Monday, 7 December 2009

OK

I'm nearly at the end of a character-destroyingly unpleasant period of my life. Since I finished at ECC at the end of June, I've been adrift in a sea of desolate unemployment. Scoot back to July: I had intended to return to Seoul with the SMOE, working in a public school, and it was all going smoothly. I'd gone home in good spirits (despite that taxing Vietnam holiday) expecting to enjoy six weeks in blighty, meeting friends across the country, eating all the food I missed, train travelling over Europe, pubs, etc etc.

All I had to do when I got home was prep my documents, which shouldn't have been a problem. Got everything I thought I needed and sent it off, but an email soon arrived - apparently I needed not only a letter from my previous employer, as in my manager at ECC, but one from my previous employer in the UK as well. I asked my old boss to provide me with one, then it was time for the trans-Europa express. I returned home two weeks later and still there was no letter. It took further badgering but eventually I was able to pick it up and send it off to Korea. I sent it Monday, it arrived Thursday. The following Monday there was an email in my inbox informing me that all the places were full and I wasn't going to Korea. I'd taken too long - or someone had. On Wednesday I got some even more devastating news, but that sorted itself out eventually.

So there I was. All my stuff - my suit, my shoes, all my winter clothes, my PS3, my orange folding bike - they were still in Korea. And I was stranded. It was the same for the guys I worked with, and so followed the aforementioned void of brain-clawingly frustrating workless existence.

Turns out it's a damn sight more difficult to get a job in Korea this year than it was in 2008. I must have registered with forty recruitment agencies and applied for scores of jobs - and the response was alarming. Ninety five percent of the jobs I applied for went nowhere, there was no reply, positive or negative. The rare occasions that I did hear back, there might have been a phone interview arranged for early in the morning so I'd get up, wait around, and.. nothing would happen. A couple of times I did get to speak to someone, but there was no follow-up. Then, at the end of October I had an email from one of the jobs I applied for a couple of weeks previously.

It was an English guy who was going to be opening a school in Incheon in January. He said he'd like to talk to me. We arranged a phone interview for 8am. I woke up nice and early and waited patiently. By 10.40 I'd run out of patience and went for a shower - it was almost 7pm in Korea. I did take my phone in the bathroom though. Just in case. I'd just got wet when it rang.

Turns out I got the job.

Still, I had another six weeks to wait and filling time was challenging. I watched most of the West Wing, then all of Battlestar Galactica and Band of Brothers. I started Mad Men. On one day, I watched ten movies, back to back. I've watched around 115 episodes of Urusei Yatsura. I started writing. I memorised all the capital cities in the world, and all the US state capitals. I became amazing at Kakuro, Sudoku and crosswords. I reached a personal record of 208 football keepy-ups. I bought known time-sapping computer games like Football Manager and Civilization. I went on morning cycle rides. I'm getting close to visiting every article on the list of unusual wikipedia pages. I took my elderly dog on inadvisedly circuitous walks. I read the novelisation of 24. And many more things I'd rather not revisit.

I start next week. I'm going to be a PE and art teacher.

Imagine that.

Since I'll be in Incheon, this blog will be inaccurately titled. If I do continue blogging I'll do it on another piece of blog. And it'll be miles different to this one.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Finished teaching, but

My last day at ECC was Monday. You know that. I've since had a couple of days off in Seoul before travelling to Vietnam. Right now I'm in Da Nang in a pretty nice hotel with a private beach, in-pool bar and resident Filippino pop stars.

Since I finished I've been unable to shake off the teaching shackles. Perhaps I just exude peadagogy. First, on Wednesday I had a good long chat with my coworker's Korean girlfriend and talk got to the improvement of her (already pretty conversationally flawless) English. Then, in Hanoi, I was sitting on a bench in a park having just finished my book when a couple of Vietnamese girls came up and announced that they were learning English. Apparently it's a hobby of theirs to approach westerners in parks with questions about English. I had 4 hours to kill before my bus of hell departed - I was happy to be Michael teacher again.

Then, that evening upon finally boarding the aforementioned bus, I was at it again. I was the last to board and there was only one seat left. I was sat next to a German girl, who, being ein Deutscher you'd correctly assume could speak English almost fluently, but she insisted on my acting as corrector. Then we tried speaking German and it was just embarrassing. Then, as the night turned into morning the aircon stopped working and everybody got very irate.

Anyway, Filippinos are serenading me, away I go.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Vietnam

On Thursday evening I wrote a long and boring complaint about the nation of Vietnam for your enjoyment. I'm currently in 'Nam and it's not that great for various reasons as partially laid out in said blog. I have however chosen to delete it as all it was was maniacal rambling from a very frustrated man. Since I wrote it I've had a 24 hour bus journey. Things have been put into perspective. It's not been a great holiday so far, but it can only improve. Hey!

Besides, what's this got to do with teaching in Korea?

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

It's over it's over it's over it's over

This could be the penultimate post on this thing. Depends what I feel like.

Said goodbye to the kids yesterday. Nearly killed me.

Then there was a party, with beer, Jaegermeister, cigars and free champagne provided by the phenomenal staff at Metropolis bar. Nearly killed me.

Then, I was nearly killed. By a psychopathic cleaning lady. Here's what happened: I (used to) live on the third floor and not once did I get the lift up those two flights of stairs (I would talk at length about the elevatorial habits of people here but I'll keep it short (as I'm in parentheses). It's customary in Korea to use the lift to go up or even down a single floor regardless of age or physical prowess. Westerners too. These people are just lazy in my opinion.) Anyway, this afternoon I tried to ascend the stairs but my path was blocked by an ajuma, a cleaning wench. She was scrubbing a stair. I'd already reached the second floor and she was between me and my apartment. I made to climb over the step she was working on and she freaked out, just flipped. She threw her sponge at me and I almost fell. We exchanged angry mutually incomprended words for a bit until security came and I relented. I used the motherfucking elevator.

Not wanting to end on a downer, here's a video. This is the first time I've used windows movie maker, probably shows. Anyway, enjoy.


Saturday, 27 June 2009

Vagina

I'm a fan of kimbaps, rice and stuff rolled up in a seaweed sheet: this has already been established. My favourite variety is tuna, or in Korean, 'chamchi'. Written down it looks like this: 참치. The Korean symbol for the phoneme 'ch', you can probably work out, is the one that resembles the pi symbol with a hat on. The Korean symbol for the sound 'j' is the same but without the hat, and obviously 'ch' and 'j' have a similar phonetical resonance.

Now. I talk to my kids about food all the time, so kimbaps are frequently discussed. And to my incomprehesion, a couple of times my response to the question 'what's your favourite kimbap?' has elicited giggling. What? Tuna? What's funny about tuna? Then one kid was kind enough to spell it out to me: the Korean slang word 'jamji' means... that's right, vagina. Yes, I've unwittingly confessed to eight year olds that I enjoy eating vaginas.

One class went sick on it. Really sick. I walked into class one day to find this on the board:


The on the second picture you can also see 'jjijji', translatable into English as 'boobies'. I think those are meant to be nipples.

I'll be home in ten days. Ooh.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Metropolis

A couple of months ago, we found the perfect bar. After months of searching, months of endless Hite and Cass on tap, months of enduring fireshows and dicks on both sides of the bar, months of bartenders unable to understand you due both to language barriers and painfully loud, awful music, months of vain attempts to watch live sport - essentially months of inadequate drinking, we discovered a gem. It's in Nowon - a five minute bike ride away - serves real beer, has darts, foosball, quiz machine, big screens, sensibly-volumed music (that patrons can request), live sport, toilets, everything.

When we made our first few trips there the owner was manning the fort by himself, and we were his main customers. He speaks perfect English, and we got ingratiated quickly, helped by the continuous flow of won we were thrusting at him. I like to think our business helped to keep him afloat in those first few weeks. Right now, as the place is thriving, I like to think we're putting his kids through college. As of today they're employing five guys and a part-time girl. In no small part down to us I'd conjecture.

Last month we watched the FA cup final there, for which I was a temporary Everton fan. Sean provided a Toffees shirt which I happily wore, over my Leeds shirt of course. It's OK so long as it doesn't touch my skin.

I plan to enjoy my good riddance to ECC party in there this Monday evening. Champagne'll be involved and the Alley Kats will flow like wine.

I'd like to add: I've been there this evening, so if you feel this blog is written particularly poorly, attribute it to that. It's fine though: unlike some craggy idiots I don't do this sort of thing on a school night - tomorrow I don't start until 2pm.

As it happens, eleven classes to go... that's it.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Saying goodbye

At time this job has been damn near untenable. The way the school is run coupled with some indescribably asinine co-workers has driven me on a daily basis to at least a slight deviation from the usual blithe equilibrium I maintain. At worst I've been moderately indignated. Hey, I don't get that angry. The kids, however, have made this year worth doing. Except when they punch me in the balls, then I do get pretty shouty. Some have a bigger place in my heart than others, but I'll miss them all.

Every day I teach a class of geniuses, genuine future world leaders. They're batshit crazy, but they're brilliant. This is a video of Sunny saying goodbye to me today.

video

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Sweet, sweet, unobtainable western food

Korean food is good. I like a regular daeji galbi, kimbaps are healthy fastfood options, hell, I've even discovered that over the course of the year I've developed a taste for kimchi. Fifty weeks ago even the smell made me queasy; now, in moderation, I find it delicious. Oh yeah, and that's right: fifty weeks down. Two more to go.

But today I'm talking food. Sweet, sweet, unobtainable western food. There's a Kurt Vonnegut short story about three POWs working on clearing rubble in a bombed German city who discuss nothing but what they're going to eat as soon as they get home - they have notebooks filled with recipes and sketches and lists of their favourite meals. This is me in Korea. Here's my list, as I dream of the impending two months of gluttony.

1. Roast dinner. Meat unspecified, would favour beef joint.
2. Large, crusty, fresh baguette filled with bacon, real cheese and HP sauce.
3. A shepherds pie.
4. Lasagne/Spag bol.
5. A cassarole replete with big chunks of beef, carrots, potatoes, and suet dumplings.
6. Another roast dinner.
7. A real English curry. Indian food is gettable here but there's no subsitute for the real thing.
8. Nice, oily tuna, on fresh pasta, with feta cheese, coarse black pepper and lots of vinegar.
9. A ham and Branston's pickle sandwich.
10. My personal culinary pièce de résistance (the one thing I can cook that might actually impress people): hunks of chicken breast topped with goats' cheese and basil, wrapped in prosciutto ham and lightly browned in the oven. With CHIPS.

Take note, mother!!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Thankyou, honest and law-abiding citizens of Seoul

I'm a lucky boy.

Cycled the hour journey to Hyewha for a Saturday afternoon Indian. 'Chicken Haravara, mm', I thought, as I arrived, and mildly distracted, swerved to avoid running over a dog. Locked the bike, headed to the curry. Crossing the road, Chris commented that I'd not had the best luck up to this point: not only had I narrowly averted some third degree caninicide, I was nearly run over myself by an unindicating motorist turning sharply into a side street. All part and parcel of the death run that is cycling in Korea, but slightly disconcerting nonetheless.

Anyway, nodding in weary concurrence, we crossed the road. Then, suddenly sensing something was wrong, I stopped in my tracks: my wallet was gone. Chris judged my initial reaction to be that of the demeanour of a man about to say 'dude, you stepped in something'. He was kinda relieved, then, when I told him what had actually happened.

We ran back to the bike, wallet not there. Dog still was though. Had it fallen out here, or at some point in the maybe five miles since I stopped at the Family Mart to get a drink? Contemplating these options, I took out my aggression on my bike. On the corner of the roundabout however, there's a police station. Expecting nothing, I trudged over to it and brought out my rendition of the internationally-recognised gesture for 'I've lost my wallet'. I was met with blank stares. So, as I was dragging Chris in with his wallet as a visual aid to my despairing charade, I was pleasantly surprised to see a man emerging from behind the counter with a black, square-shaped leather pouch of sorts. My wallet. I pulled out my photo ID and I was good to go.

All this happened in about four minutes. I could have lost my wallet, killed a dog and died; I didn't, so I see it as a good day.

In other news, I have an interview next week for a job here next year. That's a good thing.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Teachers' Day

Today is teachers' day. How good is that?

I received several gifts including: shower gel, hand lotion, assorted vitamins, bubble bath (strange for a country devoid of baths) a mug.. with a lid, candy, several flowers and cards and, best of all, a W50,000 department store voucher.

And of course I left resenting the kids that didn't get me anything. Cheapskates. 

My haul

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Naming Kids

When I signed up for this year I did some research into the hagwon education system. By research I mean I read some blogs similar to this one. One thing that stuck out was the fact that these teachers were at regular intervals given the opportunity to give their students English nicknames. Great, I thought, and began drawing up a mental list of potential names. I'll admit this first list contained names such as Bing, Michael Jr and Bjork. 

When I arrived it was mid-term so no new kids were immediately forthcoming. Several months later, though, still nothing. The teacher that started at the same time as me, Sean, had by this point bestowed names on around twenty kids, and didn't hesitate in reminding everybody of this fact. Hourly. So at the end of February the new batch of kindergarten babies started and I assumed there'd be swathes of Korean 6 year olds for me to anglicise the shit out of. Nope. Not one. 

I came close a couple of times. Another teacher taught a brand new afternoon class once - eight kids, named them all - then the very next lesson the schedule changed and I took over. I had a kid come up to me and say "my name's JK," as in the initials of his Korean name Jin Kyung or something. I told him balls to that, you're Kurt. His mother was having none of it, so JK's still JK. Another kid turned up, excited about getting an English nickname, a feeling shared by me, and we settled on Leslie, after my dad. He liked it, and went home with it all over his books. Next day he came in with stickers covering the name I'd given him. His mother had renamed him Leo, because it was more Catholic. Gah. What about Pope Leslie?

This never happens to other bastard teachers. Sean even named a kid Bowie and it stuck. Bowie! Which, to be fair though, is unspeakably awesome. 

Friday, 8 May 2009

Post

I've been receiving enquiries, complaints and death threats regarding my bloglessness, so I thought I should post something to placate my baying hoardes of readers. All four of you. Hi!

The new kindergarten kids have settled down pretty well. I'm mainly teaching the kids that were here last year, but I still get to see the others. There are plenty of characters, but clearly owing to the unavoidable sentimentality I harbour for my babies from last year, it's just not the same. Teaching is still fun though. There's another open day at the end of May (see the beginning of November 2008) so I'm practising for that. I was lucky in that I'm teaching the two most advanced classes - for one class we're learning about the seven wonders of the ancient world, meaning I'm drilling into them basic classical history and Greek mythology and having them remember several historical dates along with names and concepts like Mausoleum of Maussollus at Halicarnassus, Antipater of Sidon, King Nebuchadnezzar II, Herostratic fame and incestuous monarchism, though I may leave that last one out. And they're coping fine! And they're speaking a second language! And they're six! All this when my co-workers are struggling with "this is a square. What colour is the square? Is it a big square?" Ha!

At the same time though, I'm counting the working days till the end of my contract (37!). For reasons I won't go into (for now) on a public webblog, working for YBM ECC has its drawbacks, major drawbacks. Now I've concluded that, because I like living in Korea, it's easy, good money and fun, and also as I have nothing much better on my plate, I'm staying on in the country for a second year. I'll steer clear of the whole hagwon thing though - I've applied to work in a public school, the grass on whose playing field appears incandescently greener than the mucky sespool (sic)  I find myself wallowing in at present.

I'll try to post again before I leave!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Academies, sandwiches, wine, The Sandwich and Wine Academy

A few months ago I listed a few things I miss from home. Two more you could add to that: sandwiches and wine. Aside from Little Jakob's, which I've really gone off, sandwiches are scarce. They're sold here and there, but they taste weird, really weird. Wet, and regardless of their purported content, fishy. Making your own is fraught with hindrances too, given the lack of real bread in this country, as well as the fact that cheese is either processed or exorbitantly priced. Bread is the major concern though. No bread no sandwiches, and sandwiches, as everybody knows, are the best food in the world.

Wine. Wine, like cheese, is way overpriced - consider that you can get enough soju to send you to hospital for under a tenner, wine doesn't have much a market here. I had my first bottle a couple of weeks ago. The cheapest bottle in the supermarket was six quid and it was a struggle to get through it. Nasty.

Academies. Academies or hagwons are where parents send their offspring when school isn't happening. That means any time from 3pm or so til well, dawn. Well, maybe not, but on weeknights there are buses outside my window at 1am picking up middle/high school kids. There's probably stuff going on til later. Academies cater for any subject you can think of. Around here there are billions of English academies but my kids have told me about their various other extracurricular work, ranging from the normal: maths, science, Korean, to the artistic: piano, guitar, painting, to the leftfield: robots, DJing, lego. That's right. Lego. It's just down the street.

So, considering all this, imagine my intrigue when last November travelling in the schoolbus on a field trip I saw a neon sign flash by for.. wait for it.. a Sandwich and Wine Academy. I've spent the last five months searching for it. I was convinced I'd dreamt it. Then, last week as I was coming home on my bike, I spotted it. Sadly though it wasn't a hagwon, it was just a restaurant. But hey, potentially the greatest restaurant ever! 

Today Chris and I biked down to Hyewha and had a sandwich and a glass of red wine and it was lovely. Real bread, real wine, and some bacon. Cheap too. Fantastic.

I'm cycled somewhere in the vicinity of 80km this weekend. I'm insane. I'm also exhausted. Bed.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Snow

Following my assertion last Thursday that summer had arrived in Seoul, I should've known that meteorology would have taken note and gone out of its way to prove me wrong. Saturday was beautiful, 20+ degrees - I biked to a teacher training course in Jongno in just a t-shirt - and Sunday was passable. As I'm typing though, Tuesday evening, 5.30, it's fucking snowing. Snowing!

Stupid country.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Exercise

The only exercise I got in my first seven months here was walking up and down the copious steps all over the place and occasionally jumping around like an idiot trying to entertain 5 year olds. My diet was such that I didn't become all fat and that, but I wasn't feeling particularly great.

That's starting to change. I started going on long exploratory walks when the weather was clement. Then I noticed the big chunk of mountain right next to where I live and discovered hiking. Last weekend I bought a bike, and Seoul got a bit smaller. Tonight I'm going to cycle the few miles to Hyehwa and back. Granted we're going there for a curry, but still, I'm exercising! Plus I'll save a few thousand won in taxi fare.

Summer appears to be back, too - just as it happened in the autumn, the weather changed overnight. We went from freezing - it was insanely cold at the weekend - to 20 degrees this week. I went to work in just a shirt today. This is welcome news after the bleakest winter ever. Very welcome.