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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...