Any of my Korean students will fetch me a cup of coffee if asked and occasionally they will buy me one from one of the numerous coffee shops in my area. I’m reminded of the time, when as a new teacher in my first post, I had taken a coffee into my classroom and when I came to drain the dregs discovered a couple of drawing pins lurking therein. I only took cups into my classroom on a few occasions and quickly decided it was dangerous to drink from a cup left in the presence of students. I also learnt to check any seat before sitting as upturned drawing pins were also a common means of abusing staff. Even a jacket I once left on the back of my chair was removed, thrown on the floor with my opened wallet and bank cards discarded on top. I can narrate these events to Korean students and they will be mildly shocked but there are some ‘stories’ I wouldn’t dream of attempting to narrate as they are simply too shocking for naive Korean sensibilities: boys masturbating under desks, on one occasion a boy flashed his dick to a female colleague, or girls giving boys oral sex in view of the staff room.
Recently (now a year or two ago) however, an event occurred in a British school in which a boy stuffed his penis and testicles in a female teacher’s coffee mug, took a photo of his exploit and then posted the photo on his Facebook account. The teacher subsequently drank from the cup before discovering what had happened. Unfortunately the only major link I can find for the article is at the Sun, Britain’s crappiest, and most widely read daily newspaper. I originally read it on MSN News. Incidentally, another incident in the same week involved a girl putting laxative in teachers’ coffee. I had difficulty telling the cock and sac story to all but a few very close Korean friends and certainly couldn’t explain it to a class of Korean 16 year olds whom I can mortify by simply sucking my pen. They would not be able to comprehend why any student should behave in such a manner and would see only disgust and depravity in the act. However, I could easily tell it to British 13 year olds many whom would find it funny and a valid reprisal to make on a teacher. Indeed on the MSN comments associated with the news report, some individuals questioned why a teacher would have a cup in the classroom while some simply claimed a teacher deserved such treatment.
I wondered where those ESL teachers come from who claim Korean kids are as bad as British kids given there are so many blogs and books written by full-time British teachers who are appalled by the current standards. Indeed, it’s usually only school managers and those who’ve had to prostitute their personal integrity to gain promotion, those who live in self-denial in order to maintain their sanity and preserve at east a little self-respect, or the lucky few in truly decent schools, who will deny that something is seriously amiss. I could form a small club with the number disgruntled teachers I know and I’ve known a number of excellent teachers who’ve left the profession because it excessively frustrated them. The idea of returning to British shores to teach fills me with dread.
Britain is not the worst country in the world so why pick on it and not a really bad country? The point is I’m not incensed by the inadequacies of other countries! I don’t’ own their passports: I’m British and I’m forced to write that on official forms and documents. When it comes to learning we encourage students to accept criticism as a means of bettering their ability but many people erect a brick wall when it comes to the criticism of their nation. I’m not unpatriotic, conversely I am patriotic. (Indeed, at one time ‘patriotic’ encompassed the criticism of your country as it was borne out of good intention and the desire for your country to better itself). And of course, I have been socialised in the UK, I speak English, I have an ancestry in the British Isles. Everything about me is British and more specifically, English.
When I have lived abroad for long periods, especially in radically different cultures, I start yearning for England: English mist, damp mornings, English rain, green grass, decent tea, an English Christmas, Oh!… and the wonderful sounds of Elgar, even though I hate the nationalism it has come to represent. I miss those orchestral marches with their majestic dignity that is so vividly depicted by the characteristic combination of clarinets in their rich chalmeau register fortified by the cellos and in the background the pizzicato pulse of basses. There is no hurry, the pace is relaxed and only the British have quick marches which are so leisurely you can almost hear the snort of immense cavalry horses. And when the little timpani roll climaxes with the brush of cymbals, a thrilling, gentle ‘tushhhh,’ an orgasmic tremor, evoking a tiny tinkle of brass, breast plates, dangling swords and medals, how staggeringly imperial! The culmination of an epoch of world domination depicted not by Sousarian vigour; its thrashing cymbals, blasting trombones amidst the bling-bling sparkle of patent leather, staybright and plastic, but by sublime subtlety. And what of roast beef, bitter, lazy English villages and English eccentricity? When I’m away from England, Britain, for too long, there is a yearning, almost at the genetic level which reminds me of my roots and kindles what little allegiance I have. I too am British and this memory, this imaginative kindling is my England and ultimately the place, for better or worse, I feel at home. In this context one can argue it is very patriotic to voice a concern that it has a scummy façade, that it is not aspiring to be better either in terms of its physical being or in the nature of its citizens.
©努江虎 – 노강호 2013 Creative Commons Licence.
Every now and then I’m handed a piece of writing from a student that encapsulates not just the uniqueness of the Korean way of life but captures some universal element associated with childhood.
박민수 영어일기. Sunday I went to the Homeplus (Tesco) with my family. First I cut my hair. Next I bought bananas, Nintendo battery, soccer ball and we bought many things.
My hair is very bad because I say: ‘don’t cut short!’ cut small! But hair dresser make mistake he cut very many hair. Now I am ashamed and very very ugly. I want to wear cap and return time.
박믄수 영어일가. I was told off by my mom because I was late my academy because I playing soccer. I be beaten with broom. I cry because my mom is very stronger looks like bear. Maybe I had many bruis on my bum. It was my mistake. Sometime all people make mistake. So broom is unfair. Fortunately, today is very many academy so I not get beaten.
©Bathhouse Ballads – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
One of my students didn’t do well in his Korean language exams and so his teacher, a woman, gave him five thrashes across his palm with a large stick. Jack is a friendly student with a mild manner and despite not being the quickest academically, he always tries hard. I’m not against the stick but I am against using it either excessively or for punishing students because they didn’t perform well.
I suppose he was quite proud of his bruises and told me that though he didn’t cry, it hurt so much afterwards he had to go to the nurse’s office for some ice. I am aware how situations and events can be wrongly reported by students but part of me wants to confront teachers who so viciously beat kids simply because they did not do well in an exam. Meanwhile, plenty of other punishments exist for ‘naughty’ students.
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
So, I gave one of my classes a quiz yesterday afternoon and a number of questions were on completing sequences. ‘Sunday, Saturday, Friday?’ I ask one student. ‘He replies, ‘yesterday!’
Later, I ask a student to describe ‘toothpaste.’ His answer, ‘toothbrush sauce!”
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
I had tonsillitis which kept me in bed for three days. I’ve never had tonsillitis before and it was pretty unpleasant. On the first evening I thought I was going to die – I was just freezing cold and couldn’t stop shivering. The next day I managed to go to the doctors – a friend of Mr Joe, who is an ear, nose and throat specialist. I went to him knowing he would contact Joe and tell him I was ill. I’ve taught the doctor’s son and daughter on many occasions. I love the Korean medical system as which doctor you go to depends on your ailment. There are cardiologists, neurologists, urologists etc all over the town. There must be fifty doctors within easy walking distance of my house. Anyway, Dr Um (음) had all the equipment for examining your throat and it more resembled a dentists than a doctors. He poked things onto my tonsils and sprayed stuff on them and I got a penicillin injection straight away. I then went back the next day for another one and within a few days the infection had cleared up.
On the Saturday I went with U Chun, Ga-in and U-no to a big clothes market in the city centre. It was massive as Daegu is a major textiles centre. There was everything and at quite good prices and quality. We ate lunch in a pulgogi restaurant and then I went back home to teach some private classes.
I only have an hour of kindergarten a day but I absolutely hate them. I have five children aged 4 – Buddy, Betty, Anna, David and Jenny. Anna is a real macho little girl and I really like her and David is quite cute but the other girls are shut down and psychologically damaged – like so many Korean girls. Da Hae is still at the school, is still dribbling and still can’t really speak any English. I just go into the class, sit in my chair and call the kids to me, I have no interest or enthusiasm, I am not enthusiastic and I’m sure Sunny, the Korean teacher, thinks I’m a frigging moron. Sometimes the work for them is way too difficult. Today I had to read them a story and Buddy got really confused because the word ‘jet’ was used instead of airplane. I asked the Korean teacher to explain the confusion to him but she said we can’t speak Korean to them. If she hadn’t been there I would have explained in Korean but they really hate you talking any English in a class even if the kids don’t understand or are totally confused.
I have been doing Taekwondo but have to train in the mornings at 7 0’clock. The place is always busy. I have found a relatively quiet place and this morning I saw a praying mantis up close. Ji-won’s final exams are looming and he is stressed out. Whoever heard of a stressed out 18 year old but he actually has a bad stomach due to it. David told me that twice a year Korean school kids are given envelopes to shit in and they have to take a sample of their crap to school so it can be tested. This week we had to celebrate Halloween which was funny as I moaned constantly about it being an example of American Imperialism. It seems all the kindergartens in Song-So were doing the same thing.
I’ve eaten in a pogo restaurant several times. Pogo (복어) is puffer which can be poisonous and for which the chefs have to have a special licence.
POST-SCRIPT TO KOREAN ACCOUNTS PART 2
No further entries were made whilst in Korea. My timetable became so hectic that I had time for little else. The stress was quite crushing and I am surprised the journey to Korea did not make me ill. My bout of tonsillitis strained relationships between Mr Joe and I. During my five day illness, he never bothered to see how I was and nobody was sent to check on me. Indeed, he made several phone calls to my landlord to ask when I was coming to work. When I eventually went back to Di Dim Dol, he ‘ordered’ me back to work. ‘Ordered,’ was the actual word he used. I ended up having the most enormous row with him at the end of which I resigned.
My resignation didn’t really affect my trip and I resigned from the school in late December but remained on until Matt visited me in January. I actually returned to the UK the same day as Matt. If I remember rightly, Matt stayed with me in my apartment for 10 days. I seem to remember we left Korea on Sol (설) which is New Year’s Day. No further diary entries were made until 2006.
©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Written Nov 2002
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.
©Bathhouse Ballads – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
I’m aching this morning as I have joined a Taekwondo school run by a 7th dan, Master Bae. The school is affiliated to the American Martial Arts Association and it is exactly 190 paces from my school. The school, along with most other Korean enterprises seems to be permanently open but my classes run specifically from 8-9pm. The school is large and there are two halls, an office, mats on the floor and various other luxuries not found in Britain. When I began filling out the forms the office was full of grinning Korean boys (and few girls) who found my height and my size 15 trainers amusing. It seems that only youngsters do martial arts here and I am told that adults prefer bowling or golf. I think I am getting private lessons from the instructors. I was measured up for a suit and it should arrive on the 7th. From my extensive training in martial arts in the west, one is taught to constantly bow to instructors and to the training hall but this seems quite the opposite here in Korea. No one bows on entering or leaving the dojang and during the training there is a lot of chit-chat and laughing between the instructor and students and even the ‘Captain,’ as they refer to Mr Bae, gets little deferential treatment. When I took taekwon-do gradings in the UK, under Master Rhee, who was an 8th dan, he was treated like a god and no student was allowed to approach him uninvited. It is a surprise here, to see lazy students who stop exercising if they get tired or can’t keep up but I have since been told that this lax approach is necessary to keep youngsters in the class as martial arts schools are on every street corner. However, even in my school, Hae-song school, I have witnessed some almost brutal discipline. In one session a boy who was messing around was put in a headlock until he passed out. He was just left on the side of the mat to recuperate. One of the instructors often walks around the class with a small sort of hammer which he bashes on the soles of the feet of the youngsters to encourage them to stretch properly. Despite my criticisms most of the children with belts above green seem proficient. Martial arts are very popular here and it is quite common to see youngsters, usually boys, practicing techniques in the street. Yesterday I saw several boys walking through the town in kumdo (the Korean equivalent of Kendo) uniforms. Both carried wooden bamboo swords at their sides. Even the owner of a local restaurant I have been going to has a second degree black-belt. At the end of my last training session, we were all given a letter which I have since had translated; it referred to the equality of women in the training hall.
My flat is only a five-minute walk from the Shane School of English where I am teaching and Nana, my flatmate is very friendly. The flat is well equipped, spacious enough and clean. During the week I moved my bed out of the room and bought Korean bedding as I intend to have a total Korean experience. Nana and I went out for a meal last week. It consisted of barbecued sliced pork which is eaten with a variety of leaves and condiments. Some of the food is quite strange and has textures and tastes which I haven’t experienced before. We got slightly drink on a drink known as soju (소주). After eating we wandered around the town for an hour or so.
The teaching is okay but some of the kids are unruly. Most of the ones I teach are aged 6-13 and one luxury is that you can hit them and physically manhandle them. I have one particularly horrid class, Kindy B and one boy, Peter, was messing around a lot. He did the same last week and when I tried to keep him behind he ran away. Because I can’t speak Korean they take advantage. He did the same this week and when I went to get him he ran around the classroom laughing. Anyway, I pushed all the desks out of the way that were between us and grabbed him by the neck. Then I frog marched him to my desk and kept him stood there until he had stopped crying. Some of the Korean teachers make the boys stand and do ‘pokey drill’ (a British army term for punishment or training where you hold you weapon in painful positions until your arms ache), when they are naughty.
I’ve stopped cooking at home as it is doesn’t cost much more to eat out. On working days I have a big rush to get from my last lesson, which finished as 6.40 and then get home, grab a quick bite to eat and go to the TKD school for eight. I trained every evening this week and yesterday had my first full session in the class. I’ve had individual lessons from both the master and one of the other instructors who can speak some English.