Wednesday, 9 February 2011

OK...so it's been a while...

Yeah. Three months. Oops.

I guess a mixture of ambivalence and business probably combined to make me not update, though that could just be me making excuses. Either way, I guess I forgot that I wanted to keep a record of what I was doing here so I can look back and see what an idiot I was reminisce in the future. I should keep doing that, only for the sake of having this to jog the good memories back when I can't quite remember them a few years down the line.

Anyway, I'll give a summation of what's being going on in the last three months today, then begin updating again properly in the next couple of days. And this time I intend to keep doing it - got a few people over here that are going to badger me if I don't. Right...

On a professional level


At the school, I continued in pretty much the same routine up until 24th December, which is when everyone left for their Winter Break. It turns out the WB is in fact nearly 6 weeks long(!), but us Native English teachers don't have all that time off. Instead, we do something called 'Winter Camp', which is basically extra lessons for those children in both of my schools that sign up for them.  So, after two weeks off I rocked up at Naesu and Ochang again in mid-January for two weeks of Winter Camp. It's all very informal - most days I dressed down, as did the students - and the lessons were largely made up of activities that I had composed, as it was largely my show - sometimes my coteachers were around, but for the most part I was by myself in the making and executing of the lessons. Having done the PGCE this didn't prove to be much of an issue, however finding new material when your students are bored of playing Word Jumble (topic: weather) 100 times did prove to be a little challenging, but I had some help from friends on that score and got through it. Even got to find the Korean subtitles for Stardust and showed that on the last day, which the students really enjoyed.

After that, I got another week of freedom, which pretty much brings me up to where I am now - ready to get back to the normal routine.

On a social level


It's been an interesting few months on that score. Made a few new friendships, and my existing ones have become much stronger, because I've gotten to know people so much better these past few months. Also, I've gotten to know where more of the good food places are (Pearl Jam) and where the cheapest drinks and best pool table is (MJ's), both of which are in Chungdae so are easily accessible. So normally on a Friday or Saturday night you'll find me in one of those places, whiling the night away. I feel that it's good that I'm getting out a fair bit, and I definitely look forward to my weekends! Throw in the Xmas/New Year bash that was extremely good, and there have been some good times.

On a personal level


Well, the honeymoon period ended around mid-December. Yep, it was good while it lasted, but I finally did get tired of all the new stuff, and developed a weariness towards my job and location. However, this didn't last too long before developing once again into what it is now - a smooth routine. I'm enjoying the job enough to keep going in the same groove for as long as I have to, and there's enough great people around me to enjoy the location until it's time to go home too. In short - I'm settled on a personal and emotional level.

Of course, I'm single again, but there you go.

So, that's a brief summary of the last three months for you. Now, I've got to get day-to-day life back on here too. Hopefully another update will follow soon, this time focussing on current events!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Neon Crosses Held Aloft

Once again, a whole week between updates. And once again, I can only apologise. Sadly at the moment there is just far too much going on in my life to make truly regular entries: I hope that what I'm doing at the moment will suffice.

So...it has been an interesting and busy few days.

Last Thursday my school had a festival: apparently this is a traditional autumn thing where the students show off their talents, whether they are musical, artistic or sporting. As a teacher I basically got to walk around the school all day and check the work out, which made a nice break from teaching. :-)  The day began with a speech from the Principal, VP and some of the governors followed by a nice photo-op in front of the school entrance:


Myself and the other teachers then took a look at some of the art students work before I held an English quiz with some preprepared questions. One student actually got 28 questions correct in a row, which is pretty damn amazing!

Then there was a quick lunch, and after that a musical talent show in the main hall, featuring some singing, some dancing and some musical instruments:


(Though some of the acts involving girls gyrat dancing to 2NE1 made me feel deeply uncomfortable :-O )

Friday passed pretty ordinarily, apart from the evening where I went along to a Halloween party where I got into costume:


FYI - the witches hat was not originally a part of my costume - it was added to my normal hat after several pints. Had a great night, Buzz was packed to the rafters so the atmosphere was great.

Another reason for it being a good night:


Yup. By popular demand...it's The Girlfriend (TM). Her name's Julie. (I could choose to make an Ali G joke here but that would be too obvious). One thing...she's Christian, which brings me to my next point. When you go out into Cheongju at night, it's quite amazing the amount of neon crosses you can see that indicate a house of worship. Given that Christianity is in fact the most practised religion here, I can't say as I'm surprised, but red glowing Symbols of God are not something you'd see in say, Canterbury or York...

Anyway...after waking up with a hangover on Saturday and eating prodigous amounts of bread (thank you, Paris Baguette) and water to combat it, I spent a good part of Saturday recuperating then went with Julie to see a traditional Korean music performance called Beat at the local theatre, involving lots of drums and some brilliant choreography.

A couple of pics:



And the weekend didn't stop there either. After 6 hours sleep, me and some friends took a trip up to Seoul to the popular theme park Lotte World.

It being Sunday, it was of course insanely busy, but that didn't stop us getting on some of the rides and having a good time. There was also a parade halfway through the day, as well as some really good scenery:




Not bad for somewhere slap bang in the middle of a city. Also, an interestingly-named delicacy was on offer at some of the food booths:


Anyone for some nice Nude Grill Sausage with plenty of sauce? ;-)

Anyway...come Monday I hadn't really recuperated from lack of sleep, but I was still coherent enough to actually do my job, and also give my room a semblance of actually NOT looking like a tornado zone. Those who know me will know that this is the state a room inhabited by my good self takes on VERY SOON after I occupy it. I don't do tidy - it makes it so much harder to find things...

Anyway...to actually give myself the motivation to get writing again, at the same time I signed up for a writing competition called NaNoWriMo. The challenge? Write a 50,000-word novel inside 30 days. Challenging, yes, but certainly not impossible. As of this moment, I haven't actually started writing the novel proper, but I do have the basic plan outlined, and am pretty much ready to start. So...50,000 words in 26 days? Can it be done? We'll see...

Since then, nothing much of note has really happened. I've just been chugging away at my job, planning my NaNoWriMo and beginning to think about what my next life move will be.

But more on that at another time.

Peace out people. More to follow.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Oi, God, What Did You Turn The Central Heating Down For?

So, now we're freshly up to date...it's time to talk about today. And I suppose I'd better (seeing as I haven't yet) give you an idea about what actually goes on during my average day.

So, on a Tuesday I go to my primary school (Monday and Tuesday are my primary school days, Wednesday Thursday and Friday my secondary school days). This means the alarm clock goes off at 6.50am, and after a coffee and breakfast I'm out the door by 7.45am.

10 minutes walk away is my bus stop on the main road running through Cheongju, and once there I wait (for never more than about 5 minutes, I hasten to add) for my particular bus that will take me on a 30-40 minute ride to the village/town where my primary school is. The city public transport system here really is worldclass (cheap, fast and efficient), however this is somewhat tempered by the driving style of some of the bus drivers, who seem to take great pleasure in what I like to call 'suicide runs' - cutting up cars whilst blasting their horns, ploughing through junctions around 0.000001ns before the traffic lights turn red, and hitting the brakes so hard when arriving at a bus stop that standing up in preparation to get off normally results in you flying halfway down the bus.

Therefore bus journeys are inevitably interesting.

Anyway, I managed to get a seat rather than having to stand for the first part of the journey (usually about 50/50 chance on this, though as you pass through the city and all the schoolkids get off at their various schools you usually end up with a seat anyway) and stuck on my music whilst enjoying the scenery - as I always do - as we headed out of Cheongju and into the countryside.

Roughly half an hour later, my bus dropped me off outside my school - around 10 to 15 minutes before lessons started at 9am.

At my primary school, I have 4 classes in the 'morning' session, all 40 minutes long with different groups. As I'm a 'native English speaker' my lessons are largely focussed on speaking and listening exercises as opposed to reading and writing. One of the reasons why I'm here is that English is a very difficult language to learn in terms of the nuances of pronunciation and inflection, and only a true native English speaker knows most of these nuances - most Korean English teachers, though their spoken English is very good, would have trouble pronouncing certain English words in what would be considered the 'correct' manner. Therefore, my lessons involved a lot of speaking and repeating - but there's some fun in there too.

My lesson for today (for all 4 groups) involved a quick review of the previous lesson, and then an introduction to some new words to extend the vocab of the students. After that, we played a quick bingo game, before watching a dialogue video and repeating the conversation. That's pretty much standard fare for my primary students...get them talking as much as possible.

Repeat 3 times...and we're at 12.10pm, and lunch. Today there was rice (staple over here) and some other seafood-stuff that I tried to force down but couldn't. At least they throw in a piece of fruit with every meal - I actually look forward to that and it's giving me some vitamins and minerals.

Then I get quite a long break - nearly two hours in fact  - as I have no lessons until the 'after school' club I run from 2.40pm. During that time today I realised that I hadn't put my phone on charge the night before, so it has died and I couldn't text my girlfriend. Massive facepalm.

Putting that to the back of my mind I rested up and checked out the BBC website before heading back to the classroom at about 2.30pm.

My 'afterschool' English class is made up of kids who are pretty good at English and want to learn more, which usually makes for a fun environment. We play some games ('Guess Who' being one of the most popular with the kids and me because it encourages good questioning and answering skills), do a little bit of textbook work and sometimes watch some video clips (last week the students were introduced to the wonders of Wallace and Gromit with Korean subtitles - they loved it). Today they learned a bit about animals and their characteristics - it's very good to see how quickly they pick stuff up, even though sometimes they are inattentive and I have to whack them put on my 'loud' voice which invariably leaves me with a sore throat.

So...lesson finished at 4.15pm and I was out the door and on the bus home. Stopped off in Chungdae (my local area of Cheongju) for a Lotteria (Korea's answer to McDonalds and I really couldn't be arsed to cook) before checking my bank account (been paid on time this month, LOADSA MONEY!) and heading back to my humble abode to do a bit of lesson planning and get up to date with this.

Pretty much the moment I'm out of Lotteria I figure something.

It's cold. Really, really cold. I've got my shirt on and my leather jacket done up to the top, and I'm still cold.

When did this happen? From when I came out here to yesterday, all day every day it's been warm enough to go out with just a shirt or t-shirt on your top half. Suddenly the temperature has dropped around 10 degrees overnight.

Guess this highlights how seasonal the weather is over here - very different to England in that respect.

And that's pretty much the long and the short of it, and what I get up to on an average school day. Know this entry has been a but humour-lite, but it's been a long day...

...another update tomorrow. In the meantime, please comment!

Catching Up

Sorry...did I say tomorrow? Really? Oh dear...I meant 11 DAYS LATER. Hope that's a bit more clear.

Well...I've had a lot going on over the last couple of weeks, but I'll try to sum it up as succinctly as possible.

There have been three pub quizzes (won the 1st one, set the questions for the 2nd and finished runnerup in the third).

There have been multiple drinking sessions involving multiple different people, and some very good times (especially the scavenger hunt/pub crawl last week which was a great deal of fun).

There is a new mobile phone (yes, I finally HAVE one - got it last Tuesday).

There is also a new girlfriend. :-D  (But more on that at another time).

There have been multiple different lessons, a brand new 'Millionaire' quiz that the kids rather liked, and a not-so-subtle attempt to turn my students to the side of Leicester City FC by playing 'Heroes in Blue and White' during one of my lessons. (though I don't think they knew what the hell was going on...)

There have been multiple coffees, rice snacks and failed attempts at eating some of the food in the school canteens.

There was an acquired medical insurance certificate (useful to have just in case...)

And, to be honest....that about covers it. Going into too much depth would result in an entry about 10 miles long, and I don't want that....but suffice it to say I'm now fully settled in!

Coming up STRAIGHT AFTER this...today's entry, and I fully, FULLY intend to post daily from this point on. Promise... ;-)

Friday, 15 October 2010

Won-illionaire

More regular updates on the way folks....I promise! In the meantime, here's the first part of a multi parter.

Going back to last Friday...I didn't have a three-day weekend sadly, but I did get the chance to accompany some of my school on a field trip. Which is nice because it meant I didn't have to teach, and Friday is the only real day where I have to deal with some real little basta interesting people. So it made for a nice diversion.

(Of course, when dealing with such people, it's quite nice to actually be able to USE discipline over here too. Not in the corporal sense, but if you tell a student to leave the classroom, they then have to kneel outside the classroom against the wall for the remainder of the lesson, and then accompany you to the staffroom for a 'chat' with their homeroom teacher or tutor. Believe me, I don't know much Korean, but the language of a good bollocking is pretty universal :-) )

Our destination was the 2010 World Oriental Medicine Bio-Expo on the outskirts of Jecheon, a town about 90 minutes coach ride away. We stopped off at a service station on the way and I got some scenery pics in:







So far, I'm not getting bored of the seemingly limitless awe-inspiring vistas that Korea seems to provide on a regular basis.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination in good time, and on a very nice day too: it was sunny, but the temperature was just right to be comfortable.


Heading for the entrance gates.


This was a cool looking bird thing near the entrance of the expo site.

After a quick brief, everyone headed off to do their own thing and myself and a few other teachers got to look around a bit. It was pretty interesting actually: different kinds of herbal remedies from all over the world, not just the Oriental countries. There were headache cures from Ghana, cough remedies from Argentina, roots with...erm, "uplifting" properties for men from Thailand...the list goes on. However, it wasn't just limited to traditional medicine either - there was a pretty good exhibit from a local hospital showing the latest cancer-inhibiting technology they're using. To be honest, I think both traditional and modern medicine have their place in the world of healing - after all, most modern drugs are derived from traditional remedies rather than synthesised in a lab.

After a quick lunch here:

 

there was enough time to take a bit more of a look around and take a couple more pics



before we had to get going back to the school. Once we got back, I was free to head home and find a very, very nice surprise.

I had expected to find myself still in abject poverty with only a few tens of thousands of Won to last me through the weekend. On the off chance, I checked my bank account.

7-digit Won balance.

What? 7-DIGIT WON BALANCE!!!!

Yup - my EPIK flight allowance had finally come through, to the tune of 1.3 Million Won, roughly £800!!! First thought: relief. Second thought: ALCOHOL. Third thought: Treat myself!

And indeed, that was the way most of the weekend passed. I did some shopping at HomePlus on the Saturday (was nice to actually be able to buy what food I wanted without watching how much I was spending). I also indulged in some computer speakers, and a spanking new 500 GB portable hard drive that can basically fit in my pocket. It's USB powered too, so I don't have to worry about power supply issues when I bring it back to the UK.

On Saturday night I went out for dinner with two of my friends here, Lara and Jessica, for a belated birthday celebration.




Two bottles of wine at the restaurant (shared) + vodka mixer on patio + multiple shots at Buzz + two rum/cokes at Road King + norebang (karaoke) at 4am = Sore head on Sunday afternoon when I eventually woke up. Was a fun night, though.

I managed to get my head together just in time to help my team win the pub quiz at Buzz on Sunday night - won a nice bottle of Jameson for doing so, and our team has to come up with the questions for this weeks quiz. I've chosen Space as my round topic - trying not to make the questions stupidly hard.

Monday pretty much passed like any other day - some fun games and activities at the elementary school, and I got another very welcome surprise when I checked my balance once again. Seems like the admin people at my school had finally decided they were actually going to pay me rather than pointing and laughing as I starved (flight allowance notwithstanding) and they'd shovelled another 2.4 Million Won into my account. So...that makes me a multi-Won-illionaire. Nice. Hopefully now the first payment has gone in they'll know what the transaction details are and I won't have a problem with it again. Next payday is in only 10 days time too!

To be honest, the cost of living here is so low and there's so little to actually spend money on here I should be able to save a great deal, and if I still have designs on that Masters degree (and I do), then that's what I must do.

Right - end of the first part. Part 2 to come tomorrow and bring you up to date!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Familiar Territory Once Again

Once again, a long gap between updates, and I apologise for that.

However, I now have no excuse for such gaps because....it's here.

HOME INTERNET HAS ARRIVED. EPIC WIN.

Yup, finally after 5 weeks hijacking poor wireless connections and staying for far too long in coffee shops while people look at me in a funny way...I have my own web connection in my apartment. And it's an absolute monster - 30Mbps, which anyone who knows about such things would say is pretty Ferrariesque speed.

Obviously in light of this development, a new portable hard drive to replace Behemoth II (lost a couple of months ago to a virus with 600 GB of films and TV series, grrr) is definitely on my shopping list, and when I have it there will be a massive pr0n film and TV series download session!

Anyway - back to more interesting current events.

I had a decent last couple of days up in Seoul, including having a very nice Korean buffet and hitting many bars on the last night










and being given a phonecard as a gift for being class leader (even though I didn't actually have to do anything in the role other than say one or two notices), before heading back to Cheongju last Thursday with Mary Hahn, my liason at the Chungbuk Office of Education.

We headed back into Cheonjgu on the bus, and actually seeing the now familiar big buildings as I came in actually gave me the feeling that I was coming....home. I know it's only been a little more than a month, but I'm really settling down here now, thanks largely to the people. I know I'm repeating myself here...but nothing is too much trouble for them. It's amazing.

Anyway - after getting back to Cheongju it was back to routine on the Friday with 4 classes, including two which are probably my most difficult. However, I had an ace-in-the-hole - my Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Team Quiz! Seems to be an easy way to run a lesson - compose 15 questions, stick them in a PowerPoint you prepared earlier, print out several copies of the letters A, B, C and D and you're good to go!
Thanks largely to that, Friday passed without significant incident, and after visiting the Immigration Office to FINALLY lay my grubby little mitts on my Alien Registration Card (the piece of plastic which you need for practically anything important here) I did my usual Friday night thing of consuming horrific amounts of alcohol and appearing in random photos, eg.






Incidentally, I had known all of these people for about 10 minutes before this photo was taken. Fun times.
Anyway, crashed through my door at around 5am Saturday morning (which is about the norm for Korean nights out) so Saturday was something of a writeoff. Sunday passed pretty uneventfully too - unless you count sorting out washing and cooking a nice chicken curry eventful.

So...back to work at elementary school on Monday, and in my afterschool classes on Monday and Tuesday I showed off two of England's greatest TV institutions - Wallace and Gromit and Dr Who. I had managed to dig up some dubbed Korean footage of the good Doctor, and my coteacher has all the W & G episodes in Korean, so we were able to show them off to the kids. And they loved them both. Maybe it's my bad sense of humour, but Wallace's mad run to grab the crackers in A Grand Day Out still makes me laugh - even if the dialogue is in a language I know roughly two sentences of.

In any case - come yesterday evening, I get my internet installed, quickly run a speed test, and pass out when I see four-figure KB download speeds when I try to torrent Pitch Black. It finishes in 25 minutes. Sensational.

And we move onto today - not much really to say other than some other Year 9 groups got a taste of my Millionaire quiz, and I finally have an idea about when I'm going to get my allowance from EPIK and my pay packet, which is good because I still don't have that much of this. However, considering I've had four separate offers of help on that score should I need it I don't think I need worry.

So - I skimmed on massive details of the events of this week so as not to bore you to death with an impossibly long post. Hope I did a good job giving you an overview without being either too detailed or too vague. Trust me, subsequent updates will be richer, fuller and more REGULAAAAAARRR!!!

Coming up this week - possible three day weekend :-D and definite birthday party to attend on Saturday! :-)

Peace out! And remember people - RRC (Read, Review and Comment!)

Monday, 27 September 2010

I Know You Got Seoul, Part 2

Right...having had a rather significant amount to drink on Saturday night, I woke up bright and early on Sunday morning somewhat worse for wear. However, an interesting day was lined up so I got through a hearty breakfast and a few glasses of water and got back on track.

First off, we had the opening 'ceremony' for all of us for the orientation, which was headed up by a performance by a traditional Korean music group:


video
They were brilliant. The choreography and rhythm were spot on all the way through, as the video snippet shows. That was just a small part of the overall performance, though.

Once that was done and the usual thank-you-for-coming-you're-all-great-people speech from the programme head, we were divided into three 'classes' based on our teaching location. I volunteered to be class leader for Class 1 (obviously no one here really knows what I'm like in a position of leadership otherwise they would have knocked me out before I had the chance) and we were then asked to produce a sample elementary school lesson in small groups for presentation on Wednesday. My group managed to come up with a totally plaigarised decent plan, so we'll just have to see what the people in charge think of it come Wednesday.

So, once that rather tedious stuff was done, we got to go on a field trip to an ancient palace, Gyeongbokgung, in downtown Seoul. Constructed in 1394, it was gutted by invading Japanese forces when they occupied Korea in the early 20th Century, but once the Japanese withdrew plans were made to restore it. Restoration is still ongoing, but that doesn't stop it still looking pretty impressive, as the following pics will attest:





And a quick one of me:


These are just a few of the photos I managed to take, but as you can see from these the architecture and environment are pretty brilliant. I've always had an interest in Far Eastern ancient buildings, and these are amongst the best you can see in Korea. I hope to see more of them between now and when I leave.

After looking round the fortress for a bit, we got to go into the Korean folk museum and get an idea of how Korean families (both rich and poor) used to live. Turns out Korea employed a feudal system very much like the British one at the same time in history: basically, the big guy runs the show and the little guys try their best to enrich and justify their own lives while working for their lord 23 hours and 59 minutes of every day. What was uber-impressive, however, was the fact that the little guys actually had such an amazing work ethic that they were HAPPY to do this. Still, that's Confucianism in a bag for you - it gives a society very clear ideas about where everyone should be, and that still extends (by and large in the respect most Koreans show elders or superiors in the workplace) today. At least it's organised.


(Little shot of a typical Korean lords study.)

After that - no stopping, straight to a theatre for a production of a uniquely Far Eastern thing - a cooking musical comedy! Yep - I got to see Nanta, a Korean production that has played all around the world.

It was very good - 90 minutes of cooking utensils, flying food, massive drumbeats and slapstick humour. Basically, the story is very simple - a team of cooks has 90 minutes to prepare a big meal for a Korean wedding. The maitre'd puts his rather useless nephew alongside three other cooks and tells them to get on with it. Cue obvious and maniacal anarchy. All in all, it was very good fun.

After that - a brief evening meal, and then a rather more sedate evening out.

As for today - sadly far less interesting than yesterday, but informative - some lectures on teaching and working in Korea (including a really good one what to see in Korea which I'll definitely be taking hints from), and the beginning of some very useful Korean lessons, which I intend to continue in my own time once orientation is over. Staring at Hangol (Korean writing) characters for over two hours did, however, begin to make my brain dribble out of my ears in a fashion not seen since I finished Quantum Mechanics on my degree course. Especially given the subtle differences in inflection that come with- Aaarggghhh...brain running again.

But I'll get used to them in time. Learning Korean is something I really want to devote time to while I'm here.

Well - tomorrow is more lectures and a class meeting, so I'm sure I'll be able to update you with the events of the day (potentially tedious as they might be) same time tomorrow.

In the meantime, read and comment please! I want your feedback!