Thursday, 30 September 2010

Taegeukgi challenge

Yesterday a few of my classes concentrated on flags and countries. The topic created a lot of good conversations with the kids who talked freely about what they liked and didn't like about other nations, although there are lots of countries this students didn't know much about - was I much different at that age? I challenged a few of my students to draw the Korean flag in one minute, sadly the first image is their best effort. The second is mine, not great but OK for one minute. I always thought Korean students at art than me but not yesterday.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Maybe the best part about working in Korea

Twelve months have just flown by again. There are many high points that you go through as an ESL teacher in Korea and one of the best is today, pay day. Not just any old pay day but the end of contract bonus. Yes today is very satisfying. After completing your contract you get paid an extra months wage and there are other tops ups to that make it a big payslip.

Although I am not leaving Korea for some seven months, my academy has already paid me the money for my airfare home. It will be less hassle to book it with my wife than for my company to book a ticket for her. On top of the airfare (1million won - approx £550) I have got paid all the days vacation that I didn't get. A lot of academies don't work that way so I'm lucky. Yes working in Korea has many benefits but you can't deny that for almost everyone here the reason for coming is money.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Out of the loop: Working in Korea

I'm just back from dinner with all of my co-workers. It was mentioned last week but until today nobody knew where we were headed or indeed what the occasion was. We all ate and had a decent time but as we (the foreigners) were going I found out it was a leaving party for one of the Koreans. That's how things are at my place. The is a definite divide. I found tonight symptomatic of the way it works at my academy, again, disappointing that we are left out of the loop. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter at all but we are always the last ones to know. It does remind you that you're a guest here and not a regular member of society.

Interesting North Korea pics link

North Korea in the news again with Kim Jong-un seemingly lined up to be Kim Jong-il's successor. Some interesting pictures of life in 'The North' can be found here in the Guardian. My favourite ones are Kim Jong-il offering guidance to medical staff on how to run a hospital and the minced beef patty and bread instead of hamburgers to avoid any hint of American imperialism.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Cheering up

Being from the UK I am honour bound to talk about the weather far too much. Summer is over now, temperatures are down and from last week people are walking around in shirts, jackets and coats. In fact for weeks and weeks now to my dismay my students have been almost begging me to turn off the air conditioner.

It's amazing how much the weather affects my mood here. I'm more used to it than newcomers but Summers heat is much too intense for my North European disposition. Temperatures of 35/36°C are all too common in those nightmare weeks with the Feels like temperature sometimes being over 40°C. I don't know how the locals in Daegu put up with it all their lives. It's over and I feel like I've survived something.

Now the air is cool and the temperature is what it is and it's perfect for me. Being outside is not a burden now and work is less of a chore. There is no discomfort moving. No air conditioner on at home nor fan. There are no two or three showers a day (due to taekwondo), no sweating and no outrageous night time humidity that makes you feel like you can actually touch it, so thick it is because of pollution.

If the weather was like this all year round I could stay longer but it's not and I'm not going to do. I can enjoy the rest of my time in Korea and I'm really looking forward to the remaining months. One of my ex co-workers is leaving in a matter of days and it reminds me that my time will be up sooner rather than later - though I keep saying that! Time to enjoy the good things about Korea rather than dwell on what I don't like.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Classroom snippet

Me: "How are you today?"
Boy: "I have a bad cold."
Me: "Oh no, if you have a bad cold we can't play a game."
Boy: "TEACHER, I have a GOOD cold!"

Friday, 24 September 2010

Fun at Suseong lake

Having a few days off because of Chuseok gave us the chance to go to Suseong, an area of Daegu that I hadn't been to before. Suseong is considered one of the more affluent districts of Daegu and has many coffee shops and good restaurants and also has a man made lake.

I'd wanted to go for a while just to see what the place looked like so we upped and went. Tuesday was the day before Chuseok so most people had the day off and there weren't a lot of people around, the weather was also great, perhaps the last day of Summer.

We hired a duck, well a ducked shaped paddle boat and made our way around the lake. It was a lot harder than it looked and afterwards we really needed a breather so after a walk around the area we headed for some ice cream. After that we went looking for restaurant and chose to go in La Bella Cucina. The place was really good, maybe the best restaurant I've been to here in Daegu and the best Italian food I'd had in Korea so far. A fun day in Daegu.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Peace and quiet

I spent all of today, Chuseok, at home with my wife where we had a lazy day. Some of my co-workers went to Jeju, Busan and even Japan and I couldn't help feel a little jealous on hearing their plans. Still it's been good to be with my wife and just relax. My wife works so hard these days that I enjoyed her putting her feet up almost as much as she did. I cooked dinner and we drank Jack Daniels and coke. The programmes on TV were pretty dire. The love/hate relationship with cable in Korea continues.

Today it rained pretty much most of the day. Like a typical day back home in 'sunny' Bolton. I went for a walk at around 4pm, just me, my mp3 player and my umbrella. It didn't feel like Korea, Daegu or Chilgok and it was great. No kids running around, no significant daytime noises with hardly anywhere open and also very little traffic where I went. It was nice to have the place to myself for a few minutes. Couldn't help but wish there were twelve Chuseok's a year.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Pencil case

A bookended week with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off for Chuseok but everyone having to be there on Monday and Friday. Nobody wanted to be at work yesterday. This girls pencil case brightened up my day.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Jason Statham 2010, accent expendable

For some time now I have perversely enjoyed the films of Jason Statham. They are perpetually so bad that they are sometimes good. So cheesy, so predictable and yet paradoxically watch-able. Sometimes. The real reason I enjoy some of his films is his accent. Coming from England like Mr. Statham I have been subject to American accents on TV and films all my life. Yet no-one has ever spoken like he does in his films, because, he cannot do the American accent.

Unless you are Hugh Grant and essentially play the same pathetic character in all of your films there comes a time when an aspiring or even established film star from the UK will be required to produce some kind of American accent, be that West coast, East coast or mid Western. Statham's accent is lost in the mid-Atlantic. It is literally so bad it is good.

For the life of me I do not know why Hollywood directors who cast him in so-called action films don't just get him to play an English character, they often get him to play an American. His accent is is convincing as Jean Claude Van Damme's 80's and 90's efforts though not as bad as Dick Van Dyke's or Keanu Reeves' British accents of times gone past. Often Statham's accent veers from a bad American effort to a Londoners voice but each scene is hardly ever the same as the previous one. To put it another way, he simply cannot talk in a straight line.

For my sins I downloaded his latest effort, The Expendables for a laugh this weekend and to kill some time. Expecting nothing but a bad accent I watched and was surprised to find that for the majority of the film he stayed in UK accent mode. Curses, but I guess even a stopped watch is right twice a day. Statham without 'the accent' is like a sandwich without bread. Anyway not surprisingly the film is rubbish and I've already forgotten the plot, so bad was it. May Statham's accent tribulations continue.

"You are Pinocchio!"

There's a small trick I sometimes do in class involving my chair. It's not particularly impressive but my students seem surprised and laugh when I do it and of course try to imitate it. It's a bit noisy and one day a very cheeky girl in one class said I had to do it without making a noise. I tried but couldn't - it's impossible. She then said I had to do it next week.

Next week came (Friday) and I tried again and failed. Cue the torrent of abuse from two very cheeky girls.

"You are lie man!"
"You are no promise man!"
"You are 거짓말쟁이" - liar
"You are

They then put rolled up their notebooks and put them to their noses and continued to call me
Pinocchio for the rest of the class. Cheeky kids but funny times.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Number one question my students ask me

Reading the always interesting Busan Mike's blog today got me thinking. At my previous academy the number one question kids asked me was "What's your blood type?". Nowadays, for whatever reason I just don't get asked that. But as my students find out that I am married the questions reverts to babies.

Girls ask "Do you have a baby?". Boys ask "Do you have a son?". When I disappoint them and tell them no not yet, (I tell them that I don't have enough money for children right now which is 100% true) they appear deflated and bemused. Why would I automatically not have children, they appear to think. Their minds have not developed enough to appreciate that there is more to life than fulfilling gender stereotypes and being pigeon-holed into doing what everyone else is. I would like to enjoy my life the way it is right now for a while before having a child.

From my time here I have worked with a lot of co-workers and most of the Korean teachers have been women. For many, but certainly not all, their goal in life has been to find the right man and get married and essentially escape the life that they are shaping up to have. When they find that man they invariably get married and get married quite quickly, and what do you know, some nine months later they are giving birth. So I can understand why my students ask if I have a baby so quickly after getting married. I just wish they would not ask me the same question every other week.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Some people, no manners

Some good news today as I received an important package from home in double quick time and also got my Chuseok gift from my workplace. The gift was probably better than last years one and whatever I got I wouldn't have complained. I'm a guest in this country and my employers don't have to give me a gift whenever it's a big local holiday.

However, two things have been on my mind today. Yesterday one of my co-workers had her bike stolen. It wasn't even hers, someone had loaned it to her. It was stolen from work, well inside the building but in a main area on the first floor near the lift. This is where the students leave their bikes before going to our academy, it's also where I leave mine when I take it to work. Someone nabbed it, we don't know who but probably not a student as the crime doesn't fit with the students who we were teaching yesterday and I don't think they could actually carry the bike any distance. It was locked up and whoever took it will need to break that lock, clearly not a young student.

So who took it? Could have been workers nearby, could have been older students using a close by PC room. Perhaps some random opportunist theif. We just don't know and probably never will do. I've heard of bikes being stolen here before but in general things are still much, much safer and crime free than life back home, and that's coming from someone who has been burgled here. Hopefully my bike won't get nicked, it's old enough and wouldn't pass for being worthy of taken I feel.

The other thing was when I was in Homeplus this afternoon waiting in line to get served. Someone was in front of me and I was waiting for my turn and as that person was finishing up, some young girl pulled up beside me and just pushed her way past me. The rudest thing I've seen here in ages. I was incensed and nearly walked out of the shop as the server did nothing. I cursed my lack of command of the Korean language. I should have told the girl she was in the wrong but it would only have caused a scene.

I was annoyed because this thing hasn't happened to me in months and months. You can see this quite often if you look for it but this was just so blatantly rude it really affected me for a while. Sometimes my wife (who IS Korean) and I despair at the lack of manners of some people. I just wish my wife had been there at the time to give this girl an ear bashing. Did she do it because I wasn't Korean or would she have done that to anyone? I have my doubts as to whether or not she'd do that to a Korean who was older. Sometimes this country just gets to you no matter how long you've been here or how much you like the place and the people. It's one thing having an old woman push past you but some snotty little teenage girl. It won't happen again.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Dancing Power Ranger

Wednesday class from a few weeks ago. This boy was always changing his English name. One day he told me he was now a Power Ranger. And then he showed me.

Snap of the day

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

$25 watermelons in Korea

I read something today about weather being blamed for produce prices going up this year in Korea. And it's true that things have been a bit different weather-wise this year but prices for things like watermelons are ridiculous right now. A few months ago a co-worker of mine couldn't believe they were up to $16, how cheap that seems now. It could be a seasonal thing, but $25 or £16 for the ones I saw in Homeplus today is a bit steep. A few days ago I saw them up to 31,000won too, for that price I'd want one of those square watermelons you get in Japan. How expensive can these get?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Coffee withdrawals

For around thirty two months I had a coffee almost daily whilst at work. There was a lucky break for the people at my academy a few months after starting at my workplace when a coffee shop opened up directly underneath my office. I've liked coffee for a long time but became a regular drinker after this place opened up.

For over two and a half years I supported the shop. I sometimes had two drinks a day and it was not uncommon for myself to go on a weekend with my wife. But the place was never full, despite the owners best efforts people didn't go in too often probably due to it's location and the fact you don't walk past it because it's on the second floor. That was one of it's charms, the fact you could go in and and drink in peace and quiet.

Other co-workers would go in too but I was probably her best customer over the period the shop was open based on what I saw when I was in. The coffee was good too and remarkable cheap at 2,800won (£1.50) for a take out latte. I find it hard going to Starbucks now and a few of the other famous chains here because I really enjoyed the way I was having my coffee.

Also, the owner was great, friendly, helpful and always wanted to make the best coffee for the customer. She even let us use her wi-fi when we were in the office at work. But about two weeks ago it closed. You could tell it was going to happen as two women were being trained by the owner during the daytime. It seemed a bit odd at first but I guessed they were going to run things in the future.

Starting a new business must be a stressful thing whatever your business is. With so many variables that can dictate how well things go I'm not inclined to give it a go. From an outsider, starting a business here in Korea could be very stressful indeed. Live here long enough and you will see hundreds of places open only for them to be replaced (seemingly) almost overnight sometimes..

Do shop and restaurant owners quit if they fail? Do they give it another go in another location or do they try a totally different venture altogether? Where do they get their money from? Do banks continue to lend money even though we live in difficult times? Are the risks worth taking? Certainly Koreans are very industrious and hard working and also from my eyes somewhat entrepreneurial. But starting a business here is fraught with danger. It's a competitive country these days.

There is another coffee shop down the road from work, just two or three minutes walk. I went in last week and walked out an unhappy customer. As I drank my overpriced foam I pined for the old shop. Today my wife went into the place directly below the old coffee shop and bought some food. She found out what the ex-coffee shop owner was doing now and what would become of the place. It turns out they are planning to sell coffee, tea, and pasta - sounds like a restaurant or possibly what they call res-cafes here. Hopefully I can get one more cup of coffee for the road.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chamchi jjigae, Korean comfort food

I'm at home as I write this, getting better but sick and have been for the past 36 hours. Of course I can't take the day off work - my employers really don't like that to the extent that they sometimes send out emails telling us that even if we are sick we must go to work.

I have a cold, not flu. I'm not dying but still it's never a nice feeling is it. I am convinced that my students have passed it onto me once again. They openly sneeze and cough without covering their mouths no matter how much I tell them off. I find their hygiene awareness disappointingly bad. Some of my students even need to be reminded by me to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

Right now I am eating my wife's Chamchi jjigae (참치찌개) which is a dish you can find available on many many street corners. My wife didn't really cook much before we started dating but she now cooks more and more and is getting better. Her Chamchi jjigae is my favourite. It's not too difficult to make but you need the right kimchi, which we get from my mother in law. My wife makes it without tofu. What is Chamchi jjigae? My wife's is basically tuna, kimchi, water, leeks and sometimes chilli peppers plus some secret seasoning which she doesn't know the English translation for. It really hits the spot and hopefully will help me feel better. You know Summer is ending when you get a cold like this.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Presidential ambitions

The theme to one of the levels I've been teaching this week is leaders. I found myself asking questions and getting predictable, bland answers apart from one student who remains a loose canon.

Me: "Would you like to be Koreas President?"
Boy: "Yes. Very perfect country."
Me: "What would you do?"
Boy: "I go to USA with a gun and kill everybody."
Me: "Do you like Obama?"
Boy: "No. I don't like black people."
Me: "Why?"
Boy: "I don't like colour black."

Taekwondo: Learning the steps for the 2nd dan test

The black belt test was only ten weeks ago but right now it feels like ten months. The break over August has knocked the stuffing out of me and motivation is low. The gap has made me lazy and my muscles have been too inactive. I have found the return difficult. The sessions are too relaxed and I feel we need to be pushed harder than we are, but that's not to criticise my Master as he's a great guy who has trained me well so far. I just think I personally need to be forced sometimes into doing something to get me to improve.

Never mind, that's my problem and I have to deal with it and be more disciplined if I can. After passing the black belt test we started to learn the next formation (9th) I believe called Koryo. It is here where it starts to get a little difficult. The movements come much faster and of course are harder. I won't be in a position to take the next test (June 2011) but at least for I can try to reach a stage where I feel I would pass if I able to take it.

Before today we had been shown only the the first 50% and have been practicing. I think I will be OK in time on that but the Master then showed us the remainder of the poomse before we gingerly repeated his moves. Right now it feels as if it will take me months to get to a decent level. Thank god the weather is slowly cooling down and I can actually enjoy going to the dojang.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Sad looking pets

I was in Homeplus yesterday and had to feel for some of the fish they were selling as pets. I saw four in these plastic cups with nowhere near enough water to move around in. Of course there were others in tanks but this I felt was unnecessarily cruel on the animals.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Sandwiches in Korea

Living in a different country for a while you will get to try many of the different and varied foods that the place has to offer. Korea is no different and there are many things that can get you hooked after trying for the first time. But sometimes you want something familiar and sometimes you find you can't get exactly what you want here.

I love a good sandwich. I was back home in the UK for a week recently and gorged myself on as many as I cold get my hands on, so good were they. In Korea you may struggle to get a good sandwich outside Seoul. Korea now has a lot of bakeries such as Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours that you can find on many streets. These stock some good products and include pre-made sandwiches but I find these a bit lacking in taste. From my experience the 24hour convenience shops offer better value and variety. There are also Subways here but again, they don't seem to taste like they do back home, or perhaps that's just me.

Like everywhere else, sandwiches in Korea come in two categories - pre-made, or those made to order. But there is another category (in my opinion) - saturated in sauce, or no sauce at all, and the latter has to be specifically asked for, you won't find a plain sandwich readily available.

You don't have to have lived here long to realise that Koreans love sauce with their food, usually spicy or sweet. I don't much care for it myself, but each to their own. My local sandwich toast shop is not bad. It's hardly fast food though - it takes 15 minutes for them to make me some tuna sandwiches even though the filling is pre-made and there is no one else in the shop. That's a quirk that you get used to and kind of enjoy.

Here are some of examples of the sandwiches on offer at my local shop, none of which I am brave enough to try with sauce.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Damn you, rice cooker

My wife loves our rice cooker. She uses it several times a week. Being Korean she loves Korean rice. Though never loving the stuff I eat a lot more than I did when I first came here but I much prefer long grain rice. I find the rice here a bit too sticky.

Today I was cooking and dropped the rice cooker on my foot. My little toe to be exact, from about 3-4 feet. Nothing is broken, neither toe or rice cooker though my toe is black and blue as well as sore. A lucky escape I think.

When the rice cooker came down I began swearing like a trouper in pain sure something bad had happened. After a while I calmed down and surveyed the damage. The rice cooker seemed to be OK but the floor was full of rice and the ricey goo was covering the cooker too. What I was more annoyed of was cleaning up because I knew that the rice would be so sticky it could take a while. And it did. It was like glue. Korean rice, I don't think I'll miss you when I leave.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Revisiting the Uzbekistan restaurant in Daegu

In March, craving some European food I tried out the Samarkand, an Uzbekistan restaurant found in the downtown area of Daegu. At the time I thought the food was OK but nothing special but put some of the blame down to the food I chose as not particularly Russian/Uzbekistani - even though I know nothing about that cuisine. But I loved the beer, which was cheap, plentiful and strong. I don't know if the Daegu Samarkand is connected with the Samarkand in Seoul but I read some decent reviews of that recently.

I decided to check it out again a few weeks ago but was a bit disappointed. The portions were smaller than before, for example last time I got the dumplings and there were five, this time there were only three, but the price was the same. The food again was OK but not what I would call good but I did enjoy eating some lamb which is hard to get in Daegu. The service on the day was poor. My wife and I were were the only customers in the place but food arrived slowly and one of my orders arrived over an hour after I ordered. The sauces given as accompaniment were not what I expected, ketchup and spaghetti sauce - I watched the woman pour it from a bottle of Prego sauce.

On reflection I don't think I would go there to get food again. The items I chose were no better than first time round which suggests that it was not a bad choice before, but simply not so great food. However, it is worth a try if you are up for a change of scenery and want to try something different. I recommend getting a beer or two as it will make the wait for your order go by more quickly. Even more worthwhile are the entertainment programs shown on the big screen. The singers on the shows have to be seen to be believed.

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