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.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Lunar New Year in Busan (part 1)

Busan was really busy over Lunar New Year with traffic sprawling all over the city as people were travelling to meet their families. My wife and I arrived at her aunt's house at around 4pm and I was so tired from the (short) travelling that I felt like I'd been on a plane. Her aunt was waiting for us with a big smile, just like her sister always is (my wife's mother). We entered the house and were greeted by two of my wife's cousins and her uncle.

The first thing we did when we got there was say happy New Year and then my wife got ready to bow to her aunt and uncle. This is part of Korean culture and tradition where younger members of the family bow to their elders and is called Seh Beh. She actually got me to do this with her (a bit strange as it was only the second time I'd met them and I'm not Korean) but I went along with it because my wife wanted me to. It only took five seconds and was painless. to my surprise her uncle gave my wife 50,000won and then her aunt gave the same to me. I didn't feel like I deserved it but declining the gift may have been offensive.$0D A
And then we sat down to eat. My aunt and one of her bousins had prepared some food and then added much more over the next six hours. I was very grateful for the food on offer, some of which my aunt had made specifically for me. It didn't take me very long at the house to see just how generous this family is. I also felt very welcome and never felt awkward, which was a slight worry beforehand.

I had some beer with her male cousin as we continued to eat and watch TV. The aunt continued to get me to eat as much as I could fit in my mouth. To refuse the food on offer would have been very impolite I feel. Quickly the aunt found out that I like pears and peppers. I soon joked that if I ate any more I would turn into one. After eating and drinking I was very full indeed. All this was done whilst sitting down on the floor and my knee took a bit of a battering.

A few hours later the youngest cousin and her husband arrived (from Seoul) with their two year old baby daughter who is as adorable as any baby could probably ever be. Everyone watched the baby being a baby and we continued to watch TV and eat and drink and talk. The youngest cousin has a husband who speaks good English which I appreciated greatly. Not long after 10pm the oldest cousin, who I have seen the most arrived with her husband, also from Seoul. They sat down to eat and drink and relax. The oldest cousin's husband also speaks good English. We talked more and drank more without getting drunk. I felt very comfortable during all of this.

Later that night the baby performed the Seh Beh to all the family including my wife and I. It was probably the cutest thing I've ever seen and everyone opened up their wallets gladly to give the baby some money.

I learned some new Korean words over Lunar New Year. Perhaps I will get the chance to use them again. I didn't take any pictures of my first day because it didn't feel right. I'm new to the family and wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible. I would have liked to have taken a few snaps but I'll leave that till next time, whenever that is. Here is some of the vocabulary I learned.

Seh Beh - 세배 - bow performed to elders

Imoh - 이모 - aunt

Imoh Boo - 이모부 - aunt's husband

Sa Chon - 사촌 - cousin

Jo Kah - 조카 - niece/nephew

Yobo - 여보 - darling/honey (used between a husband and wife)

The hospitality extended to us was amazing. At no time did I feel unwelcome and I hope that one day we can reciprocate with at least some of them. I'm lucky to have such a great extended family. At around 11pm we headed to our hotel and of course one of the family drive us there. We were both tired and wanted to be fresh for the next day where we would meet the family again.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Meeting family in Busan

We're headed to Busan tomorrow. It's the big day of the Lunar New Year celebrations and my wife and I are visiting her aunt and uncle. Also coming are my wife's cousins. She has four, all roughly around her age. Today we went shopping for a few gifts. Some ginseng for her uncle and aunt, some "facial mist" for the woman and we also got some wine for her male cousin and the husbands of her cousins. I don't think they are expecting anything but they were so generous at our wedding we are happy to get them a little something.

I've met one of her cousins (and her husband ) twice before and most of the rest of the family when they came to our wedding but it'll be the first time seeing one of them. I'm a little nervous because not many of them speak English and I don't know what we'll be doing but the last time we met it was a happy occasion and I'm hoping this will be fun too. We booked a hotel for the night and will try to explore some parts of Busan that we haven't seen before.

Timely Lunar New Year gift

Yesterday came and there were no gifts at work. Strange I thought because we usually get something small at Chuseok and Lunar New Year - the two biggest holidays in Korea. Over the years I've been given toiletries, green tea sets, and one time even seaweed (which my wife loved). I know a lot of teachers around Korea get similar presents and there are plenty of stories of people getting boxes of tuna or Spam, which is very popular here.

This year though we did pick up something from work, just not wrapped up. I checked my bank account today and found an extra 100,000won (£55) deposited yesterday from my employers. Another thing I'll miss about the company I'm leaving soon. This came at such a great time for me. Shame Mr Taxman is picking up most of this.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Four to go

Only four months left as a teacher in Korea. My time here is nearly over and I think the remaining weeks will go very quickly. Until recently I had mixed emotions but not now. I'm done. Tired and demotivated but I'll be trying my best until I finish. I really need a break from teaching.

Today's weather is wonderful. A big contrast to the previous weeks. It's sunny, warm and it feels great to be outside. Hopefully it will continue and Spring will be here shortly. One more day of work before Lunar New Year.
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