Elwood 5566

Buk-il Boys’ High School. Mon. 17th Sept, 2007. (Korean Accounts 2)

Posted in Diary notes, Education, High school life, Korean Accounts 2 by 노강호 on September 17, 2007

Boys arriving at school: note the boys ‘on duty’ checking the uniforms of arriving students and also the boys saluting the school entrance.

I was up early in the morning and left the house at 7.15 to find my way to the school. Ted and Mr Chǒng had given me directions last night and they were fairly straight forward. From my apartment, which is in a row of one room apartments with its own separate glass door entrance, the school is up a hill. Ted had told me there was a short cut but that to save getting lost that in the morning I should take the long route. The first part of my walk took me past the small shop I had visited last night which I now noticed stood beside another dog soup restaurant. Then I passed a triangular shaped paddy field where Ted had told me to take a right turn. Then I simply had to walk straight up the hill passed a number of small shops and cross a main road to find the school entrance.

Across the paddy field towards my ‘house.’ The school can just be seen in the background

The hill up to Bukil (北一) isn’t that steep but in the heat and humidity I was soaking wet before I was even half way. There was a long string of boys behind me and I didn’t want to have to start conversations on the hill. I was so exhausted by the time I had walked only halfway up the hill that I turned off the road and caught my breath by the school’s baseball diamond. I had forgotten that Koreans, even youngsters, tend to plod up hills and don’t rush like westerners do but in my rush to get to school, and not knowing how long it would take me, I walked at a fair pace. I would have remained longer recuperating at the baseball diamond had I not seen another westerner in the distance and decided to carry on up the hill.

The boys’ gym, on the left, and adjacent girls’ high school

Further up the hill four boys stood ‘at ease’ across the road and as I passed them they stood to attention and bowed at me. A number of boys were doing press ups or burpees on the pavement. At the top of the hill, where the school entrance is situated, three teachers, all armed with sticks stood on duty. I noticed that as the boys passed this point they saluted the school.

The road up to the school, which at the time I didn’t pay much attention to, is lined with trees, cherry trees. At the bottom of the hill there are two enormous sets of iron gates, one for the boys’ school entrance and one for the girls’ school. Between the gates is a sort of guard room and to the side of this, on the boys side of the entrance is the most massive mirror. I have since noticed large mirrors in quite a few places in the school. Beside the road leading up to the school are two terraces, the first contains a number of tennis courts, the second contains the typical sandy parade cum sports which has a number of wisteria entwined arbours and drinking water fountains around its edge. Any British person, especially a teacher is tempted to call this area a play ground but one never sees youngsters playing in it and it is an arena employed more for physical training, assembling the entire school and used by the boys to play various sports. At the head of this arena and opposite the school façade, stands a large, covered podium. In between the back of this and the school façade is the most beautiful garden with pine trees cut and shaped in the traditional Korean manner. A large sculpture stands to the side of the entrance.

The boys’ dormitories

When I arrived at the front of the school Mr Kim was already waiting for me. I was absolutely exhausted and being soaked in sweat and wanting to compose myself before being introduced to anyone else, I asked to be shown the nearest restroom.

There is no time wasting with Korean employment procedures, no time for getting acquainted with systems or methods and neither are any individuals allocated to look after your needs. I don’t know whether or not this is because Koreans have tended to have very little experience of foreign travel or simply because they are ignorant or disinterested in your needs. I have always found that in Korea one has to discover aides and sympathetic helpers from among one’s colleagues. I think that after meeting Mr Kim on the entrance steps to the main building, and after exchanging a few pleasantries, I was taken straight to the humanities department where I was shown my desk and computer and then handed a class timetable. I was introduced to CM, my fellow English speaker. Next I was taken to the teachers meeting room for the typical Monday morning schools briefing. I met the school Principal and then had to give a five minute talk about myself. It was now 8.20 in the morning and I was due to start a class at 9.10am. Looking back on this I cannot belief that just after 10 hours of being in Korea and only after having been in a school for one hour forty minutes, I should then begin teaching.

the school’s facade was very attractive

 CM, whose name is Claude Montgomery Tidwell, is a rather distinguished looking American who is in his early sixties. Like so many older teachers in Korea, especially the ones who have taught in Universities, as CM has, he dresses in that stereotypical fashion reminiscent of Oxbridge; bow ties, tank tops, blazers and tweed jackets and silk ties are all part of his wardrobe. I recently meet a Professor from Ch’ǒnan Dangook University, who I automatically assumed was English; he was dressed entirely  in tweeds, had a silk bow tie, a carved walking stick, which wasn’t for show as he did have a lame leg. I quickly discovered he was from New England and I remember his name as it so suited his attire; it was Michael Huntingdon. Of course few of these ‘professors’ are professors in the British sense of the word. In the UK a professorship is not a teaching position but a position of prestige and status within a department. It is a title conferred on distinguished academics. I have not had experience around Korean English university teachers before but they do like to refer to themselves as ‘professor,’ using it as a prefix to their name. This is obviously a western affectation as Koreans use the title (교수) as a suffix in much the same manner as we use post-nominals. Further, the ‘title’ seems to be one that western teachers will use as a means of identity even after they have left university teaching in the same way it would be used in the UK. However, I would probably do the same if I was teaching in a university.

I had four classes on this day and they all went perfectly. Before each lesson, the class captain stands up and calls the class to attention. All the boys then sit up straight with their hands on their thighs. Next they are given an order to bow. It is possible to begin a class here the very second the bell is sounded which is amazing and so unlike degenerate schools back in the UK.

Sunrise from the school roof

My small apartment, in a complex called Roseville One Rooms, is about a ten minute walk from the school, and is situated in an area of Ch’ǒnan called Shin Bu Dong (신부동). My area consists of a number of ‘one room’ complexes and the nearest land mark is known as Tower Golf. Here there is a large golf range and also a sauna (목욕탕). There are also a number of dog soup restaurants in my vicinity. The daytime heat is very uncomfortable and initially I did not enjoy walking to and from school or even around the school as there are 6 floors and no lifts in the main building. In the first few weeks I didn’t really explore my immediate area though I quickly discovered where the nearest supermarket was – a Lotte Mart which is a short drive from my apartment. To be truthful, I was quite exhausted at the end of a day and didn’t relish going into town or walking around in the heat exploring.

©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Written September 2007

Ch’eonan.September 2007. (Korean Accounts 2)

Posted in Diary notes, General, High school life, Korean Accounts 2 by 노강호 on September 15, 2007

I arrived at Inch‘on airport, Seoul on Sunday 15th of September. I was supposed to be being met by one of the teachers from the school but this plan was abandoned a few days before I departed and they asked me if I could travel to Ch’ǒnan (天安市). The journey from London to Seoul was tiring and in total lasted about 32 hours. I spent 3 hours waiting at Dubai airport. I arrived in Seoul feeling very tired and after a little hassle managed to find a bus that travelled to Ch’ǒnan. The duration of this journey was about one hour fifteen and for most of the journey, which began as dusk was falling, it rained heavily. I had hoped that Ch’ǒnan might be a little less westernized than was Daegu because in the short walk from my apartment there to my old school I passed Baskin Robbins, MacDonalds and KFC. Well, my bus left the highway at the edge of the city and within a minute we were passing through the centre of the town where I know the bus terminal was located and as we approached it we passed The Outback Steakhouse, Baskin Robins, Dunkin Donuts, Macdonalds, KFC and as we turned into the terminal, I could see a Burger King a little way off in the distance.

It was raining heavily as I wearily lugged my bags off the bus and headed for the nearby shopping mall where I left my bag with an attendant and went to find a phone booth. By the time I returned Ted, the guy with whom I’d had most of my communication regards the school, was just entering the mall followed, moments later, by Mr Chǒng. From here I had to drag my bag through the rain to a suitable spot where Mr Chǒng could meet us with his car. Once he arrived we drove up to the school which didn’t seem too far away but I couldn’t really see much as everything was in darkness however, I could tell it was at the top of a hill. Turning the car around, we drove back down the hill and crossed the main road onto a rough track of a road on which stood a dog soup restaurant. It seemed only a minute or two from here to where my apartment is.

It was somewhat depressing arriving at my accommodation in darkness, tired, and in the middle of a storm that I later discovered was the edge of a typhoon. Though I now like my room, at first viewing it appeared dingy and uninviting. A large double bed stood in one corner and at the feet of this was a large number of boxes. Ted announced to me that the boxes would be picked up in a day or two but I’m not stupid, this is Korea and unless Ted is here himself to move them, they will be here for weeks on end. I wasn’t really pleased with how Ted announced this as a statement of fact rather than a request. Mr Chǒng and Ted stood looking around the room, praising it and were especially pleased with the double bed, which I must add, having since slept in it, is very comfortable, however, what captivated my attention the most wasn’t the lovely bed, but the grungy grey pillow and duvet that lay in  a  pile on the bed. The pillow was particularly disgusting as it had slobber marks all over it. I immediately knew that I wouldn’t be sleeping in Ted’s dirty laundry this evening. When they left I investigated the room further and though it was clean, I was quite amazed that neither Ted nor Mr Chǒng had seen fit to put any water in the fridge, leave me a little milk or wash my bedding. Ted had even beamed with a touch or pride when I opened the refrigerator door and saw a lonely, atrophied potato and onion.  A soon as they left I walked down the road and discovered a small shop where I bought some noodles, milk and shampoo and as soon as I returned home and had unpacked, I put the dirty bedding  in the washing machine. I eventually washed the bedding twice and they have since been transformed from a colour I thought was grey to pure white.

©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Written September 2007
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October 2002. (Korean Accounts 2)

Posted in Diary notes, Korean Accounts 2, Teaching by 노강호 on October 22, 2002

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 () 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.


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 () 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

Return to Korea (Korean Accounts 2. 2002-2003)

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Bathhouse, Diary notes, Korean Accounts 2 by 노강호 on September 29, 2002

I arrived back in Korea, in September 2002, after agreeing with Mr Joe that I would do a six month contract. After my former mistrust of Joe, it might surprise you I returned to work for him but I suppose my feelings towards him mellowed and in addition, I really wanted to return for an extended spell. In the year since I was last in Korea, much has changed. Now there are many more westerners than there were two years ago. The evidence of westernization is striking and there are even more Macdonald’s burger bars, Baskin Robbins ice cream parlours, Pizza Huts and Burger Kings. On the main road through Song So, that leads to Kemyoung University, in addition to the MacDonalds and KFC, there is now a Baskins Robbins parlour, a second one is presently being built, and a Pizza Hut. All these facilities are within a 10 minute walk of my front door. I am also sure that I am seeing more fat Korean kids than I did before.

I am living just around the corner from my old apartment and in fact I could have looked out my former bedroom window onto the side of the building I am now living in. This time I am in a one bedroom apartment which is next to a Chinese Medicine establishment and looking directly onto a barbecue restaurant and restaurant which is being built and as yet has not opened.

Pak Jun-hee and his family left the old restaurant where I spent every Saturday evening teaching Ji-won. I don’t think the restaurant, which was behind the Shin-woo (신우) supermarket on the main road leading directly down to the university, was bringing in custom.  They have moved to a restaurant just around the corner from where I live which is just a few doors down from the bakers and the Hapkido School. The restaurant is very small and sells pork (삼겹살) or beef barbecue. Even though the restaurant can be very busy, I think the returns are less than adequate and the family is struggling a little.

I have been up Warayong Mountain several times with Pak Jun-hee and though it is a struggle to get to the top it was well worth it. Warayoung is the mountain which lies directly behind Song So.  Last weekend was the Korean festival of Chu-sok and so we had Friday off. The weekend was a bit boring as all my Korean friends headed off to their family tombs. However on Sunday, after our mountain climb, Pak Jun-hee, took me to his house. It is in an apartment on the 10th floor of an apartment overlooking the street his restaurant is on. It was a special occasion as I have never been here before. The house was smallish but comfortable and as usual very open planned. There was a cabinet with a lot of liquor miniatures in them as Sun-hee collects these and then quite a few large jars, like parfait jars, with various fruits in them pickled in alcohol – these are Pak Jun-hee’s. Ji-won was really excited to see me and showed me his room – simply a bed on the floor, his work desk and books.  Apart from some teddy bears, his sister’s room was much the same – a complete lack of pop posters, fashionable clothes, music systems, computers and all the consumerist crap that western teenagers have to have. What was more interesting was that rather than their rooms being dens in which to hide themselves away and pretend to be individual – their rooms were completely open to the house. I don’t think privacy is such an important issue here. Sun-hee returned from town and cooked us some food and then I watched a Tarzan movie with Ji-won and his sister. This week Pak Jun-hee started a new job. In the mornings he goes to work on a construction site. He leaves home at 6am, returns home at 6pm (all for around 30 pounds a day), and then in the evening works in his restaurant which Sun-hee closes at around 4 am. They are saving money for Ji-won to go to university. What a life! And I moan at having to work anymore than 6 hours a day.

The exam period for middle school kids (13-15 years old) is here and it so noticeable; the streets are teeming with kids going to and from the Hakwons. They study in these until 11 or 12 pm and in Di Dim Dol, my school; they can buy cakes and noodles because they do not have time to eat a meal at home. I have had several private classes cancelled though I still get paid for the lesson. This week in the elementary schools (7-12 year olds) sports day and as always everything in Korea happens at the same time. The kids sit in classes with stamps on their arm telling you whether they came 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the various competitions – running, jumping, dancing etc.

At the moment my routine is really good; in the morning I study Korean, then I go for lunch, then to the mokyuktang (Han Song), and then work. I finish work at 8 pm, go straight to Pak Jun-hee’s to eat and at 10 pm I do some private lessons. My Korean and Hanja are really improving. I sat in the green tea bath at the mokyuktang on Friday talking, to an old man and managed to learn that he was 68, weighed 65 kilos, was 1 meter 60 tall, had three sons, one which lived in the USA, that he was a grandfather and had been the Los Angeles. We got talking as he said he recognised me from another mokyuktang bath house and the whole interaction excited me as he spoke no English at all.

Several times a week U-chun and I meet up and spend time chatting in a restaurant. We have been visiting this place which sells oysters – nothing but oysters and for around £10 pounds you can have a big meal for two – usually something like oyster tempura, smoked oysters and oyster soup served with a variety of salads, kimchees and ray fish in spicy sauce. (This restaurant was originally a North Korean restaurant that we visited on our first get together, back in 2000. I re-visited for oysters, several times in 2009 but it has since closed.)

Yesterday David and I went down to the part of Song-so near Kemiyoung University. I wanted to buy a CD as I have been listening to the same music for almost six weeks. Then we went to this excellent restaurant down near the university. It was supposed to be a Spanish style place but there was nothing Spanish about it at all. The place was really weird – just a sort of cocktail bar and restaurant with nothing but sofas and tables. A rather large room just filled with big comfy sofas. David (이영선) said Korean’s think this place is western and he was surprised at my expression when we entered because it isn’t western at all. We ate squid and octopus fried rice and Japanese style pork cutlet.

I do get a bit pissed off at the way Koreans laugh whenever I try to speak Korean. Even U-chun will sometimes have a little giggle. In a private class the other day, I mentioned my arm was sore and the two boys burst into a fit of giggling. One of the boys, Kim Young-jun (김영준) is a bit slow at telling the time and I told U-chun (유천) that he’s a bit slow. She teaches him maths privately. ‘Oh! He’s stupid.” she said. ‘I regularly have to hit him or make him stand in the corner of my front room with his arms above his head.’

Like I said, everything was going well but in Korean things can always change. On Monday, I discovered that the Tasmanian teachers in Di Dim Dol, Matt and Debbie, had done a bunk and left the country over the week-end. Well, now I have been told that tomorrow and until further notice, I must work the hours 10-12am, 1-2pm, 3-8pm! I wasn’t too pleased. When I got home I went to Pak Jun-hee’s and he could tell I was angry but he calmed me down. Later I decided to write a letter and outline my concerns. In the morning I didn’t go to work and handed the letter to Keith as he went to the kindergarten. I then met U-chun and we spent the morning at Baskin and Robbins. A bit of ice cream cheered me up. I had told the school I wouldn’t be going to work until 3pm and that I would work their hours for 2 weeks and then decide what I was going to do. When I went to school, Nell the kindy head, called me into her office to discuss things. The turnout was that I have a slightly longer break in the afternoon but to be honest the quality of my life is shit. Now I work 10-12am, 1-2, 3.50pm or 4.35-8pm. I don’t really have time to do anything substantial and there is no time to train as by the time I get home there is really only enough time to eat, socialise or study for an hour and then go to bed. The problem is Joe is running two schools with one set of teachers and things will get worse in October and November when Nana and Wendy leave.

There has been a lot of stuff on the TV here about five boys who disappeared 11 years ago. Anyway, the boys are known as the ‘frog boys’ (개구리 소년) because on the day they disappeared, they were going to collect frogs. They lived right behind where I live and went into the Warayoung Mountain where they disappeared. There have been loads of police around and several thousand soldiers were drafted in as the boys bodies have been discovered buried and with what might potentially be bullet holes in their skulls. For the last few weeks they have been gradually piecing together each boy’s skeleton. One boy’s coat was tidied at the cuffs. It’s on the TV every evening and has gripped the nation as it has been a mystery here what happened to them and of course the boys’ parents have been on TV. It has been very sad.

When I ask Koreans about this incident they approach it in quite a strange way. I think events like this are so rare that they don’t really have a rationale for them. When I ask Koreans what they think happened I get responses like, ‘they were murdered’, or even stranger, ‘perhaps they were murdered.’ Really!?’ To suggest the boys might have been sexually abused isn’t the first or even second conclusion Koreans come to. The police seem to have had a history of naivety in the investigation. A few weeks ago they suggested the boys had frozen on the mountain despite it being March when they disappeared and them being not too far from home. (The fact they were buried didn’t seem to make any difference.) The boys were found in an area that at one time was close to an army training camp and they now think that a boy may have been accidentally shot by a soldier and then the other boys shot to cover up the incident up.

I went for 4 sessions of acupuncture on my arm as I have had a slight pulled muscle in it for several months. In total the treatment cost me £30 pounds this being exactly 4 times cheaper than getting treatment in Wivenhoe plus several sessions lasted over 2 hours. Now I know why Korean doctors have empty offices as all the problems which clog up the western surgery, the back problems, pulled muscles, etc all go to traditional centres in search of relief. Let’s face it; western doctors are crap at dealing with such problems. Anyway, the treatment seems to have worked but what was most interesting was that I had had another strain in my back which has niggled me for nearly two years. I had treatment earlier in the year back in the UK and after two sessions with there was no improvement. I didn’t notice popping when they manipulated my spine. The Korean doctor, using exactly the same technique, popped my entire spine and the problem disappeared.

I haven’t seen too much of Ji-won as in less than four weeks he has his exams and the whole of Korea is counting down until the day they begin. These exams are known as the ‘goa sam su neung’  (고삼수능) and are the final year exams of high school students.  For very many young Koreans this will be one of the most important days of their lives. We went to the PC rooms (PC 방) last week and they had to ask me if I gave Ji-won permission to be there as it is illegal for under 19 years old’s to be in them after 10pm. I have also found out that in some schools, boys are not allowed to have hair more than 3cm long and it is not to be dyed. They are also not allowed to wear trousers any narrower than 7cm at the ankle. Ji-won told me one of his friends was beaten for having highlights in his hair when it was in fact grey streaks -yes – some Korean kids have natural grey streaks in their hair and there is a Korean term for this. One of my private students, Hyun-min (현민), arrived at my apartment barely able to walk. His hair had been more than three centimetres long and so he, and a few other boys, had to strip down to their boxers and run around the sports five times and then do fifty squats. Hyun-min (현민) is 18!

©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

Written Sept 2002