork and beef were available as well as lobster and the usual seafood. I think the roast beef was the best I've ever had. Happy Easter.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Keeping an eye out in the classrom

Two things I chanced upon in the classroom this week. Firstly yet another way of incorrectly spelling my name. I don't now how they do it, I really don't. You teach someone week after week and yet they can't get your name right. Now one boy thinks my name is Garbine. When I say a students name wrongly (which I do repeatedly, deliberately) they go ballistic. I just remain gob-smacked at their failings. It will happen again.

Secondly I noticed one boys notebook. It didn't have any ridiculously inappropriate use of English or the saccharin 'cute' images that are abundant here. Instead there was a picture of a Caucasian family being burgled, trying to stop the robber from escaping. A weird image for a child's notebook I thought. If you click the picture you can see a drawing pin is in the burglars eye. I doubt we get similar designs back home. Why do they never have pictures of Koreans on stationary paraphernalia here?

Friday, 2 April 2010

New day, new test, new belt

Despite reservations from my group, today we took our latest taekwondo test. I think we all felt a little under prepared and perhaps this came a little too early. I felt confident this morning but during the test things just didn't go too well. Ultimately we all passed and received our brown belts but together we made a few too many mistakes according to our master. We were given a chance to try one of the movements again but would not be given such a chance if it was for the black belt. I'm quite disappointed in myself and feel like I didn't really deserve todays pass but won't be dwelling on it.

Perhaps we are going too fast. It would seem that our next test is in another three weeks, for the red belt. I can't wait for this for one simple reason, so far all my belts have been too small and I look a little stupid. I've been promised a longer belt when I pass the next test. At the end of the month we get a chance to watch some black belt tests. I this will prove invaluable for me getting used to the 'occasion' and surroundings. I'm pretty excited for this month in general and really looking forward to watching the people taking their test. It would appear that we are on course to take our black belt tests at the end of June. Fast progress indeed but will we be ready?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The match that started my fire

Today brings me up to the six month mark of my marriage. I remain as happy as I've ever been and it's all because of my beautiful wife.

"Ton cadeau s'appellait desir
L'allumette qui porte ma flamme"

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