Posts Tagged Korea
It is going to be boiling in August. It’s going to be sick. Long ago I confined my warm workwear to a dark corner of my wardrobe and already I’m starting to get jealous of the students who dress in shorts and sleeveless tops for school. I’ve been to hot places before but none that have ever required me to stand up and do stuff for most of the day; this morning it took me until lunchtime when I returned to my desk in front of an open window to stop sweating. Luckily children are pretty smelly themselves, so as long as I can conceal any damp sweat patches that materialise I shouldn’t get ruthlessly bullied by them – it’s just all my co-workers I’ll have to avoid for the next 3 months.
Meanwhile, at the weekends when I’m able to wear slightly airier clothing we’ve been managing to enjoy the sunshine by spending the last couple at the beach in Busan. Last weekend Elizabeth and I were sitting on a bedsheet on the sand playing cards and eating grapes we were accosted by a group of probably 25 middle-aged Koreans. They conducted the most efficient whirlwind of a picnic I’ve ever seen: in literally 10 minutes they all arrived, unpacked dozens of trays of food, summoned us over to forcefeed roe and soju to us (laterally for photographs in a variety of poses), took some snaps of each other rolling around in the sand, packed up and then left. This generosity and conviviality shown to foreigners is characteristic of groups of picnicking locals and one of my favourite things about living here.
It doesn’t seem too long ago when the dry, biting winter here threatened to cut into any enjoyment of time spent outside but it’s amazing the difference a few short weeks can make – and they have been very short, whizzing by now. It’s almost as though I wake up on Monday mornings, robotic and bleary-eyed, and then the next time I take a minute to reflect it’s Thursday. Incredibly, I occasionally feel a bit panicky that I won’t have time before I leave Korea to eat my lifetime’s fill of kimchi. This particular week has whizzed by with a very, very polite Korean man lurking behind me for many of my lessons, whispering apologies in my ear. Every morning he knocks the softest of knocks on the English office door before it opens to reveal legs and the hairy crown of a head, and as they retreat I realise it’s a human form bent double, muttering honorific salutations. This is how this man greets his co-workers, the principal, the dinner ladies, the students – if he’s married I bet this is how he greets his wife, children and pet pink chihuahua too. He looks to me in lessons for permission to speak, to press play on interactive English CD ROMs and to pick his nose too. One co-teacher has been absent from work all week and this is the guy they found to replace him – as if to say “look Joe, you’ve been getting complacent. You appear to be adapting too well and too quickly to the quirks of Korea, here’s a little something to throw you off a bit. Good luck”. Well Korea, you’ll have to do better than that.
Yesterday was my 8-month Korea teaching contract anniversary; I’m two-thirds of the way through it and with just four months to go and plently still to see here I thought it would be a good idea to write a bucket list of sorts. I’ll include things I’ve already done, as the memories of them will bring a great big cheesy grin to my face as I write. If anyone can think of any more that would be fantastic!
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 »
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 »
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.
They say you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you tell people about them, and what better way to do that than post them on the Internet? Perhaps one of mine should be to improve my sense of timing as we’re already over 3% of the way through the year and most people have given up their resolutions by now – but I’m going to try to stick with the Korean theme of this blog and there’ll be no “become more organised” or “lose 3kg by the beginning of summer” here. Not that I need to anyway, seeing as though I’m still known as ‘Teacha Six-Pack’ by many of my students. Perhaps another should be “write blog more often”, but they also say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and so you regular readers out there (all three of you) should… well, have pretty fond hearts by now. Anyway, my goals. Here are three:
I once wrote about the time I hated Korea – about a time when my every attempt to smoothly, swiftly and successfully complete something as fundamental as shopping for supplies was seemingly blocked by an invisible force working explicitly in opposition to me. I mentally – justifiably or otherwise – lay the blame at the feet of Korea. Not a person or a group of people; but a whole nation: an accumulation of its history, geography, tradition, cultures, inhabitants and everything else that constitutes the place. I hated Korea. I later realised that what I had undergone is known as culture shock. During orientation in Jeonju (which seems like years ago, now) we were warned about this – it being the second phase that every native teacher experiences while here, after the honeymoon and before two others I’ve forgotten but that might well return to haunt me one day. I sat there and sort of scoffed to myself, however: I’m a seasoned traveler; I’ve lived abroad before; and anyway, shouldn’t culture shock hit as soon as one touches down in his new surroundings, rather than a few weeks or months down the line as this guy’s claiming? I’m not the kind of guy to go around irrationally blaming people and objects for behaviour traits that a population has cultivated for thousands of years. Of course, I was wrong – as my earlier blog will testify to – and since then I’ve caught myself muttering angrily about some Korean idiosyncrasy or other simply because I’m not used to it. Here I’ll write a little about some of the more interesting and relevant ones.