Sunday, 31 October 2010

Time flies

Today marks five years since I arrived in Korea. Hard to contemplate at times but here I am. Five years does seem an awful long time doesn't it? A quick look at my calender at work on Friday and I saw that I've twenty six weeks left here. Seems somehow shorter than six months. Hope time flies in the best possible way.

Alas it's not plain sailing. Work is dragging along. I can't say that I am enjoying most of my classes. There are ups and downs as always. This time last week my laptop screen broke. It's not worth fixing so I will trundle on till I get home and splash out then. Luckily my wife has one and is even planning to buy a new one soon. My laptop is almost indispensable. My music, my photo's, my movies and of course the all important internet access. Beholden to technology it would seem.

Friday, 29 October 2010

When teaching in Korea, check your payslip

Last week I received my contract completion bonus but the total was missing some 600,000won or so. Work let me know that it was a mistake and it would go onto my next payslip, so no big deal. Yesterday was pay day but still no bonus. I made a few enquiries and work got back to me and told me that again, it was a mistake and if I really needed it they could pay me now but would prefer to pay it in a months time at the end of November.

As a sweetner, the guy in charge of this - who has always been helpful and accommodating - said if they can pay me next month then they will throw in an extra day of holiday of my choosing (or the money for it if I don't use that day). Of course I chose the extra free day of holiday. I'm lucky that my work has never cheated me over money and has always been fair even if they have made a mistake but I also know not every academy works as fairly as mine does. Anybody teaching teaching in Korea reading this, make sure you check your monthly payslip as sometimes your work does make mistakes.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Taekwondo clown

For the past two months or so we've been joined at taekwondo by a Korean ajumma (아줌마), which means a middle aged Korean woman. Although she is there primarily there to improve her English - and she kind of admitted that to me - she does join in with the practice and is getting better. I kind of admire someone who goes out of their comfort zone like she has done to take this up.

She is a lot of fun. Of course her skills are much lower than us but that's not really the point. She seems to enjoy it and we laugh a lot more than we used to, and we've always had fun as a group. Her English is not bad and improving. She uses phrases that don't always work but we get what she means. Today she explained about when she was having a baby, describing it as an "Extreme activity." She is in her element when we play a game and seems to enjoy it more than us. She plays the clown really well and helps keep things light hearted when they need to be. She also is helping our Korean get a little better too.

Taekwondo is a decent way to kip fit but to improve you need to practice hard and try your best to get better. Recently we've been doing a lot of stretching and strengthening our leg muscles in order to improve our kicking. Today we spent a lot of time on that and at times it was bordering on painful, but in the best possible way. It really was difficult. At one point the taekwondo Master made me do some leg stretches while balancing his phone on my foot for the duration.

It was a bit tough on Lucy- her English name - as she had to do stuff she hadn't before but everyone else kind of had.stage which made us all laugh a lot. Importantly she didn't quit when it got difficult. Lucy is a white belt and is slowly getting ready for the next level, yellow belt. Her test is set for this Friday. Should be funny but in a good way like taekwondo is right now.

Winter already?

We had a nice few weeks of Autumn weather here in Daegu but yesterday it took a turn for the worse and it's much colder. I don't know if there'll be an upturn in tempteratures but for now we'll just have to deal with what we're served with. It's not super cold, just that for the past six weeks or so the weather has been about perfect. As I have said before, I'd rather deal with the cold than the six-eight weeks of insanity you go through in Daegu's Summer. Anyway, the cold reminds me of home and the fact that I'm coming home soon, making me pretty excited.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Playing screen golf in Korea

I'm really no big fan of golf even though at the end of my street back home in England there is a private golf course. In the UK it is seen by many, but not all, as more of an elitist sport/pass time where middle aged rich people go for some fresh air. I dislike the moral high ground that some people who run the game have as if it's some how above other sports and only played by gentlemen. To me, golf the sport makes itself hard for you to like it.

Anyway, when I was growing up I would watch golf on TV and played golf computer games which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed the skill level and decision making and also the feeling you'd get when you improved. I remember vividly playing my brother and beating him so he cheated by winding me up to affect my play, which he did. And since then I have gone off golf a bit. Until yesterday.

I've never played golf properly. Never had anyone show me what to do and never known how hard it really is. Yesterday my wife and I played screen golf here in Korea. We had a great time and will play it again. Korea lacks space and everyone really is crammed in so I doubt there are many actual golf courses, but people here do like it. There are driving ranges dotted around the cities and of course screen golf.

Screen golf is similar to a singing room, or noraebang. There you pay some money, go into a room and are given a large book of songs to pick from and tap the number into a machine and you sing. It's insanely popular. Screen golf works the same way. The room is largely the same size, there is a computer screen image projected at one end and equipment to simulate a game of golf. You whack (if you are like me) the golf ball at the screen and watch the ball fly. It's easy to play but difficult to play well. The room itself was air conditioned, clean and felt welcoming. I wish I could say the same for my classrooms at work!

As we were trying for the first time we only played nine holes. I don't know if the course we played on was tough or easy but I found the game difficult though after a while we both got better. I now have a new appreciation for the people who play golf for a living. After a while my wrist started to hurt because my technique was awful but waking up the next day I felt fine. For nine holes it cost 10,000won each but for the full eighteen it would have been 15,000won each. We'll definitely go back again as it's a fun way to kill a few hours.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Occupational hazard

Another day another cold. What is it with this place of late? I just can't stay 100% healthy. I look at my diet and think, OK no great but not bad so it's not that. I've been here long enough to build up a decent immune system and I take vitamin C as well as drink orange juice. I am getting enough sleep and have little to no stress. Oh yeah, I work in Korea. In an academy. With kids. Who always have colds. Because they get them off the people they are surrounded by. Because when they cough they don't cover their hands or face so spread germs around. And also they tend to have a habit of not washing their hands. Mind you, there's no soap in the bathroom where I work. I love being here, just not when I am sick - which feels like an occupational hazard at times here.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Office picture of the day

Didn't get the chance to ask him if he knew what his top meant. Bravo if he did though.

Keep fit mission

Today my wife and I joined a gym. We've talked about it for a bit and we both need and want to lose some weight and be in better shape. Although I do taekwondo it's only three days a week and it is not always as strenuous as I need. Given the luxury of a surplus of time it makes sense to do something else.

We scoped out a few places and chose one that I went to over four years ago. It's not big but clean, has enough machines to do what we want, is only fifteen minutes walk from our home, and is crucially is not busy at the time we want to go - around 8:30am. We paid 100,000won for four months. At todays exchange rate it works out at about £14 a month. Pretty cheap I think compared to gyms back home.

Today we took it lightly as we will do for the first month. We both really enjoyed it and felt great afterwards. One downer for me was the machine we used for checking our weight, height and age to figure out how out of shape we are. The machine claims that I have the body of a thirty six year old - four years older than I really am. It gave a figure of how much body fat I have and I have far too much. It also gave me levels to aim for or what I should be. Something to go for but I need to watch what I eat a bit more and drink less beer.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Christmas not cancelled

My Christmas fears have been assuaged. I've received an email from work about the recent rumours. It appears that there has been a bit of miscommunication, misunderstanding and something has been lost in translation. For us, the foreign teachers attendance at the Christmas Day party is not mandatory. Encouraged but not mandatory.

That's a weight off my mind. Christmas is sacrosanct for many a Westerner (as the most important day of the year), especially those living away from their family and these days I treasure my weekends away from the workplace. Who knows I may even go but I really doubt it. I want to spend the day with my wife with nothing work related in my mind. I bet the Korean staff still have to go though.

Friday, 15 October 2010

What you get when you pass a taekwondo black belt test

Last week I picked up my taekwondo black belt certificate. I've had my actual belt for a while but it was good to collect the rest. I had to wait about three months to get my hands on this up due to the insane amount of people who take the test and the backlog of processing them all. It made me feel that the whole things was a little more legitimate.

As with hapkido, included, in English and Korean in the folder is documentation from the Korean Taekwondo Association and my Dan certification card proving rank and date of test passed. The picture of me on the card is mortifying but I'll have to live with it. As I say to anyone who asks me, learning hapkido and taekwondo has taught me a lot, helped me and given me a lot of pleasure in Korea and I'd recommend either to anyone interested in taking up a martial art.

Training for the next test, which is in June has started in earnest. Of course I won't be here but that's the direction we're headed in. Training is a bit more intense and we all agree that's for the best. I already feel like I will have everything prepared by January. I have most of the movements already fixed in my head and it's just a matter of honing technique, which of course is not so easy, especially the kicks. My motivation for the remaining months is this - I want to leave with everyone in the dojang knowing that if I took the test I would pass.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Christmas with the devil

Yesterday we got proof in writing. When I say we, I mean the Koreans and not the 'foreign' teachers at my academy. And it was in Korean and not English so us foreigners do not totally know what is going on. Proof of what? Well there has been a rumour going around for some time that my academy is having a Christmas Day party and that all employees must attend - my academy has several branches and employs many people. Oh, and Christmas Day is on a Saturday this year. I'm told that people going stand to be in the running for various prizes, cash I think.

As of yet 'we' have received no letter or email so talk of going being mandatory is presumptuous so I don't want to jump the gun with my views but some of my Korean co-workers have been told they have to go and they believe that everyone else is going too. I feel this is of course totally and utterly unworkable, unreasonable and unenforceable. I just don't know how they would expect to pull it off. If the owner tried to pull a stunt like this at Chuseok or Korean New Year and said everyone had to attend then there is no way people would put up with it.

The only way round it, in my opinion would be to give everyone Christmas Eve off (Friday) and say, OK, we're giving you this day off but please come to the party and we can celebrate together. I think most people would attend and try to have a good time. It wouldn't be impinging on our most important holiday or even our weekend time, where we are not contracted to work. I am very interested in the wording of any email I get on this matter.

I cast my mind back to 2007 and the Christmas party that people 'had to go to'. Again, this was on a Saturday though not Christmas Day. We had to first watch our owner play football for about sixty minutes. Then we went to some place were we watched various branches perform acts of varying degrees of mediocrity. I refused to participate in any performance related matters and wasn't alone. Then we were treated to a lot of talking (90% in Korean) and prize giving - mostly to branch managers and not teachers. We were told that those who did not attend and won a prize forfeited their prize. Bah humbug!

There was no Christmas food, a key component of what makes Christmas Christmas. It could have been any given day of the year. Oh, and by the way the free pitchers of beer given to every table were open when we arrived and had been obviously spiked with something I presume to have been soju.

I know Christmas is not massively important here and don't expect Korea to bend to my point of view but, as this day is a public holiday here, to be able to be free to choose what I do then. I like my academy, I like working there and the people too. I have no issues with who I work for as they've always been fair, but please don't tell people what they have to do at Christmas. I look forward to getting an email some time soon.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Guardian brings us more North Korean pictures

Once again The Guardian brings us some interesting pictures of North Korea. Highlights include various soldiers, police officers, flowers named after Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il, and propaganda from 'the North'. The excellent pictures by Dan Chung (including the ones below) can be found here. North Korea continues to prove more and more interesting to me and perhaps one day we will all be able to see things there for ourselves.

Curious student

Middle school student: "In England, frog pizza?"

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Always counting

Testing times. Still having fun here. Still having laughs. But there are some lulls. Seven months to go and it often seems like it will be much longer. The endless repetition at work gets me down from time to time like today. In particular the lessons that I repeat to another set of students directly after the previous class. Perhaps it was just the book we were using, perhaps it's my workplace.

In my break time I got bored and worked out that I have roughly two hundred more days left, that's about 140 days of actual teaching. Sad that I worked that out but just goes to show that I am counting down till I leave. I love being here in Korea and love what's being here has given me, but I'm just about done with teaching here after over four years. Tomorrows another day. Smile up.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Watching the season change

Just thirty seconds walk from my apartment the changes from Summer to Autumn can be seen. This is by far my favourite time of year to be in Korea. The weather is perfect and the colours are most vibrant over the next few weeks.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Koreans love sauce

I'm still baffled by the apparent addiction of most Koreans to add sauce to almost everything. It's a personal choice but I just don't get it. Sure some things taste better with sauce or some kind of dressing but surely not to the extent that we find here. I'm tempted to suggest that sauce covers up a lack of flavour rather than enhancing it. I don't think I've ever seen a Korean eat chicken without some kind of sauce - and Koreans love chicken.

You usually find that the sauce in Korea comes in two kinds, sweet or spicy - which leaves a lot of things tasting a little similar. I know sweet sauces on salads and other things isn't just a Korean thing but it is found here more than I'm used to. Here we find my co-workers salad along with the sauce she was eating it with. The sauce is strawberry sauce and I can't imagine I'd ever put that combination together. My co-worker liked it so maybe it really was good but I think this is one Korean habit I won't pick up.

More Korean notebook gibberish

Taken this week from a student notebook. I'm guessing/hoping this wasn't designed by their English department.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Visa in the bag

This week I got my latest Korean E-2 visa, some seven days before the old one was due to run out. Over the past few years Korea has changed the visa process a few times, making 'foreigners' get criminal record checks, degrees needing to be apostiled and some people needing fingerprint records etc, etc. This has made getting the actual visa trickier as there are more hoops to jump through and more chances to make mistakes.

I don't think you will find many people arguing about the need for checks on teachers criminal records, many of us do work with children after all. It's just that when Korea makes changes to the system not everyone is one the same page. There is a lot of misinformation, miscommunication and unnecessary complications that make you think they are making it up as they go along. The process has always given me a bit of stress. I hate relying on other people.

Anyway, my academy sorted the whole thing out for me, I just paid 61,000won and they did the rest. I think I have slipped in just before it gets even more complicated - I didn't even need to apostille my degree but that's no concern of mine now. I have some seven months left working in Korea. Though my visa lasts for twelve months I won't be here when it expires. Really counting down now.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Some wedding anniversary snaps

We spent our weekend celebrating our first wedding anniversary in Seoul. We pushed the boat out a bit for the hotel. It wasn't cheap but we went for a nice package deal at the Novotel in Gangnam, an area I'd never been to and quite liked whilst there.

The first thing we did when we got to Seoul was go to Itaewon for some food. We headed to Suji's restaurant. We'd never been there and I'm glad we went. Although pricey our meals were tasty and filling. I wish I could get a Reubens sandwich in Daegu - or any decent sandwich here to be honest.

I was stuffed and my wife was full up too so we got the subway to our hotel. Our package deal got us quite a few things for free thrown in including free drinks for two and a half hours. Needless to say I enjoyed this part. It was also the first time I'd worn my suit since our 'wedding celebration in May'. After drinks we ate in the hotel restaurant which again was expensive but the food was very good.

The next day we had no real plan so after the wonderful hotel breakfast we walked around Myeongdong window shopping because eventually going to Itaewon again, this time to the Wolfhound pub. I find myself going there every time in Seoul. We both relaxed and had dinner and beer before heading home to Daegu. I wonder what is in store for us next year.

Friday, 1 October 2010

First wedding anniversary

Today is our first wedding anniversary. I can't believe it's been a year already. Like every couple we've had our ups and downs, with some differences in culture and language those are inevitable but there's already been some great times with lots more in the pipeline. I can only wish that we continue to have a very happy and prosperous life together. Meeting my wife was the luckiest break I've ever had and being married to her makes me immensely proud and full of love and happiness. We're going to Seoul this weekend to celebrate. I can't wait.

It seems like I am always talking about and planning our future. Looking at the date I have seven months left working in Korea. The countdown is in full swing. It will be a bit of a wrench to leave - because the money is good - but it's for the best for both of us and we are very excited about or future in England together starting next year. Hopefully my work doesn't start to slide making me become a lazy presence in the classroom.

Further good news for me. After making some enquiries it turns out there was a payslip mistake for my bonus. They didn't pay me enough money for the days that I didn't use for vacation. In my next wage there will be close to 600,000won extra. Times like that you really appreciate working Korea. What a great start to October.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...