I had another interesting insight into the Korean way of life yesterday when I attended a funeral. My school’s principal’s father had passed away the previous evening aged 86, and as is customary here the male family members began a three-day grieving period by the body’s side the following morning. All the teachers at school made staggered visits throughout yesterday afternoon to the funeral department of a hospital to pay their respects. Read the rest of this entry »
We did it! We finally did it! After seven months and thirteen days in this country, Elizabeth and I managed to sufficiently muster enough energy and enthusiasm to experience Korea’s national past-time – hiking. It’s been on the agenda for a few months now – “oh, we’ll just wait for that really nice Sunday you occasionally get here and then go” – but as the weekends have rolled around other, less strenous activities have been preferred: drinking, lie-ins, making sure we’re up to date with whatever TV shows we’re watching. Until now. Read the rest of this entry »
Occasionally I am asked what kinds of food I cook after work, and I receive a response of surprise and delight in equal measure when I say “oh, mostly Korean actually. I do samgyetang a lot, and just the other night I made dak galbi for the first time”. But the truth is that here it’s difficult to make any home comforts. That’s not to say that samgyetang – whole chicken stuffed with rice and boiled in a soup infused with garlic, ginger, cinnamon, chestnuts and jujube – isn’t delicious, it’s just that quite often I crave a proper roast dinner. Or real sausages. Real bacon, for that matter. Pork pie. Crusty, unsweetened bread, too. Lasagne. Shepherd’s pie. Anything that goes in the oven… Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps a strange first choice, but I love the Taehwagang, the river that meanders east down from the mountainous surroundings of the city and opens out into the East Sea. With it forming a direct route between my flat and Elizabeth’s (and coupled with her inability to do anything other than lie in bed after a day at work) I spend a lot of my time cycling up and down it, and so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to bask in lots of what it has to offer. The stretch I use most often is long and straight, and seen from above would resemble a set of coloured pencils: blue river; green walkway; red cycle path; brown grass and vegetation; and then grey road. My favourite thing about it is the people you see there. Read the rest of this entry »
A few more extracts from the weird, wacky and wonderful (see story #3) world of Korea.
I feel like I’ve gotta start with this one, as I find it the most ridiculous. Hopefully it’s not too indicative of what other Native Teachers’ experiences have been like, but given the commitment to hierarchy and harmony here I’m not so sure. In a setence: my principal wanted me to teach one extra after-school class every single day for a monthly salary of 50,000 won (or roughly £1.30 an hour); I didn’t. The problem stemmed from the fact that I can’t speak to him about any issues I may have (hierarchy) and my direct superiors and his subordinates won’t say no to him (harmony). Over the last few weeks and months there’s been a prolonged struggle about this, via various middlemen, that has gone something like this: Read the rest of this entry »
The phrase short but sweet was made for times like these. This weekend Eliz and I KTX’d it up to Seoul to meet my Dad, the first person we’ve seen from the Other Side in six months. It was, in some ways, as if those six months had never happened – perhaps this can be attributed to us being father/son and not mother/daughter – but time was precious like I’ve never experienced, putting pressure on us to have a good time. We did. Read the rest of this entry »
Here I am once again – in a chair, at a desk, in front of a computer screen, lamenting the strictness of whichever section of my contract that stipulates I must stay at school for forty hours of every week, whether there are kids or other teachers here or not. The first lessons of the new term don’t begin until Monday, meaning the next few days will consist of crossword-solving, reading, watching sports highlights, and many, many hours on Sporcle. That doesn’t sound too bad, I bet you’re thinking. It’s not. It’s how I spend lots of my free time anyway. I’d just rather be doing it in bed, not at school; and in my boxers, not a shirt and tie. Being here also makes the prospect of the imminent holiday-free five months a lot more real, so to counter this I’m going to write about the one I’ve just had. Read the rest of this entry »
As I near the midway point of my year-long contract here in Korea, it’s difficult to tell how fast the time has gone. On the one hand, when I have been stood in a classroom during the non-teaching part of the first of seven identical lessons, watching the school leavers video of some unsuspecting American child, it has felt like the weekend is a lifetime away – let alone August 25. Incidentally, that’s what I spent Thursday and Friday of last week doing: the sixth graders “graduate” this month and one of their final English lessons consisted of learning about the differences between the ceremonies here and in the USA. I’ve no idea where my co-teacher found the video of “Daniel O’Hare’s Elementary School Graduation”, as it only had about 100 plays on YouTube when we watched it, but I decided not to ask. On the other hand I think of the new native teachers who will be arriving in Korea for their orientation around now; remember how unused I was to my new lifestyle; reflect on how much I’ve learned – and it seems like the previous six months were spirited away with a click of the fingers. Read the rest of this entry »
Eliz and I returned yesterday evening from a nine-night layoff in the Philippines, and aside from being a more-than-welcome break from the Chinese water torture that life in Korea can be, it provided an interesting vantage point from which to sit back – Filipino beer in hand, obviously – and compare the two wildly contrasting ways of life. Often it is all too easy to just lump Asia together as one huge, 4,000,000,000-strong group of people, but a moment on holiday highlighted how wrong this is. We were eating and drinking and chatting about Korea with a family of Filipinos when one asked “how do they speak in Korea? ‘Cha du wah koh nah chang chong nahhhh?'”. It was a funny – if slightly racist – reminder of the differences between countries that from back home seem relatively geographically close despite being in reality worlds apart. At times it was tempting to slip into a worryingly anti-Korean mindset – why can’t Korea sell a litre of rum for under a pound like the Philippines do? Why can’t Korea sell Hellmann’s mayonnaise in its supermarkets? – but I realise that if things were slightly different and I was holidaying in Korea midway through a year teaching in the Philippines I’d have complaints about the latter instead. Hence, this will hopefully turn out to be a gentle comparison rather than a giant whinge.
Winter Camp’s over. YES! The past 14 teaching days, since January 2, have basically consisted of a lot of hard work and will culminate tomorrow in a “closing ceremony” day of song and drama performances from the students. ‘Camp’ is probably a slightly misleading thing to call what is just English lesson after English lesson after English lesson – there are no tents, no ghost stories, no melted marshmallows round a burning bonfire – but despite this and despite the fact that other native teachers will collect their January paychecks having sat in front of their computers for three weeks, I’ve enjoyed it and I think the kids have too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad it’s finished.