Goodbye Jon – hello Korean classes and Kimchibilly, Japan and uncertainty

Somehow June has been and gone. How did that happen? It seems that I spent the entireity of June saying “blimey is it already June?”. It was mainly in my own head so you may not have realised.

So exactly a month ago Jon, my twice ex-housemate left Korea to rejoin his family and his new fiancé (didn’t see that one coming), Ashley, in Great Britain.

I can’t help feeling a little wrong-footed here. Following my self-assurances that getting a job over here would be too easy if anything, it took months of nothing to happen before I finally got a position, thanks to Jon. We spent a lot of that cold, cold winter wandering about Seoul, socialising with the local teachers and Koreans we knew, watching weird Korean television and talking about breaking technology news a bit too much.

I find myself trying not to be sentimental, so, cheers Jon. You were a pretty good housemate (again), don’t think I’ll enjoy Korea as much in your absence.

I think that I’ve just had a month-long pang for being back in England. I’ve recently missed both the summer solstice and Glastonbury Festival – two of my regular summertime land-marks. Not to mention cycling about to old pubs on weirs, arguing with people who think it’s a good idea to put ice in cider (cretins), wandering about Bristol with my favourite friends and generally soaking up the good times.

——–

That was the line I’m drawing under that, there’s plenty of time for those things when I’m back at home. Should really be making the best of my time in Korea.

Up to a few weeks ago, I had the rest of my time here pretty mapped out, with only a flourish of details following. I was going to extend until February, possibly take the trans-Siberian back to Europe with Rich and then head back to Seoul for another year (at least). At this moment those plans seem quite a bit less certain and my remaining time here shorter as I’ve been taking about returning to the UK with Ha Young, possibly even this year.

——-

Other things:

I’ve started going to a more formalised Korean-language class – I joined the CLS (Conversational Learning Seoul) group to get some more Korean practice. It’s been useful and I’ve met some more people, which is always nice. It’s also free and is staffed by volunteers which is just lovely. Click on their logo above for the facebook page with more info.

I saw the RockTigers in Hongdae on Saturday. Their genre is rockabilly with Korean lyrics. They call it Kimchibilly, seriously, they even have a song all about kimchi called Kimchibilly. They are regulars on the Seoul indie scene, not that I knew there was one, so I hope to see them again soon. It’s so refreshing to get some real rock band music in this country where just about every music artist is either singing recycled love-ballad pulp, weird-old-man crooning or as the largest majority, bubbly lobotomy-victims harping on about LCD screens for whichever electronics company owns them. This is exactly the kind of culture I hope spreds in Korea. Click on the picture above for their profile on ReverbNation and links to their facebook/twitter/download stores.

Final thing, my holiday time is looming at the end of this month. 50% of the time I’m allotted per-year at a hagwon. It’s been a bit uncertain as to what I am to do with it. Ha Young and I were planning on perhaps Burma, but since she can only get two days holiday from her company, that’s out the window. It looks like I’m going to go with my original plan and head off to Japan for a week of hitching with a friend I’ve met at the CLS classes! Half way through we may be visited by Rich and his Mum, who’s visiting him over here. I hope the spattering of Chinese symbols goes some way to helping me navigate Japan. I’m going to dedicate tonight to learning their phonetic alphabet. I hope it’s as scientific as hangul.

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May Round-up Pt. 2.2 – The Lantern Festival

Wow, I’ve been putting off writing this for about two weeks. I really can’t believe where the time has gone. I think it’s because I’m really trying to throw myself into learning Korean in a serious sort of way. I’ve spent nearly every night doing homework (slowly and with a lot of staring at unfamiliar letters) and every weekend entirely in Seoul. Okay I’m devoting half an hour to finishing this section off.

The Lantern Festival.

On the sunny Sunday 16th of May, Rich, Maz and a variety of Pyeongnae-foreign ladies and I took off to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul. The festival is celebrated about this time in all East Asian countries (except Japan who do it earlier) as a celebration of the arrival (or birth) of Buddha. spans a week or so, with lanterns arriving long before and staying until well after.

For the festival a sizable group of P’dong foreigners (not Jon, he was busy packing/enjoying our weird pink flat while he still could) got together and headed to Jongno-gu in Seoul to go to an absolutely stunning, city centre Buddhist temple. The temple itself was made yet more magnificent with a canope of lanterns, forming a giant Yin and Yang in the middle. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be something spiritual or infact a Taegukgi.

Light streaming through the Canopy of lanterns

The streets outside were cleared of cars and lined with interesting looking people, monks from different parts of the globe and booths where you could make lanterns, lotus patterns or Sand Mandalas. My favourite booth was this one, not at all a Buddhist booth, rather it embodied Korea’s feeling of entitlement to the Dokdo Islands and more importantly, the fishing rights that go with them. My personal feeling towards the Japanese/Korean territory argument is that both parties are clearly being deceitful over their true motives for desiring the islands which has passed from an economic/political motive down into popular opinion. I’m no expert obviously.

Thousands of years of Korean/Japanese history no doubt

I was also able to get this rather splendid family motto written for a small donation to a Seoul ‘old person society’ sort of thing. Shamefully at the time of writing it is sat somewhat crumpled as I’ve no idea really where to put it or how to put it there.

Writing a family motto I chose - "Think for a day, work for a month, prosper for a year"

We were also treated to some free noodles provided to everyone by the temple, as prepared by a tireless team of ajumas in the temple kitchen. We were also presented with some buddhist talismans (talismen?) by a man who was advertising his free Korean language programme. Which Dan (new guy – I’ll get to him later), Rich and I have since attended and have been somewhat surprised by. Again, more on that in another post.

Later on, during the day the sights got really magnificent as we took to the streets as spectating participants in the parade of lanterns along Jongno. Our lanterns were supplied by the temple we’d visited earlier, clearly they had quite a bulk supply.

monks with young apprentice lining the parade street- I suppose anyone and everyone could spectate if they wanted to

The parade was started actually with a small fleet of decorated taxis, followed by an ancient Korean-style marching band.

probably not practical on the motorway

not the actual leading band, but I wasn't happy with any of the photographs I had of them

My favourite pictures were these ones, one of a lady dressed as a Korean ‘Geisha’ with a glowing lotus lantern and one of a very cheerful monk indeed.

I like her lampshade hat

hello there chap

Of course (of course?) there was a man in attendance who may well have been the anthropomorphised physical manifestation of the Korean sense of entitlement to Dokdo. Who are his signs made for anyway? Every Korean agrees and no foreigner gives a shit, appart from the Japanese who disagree just as vivaciously.

A man dressed as the embodiment of the Korean sense of entitlement towards Dokdo

All of these photos and more are on my Picasa album, where you can leave comments/like things if you want.

I’m going to leave this entry off as the lantern festival (only) entry. I this I wont do an entry about Chuncheon. The long and short of it is Hayoung and I took a train to Chuncheon, we rode a boat, went to a temple, had a lovely time in general, a lady at a motel expressed her surprise at seeing a foreigner (in words I absolutely understood, to great ammusement), ate “famous” Dak Galbi and left. The photos are here if you fancy looking. There are also a lot of photos of Kangcheon, in which we waited around for a train, and some of a fish market in Cheongnyangni where we ended up after sleeping past our stop.

May Round-up Pt. 2.1 – The Korean Wedding

Nope, not doing one post about those things I said I would from may, this one is just the Korean wedding. Think of it as May Round-up Pt. 2.1.

The Korean Wedding.

This is another one of those times when I may seem over-critical, but my main intention is to convey my… astonisment. Anyway I want to share the sights and sounds I experienced at my first (and possibly unrepresentative?) Korean wedding.

The bride in question was an ex-teacher from my Hagwon. Jon and I arrived shortly after the recommended arrival time, a little rushed as we stopped briefly for me to pick up some uncomfortable shoes for 20,000원 (£12) at a stall in the metro station, where I realised that my old trainers probably didn’t match my suit too well. Also we got the the wedding halls mixed up and ended up on the wrong side of the tracks (not figuratively). The wedding was in the be-spired… block that is 나윤예식장 (nayunyeysikjang wedding hall). We made it in time, in the boiling heat I add, to have some photos taken with the bride in the bridal chamber next to the wedding area itself. She certainly looked very happy and… shiny. Here are Jon and I posing with her, looking as awkward as possible.

The bride and some English men she used to work with

So as I remember it, we bimbled into the hall itself – which I may previously have scoffed at – and found just a mass of people at the back. Scanning the clear-plastic chairs, over the pulsing under-lit black catwalk and through the white painted branches adorned with yet more lights and false roses, we found a spare few seats next to the right-wing wall.

The fancy wedding hall. Oooh fancy right?

The bride was then brought down the catwalk to the sound of as I remember it, vaguely comical music and strangely the sound of literally no-one shutting up. How odd I thought, I’m no expert on marriage, I’ve never even been married. Perhaps they just might start paying attention soon. Throughout the Korean-language ceremony there was no end of people chatting, literally turning around in their seats to talk full volume to their neighbours. People wandering t0 and fro – actually the tiny hanbok-adorned kids stomping around were pretty funny. There were also an accompaniment of kids between 7 and 13 eyes down on their DS’s for the entire duration, even while talking to each other or being sheperded to the buffet by parents.

can you see the bride and groom over the heads just then

I just noticed this woman having a good old chuckle.

After the talking at the front was done, with little physical or eye contact between either of the newlyweds, there was some parent-directional bowing. Shortly followed by a pair of singers (not related in anyway to either of them I assume, they didn’t show much interest after their bit, but then no-one did) who sang directly at bride and groom, who just stood there seperately motionless, staring at them. It was so awkward I nearly bolted for the door. As a finale a giant fake looking wedding cake was wheeled in from the left-side of the stage to circus music I recall. On the top of the cake was a candle. A wedding candle, I know.

Blowing out the wedding candle. Wait, what?

They blew it out wandered forward and each shouted something I didn’t recognise, probably along the lines of “I got married”.

Probably saying something like "I got married" or something.

After we all had a buffet and the happy couple had had a (hopefully more traditional) tea ceremony with their shared parents.

To summarise I would like to quote the lucid words of the angriest 6 year old I’ve ever met, and resident tsunami of fury in my class, Judy: “Selina Teacher’s boyfriend is very fat, David Teacher is little bit fat”.

May round-up part. 1 (various Days)

This technically counts as time-off, I’m writing this entry as a break from the 430 other things I want to. I have a problem where if I start to list them physically, with paper, I will write down one and the others fly out of my mind. Like stupid butterflies. Instead the only way to keep them tangible is to focus slightly on one, enough to perform some basic element of it, then flit urgently and unprepared into another task. One that sits adjacent perhaps on the rickety bookshelf that is my mind in the present tense. I’m going to write about the two ‘Days’ we had. Children’s Day and Teacher’s Day. Technically there were three, there was Parents Day, but with my Parent’s some several thousand miles away, I didn’t feel the need to celebrate it particularly.

So, first of all, we had a thing called Children’s Day on the 10th of May. I’m not sure if this exists anywhere else, and I have neither the inclination nor the time to check. It appears that while Korea was importing the celebration of the parents (combining both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day into Parents’ Day – which takes place on American Mother’s Day – 9th of May) they decided to counterbalance it with a celebration of ungrateful resource-consumers frequently referred to as children.

It wasn’t as bad as my cynicism flavours it. Actually it was an incredible week. First we had a whole day at the Zoo in Children’s Grand Park, Seoul the day before actual Children’s Day.

Children’s Day

I had an easy day wandering around keeping visual tabs on my grown-up kids (a full 5/6 years old) with minimal shouting. Much less than actually at School. Jon on the other hand appeared quite stressed trying to herd his 12-head bulk-buy class of 4/5 year olds. Regardless, there were ice-creams, which we both regarded as minor victories.

Jon wrote more in-depth, but to summarise, my half of the school were tossed off our minibus infront of the gates, following our director who appeared to have a homeopathic knowledge of the direction she was heading. The place was just packed with kids on school trips, everyone from Kindergarten age, up to and including high school kids. One  young chap vocally assulted me with the pig-English sentence/enquiry: “You handsome guy. You too? Hey! Me?”, talk about fishing for complements/needing basic grammar lessons.

Upon reaching some new enclosure names Ferocious Animals Village [sic], where we appeared to be the hagwon of honour at the opening ceremony feat. the freaking Mayor of Seoul, wherein two of our (sadly) better behaved kids were hastily nominated to help a team of suits-in-gloves tear down a curtain and enter the place first. There was like, an elephant, some wolves and some big cats with interactive meat.

also, what's with all of those people with the cameras and the flashes on us?

Jon and I tried a bit of a tug-of-war with the lioness who was totally up for it. We got told off by the zoo keepers...

There was a part in a teaching area where we met an affectionate lady ape (liked Jon and I because we were men) totally considered buying one until we were told she cost a tidy £20,000ish. There was also a big albino snake to terrify every female member of staff/enchant the children. Then came out a bloody leopard cub. At one point it jumped off the table where it was being fed, towards the kids. I’m sure they were all basically fine, but every fibre of my health-and-safety Britain brain started to ring alarm bells. Do fibres do that?

a freaking leopard cub!

Loves. Snakes.

The second (and arguably better thing) about Children’s Day was we got a day off on Children’s Day proper. Days off are difficult to come by in Korea.

Teacher’s Day

I recall reading enviously about Jon’s material gains during Teacher’s Day last year, so you can imagine my materialistic salivation as it came around this year. I’m coming across as a prick, but really, I think that it’s a great time to teach in Korea specifically. Parent’s love a foreigner. It seems like the total haul was smaller than Jon’s last year but of higher average value. I would extrapolate from that that it’s because we are the homeroom teachers to a smaller group of (more gratefully parented) children, rather than a whole school of generally (generally happily parented) kids. Here are is  a breakdown of my gifts:

  • A huge box of dried, crispy seaweed. I’ve certainly developed quite a taste for this as I can eat a 30 sheet pack in about 10 mins.
  • A Ralph Lauren Polo shirt
  • A flamboyant flower pen
  • A box of crispy rice-cakes (fruit flavoured – yum!)
  • Half a box of personalised doughnuts
  • An ocarina hand-made (!) by one of my kids and her Mum at a ceramics festival
  • 9 bottles of toiletries, some quite, quite classy
  • A post-it notepad/money-clip bound in leather
  • A Hazzys dog-shaped keychain

a collage of that

Awww.

Another awesome present (arguably the most awesome) was provided by the parents of a funny little chap in the youngest class (he’s 3) we named Linus (after this man – geek points plz.), we got sent, not taken strangely, to maybe the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to. I’m not a prestigious man. The restaurant is called Samcheongak. This place was very classy and perched upon a hill overlooking pines and traditional Korean barricades. The building itself could have easily been a Korean palace reconstruction from the outside, but inside it was a pleasant sort of restaurant. We took our prepared tables with but a second before the lunch menu we’d been booked for came to a close. I was a bit worried about that but I felt quite looked after (in a hurried sort of way) with each final mouthful of every small dish immediately succeeded by another course. It would be a very serviceable, if disproportionately priced, introduction to Korean cuisine to the uninitiated. I’m sure I’d take my parents there if they were ever to visit… and fancied paying.

Jon liked it

Okay this is looking like a hefty blog already, I’m going to write part two tomorrow.

In which I discuss:

  • A Korean’s Wedding I went to.
  • A lantern festival celebrating the birth of Buddha.
  • Jon leaving Korea/his replacement arriving.
  • A weekend in Chuncheon. EDIT: Not going to bother with that one now (see the lantern entry)

10 mins .02

In a desperate attempt to keep up with what now seems like a volley of wild promises posted yesterday, I will try to now produce a short blog worth reading. I’m not sure how well this is going to go. Right now I’m basically looking through a sort of gauze brought on by Kiwi and Soju cocktails (if there is one thing you take away from this post – soju melts right into cocktails. Far, far better than vodka. You can’t even tell it’s there), purchased liberally after Ashley’s leaving dinner.

Things done today:

  • Had a much better day than I expected at school. Yesterday I was full of the joys of a man beset by a headache. Easy ‘making kids read’ sort of lessons, finished with a couple of games in gym. Altogether less harrowing than I feared.
  • I updated my iPhone to firmware 3.1.2. Interesting right? Had a bit of a problem with PwnageTool but that was overcome (just forced through on the wrong iPhone model)
  • Visited Reading Town (rival Hagwon and ‘enemy’), met new girl I found asleep yesterday. Name is Lisa, seems nice.
  • Had a lovely shabu-shabu dinner followed by drinks (as mentioned) feeling a quite emotional about Ashley’s departure. 안돼!
  • Wandered into E-Mart drunk. I hate myself for loving E-mart. Despite being a big old ubiquitous supermarket, it’s just so Korean I can’t help having a soft spot for it.

New Class, New Age, New Slippers

Well, the optimism for warm weather was certainly turned on its head, as we enjoyed a good seven inches of snowfall in a single night this week, today wasn’t so bad since I could comfortably wear just a jumper outside although right now it’s raining. INTERESTING BLOG. Sorry.

Anyway, as far as my life and teaching and all that goes, I’ve certainly experienced a change at work since the start of the new academic year. Not only is there a new Top Dog in town (as written about in too much dull detail in an un-published and un-publishable draft blog), new books and a new daily schedule, but I’ve also been given my own class. I am now shouldered with the home-room responsibilities previously reseved for the Korean teachers. My class is made of the oldest and best behaved kids, who also have the best English. As such only my business has increased, not my stress levels. Actually it’s quite nice being able to customise my work a little more and decorating a little classroom for myself. Jon has been given his own class too, his is by far the largest in the academy and had a concentration of boys that can be accurately described as ‘little buggers’. Fortunately he seems to have all of their weaknesses sussed, a quick trip to the youngest class or the strictest teacher usually quells the vim and vigor of the most boisterous ones.

Since I haven’t had a section for generally diary-type stuff in the last few weeks, I’ve not mentioned my Birthday, which certainly happened with plenty of meat and a lot of soju. Since we kept it local we spent the evening scaring Koreans in Suyouki. I may have mentioned it before the the Pyeongnae branch is run by a one Mr. Jeong, a man too mad, drunk or both for his own good. Very friendly nevertheless. Usually. Actually he spent most of the evening shaking my chair violently.

Galbi. Too. Much. Galbi. Very nice but I think we ordered too much and it was more expensive than we were expecting.

24 candles on my Birthday brownie thanks to my mum (who sent the candles) and Maz (who made the cake)

The end of the night. Oh god, why did I choose a Thursday night?

Full album here.

Last Friday we also had a night out, this time for sad reasons. Ashley teacher is leaving. I will be saddened but I am echoing Jon by saying that I’m also glad that she’s leaving her amazingly awful job at her terrible hagwon with her insane boss. I hope she spends some good time crafting a scathing review on as many website as she can find. Also that food magazine she got an interview with, I don’t care if it isn’t in their remit. Regardless, I managed to carve out some pretty special moves that night. I embarrassed everyone I know and discovered a new cocktail – vanilla vodka and Yakult.

Korean lesson have been going well, pretty intense stuff generally and I am really starting to appreciate how different it really is to English or any Western languages. From my basically fragile grip on the basics, Korean grammar seems to hinge more on the modification of root words rather than on use of individual article words and other more familiar forms of syntax.

I’m sure I will put together some sort of blog entry about them, should I ever feel I actually understand them enough.

For now though, here is a picture of my warm and comfortable new slippers.

Exciting times.

End of year revue and graduation

Last weekend marked the end of the academic year in Korea. As such the hagwon put on a show for the parents the previous Saturday with all the kids (in theory) performing a song, dance, ballet or spoken piece. This was the show I mentioned a few posts ago, much of my Saturday was absorbed by this and didn’t involve any more pay, although to be fair it’s in the contract. Anyway, it was an absolutely golden opportunity to get some cute/funny/daft shots of the kids and roped-in-MC Jon (who also blogged about the about the ordeal)

Emily in ballet mode

ever the cheerful

Tony in elephant mode

as NOT seen anywhere in the official version of Jungle Book

"musical english" song, this represents the highest level of choreography

My personal photographic highlight was this one of Cherry class, showing the true coordination ability through the disparity and variety of stance each child adopted. Only three of the five children in this shot (not the whole class) performing the same thing. We have no way at this vantage of even telling if this was remotely correct.

looking slightly like an evangelical preacher and his dull comedy side-kick

previously mentioned, roped in MC and strange purpose-hired Korean-language MC

Until for some reason, some parents were cajouled into going up onstage and dancing in order to win an arbitrary prize. They were mostly shy but a few were all kinds of scary.

Jon was so disturbed he kicked a bit of wood in-half.

so hard his shoe stayed where it was

Along with the show, an odd “graduation” ceremony took place for all the kids leaving the hagwon to pursue the further studies in Elementary School. Although for some reason each kid received the same graduation certificate regardless of whether they were leaving for ‘big school’ or the next class up. I suppose thats another danger of using certificates/other materials written in English – it’s unlikely that anyone will care what it actually says. Anyway, the best part was seeing all of the kids who had received their little rolled up certificates using them as telescopes/guns. I don’t remember being quite as irreverent at my University graduation.

it's a small photo because I couldn't actually take the photo obviously

notice the damn fanciest balloon rosettes that Pearl has ever produced

Show photos can be found in my Picasa album here.