Wednesday, 21 December 2011

BBC commentary of Kim Jong-il's golf world record

Finally proof of Kim Jong-il's world record round of golf - audio found here. Bookmaker Paddy Power thinks this round will forever remain unbeaten! "The world has lost a golfing legend. We're 1,000,000-1 for any PGA player to beat Kim Jong-il's record round of 38 under."

But what odds on the "Great Successor", Kim Jong-Un, toppling his fathers achievement? Now we really know why those 'five million' North Koreans in Pyongyang were really crying. The golfing world mourns.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

In the gym with Kangaroos

Recently I joined a gym in the city centre. I'm enjoying it so far but haven't been of late due to travel plans and illness. After a few days away I settled down on an exercise bike yesterday and started to pedal. Seconds later a slow stream of men in 'better shape than me' started to enter the building.

After a while I twigged that they were the Australian rugby league team - the Kangaroos - who are in the country for the Four Nations tournament. A few went for the weights and the running machines but most of them started on the bikes, on either side of me. I continued to peddle away but it definitely put me off as they weren't even breaking sweat despite generating a lot of power and speed.

I can testify that they are all big blokes and I wouldn't like to be the one who spilled their pint! I am hoping I can use the chance encounter as inspiration to work harder and get fitter.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Off to Amsterdam

I seem to be out of the habit of writing of late (largely down to computer issues that have now been sorted). Soon to be corrected I hope. In a few hours my wife and I are off to the airport for a flight to Amsterdam. We got the flights quite cheaply with Easyjet and the cost of the hotel is actually higher than the plane tickets.

It's my first trip to the Netherlands and although we're only staying two days we're hoping to try and pack in as much as we can. The transport system seems to be quite easy to navigate so we can see quite a few things during our stay. I don't know enough about the city and country as I think I should. Time to educate myself. I'm crossing my fingers in the hope that I can try some new beers. I will now only drink Heineken at gunpoint!

If the job situation doesn't change in the next few months I may try and get one or two more cheap flights although that will depend on funds. I'm enjoying the availability of cheap air flights and a wider choice of destination that I had in Asia. Although Europe is not as exotic as Asia can at times be, it is where I am from and I hope to get the chance to explore my continent more.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Off to Spain

I've not been updating this blog lately due to the fact that I haven't been doing much, so have had little to write about. Today that changes as my wife and I are off to Spain. We're going to the Canary Islands (Gran Canaria) for a week. It's our second wedding anniversary so we're taking a trip to celebrate and to relax. I've never been to Spain and even though the area we'll be staying in isn't so representative of Spanish culture and life I can't wait. More to write about when we come back.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Fingers crossed for Daegu

Tomorrow marks the start of the World Atheltics Championships in Korea and I'll be glued to my TV, time differences permitting. I am delighted that Daegu, where I lived for over five years is hosting the event. In fact I am still amazed and impressed that they actually won the bidding. I would never have believed it possible when I first arrived in 2005. Although I wish I could be there in person watching the events it is the impact on the city that I would have taken more of an interest in.

I hope the area gets a boost from the visitors that will be arriving. I don't know if it will change 'anything' but it can't harm Daegu to have some tourists and have locals exposed to people from other nations that aren't English teachers. There are some tremendous people in the city and I hope they make an impression on those coming to watch the athletes and help further promote Koreas image worldwide. Perhaps it will help attract visitors for the Winter Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang too.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Rioting in Manchester

Whilst London burned on Monday those living outside the capital wondered if the rioting would escalate and spread to the rest of the country. And it did. I live in the Northern Quarter in Manchester city centre and last night rioting/looting took place in the city where I live. At various points in the evening they ran past the area where my apartment is though thankfully caused no damage. From what I could see around 90% of them were under sixteen but there were adults who are basically career criminals amongst them.

The damage and trouble was not as bad as that in London over the past few days thankfully but today Manchester wakes up to a ransacked city centre hoping that the worst is over and that it never happens again. Attention turns to why it happened, how to prevent it happening again and why the hell the police couldn't stop a whole lot of what was going on.

I woke up and went for a coffee today and had a walk round the immediate area where I live. Thankfully there is not one single window smashed or any sign of damage as people go about their daily life and hope for normality but walk a minute or two nearer the city centre and that is not the case as shops were looted, windows smashed and places set on fire. I still feel safe as does my wife though I am disgusted that this has happened and also that more people weren't arrested at the time and police didn't prevent more damage. People are asking themselves is this the end?

Friday, 29 July 2011

Step by step

Up and running and online. Slowly the red tape that we have encountered seemingly everywhere is starting to unravel. It looks like my wife now has finally set up a bank account too. I am still frustrated at how long things can take but at least now I know not to expect anything different in the future.

So now what? Well I'll leave that for another day!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Life in the slow lane

Still without Internet access at home but it's coming any day now. I'm told. I've spent the past week or so being driven mad by red tape and mixed messages from the bank, my broadband supplier, Manchester City Council and by the company who I pay electric bills to. Life in Korea was much simpler than things are right now. Things are slowly improving I think.

Life is a not moving at a fast pace right now. With no Internet or TV as of yet I find myself listening to the radio a lot, watching films and reading books. It's a hard life eh? It is great to relax and have the freedom of no financial 'sword of Damocles' hanging over me. I have been a little lazy though. When I am online I will be able to do more research especially on travel as I look to explore both my country and continent with my wife. There are plenty of things to look forward to.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

City life

Two weeks ago we moved into our Manchester city centre apartment. We're very happy with our new flat, the layout and the location. In fact the location probably couldn't be better. Still we are without the Internet and it will be another two weeks before it's up and running.

You never really notice how slow things can be until you have seen it done another way. I am finding a few things a little too different from Korea. I guess I'll just have to get used to it for now. Life is very expensive in the UK these days but despite this we're trying to explore our surroundings.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Big day today

After a few weeks of searching it looks like we're going to move into an apartment today in Manchester. We're signing the contract later today and handing over a lot of money for rent - six months plus a month's deposit. The figure is so high because a) I am currently unemployed and b) I haven't live in the UK over the past three years so effectively have no landlord references.

A world away from my days as an ESL teacher in Korea where my rent was either payed by my employers or part funded when I lived in a bigger place. At least by paying such a high figure I won't be thinking of how I'll be able to afford the rent.

So I'm out of the bubble. For how long who knows, possibly forever but we'll see where we are and how my wife and I feel at the turn of the year. There is some reverse culture shock that I'm not ashamed to admit to. Though I've been back a few times over the past five and a half years some things are different and take time to get used to or accept.

Despite having some money in the bank, lots of free time and away from Korea's withering Summer heat I am having some stress - all of my own making though. The armbands have been removed and I am swimming in the deep end right now for the first time in a long time. Having to make decisions and choices where previously my only worries were what to do at the weekend or what to eat for dinner. I am reminded of the expression be careful what you wish for.

An example of irrational stress is setting up broadband access. Where as before it would be done quickly and to hell with the cost, now I have had to shop around and it looks like I have to commit to an eighteen month contract when I am not 100% what my situation will be then. I cannot sign up for broadband yet as I don't have an official address and as such I don't have any paper or records detailing where I am moving to (hopefully today!).

I will feel a lot better when I am settled in my new place. The location is great for us and hopefully we can make it feel homely very soon.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Small update

I haven't updated my blog for a while but will be getting round to posting some stuff soon. I've been back in the UK now for nearly two weeks and I'm trying my best not to make any conclusions but that is proving hard. There are lots of things that I'm enjoying but inevitably several things that I have not or maybe never will come to terms with. Overall I'm enjoying my 'break' and loving being with my family again.

Monday, 30 May 2011

This box and that box

Packing, packing and more packing. That's where we're at right now. I feel like we're packing everything but as my wife just pointed out to me, I've only lived here just over five years but she's lived here all her life. Putting it like that then I understand her wanting to take a lot of things. We're sending so many boxes that the post office are coming to us to pick things up. You'd never get that back home.

Recently my co-workers have been pointing out to me it's my last this and my last that. It's true a lot of the things I've been doing for seemingly ages are coming to an end day by day but to be honest today as I finished my classes I felt very little. Nothing was at the back of my mind saying "I wish I was staying". Bearing that in mind I feel very calm and relaxed. Perhaps that will change tomorrow but with just four classes I doubt it. I know some of my co-workers are jealous of me leaving. They'll get there chance too one day!

Last week I picked up my final wage. For a few weeks we've been low on money due to a few unforseen expenses. My final pay packet was a lot more than I'd calculated. Either I got my sums wrong or they did. Either way I was delighted when the money came in as we've been able to buy a few extra things and take a bit more money away with us to Hong Kong. In about forty eight hours from now we'll be setting off for Busan to Gimhae airport. The end of a long journey is finally in sight.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Asking about 'my' pension money

Today I went to downtown Daegu to the pensions department (don't know the actual name) to ask a few questions. Usually around this time in an ESL teachers contract you go there to sort out your pension and pick up a significant amount of money which you've been paying and had matched by your employer.

Being from the UK I knew that no such pension agreement existed but I still went with my wife to see where I stood, because I have been paying contribution for forty four months and that's a lot of money not coming my way. And the answer is this - There is still no pensions agreement between Korea and the UK. This means that as things stand the money I have paid into the system is not mine and I am not entitled to get it back. I am not entitled to it now and I am not entitled to it even when I retire.

We spoke to a nice lady there but she wasn't much help. In fact to get answers to our questions she had to make a series of phone calls. Until some kind of agreement is made between the two countries I will not be able to get to 'my money'. Even if an agreement happens I do not know if things will be backdated. We were told that the only people from the UK that can get the pension money are E8, E9 and H2 visa holders.

I asked if, 'I cannot get the money who gets it and where does it go?' The answer was complicated because it was translated through my wife but she said the answer does not make sense and seemed to suggest that the money will not stay in the system but instead go elsewhere. I was unsatisfied with this answer. I left with more questions than answers so I'm going to write to my local MP when I get back home.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Crocs in the classroom

My favourite part is the shoes were over two sizes too big for him and clearly weren't his.

Open classes coming up: Teach like Tyra

Last week I got my final schedule at work. I only have seven actual working days left so I knew whatever it would be like wouldn't really matter but luckily it's the best timetable I've ever had whilst teaching English here.

From having no breaks for about three years, gradually I've been given one or two until lately I've had four. Due to some of my classes being combined and students levelling up I now have six breaks a week (each class lasts fifty minutes so a break is a huge deal). The last few days couldn't be much better.

Having said this my schedule is really unfair for everyone else and I have said as such to my manager (even though I am delighted with the 'time off' I've been given by her). I have six breaks whilst two teachers have none and most of the others have two which makes you wonder why couldn't they have been shared out. I don't feel guilty as it's not me who has done this but it's wrong. I only benefit from this for a few days but the teacher who replaces me will have over two weeks of a fantastic schedule which is the unfair part.

Aside from that, my last week is open class week at my academy. This is where parents can come and watch their kids classes in action. Two of my classes on my last day are free for my students parents to come in and I am expecting the majority of the parents to do so. Not ideal as a) my mind will not be on teaching so the quality could be low and b) as it's my last day the class will only represent the way the classes have been taught and not what the new teacher is going to do. No big deal especially as I can put my feet up on my newly acquired breaks.

A few weeks ago we got this advice from my real boss - my foreign manager.

Nothing conveys a warm welcome and excitement better than a smile.
-Smile from ear to ear and smile with your eyes
-When speaking to the students give them a smile.
-Have a smile in your voice

Thank you very much Tyra Banks for your pearls of wisdom. I guess we know which show my boss watches.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Things I'll miss about Korea: The weather

One of the reasons that I'm leaving Korea is the weather. I can't go through another Daegu Summer - it's just too hot - but paradoxically I'm going to miss the weather here.

My gripe is with the Summer heat. I'm from an island where sunny days are valued highly and any hint at high temperatures gets people excited but here it really is too hot for me. Or rather it's too hot to be teaching in. If I didn't have to work in the heat I'm sure I would really appreciate Summer here.

Being from the UK and in particular the North I am accustomed to lots of rain and ominous grey skies that dominate the seasons and affect peoples mood. Here it really is much brighter. I don't know the statistics but it just feels like there is more sun light all year round and it really improves the way you feel. Also it doesn't rain much in Korea and when it does I actually appreciate and enjoy the change it brings.

In general Winters are colder than back home and there isn't much snow but at least it doesn't rain like in the UK. I don't enjoy Winter much here because of the absence of colour but Winter is distinct from the other seasons.

Spring and Autumn often feel the same but both signify welcome changes from the cold or the oppressive heat. They are my favourite seasons as they provide the most colour and give comfortable temperatures. A Spring beer outside a convenience store is one to be enjoyed.

Korea and Koreans often talk about this country having four distinct seasons and only now have I begun to appreciate them. I hope Manchester is kind to be when I move back home and gives me a Summer that I've been looking forward to for a while.

Yesterday at work in pictures

How not to spell my name. Yet another variation

Marking a students homework, this boy gives the middle finger in his notebook

The lift at work

Mister Gavin (in Korean) but not in English

A boys glasses

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Things I'll miss about Korea: Safety

Something rather less tangible that I will miss is the relative safety here. Of course with the North Korean situation you cannot say this country is so safe but this is only a background danger.

Having lived in the North of England I can clearly say that South Korea is far, far safer. Back home crime affects so many people that it's likely that if you've not been the victim of a crime you are in the minority. Here I walk the streets at all times and feel safe. There is none of the aggression that you can feel in the UK. You take it for granted but the fact is this country is much safer.

Of course there is crime here. Back in 2008 someone burgled my flat but left most of the things that I thought were important. Crime here is less on the surface and I am oblivious to most of it because it is less visible. People stop their cars, leave their engines on and go into the convenience store to get something. That would NEVER happen back home because someone would take the car. I don't feel as if anyone would even consider mugging me but in England I know I will need my wits about me and be careful with possessions such as phones, cameras and MP3 players. I am going to miss this security when I leave.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Things I'll miss about Korea: The internet

With just over two weeks left here I've recently been thinking about the things I will miss when I leave here. Of course there's the money, the relative freedom my job affords me and lack of pressure in my life. But there are lots of small things that make life here so enjoyable.

First off is the internet here. It's damn quick. The other day I downloaded something at 7.6 mB/s which is very fast indeed. After a while you take for granted the excellence of the internet in South Korea. As someone with a degree in Computing I spend a lot of time on the laptop and I am really going to miss the speed and connectivity of the place when I go.

So many shops and houses have WiFi so I can use my Ipod touch as a mobile device in so many places. I know it won't be the same back in England. Also there are thousands and thousands of quality PC rooms that offer round the clock internet access at high speeds should you need to use them, all cheap prices. The UK is geting better but by comparison it really lags behind Korea.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Food for thought

The other week I spent twenty four hours basically fantasising about food. What I'm going to eat when I get back home, where I'm going to go etc, etc. I was in a daze for a while, not quite hallucinating but transfixed. I even made a list, and it's a long one.

I really like Korean food though and it's availbility and the longer I've been here the more I've grown to love it. There's a wide variety of dishes that I enjoy eating even though I am not as adventurous as many of my co-workers. I'm going to miss a lot of the things I eat week by week here but it will be great to be able to return to my former habits.

Not surprisingly my students have a lack of knowledge about what Westerners actually eat. When I ask them what they think my favourite food is their guesses are usually pizza, hamburger, hot dogs and fried chicken, essentially the majority of the fast food served here under the Western banner.

One of my former managers at my current academy told me she lived in London for one year studying English and said the only thing to eat there is fish and chips.

Rainy day in May

Yesterday it rained a lot.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Throwing stuff out into the street

I don't know what it is like across Korea but I do know that in Chilgok, Daegu, crap is thrown in the streets throughout the day, every day. This being the latest development over the weekend on my street. Obviously people were moving out of their apartment and it was only there for forty eight hours but it was still there for everyone to see and someone must have thought it was OK to do this.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Don't touch that

The only way word to really describe today really is humid (습기있는). My classrooms have no windows and when the heat starts to go up everyone suffers. Today was really bad, almost but not quite insufferable.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that our manager has placed huge new air conditioners in the hottest rooms but we're not allowed to use them right now, and I don't know when we can. Not good for me and certainly not good for the students.

After the (yellow) dust has settled

I have mentioned Yellow Dust before but not provided pictures. It's diffcult with my limited camera skills to take a photo of something which is hard to see. However after the dust settles you can see what has been swirling around. Here are some pictures of what Yellow dust looks like afterwards.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Being careful

I am finding the last month in Korea more difficult that I'd anticipated. Not professionally (work is going OK because right now I have lots of breaks) nor emotionally (I'll be back with my wife of course in the future because of her family). A few things are sapping my energy though. I am tired a lot more than normally.

A number of surprise expenses have affected how I wanted to finish my time here. I'm having to make some snap decisions on things I would just buy if I wanted to. Do I really need that coffee or that beer? Poor planning from me on not covering all eventualities but these expenses keep cropping up.

I am not broke, yet but I have to be more careful than I'd like. My final wage is supposed to be coming my way on May 26th and I'll be alright because I have come coins to cash in and also some English money to exchange should I really need to. I will be doing either or both of these as late as possible but this also means that my last few day will be very hectic because it'll be then that I can buy and do some important things that I need to.

On a side note, the weather is slowly warming up. Tomorrow is supposed to be around 27°C. From time to time I catch myself thinking whether or not I am doing the right thing by going when I am. The fast approaching Summer and it's temperature increases are perhaps natures way of reminding me that it absolutely the right time to be leaving.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Korean beer: Last throw of the dice

I am a beer drinker. I like my beer and am always happy to sample something new. Before coming to Korea I had read that the country is a nation thats likes to drink and have a good time. It's true, people here love having fun and equally love their booze. Just one thing, the beer is very poor.

I have gone through periods here where I would drink it often in a bar and those where I would only touch it just to be sociable with co-workers. I would never buy it to drink it at home. There can be no defense, it is just bad - in total contrast to the Japanese who have some fine brews. I think things will change over the next ten years when Koreans realise what they've been drinking is essentially an inferior copy of American brands like Budweiser and Miller, the kind that are unversally regarded of as low quality. I think tastes will start to change farly quickly judging on the availability of higher quality beers in the supermarkets.

I just bumped into a co-worker in the local store. I was buying a few cans of Japanese beer (Asahi Premium) when he suggested I try a new Korean beer, OB Golden Lager. It is only 1,350won so I decided to give it a go. A lot of foreigners who I have met in Korea have defended the beer but I think they are either seduced by the cheap price or don't know better. Was I about to be seduced by it's taste?

On the positive side, the initial taste is OK. It also looks better with a slightly richer colour. On the negative side, it does not taste 'good'. There is no unpleasant after taste but then again there is no real after taste. Like most beers here it is quite weak bordering on watery and doesn't taste like the 4.8% it claims. It doesn't drive you away from it but doesn't make you feel like drinking another. OB Golden Lager is the best Korean beer I've had. I hope that will change as the years go by.

Monday, 2 May 2011

No masking this

Yesterday I stayed in for most of Sunday barring a quick trip to the local shop. I did have one of the windows open for a bit though. Perhaps a mistake, today I'm feeling it a little in the chest. Yesterday and today has seen Korean blanketed in 황사 (Yellow Dust). I have heard it's the worst case of this for some nine years or so. It doesn't last for very long but it is unpleasant and can leave anyone affected by this a bit sick with a sore throat or affected breathing. I won't miss it when I leave here. I feel sorry for those in China though who have to put up with worse conditions than here in Korea.

Today my wife and I had to go out so we covered our mouths as best we could but we looked different from everyone else we saw. Usually when Koreans have an excuse to wear a mask they're all over it like a fat kid with cake but not today. People are walking around as if it's normal - and it is not, though I guess people are just used to it now. I'm very surprised. Korea is replete with masks especially in the Winter time or days when the air quality is poor. If I had a mask today I'd wear it. It is a sunny day, it's just that the Yellow Dust is blocking the sunlight. The best thing to do when this strikes is to stay indoors and drink plenty of water. I can't wait to get back home for the cleaner air.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

1 month to go

So one more month left in Korea. I finish my job on May 31st but will be leaving for Hong Kong in the early hours of June 2nd. Happy to be moving on, it's time but of course with mixed emotions. I have been busy of late and unable to write much here but will be addressing that soon. Recently I've finished taekwondo after some eighteen months or so, begun the long packing process and have been met with a series of unepected and unwelcome bills to pay. And of course 'teaching'.

Last week one of my external hard drives broke and I have so far been unable retrieve most of the information but luckily I have got a lot of the important stuff like photographs backed up elsewhere. I did lose a lot of things that I had been saving though. Today is supposed to see swathes of yellow dust sweep across Korea so I will be putting my feet up inside. I am very excited about this month and the future ahead of my wife and I. We're hoping to have a fun and relaxing last month in Korea.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Ticking along

Today is my penultimate series at my academy. Luckily my schedule has hardly changed and it's the best of any of the teachers. I still have four proper breaks in the week but one of my classes has been replaced with a brand new one, the lowest level we teach. I am hoping to have a lot of fun with them but expect to be very tired.

For the past two weeks the Middle school classes have been a series of tests for them and afterwards we would go over some of the answers. This changes today and we go back tothe normal reading classes where the students didn't do enough studying beforehand so find the class very difficult. I only teach two Middle school groups a week. Halleujah.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Shaking my head

Just back from a hike with my wife, and a nice hike it was too. We're trying to cut down on any excesses before we leave and to lose some weight. It's not going to be easy but if I cut down on the booze then I think it's possible expecially if we exercise more.

On the way to our hike we passed a petrol station (gas station) and a guy there was smoking close to where they pump the petrol (not in the shop/booth). I was fuming - pun intended - bcause I've seen this too many times for my liking. I don't go past these places every day but I've witnessed it far too often. I just don't know why some people here do it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Starting to pack

With just over six weeks to go we've started to get cracking on the things we need to do before we depart Korea. Over the weekend we bought our plane tickets and last night we started packing. It's going to take a while to sort everything out so why not start now?

There are several ways of posting things and we're going for two options. The first is to send some things by EMS which is recorded delivery that requires a signature. You also get a text message when the package has arrived at its destination. That is a bit expensive but ensures your package gets there within a week. My wife be sending some of her clothes, bags and shoes I think this way. The people at the post office told us the maximum weight of a package by EMS is 10kg and that would cost 87,000won which is roughly £50. I think that is more than reasonable.

The other way we will be sending things is by boat. This can take between thirty-ninety days but is much cheaper. Packages start from a 2kg box costing 12,000won and go up 2,000won per kg. We packed a 13kg box like this last night which should cost us 34,000won or £19. I think I will be sending some books and asorted items that way in order to have a fairly light suitcase for travelling.

One of the things I'm looking forward to doing is throwing away a bunch of clothes that I've been wearing for the past three and a half years. I feel like I've been wearing the same clothes every week so it will be great to get home, buy some new things and look different to the 'Gavin teacher' role that I play five times a week. I've already set aside the things I am going to throw away in June from the clothes I will be taking with me.

This morning I booked our hotel for Hong Kong. It's been an exciting few days without actually 'doing' anything.

Gentlemanly Korean notebook

Saturday, 16 April 2011

No turning back

Today we dropped by a travel agen that we've used several times and bought our plane tickets for the UK. We got a good price that I was more than happy to pay. It's now official, we'll be leaving Korea on June 2nd.

We're headed to Hong Kong for a few days before arriving home. I'm in desperate need of a holiday so a few relaxing days will do me the power of good. In an ideal world we'd be sunning ourselves on a beach in somewhere like Thailand but funds are a bit limited and there's plenty of time for that in the future.

So just over six weeks to go. Time has been flying by lately. It feels great to be leaving though. Something to look forward to. I'll be leaving Korea on good terms. Now our attention turns to dealing with the mountain of stuff we have in our apartment that we need to bring to England. You really do accumulate a lot over the years.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Thinking time

Last week at taekwondo the Master asked me what I job I was going to do when I go back home in June. I told him I don't know. He asked if my family was rich and of course I said no. He then laughed, but in a good way. He must think I'm crazy to leave my job. So what am I going to do when I go back home? I don't know. It's a question I have been putting off for over five years. The plan has always been to stay here just that little bit longer. But for a few years now I've known that I will be going home at some stage. That time is almost here. I don't know what I want to do but I know I need some rest. I'm all played out right now. Excluding the National holidays (some of which I don't even get in my contract) I think I've had less than twenty days off in the past three and half years. I would like to take some time off from working. The economy in the UK is pretty bad right now. People are struggling for jobs. This is one of the reasons I've delayed coming home. I've been able to put some money away so that my wife and I will have a bit of a cushion and don't need to start working straight away. Having said that I don't want to see all that money just evaporate. One option would be to go back and study, maybe to do a Masters. That would take a one or two year commitment with no promise of a job and I may not be able to take that gamble. I've got some thinking to do.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Paying goodbye

Yesterday I went to taekwondo and paid my usual monthly fee of 60,000won (£34). This is, I think, the last month I'll be doing taekwondo here, or perhaps anywhere. I now won't be here for the June test. There is little point me training in May because Diana, my training partner is changing branches this month so she won't be there and as I'm not taking the test I won't feel good practicising for something that I won't be able to do. Perhaps this is short sighted of me.

I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I've been doing some form of martial arts in Korea for three and a half years. I've done OK, got three black belts and learned a lot and had fun every single day. My body has taken a beating at times though. When I did hapkido I used to wake nearly every morning with aches and pains and it would always take a few minutes for my body to adjust. My feet will enjoy the rest too. So many times I've hurt them, split open my toes where they join my foot (which is painful) countless times. I won't miss the bruises either.

But I will miss the people I have met, trained with and had fun with. I will miss the routine, the discipline and the thrill of impovement. I've been lucky enough to see a different side to Koreans and enjoyed their hospitality and friendship. It's been a big part of my days for the past few years. Something to look forward to. Something to aim for. Time is often your enemy in Korea. As a teacher you have too much of it so need to try and fill it productively and I think I have. I'm hoping the next three weeks will be good. After that I will be busy planning my move.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Almost, but not quite

A nice gentle opener to the class.

Me: "What pet would you like?"

Student: "I want a pet square."

Me: "....."

Student: "I want a pet square. They live in the trees."

Me: "Oh, you want a pet squirrel!"


Yesterday. One study sentence was 'We pull into a gas staton for some fuel'

Me: "What is fuel?"

Student: "Car..... yummy yummy"

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Cheeky landlady

My wife just got a call from our landlady asking us if we could lend her two million won (£1,142). After my wife politely told her we could not she then asked if she could borrow one million won (£571) instead. Staggered at this request, my wife again exaplained that it would just not be possible. This comes the day after we paid the rent. I've had bad landlords here in Korea but this takes things up a notch.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Spousal visa success

Relief and joy. They were the overwhelming feelings today in Seoul. We headed there early to get the results of her spousal visa application. And my wife now has a two year visa for the UK. I was pacing the corridor as my wife was in the Visa centre opening her package and we got the result we were desperate for. Much to our surprise the visa was processed within 24 hours of it arriving in Manila. Now we can plan ahead for our future. We've already started looking at flights home.

So, two months to go. Time is slipping away very quickly and I'll be back in the North of England in just a few weeks from now. In truth I am happy to go but know I will miss the place which has been my home for over five years a lot. I have taken my job as far as I can as things stand. I am tired of the work and need a break, need a challenge and importantly a change of scenery. We're both very happy with today's result and can now move on to stuff like sending things back to the UK. But I don't think things will take too long to sort out. I think my next few weeks will be a lot of fun. How can they not be with this beautiful weather?

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Back to Seoul again

Today we got an email from the Visa centre people telling us that our application has been pocessed already. We don't know if we're successful yet as they cannot tell us over the phone or via email. So tomorrow in the morning we're making the trip up to Seoul just one week after handing in the documents.

We're amazed at the speed of it all. The application only reached Manila on Monday and already the result is in and my wife's passport is back in Korea. Do we take it as a good sign? We're finding it difficult to take it any other way but of course we can't be overly confident. Both of us feel that we put forward as compelling a case as we could. At least we won't be left dangling for a month waiting for the results.

Today I saw my wife nervous so the first time. She's shown no stress up to this point where as I've been the one fretting over things. Today for a few minutes she showed me her worries. Thankfully it didn't last long as she is back to her normal, cheerful self. I have found it difficult at work though with my mind on more important matters. There really is no great Plan B. Fingers crossed, eh.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Meaningful breaks

Yesterday was the first day of the new series at work. New students in some cases and a slightly different schedule for me. From having no proper breaks for a long time, last series I was given two by my manager, now because some of my classes have merged due to students levelling up into other classes I now have four proper breaks in a week. This makes a big difference as classes last fifty minutes. I am hoping it will improve my teaching as that has got slowly worse over the past few weeks.

Last night in my break I was able to do a lot of preperation for Wednesday classes for the rest of this series. I will actually be able to use my breaks more productively - whatever that may turn out to be. Right now my schedule is the best it has been during my three and a half years at my academy. I don't know if this will last but it is very welcome. I only teach two Midle school classes now while one of my co-workers has six. As I am leaving in nine weeks it may be difficult for my manager to give me any new classes. We shall see.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Playing the waiting game

On Friday we headed out to Seoul to hand in my wife's application for a spousal visa for the UK. I thought we had to go to the British Embassy but went to the British Visa Centre instead. We arrived ten minutes ahead of the appointment and I was politely informed that I would not be allowed in. Despite having my British passport on me, only applicatants were allowed inside.

I was told that it would take about twenty minutes to sort out the documents so I went for a coffee in the building below. I took nearly an hour. This made me a bit nervous as naturally you consider if anything has gone wrong. When my wife appeared she was in a good mood. She told me that the staff were very friendly and helpful and that the woman who aided her commented on how well laid out our application was. We take this as a good sign but are trying not to read too much into it as they aren't the people assessing the application.

This morning my wife received a text message confirming that the application has arrived in Manila where the application will be dealt with. I think the process may take a month or so don't know for certain. We've tried to put forward as compelling a case as we could. I feel that there was very little more that we could have done. Now we just have to wait for the result and try not to spend too much time thinking about it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Nearly there

Light at the end of the tunnel. We have nearly, but not quite, finished the application for my wife's spousal visa. I've found the process very stressful at times but we're nearly there. I hope to sleep soundly tonight for a change.

We're just adding the finishing touches, have a few things to print off and one document to collect and we're done. Then we head to Seoul on Friday to hand everything in. We've given it our best shot and there is little else we think we could do.

Tomorrow we have to sort everything out into it's rightful place but we've collected nearly everything we need. Today we finished the actual application form (it is done online). Right at the end you get the amount you need to pay. And surprise surprise, it's gone up. The application fee is 1,425,000won which is roughly £775. Money well spent of course if the application is successful.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Email from the British Embassy in Seoul

When one of your neighbours has problems it is only natural to consider if these might one day affect you. Living in South Korea, the situation with North Korea is always in the background but you build an immune system to the 'threat'. Now with the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan causing massive nuclear problems your mind turns to the possible scenario of it affecting us here.

I feel safe. I do not worry. My co-workers consider if any radiation could drift over here but I feel unqualified to talk on the subject - a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. From all the literature I read it does not seem possible that we will be affected. But I am out of my depth on this one. I am not concerned but do check the news as often as I can.

I receieved an email from the British Embassy here in Korea, as did anyone who is registered with them as a British National living in Korea. Here is an extract:

"We are continuing to follow developments in Japan closely and reviewing our advice to British nationals in the Republic of Korea. We will monitor the situation closely over the weekend.

...Our travel advice (for Japan and Korea) is kept under constant review, and is directly informed by the best scientific advice. Current assessments suggest that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is extremely unlikely to pose an environmental risk to countries outside Japan, but the UK Government is continuing to monitor developments closely. As such, we have not changed our advice for British nationals living in the Republic of Korea. The Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety ( assesses that the risk of radiation movement from north east Japan to the Republic of Korea to be very low. Radiation levels on the Korean peninsula currently remain normal."

Being a teacher here means I am afforded the luxury of a decent salary and given the opportunity to save money. Should the situation become significantly worse and affect Korea I am lucky enough to be able to buy a plane ticket out of here for my wife and myself. One can only feel great sympathy for those in Japan and what they are going through and consider yourself fortunate enough not to be on the sharp end of this tragedy.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Classroom trend

From time to time you notice kids pick up habits or do things that they see others do or say. Recently a bunch of my students - in different classes - have been zipping up their hooded tops right to the top making them look like they are in a multi-coloured moving body bag.

It's a bit strange but my students seem to get a real kick out of doing it even if half of them actually manage to get the zip stuck leaving them breathless and in a panic.

Even one of my co-workers has started doing it.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Proving your relationship (for visa)

For the spousal visa application to the UK you have to try and provide evidence of your relationship. Examples include photos, emails and phone records. As we have lived with each other for over a year we don't email each other or really need to phone. We have lots of photos and have begun the 'exciting' costly process of printing these out and putting them together.

We also have some MSN records of when we began dating and also up to the time where we moved in together. These records are incomplete but cover a period over around eighteen months. I hope these will help with the application. I managed to save these from my old laptop before the screen died however I was unable to open them at all or they were unformatted on any computer I tried it on.

Yesterday I tried opening the files on Microsoft Excel and thankfully it worked though everything needed formatting properly. It took me hours to sort it out but it's just about done and my wife will print the pages and pages of it out this week.

The process is ticking along and we're gathering a lot of the things that we may or may not need. It is time consuming and a bit stressful but it will be worthwhile. We've just confirmed the time and date for handing in the application. You need to make an appointment at the embassy because they have to take fingerprints for the person applying. Exciting and nervous times ahead.

Three guests

One of my students brought three hamsters to class last week - they don't look like hamsters to me though. The class ended and she whipped them out and cuddled them as the rest of the kids gathered round. Where was she hiding the pets? In a pencil case.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Partner teacher stress

My worst student who I will refer to as 'Child Y' (which stands for, "Child, WHY do you keep doing this?") is giving one of my partner teacher's a lot of stress. Ever since we moved into the new building and his class changed into a smaller one he has become a real pain. Disrespectful, rude, arrogant, a bit of a bully and in general very poorly behaved. But only in my class, not my Korean partners.

I have discussed the matter several times with my partner and yesterday things seemingly reached a tipping point. In my class he upset another student. I dealt with the issue but the boy seemed to take no notice of me, however the upset child showed no signs of distress at all so I thought no more of it. I am told now that the boy went home and cried.

Of course my partner got a call from the mother today and she complained understandably. Then, my partner contacted the mother of 'Child Y' to tell the story and to basically complain about her boys behaviour, again. The mother of 'Child Y' then proceeded to moan, shout and complain about all this and ultimately seemed to blame me but in the process giving my partner a lot of stress. Thankfully my partner wasn't taking this lightly and argued our corner.

They talked for twenty minutes and seemingly got nowhere. The problem is that in the Korean teachers class he behaves but in the foreign teachers class - not just mine but the others that have taught him - he behaves terribly. We talked it over for a quite a long time but it was clear my partner teacher was really angry and stressed out. The simple fact is that now if he steps out of line in the he will be punished in the form of detention, called jaeshi at my academy. In fact if he continues I will just refuse to teach him, things are close to reaching that point. Students like this really stick in your throat because 95% of the rest behave fantastically. I wonder who he gets his behaviour from.

Visas and hair colour

Day two of the process for gathering documents for my wife's visa and it's going OK so far. There is little that I can do to help my wife with regards to some of the things she needs but I am there for her if she needs any help or advice.

I've been able to set the ball rolling on acquiring some of the things I need including bank documents from the UK and information regarding my employment. Also I've been working on getting a letter from my brother guaranteeing accommodation should we need it. Tomorrow I am off to the bank for more statements and also to ask a former employer for some help with a kind of reference.

I am finding it a bit stressful but things like this do tend to cause me more concern that others. Luckily my wonderful wife does not worry about things as much as I do. Hopefully my concern over the thoroughness of the application makes sure everything has been done to be successful. I look forward to the process further advancing my greying hair.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Visa hunt begins

Today my wife and I sat down to figure out everything we need to collect for her spousal visa application for the UK. We've known for a while what we need to sort out but it's been good to put it down on paper and get ready to cross everything off as soon as possible. Looking at the list we can get most of the things quite easily though one or two will take more time and effort.

The application needs to be perfect otherwise we will probably either need an interview or worst case scenario is that the application to be turned down. The cost of applying for the visa right now is 1.35million won which is roughly £750 or $1,200. If the application were to be rejected we would need to pay the same just to apply again.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Short back and sides

Over the past few days I've noticed a bunch of my students had new haircuts. It clicked after a while that they were all kids who were set to start Middle school very soon, in fact I think most of mine started on Tuesday.

The boys with haircuts all looked like fresh military recruits while the girls who all had long hair had theirs snipped to a much shorter length all because their school requires them to have shorter hair. I don't know if this is nationwide or just a Daegu thing. None of them like it and a few boys had their hoods covering their heads which kind of made it worse because everyone knew what was going on and it made them look a bit soft.

Over the years several of my students who are girls have complained to me that they have to have shorter (though not short) hair. They feel it's unfair. My first thought is to feel sorry for them and have a bit of sympathy. I asked my wife for her opinion and she just said she was "used to it," and I taker this as meaning she doesn't care. For the boys it is perhaps a bit over the top. The kids who now have very short hair didn't exactly look like Billy Ray Cyrus.

Your hairstyle forms part of your personality and helps define your individuality and thus must represents a loss them. Perhaps it is their school's way of making them know that they all equal but also must all act the same way. It's probably just because it's something that has been there for a while and they just don't want to change.

The haircut is not the only change they'll have. From my experience several of them are in danger of losing some of their personality for the next six years as they have to cope with a stream of exams and flow of pressure from school/parents/social expectations. From being carefree children they may now turn into zombies whose only joy comes from the PC room or their phone. I wish them all well and hope they will enjoy growing their hair back as soon as possible

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Three months left. Plan A underway

And we're onto March. I now have three months to go before my contract ends. Time has been passing rather quickly of late, the seasons are changing and moods are improving at work. Things have been going well lately but this month is a big one. My wife finished working yesterday but it's not just me with the busy schedule.

My wife and I are starting the process for her spousal visa application for the UK. We're about to put together a list and then over the next few weeks we'll be ticking off the things we need before hopping up to Seoul to hand in the paperwork. The things we need won't be difficult to get but after that we'll be relying on sound judgement from the people in charge. I don't anticipate any problems but we have to make sure everything is perfect with the application.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Timely break

Today was the first day in a new series. These run over four weeks then go onto the next set of four weeks. Being the first day everyone was a bit busier than normal so I came in a bit earlier. On my desk was a schedule updated from the one I got last week. I now have two extra breaks, the last class on Tuesdays and Fridays.

My mood was great all day and I hope it was passed onto my students. It's going to be a great help because I am pretty tired of the work I'm doing and as I'm leaving soon lack some motivation. Also a lot of my co-workers have breaks where once we had none so I'm pleased for them too as it gives us all more time to sort out the things we need to. I'm really looking forward the break as it replaces a class with just three Middle school students.

Laptoe woe

My laptop has effectively died over the weekend. While it still works, the screen has broken making it basically impossible for me to see anything. The problem started three months ago and got steadily worse. Being away from home I am bound to my laptop as my primary source of entertainment, information and contact with the 'outside world'.

With just three months to go before my time is up in Korea I won't be buying a new one until I get back home to England. I hope this will partially liberate me from an over reliance of computers but I doubt it! Luckily my wife has a laptop which although is old and creaky does work.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Night out with co-workers

Wednesday was a works night out and the first we've had in months. There was no special occasion apart from the fact that we've not been out on one for a while. I think most of us had a very good time and we all think we should do it more often.

There's been a lot of stress at work this year especially for the Korean teachers and we all let off some steam. We went to a new restaurant and had a selection of meat dishes washed down with booze. There are a few newish teachers at my branch and it was good to get to know them even if I felt a bit worse for wear the next day.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Taekwondo with kids

It's finally dawning on me that if I want to get my 2nd dan taekwondo black belt I'll have to do it largely by myself. It is a similar story to when I got my hapkido 2nd dan as the motivation has to come from within to improve but there are some differences

Two weeks ago our class time changed from to 1:40pm. This is good and bad. Good because there is no excuse to not go to class unless I am very sick. In fact my body is fully awake by that time I am ready to go. Bad because we will be training with kids.

Before the time change we had the Winter vacation where we trained at 11am with the kids because school was closed for a month or so and we hardly did any training. We played a lot of fun games but there was no intensity and naturally the kids don't and probably cannot take the classes seriously. I admire my taekwondo Master for his patience! It was cold at the time so I didn't mind too much. Vacation is over but we're still practising with children.

For an hour the kids are running around, playing shouting and being kids. I once had a dog that in the evenings ran around the house tiring itself out. This is exactly what the kids at taekwondo are doing. I half think that their parents send them there so that they can burn off all their energy making them manageable in the evenings.

This is OK, but class is now very difficult. The warm up has changed from fifteen minutes of good stretching to five minutes. My body needs a lot of daily stretching otherwise I will pull a muscle or just not be able to move freely so to counter this I am stretching first at home. The kids also don't respect your space when you are practising.

The intensity has gone. As most of the children don't take the class as seriously as I do so we are not pushing or being pushed hard enough. It's a fine balance that our Master has to find. I need to improve technique now but it's not been happening lately. I am now hearing what I heard a lot in my second year of hapkido, "self training." This is fine but difficult when a bunch of kids are running all over the show and throwing balls and bumping into you. At least I have the motivation to improve and a goal to reach for. If I get the chance to take the test AND pass then I will feel like I've earned it.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sleeping more, time to go?

Recently I've been waking up late almost every day and it's been screwing up my days. I'm normally a light sleeper but not any more I guess. I am normally someone who gets up between 9-10am but over the past week it's been an hour or three extra hours of sleep and I don't understand why. I'm not overworked, not mentally or physically tired and there is nothing stressful going on with me right now. Perhaps I am just tired of being an ESL teacher in Korea.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Chocolate Day

Yesterday I got chocolate from some students. All girls because yesterday was Valentines Day and in Korea it is not uncommon for girls/women to give boys/men some chocolate. On White Day (March 14th) it works the other way round but with candy. A gift from a kid is fairly rare for me. I get gum or small snacks from time to time (Koreans are often willing to share food) but chocolate or anything else is something I don't usually get, nor do I expect any gift.

I don't teach Kindergarten, am not female, don't teach in a public position and am not a pushover with my students. From my experience of five years in Korea it is those teachers who get gifts so to get something was a nice surprise because it was unexpected and probably undeserved. Some kids here are really generous, interesting, wonderful children and it is those that I will miss when I leave and not the chocolate.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Snowy day in Daegu

Snow once more again in Korea. Today's TV reports claim that some areas have snowfall up to 50cm. Not so bad here in Daegu but it's stuck and is heavier than I have seen in previous years - over the past twelve months the snow has been much heavier than it was when I arrived in 2005.

The younger kids are finishing school about this time so hopefully they can enjoy the snow while it lasts. I nipped out for a few photos and it's already turning to slush. Maybe this is the last snow I will see in Daegu whilst I am here.

One of my c0-workers is currently making the long journey back to Puerto Rico for a vacation whilst three more are back in the office today. Puerto Rico, China, Vietnam, Daegu. I really could do with a holiday.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

8 days a week

Nipped into my regular coffee shop today and noticed it's opening times. They do work hard in Korea!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lunar New Year in Busan (part 2)

Spending the night at a hotel was a great idea. The original plan was the sleep at the house of my wife's aunt. Given that there would be eight adults and a very young child and very little space there would have been no way I would have slept more than two hours. I got much more than that and felt refreshed as we checked out.

We then headed to the aunts house again. Even though I had just eaten breakfast and we had insisted in a phone call that we wouldn't be eating we were met by a table full of food. I am not really a morning eater and still rarely eat breakfast but this time I made a big effort as once again food had been cooked specifically for me. I tucked into some samgyetang and some galbi (before 11am). This time there was no beer but they did try to get me to crack open a bottle of red wine which I politely declined.

After watching a bit of TV everyone got ready changed and we headed off. I didn't know the plan but found out we were headed towards the Haeundae area which has one of the best beaches in Korea. We didn't go on the actual beach but we walked around Dongbaek park and enjoyed the fine Winter weather which was warming up. It was good to get around Busan after the previous day spent inside. Once again, the baby was the star of the show.

We headed to the two cars we were in and I thought we would be saying goodbye but they suggested we head to a temple and we agreed. The temple name was Yong Kung Sa. I got into the car an agnostic but got out an atheist. I was led to believe it would be a fifteen minute trip but it was nearer to ninety minutes and I couldn't wait to get out, but it was no ones fault as traffic was just very bad where we were headed. I really didn't want to go around a temple but we did and I soon felt a lot better.

The setting was good, a temple on the coast but it was, perhaps predictably, a bit too crowded. I would recommend anyone with spare time in Busan to check it out. If you are a Buddhist or just have a liking for old buildings then it is worth seeing. I have read it is over one thousand years old. For me though I am all templed out after living in Asia for five years.

The sun was setting and we parted ways but not before we were given a lift back to Haeundae. there was a bar I wanted to go to and we made our way to the Wolfound pub which originated in Seoul but has now expanded to Busan. I was starving at this point and gagging for a beer. I chugged down some cider and ale and ate the best fish and chips I've had so far in Korea - not much competition but it was good. The prices for everything seemed to be higher than in Seoul which was disappointing.

I left Busan wanting more which is always a good thing. Wanting more time in Busan, more time off work because I feel done now there and more time with my new family. I hope I can meet up with them somewhere soon.

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