Elwood 5566

Letterland Fiasco – 14th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on December 14, 2000

On Monday morning I had to cancel my lesson with Dong-soo. It didn’t please me as I had cancelled several engagements this weekend and I would not have minded so much if Jo either mentioned money or asked or begged a little instead of simply presuming I am at his service. Jo always gets someone else to do the begging for him.

Nana and I arrived at the Yon San Dong School by luck as we weren’t sure exactly where it was and our taxi driver hadn’t heard of the school as it was new. We had to pay the taxi fare. I had made some lessons plans over the weekend and was feeling a little more positive about the whole affair. At Letterland we entered another meeting with Young-seop only this time there were no Korean-English teachers present. Young-seop then tells us we will only be required to be ‘on hand’ in three different classes, a class each, and to entertain kids as they arrive and answer any questions the parents have. So much for the work I had done over the weekend. It is clear there is a lack of organisation, planning and communication but I had read the Korean system can sometimes be like this. We each sorted out a teaching room and then took the taxi back to Song-So for the afternoon teaching schedule. Just as we were leaving Young-seop told us that we were to do two sets of presentations tomorrow: one at 11 am and the other at 2 pm.

In the evening I went to taekwondo but took the kicking really easy due to my pulled right hamstring. I felt very conspicuous kicking low and with no power and I can’t effectively explain to anyone why I am doing this though I think Mr Lee and Bae understood my hand communications which I regularly give them. I’ve become an expert at charades. When I got home I discovered Jo has left a message for us that we are to be at school for 9 am. Nana, Pauline and I had planned to gout out for an evening meal so that real scuppered any plans for a lie in the morning.

In the morning Nana and I once again had to pay a taxi to Yon San Dong. When we arrived we discovered a team of Letterland teachers, including Catherine and Christine, whom I had met when I arrived in Korea, were in the school. Christine, otherwise known as Miss Lam, looked bloody awful like maybe she was  on heroin. Her hair was shit and she looked very tired and to make matters worse she had a hideous purple eye shadow troweled around her eyes. However, they had brought a whole stack of books, videos and tapes for us to use. Jo must have known this was going to materialise but hadn’t thought to tell us. Jo wasn’t in the school and Miss Lam took control of events by having us all sit and watch a Letterland video. This was obviously our Letterland induction, one and a half hours before our first potential customers arrived. The video was incredibly boring and a real homemade job. I took the piss and said that if you watch it once you’re qualified to teach pupils and if you watch it twice you are promoted to a senior teacher. Miss Lam then passed us Letterland name tags which we all had to wear.

Apparently, Jo is charging parents 430.000W a month for lessons – that is over two hundred pounds. What a rip off! Pauline and I have been inventing our own Letterland characters such as Bouncy Balls, Clicking Clit, and Hairy Hole. Even Nana used the word ‘fuck’ several times today and I have never heard him swear. When parents began arriving Young-seop ordered us to ‘go and teach!

‘Teach what?’ I asked. ‘We only know a few characters.’ Anyway, I sat with a few very small children, made them say some words and then colour in some pictures.

At lunchtime all the staff, including lots of teachers from Di Dim Dol in Song-So, went for bibimbap at a local restaurant, all paid for by Jo. U-chun, a female teacher I had made friends with was there with her daughter, Ga-in whom she wants me to teach English. I really like U-chun and we are meeting for lunch on Wednesday. Back at Letterland more parents arrived after which we we took a taxi back to Song-So for the afternoon schedule.

In the evening, I went to taekwon do but when I got back home I discovered Jo had been on the phone again – pissed. He had apologised for not paying us as today was pay day. He then asked us to be ready for 9 am as he is going to send someone around to collect us and take us to another Letterland school on the other side of town, a school owned by a friend. Nana relayed all this to me because I didn’t want to talk to Jo. I told Nana I was going to the doctor in the morning to get some gout pills.

In the morning Mr Song arrived. Jo had telephoned him at midnight to ‘order’ him to pick us up. He was quite upset as it was his free time and of course there will be no extra money for his time or petrol. There is little he can do except obey him and this sort of attitude towards employees seems quite common in Korea (what I now call the ‘rice cooker syndrome). I went to the doctors instead and got my supply of pills.

My leg is getting better and I am starting to enjoy the training. Master Bae gave me a yellow belt to wear and towards the end of the training session I was asked if I wanted to spar. I should really have refused and rested my leg but I really wanted to. I was matched with their best student black-belt, a lad of about 20 who is very well built for a Korean and a powerful technician. With my leg still strained, and not wanting to put too much stress on it, the techniques at my disposal were few. He rushed in on me and one of my kicks caught him in the balls, which was embarrassing. He was playing with me but wary of the fact I had a good defence. I caught him in the stomach with a front kick which despite his body shield knocked the wind out of him. The problem is my brain knows exactly what to do but my body is not yet ready or able to do what the brain commands and with everyone watching and being under pressure, one goes into auto-pilot. My last kick, a turning kick, caught him on the chest and at that moment my supporting leg, the bad one, suddenly gave way. I don’t think I’ve torn the muscle but I certainly jarred it. I so wish it would bloody heal!


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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Teachers’ Party and Andong – Friday November 17th 2000 (Korean Accounts 2001-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on November 17, 2000

Today, I called into the taekwondo school to give Mr Park, one of the instructors, an English lesson. In classes he often ends up instructing me as he is the only one who can speak a little English. I’ve been beginning to think he might find this task tedious and so I offered to teach him. He’s a very good martial artist, very fast and agile but then he only weighs about two stone. I guess he is aged about 22—24 but it is hard to tell as Korean men have little facial hair and have very boyish looks. His pronunciation is actually very good and he doesn’t have the problems with ‘p’s’ and ‘f’s’ like most Koreans do. They all pronounce ‘sofa’ as ‘sopa’ and find it hard to pronounce the ‘v’ in ‘video’. It also makes me laugh when they say ‘fish’ as they pronounce it ‘pish.’ You can imagine how the pronounce ‘vacuum?’ In one class a boy of about 8 said ‘vacuum’ but pronounced it ‘fak-uum,’ but to make it funnier he held up his middle finger. Obviously he had learnt it from American movies.

Most of the Korean kids all have western names which is confusing as when you talk to a Korean teacher about pupils, and you use the pupils western names, they have no idea about whom you are talking. Lots of the names are outdated and some examples include: Mabel, Ted, and Cindy. However, some are very bizarre and these include: Sonic, Carrot, Purple and Sky.

On Friday, evening Mr Jo organised a party for the teachers of which there are about forty across all subject areas. Nana and I were the only foreign teachers. I wasn’t particularly keen on going as I didn’t finish training until 10pm and knew I would be tired and aching. Nana and I met outside the school which is on the main road through the Song-so district and took one of the school buses to the nearby restaurant. All private schools have their own fleet of minibuses as do the taekwondo schools. Korean restaurants are all restricted in what they serve and special in one or two items. This restaurant served pork which you barbecued at your table. Like most restaurants it was a sit on the ground affair and from there the waiters delivered plates of sliced pork which you barbecued on the grill nearest to you. There were side dishes of dried shrimp, chillies, anchovy, mussels, garlic and the usual kimchies and leaves. My favourite leaf is called gaenip and is a wild sesame leaf unlike any leaf I have eaten in the west. Mr Jo paid for the whole meal and kept us supplied in soju. Jo got pissed very quickly and moved around talking to everybody. The school’s vice principal is Mr Lee who looks like a stereotypical image of a Chinese person with thick-set black rimmed glasses and goofy teeth. At work he is always very serious. He made some speeches and welcomed Nana and I to the school. Apparently, Nana has only recently arrived from a school in Andong. When people began to drift home, Mr Lee positioned himself at the front door and turned those leaving back into the restaurant.

Though soju is only 23%, I got fairly tipsy, enough to impress the Koreans. Mr Jo however, became so pissed Mr Lee and a teacher called Young-seop (영섭)  had to help him up. I was hoping we were all now able to go home but Mr Jo ordered everyone to the nearest noraebang. However, the soju had taken effect.

A noraebang  consist of a series of varying size rooms which you hire and all of which contain a large video screen in front of which is a large table surrounded by a sofas. Several folders sit on the table which contain an alphabetical list of songs and their number which you then fed into the remote control. Also on the table are a number of microphones and some percussion instruments such as tambourines or castanets. Everyone was shouting for Nana to sing but the first song was sung by Mr Lee. Mr Lee suddenly transformed and if you’d seen him you would have thought him a professional singer. Next Nana and I sang ‘My Way’ which I actually enjoyed doing. Everyone took turns to sing and joined in the choruses. I have since discovered there is a noraebang  just a few doors away from my flat (and is still there 16 years later – which in Korea is amazing)

Nana was away again at the weekend as he goes to teach in Andong. Feeling like a bit of lard, I visited KFC, which Koreans pronounce ‘k-peep-shee.’ Here I met a man who wanted English lessons and said he would take me sightseeing to temples in return. 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 (this is interesting because in the last five years I’ve only been asked if I would teach privates on 2 occasions). I spent Sunday in the school writing my e-mails.

Sunday lunchtime Young-seop (영섭), one of the younger teachers, bought me lunch which was bibimbap (비빔밥), this consists of rice and vegetables in a bowl served with red pepper paste. This meal appears in a hot and cold version.

On Tuesday I didn’t have to teach until the afternoon so I accompanied Nana on a visit to Andong. Since I’ve been here all I have really seen is the area immediately around where I live and I still haven’t discovered all this area has to offer. However, Andong would be an interesting excursion. We left at 9 am and took the taxi to one of the city bus terminals – this was a twenty-minute journey which cost a couple of pounds. The buses are very punctual and ours left at exactly 9.30 am and I had more leg room on it than I am accustomed to on any British bus. Within ten minutes I had my first glimpse of Korea beyond city life. The road, a highway didn’t meander through any mountains but simply passed straight through them by a continual series of tunnels. In between the tunnels, in small valleys, were farms and rice fields. The mountains aren’t huge but they are bigger than hills and grander than anything I’ve seen in England. Nana talked incessantly which irritated me as I wanted to look at passing scenery. The forests are loosing their leaves and the view was very colourful.

Andong is a fairly big town but is much smaller than Daegu. There were a couple of beggars around the bus terminal and these were to be almost the only beggars I was ever to see in Korea. This was certainly less beggars than you were likely to see in Colchester at this time. Nana has taught in Andong for three years and was most likely the only black man the town has ever seen and so lots of people knew him.  We visited the principal of a language school and then had lunch with a couple of  Nana’s friends. There is a village on the edge of Andong where the Queen visited to watched masked dancing for which Andong is world-famous.

I missed taekwondo on Monday as my leg was sore but I made myself go on Tuesday. On the Wednesday the class did a Korean form of tai-chi during which floaty Korean pipe music was played. I missed the energetic training but it gave my muscles time to relax. The Thursday class was back to normal with plenty of press-up, sit-ups and leg techniques. Half of this class consisted of sparring during which everyone sat in an enormous circle while two people fought in the middle of it. I thought they were going to leave me out but then Mr Lee asked if I wanted to spar one of the green belts – a broad lad of about 20. I got up and quite impressed myself. Trundling up and down the gym kicking at a break neck speed I look like a lard arse but the moment I was confronted with an opponent all my old skills seemed to drift back. I was all over him and really only toyed with him. I used only basic kicks and didn’t use my hands. I have noticed that while most Korean students look pretty doing their kicks, moving fast and with agility, and even though many can do the splits, they are fairly crap at making a technique connect. And of course, many of them lack power. Even though I’d only been back in training for a  little less than a month. I was able to place gentle kicks on his chest, kidney and stomach. Of course, he was only a green belt and I have many years experience, which is something I sometimes forget. No doubt I would have found it harder fighting a senior belt.  Nonetheless, I felt good about myself and suddenly, when we had finished, I sensed a changed attitude towards me. I felt I would no longer be viewed as a spaker foreigner wanting to learn a bit of their art.

There is the third dan black belt lad of about 15. He is always very serious and so far he is the only person in the school who has failed to bow at me when I enter the dojang – I should add they are not bowing because I am a martial artist but because I am an adult. In the class, I don’t stand alongside other beginners but at the back of the class alongside senior belts. This is partly because I am foreign, a teacher and partly because I am probably the eldest in the class – apart from Master Bae, the ‘Captain.’  To put me anywhere else except with the black belts would probably be an insult. Anyway, this boy ignores me. After my fight with the green belt we were called to the front of the class and presented a stick on gold star each – I think our fight had been the most entertaining of the evening. When I was about to leave the class, after changing, the 3rd degree black belt boy came up to me, pulled himself to attention and proceeded to bow deeply.

On Friday I gave Mr Park, whose first name is Dong-soo, an English lesson. Tonight I am meeting a New Zealander called Roger, whom I met on the street where we talked for a while. Though there are few foreigners here, most talk to you.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

My Dobok Arrives – Tuesday 7th November (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, taekwondo by 노강호 on November 7, 2000

My taekwondo suit (dobok) arrived today. When I arrived at the dojang some excited boys were shouting, ‘dobok! dobok’ and holding their arms wide. Obviously the suit had been put on display for the amusement of the kids but I’m not bothered as I’ve become a little hardened to being the center of attention. Mr Bae let me change into it in his office but a huddle of boys stood watching me through the Perspex windows which looks onto the training hall. Politely, the boys held up their bags to stop any girls seeing me. The suit fitted fine and when I left the office half the school surrounded me to pull the material and help me put on the belt.

I actually hate the period just before I have to leave to go to the dojang as everything aches, my stomach, knees, thighs, even my buttocks. I’d much rather go home and relax but I have adopted this state of mind where I am resigned to accepting the pain of training. I totally commit myself to the will of the instructors. As there are no beginners’ classes and I am the only white belt, I ended up training with everyone else: Spinning kick, flying kick or jumping kicks, I attempted them all. We even had to do a running jumping kick during which we thrust out both legs parallel to the floor and touched our toes. I must have looked a sight as twenty odd stone doesn’t do such a technique with any finesse but as I said, I am beyond embarrassment.

Nana had a woman friend call around the house one evening. Her name is Po-yeoung and she is very nice company. She brought some dried squid with her which we toasted on the cooker, cut into strips and chewed with beer. It is rather like fishy jerky.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.
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Taekwondo School – November 4th 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, South Korea, taekwondo, Teaching by 노강호 on November 4, 2000

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.

2001: Two kumdo boys in summer dress. One carries a bamboo ‘shinai’ (don’t know the Korean term for this)

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.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.