Lisa’s Moaning. March 27th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)
On Tuesday, Mr Joe took the foreign teachers, and the Korean teachers from the Yon San Dong school, out for a meal. Of course, Mr Joe never told me we were going out and as usual I heard it ‘through the grape-vine.’ I have told Joe many times to let me know when he plans to do things as I have such a busy schedule. The meal had been planned for Friday, but then I heard he had changed it as he was going to Seoul on Saturday and was no doubt going the be having a heavy soju session. He had a little go at joking with us by telling us that the Korean president, Kim Dae-young, wanted his advice on things and that was why he was going to Seoul. As I was already supposed to be meeting Pak U-chun on Friday evening, I told the other teachers I wouldn’t be going but Mr Joe is very cunning. On Tuesday afternoon he turned up at his office, which is situated right behind my desk in the reception area where Nana and I keep our books and relax in the five minutes between each class. He quite often comes in and then can be seen sitting in his office, feet up on his sofa, reading a newspaper or watching his television or even sleeping. I can always tell when he is sleeping as his feet dangle of the end of the sofa which can be seen even if his door is slightly ajar. Well, it was the start of the last lesson and I was planning to make a rapid escape so as to avoid him. As I passed his door I could see he was still sleeping but then, just as the lesson bell sounded, he appeared behind my back.
“Nick, what time do you finish?” he asked.
“9.30, about,” I replied with a ready-made reply.
“What! You teach that late?”
“No! That’s when I finish taekwon-do!”
“What time does that start then?” he asked.
“Well, we are going for a meal at 6.50.”
He had caught me out as there was time to go for a meal and then go training. I suppose I could have made a further excuse, but I didn’t. At around 6.30 the crowd from Yon San Dong, arrived and walked down to a nearby restaurant that serves pork barbecue. The pork is sliced thinly rather like bacon and you barbecue at a grill on your table. As usual there were plenty of small side dishes. The meal was really tasty and a little later Lisa arrived looking very grumpy. Mr Joe had cancelled her class and sent someone to walk her to the restaurant. She wasn’t pleased as she had prepared a lesson and to make matters worse Joe had her ‘escorted’ to the restaurant. There really is no pleasing her and she is forever moaning. To think her lesson was cancelled and she was being paid to eat a free meal. Later, Mr Joe asked if she wanted to come to the noraebang for a sing-song and she curtly shouted down the length of the table;
“No! No! No! Definitely not, Mr Joe! I have to be ready for work tomorrow morning and I have to prepare!” She is such a snappy old bag. I encouraged her to come down for a bit but when we got into the singing room she sat on her own and refused to sing anything.
Mr Joe is excellent at singing and performed all his favourites which are usually anything by the Bee Gees, Tom Jones or the Beatles. Lisa has been blagging on about how she is a writer for a local paper in New Zealand, where she lives. She keeps telling me that her local paper wants her to write an article on life in Korea. She certainly doesn’t open her self up to new experiences and is very colonial in her attitudes. For her, nothing is right in Korea, it’s either too dirty, poorly organised or it’s uncivilised. I wouldn’t mind so much if I heard her saying something positive about the place to counterbalance her criticism, but she doesn’t.
On Saturday I spent the afternoon in and around Song So with Pak U-chun and her daughter, Ga-in. She bought me lunch in a small Chinese restaurant that is right opposite Macdonalds and which I must have passed a hundred times but never noticed. It is a small delivery restaurant with only a few tables in it. I have counted twelve restaurants between my house and Di Dim Dol (디딤덜), a walk that takes only five minutes. All of them, with the exception of Macdonalds and KFC (K P shee), are delivery restaurants and always have a couple of mopeds outside them (Incidentally, Macs started offering a delivery service around 2008). The roads and pavements are crawling with mopeds that rush food to work places and apartments. The riders, mostly teenage boys, don’t wear protective clothing or crash helmets and carry a large metal box, containing the meals, in one hand. I often wonder how many of these lads get killed or injured each year.
Yu-chun ordered seafood fried rice and it was delicious. It wasn’t particularly Chinese but the absence of red pepper paste, plus king prawns, bamboo and water chestnuts, made a welcome change. However, few meals in Korea are complete without kimchi or moo (mooli).
Suddenly the blossom is out! I’ve been waiting for it to flower all week and all at once it has. All the trees now have a green fuzziness and I expect they will be fully green in a few weeks. The grass, parched and brown throughout the winter and since I arrived in Korea, is slowly coming back to life. When you walk past the flower shops, there is the most beautiful smell of hyacinths, azaleas and spring flowers. I miss my garden and plants back home!
Before Yu-chun left, we sat in a park just down the road from my school and in the space between Song So and Kemyoung University. Dusk was falling and on the football pitch boys kicked about a ball, their legs obscured by the dust kicked up by their feet. We sat under one of the typical oriental arbours that you see dotted around every park and on top of small hills throughout the city. They don’t serve much purpose in the winter and spring but I am aware that their importance will grow with the rising temperature. Then they will be a respite from the glaring heat which I regard with trepidation.
After I left Yu-chun and Ga-in, I went straight to Pak Jun-hee’s restaurant as it was time for my weekly lesson with his son, Pak Ji-won. During the lesson he asked me if there were taekwon-do, kumdo, or hapkido schools in the UK? I explained that the main form of popular sport in the UK was football and that martial art clubs were normally once a week in a grotty church hall. He looked at me with a puzzled expression.
“But football is just a game.”
“How are taekwon-do, hapkido and gumdo different? Aren’t they games too?” I asked.
“No! No! They are not games. Games are for fun and enjoyment. If you don’t have martial arts schools how do you train your mind to concentrate? How do you develop your discipline?”
“We don’t!” I replied.
On Sunday I relaxed, watched a video and did my stretching programme and then went to have a chat with a woman who runs a nearby pc (PC 방) room. She is going to Canada and wants a few English lessons or at least the chance to talk with an English speaker. I’m getting rather tired of talking English all the time with people who don’t speak it as a first language. Everyone here wants lessons. I reckon I could stand in the street and ask the first person I see if they’d like some lessons and the chances are probably 99% that they would be interested. In 8 years of teaching in the UK, I have not once been asked by a pupil for me to give them extra lessons.
I left my apartment as usual this morning, at about 8.30am, to go to a nearby pc bang (PC 방). As I was coming down the stairs I realised I needed to blow my nose but I was already halfway down the stairs. I couldn’t be bothered going back to the house so when I got out onto the street I just ‘henged’ it up onto the pavement. “Heng’ is the Korean word for this practice. After, I stood laughing because quite an unpleasant mass lay on the sidewalk and my nose felt wonderfully clear. No having to blow your gubbings into a hanky, no having to smear it around your nose and lips and no having to put it in your packet to be carried around all day. When I think of it hankies are such filthy, revolting things.