Elwood 5566

I Would Have Played Hooky But…

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Daegu, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on February 16, 2011

Daegu under snow and suddenly I need a ‘sicky’

Podcast 70

I woke this morning (Monday) to find Daegu covered in snow; and heavy clouds, typical of the ones that exist much of the year in the UK, hugging the tops of nearby apartment buildings.  The clouds are gray and that they are pregnant with snow is forecast by the fact they are tinged yellow. There is a bitter wind that nips the extremities and all around large snow flakes, whipped by whirls of wind fall crazily. The flakes are so soft, delicate and light that they accumulate thickly on the branches of nearby pine trees.   I would love this kind of day in the UK, the perfect conditions for phoning in sick if you live within walking distance of work, or if you use public transport or car, then by exaggerating how bad travel conditions are. Neither would there be a need to use one of the trump-card, ‘sicky’ excuses, such as having diarrhoea or cancer; ‘excuses’ which are perfect for terminating any form of interrogation.  Of course, a cancer excuse demands further action as it  doesn’t just go away and colleagues would expect further developments, unless it’s posed as a ‘scare,’ in which case you can  script yourself ‘all clear.’  Neither is it likely to do you any favours if your ploy is foiled.

Most people would spare a chuckle for the colleague  feigning  a cold, flu or diarrhoea but a cancer feign is taking  too far and  is definitely likely to backfire,  if discovered. ‘Diarrhoea’ however, is a great excuse because at 7 am and half way through their egg, bacon and brown sauce, no boss is going to start quizzing the causes or manifestation of your condition.  If your boss is a bit of a twat, a few references to how runny your condition is or how you never quite made it out of bed on time, will quickly see them eager to terminate the call while simultaneously offering you the speediest recovery.   And next, with an authorized day pass, it would be a trip to the local corner shop, braving the conditions  en-route that prevent you from getting to work, for a few bars of chocolate, or whatever comfort food  takes your fancy. Then, once back home, it’s off to bed accompanied by a hot-water bottle and a couple of good movies.

It’s amazing how utterly relaxing and enjoyable a ‘mental health day’ is when taken in someone else’s time. You can never get the right feel if you take one at a weekend or during a holiday because guilt at your laziness gnaws your conscience and in any case, the weather is rarely suitable.  ‘Sickies’ in summer lack the potential to pamper and fail to provide that cosy snugness and if you have a house or garden there’s always something else you should be doing.  Climatic conditions which drive you indoors and force you to seek the warmth of your bed or duvet,  the sort of weather which typifies disaster movies, are prerequisite for a rewarding ‘sicky’ and they are even better accompanied by a suitable  climatic disaster movie involving nuclear winters  or avalanches.  And there’s absolutely no guilt because conditions are so shit you wouldn’t be doing anything in the garden anyway!  But the ultimate ‘sicky,’ one which unless you are cursed with the protestant work ethic, provides a taste of heaven,  is  one which is taken both at somebody else’s expense and during bad weather when the only thing you would be doing, is working.

 

a choppy yellow sea ( winter 2007)

In the UK, a flurry of snow is enough to cause trains and buses to cease  and you can guarantee that once public transport has shut shop, half the population will be phoning in with colds or flu or excuses about being ice-bound. The merest dusting of  anything more than frost and my niece and nephew are begging to be excused school and their front room looks directly onto their school facade.  You can’t blame them as in recent years the example of the rich and powerful are ones predominantly inspired by decadence and self-interest.

snowy sunrise (Do-bi-do, Winter 2007)

When I was a teacher in the UK, I probably averaged 10 ‘sick’ days a year, even if I was on a part-time contract.  Sometimes they were taken  because I had better things to do than work – things such as taking an exam or a driving test. More likely, they were because I was simply stressed and  found it difficult to amass the energy to teach a bunch of kids who usually had little interest in learning. I would have few allegiances to a school in the UK, certainly not as a chalk-front teacher in a run of the mill school (as most are even though they all claim the opposite), and consider teaching a form of prostitution.  Indeed, I’ve known teaching friends incite the scummiest pupil they knew until enraged, they attacked them. Strange, how even though the attacks were minor, sometimes involving pats rather than punches, and the teachers of strong constitution,  they had to take months off work suffering from a range of psychological problems – time off on full pay, of course. I even knew one teacher, a teacher of comparative religious studies, who managed to get long-term sick leave due to ‘stress’  during which she  secretly taught in another school. I admire people who hold down two jobs but that’s  genius and an excuse that possibly exceeds the moral boundaries demarcating ones  involving cancer.

bitterly cold (Do-bi-do, Winter 2007)

In Korea,  life isn’t that laid back and most people still make it to work or school through both bad weather and illness and often both! I’ve not had one day off for sickness in four years, not even for a genuine sickness! Even when I’ve had a problem, as I have had today with a buggered knee, I’ve gone to work and simply suffered. This is partly because I’m a personal friend of my boss but it’s also because the kids are decent and working conditions good.  I know this isn’t the case in all Korean schools, but it is in mine. But on a day like today, with Daegu buried in snow, the temperature freezing and the visage from my one-room like a scene from The Day After Tomorrow,  I feel a yearning, a pang for something British and for once it’s not roast beef, roast potatoes or  a pint of British bitter.   The adverse weather conditions have initiated a cultural call, a siren invoking  me to invent an appropriate excuse and play hooky and doing so is a cultural institution as British as fish and chips.  If I was British Rail the announcement on all stations throughout the next few days would be,  ‘services suspended until further notice!’  Suddenly, I realise the mild headache I felt all last night, that would otherwise have been the initial stages of a brain tumour,  are just my imagination. Reluctantly, I pull on my coat and gloves and head out into the Arctic winter, on my way to work!

‘Winter 2007 – perfect dossing weather

Footnote – You know how every two hundred photos you take you have one that’s actually decent?  Well. yesterday I had two which encapsulated the conditions which inspired the content of this post. And then, after ‘processing’ them they were somehow deleted. I was quite pissed off!  Hence the Winter 2007 photos.

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The Boy on the Stair

Posted in Diary notes, Education by 노강호 on February 12, 2011

high school students

For the last two years my alarm call has been the footsteps of a high-school boy. I’ve never seen him and the only reason I assume it’s a boy is the manner in which he descends from the apartments, perhaps two stories above; he seems to take five steps at a time and it only takes him seconds from beginning his descent to exiting the building. The head of my bed is against the wall at the foot of which he lands as he jumps down each flight of stairs. And I assume he is a high school student because no middle school boy would be in such a rush to get to school.

With the winter vacation, his footsteps and my alarm call have been absent but with the start of the ‘prep’ week during which students return to school and settle into their new classes, his feet once again provided a noisy reveille. The ten-day spring break now begins and their will be a short respite before he returns, all the more frantic as I would assume this is his third year (고삼) and the most frantic year of a  Korean student’s life.

 

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Freebies in the Hotel of Love

Posted in Diary notes, services and facilities by 노강호 on December 25, 2010

I stopped over in Ch’eonan to visit an old friend and stayed in the’ Hilton Hotel.’ Of course, it wasn’t the exclusive ‘Hilton’ and some would dispute it was a ‘hotel’ at all but a ‘love motel’ and certainly as I checked in a couple of teenagers were doing the same and looking very eager to get down to business. The boy, lucky in more ways than one,  looking a little sheepish, was stood holding a bag from which some snacks and a bottle of coke poked while his girlfriend paid the bill. The room was 50.000 Won (£25) and I wasn’t really expecting too much but it was impeccably clean and well sized.

central Ch’eonan

I’m always lauding the Korean system of ‘service’ and all the little freebies customers are given to encourage their patronage. My room had a small refrigerator stocked with bottled water and a few cans of coffee. Unlike the real ‘Hilton Hotel’ where the exact same cans would cost you 4000 Won (£2), these were complimentary. Likewise, large bottles of hair shampoo, conditioner, body gel and a large tube of toothpaste were provided in the bathroom and a hair dryer and various items for women stocked a small dressing table. On the wall was a large plasma screen under which sat a computer which provided access to the internet, games and movies, including pornography, all of which were complimentary.

The only item I didn’t particularly like was the enormous mirror which ran alongside the bed and which, as I was sleeping nude, I couldn’t face until the lights were off. The final touch, an amusing one, were the complimentary condoms and toothbrushes in a small basket on the table. The condoms, described as ‘specially designed skin for her,’ were called ‘Salama’ but somehow it seemed more appropriate to read the brand as ‘Salami.’

Specially designed ‘skin’

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‘Taff Coleman’ 5th Royal Inniskiilling Dragoon Guards – Epitaph

Posted in Diary notes by 노강호 on December 5, 2010

Please note: I have re-posted this on a blog suitable for adding lengthy and substantive accounts of ‘skins’ and life in the Inniskillings. It is intended to compliment Facebook which has a specific function and is not suited to recording greater detail. I would ask any ‘skin’ or friend thereof, to leave messages at this site rather than here. Thanks! (Philip ‘Taff’ Coleman – Epitaph)

I do not usually use this blog for anything but posts relevant to my life in Korea but made this an exception. I was devastated to receive news of the death of one of my old army friends, Phillip (‘Taff’) Coleman, who would have been 53 on the 15th of December (2010). He was killed, instantly, early in the morning of December 1st, on his way to Gatwick Airport, where he worked. I was unable to leave these comments on the Facebook site for the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Band Members Past and Present, they don’t allow for a post of longer than a 1000 characters. ‘Taff’ deserves more!  I decided to host them here. Excuse the euphemisms introduced in this edited version – decorum necessitates…

and his lovely smile

I have special memories of Taff and he has a very close place in my heart which a few band members serving from that period, will understand. On the day I left the band, during which we’d been friends for 12 years, he gave me a final hug as I stood waiting to board the bus back to the UK. As he kissed my cheek he whispered, that if ever one of his children were ‘that way inclined’, he’d simply remember me and it would never be a problem. They were his exact words and he was crying as he spoke them. I had some excellent army friends and ‘Taff’ was one of the best!

5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Band. Paderborn, Germany c 1987. ‘Taff’ is at the very back

I left the band in 1988 and in the period since then, 22 years, we only met the once. It was a fleeting reunion, probably only of minutes, in 1989, during a break in the Colchester Tattoo rehearsals. Despite our close friendship, we never talked on the phone, never once e-mailed each other and never once connected via Facebook.  I always thought I’d see him again – sometime…somewhere… I think we both did!

‘Taff’ left the band not too long after I did and for a long time he seemed to disappear but every now and then, as if coming up for air, I’d hear rumours about him: one time I heard he was working in Wigan, then I heard he worked for Twinnings tea company. Another time I heard he was appearing on the TV show Gladiators. I’ve no idea how true any of them were.

In 1976, when stationed in Cambrai Barracks, Caterick,  Pete Middleton, Adrian Dawson, Taff,  John Adye and myself were all part of a little group and every Friday we held a meeting to ‘front-stab’ each other (because band life was  incredibly bitchy).  One of us recorded and wrote the minutes and we each paid a weekly subscription, kept in a jar, which we used to pay for curry evenings in Darlington. After the meeting we’d often make mashed potatoes and cook a fray Bentos steak and kidney pie and then watch the Friday night horror movie. The group probably didn’t survive very long, but I remember it well.

If not for Facebook, this would be the only photo I have of him, taken in 1976 in Cambrai Barracks, Caterick. You can see the start of the moors through the window

Caterick is where I have my deepest memories of him. On Wednesdays, sports afternoon,  the ‘club,’ along with Chris Woolnough, who was sort of an associate member, would go into  Richmond and have pate and toast, or buttered scones, at the King’s Head, or we’d have lunch at the Belle Nook. Later, we’d go to the auction house and maybe buy some stuff. The old lady who used to work in those dusty, ancient rooms would refer to us as ‘my boys.’ I can still hear her cracked old voice with its comforting broad northern accent. She would have died years and years ago but she used to mother us, dearly! I once bought a second hand piano at the Richmond Auction house as well as the Baby Belling cooker in which we cooked our tinned pies.

The King’s head Hotel, Richmond. ‘Taff ‘would remember this well

Our friendship could easily have survived a long and longer chasm because we knew each other so well and unwittingly, knew this.  We ‘grew-up’ together and he was the third person I came out to. First was Adrian Dawson, then Pete Middleton, and then ‘Taff ‘- basically, the Front Stabbing Club. I ‘came out’ to him as we sat taking a ‘breather’ on a small bridge on the moor, out on the tank tracks, during a run. He didn’t talk to me for a few days. He wasn’t happy about my sexuality and even less into the idea I had a crush on him. But ‘Taff’ was always his own man, confident and strong, characteristics that came out when he played the euphonium,  and after a few days pondering the issue, he apologized for being ‘stand offish’ and for the next thirteen years, never once let me down.

I do not doubt that our personalities changed in the years since we left the band, I do not doubt there developed some big differences, that’s natural, but we had enough history and experience between us to temper significant changes. But it is a shame that the envisioned reunion, I, we,  thought might one day occur, will never take place and it is a greater travesty he has gone at such an important point in his life and those closest to him.

The ‘display photo’ from his Facebook site

Only a few days ago, I was looking at photos from his recent marriage and saw the display photo of of a motorbike. I had this fleeting image of ”Taff’ on a high-powered bike and could imagine him enjoying the thrill of biking – that was part of his character. ‘Taff’ was a proper ‘man’ and into ‘man’ things: cars, bikes, the tattoo on his arm, tinted sun-glasses,  often pushed up on his head, a sweat band around  his forehead, chewing chewing gum – I can see  him ‘sporting’ them all at different times of the life during which I knew him and always with a big smile, the same smile seen in his wedding photographs and the same smile that had enamored me as an adolescent coming to terms with my sexuality. And I can just as easily see him on a monster of a bike with leathers and a snazzy helmet. ‘Taff’ wasn’t reckless or a ‘tearaway,’ far from it, but on this occasion was tragically unlucky.

‘Taff’ was married to Janette(nee Martin) on October 23rd 2010.

And I now realise, as a chasm begins to stretch between us and from which I can no longer rescue or resolve anything, that I know nothing about him. Did he have brothers or sisters? Does he still have a mother or father? What happened to his children and did he have more? Where did he spend his childhood and what was it like?  Today, I searched his Facebook, searching all its nooks and crannies with more gusto than I ever do on such sites, looking for answers, looking  for his embodiment in text, for a fading reminder of his being; but the only comment, other than his e-mail address which either I’d never noticed or always planned write to, sometime, was promising to provide the website link for his wedding photos. His final words, ‘but don’t hold your breath!’ Unfortunately, ‘Taff,’ time’s hooded harbinger, beat us to it. I neither considered such questions nor sought such answers before but as usual, it is when we no longer have something that its value becomes all the more apparent; all the more desired.

in his face, the boy and man  I remember

What farewell does one mutter to a friend on the precipice of that cataclysmic departure? What words finalise the epitaph with enough respect, and grandeur and at the same time encapsulate the intensity of emotion generated? Three words, virginal, emerge renewed and are forever mutated. Three words suddenly imbued with meaning beyond meaning, and which stir an accompanying melody, a lament. Three words detailed to encompass so much and sentinel the point beyond which a new chasm separates us and in which the tangibility of ’sometime’, and ‘somewhere’ evaporate. Three words to emblazon the entrance to departure: ‘Fare Thee Well…’

 

Fare Thee Well

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A Forgotten Division – Cyprus (키프로스)

Posted in Comparative, Diary notes by 노강호 on December 3, 2010

 

Monday 3rd of December, 1973.  Polemedia Camp, Berengaria, Limassol, Cyprus. Aged 17 in a country about to be divided

A little indulgence into my past as 37 years ago today I was on Guard Duty, aged 17, in Polemedia Camp, Berengaria, Cyprus. A country shortly destined to be divided and which as remained so ever since, Without doubt the most fantastic potential holiday island I have ever been too was Cyprus. I spent six months on this Mediterranean island in 1974 as part of the United Nations peace keeping force. Cyprus was amazing and I remember Christmas 1973 because in the same day we went skiing up Mount Troodos we drove 60 minutes to the coast where on the most beautiful of beaches, Lady’s Mile, nestled below the ancient temple of Apollo Hylattes (Apollo of the Woodlands), we went swimming. Lady’s Mile, out favourite beach, was always deserted as there was very little tourism. Today it is as crowded as any beach on the Costa del Sol.

The Island of Aphrodite, Cyprus

Overlooking Aphrodite’s Rock, 1973

New Year’s Day, 1974 between the Temple of Apollo Hyllattes and Lady’s Mile beach

Lady’s Mile after the tourist invasion

I left the Island in 1974, shortly after my 18th birthday and three months later, a coup d’etat  by Greek  nationalists Cypriots led to a Turkish invasion which resulted in the island being divided into Greek and Turkish halves. The northern half, approximately 36% of the island, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is only recognised, by Turkey.

Temple of Apollo Hylattes – in 1973 an abandoned, over-grown piles of rocks which had few visitors and which we stumbled across

Ist of January 1974. Temple of Apollo Hylattes. The one advantage of the tourist industry is that this important site is now tended

Mount Troodos

To most of the world, it would seem that only Korea is divided but so too is Cyprus and it is perhaps understandable why; Cyprus isn’t strategically important in terms of global domination as is testified by its absence of US military bases, so prolific around the globe. Lesson? Korea isn’t the only divided country in the world!

I served with the Regimental Band of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards from September 1973-February 1988. (Polemedia Camp, Berengaria, Limassol, c. October 1973-March 1974).

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An Autumn morning in the Rose Garden (장미공원)

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Photo diary, plants and trees, seasons, video clips by 노강호 on November 29, 2010

blaze of autumn

In Autumn, you can often kick or push a small tree and the leaves fall like snow.  Last weekend I noticed several people , mostly couples, kicking trees and then getting all excited as they stood in the brief leaf storm.  In England, the air to usually too damp for the leaves to turn crispy and English leaves, sodden, soggy and sloppy, are notorious for sabotaging our rail network. Indeed, in just a few days the trees in one road,  golden yellow, have been blown barren by a bitter wind that bites your face.  In my UK garden, the defoliation of summer’s leaves is a long and slow process and even late December some leaves will have avoided being blown off.

These photographs were taken on or around 18th of November, which is actually winter rather than autumn, when most of the trees still had leaves and they were at their most dramatic. Most were taken around 7.30 in the morning with a frost over the ground and light mist in the air.

autumn colours

Autumn across the rose garden

contrasts

while I took these photos, suneung was just about to begin

the chong-cha (정자) at the rose garden's center

it's easy to see why the hanja character for autumn, is a combination of tree and fire

another blaze

rose, high rise and mountain

in the background is the boys' high school where the suneung was about to start

rose and high rise

and then home

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Comparing the Intensity of the Memi (매미) Song Across Summer

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, seasons, video clips by 노강호 on November 28, 2010

This is just a boring snippet for those interested in insects and in particular, the memi (cicada – 매미). Suprisingly, my posts on the memi have attracted considerable hits so I have put the three video-clips together. Before watching, I’d advise you turn down your volume, especially if you are wearing headphones. The memi song can damage your hearing!

All vodcasts were recorded in the same location at approximately the same time of day.

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Suneung Thursday 18th of November 2010 ‘D Day’

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Daegu, Diary notes, Education, video clips by 노강호 on November 20, 2010

On Thursday 18th of November, suneung (수능),  I set off at 6.45 am to watch the arrival of students at Song-So High School. By the time I arrived, around 7.30, most of the students had passed through the gates but a large ground of parents and supporters, plus a lot of police, were still in place and students were still arriving. I hadn’t even stopped to watch when a cup of grapefruit tea was thrust in my hands and a few moments later a woman police-officer handed me some chocolate gold coins.

Song-So Boys High School

plenty of hot and sticky drinks

The event was a little disappointing as even by seven am many students have entered their schools and nothing special was happening outside the Song-So High School other than there being lots of police and plenty of people taking photographs.

Students arriving

celebrity treatment

'Junior students rallying the third year candidates

Paying respects to exam candidates

a mother prays

sticking toffee on wall in the hope of success

I bought some chocolates for an old student resitting suneung but I couldn't get hold of him on the phone to get his address. He's currently doing his military service. So, 박진영, if your reading this I hope you did well.  As for the chocolates? They were truly  gross and greasy ersatz chocolate  the type of which predominates in the USA (eg, Hershey) '왝' But I still ate it!

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It's Kimchi Time – November 2010

Posted in Diary notes, it's kimchi time, My Recipes, recipes for Kimchi, vegetables by 노강호 on November 12, 2010

Usually, around this time of year I make a new batch of kimchi. The last batch was made in May and  since August or thereabouts, I have occasionally had to wash mold from the top leaves, which has been excellent in kimchi-stew. However, I didn’t really enjoy it as a side-dish. To be honest, my May batch had a bad start as once again the first process, salting the leaves, didn’t go well. This time I  consulted a couple of grandmothers who recommended the coarsest salt. So, after finding two very tight, and heavy cabbages, at 6000 Won, (£3), I sprinkled the leaves with salt and rather than immerse them in water, just sprinkled a cup’s worth over the top. The cabbages took about 24 hours to completely flop but this might not be unusual as the temperature was quite cool, if not cold, in my kitchen.

tight and heavy

salting process

suitably limp

I was also extra careful making the paste and this time used twice as much of everything except the fish sauce which I reduced a little. I was also careful to wash the salt off the cabbages and let them stand in water for an hour as in the past they have remained salty.

ready to paste the leaves

The sauce was slightly sweeter than usual and the consistency much thicker which I think was the result of carefully draining the leaves and using double the ingredients stipulated in Maangchi’s recipe. I didn’t alter the recipe and simply made double the amount. A few friends suggested it needs some additional salt which is fine as too little can be remedied but too much can’t.

the finished product

Don’t forget, for a great recipe for making kimchi, visit Maangchi.


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Memory Lane

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on November 1, 2010

Kimpo Airport

I often mention how rapidly Korea is changing. I have only lived here four and a half years, spread across ten years, so in comparison to friends who have over twelve years experience, I’m somewhat of an infant. I would love to have been here fifteen or twenty years ago, when Korea was truly a country where other than American soldiers, few ventured. ‘Fat ‘has arrived in Korea, an observation I often point out in my posts on bathhouses, and EPIK has brought an army of teachers into schools to such an extent our uniqueness has been lost. And no doubt those who first came to Korea in the 90’s will have noticed even greater changes.

Kimpo in 2000

When I arrived in Korea in September 2000, Inch’on International Airport was still being built and looking back, it is quite incredible to think that the piddly sized Kimpo was the country’s major airport. Kimpo was basically one big room through which people arrived and departed and I’m sure it’s bigger today than it was ten years ago. Few restaurants had English menus and on every street corner were  ‘video shops’ renting the latest videos. The internet contained little information on Korea in terms of cooking, culture or history, zilch on hanja and very little on Korean. Few teachers had air-conditioning and for those in English academies, split schedules, a common practice, meant the 6 hours you’d been led to believe you’d end up teaching in Korea, were probably closer to 8 or 9. Maybe it is still the same in some language academies, but  class sizes  were big, sometimes twenty students packed in small classes and often with no air-conditioning. There were fewer academies and my school, the largest in the area, occupied three floors of a large building. There were few resources, wall sockets often didn’t work and only a couple of tape players if they did and if you complained you were simply told to read to the kids. Most of the westerners I remembered meeting at the time seemed to work  under similar conditions.  Back then, university posts really were the cream of jobs with significantly more pay than other types of teaching and before the recent changes in bureaucracy, transferring from one town to another or one school to another, was easy.

If you had a pair of shoes like this in 2000, you were 'sexy.'

Big shoes were the fashion on young lads. By ‘big’  I mean long and so long that I thought I easily find a pair of English size 13’s. Indeed, they were so long, a little like the old ‘winkle-pickers,’ that they turned up and gave them a medieval appearance. On younger boys, even very young ones, a long forelock on the side of the head was tinted gold meanwhile their teeth were black. While older children seemed to have good dental hygiene, milk teeth were seen as unimportant and many of my younger students had black baby teeth. Today, this is something I rarely see.

Coffee beans or ground beans were hard to buy and I remember a coffee filter machine in supermarkets attracted small audiences and if you wanted a bottle of wine, if you could afford it and could find it, they were stored in a glass cabinet and the choice very limited. It seemed everyone wanted English lessons and were willing to pay for the privilege and being stopped and asked if you would teach privately, was an almost daily occurrence. In my diary for Saturday 18th of November, 2000, I wrote:

Here (KFC in Song-So) I met a man who wanted English lessons and said he would take me sightseeing to temples in return for lessons. Then a boy of about 11 came and talked to me and introduced me to his little brother. Later, yet another stranger came up and asked if I would read stories in his kindergarten and I said I would ring him on Monday.

The KFC near Han-song Plaza has closed and is now a stationary store in which the glass stairs are still embossed with Colonel Saunders’ face, but in the last two years I haven’t once been asked to teach privately by strangers in restaurants or on the street.  I used to teach a few privates on a Sunday and would earn around a 100 000 Won an hour for teaching a small class of 3 or 4 students.

at one time were were as novel as coffee-filter machines and wine

Your presence, especially with children, was often enough for people to stop, gasp and gawk at you in awe.  Only yesterday, a boy of 14 told me how he remembers seeing westerners when he was four years old and how he would be filled with excitement. Few schools had resident foreign English teachers and what foreigners existed were a novelty. Many of the children, and some adults, you met ten years ago had never spoken to a foreigner. Then there was the starring… I remember times when the constant starring stressed me to such an extent, I’d occasionally step into a recess or doorway for a break. Unlike today, when a solitary passenger stares lazily from a busy bus, a westerner on the street would turned every head. I imagine it was even more intense in the early 90’s and 80’s and probably not much different to an experience I once had on a station platform in Delhi, in 1984, when a crowd so large gathered to stare at my friend as he opened a map, that after a few minutes you couldn’t see him. In the Korea of today, you are noticed and not much else and it rarely causes excitement or stops people in their tracks.

A few weeks ago I was up Warayong Mountain in Song-So, Daegu; I’d stopped for a coffee at a small stall almost at the summit and was attempting a conversation with a woman sat on the next bench along.  I noticed a couple of small children coming down into the clearing where we sat and around which were various communal exercise machines. Suddenly, their faces broke into excitement and they started running and skipping towards my seat. For a moment, it was the kind of reaction I remember on my first visit when kids would run up and then stand and stare, or might bravely attempt to say hello or stroke the hairs on a bared arm. However, ten years later and the focus of their attention isn’t me but the dog sat beside the woman with whom I am talking.  The children skip up to it and lavish it with as much excitement and attention as they’d once have given a foreigner. It isn’t even a real dog but one of those ‘handbag pooches’ which look more  like a wisp of cotton-wool on straw legs. I could have understood if it had been a real dog, a labrador or sheep dog, but this pathetic specimen! I realised in that instant that this is what it has come to; a miniature poodle now commands more attention, is more interesting and exotic than a foreigner. I am not exaggerating when I add that despite my height and size, and sitting right next to them, they didn’t even notice me.

a puff of wind and it's dead

Amongst all these changes however, one convenient constant; unlike the rest of the world prices have changed little. I bought a hanja dictionary in 2000 at a cost of 15.000 Won and in exactly the same store, nine years later, the same book cost 15.500 Won. That’s an increase of 25 pence in UK sterling! Quite amazing!

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