Saturday, September 30, 2006

Something to think about...

Here in Korea every male has to do two years of mandatory military service. I was just informed last night that a part of this involves getting your black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

That means that every single Korean man has a black belt!

That's insane when you think about it. If I had a black belt in anything I'd be kicking ass all over the place all the time. But it must suck being Korean because your black belt means nothing. You can't just go up to a guy and be like "Stop messing around buddy because I have a black belt and I'll karate chop your ass in two."

He'll just look coldly into your eyes and say "Yeah, well that black belt don't mean shit because I also have a black belt, my good friend."

Its kind of like the cold war where neither side really wants to strike first because they know there's a great possibility that they will suffer equal harm. And just imagine if a full-fledged bar brawl broke out! It'd be just like a Kung-fu flick with Koreans flying through the air and shooting fire balls at each other until the toughest, most skilled dude has everyone beat.

I'm not the type of guy who starts fights, or even gets into fights, but I'm gonna play it ultra-safe here because I don't want my head gettin' karate chopped in half by some little Korean guy who says "Stop messing around buddy because I have a black belt and I'll karate chop your ass in two."

My only shot is that the guy is drinking like a typical Korean and is so plastered that his black belt has been soaked down to a yellow belt.

Then I could probably take him, or at least out run him.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Here boy...

I broke some new ground today.

It was a teacher's birthday today she went out and bought us a snack for our usual afternoon tea time. I guess its normal to treat other people on your birthday.

Anyone have a guess as to what this is?

Here's an alternate view with another "snack" to the right.

No guesses?

Okay, I suppose I have to tell you.

The food on the left, also pictured in the first picture in zoom, is pig intestine stuffed with Chinese noodles, or maybe its Korean noodles. I can't remember.

The food on the right is some type of pork with a sweet Chinese sauce.

Neither was particularly good but it wasn't really bad either. And that's not all.

What do you think this is? Looks a lot like beef doesn't it.

Well, its not.

Maybe some type of pork?


Its dog. I'm not sure what breed though.

And its actually just as good or better than beef.

And you know what, its a million times better than octupus.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Anybody out there...

Comments people... Come on... Don't be shy...

I already said this (I think) but now anyone can leave comments... Just make sure you put your name in the message so I know who you are...

They don't even have to be comments... Just tell me a story or something... Whether you're in Fort Mac making too much money or not making enough money or being a hippy picking berries somewhere in BC... Tell me what you had for lunch... Tell me if your underwear matches your outfit (I bet it does)... Tell me what's going on in the world of professional sports... Tell me you just wrecked your car...

It don't matter...

Look, here's what I had for supper...

I dont' know what the white things in the cup are for. I ate one but I still don't know what it is.

Here's a picture of the street/alley I walk through each day to and from school...
Its a lot dirtier in real life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Money well spent...

Although my school has a student population with one of the lowest socio-economic status's in Seoul, the principal decided to go out and buy each staff member a new track suit for the Physical Education Festival. Check it out.

The teacher in the middle is my new co-teacher. I got over my crush on her when I saw how she scolded the kids.

Man, she puts them in their place. And in my opinion, they aren't even being bad. I wish I had her as my grade six co-teacher.

After I took their picture, they demanded that I have my picture taken with them, and I did not have the nerve to say no. I wasn't taking any chances on getting scolded by her and losing whatever self-esteem and dignity I still have left.

Only the Deer Lakers will understand this, but the lady to my right really reminds me of Anita Bloom. I think its her racial twin, if there is such a thing.

So back to the PE Fest.

This is a one day event that involves races, dances, and other Korean games that I've never seen before. Today we had the PE Fest Practice at a soccer field (I must mention that this field had some amazing astro-turf) that consisted of every event, but this was just the trial run with no parents being present, and we weren't required to wear out new track suits.

I have no role in this festival so I just walked around all day talking to teachers and students. When I'd walk in front of the bleachers where the students were sitting it was crazy. They all yell "Hi... Hello Teacher Richard... Teacher.... Richard...etc..." and I'd yell back "Hello... Hi... How are you... etc..." This would continue for my full trek up the field and I soon just started walking behind the bleachers to keep the yelling to a minimum.

By the third hour kids were coming up to me all sweaty and hot and tired and begging me for water. There was some water bottles kicking around earlier but not nearly enough and some of these kids were suffering. It was hot today.

When I'd tell them I had no water and I didn't know where any was, the look of disappointment on their face couldn't even be removed by my mere presence. I told them to go ask their homeroom teacher but they had obviously already did that and I was there last resort. I hope they continue to like me even though I couldn't provide these little South Koreans the resources they needed.

Only if I was American.

No, wait a minute. To hell with that. Maybe instead of buying me a new track suit that I'll only wear once the school could've bought enough liquids for the kids.

Or even better, they could've bought more water and the track suits.

I recently learned my school is a "model" or "mother" school (I couldn't really tell what they were saying) and they have a very large budget compared to most schools. They are trying to level out the under privileged home life of the children with a better funded school. I think this is a great idea just as long as they spend the money on things that will enhance the children's schooling and education.

One of the things that will definitely give them an advantage is my brand new track suit. I'm not sure how, but I'm sure they know what they're doing.

I hope I get a pair of jogging shoes soon.

Toilet humour...

I've heard of toilet homour but not toilet curriculum.

Yesterdays grade four lesson was titled "Is this your cap?" One of the videos on the CD-ROM involved Julia and Mina, two of the recurring characters in the elementary texts, talking about their puppies. Julia was at Mina's house where she was introduced to Mina's new puppy. Unfortunately, when Julia was handed the dog it pissed on her shirt and both of the girls yelled "Oh no!!!"

My co-teacher (the one with the Masters Degree in EFL - English as a Foreign Language) then asked me to tell the class what happened in English. She said, and I quote, "Tell the class in English what piss means." I busted out laughing and quietly explained to here that "piss" is kinda vulgar and we should use "pee" instead. She was fine with this so I proceeded to teach the kids about how to talk about urination in English.

I was still finding it hard to keep from laughing as I explained this but I got through it.

Then my co-teacher asks me two explain "the other thing." I didn't know what she meant and she said a few things to the kids in Korean. Then she looked at me and said "Shit, explain shit." I'm giggling right now as I type this, but in class I was laughing so hard that I had to wipe away the tears.

Once again, I quietly told her that "shit" is not a word we should be teaching to grade four students because, once again, it is considered vulgar. Her eyes opened as wide as I'm sure an Asians eyes can open and she said "Really, its vulgar? Well what word do you use?" Still laughing, but no longer crying laughing, I told her a better word would be poop or poo. Either choice didn't seem appropriate but it was the best I could think of.

Excrement or feces just seemed too formal.

So I went on to explain to the kids everything I could tell them about poop and when I was finished, she asked me to go write the words on the board. Once again, a few tissues would have been really useful, not because I shit myself, but because tears were running from my eyes again.

So I wrote "poop" and "pee" on the board and the strange thing is that the kids didn't find any of this nearly as funny as I did. Maybe they are more comfortable than us Westerners when it comes to discussing bladder usage and bowel movements.

Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that they don't flush their toilet paper after they wipe. They just throw it a garbage can placed next to the toilet.

Seriously. Supposedly it has to do with poor plumbing.

One thing I can assure you though is that the plumbing in my building has not yet broken or busted, and you won't find one piece of shitty toilet in the garbage in my bathroom.

And you never will.

Now that I think of it, I'm going to remove the garbage can from my bathroom just in case one of my Korean friends ever comes over and has to take a "shit."

Yup, I'm doing that right now...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Heaven and hell...

When I leave out of my apartment building I see a few signs as I walk to the bus each day and arrive home each night. Here's a pair that is just a little incongruous.

These blow-up signs are everywhere but this one is marked by the beast. I better be careful.

So I take a few more steps (literally about three steps) and before my eyes appears this sign.

This is the church that is located in the basement of my building. Not sure what religion but I'm assuming some type of Christian sect based on the glowing red cross that illuminates my buildings roof.

If you look close enough you can see the link to their website.

I've checked it out but its all in Korean and my language acquisition thus far is pretty much non-existent. I can say "thank you," "hello," and "how much." These words have been working for me so far.

Thank god I have fingers to point at things.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On your mark, get set, go...

I got home from school Friday and decided to take a nap. I didn't wake up until one in the morning!

On Saturday I went to Itaewon and met up with a girl from Deer Lake and her friend who came into Seoul for the weekend from Pusan. I met them on the street and they were tryna find a hotel room for the night. They had already tried a few spots where they had stayed before but there were no vacancies so we walked around looking for hotels signs.

We found one in a small alleyway. Across from the entrance was a street vendor selling snacks, such as cooked pig's head! Yum...

We went in and they got a room for 30,000 Won. The bed barely fit and there was a condom machine on the wall. Classy indeed.

Then we went to the Outback Steakhouse and I had an awesome meal. Fries and a chicken breast smothered in cheese and bacon. And it wasn't too expensive either.

We then went back to the room and one of the girls wasn't feeling well (she had a sinus infection and cough) and they were dead tired. They decided they weren't going out so I headed out on my own. I bumped into an English teacher I knew and he recommended a few bars.

The first place I checked out was called The BricX. The place was dark and smoky and the had some decent instrumental hip hop playing. Maybe it was trip-hop or something? I'm not really down with all those various labels of music, unless of course its metal.

There was a girl sitting by herself at the bar so I grabbed a chair and we hung out and shot tequila for a couple of hours. She was from either Ohio or Iowa, I can't remember. She asked for my number (although she has a boyfriend.. yeah, lame...) and said she's gonna invite me to a party she's having sometime in the next month. She said she has lots of pretty friends!

Her friends were to supposed to show up at this place but they never, so she left to go to some bar that wasn't nearby and I declined, but got her to recommend somewhere for me to go.

I ended up at The Loft which also an alright place, but not as cool as The BricX. It was one room with the bar in the middle. There was too much light in there for my tastes. I ended up drinking with a few Irish people and decided to head home before the subway stopped running. I'd already spent enough money up to that point and a taxi home is kinda expensive.

The train stopped running about eight stops from my neighborhood and some old American dude bartered with a cabby for me and got me a flat rate home. It cost 10,000 Won which didn't really seem like a good deal but apparently the prices increase after midnight.

Being in that taxi was an experience. The average speed was about 100km and he maxed out at 160. The road was like the taxi cab grand prix with hundreds of taxis swerving from lane to lane each tryna get to their location as quick as possible so they could make more trips. It was kinda scary, but more fun than scary I guess.

I made it home alive and that's what counts.

I woke up today and did some shopping because I got paid on Friday. I had to buy some groceries, clothes detergent (I've been using dish detergent for the last month), and some other random things. I then walked around my neighborhood and browsed the street merchandise and checked out a few stores but surprisingly I didn't come home with anything. There was a reason for this.

I decided that I'd be better off wasting my money by going to VIPS (pronounced vips like lips, not vee eye peas like I would think). This place is a steak and salad restaurant that is directly next to my apartment. I've been dreaming about going there since I arrived and now that I have a bit of cash it was time to check it out.

I walked in not really knowing what to expect and I was led to a table. I ordered a steak which cost me 25 bucks and then the waitress said "free salad bar" and led me over there. This salad bar was amazing. It had fried chicken balls, tacos with every topping you could think of, multitudes of fresh fruit, ice cream, and a bunch of other food that looked too Korean for me to attempt on this day.

By the time my steak showed up I was nearly full but I finished it off anyway. Then I caught my second wind and finished off 3 or 4 plates of fruit salads, a banana split, and one more taco. It was a little pricey but worth every penny, or I guess I should say every Won.

I think you can pay about 10 bucks and just have access to the salad bar. I think that's a fair price because you can eat enough tacos and chicken balls to get your money's worth, and then eat a few whole pineapples (fresh ones!), some ice cream, and whatever other salads you want.

An apple costs about 1000 Won (a dollar) at the grocery store so 10000 Won is a good deal.

At least I think so being the wasteful Westerner that I am.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Am I getting paid for this...

The last two days have been hectic.

Yesterday I went to a grape farm with the grade four teachers. Once a month the head teacher of each grade gets some money from the Principal to take his/her teachers out on "teacher's conference." This title is somewhat inaccurate because they usually just go to a park, a movie, or out for some dinner.

I'm officially grouped with the grade six teachers but he head teacher of grade four, Mr. Kim, really wanted me to join his group so after much confusion, I was told to go with the fours.

Myself and seven or eight other teachers jumped in a couple of cars and headed towards a grape farm. I was told it would take about an hour to get there and we'd be back to Seoul by 4-4:30.

None of the teachers had been to this farm before so it took us over two hours just to find the place and we must have asked about ten people for directions.

Well, I didn't ask because believe it or not there's a minor barrier of communication between me and Koreans.

So we arrived at this place, walked around the grape farm, and then sat at a table and ate a ridiculous amount of grapes. While perusing the farm we ahd already eaten more grapes than I believe to be healthy, then they brought us out two giant plate fulls when we sat down.

In Korea, they don't eat the skin because its really thick and they are paranoid of the chemicals that are sprayed on the crops. They are a very health conscious-people and I will elaborate on this at a later date.

So they take the grapes and suck the insides out and throw the peel on a plate. The grapes all have seeds in them so this plate ends up covered with grapes peel and seeds, and your hands end up a sticky mess.

The grapes were huge and they were really, really good, if not somewhat inconvenient to eat for a Westerner like myself who is accustomed to what I would call "normal grapes."

We left that place and then headed to a traditional Korean restaurant. This place is known for making some food (I can't remember the name) that's made by putting a bunch of crap into a barrel-like container(which they call pots) and letting it ferment... for over a year!!

We placed our order and were then told to go walk around a take look around the premises. It quite nostalgic and had a vibe that made all of my coworkers talk about their childhood and how Seoul used to be when they were children.

It was only twenty years ago (probably less) that Seoul really became the modern nation that it is today and before this everyone was poor. My grade four co-teacher (the old one) translated what everyone was saying and it gave me a different perspective on the overall Korean culture.

The batteries in my camera died when I arrived here so I made sure the others took lots of pictures for me. I should have them tomorrow and I'll put them in a gallery.

The place had a really old feel, like something you'd see in an old kung-fu flick. There were 2000 of these pots outside arranged in nice orderly rows and a beautiful stone fountain where the water ran from a piece of bamboo. On the other side of the restaurant was a pond filled with a strange plant I'd never seen before with leaves that had a diameter of at least a foot. These plants were used in our meal, and some of the plants had this weird thing at the end of a stalk that, if torn open, contained some type of nut. I will post some pictures because its all too hard to explain.

The meal at this place was alright. I think I'm starting to get used to the food a little and I haven't had a Western meal (excluding breakfast) in two or three days. The only problem was that the meal had no meat. If there was some meat, I would maybe say this meal was great.

Well, actually, it would have been somewhere between alright and great, and I don't have that criteria in front of me right now so I don't know what word to use.

We had many side dishes as usual, lots of weird looking stuff that resembled different colored chewing tobaccos, slimes, and gelatin, some pancake-like things with grass inside, a soup that was just plain terrible (it smelled like it was gone sour), and finally, the stuff that was fermenting for over a year outside in those pots.

There was also rice and kimchi, of course.

We sat on the floor and our food was on a table that was about one foot high with our legs crossed. I think Mr. Kim was really proud of choosing this place and it canceled out his blunder of nearly getting us lost on the way to the grape farm.

We arrived back in Seoul at a little after eight o'clock (this is Korea, nothing is ever clear and times are never on time) and I got dropped off at my door with a big bag of grapes. I don't know if I ever wanna eat a grape again so I may just bring them to school and share them in my teacher's room.
Today I went down to the staff room to print a few things and when I walked in I saw half a dozen large pizzas sitting in boxes waiting to be opened. I sat at the computer and printed my stuff and the male VP told the office slave (I don't know what she does but to me she seems like a servant for the admin staff, and anyone else who tells her to do something) something in Korean, and the next thing I know I'm being handed a slice of pizza and a glass of Pepsi. It's hard for me to express myself here without saying "F*#$ING AWESOME!!!!" so I'll just say "totally friggin'' awesome!"

The male VP then came over and said something to me in Korean that I just couldn't understand so I decided to go by the old saying "When in Rome do as the Romans do" so I just shook my head in agreement. He then got a piece of paper and wrote "6-3" on it. I knew he wasn't referring to my height so I guessed he meant that classroom. I said "Now?" and he said "Ye Ye."

I scarfed back my pizza and went to see what the deal was.

To my delight, I walked in the classroom and all of the grade six teachers were sitting around eating, yes, pizza!!! They gave me a slice and I was in heaven once again (and I just realized I lied earlier when I said I didn't have a Western meal in two or three days).

I could've eaten at least nine pieces but I knew I had another meal to eat in just one hour with the Principals and all of the English teachers on staff. The polite side of me took over and I refused to eat anymore Italian goodness.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

After school I drove with the female VP, Principal, and my two fourth grade co-teachers to a kalbi restaurant that belonged to a former student of my Principal. He brought a really nice flower to give to the owner to congratulate him. On the way, the older co-teacher (I'd refer to her as Miss Kim but they are both Miss Kims... No that's wrong, the older one is Mrs. Kim and the other is Ms. Kim...) told me that the Principal has already told her he wants to resign me for next year.

I told you I was the best teacher in the world.

Anyway, she said he really likes me and he cannot believe how much the students love me (like is not a strong enough word), and he is impressed that I eat the Korean food at the school everyday.

To be honest, I'm probably more impressed with that more than he is.

The rest of the staff also have a thing for me as was proven at my little pizza party when one of the single teachers asked if I had a girlfriend. I said "No," and she said "You do now."

But seriously, I still don't have a girlfriend. She was just a tad too old.

We ate beef kalbi at this place and I must admit it wasn't as good as the pork kalbi. Once again, I sat on the floor at a little table and my legs are actually a bit sore from sitting like over the last two days. The Koreans found this quite funny. I wanted to say "You know what's really funny? I didn't grow up poor like you guys and my family could always afford a table" but that may not have been appropriate, and I would have lost a lot of love.

Well, this post was supposed to be short but the details were worth sharing I guess.

I'm not the one who's going to read this stuff...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I love you too baby...

I consider myself to be a competent computer user. I keep my baby protected and firewalled, and even give her a good defragging and spy-ware removal on a regular basis. Yet, she always ends up getting upset at me a couple times a year and brings me a lot of grief during this period.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was messing around with some images in Photoshop and she slapped me with an error message. She slapped me hard, not one of those taps on the cheek but a smack that you could her far in the distance if you happened to be watching from there.

She shut down Photoshop and corrupted some .cab file who I swear I've never had anything to with. She should trust me after all these years but she really has a problem with jealousy I suppose. Then this .cab file started some shit with MSN Messenger, and from there all hell broke loose. Explorer bailed on me and everything I opened she slammed back in my face with a lovely I'm "Not Responding" message. She left me with nothing so I tried to leave and let her chill out but my attempt to restart was futile.

I knew my baby needed to cool down so I put her in the fridge for 30 minutes but when she came out she was still pissed at me. It was at this point that I put my foot down, disconnected her from the internet, and uninstalled all of the programs that she wanted to mess around with.

I felt a little guilty because I really do wanna trust her so I plugged her back in to the internet but I gave her the silent treatment while I went searching for the answer to my problem. I got a few tips and ran a .cab repair program but it failed on me. Then someone who I am not going to mention gave me a big tip about trying the Beta version of MSN and this worked, kinda. Then I gave my friend Norton a shot but he was useless as usual. He should have prevented this from thsi beginning because that's what good friends do. I really don't know why I call him my friend, or why he gets paid so much.

Scandisk had a shot at my problem but I wasn't around when he shared his results but I think he did some good, which is unusual. I even gave in the Microsoft Update and for once he caused me no harm and his help was appreciated.

At the moment, she seems to be back to her usual self and I hope she stays this way, but I really have my doubts.

She's so unpredictable. Kinda like Windows that just open and shut at will with no regard to whether or not your arm is reaching out of them.

And I don't know why she insists on attaching a guillotine blade to the bottom.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Nothing but the best...

I don't have much to say today besides I'm the best teacher in the world.

Well, that may be a stretch but if you ask the grade fours at my school, they will tell you that I am. And we all know that children in grade are at a time in life when the mind is free, intuitive, ingenious, unparalleled, ablaze, bright, coruscating, dazzling, effulgent, flashy, effulgent, gleaming, glittering, glitzy, glossy, glowing, incandescent, intense, lambent, lucent, luminous, lustrous, radiant, razzle-dazzle, resplendent, ritzy, scintillating, showy, sparkling, vivid, and finally, knows whats up.

Anyway, one of my co-teachers read me a few journal entries that class 4-1 wrote and boy, do they like me. Last year English was one girls most hated subject, but this year its her favorite. Some of them even said they "loved" me, and that's a quote.

Nothing like a good ego boost from some ten year olds.

I also began working with my new co-teacher today. She teaches all of the grade four class with me except class 4-1, who I like to refer to as my fan club. Her English is pretty good and she's only 27. I'm glad she's young because I feel much more comfortable acting like the best teacher in the world when I'm workin with an Asian peer.

Its hard for me to act like the super-duper cool teacher that I am when I'm in the classroom with my grade five co-teacher because she's older and more reserved in the classroom. She's a really nice lady and has helped me with many things outside of the school but I can't see us being a great teaching team. She could never match my energy, enthusiasm, and wit and probably wouldn't think the period was going well if the kids were laughing for half of the class.

Personally, I think this works, keeps the kids awake, and makes them enjoy English and coming to school.

But back to my new co-teacher. I think I'm going to have a great year working with her because she may even be "hip." She wears cool glasses, stylish, sexy clothes and has a degree in music. She plays the cello and a little guitar on the side. I don't know what the ethics are regarding dating your co-workers, but I may look into that question. She currently lives with her Aunt in central Seoul and is trying to find an apartment in my area to be closer to school, but I think she really just wants to get closer to me. Or maybe she just doesn't wanna spend two to three hours on the subway each day. Who really knows?

But seriously, I know it would be a terrible disaster to actually date someone who I have to work with in the classroom for the next year, but I've done dumber things than that before.

Maybe I'm starting to get "yellow fever." This is known as a strong attraction to Asian girls and most people who move to this side of the world end up infected sooner or later.

I had my immunization shots before I left, but I may have been too cheap to get that shot. I cant' remember.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Check that out buddy...

I've decided to start a photo gallery. Its to the right. Click on the picture and you will be redirected to a gallery. I don't have many pictures posted yet but I'll be sure to add more.

Now that I have the internet at my apartment anything is possible.

And I mean that.


I finally have the internet at my apartment now. Its the fastest connection I've ever used and its blowing my mind here. I can't get over the speeds I'm getting. I'm already battling myself trying to decide what to keep and delete from my hard drives. After one day, I've just about filled the 50 gigs I had to play with. I can see this becoming a major problem for me so I'm just gonna stock up on external hard drives and create one of the greatest pirated media collections this side of Indonesia.

It was a friend's brithday Friday we I went to Gangnom (again) and drank booze and ate food. Went to a bar called The Woodstock that played all classic rock and the DJ was this old Korean in front of a computer. If he didn't have the song you wanted, he could download it for you and it would the next song played. Brilliant.

And I've had my first "being from Newfoundland" experience since I've been to Seoul. My night started at a Kalbi restaurant and some friends from Newfoundland called me and told me to meet them at the Woodstock. I got the birthday bunch to come along and we walked in but my friends aren't there. I give them a shout on my cell phone and they inform that there are actually two Woodstocks so they try to explain where it is but I couldn't find it when I went looking. I needed to meet these people because they were gonna lend me some cash so I call them back and they come to the Woodstock that I'm at and all is well.

I go crash at my Newfy friend's place and when we woke up we were talking about the night before. They tell me that there were a few Newfy girls at the other Woodstock and they thought they were from Corner Brook.

We're sitting there being extremely hungover and I look at them and ask "Was her name Rae?"

They look at me in amazement and say "Holy shit man yes!! That's her!!!" We just sat there amazed that these things can happen even in a city with nearly 20 million people.

I know this girl because Corner Brook is only about 50 km from my hometown. Well, I don't actually know her but she's a friend of a friend and I talked to her on the phone before I came to Korea because she'd been here a while and I wanted some questions answered.

I don't think these type of things happen to anyone else on Earth besides Newfy's.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wow, that sure looks pretty...

Today was more of the same. I went to the teacher training center along with my co-teacher and the other English teachers with SMOE.

And once again, it was a load of crap.

The day began with an hour long speech about lesson planning. It was all in Korean. Very insighful indeed.

Then we had to work with our co-teacher to create a lesson. When it was complete, we had to go to a computer lab and type the thing up.

We were finished in thirty minutes but our group leader said we had to have bold titles and some other formatting nonsense. The template they gave us was screwed up and the formatting was even more messed up. After thrity minutes of trying to satisfy them, I just gave up and told my co-teacher that this was just plain silly.

The lesson will be exactly the same no matter how it looks. The content is what should be important, but here in Korea they are obsessed with presentation. I told the group leader that the template was very user unfriendly and I just couldn't get it to look how she wanted it.

She proceeded to get one of the computer techs to help us and he couldn't fix it either. My co-teacher was quite concerned because she wanted to get it right so I told her to do it herself. The lesson was fine and the way it looked isn't gonna make the kids understand English any better. She just wanted to satisfy the group leader so I decided to play the game.

I told her that most of our lesson was very ineffective and the way she wanted to "check for understanding" at the end of the lesson was totally useless. She disagreed and I went on to explain my point and she soon understood.

So we edited a few parts and this was a major hassle to say the least. Now it was her who was frustrated but at least the frustration made our lesson better. After these changes she wanted to get out of there just as much as I did so she finally conceded to give up on the formatting.

I'm glad we had our first disagreement and I feel like she has a bit more respect for me and will give me more say in the overall decision making. She's a "by the book" person but sometimes the book is wrong.

My only worry is that she's gonna expect me to make every lesson now.

Well, if that happens, at least the kids might learn some English.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Let’s bomb the Art Fags…

The most difficult thing about this post was choosing a title. “Sorry I made you cry baby” was the first runner up. “Just send me an e-mail God-damn it” was a close third. “Great deals here… Way better than Jack’s” was just out of medal contention.

So to begin this post I will explain the title.

I went to the Hongik District today. Its home of Hongik University which is the art and youth culture center of the city of Seoul. There’s an art school there. I realized that Art Fags are all the same.

Anyone who knows me has probably heard me use the term “Art Fag” many times (not quite sure why I’m capitalizing, it just feels right) and they know what I mean. For the rest of you, Art Fag is a generalization or stereotype I like to use. Things are often easier to explain and talk about when you generalize and I’m sorry if this upsets some of you. If you are getting upset, you are probably an Art Fag of some sort (most likely, an Indie Rock Faggot).

I must first say that I’m not a homophobe (Why on Earth would I fear gay people? Really?) and I have no problem with people who choose to go the other way. Honestly, I don’t even know what an Art Fag is and I can’t explain it so the next few paragraphs will likely contradict each other. It’s just a term that encompasses all of the artists out there who create works that I just don’t understand or appreciate.

This term entered my vocabulary at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where I was going out with and living with a female Art Fag (Art Fags can be both guys and girls, but I only go out with girls, so I if refer to going out with an Art Fag you can assume it's a female). The college has a fairly large art school there and I knew many of the “artists,” but more importantly I saw their work on a daily basis. A little of it was great, some of it was decent, but most of it was crap. The problem was that the worst artists took their work much more serious than the people with true talent. It is for those “artists” that I began using the Art Fag terminology.

This phenomenon continued to exist where ever I lived, whether it be Halifax - Nova Scotia, Stoney Creek - Ontario (I went to a recording school with a few Art Fags), St. John’s – Newfoundland (I must admit that my favorite artist is a friend I lived with there named Greg Ryan – and I’m not really sure if he takes “art” serious or not, but at least he doesn’t create crap).

The phenomenon has continued to be true here in Seoul, South Korea. Here are a few pictures to try to make you understand my politically incorrect view of the world.

Is this about the Newfounland Cod Moratorium? Gotta be...

Crab People... If you don't watch South Park you just won't understand...

A peacock made of spoons??

But okay, sure, enough about that. Now on to much more important things such as cell phones and making little girls cry.

Yes, today I made a little girl cry. She was in grade six and all I did was ask her the same question I asked half a dozen other students before her. The emotionally charging question was “How was your holiday?”

The answer simply required the students to read one of four lines from the text such as “It was fun” and “I visited my grandparents.” After I asked the question she put her head down and covered her face. I thought she was just being shy so I asked her again. Then I noticed the girl sitting next to her put her arm around her and being rubbing her back in a soothing manner.
I was told by other English teachers that it was just a matter of time before some Korean child began crying in my class for no apparent reason. I didn’t doubt them but I really never thought it would be from such a simple, polite question.

Oh well, what can you do right? It’s not that I’m an insensitive person but this just seems a little ridiculous to me. People told me I was shy as a child but this girl redefines the term.

Today was also important because not only did I make a little girl cry, but I also attended a seminar about working with my co-teacher. My two co-teachers and I attended and it took about an hour to get there on the subway. We arrived at 2:15 and watched a couple of experienced teachers conduct a lesson. This was over at 2:40 and then we were split into two groups; Native Speaking Teachers and Korean Teachers. The Native Teachers all went to a room and sat around and chatted for 15 minutes and then had a 15 minute “discussion” about our experiences so far. Then the lady told us what the plans for tomorrow are (we have to make a lesson with our co-teachers) and we were outta there by 3:30

It was bullshit. What a waste of time! Why didn’t they just get us to have the discussion tomorrow? Some of the English teachers got up and left in the middle of the discussion because they are sick and tired of all of this wasted unused time. We could have easily done this tomorrow?! Why drag us all the way across the city to have a 15 minute discussion and tell us what were gonna do tomorrow?

A simple e-mail would have just fine, thank you.

And on top of this, my main co-teacher told me to bring the text for each grade (4, 5, and 6) and the accompanying teacher’s guides (which are all in Korean anyway). I’m sure glad the communication channels are wide open and clear.

So I left with my co-teachers hoping to find something to do. The other English teachers (well, the ones I like who were there – not everyone was at this location) said they didn’t wanna go out and do anything so I asked my male co-teacher who’s the same age as me to go to Hongik and grab a beer.

Well, guess what happened? My main co-teacher decided to join us (BUMMER!) because she had a meeting in the same area. We walked around, and around, and around – this would have been fine if I didn’t feel like I was still at work – when I spotted a Subway Restaurant. I told them I was getting something to eat and they both joined me. Then, to reverse my animosity of the situation, my main co-teacher paid for the meal! Then, shortly after leaving Subway she went to her meeting. Then me and Kim Dong-Sik (my male co-teacher) went to a place called Beer Hunter and grabbed a few jugs.

We had some great conversations about teaching, his mandatory two-year service in the Korean Military, targeting and launching bombs, China’s position in the world, the threat of North Korea, shooting off bombs, and blowing stuff up using bombs.

He was an artillery guy during his two years and spent his last year simply monitoring and evaluating people’s skills at launching bombs at stuff.

Now he’s an elementary school teacher! I say we need more of this type of stuff in Canada. Don’t you agree?

And finally, I got a cell phone today. I got it used for 50,000 Won (about 50 bucks). My friend, Jack, recommended going with LG because of the great deals. 35,000 Won a month for 11 hours of talk time and only 150 Won (15 cents) a minute when I receive calls from home.

The funny thing is that Jack paid 120,000 Won for his phone. And he got the worst deal on an apartment out of anyone working for SOME. I can’t wait to tell him I only paid 50,000 Won for my phone. He’s going to hate me (even more).

I also got my charger for free. It was supposed to cost 10,000 Won but Kim Dong-Sik was with me and when the clerk told him the price he simply said “Anio,” meaning no, so she just gave it to me for nothing.

You know, it always helps to have a professional bomb launcher in your presence when purchasing a cell phone.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Note to self...

I made a few changes to the blog today. I didnt' realize that people had to have a blogger password to make comments. Now you can all make comment as annonymous users, but leave your name somewhere so I know who you are.

Also, because I'm a little bit obsessive compulsive, I've noticed that the spacing isn't always right with my fonts. I don't know why this is happening but it's driving my nuts. I've stopped uploading my images using html and I think this may be the problem. Anyway, it's still readable but it just doesn't look how it should.

But there ain't a damn thing I can do about it...

Back to the Rockies...

I am officially a resident of Korea today. I went to the immigration office and picked up my Alien Resident Card. Now I can get a cell phone, cable TV, and internet access at my apartment.

I also began teaching. The grade fours are a breeze. They are still at the age where enthusiasm is alive and they find me quite interesting, to say the least. I'm not sure when the novelty of being simply a white person will wear off on them but I have a feeling it will be a while before that happens.

I haven't taught the grade fives yet but I meet one class tomorrow.

The grade sixes are going to be my biggest problem from what I've been told by the other teachers. I taught three classes of sixes today and I must say it went very well. I began the class by explaining the 17 rules I created specifically for that grade. The vice-principal was observing the first class and he seemed pleased. I should be honest though and mention the ADHD kid who wouldn't put his desk on the ground. He literally had his desk lifted up onto his lap for over half the class, then he disappeared. His homeroom teacher was also observing the class so I assumed she told him to leave or something. It was out of my hands. But at least he was laughing at me while balancing his desk in mid-air and not disturbing everyone else by running around the class like he did in the English classes that I wasn't present.

I've always been able to build quite the rapport with any children I've worked with in the past and this seemed to be holding true. Hopefully, me acting like somewhat of an idiot/moron/weirdo will keep them from acting in the same manner. Sometimes you just gotta act completely silly in order to stop the kids from doing the same. If the teacher is being the class clown, it prevents a kid from being one. It worked today at least.

I told them if they didn't participate in the song we were singing they'd have to come up to the front of the class and dance with me while we sang. And yes, everyone participated, even if they weren't giving it 100 percent.

My classes were done at 2:00 and left school an hour early to go pick up my A/R Card. I must give props to the Seoul Subway system because it's truly phenomenal. Everything is labeled in English and there's no way to get confused or lost even though there are nine separate trains. The two or three trains (2 or 3?) in Calgary were much more confusing. I traveled from one end of the city to the other with multiple transfers and it went smoother than butter.

On my way home I decided to go to Itaewon (the place referred to as Little America because there's an American Army base in the neighborhood) and search for pizza once again. The only pizza places I could find were full-fledged restaurants and I didn't feel like going in by myself and ordering a full pizza so I looked around for my next best option. What I found is probably going to end up being one of my regular hangouts in Seoul.

Above the entrance was a Canadian Flag and the place was called Rocky Mountain Tavern ( It was 5:30 pm and I walked inside. The place was empty and a guy came out from outback and told me they didn't open until six but I could grab a seat and have a beer if I wanted to.

It turns out that the place is run by two Canadians. One guy is from Ontario and the other from Saskatchewan. They even had a few Canadian beers which was quite nice considering I've been drinking Korean beer since I arrived and it tastes like water.

Just after six people started arriving and they were all white and either Canadian or American (I'm not a racist - although that line sure sounds like I am - but it was nice to be in a room completely free of Koreans). More importantly I think is that everyone was speaking English.
I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and just when my food arrived they turned on a projector television and showed the NFL game from Monday night! They also show every Hockey Night in Canada Broadcast throughout the year. The bartenders/owners were super nice guys and they answered all of the questions I had about being in Korea such as currency exchange, cell phones plans, and places worth checking out in Seoul.

Then things got even better. I looked around at some of the pictures and posters on the wall and noticed they had some official "Screech In" forms on the wall from Trapper Johns in St. Johns. They told me that a couple of Newfs had officially Screeched them in here in Seoul and it was quite the night.

Just imagine! I move halfway across the world and people are becoming honorary Newfies even here. Newfoundlanders know how to spread culture with the best of them, and we do it without fighting or going to war. We just make you say a few lines of nonsense, kiss a fish, and drink some rum. If only everything was that simple.

The owners told me that lots of Newfies and Cape Bretoners frequent the place and most people from those parts usually walk in on the weekend and bump into someone they know. It's a small world on the East Coast of Canada.

And bigger ain't always better.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Get some sleep...

I'm at my usual PC Bang and there's a female sitting next to me. She looks unhealthy, hungry, and burned out. She's chain-smoking, shaking, and playing some video game that involves controlling a dancer. Man, is she ever into the game. Her head is about three inches from the screen and her fingers are moving faster than I've ever seen. If she was tpying words, she'd be at a rate of 8974 words per minute.

If I had to guess, I'd say she's been playing it for 36 hours straight, at least.

So last night I went to Gangnom and had some more of that BBQ pork stuff. It wasn't as good as the place I went Friday but it was still better then any of the other Korean food I've eaten. I went out with my fellow SMOE teachers (Seoul Metropoolitan Office of Education).

My last post was waaaaaaaay too long so I'm keeping this one short because I don't wanna bore you.

Today I went searching for Pizza Hut. I found a website with a map showing the nearest location so I jumped on the subway and began my hunt. It was only supposed to be four stops away in the same vacinity as Lotte World, Seoul's Disney Land.

According to the map it was between the Jamsil stop and the one south of that, called Seoktong, or something like that.

I walked all the way to the Seoktong stop and no Pizza Hut. I did see a Burger King so I gave up and got a Whopper.

When I left the Burger King I turned the corner and there was the friggin' Pizza Hut. Damn! It was three stories high! The map lied and my craving for pizza is still unfulfilled. At least I know where it is now.

Tomorrow I begin teaching. I have to teach a few classes to grade four. It's the same lesson for each class and I have to teach it three of four times. Hopefully all goes well.

By the end of the day, I'll be like a robot.

By the end of the year, I will be a robot.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Formal? Yes, formal...

So here's the detailed account of my first night out with Koreans.

Started off at a restaurant where we ate twaeji-galbi which is marinated pork ribs cooked over an open flame at your table. I'm not sure what was burning in the "BBQ" but it looked like some sort of wood.

The meal began with pork, a carved out log filled with vegetables (mainly lettuces), kimchi soup, a few dipping sauces, a few large bowls of onions and a small individual bowls of brown liquid. You put the onions in the brown liquid and take some pork and put it in this bowl. It helps the meat cool and then you grab a mouthful of onions and the meat and shove it in your mouth. I was shocked at how good it was. The onions lost some of their intensity in the liquid and the taste combined with the meat was delicious.

Once all the meat was eaten from the grill, the waitress bring out more, puts it on the grill, and lets you cook it. She also brought out individual bowls of white rice. When the meat is about halfway cooked she comes out again with a pair of kitchen scissors (maybe the most underused kitchen utensil in the West) and cuts up the meat into bite-sized pieces.

The next time the meat runs out she of course brings out more, and this time removes the foil wrapped sweet potatoes that have been cooking in the grills. Then she brings out one more pass of meat and with it a few more dishes. One was a cold pasta dish with ice and the other was some sort of traditional Korean soup that Mr. Han told wasn’t spicy, but I don’t think they have any concept of what spicy means to a Westerner. These dishes were alright but I was quite focused on the pork, wrapping it up in lettuce, adding some red hot sauce, and topping the mix with a piece of straight garlic. I want to eat this meal everyday. Luckily, I’m meeting with some of the English teachers I met at orientation and I think the plan is to go out and eat this stuff.

I’m stoked (look at all that food?!).

Mr. Han, the physical education teacher at my school, was running the show and putting me on the spot, all in good fun. He was the oldest male there so it’s just natural for him to take command. “Richard, you must take a picture of all of these girls and go home tonight and make decision. Then propose!” “Um, sorry Mr. Han but it would be impossible to choose only one.” The girls seemed to like this answer and it created a mass giggle fest. I find it funny when Korean girls laugh because well, it’s totally how one would expect a bunch of Korean girls to laugh. It fits right in with the stereotype and it’s so cute.

Turns out Mr. Han is married and has a child, so I don’t really know what he was doing with the “Young Men’s and Women’s Club” (remember, this is all the non-married teachers). Maybe he was there to make sure everyone treated me good and to make sure things went smoothly, which they did.

He kept trying to force everyone at dinner to speak English to me but most people were too embarrassed. They all studied English in school and university but the focus is on grammar, reading, and writing. They don’t never really get a chance to speak it so they are quite hesitant to say anything.

We left the restaurant and went down the road a few blocks to a bar called Mad Dogs. A few of the girls went home at this point so the group became a little easier to talk with. Two of the girls who stayed spoke decent English once they had a couple of beer in their bellies, and they happened to be the cutest ones as well!

This bar was very western, with wooden bulldog statues outside the door, Heineken posters on the wall, pictures of cowboys, wooden Native American “posters,” and some American pioneer photos to top it all off. It was kinda confusing but the bar was quite nice.

When we ordered our first jug of beer the waitress brought out a big fruit plate. At many bars here, you have to order a side dish of food in order to sit and drink. This fruit plate cost nearly 15 bucks! But Koreans usually eat while they drink so this is totally normal for them.

When I would go out to use the bathroom I would come back and my seat would be moved. Mr. Han wanted to make sure all the girls had a chance to talk to me. Great move and I was starting to understand why he is out with us even though he was married.

I got my first taste of some of the usual Korean customs that evening. You never pour yourself a glass of booze. Never. When your glass is empty the person next to you fills it up. You hold the cup and he/she pours. An older person older person is not supposed to pour for a younger person, and if they do, the younger person bows his head and hold the cup differently than they would if receiving a drink from someone their own age or younger than them self.

We were at Mad Dogs for a little over an hour or so and then it was time to go again. I was just starting to settle in and the girls were beginning to talk at ease. Now Mr. Hans lead didn’t make sense to me again, but my male co-teacher, Dong-Sik, told me that this was considered a “formal” meeting and women aren’t supposed to drink much at such a gathering. It didn’t seem very formal to me but I suppose everyone involved was school staff.

I didn’t know what the deal was as the girls left to go home and the other 3 male teachers and myself stood on the sidewalk. That’s when Mr. Han (remember he’s the gym teacher) said “Do you want to go play basketball?”

I looked at the other 2 guys and we kinda looked at each with a confused look and said sure. I didn’t know if Mr. Han was serious but he was! We walked to a nearby park, Dong-Sik hopped on Mr. Han’s bike to go home and change, and I was stuck there in my nice teacher clothes and dress shoes. When Dong-Sik returned he had forgot to get a basketball! You gotta remember we all had drunk a few beers by now and this was quite funny. Because Dong-Sik was the youngest Korean, he was the one who had to go ask a group of kids if we could use their ball.

The mother came over and said we could use it for 5 minutes. Dong-Sik and I were on a team and we lost the game 2-1. The score was tied at 1-1 when we had to declare that the next basket wins. Before, this declaration, Mr. Han said “stop” while I had the ball. I took a shot (after he called time); he got the ball and then declared whoever scored next was the winner. The sneaky guy weaseled my team out of possession and then they scored on the first shot.
Drunken basketball is not my forte the next time we play, Mr. Han and his team and going down!

We gave the ball back to the kids and 5 minutes later we were playing again, this time full court with the kids. My fellow teachers were playing all out and the kids were never even touching the ball. Whenever I’d get the ball I’d try to get the kids involved and at least make them feel like they were playing, even if they would just throw the ball right back to me (or just throw it away!). It was soon declared by Mr. Han that the next basket won and then I declared that one of the kids had to score the point. Everyone agreed and now Mr. Han was forced to pass the ball to his under 15 teammates.

When I played basketball in school, I always saw myself as a true point guard and this was justified tonight. I ran up the court with the ball, passed off to the wing, got he ball back on top, and quickly shuttled it inside where my 12 year old teammate hit the 7 foot jumper! Teamwork wins games boys and girls. That’s the lesson of the evening.

And guess what? That wasn’t the end of the b-ball. A few adult Koreans showed up with a ball and in less than 3 minutes we had a game lined up. These guys were decent players and we had a good game, which we won 3-2. I scored the last 2 points for my team when I decided I had to take this game into my own hands and end it because I was getting all sweaty and my feet were hurting because of my dress shoes. The guys we played against were good sports and everyone admitted to all of their fouls and clapped when the opposing team scored. I’ll definitely be playing more basketball here in Korea.

Our next stop was this little beer place/fried chicken shop about 15 a minute walk from my place. It was tucked away and was one of Mr. Han’s usual spots. His apartment was in the building right behind this place. We had a few beers, talked about history and how the winner always gets to write the story. Koreans are quite sensitive to their history because they’ve been tossed around by China and Japan so many times that they feel like outsiders might think they’re wimps or something. I dunno. It’s hard to explain.

At this point Mr. Han had to go home and the other 2 guys were just gonna go home too. I pulled the “new guy in Korea” card and said I wanted to go somewhere and drink some soju. I said I heard Koreans can really drink and tonight didn’t prove that to me up to that point. I tried to explain to Mr. Han that he could go home with his family but he felt obligated to stay out. Dong-Sik said there’s a word in Korean that means “helping someone out in a difficult situation” and Mr. Han had to oblige by this code, or honor, or whatever it is.

We went to another tucked away little restaurant, ordered some soju and side orders. Bacon-wrapped mushrooms and a big bowl of soup arrived promptly at our table and the soju quickly followed. We all ate the soup outta the same bowl and they asked if I was okay with this. I was, and even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have felt like being a germ fearing wussy.

My little brother, on the other hand, wouldn’t have been able to handle this. He won’t even have a taste of drink from me, my mom or my dad. If I was thirsty enough I would drink from a stranger’s cup, and I’m sure I have at some point or another.

So we got into the soju and I learned some more Korean drinking customs.

When pouring soju, there are a few more rules. Drinks are usually poured into shot glasses and the pourer is supposed to leave about half a cm unfilled at the top. If your cup is overfilled, you can switch shots with the pourer if his glass is properly filled. There are probably some age conventions to go along with this but I don’t remember them.

If pouring soju for an older person, you hold the bottle with one hand and make sure this hand covers up the label. You support your pouring arm with your other hand at the elbow.

Anyway, we played a few drinking games that I’m not gonna explain here because I’m too lazy but the Koreans were all impressed at my ability to hold my own on the soju field. I honestly think they were in worse states than me. They kept saying “You a very good drinking Richard!” And I would answer “Newfoundland has the best drinkers in Canada.” And I was the one speeding up the games and talking them into getting more bottles brought to our table. One of the teachers agreed about the Newfoundland drinking powers because he had actually been to St. Johns for a wedding a few years back. Small friggin’ world hey! It’s funny to hear a Korean shout “Black Horse!!”

Halfway through our time at this place Mr. Han left saying he had to go home with his family. Yeah, yeah, yeah Mr. Han. You just can’t keep up with the Newfs, that’s all. That ain’t nothing to be ashamed of.

So anyway, I survived my first outing with the locals and I know I can hold my own with them. I’m sure this wasn’t Korean drinking at it’s hardest but we definitely weren’t taking it easy.
Tonight I go to Korea’s Hollywood, the Gangnom district, and it should be a blast. It’ll be good to hear the other English teacher’s opinions on their schools and neighborhoods etc.

Maybe I’ll run into Seo-tai-ji down there.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Half in da bag...


So I'm kinda drunk right now.

Well, maybe I'm really drunk right now but my addiction to the internet has pulled me into the PC Bang once again.

After school today the "Young Mens and Womens Club" met up and went out for dinner and a few drinks. Turns out that this club is comprised of the non-married teachers at my school. I may have developed a crush on at least two of my teachers in the process but all is good.

We started out at a restaurant where I had the best meal thus far in Korea. I don't remember what it's called right now but it involved cooking our own pork at the table we were sitting at. The meal was amazing.

My co-workers can all speak much better English than they give themselves credit for and it's too bad that the girls left early because of Korean customs. Sometimes this culture sucks!

I can't type right now so I'll update tomorrow.

One thing worth noting is that me and 3 fellow male teachers played basketball after we drank about 5 jugs of beer and we still kicked ass at the park.

I blocked the shit outta one guy.

As Jamie Mullins would say, "Mark it down!"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mmm... octopus stew...

Octopus was the main dish at school today. They had this at my orientation a few times but I avoided it like the plague. I gave in and tried it today. Not only was the texture like rubber, it also tasted like rubber.

My co-teachers said that it is usually more tender and it wasn't very good today. I don't know if I will ever find it appealing, although I will try it again next time it is served.

I took a few pictures at school today. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the Octostew.

Here I am with two of my co-teachers. Kim Hong-Mi is the lady to my left and Kim Dong-Sik is on my left. The desk I'm sitting at is my "office" and both of my co-teachers are also in the same room as me, along with three other teachers.

This is one third of my school. The building wraps around with three wings similar to what you see here. Usually the playground is jammed packed with students but I took this picture at the end of lunch break so some of the kids were already gone inside.

Here are some typical students with their unexhausted enthusiasm. Notice the jail-like bars in the background. They lock the place down at night.

My "office" is in this wing of the school.

Here is grade six classroom. All of the classrooms are typically like this with a big screen TV. Notice the kid in the striped shirt. I think he's Korea's Yao Ming.

This kid freaked out when he saw that I was taking pictures and nearly ran me over.

And finally, here's a picture of my supper this evening. It's called kimbab and it's a seaweed wrap with rice, cucumber, meat (it looked like ham and some kind of fish, but it's probably not)some yellow stuff and some green stuff. It tastes alright, it's cheap, and supposedly very healthy.

Tomorrow is a big day for me. I'm going out with the staff. They call the group the "young men's and women's club." It should be interesting when they all get drunk and start acting like regular people instead of teachers. I'm kinda frightened about what they have planned for me.

I hope it doesn't involve kicking my ass with Tae Kwon Do.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Koreans must have many neck problems later in life...

I finally got my computer at school today. I have the nicest one in the room. It's a brand new Samsung with a flat screen and an English version of Microsoft Office. I spent the day installing all of the software I'll need in order to be a good teacher such as MSN Messenger and a few file downloading programs.

I then quickly downloaded the new Slayer album (strictly for educational purposes) and copied it to the memory drive of my camera. Then I had to actually do some work. It was a lot easier planning my lesson with the new Slayer blasting into my ears.

I realized today just how easy my job is going to be. I'll spend about 15 hours a week in the classroom, and 2 more hours giving English lessons to the staff. I teach 22 classes per week in total, with each class being only 40 minutes in length.

Okay, and here's the best part. Each week I will only have to plan 5 lessons. One lesson for grade 1, one for grade 5, and another for grade 6. I will then teach each lesson 6-7 times throughout the week. The other 2 are for the classes I teach to the staff, and I'm thinking these will mainly be conversation based.

But it gets better.

I actually get paid extra for the 2 classes I conduct with the staff. About 20 bucks an hour. It is stipulated in my contract that I must get paid for any lessons I teach that go beyond the 22 regular classes. Awesome.

And you know what, that's not all!

I have to be at school everyday from 8:40 - 4:40 anyway and the 2 extra staff lessons will be given during this time. I think I signed on to a pretty sweet deal here ladies and gentlemen.

More good news today as well. The repair man also showed up at my apartment today and fixed the jammed window and broken step leading up to my loft. And one of my co-teachers gave me a CD by Korea's most famous artist. His name is Seo Tai-ji. "As a cultural comparison, Tai-ji's levels of popularity in Korea is analogous to the popularity of Michael Jackson in the mid-1980s."

One cool thing about this guy is that he dropped out of high school saying, in essence, that the Korean education system is bullshit and it's only good for corrupting the minds of Korea's youth. He may have a point here because most of high school is supposedly spent preparing for some type of university entrance exam.

This guy has done everything from dance pop to rap to metal. He is a controversial figure in Korean culture and his "fourth album exploded with more controversial songs. Come Back Home was a foray into Korean gangster rap. Shidaeyugam (시대유감, "Regret of the Times") was nearly banned by the Korean Broadcasting Ethics Committee as having lyrics that were considered harmful to the young listeners."

According to one review of the album I have (titled "7th Issue"), "many fans have noted that the whole CD sounds like one very long song. This is quite true because Taiji wisely uses the same four chords with bridges and varying melodies." Hmmm, interesting. Hopefully I like these 4 chords but I have a feeling the album is going to be absolutely terrible, although I do appreciate the gesture made by my fellow staff member. More on this after I give it a listen.

One thing I forgot to mention about Korea is bowing. If someone is older than you, you bow your head when you greet them. If they are a lot older than you you're expected to even bend at the waist a little.

Im not quite sure what I'm supposed to do in my role as a foreigner. One of my co-teachers even had a discussion about what I should do. Me, the principal, the 2 vice-principals, and my head co-teacher were in the teacher's room and she asked the admins what they would like me to do. They had a big discussion about whether I should just say hello or do the traditional greeting. I don't know if the came to a consensus, and if they did it wasn't clear to me. I'm gonna ask her about this tomorrow because I don't wanna be offending the boss(es).

Luckily, my usual greeting, even at home, is a simple nod of the head so even if they want a full bow, at least I'm giving them a half-assed bow anyway.

My 25 year old male co-teacher, Dong-Sik (pronounced Shick), goes all out with his bows and his demeanor is very timid when talking to any of the older staff, especially the administrators. It's quite interesting actually.

For me, I only get bows from the students, and lots of them. Some of the female teachers also bow to me, which is pretty cool, even if it is only a neck bow. Although I've received a neck and shoulder bow on a few occasions.

The district supervisors came by the school today. They were sharp looking men and the principal introduced me to them. And of course, he said "This is Richard. Very handsome young man."

I think I may have blushed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A room with a view...

This is the view from my "office" window at school. It sure doesn't look like I'm in one of the biggest cities on the planet. It feels more like being in the jungle.

Yesterday I observed an after school English lesson that an American does three times a week. The students are from grades one to three. One of my co-teachers observed with me and after the lesson we talked about his methods. She was very impressed with my observations and how I said I would have improved the lesson. We had just about all of the same things in our notes.

She has the best English in the school (behind me) and after our critique she told me she has a Masters Degree in English as a second language. She must know her stuff. I felt even better about her positive comments after she told me this.

Today I had a chance to observe a few English classes in grade four and five. They were taught by the teachers I will be working with. The kids were well behaved and just about all of them answered the questions they were asked. It's the grade sixes that are supposed to be trouble.

I feel like a celebrity at my school. Wherever I go there are kids running up to me saying hello and asking me my name. I usually respond by saying "Hello, how are you?" Then I get the robotic response that I was told I would get from otehr English teachers who have been here a while. "I'm fine thank you and how are you?" I don't know if the kids understand what they are saying but just about all of them can give that response. It's quite funny.

I'm also starting to get a bit of an ego.

Well, not really.

Just about every teacher inthe school has told me I'm handsome, even the male teachers. The kids have all told me the same thing. I say thank you and then the kids start busting out laughing. A few of the grade six girls have even asked me if I have a girlfriend. When I say no they all start to giggle and get embarressed.

One big difference from the schools back home is that the kids clean up the place. They mop the floors, wipe off the tables, and clean up in the staff room. I think this is a great idea because I'm sure it prevents the students from making a mess because they know they'll just have to clean it up.

I got to leave school early today with one of my co-teachers. We went to the immigration office so I could get my Alien Resident Card. I need this I.D. in order to get a cell phone and internet at my apartment. It will be ready on the 12th. Then I can stop wasting my money here at the PC Bang.

There were a few other teachers getting their cards and everyone seems to be satisfied with their school and lodging. One of the middle school teachers has to buy the text that he has to teach which seems rather cheap to me.

My school has been great to me. Yesterday I they had a couch delivered to my apartment and today a microwave. Tomorrow I'm gonna request a coffee table and a few other things. I'm sure I'll get. it

There's student art posted on the walls all around my school. This is my favorite piece. I really like the expression on the face of the big guy in the green shirt.

He kind of reminds me of Elvis.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My corner of the Earth...

I realized that I can hook my camera up to the computers here at the PC Bang so here are some pics of my apartment. I'm also gonna put some pics in my previous posts so backtrack and take a look.

The bathroom... typical Asian stylings...

View from my loft... It just needs a setting sun...

My closet...

My pretty bed... Very masculine indeed... I guess my co-teachers thought I was gonna be a girl?

Looking up at the loft...

The "living room"...

Kitchen/Laundry room...

The computer lab...

The main view...

And that's where I'll be living for the next year.

Judging from my conversations with some other English teachers, I'm in the lead for best apartment.

Competition is in my blood.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I could swear it was Christmas Eve...

I had to get a couple of photos taken for my Alien Registration Card so I went to the GS Mart. Man, the place was packed. It seemed like Christmas Eve at Wal-Mart back in Canada. Actually, it was more like five or six Christmas Eves combined.

The place was just one big line. Once you got in the line you were stuck with the flow and had no choice about where you could go. It took me an hour just to get around the store. It wasn't like that the first time I went there on Friday. I guess Sunday is shopping day.

I went for a walk around my neighborhood today and ended up buying a couple pairs of socks from a street merchant. I asked him what the price was ("olma-eyo" is how you ask) and he said 3000 Won. I said 2000 Won and it was a done deal. Then I picked up another pair and he sold them to me for 1000 Won (1000 Won is equal to about a dollar). One pair was Nike and the other Adidas. In Canada they would have cost five bucks each for sure. Next time I'm gonna start my negotiations a lot lower. I bet I could have saved 1000 Won.

I have a feeling I'm gonna buy a lot of stuff here I really don't need just because it's so cheap.

A few meters up the road was a shoe store. The name of the place made me laugh out loud when I saw it. "Athlete's Foot." I dunno if I'll be doing any shopping there.

I also tried out some Korean McDonalds today. It was virtually the same as back home but the Mac sauce didn't have the same tangyness (is that a word?). It only cost 4400 Won which is much cheaper than home. I'm gonna try not to eat it too much because I'm sure it's just as unhealthy here even if it's cheaper.

I sent a few messages to some people on Dave's ESL Cafe. It's a website dedicated to English teachers abroad. The url is I'm gonna meet up with a few people in my area and they're gonna show me around. Once again, the internet is proving it's worth to mankind, even if it is mainly used for pornography and other creepy stuff.

I have my second day at school tomorrow and it's a big day. My television debut happens at 8:40AM on the schools weekly broadcast. Although this isn't an award ceremony like the Oscars, maybe I should've written a speech or something. I dunno. I'm just gonna wing it as usual. That's more my style.

No one's gonna understand anything I say anyway.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I've never seen so many white people in my life...

I had my first taste of the Seoul nightlife this evening. I met up with a couple of friends from Newfoundland who I know from MUN. I met up with them in Itaewon, the expat (foreigner) district of Seoul. There's an American army base in the area so the place is crawling with Westerners.

I took the subway to the Gangnom stop and then got a taxi to Itaewon from there. The cab cost me about $7, but in Canada it would have cost about $20.

We went to a bar called Gekkos (not sure about the spelling) and they treated me to dinner and drinks for the entire night! They can empathize with my situation and know that I don't have much extra money to blow these days, and I only get paid once a month, on the 24th.

The majority of the patrons were Westerners and the food was awesome. Chicken strips and fries for me. They have a DJ there with a computer as his turn table. This allows him to download any song that is requested. Awesome idea.

Itaewon is apparently a rough place. A while back at the bar I was at a Korean girl was killed by some American soldiers. I dunno what the situation was but I'm guessing it probably involved rape. I can see why Koreans hate Americans. I think a lot of them think I'm an army guy because of my short hair. Oh well.

My Newfy friends told me that the average wage in Korea is about 2-3000 Won an hour. English teachers make about 10 times that wage! Life should be good here it that's the case.

Well, I'm tired and half drunk so it's time to go home and get some sleep.

I was gonna wash more clothes but I don't think I have the patience.

Where's Steven Bickford when you really need him?

I went to high school with Steven Bickford. He was handicapped and had a passion for washers and dryers. I sure could have used his help last night.

I spent 4 hours trying to wash one load of laundry. The controls are all in Korean and even though I got my co-teacher to explain them as best she could, something was last in the translation.

The clothes would wash, the water would drain, and then nothing. No spin cycle to or rinse. And the door wouldn't open when I tried to take out my clothes. After trying every possible combination, the damn thing finally rinsed and spun and allowed me to open the door.

I don't have a dryer so I assembled my clothes rack and went to bed.

Now I'm gonna go jump on the subway and check out this city.

I hope I return.

Wish me luck.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Saving my soul...

I forgot to mention that my building has a giant lit up red cross on the roof. They are everywhere here. It ain't the Red Cross humanitarians but instead a Christian church.

The funny thing is that Catholics are not considered Christians here. They are just Catholics. I'm somewhat insulted by this but I'm not in the mood to go on a religious rant right now.

The funny thing is, I never thought I'd live so close to the man upstairs. Well, actually, the church is downstairs.

All of you Protestants out there (AKA "Christians") can interpret this however you like.

I always knew I was ghetto...

I had my first day at my school today. The place is ghetto. It's an old run-down building with dirty floors, dirty walls, and dirty classrooms. The students are underprivileged and are very poor at English. There are over 1500 kids.

But like every school in Seoul, each classroom has a giant TV connected to a computer with high speed internet. They even have a school TV channel where they have a short program every Monday. I'm going to be featured on this week upcoming episode, live and uncut.

Each classroom also has a phone that is used as an intercom so you can contact anyone in the building at any instant.

I was quite discouraged when I was told about my school but once I got there it wasn't bad at all. The place has character. Lots of character.

I met all of my co-teachers and one of them is a 25 year old Korean guy and it was his first day at the school too. He plays guitar and speaks decent English. I'm quite happy about having a Korean friend and he lives relatively close to me, in Seoul terms.

I showed up at the school with nothing but a few bananas in my bag. I had some forms to fill out that required my passport and banking info so the vice-principal gave me a ride to my apartment to grab the stuff. The principal was also very friendly and so was the rest of the staff, although none of them speak English.

I think my year is gonna be a challenge but I have a really good feeling about it for some reason. There's something really cool about being in a crappy school although I can't really explain why I feel this way. I think I'm gonna be able to get along with the kids and although they'll probably be a bit of trouble, I really feel that I will be remembered long after I'm finished at the school.

The school has a big kitchen and staff that serves lunch to the students and teachers. The meal I had today was at least a million times better than anything I ate during my orientation and I got to sit at the VIP end of the table with the principal. I'm the man.

I walked home after school with Hong Mi, one of my female co-teachers. She had the school credit card and we bought a few more things for my apartment. I was told at the orientation that each school has 2 million Won to spend on the teachers to get them set up (although the teachers weren't supposed to know this). That's a full months salary and I intend to spend every bit of it.

While at the store, a lady approached me and asked me if I was an English teacher. I told her I was and she wants me to do some private lessons with her child. When a teacher comes to Korea it is illegal for them to do any work outside of the school so I told the lady that my co-teacher was with me and to go to the next isle. I sneaked to another isle and wrote out my e-mail address and walked by the interested party. She pointed at her cart and I dropped the e-mail address in there. Sneaky.

It's only my second day here and I already have a private. I hope it continues to be this easy. Now I just gotta decide what I'm gonna charge her for the lesson.

Being the nice guy I am, I'll probably underprice myself because there's no way she could afford to actually pay me what I'm worth.

Nobody can.

I'm priceless.