Friday, 31 December 2010

Handy Christmas bonus

New Years Eve and it's going to be a busy day at work. Next Monday it's the start of a new month's session, new students and new classes for me with significant changes to Middle school curriculum. Also we're moving to a new building and we have a new manager. We have to move some of our stuff out of the old building into the new one tonight after work. My co-workers are very unhappy about this as none of us can figure out why we couldn't just do this before work today and not after.

Still, I'm in a very good mood - despite almost everyone at work being sick now, including me. Tomorrow is the start of a new year and I've enjoyed 2010 a lot. On reflection I didn't do too many things but I've had fun in my own way. I know that time is winding down for me in Korea but I don't feel in any great rush to do anything or see anywhere. I've had my chance to do and go to the things I've wanted and now my focus is on finalising our exit and saving as much money as we can.

And work gave me a great boost last weekend. At the Christmas Party the owner handed out a lot of cash prizes. Myself and a few others who have worked at the company for three years or more were given one million won. that works out at just over £550 at the moment. I'm very thankful because it has come at a great time. My wife is leaving her job at the end of January so that will be one less income for the remaining months left. She's had a lot of stress this year at work so it will be good for her to have a change of pace. The money comes in very handy right now. I feel lucky to have a stable job at this moment and will miss the relative ease of it and the money when I am back home.

So what have we done this year? We had our 'wedding' in May, managed to save a decent amount of money and I got to know my Korean mother in-law a lot more, I passed my taekwondo black belt test after taking it up only seven months before, went home to visit family and friends for a week. I kept my sanity and had a lot of fun in a job that is mentally tiring and felt a lucky man being married to my wonderful wife. I missed some of my targets for the year though but that means I have so many for next year, a huge year for my wife and I.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Students make me laugh

I had a great day in the classroom if not at work in general. I can't remember how long it's been since I laughed as much as I did today in all my classes. Right at the end in my lowest level of Middle school the boys were pulling all sorts of tricks. Making fun of the others and really causing me to burst into fits of laughter.

The class objective was understanding and using simple past tense sentences such as;

I ate steak,
We watched TV,
She played tennis

Student: "xxxx xxxx ate viagra"

He repeated this several times throughout the lesson which blew the mind of the boy he was talking about because he had no idea what was going on. On paper it doesn't sound so funny but in practice it was. The class didn't recover and we had a vast array of jokes and physical gags all of which made to a great end of the day for me and for that class as I won't be teaching them again.

Korean notebook riddle

I continue to enjoy the notebooks my students bring to class. This has no spelling mistakes but has the usual positive messages. What are these pink dreams? After yesterdays class about wishes I am hoping that my students really do have better dreams than to get a new pencil case.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Daegu snow snaps

Woke up to some delightful snow this morning. It's snowed a few times this Winter so far but I think today's was maybe the heaviest I've seen in Daegu in my fives years here. It was still falling as I headed to taekwondo so I stopped to take a few pictures but didn't have much time but enough to take a snap of the person plowing on with their daily exercise. After the session finished the snow was melting and the roads were swamped with slush but two hours later and it started to come down again a bit. how much more snow will we get this Winter?

Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas wrap-up

Back to work after a good Christmas in Korea - my 6th in a row. You know it's never going to be the same as back home but my wife and I had a lot of fun. We now look forward to next year and all the excitement and challenges it will bring.

So no days off for me. Unluckily Christmas fell on a weekend this year so we were given no time off at work. I'm OK with that. They pay me very well and if I have to work when others don't so be it. There'll be plenty of time to relax when I'm done here. Having said that, I am knackered and could do with a small break. Luckily there's a five day weekend coming up at the beginning of February.

I had a very good Christmas eve at home with my wife. I often enjoy this day more than the 25th. I drank a little too much though and watched a film afterwards so only had about four hours sleep. I was a bit hungover all through Christmas Day. My mother in-law came round for most of the day. I made Christmas dinner as best I could and it tasted not too bad. Turkey will taste wonderful next time though. My mother in-law ate all the food on her plate and said she liked it which made me feel very happy.

At 4pm I made my way with Ivan to my work Christmas party at the Interburgo hotel in Daegu. I wasn't going to go but was persuaded by my now ex-manager on Thursday. After some brief introductions everyone tucked into the buffet dinner. It was better than I expected and both Ivan and I went back for seconds. Afterwards I was stuffed and the party went on.

The room where we were was very big, and had around two hundred people there, mainly Koreans because it was pretty much compulsory. Most of the Korean staff at my workplace made it and it was good to see them in a different environment. Then came the talent show. It consisted of around fifteen or so acts of varying quality broken down into two categories which often merged, musical performers or comic performances.

The good ones were very good especially a very pertinent work themed version of the Twelve Days of Christmas and one comic skit that envolved chewing gum which I won't forget in a while. We had a brief break from these acts which was filled by a professional musician playing I think the clarinet. He was fantastic and well worth however much he was paid. I wish I had videoed this.

The 'talent' acts went on a bit too long and many people were glad when it ended. The owner of my academy chain then gave out a LOT of prizes, namely money. Through a translator it was claimed that he was spending 600million won (over £300,000 ) of his own money on this day, of course not just prize money. Everyone who entered the talent contest was given money, and then came prizes for employees given for various reasons.

I think maybe 10-20% of people in attendance won something. We were told that if you weren't there you wouldn't get your money. Harsh but those were the rules and you can't argue with that as the owner was very generous on the day. A few people from my branch won money including the receptionists and I think I did too (they got my name slightly wrong when they read it out).

Last Thursday I left my ipod at work and went back to collect it and my manager told me I should go to the party because I would maybe get something. I couldn't read her properly but decided to go just in case. Good job I did as every foreign teacher who has worked there for three years or more was given a prize. A nice Christmas Day gift for me and my wife, but I'll believe it when I see it this Thursday come pay day. I'm not counting it till I've got it

The party ended late but I had fun regardless of what I think I had won. I got a taxi home and told my wife the news and we watched some TV and relaxed after a long day. The holiday wasn't over though as on Boxing Day we met our good friends in Busan, Ian and his wife Nari. They came over from England to spend a few weeks here with family and friends and we caught up with them on a frosty Sunday. We didn't have a lot of time together so had a quick bite to eat before heading for the warmth of a bar.

Time went quicker than we wanted but again we had a great time with our friends. We got back to Daegu to be met with the aftermath of snow. Daegu's drivers could not handle the partially icy roads and there were no taxis to be seen at the train station. When we got home we enjoyed the warmth of our apartment to end our Christmas 2010.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Give me present!

"Teacher, give me present." That was a popular line yesterday from my cheekiest of students and I think I'm going to hear it quite a bit today and tomorrow too. The reminder of what time of year it is. I gave a few kids chocolate and snacks if we played a game and will probably do the same again in some classes if they behave. I have to work on Christmas Eve and everyone will be on autopilot that day but it's expected that most of the kids will come to the academy.

It hasn't seemed like Christmas yet here in Korea. Perhaps I am more isolated in Daegu than those living in Seoul but with just two working days left to go it's only just started kicking in. In general I don't think Korea fully understands Christmas but it is trying. It feels more like a couples holiday here rather than a loving, family occasion.

There are much fewer advertisements trying to sell you products and thank god there are NO ads selling toys, which seem to start running on TV back home from August. In fact I don't think I've ever seen a (non-computer) toy advert here in my five years - another great plus point Korea has and that I will miss when I return home. The lack of snow perhaps continues to lessen the festive mood.

At the weekend my good wife finished decorating the apartment. She always does a much better job than me so despite not having a tree this year our place feels cheerful enough. Tomorrow I am making a Costco run, stocking up on some booze and getting all the Christmas food. My mother in-law is coming round on Christmas Day and will be trying some of my cooking. She is always making food for my wife and I so it will be nice to be able to offer her something for a change. I wonder what she will make of it.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

You don't know my name

Another student mistake over my name. How can you mistake Gavin for Gival? I applaud this kids imagination and wonder if any more will leap out at me before my time is up here. I think this is almost as bad as the time my now ex co-worker thought my name was garden.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

When your pension isn't really your pension

Not surprisingly, because it happened twice before, my observation was delayed due to my manager having a meeting yesterday. I will now be watched next Tuesday which probably works out better for me because I can have a trial run of what I'll be teaching on the Monday.

At work though I was met with more news. The foreign teachers all received a letter from the National Pension Service - A guide to the National Pension for Foreigners. The letter included information on how much you and your employees have paid so far, how to claim this and other stuff.

For the record, I have known that I will not be getting any of this money since 2005 when I first started teaching in Korea. This is because my country, the UK does not have a pensions agreement with South Korea. I don't know why but it doesn't. Other countries that supply teachers here such as Canada and the United States all have agreements that mean everything paid in goes back to the teacher when they leave. In some cases double the amount. A quick glance at the list of those countries that do have agreements and Hungary, Slovakia and Romania jump out.

After yet another search on the internet to check whether or not things have changed it seems clear that this is dead money and I will never see it again in my life. It would appear that I cannot even transfer this money into a pension in the UK. After working here for a while I have paid a significant amount that would be a godsend if I ever saw it again. A conservative estimate is that it would be five months rent for the place I want to live when I go back home.

Even though I have known this for a while, when you see exactly how much money is there for you but you can't claim it it feels pretty sickening. I'm still full of Christmas cheer though and and going to reach for a beer right now to prove it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Observation day

Today I am being observed again. Every year we have two observations from our real boss, a Westerner who evaluates teaching staff, handles curriculum, deals with teaching questions and also has a significant say on contract extensions.

This is my third manager and I have to say the previous one was great at her job. I think I am biased because she gave me some good marks on the evaluations especially my last one which I do not think is possible for me to beat. I don't know the new manager well so it's a bit of a step into the unknown. The mantra that she is looking for though is repeat, repeat repeat. I can do that.

Half of me feels that I shouldn't be observed because I've been here a long time and am leaving in five months so there is no carrot of a contract being dangled before me. But being observed from time to time is a good thing. All teachers are prone to fall into habits whilst teaching and some of these can be bad. I know that I do some things that head office doesn't necessarily want me to so it's healthy to get back to basics and spend more time preparing.

I didn't sleep too well last night. I'm a little nervous and I know that doesn't make sense. Perhaps nervous is not quite the right word. There's a little bit of apprehension and excitement which I hope will give me the energy to do well. I've built up enough credit to last me for my remaining time here but I do want to show what I can do. Who wants to look bad in front of their boss? Also, as I've got the most experience at my academy shouldn't I be the one who can do this easily?

I don't like being watched though. I'm not the same person when someone from 'outside' is in the classroom. Neither are the students. I like to joke around in class, have fun with students, tease some and in general like to make the kids feel so relaxed that they can express themselves without being nervous. I don't think that will be possible today.

My previous manager would ask what class I would like to have observed but that's not the case today. I know it's one of the first four but more likely not my first class. Over those four periods I teach two lessons twice so preparation is not an issue. Classes one, two and four - no problem, great kids, enthusiastic and fun. Class three, oh dear. There is one boy who is considered to be the worst student at my academy and though I like him, he causes trouble, distracts others and worst of all speaks Korean a lot.

At least there is no pressure on me so this should make me feel relaxed when the time comes. As long as I try my best, prepare and don't make any big mistakes things should be fine and whatever will be will be. I'll be glad when it's out of the way and can move on with my remaining five months. However, we have a new manager at my branch and it's a certainty that she'll be watching everyone's classes over the next few weeks too.

On a side note I won't be going to the big Christmas party that my academy is holding. A few months ago It was suggested that it would be mandatory but in the end that didn't turn out to be true. After some thinking on the matter I decided that going would be OK and maybe fun so I asked if my wife could go with me, as did a lot of other teachers at other branches. On Saturday we got an email telling us that nobody is able to bring a partner.

I understand that and accept it after all my wife doesn't work at the same company as I do so why should she get a free lunch etc, etc but letting everyone know just one week before Christmas is poor. It would have been nice to have gone with my wife because she knows a few of my co-workers and some staff at other branches but it's not to be. Now we're going to have a nice Christmas at home with me cooking and I think we're going to have a great day of eating and drinking.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

That's not how you spell Richard

One of my students is having a lot of difficulty with spelling week in week out and there is very little I can do to help him other than to point out the mistake and correct it, which I always do and he always ignores. I am sympathetic with todays big spelling mistake - Richard - because many Koreans pronounce it RE-CHARD. I think he is in the wrong level for now so I need to help him as much as I can.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Daegu in top 10 places to visit (2011)

I have just come across a Rough Guides list of the top 10 places to visit in 2011. And Daegu is on it. Of course the list contains places a little out of the ordinary and off track with none of the usual suspects being mentioned. There have been a lot of changes in parts of Daegu since I arrived here and most of them are certainly for the better. It is an improving city and will host the 2011 athletics World Championships so is hoping to attract more people to the area.

I have lived here and worked here for about five years so I am happy with the place and feel comfortable. My wife and her family are from here too so that's another reason to like here. This city has given me a lot to be thankful for. But, I would struggle to recommend it to a visitor no matter how much I like it because there is little to do and little to see when you consider other places in Korea and of course other countries just a few hours away. Perhaps I am missing something.

Delaying the inevitable

My plans are always changing it seems. Last week we got a bill that we weren't expecting for about 1.2million won (£650). This tipped us over the edge and it didn't take much thought to decide to stay another month, providing work would agree to it.

I emailed the woman in charge and she got back to me very quickly and confirmed that it would be OK and then sent me my amended contract. I'm happy to have got this sorted out so quickly and feel lucky that they just agreed it basically on the spot. This is my final extension and there is no turning back when this contract is over.

Working one extra month (May) doesn't bother me one little bit. May is a great month here. Fine weather, sunny skies and not too hot so I'm going to be ending on a high note, hopefully. After finishing up we hope to have got my wife's visa by then and set off for a few weeks of travelling before heading home to the UK.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Tasty Korean duck lunch

Today some of my co-workers, past and present and myself met up in Chilgok to go for lunch. Instead of having a normal Korean meal we went near Palgong mountain for duck. Today was a bitterly cold day and I didn't know what I was expecting. Would it taste great or not? I decided not to eat beforehand so that I would be sure to be hungry.

It only took fifteen minutes by car to get there and just minutes after arriving the duck was ready to eat. It looked fantastic and smelled great too. I haven't eaten duck many times but knew this would be delicious and it was. As well as the meat It was filled with rice, some ginseng I think and ginko plus some kind of nuts. I also enjoyed the side dishes especially the cabbage soup.

We ordered two ducks, one for each group of five and I wish we'd ordered more, so nice it was. I definitely want to eat this again. Along with the meal we had some dongdong ju - which is similar to makgeolli (alcohol made from rice) but this has some rice floating at the top. It hit the spot after a while. When the meal was over we all relaxed before playing a game - 007, or gong gong chil bang. The game has a simple premise but after drinking more of the dongdong than anyone else ju I started screwing up and took some hits on the back but so did everyone else. I had a lot of fun and a great lunch . I hope we can do this again some time soon.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Taekwondo hockey

Back from taekwondo today and I had a great time. After warming up the Master said we could play a game for twenty minutes or so but this went on to last the whole class. We played hockey but with an inflatable ball with unpredictable bounces and used kicking mitts instead of hockey sticks. Sounds like it wouldn't work but we had a blast - wish I had pictures. It was an all body workout and I was shattered when it was over. Times like this are the little things I will miss when I leave here next year.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Snowing in Daegu

The first snow of the season today. I actually thought it was raining so I ignored the window but was happy to hear of the snow when the classes had finished. As usual most of the students were so excited that they ran out of the academy when things were over and started enjoying this rare treat. I had a quick walk round before it began to melt and took a few snaps. Tonight feels very Christmasy.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Paper hazard

Another day and another paper cut as blood was drawn at work once more. Over the past year or so I have been prone to slicing open my fingers in all manner of inconvenient places. It never used to be this way. Photocopying, checking books, sorting out tests all hold major hazards for my fingers these days. A minor quibble of course and these happen in many, many jobs but I'm just fed up of foolishly cutting my fingers week after week.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Sick day or not?

Still sick but much better overall than yesterday I ask myself if I should take the day off work. I have just under three hours before I head to my academy to teach and can't see myself getting worse in that time so is it worth phoning in sick?

I've only taken one sick day in my five years here and that was at my previous academy which gave you two sick days per year in your contract. Where I work now there is no provision for sickness. If you can't work you either get docked money or they take one of your vacation days off you. Judging by my last pay check any deduction in money would be about £50 and I can't afford to throw that money away.

Also, work makes it difficult for you to take the day off. If I was going to call them I probably had to have done it two hours ago to give them enough time to cover my classes IF they could. Every few months or so we get emails telling us that now is a bad time to be sick. Also I seem to have the type of body that doesn't like lying in bed if sick. I've found that moving around makes me feel a little better so I'm going to struggle on and take the money. 파이팅! (fighting!) as they say here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sick as a dog

Holed up in my new apartment watching films and trawling the internet. Sneezing and sniffling all the time, with the worst sore throat I can remember in ages and praying the medicine from the pharmacist will kick in soon. Once again, thank you glorious students for giving me a cold. I will have my revenge.

Friday, 3 December 2010

I love(d) piano

I won't be hearing the piano every day now. Finally we moved apartments yesterday and said goodbye to the piano academy that we lived above for eleven months. It took us a long time to pack everything up as we've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years so we knew moving would take a long time. Luckily my wife was able to take the day off work and we definitely needed it.

We were told that the 'team' who help deal with things like this would start moving our stuff at 1pm. They came at 3pm and I had to leave for work not too long afterwards. I hadn't been able to eat as I'd been expecting them to come on time. This left me very tired at work as all I ate was some noodles and a few sweet snacks.

There's no point going over the details of the delay because it turned out OK in the end for us. The apartment we've moved into is one that a co-worker was living in, before the landlord decided he wanted her out of the building. It's an awkward situation and my co-worker has legitimate cause for complaint though I am sure there are two sides of the story.

She is upset and angry and everyone understands why and sympathises with her. She's had to downgrade apartment and at short notice. If I were her I'd be very angry given the reasons for her move. Having said that, we had to move apartment too and for pretty poor reason - my company didn't like my landlord.

Up until about 2am my wife and I were sorting things out and they still aren't finished yet. Things still need to be unpacked and moved to a good place. We need to figure out where we want furniture but the majority of the items are in their place and the internet is already working with the cable TV being sorted out tomorrow. When the place is finished I will post pictures. I already miss the pianos a bit though.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Five to go

December has come around so early this year. Yesterday I sent some money home and I feel like the end is in sight. That'll probably be the last money I transfer until I'm finished. I have five months left on my contract and it's looking more and more likely that's when I'll be leaving. Recent events in North Korea mean I am a little less likely to stay an extra month now. But we'll see how my wife and I are doing for money.

Big changes this month I think. Tomorrow I am supposed to be moving apartment. Finally. It's been a two month wait but the move is set to go ahead on Thursday. The new apartment is better than the one I live in right now and my wife feels very positive about the move. It's just a pity we had to change place with just months to go on my contract. We're still packing and tidying things up so tonight may be a long night.

Additionally I heard yesterday that my brother has passed his Master degree and been awarded a Merit. I'm very happy for him and enormously proud of my older brother. I wish I could buy him a pint but that can wait till next year. 'The' year for me.

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