Elwood 5566

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.

Where am I Going? Friday 20th October 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, South Korea by 노강호 on October 23, 2000

My flight to Seoul wasn’t too bad, it took around 12 hours and I flew across to the Baltic Sea, then across Russia, over Mongolia where we banked to the south and flew across China towards Beijing. Descending, we flew over the Yellow Sea and down into the sprawling metropolis of Seoul. I was very lucky to get a seat by the emergency exit and though I could stretch out my legs, I could hardly move in my seat as the arm rests were so narrow. The flight arrived at 1650 on the Thursday afternoon. After wandering around the arrivals for ages, I eventually bumped into Mr Young Won Lee and a Korean woman called Christine. Mr Lee introduced himself and using his mobile phone telephoned a driver who is to take Christine ( a Korean Letterland Teacher) and I to a hotel, somewhere in Seoul.  The weather was very mild and not much different to the autumn temperatures I’d left behind in the UK.

On the Friday, suffering from jetlag, I ate breakfast which consisted of rice and fish and then had to carry my heavy baggage some distance to the Letterland school. Even though it was early in the morning, perhaps 8.00am, the humidity was uncomfortable and I could feel sweat trickling down my spine. The pavements were uneven and curled up and down small hills and all around me the city was busily gearing up for a days work.  Once we arrived at the school, I spent the entire day being ferried by car to four English language schools that the Letterland people were trying to coax to work with their system. I think I was used as a native English speaker to make their credentials look good. On several occasions, while sat in front of school bosses, I nodded asleep. In one school I had to read to a class of 6 or 7 year olds and was asked to pronounce certain words to them. I could hardly keep my eyes open. It was all very confusing as no one had welcomed me or told me what I was supposed to be doing and no one seemed competent or willing to answer my questions.  I had been told back in the UK, I was to teach in Ilsan but could find little or no information about where this was but was most disconcerting was none of the Koreans seemed sure was I was going. As the proverbial mushroom, kept in the dark and fed on shit, I was ferried between one school and another with no idea of the purpose of visits. Finally, at almost seven in the evening, exhausted, I was taken to Kimpo International Airport. Christine, who spoke very little English and yet was, at least I assumed, an English language teacher, was unable to answer my questions and I only knew I was arriving at an airport by seeing airport traffic. Suddenly, her mobile phone rang and after a brief conversation I was told I am to fly to Daegu where I will find my school. At first I thought this was in another part of Seoul; I’d never heard of Daegu and was totally bewildered considering I thought I was to be teaching in Ilsan. It is only when I am being pushed into the departure lounge, Chrstine stood waving  goodbye, that I realise my 35 minute flight is to take me way beyond Seoul.

Daegu from the top of E-Mart. November 2000

Daegu is the third largest city in South Korea and lies in the central southern part of the peninsula, above Pusan and Masan. That much I gleaned from the in-flight magazine. It was already dark as we flew into Daegu and the small town I had envisaged was a sprawling city.  At Daegu I was met by a young Korean man called Tony who drove me to the Shane English School where I met my new boss, Mr Jo. I looked around the school and then went for dinner with him to a bulgogi restaurant. Luckily, we didn’t sit on the floor as I had done for the last two meals. Afterwards, Tony drove me the short distance to my house which I am sharing with a man called Nana who though from Canada, is Ghanese. Nana was away for the weekend and so I had time to get used to the apartment and to familiarise myself with this part of the town.

Today (October 23) is my first attempt at writing my diary. On the way to work today I called in at a Taekwon do school which I might join. I think it’s a World Taekwondo (WTF) Federation school rather than an International Taekwon-do (ITF) Federation school but this is okay as I would quite like to learn this system. I hope they will be able to get me a dobok (suit) suit though they will probably have to have it made specially.

I spent this first morning of my new life in Korea, a Saturday morning wandering around the area known as Song-So, and totally in awe I was. Though I’m sure poverty exists here, as it does everywhere, so far I haven’t witnessed any and there are no horrid smells at all. The toilets are very clean as are the roads and pavements and apart from some crappy sidewalks and the odd bit of construction work, it is very comparable with the UK. In fact my flat is of a better quality than my house in the UK. My immediate area is primarily high rise buildings all with enormous neon hordings or banners emblazoned with bold Korean characters. I very quickly got lost and later discovered I had been walking around a one large block of buildings. It was very difficult to get my bearings.

My apartment consists of two fairly large bedrooms, a kitchen come dining room a washroom and utility room and a balcony. The balcony runs all the way around the apartment, there is also a small hall. It is a very clean place though it lacks any windows in my bedroom which look onto the outside world. The flat is only five minutes walk from my school and is close to a KFC and MacDonald’s.

My boots have been smelly and I’m pleased I put some odour eaters in them before I left the UK. I’ve eaten very well and so far all my meals have been paid for by one person or another. The only inconvenience has to sit cross-legged on the floor. The food is excellent and consists of all sorts of condiments and pickles such as kimchi a sort of pickled cabbage leaf. Koreans eat garlic raw and dip it into a sort of chilli sauce and everyone’s breath stinks so I don’t feel out of place.

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Korea Arrives – Friday 16th October 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, South Korea by 노강호 on October 15, 2000

The summer of 2000 – shortly before leaving for Korea

This is an edited version of my Korean Accounts of 2000-2001. The original diary, as diaries usually are, was quite intimate and personal and I have removed such material. I don’t like too much exposure! There are few photos and my writing is in a different style and tone but it highlights a Korea though only a decade away, considerably different to the Korea of 2012. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of any diary or blog pre 2005 (or thereabouts) was the fact you were internetless and there was nothing on Korea on the internet anyway – it took me years to find a recipe for Kimchi and makgeolli and the multitude of blogs relating to Korea which give you information on every aspect of Korean life, were still waiting to be born. In the sense, My Korean Accounts often exposes my naivety and ignorance as it was so difficult, if not impossible, to corroborate and research information. Coming to terms with Korea  in 2000 was a physical rather than cyber experience. How do you come to terms with Korean culture without the internet and the multitude of tools it provides us. Today, every blogger loves to insert Korean script into their texts but in 2000 a UK computer couldn’t even write in Hangeul without a special program and there were no translation utilities or online language programs. As for Hanja? Nothing! That’s pretty much still the case but it’s improving. Most westerners I knew, even ones who’d been here a long time, couldn’t even read Korean. How quickly the world has changed!

Korean Accounts Part 1. 2000-2001

So much has happened since I last wrote my diary. I applied for a job in South Korea and within days I’d been sent a contract. I saw the advert in the Times Educational and responded to it but I had no reply from the recruiters. Several weeks later I was tidying my bedroom and was about to throw out the advert clipping when I decided to phone them. Suddenly it was full steam ahead. I was running up to London and booking appointments at solicitors to get my certificates notarised and to make a will. Now, ten days later and I’m sitting here in my room after having spent all my savings getting the house ready for my departure, which is on Wednesday. My room is empty and a woman called Donna is moving into it. I’ve done over a hundred jobs around the house and over seventy-five jobs to do with bureaucracy.

Suddenly, I’m about to leave. There are new people in my life that I’ve yet to meet, Yangjin, the recruiter, Kim and Liam from Korea, Mr Young Won Lee, my new boss and Mr Kim the travel agent. I have become familiar with the Korean alphabet from a teach-yourself book I bought, and have a whole new wardrobe of clothes. However, tonight I am sad because I don’t know if I really want to leave the security of Wivenhoe but this is an opportunity I can’t turn down. I feel compelled to go. Looking back over my diary, it seems that my desire to travel was somehow linked to other problems but maybe that’s just coincidence as I would have jumped at the chance in any state of mind.

So much has happened in less than two weeks: Luis’s mum has been and gone, Lea is house-sitting and summer has suddenly been blown away and a cold, wet autumn has set in. I’m going to miss my sister and the cosy evenings with Lea and the generosity of Luis. As for my closest friends, there is a strong bond between us and though we don’t always share a lot together we are intensely comfortable and familiar with each other.

I don’t want to leave but I’m on the verge of an adventure that will provide a unique experience and I’m going to take as much from it as I can.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.
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Provinces of South Korea

Posted in South Korea, Useful by 노강호 on December 31, 1999

Korean Provinces

This was published here in 2012 but I put it in this location for convenience. Please note, spellings may differ depending on the method of transliteration used.


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