Friday, 30 July 2010

Born Standing Up

Page 86.

"...teaching is, after all, a form of show business."

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

At the back of my mind

As I sup on my cup of tea I think of my students back in Korea and how kind there were in giving me the cold I have right now. I sniffle and sneeze my way through my time off and contemplate my revenge.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Waiting for the free beer

Waiting for my flight at Incheon airport. Not long to go now. Am headed to Helskini then to Manchester. Have to admit the thing on my mind is what beer will be on the plane? I've never had Finnish. Can't wait.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Picking up my taekwondo black belt

Last week I found out that I had passed my taekwondo black belt test. I had to wait a week to receive the belt but finally got my hands on it a few days ago. It certainly puts a spring in your step on your way to and from the dojang. I'm still surprised at how quickly we got to the stage of taking the test. When I did hapkido it took ten months to get to black belt test status and just seven for taekwondo. My Master deserves a lot of credit. We doubted him and ourselves. I thought it was coming too soon but we were wrong. The timing was just right.

I'm very proud of how I've done. There is no disillusion over my ability. I know where I stand with my level. If only I could have started this a few years earlier ago I think I would have really enjoyed training a lot more. Where will I go now with taekwondo? Well the text for a 2nd degree black belt would be in June 2011 - a year from the 1st degree one. I won't be here then, no way. So I am stuck at the level I have reached (belt wise). I am now going to go to improve if I can and for fun. I enjoy going. It's a great start to the day.

A few days ago the Masters wife asked me what I liked the most, my hapkido black belts or my taekwondo one. To be diplomatic and respectful I said they were both great and I enjoy this one because it is the one I have passed recently. I stick by that but passing my 2nd degree hapkido test took a lot of sacrifices. I went at night on my own. I trained on my own and improved on my own. With taekwondo it's been more of a team effort. A different kind of achievement. Both have been great times and both different.

Jesus business card

I decided to take the risk and walk to the convenience store wearing my taekwondo uniform. It's only two minutes away and I would only be in there very briefly. Open mouthed Korean kids who've never seen a white person before - check. Disbelief that a foreigner would study taekwondo - check. Child saying hello to me in Korean - check. Adults looking at me as I disfigured/not welcome - check. Feeling of alienation - check.

Scorn and besument both at high levels, but no English. How strange. I open the door to the store and a middle aged man greets me in semi perfect English, "Hello. Jesus Club". He hands me a card and we leave it at that as I head to the gimbap. I leave the store and check out the card.

Jesus doesn't strike me as a yellow business card typed figure. Perhaps he could sort out these stares that I still get even after four and a half years of being here. That would be a miracle.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Some things I miss

Inevitably of late my mind has turned to things that I am looking forward to when I get back home for my all too brief holiday. Food, drink, places and people have been been on my mind for weeks and weeks. I know what I am going to eat first, where I want to have a pint and where I want to shop. I know where I will be going for the first few days and who I want to see. I'm mostly excited about being able to do all this with my wife.

I'm not someone who constantly pines for home. There has been no 'get me out of here moment'. Safe to say I like a lot of what I have here. Being older than most ESL teachers who arrive in Korea I have different needs and am perhaps mature enough to be able to make do with the things I have to deal with and the limitations forced upon me here. But, there are things I miss. In no particular order, bar the first three (and containing a lot of food), my miss-list.

My family,
The English language - accents and colloquialisms,
Weather, my weather,
Cottage cheese,
Good potatoes,
Skimmed milk,
Good curries,
Imported food that is inexpensive,
Grass/gardens, lovely green grass,
Fresh air,
Good bread that's not so sugary,
Beer - Bitter, Guinness and high quality lager,
Physical English language newspapers that report UK news mainly,
Listening to night-time radio,
A wide selection of restaurants,
Cheap books,
Football with English commentary,
Fish and chips,
A wider selection of clothes that fit me,
Cities being awake at 9am,
The queue system,
Grapefruit juice,
And more...

I hope to meet up with some of those, given enough time next week. I'm not bashing Korea, Koreans or the way of life here. Things are different and that's to be respected but from time to time, you do miss the small things that you probably never appreciated of life back home.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

What the duck

I nipped into the local supermarket to buy a beer (to combat the heat, I swear!) and what greets me on the way home? Why, but two ducks in a pen. No idea what they were doing in the local playground. Perhaps pets, perhaps dinner. Judging by the dirty water and their food - some lettuce leaves - they weren't too well looked after. Random stuff in Korea. I'm off to drink my beer, this heat drives you quackers.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Name mistake #958

This student compounds his mistake of getting my name wrong with mistaking me, his teacher, for a theatre. He's still my favourite student though. Givan, I think I've had that before. I've lost count now.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The same but different

Change at work. The atmosphere is different. The two men who I sat next to in the teachers room are not there now. One, my partner teacher for nearly one and a half years has moved onto a similar position in his home town, the other has been given a temporary (I think) promotion to assistant manager so he won't be teaching.

My new partner teacher seems to be nice. No complaints but we're in a getting to know you situation. Regardless, it won't make much difference to my work life, apart from being a little bit quieter. There won't be much banter any more. She bought a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake today and everybody loved it, a nice touch. The other new face next to me seems to be a little shy. That's OK too. Hopefully she will open up a bit more as the weeks roll on.

One day down, four to go before my holiday. Today was a normal day but my mind is just not thinking about work. I keep falling asleep at around 4am because I am genuinely happy about going home. It's been over one year since I was back in England. At times I miss it and at others I am fine about being away. Right now I am really enjoying the process of getting ready for my trip, packing, deciding what to take, getting information ready. It won't be long.

One thing that clarifies the mind is the heat. We are in the core of Summer. This particular heat lasts around four weeks or so. Todays forecast wasn't for very hot temperatures but the five minute walk to work was, I have to say, tough. I got to my second class, the room I have dubbed the Greenhouse and I noticed a new face. For some reason there was a fan. for a minute my heart sank and I thought the air conditioner was broken but no, I had air con AND a fan. Now that was fun.

My new best friend

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Freddy Krueger dancers

I'm sat here eating my breakfast as my wife watches a music show here in Korea. The show is Music Bank and features the usual popular artists. The 'artist'/'singer'/'dancer'/clotheshorse/lip syncer featured here is Narsha, more famous for being in Brown Eyed Girls. I have half an eye on this and half on my food when I noticed the backing dancers.

The are dressed like Freddy Krueger, the character from the Nightmare On Elm Street films. Very bizarre for a family music show. The song is called BBI-RI-BOP-A. BBI-RI-BOP-A, BBI-RI-BOP-A slice you in half? On repeat viewing you can see the lyric "bad bad dream" so maybe it makes sense. As always, the backing dancers are better than the main singer on music shows.

A few hours in Busan

Yesterday we made our way to Busan to get some shopping and took some time out to enjoy dinner. Due to circumstances we didn't arrive till around 4pm so we were limited in the things we could do but we took in Gukje street market and then headed to the Jagalchi fish market to eat before heading to one of the big department stores.

I really enjoyed my time there. I have been to Busan before and enjoyed myself but have not been as often as I'd have liked. There are plenty of reasons to go, my wife has family there, the beach is very relaxing, the temperature is cooler than where I live and the vibe of the city is different to Daegu. It feels like there are more things to do. I hope to return some time soon - though only after Summer ends.

Whilst at Jagalchi market, we stopped for some dinner. We were torn between the shrimp or mussels. In the end we got the mussels and were given shrimp too. My wife loves seafood and with Busan being a coastal city we were confident our meal would be good, and it was. Whilst there I noticed signs advertising whale meat. I don't think I had ever seen such a thing before. Of course I would never order whale but I am curious who would. Would you? I find the idea repulsive and one taboo I would never break.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Cicada season

Today I heard cicadas for the first time this year. This means two things - imminent hot temperatures and a noise that can be compared to live electricity. Perversely, I kind of enjoy the sound. It comes right out of nowhere and within seconds is gone. It is a far superior sound than the truck that woke me up again today as it slowly made its way around the neighbourhood with its loudspeaker on. I have never thought such violent thoughts as I did a few hours ago.

I recently read a riveting book about a woman growing up in communist China. During the Summertime of her childhood she used to capture these insects and roast them, so limited was food in her region at that period. At times such as these I truly do think I am lucky to have grown up in England, bland food and all. My summer mission is to find a cicada and take a photo to post on this blog. I think I will pass on eating one though.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Students and sharp things

Spend some time in a classroom with Korean students and after a while you will notice something that they carry in their pencil cases. Not every kid will have one but most will, especially those in Middle or High school. Kids here carry 'box cutters' in their backpacks. The first time you see one, it comes as a bit of a shock as quite obviously, this would never be seen in the UK. I'm sure some of the kids couldn't be trusted with such a thing. None of the students I teach at my academy need this in their pencil case but many have it. They don't use it as a weapon, they don't mistreat it but still it is often there. By the way, this boys 'cutter' was huge.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Taekwondo black belt success

We did it! Just seven months after first starting taekwondo classes we have all passed our black belt test. Today our Master casually told us that Diana and then his wife had passed. He then told me I had not but he was teasing me.

I couldn't be happier with how things have gone. To be honest it's not sunk in or doesn't seem real yet as I won't get hold of my new belt for a few days. Till then I'm going to have to be content with just being really happy.

Not bad eh, from white to black in seven months.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Favourite summer sound

We're smack bang in the middle of rainy season here. It isn't monsoon weather, not by a long chalk but today the heavens have started to open. Up until now the rain had been limited to a little here and there, and more of a nuisance due to the effect it had on the air quality.

A welcome respite from the heat, today is set to reach 25°C maximum. What a shame it couldn't be like this on a work day. The forecast says we're in for a few more days of similar showers. What great weather in my opinion. We had planned to make it to Busan but don't feel like walking around getting wet. Instead we'll just lounge around and have another lazy day.

The only dampener (ho, ho) is a hole in one of our walls. We recently had a new air conditioner fitted and there is a small leak where a pipe lets the water run out but today the water is slowly dripping in. Luckily we've noticed this and have attended to the matter. Just under two weeks now till our vacation starts. I fully expect to be seeing more downpours when back home. The sound of rain is very soothing, don't you think?

Friday, 9 July 2010

No, you cannot turn the air con off

At best it is warm for large parts of the day, at its worst it is very hot here right now in Korea. Most buildings you go into all have their air conditioners on or at the very least have some fans. My workplace has good air conditioners. There are three large ones for the third floor for reception, the computer study room and the teachers room.

In the classrooms their are two vents where the air is filtered in and keep the room nice and cool. You only really notice the heat when you are on the stairs or if some sneaky teacher turns the air con in the teachers room when they have a break.

It is very important that the air con is a) on, and b) works well. Otherwise it would be unreasonable to expect classes to go well. You can't teach or study without it really. Before the full breakout of Summer the classrooms were getting toasty. In May the kids were screaming for the air con to go on. And on it went, probably will be till late September. But then the kids started complaining. "It's too cold", they screamed. Again and again. And now, one third of the way through July I am getting requests for the air conditioning to be turned off. No, it's not going to happen, not in my classroom.

Having dated and subsequently married a Korean and also having worked with people here for over four and a half years I believe that Koreans often struggle with temperature changes. I don't know why. It gets hot here every Summer and it gets cold ever Winter but I cannot begin to say how many times I've heard "It's hot" or "It's cold" in the office when it has been anything but. The air con stays on, unless a Korean co-worker decides they don't want it on in the teachers room it would seem.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Jeju cactus

Today one of my students gave me this piece of chocolate from Jeju (Koreas Hawaii). It tasted pretty good, but real actual cactus? Apparently so and made with the powdered form of the plant. I've seen green tea chocolate as wasabi and other oddly flavoured Kit Kats in Japan but this is as exciting as I've actually tasted so far. I'd definitely try it again.

Overused words heard by an ESL teacher in Korea: Part I

The other day I asked one student, I cannot remember who, an easy question. Their answer just really annoyed me even though I had heard that answer from tens of, if not hundreds of kids before. A word that I do not wish to hear when I go back home on my short vacation.

My students have a limited vocabulary but an impressive one, I think, especially considering I teach the middle level abilities at my academy. I am often impressed at how well they can deal with some of my questions or expectations. However, there is some words that I have heard time and time again that when I hear are like a punch to the heart. One word that falls under this category is 'dirty'.

I have found that there are certain words that are overused here. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just that some words are misused/overused and grate when you have worked at an academy like me for too long. Personally, my Korean vocabulary is shockingly bad so I know learning a new language is difficult and frustrating at times and you cannot really express yourself fully and eloquently.

But on the subject of dirty, I grimace every time I hear it. No matter the occasion or topic this word invariably crops up especially when expression an opinion or feeling given an unlikely scenario. It is said to show a feeling OR, more specifically, to extract a laugh from the other students. But it's just not funny.

"What do you think about (anything)?"

"If (scenario) how would you feel?"

"How are you today?"

"How were exams?"

All questions met at some time with 'dirty' like some proud boast. And said with a grin that makes them look as if they think they've said something witty and ingenious but met with an equally powerful feeling of contempt from me, internally I hope! Is some TV 'funnyman' here using this word on some show? If so they must stop. It really is annoying when I hear this word.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Motivational Korean notebook

Some kids notebook caught my eye yesterday in my final class. Can studying English really make you bitter?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Korean professor fools 5,000

This story ( from the BBC doesn't seem to have been covered by many people whose blogs I read here in Korea. Again we have another Korean science scam. Here a professor claimed that he could make tap water into holy water has been charged with fraud. The article states that he fooled over five thousand people making over $1.3million by claiming to be able to cure illnesses with the water. Not funny for those who got sucked in by this one and another unfortunate story for Korean science.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Waiting to fly

Yesterday we finally managed to buy tickets for our Summer vacation. We're heading back to my home in England for one week, spending some time in London as well as in the North. And it can't come soon enough. I've also booked train tickets for a the trip down South and am looking into hotels for our short stay in the Capital.

While most ESL teachers in Korea will be heading off to more exotic climbs we certainly wouldn't swap places with them. Firstly, I'll be able to see my family who I haven't seen in well over a year. Secondly we can catch up with some good friends. Thirdly I will be able to stock up on essential supplies for the coming months and lastly we will both be able to drop off some stuff that we intend to keep but would have to mail back to England otherwise, thus saving us a little money. Finally, oh yes indeed, good food and great beer awaits us.

We're just excited in general. I've been planning things to do, things to buy, things to take back for months because I had initially intended to go back on my own in May. I feel like all I do is plan half the time. It's now just three weeks away and receiving our tickets make it all the more real. We waited as long as we could to buy the tickets though we reserved them some time ago. We waited because there was a chance that the price would come down, and it did buy around 5%. Not bad but we are still paying ₩1,600,000 each which is steep in the extreme. That translates into £860 as things stand.

The logic of going home rather than going somewhere cultural or tropical may seem odd to some but it will be a welcome break from the intense Summer heat we'll be having here in Daegu. Away from the humidity I can enjoy life as it should be for me. A pint in a beer garden on a sunny day - can't wait. I also cannot wait to be away from teaching. The break will be good for both me and my students as hopefully I will return refreshed and re-enthused. Though right now work is the last thing on my mind.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Summer bites

Noticeably more humid at night time now. We leave work at ten and are often hit by a have of humidity upon leaving the workplace, like last night. We are apparently at the beginning of the rainy season now so things may cool off a touch but the air is uncomfortable and thick. It makes you feel as if you can actually touch the air. Truly we are in Summer.

Last night it was a touch warm and I feel asleep on top of the covers. I woke up feeling OK but walking around I noticed marks on my leg. I was bitten five times on my thigh. Luckily it's not itchy and is not painful but being bit by mosquitoes is no fun. Just now I have noticed a bite on my right wrist. This is particularly itchy. In previous Summers it has been my wife that has been attacked more but she has been left alone thus far. I look forward to next Summer back home, away from these terrible creatures. My revised estimate, twelve more weeks of this left.
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