Friday, 28 May 2010

Taekwondo belt mission

After missing three consecutive taekwondo classes I felt pretty tired and weak at the end of todays practice. I've been busy with some stuff and haven't been able to go and it showed today as both my technique and energy levels were pretty low but it was good to be back. Boy do I need to practice harder and harder though because I am lacking in some areas.

We're currently studying poomsae seven (태극 칠 장 - Taegeuk Chil Jang) and I'm struggling with some of the feet and arm movements and feel stupid when I screw up. I think this is so much harder than all the other poomsaes and believe I may need another week or two minimum to be test ready but we'll see. After practice was over our master demonstrated poomsae number eight (태극 - Taegeuk Pal Jang). I maintain my belief that this is easier than poomsae seven but we shall see.

So presuming we pass the current poomsae then we will begin number eight. And when we are ready we will go downtown to the taekwondo arena (?) and try out for our black belts - pretty nerve wracking considering it will be in front of a lot of people. And when will we be tacking 0ut black belt test? Well today, and I think I'm paraphrasing my taekwondo master but he said "Challenge is beautiful!" What he is trying to get us to do is to be test ready for 26th June. That's just four weeks away.

Mission impossible perhaps but I'll give it a go. I still think I will be struggling to be anywhere near test ready but at least we'll be practicing an extra day a week from Tuesday. In two weeks time we'll have to make a decision about whether or not we will take the test so I've got two weeks to improve my fitness and technique. Personally I'd rather take the test in August and do well rather than be in/adequate in June but I have to respect the opinion of my master. Let's be positive and give it a try. Tick tock, tick tock.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Still feeling safe here in Korea

Today I nipped into Homeplus (a big supermarket chain here) and locked my bike up and met my friend for some ice cream and shopping. After wrapping up my chores I rummaged through my pockets for my key and couldn't find it. I thought basically that I wouldn't be able to unlock my bike and it would be stuck there until staff shifted it. Then I looked at my bike and the bike lock. I'd left my key in the lock and it was still there. Perhaps nobody had seen the key but my bike wasn't stolen and I was quite surprised.

Four plus years here and I am still pleased about how safe and secure day to day life is here, and this is coming from someone who has been burgled here a few years back. It so much safer and calmer than back home in England and has none of the aggression that in engulfing life in the UK. It has to be experienced to be believed. I never feel unsafe even when I am walking the streets at whatever hour of the night it may be.

This week some of my classes involved questions about safety and I quizzed them on whether or not they think Korea is a safe country for people leading ordinary day to day lives. Everyone responded by saying they thought Korea wasn't safe but couldn't tell me why. They don't know how wrong they are and would be shocked if they lived outside or their bubble.

I have seen various examples that illustrate that crime is not such a big issue here including people leaving their car to nip into a shop but leaving their engine on. Does that mean that people are more trustworthy or honest here? I'm not sure about that but the culture and society are different. Of course there is the elephant in the room that is North Korea and whatever may or may not happen but in general I feel safe or have ever felt in any danger here, one of the many positives about coming to live and work in South Korea.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Koreans and elections

All over Daegu, and presumably over the rest of South Korea, candidates are stepping up their campaigns for the June elections. My wife informs me that the elections are for the mayor and for local government etc, etc. Elections and politics are very very different from Western countries, very different.

All over the city there are a plethora of banners, posters, people handing out cards and also small trucks going around with loudspeakers promoting a candidate. Today it was pouring it down with rain and I spent a few hours on the buses and noticed several of these 'campaign trucks'. Some had middle aged cheerleaders actually dancing, others waving foam hands while some trucks had video screens. My wife informs me that these people who help out are not volunteers but in fact paid to do this.

I remember one year being in a bar and one candidate coming in and giving everyone (that would be just us) his card. In cases like this does the guy with the highest advertising budget win? To a cynical outsider like me these campaigns look ridiculous but it's the way things are done here. It feels like every candidate is just some rich businessman who wants people to recognise him rather than people taking office who want to help out. Could be wrong here, language and culture barrier et al. I hope to get some pictures if I'm out before the madness ends voting begins.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Buddha's Birthday hot dog

Another day and another National holiday here in Korea (Buddha's Birthday) so that means I'm working again and the kids at my academy will not be up for doing much in the classroom. Anyway, it's 32°C outside right now and my neighbours are dumb. They have a dog which to be fair has not been yapping so much lately and they've taken it outside to play with it. Their son has a bike with a basket at the front and they've put the dog in it so he can ride around with it. Fingers crossed this little boy does not fall off his bike like kids often do, eh. Oh and they've just wrapped the dog in a blanket. Do they serious think this is a good idea for the dog in this heat? Sometimes I cannot believe what I'm seeing. Poor dog.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Summer starts here

It reached 30°C today as Summer officially started for me. There's no backing off now for say three months or so. I am comforted by the knowledge that however hot it gets outside my workplace is quite cool and so far I haven't even had my fan on at home or had the windows open at night. The air conditioner was on in the staff room for the first time today and nobody was complaining. It's 11pm and I've had to buy some beer to cool off, at least that's my excuse.

And what will Summer bring for me? I've been checking out prices for a plane ticket for a trip back home and have found one that has good arrival and departure times. It comes at a cost though, some ₩1.68million, some ₩380,000 higher than quoted to me for May. Still it's worth paying to go home especially as this time my wife is coming with me. A week at home in July at the height of Summer, sounds good to me.

And turning to more sobering events on this peninsula as International investigators have officially blamed North Korea for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. My take is this, I don't see how South Korea can win this one. If they attack then can they really win? North Korea is so unpredictable to this casual observer. If they do nothing then they look very week, to their countrymen and to other countries. They are stuck it would appear to me. International sanctions being tightened will only work if China co-operates and is that really likely? Perhaps it is time for China to decide what country they want to actually be. Time to finish this glass of beer.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Teacher's Day artwork

Teachers' Day or 스승의 날 fell on Saturday this year. This day is not a holiday but a day that is often marked by students giving presents to their teacher. I don't teach here for presents I teach here for money and am quite well paid. I don't expect to get things either but the absence, at certain times of the year of gifts continues to underline the impression and belief that we as ESL teachers are not real teachers. And to be fair most people here are just English language voices. Am I a real teacher here? Well no, that much is obvious. I don't work in a school I work in a private English language academy and the kids see me two or three days a week.

Friday came and went without event - no presents of course - except for one class of twelve girls and one boy drawing things on the whiteboard. They wanted me to take pictures of what they did but I didn't bring my camera so they said they'd repeat it all again on Monday. I forgot about this but yesterday when I got to the classroom I was set upon by the girls who took away all five of my markers and my board erasers. Those girls were really out of control but they had a good ten minutes or so of solid fun before we could start class. This was a lot better than a pair of socks or some cheap Korean chocolate. Here are some snaps of their artwork.

Happy day

Yesterday I received some great news at work. My worst student has quit. The boy who I have been referring to as The Jerk has left my academy, forever. Apparently my partner teacher joked about giving everyone in the class retest and he just got up and quit the class. So today is officially Happy Day because I teach his group and I can actually enjoy the class now. I have been trying for four months to either level him up or level him down but to no avail. This really is a champagne moment for me.

Very petty of me to celebrate this I admit but this kid (thirteen or fourteen) is a complete jerk. He seemed to think he was a twenty five year old but acted like a five year old. He constantly spoke Korean in class, disrupted others, didn't do his homework and did the opposite of whatever I asked him to do in class. I couldn't have given anyone any more chances than I gave him to change his ways but now I raise a mental glass of some rather expensive bubbly and celebrate his beautiful exit. Cheers!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Check up at a Korean hospital

Today I went to a local hospital - right across from where I work, less than ten minutes away from my apartment - for a mandatory health check. Every year or so you have a check-up as part of your health insurance and today was the day.

The whole thing took about an hour. This including blood and urine tests as well as weight checks, blood pressure checks, chest x-ray (I think), an eye test and a hearing test. Pretty extensive for an hour and I shudder to think of how long this would take back home in England. I anticipate the results will come in the next few weeks.

I couldn't opt out of the check-up because I have to pay for health insurance here. This costs me around £40-45 a month which sounds expensive but really its not too bad. It's been very useful and gives a deal of peace of mind in the event of something major happening to you. God bless the National Health Service but this healthcare is good.

Back home I have spent time in hospitals but this has been largely visiting very sick people but one experience I remember vividly was in my last year of school where I had an accident involving glass and my foot and lost what looked like, but probably wasn't, a lot of blood. I arrived at the local Accidents and Emergency ward and was left waiting for four hours before being able to leave. During that time I had one x-ray and just two stitches in my foot.

I've been to the doctor here many times and even to hospitals but it struck me today how different they are here to back home. Here they are well lit, are literally hospitable places with bizarrely to me a lot of smiling, helpful people. I'm not saying I want to go back but it's not as bleak as I find in England.

Casting my mind back to my experiences of back home where hospitals are sterile, depressing death cages I know where I would rather be now IF I was sick. Of course there is the language barrier but overall they are much better from my limited experiences. Even though I've been here for over four years I continue to see differences in culture every day.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

End of my hapkio adventure?

Last night I went to see my hapkido master to invite him to a lunch I'm having with my wife and other people. I haven't gone to hapkido in some four months or so mainly due to circumstances - I now live with my wife and wish to spend as much time as possible with her while before I lived on my own and had the time and inclination to get off my backside and practice after work.

I hadn't contacted my master during my absence and have been studying taekwondo in the meantime. I didn't know how he'd react to seeing me because of the gap and also to me taking up taekwondo. I needn't have been worried. He seemed happy to see me and being a married man himself understood my reasons.

Hapkido has been one of the many great things I have got out of coming to Korea. I wish to return to hapkido in the future but can't make any promises and this felt like a goodbye rather than a hello, a rather sad feeling but you never know what the future has in store. I am just lucky to have studied under him for over two years and it's a pleasure to have been taught by someone so generous and knowledgeable.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

South Korea's low birthrate solution?

During my last trip to Seoul I found the bathrooms in the train station littered with these cards. An answer to the low birth rate here?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Putting my foot in it

Me to student: "Sarah, how was your weekend?"
Student: "I went to Seoul"
Me to student (joking) "Oh, where's my present?!"
Student: "My Grandmother died"
--Abrupt end to conversation--

More tears in the classroom

Last night I caught one of my Middle school students chewing gum (eating in the classroom is forbidden), I calmly and nicely asked him what he was eating and as quick as a flash he said "Rice!". Everyone though this was funny, especially me and we all burst out laughing. And then he started crying. Doh!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Being Korean for a day

On Saturday I did the most Korean thing I've ever done or probably ever will do. I had some wedding pictures taken with my wife. To explain, my wife and I have been married for seven months but had no actual wedding due to circumstances. I thought it would be a good idea for my wife to have some kind of memento to remember our 'wedding time' and she thought it was a good idea too. Yes, this was my idea.

As the time came nearer I wasn't so sure if it was a great idea mainly because of some of these kind of photos I'd seen before but on the actual day of the shoot I ended up having some fun and the most important thing was my wife who seems to be very happy with the way things went. By the way it took four and a half hours which was a relief as I was told it might take seven.

The big worry for me was that I didn't know if a) the clothes we'd be using would fit me, b) the clothes would be ridiculous and c) the pictures would be too cheesy. Well the clothes did fit me (I had to wear four outfits) and they were a bit ridiculous - let's just say that Western fashion and Korean fashion differ SIGNIFICANTLY when it comes to men - and some photos were cheesy but looking at the photos afterwards things ended up OK.

It was an experience I will never go through again but it was painless and I did it for my wife. During the day I was told I look like Mel Gibson and later on in a store, Ironman - the things people will say when they are trying to get you to buy something. Some of the photos taken that we like will be turned into a wedding picture book and also a kind of collage picture. Two days after the event I still have some hairspray in my hair but it was worth it. I'm guessing like most Korean photographs our will be Photoshopped a great deal.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Small mercies

And now the noise has stopped. So today the dog was only barking (intermittently) for six hours and not the customary Sunday figure of nine. It's 2:30pm and it's owners have come back from a day at church or whatever they've been doing.

I repeat my stance, If I had a gun I would seriously consider shooting that little fella' and then make some dog soup, or some mittens. I like dogs just not ones that wake me up at 8am on Sunday morning because its owners neglect to take it with them when they go out for long spells.

Even though being woken up so early on a weekend annoys me I still prefer it to the noise machine who used to live across from me in my previous apartment. Waking up early is not the end of the world especially if I've had a decent nights sleep - it's beats not being able to sleep at 3am.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Election thoughts

Watching CNN's inadequate coverage of the General Election I turn to my lunch and wonder if the future of British politics will be as disappointing as my 'Britain Style' sandwich.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Open class day

Today is Open class day for me at my academy. That means that for one class, the kids parent/s can come and watch todays lesson if they so choose to. There's no real 'pressure' but it would be nice if the air conditioner is on to take the heat out of the situation. Thankfully I've been able to choose the class that's being watched and it's my first one today and probably my best class of all. The students participate, don't speak Korean, are bright and are quite creative. I teach them three times a week and always have a lot of fun and like to think they enjoy it too.

Will anything happen if things go badly? I don't really know but if everything goes to plan I know nothing will be said - feedback seems difficult to get at present. Fingers crossed that all goes well but I don't anticipate any problems because it's just Presentation day where the kids recite a series of set lines they've studied at home. I don't know how many parents will come, probably seven or eight and it will almost certainly be only mothers in attendance. I've gone through this a few times so it's no big deal but I am just hoping the kids try their best and show how good they are. I just have to remember to smile more.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

2010 Korean Herb Medicine Festival

Today I made my way down to the annual Daegu Yangnyeong-si Herbal Medicine Festival. It was the third year in a row I'd visited and this being the last day of this years event I made the most of my free time to check it out even though I knew it would be exactly the same as previous ones.

I'm still sceptical of the benefits of Oriental medicine but living in Asia has opened my eyes a little and I'm more willing to try things I would have dismissed pre-Korea. My wife hated the smell of the street we walked down but I loved the aromas which stimulate the sinus and make you curious as to what the products can actually do. The language barrier still exists so basically I couldn't figure out what most of the stuff does so I decided to save my money for some other time.

During the walk round we saw various stalls selling their wears and. Bizarrely, to me, there are various things on offer that have no relation to herbs or medicine. I saw various outdoor restaurants, a Nintendo Wii stall, a Korean version of Punch and Judy, people selling replica swords, a sketch stall and a place where you could make a wooden bow and arrow. All part of the fun of taking in the Festival especially getting some delicious Korean food. For more information here is the official website.

May 5th in Korea

Today is Children's Day in Korea. It's a National holiday and one of my students favourite days of the year. Often parents spend more time with their kids today and give them presents but from talking to students over the years a significant amount just want to spend their day playing computer games and not outside in the 'fresh' air. As per usual it's a day that I'll be working but I'm going to ignore any negative feelings and just try to enjoy the day and think of how much money my academy pays me to work for them.

It's already a great start to the day, my neighbours kids didn't wake me up which these days is a minor miracle. The temperature is a little cooler and I'm ready for whatever happens in the classroom. I expect quite a lot of my kids to not attend but I know there will be no cancelled classes. On a side note yesterday my school put on the air conditioning - one month ahead of when I was expecting. It makes a huge difference. Anyway because it's Children's Day here is a photo of one of my students who smiles all class long.

Monday, 3 May 2010


Has Spring finished already? My taekwondo master says Spring is over and we are now in Summer and it's hard to disagree. Even though it's set to rain a little this week we've seen some glorious weather over the last few days with temperatures around 28°C. With blue skies, no clouds and a nice breeze this is some seriously great weather. It's a great time to be outside but sadly in the coming weeks it will change from warm to very hot and go up to 38°C or so and get very humid. My mood changes in the Summer months but this is my final one here so I'm trying to stay positive and think of some exciting things that are going to happen. So how long till Autumn, about four months? Can't wait.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Yap yap yap

It is 8:30am on Sunday morning and I am fully awake as I have been for thirty minutes. Next door neighbours dog woke me up and is yapping intermittently but loudly. Last Sunday it was barking on and off for nine hours until its owners came home. There better not be a repeat of that today. As it is their kids now wake me up every week day at 8:20 as they go to school. I need just a little more sleep than I am getting especially on the weekend but feel there is little I can do as my wife has already talked to the neighbours about things and dogs will bark won't they. This is what can happen when you live in a country where there is no space and people are packed in like sardines.
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