Elwood 5566

Kumi – April 13-29th, 2001 (Korean Accounts Part 1)

Posted in Diary notes, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children by 노강호 on April 13, 2001

On Friday, just as I was leaving Di Dim Dol School, Young-seop stopped me and told me that starting next week, I was due to teach in another school and would have to travel one and a half hours to get there, this would mean leaving  Song So at 8.30am. At the time, I was just going downstairs to meet Lisa in KFC. Naturally, I went nuts! I’ve told Joe over and over that I like to be consulted and given advanced warning. However, Joe always uses Young-seop as his lacky. The problem has been caused because Lisa has a weeks holiday which she planned well in advance. She and Nana have been giving pronunciation and phonetics classes to Korean, English teachers at various schools and have been paid extra money for doing this. It turns out, Lisa had asked those organising the courses, how long the courses were likely to last and she was told they were a block, six-week stint, ending on April 13th. Well, for whatever reasons, the courses don’t seem likely to finish before April 20th and Lisa’s husband is coming out to visit and of course, he has flights booked. About a week ago, Mr Joe started moaning to me about Lisa and how awkward she was and that he was going to tell Young-seop to tell her she couldn’t have any time off. Meanwhile, Nana told me he clearly heard the course organisers say the course was due to end of April 13th. Of course, this confusion is typically Korean – Koreans have no concept of free time or of holidays.

Matt at Woo Bang Park, now E-World (2001)

Well, I moaned to Young-seop and gave him an earful as he provided each excuse. First of all, he said they had waited until now to tell me in the hope Lisa would cancel her husband’s flight. Like she is really going to lose a million Won (£500) after a fuck-up on Mr Joe’s part! Then he said they had hoped Lisa would change her mind and decide to work.

‘But her husband is coming out to visit, what do you expect him to do; stay a home all day?’

The Korean attitude towards your free time and your work is one of the main things that pisses me off about Korea. Firstly, you have no free time – at least Korean workers don’t. Any time you might not be working is clearly seen as a privilege that can be taken away whenever your boss needs you. All the hagkwons in Song So are at the moment teaching for seven days a week and are open until past 11.pm. Parents pay no extra money for the extra classes as it is expected for hagkwons to give extra tuition prior to exam periods. As there are so many hagkwons in tight competition they all conform to similar teaching schedules. Of course, teachers aren’t paid any extra money for working seven days a week. I have almost stopped using the phrase, ‘have a nice weekend,’ as the concept doesn’t really exist here. The phrase’ ‘thanks God it’s Friday,’ needs to be modified to, ‘thank God it’s the second Friday in the month’ (ie, 놀토 – ‘play Saturday)

In Korea, everything is seconded to work and any shifts in routine are expected to be accommodated wholeheartedly. I can remember when I first arrived in Daegu, when Tony picked me up from the airport; I asked him what Mr Joe was like and he replied that he didn’t like him as he was always issuing orders and expecting everyone to drop everything on his command. Now I understand what he meant. Even Nana has become accustomed to it and well, if a King can learn to take orders, what chance do I have. Later in the week, when I moaned to Nana about the situation, he told me to calm down, to accept it. He kept saying this was ‘an emergency’ and that ‘we all needed to help out.’ ‘An emergency,’ I told him, was simply a threat to Joe’s bank balance.

The other thing that annoys me about Koreans is that they adhere to the Confucian ideals which stress the importance of the family. Well, this ideal only seems to operate if you are Korean. I get quite infuriated at the way people like Joe and Young-seop do not for one moment consider that western teachers are around 5000 miles from home, have no family with them, are living in a strange culture and have few friends. When I first arrived in Daegu I was left alone in my flat for a whole weekend; no one came to take me out or show me where to go for provisions. Nobody had been delegated to look after the interests of foreign teachers. No one showed me where to bank my pay or how to use a bus. All any of us were told on our arrival was where and when we were to start work. Even though our contracts stipulate we receive health insurance none of us have it – few English teachers do. When I asked about this, Joe managed to make up a load of excuses one of which was that if we wanted health insurance we would have to pay about £200 for it to be backdated until the date we arrived. It is quite pathetic the lengths to which Joe will go to save a pittance.

I moaned and moaned at Young-seop about Joe decision to send me to teach in another town and asked him when Joe was likely to confirm it – if indeed, he intended to confirm it! Nana is going to Andong (안동) in the morning and Lisa is about to go on holiday and naturally, any planning I need to do will be expected to be done in my time; none of it was be built into my working day even to compensate for the inconvenience of short notice. However, I knew I would end up having to do it. Worse, I had this fleeting sense that it didn’t mater what the work involved, I’d be able to bullshit my way through it.

I went to meet Lisa down in the KFC restaurant and told her what had happened, stressing that none of it was her fault. She really is a stupid cow! She insists he classes call her, ‘Miss Lisa,’ and I suspect that she thinks that by replacing her surname with her first name, and prefixing it with, ‘Miss,’ she is ‘cool.’ She’s a stupid cow because she has the disgusting colonial streak in her. She never has a good word to say about Korea or Koreans and more than once her language has belayed the fact she is a racist!

‘What time does your bus pick you up after classes?’ I asked her.

‘Whenever they bloody want. Sometimes they are there waiting and toot the horn at me. At other times I have to wait forty minutes! I mean, me,’she almost screamed, eyes bulging. ‘Me! Having to wait forty minutes for a fucking Korean!’

Earlier this week I caught a boy writing on the blackboard in one of my classes. He was writing in Korean and though I couldn’t understand the meaning, I could read the letters. He had written, Di Dim Dol donun Kil lim dol (디딤덜 도는 길임덜) Di Dim Dol is the name of the school and has something to do with a stepping stone; ‘Donun’ means ‘or’ and this I could understand. When I asked the boy what it meant he put his pencil on the floor and demonstrated that it meant something to do with tripping or falling over. How appropriate.

On Saturday afternoon I went shopping to E-Mart with Matt. I bought some smoked salmon and was quite excited as I haven’t seen this in Korean shops before. The pack cost 9000W which is around £5 but there was probably 500 grams in the pack, if not more. I had planned to eat it  on my own as Matt doesn’t particularly like seafood but in the end I decided to take it to Ji-won’s as it would be an interesting experience to share it with them.

Ji-won’s family had never eaten smoked salmon and were eager to try it. Sun-hee, Ji-won’s  mother, brought out a pile of assorted leaves, some wassabi, chilli and garlic. Then the salmon was placed in the centre of the table and we all tucked into it with chopsticks. I wasn’t going to ruin the delicate taste of that lovely salmon with wassabi. The salmon was very lean and very smooth and creamy in taste.

Koreans are notoriously bad at advertising things in English. You’d think that when they write English on shop facades, posters or leaflets that they’d consult native English speakers but they don’t and consequently you see many funny examples. The blurb on the packet of salmon claimed it was from the ‘fresh, clear blue waters of the North Atlantic’ but somewhere else it said it was from the Pacific Ocean. Anyway, there was a little write-up on the packets which read:

Around June to September, in a something sun, 3-5 year old well-grown salmon that have brilliant gesture and swim through sea and river along the blue and dear coast of the Pacific Ocean have very good quality of flesh and taste so good and have got praised as food of low-calorie. More than one century salmon has got praise of epicures all over the world. Salmon taste from soft to strong with many nutrients and special pink colour flesh create fantastic mood and taste.

A few more examples of Konglish (Korean-English) I have recently seen include: ‘Hair Deciener Shop’ (a hair salon), then there is ‘Twin Twon Coffee Shop which I can only presume is meant to read ‘Twin Town.’ Even better is ‘Shitty Pizza,’ obviously meant to read ‘City Pizza.’ There is also a boy in one of my classes who wears a t-shirt on which there is a large ‘20’ under which is written, ‘Sporty, Young and Milky.’

I wasn’t looking forward to this week as I am having to travel to Kumi to give lessons to Korean, English teachers. I wrote a quick lesson plan at the kitchen table, shortly after getting up. There are a few things I am unsure about and I really need to consult Nana or Lisa but if there is one thing you learn very quickly here, it is the art of bullshit. Young-seop and Mr Chey picked me up from outside my house at 8.30 am and we headed off to Kumi. It was great to get out of Daegu, especially on a working day. With spring well underway, the countryside is changing from day-to-day. In the rice fields you can see the bright green shoots of this year’s crop emerging. I wasn’t in the least bit nervous at having to give a lecture on phonetics to a group of thirty teachers. I have learnt that simply being a native English speaker gives you an immense authority and besides, most Koreans are not very good at spoken English and this includes Korean English teachers. When I explained where I had come from in the UK, ‘near Oxford’ was the best description, there was a murmur of awe which surprised me a little. They would never have heard of Aylesbury or Colchester. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the session and I performed really well. After the lecture, if that’s what you could call it, Young-seop and Mr Chey took me for lunch in a rather posh restaurant; Young-seop said he was paying. We had bulgogi and there were plenty of side dishes including mong gae, or a sea squirt. This is a sea thing that looked rather like an orange-pinky, bloated heart. There were small nodular bits all over it which looked like tiny lips from which I suppose it squirted water. When cut open the flesh resembled that of a ripe mango. I tried it but didn’t really like it. The initial taste was that of detergent. Mr Chey clearly relished them as he sat sucking the flesh off the noddly skin, the juice running down his chin in a manner that would have been perfect for a Klingon. I arrived back in Song So with half an hour before I had to start teaching my regular classes at Di Dim Dol.

I managed to go training that evening but gave up on Tuesday as I was just too tired. On Tuesday, after the class, we drove to another restaurant and had bulgogi. When Young-seop went to the toilet, I told Mr Chey I was going to pay for the meal. Mr Chey told me Mr Joe was paying for our meals after the classes – so much for Young-seop making out he was paying! My new culinary experience today was hepari – jellyfish. It had a texture and taste of cold vermicelli noodles and was fairly inoffensive.

The internet cafe (PC 방) I have used ever since I arrived here has suddenly closed. I am a little annoyed at this as the woman who ran it used to keep pestering me for English lessons and there were many people I only ever saw in the cafe. I met her on the pedestrian crossing the day before Arbour Day and she told me the cafe would be shut for the day. Well, that was a month ago and later Matt and I noticed it had been completely gutted. Businesses seem to come and go in Korea and a business you can use one day can be gone the next. It would have been polite to tell us the PC room was permanently closing given the hours we spent in there. (I was to meet this woman in 2008, near my one room. I wouldn’t have recognised her but she recognised me. In the interim, she went to Canada for a few years and on return opened a hagkwon near MacDonalds – Wales English School – it is still there as of 2012.)

On Wednesday evening, after Taekwondo, I was going home when I met David (이영선) who is one of Nana’s adult students and who had several weeks ago led me home under his umbrella. He wanted to take me for a drink so we went to Mr Seven which is next to my house. David is very attractive, is 24 years old and a bloody Christian! Finding that out put a dampener on our meeting. However, like other Korean Christians, he doesn’t ram it down your throat. He seemed very interested in why I wasn’t married – more so than other Koreans and he phrased his questions quite differently to the way I am normally interrogated. At one point he asked me if I preferred men and later asked that if I could marry either a man or a woman, which gender I would choose. I came out to him making him the first Korean to know my sexuality and he wasn’t in the least perturbed. Indeed, he continued to ask me many more questions. He kept telling me ‘humans aren’t perfect.’

On Thursday the Letter and Sound School took the kids to Daegu Art and Culture Centre. Ot was a beautiful day and the centre is situated in the shadow of Mount Apsan. There were loads of middle school kids who gawped at me in awe and who muttered ‘waaaa’ which is the Korean equivalent of ‘wow’ as I walked past them. Many were fascinated by my size and several boys eagerly shook my hand or bowed deeply. At one point a crowd of children gathered around me with several lining up to shake my hand while others pointed and stroked the hairs on my arm. Other patted my stomach – Korean people, and especially children, are a lot more apt to be physical than are westerners. Such behaviour, I have become totally used to.

Taking our kids around the centre was a nightmare as there were a number of pottery exhibitions and on one occasion I watched in terror as a ceramic vase tottered precariously. On the whole and as would be expected, the kids behaved well.

At lunchtime we drove out to Woobang Tower park to have a picnic. We found a spot under a large tree as the temperature today was in the eighties and by far the hottest day we have had so far. Koreans love picnics and all have picnic knick-knacks. I was fascinated with their little picnic mats, all highly coloured and designed either for adults or children. Then there were the picnic hampers and little coloured boxes with chopsticks in them. Of course none of us westerners had prepared a picnic as no one had been bothered to tell us we were going to have one! However, Koreans always share their food so none of us went hungry.

‘My Little Man’ – Jeong-Hoon

Jeong-hoon (중훈), a little boy in my class has become very attached to me. He is a skinny little boy who is always hot as he simply cannot sit still and is always having to climb over things or is running around. Like a lot of the boys here he is already learning Taekwondo and is incredibly flexible. When he is standing you can lift out sideways (side kick position)  until his heel is facing the ceiling. I call Jeong-hoon, ‘my little man’ as he is always willing to do little jobs for me. In the mornings, if someone is missing, he will go and find them and he is always willing to go and fill the water jug or do other little jobs. He loves speaking English and knows all of the songs on the tapes we have. Anyway, at the picnic Jeong-hoon clears a space for me to sit next to him on his little mat. The very first thing he does when he opens his Mickey Mouse picnic hamper is to pass me some of his food. Most of the kids had kimbap which is pretty boring and which is a food you’d never pig-out on. Jeong-hoon’s hamper however, had KFC chicken nuggets in it! Lovely oily, western food! Mmm, as Homer Simpson would say. Typically, Jeong-hoon wasn’t into it – how conveniently Korean! He ate one, or rather he nibbled at it and the others he passed to me or the other kids sat nearby. No wonder he is so skinny!

I have spent a considerable amount of time watching Korean kids eat food and they approach it in quite a different manner to westerners. Boys in particular eat very different to western boys or men where their eating habits would be considered effeminate. Korean boys nibble food and they do not focus on it in the ravenous way we do. The Di Dim Dol school has started selling cakes during the break times as the middle school kids are currently in school for about 15 hours a day and have little to eat. I bought a small sort of Swiss roll a few days ago which a rapidly unwrapped and savagely devoured in the manner western men often eat.  The whole roll, which wasn’t very big, would have disappeared in about three mouthfuls and it was probably as I was sinking my teeth into the second mouthful, when my eyes were rolling like a shark’s when its jaw is locked around its prey, that I noticed this girl stood watching me in totally shock – her jaw had actually dropped. I don’t think she had ever seen anyone eating in such a frenzied manner. In fact, it was just another example of what filthy, dirty scum us westerners are. The next day I tried to eat my Swiss roll like a Korean – not looking at it, not rolling my eyes, and by taking little nibbles and eating them  in a passive manner as if drinking water when not in the least but thirsty.

All the Korean kids passed their food around at the picnic and when we had finished eating they all tidied up with little need of spurning from the adults.

Lee Chi-wu – an incredibly intelligent boy

Matt and I have been having fun with little Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) on the bus. Of late we have been playing games with him which are sure going to increase our chances of going to hell. We take it in turn to whisper some obscenity into his ear and he then gets three attempts at repeating it correctly. We’ll say something like ‘cunt’ or some other offensive obscenity and if Amy, the young Korean teacher who is actually dating Young-seop turns around, attracted by our hoots of laughter, we immediately start saying Chinese numbers to him and pretend our game is innocent. Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) is able to say words like ‘clitoris’ and even simple phrases like ‘anal intrusion’ with amazing precision. He has also mastered, ‘filthy, dirty, western scum’ which is the phrase we use to refer to ourselves. Even after a visit to the mokyuktang I feel dirty in comparison to Koreans. Matt and I both believe you cannot wash or scrub away the grime associated with being western. It is a grime that transcends our physical being and exists at levels genetic, cultural, psychological and historical. We make jokes to Lee Chi-Woo about Doctor Jelly Finger, jokes which in the west would earn us a lynching. Doctor Jelly Finger has metamorphosed into Monsieur Jelle Fangre which we pronounce with a French accent after which we briefly suck our index fingers. Matt is convinced we are going to hell! If you say “Monsieur Jelle Fangre” to Lee Chi-Woo he will innocently respond by sucking his index finger like a lollypop. Matt and I find this perversely amusing. We have also taught him to say “Jelle Fangre, Chwuseyo” – “Please give me a jelly finger!” The next cruel game we play, which Matt claims I instigated, but which I know was his sick invention, is to tell Lee Chi-Woo he cannot leave the bus when it arrives at the school. Matt told him this every morning for a week. Just as we arrived at the school he would turn to Lee Chi-Woo and with a sad expression on his face, and a sombre voice, say:

“Chi-Woo. Chi-Woo. You not come! Only we go. You stay here. You not go school today.” Lee Chi-Woo then starts to get upset and begins to clamber over the seats of the bus. The following week he stopped sitting with us and I think we have traumatized him so we have both stopped teasing him.  However, a week later and Matt started teasing him again and this time Lee Chi-Woo started crying. After this we modified the game so he knows when we are teasing. When Matt now tells him he can’t leave the bus, Lee Chi-Woo calls him a ‘bad man’ (나쁜 사람).

On Friday I had my final session at Kumi; it went really well and the class told me they had enjoyed the sessions immensely. I had to rush back to Song So in time for my kindergarten classes at one of the apartment schools. It only took us twenty minutes to reach Daegu and I spent most of it cowering in the back seat as we were travelling at 120-140kms per hour. Once the kindergarten class was over I was faced with a four-hour stint at and arrived back home at 8pm, quite wrecked.

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

The Kaya Mountains and Kyeong-Ju. Friday April 6th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Bathhouse, Health care, Korean Accounts Part 1, seasons, Uncategorized by 노강호 on April 6, 2001

On Sunday Pak U-chun (박유천) and her husband, U-no (소유노), picked me up and drove me to their apartment. Here I spent several hours giving Ga-in  and her cousin, Min-ju (민주), an English lesson. As usual, U-chun had prepared a meal and this time we had bibimbap (비빔밥) which is boiled rice, vegetables and red pepper paste.   Afterwards, we drove out to the Dasa (다사) area of Daegu and met Min-ju’s parents in a cafe there.

Me, Ga-in, Min-ju and Yu-no in 2001

The cafe was a traditional building made of mud. Inside, even though the walls were mud, there was electric lighting and even sockets in the wall. The inside was large and there were candles everywhere which had been allowed to drip onto the woodwork to form interesting shapes. Outside was a small stage for live music. We drank beer accompanied by dried snacks, including squid, my favourite and pa’jon. Pa’jon, also known as Korean pancake, is strips of leek fried in a mung bean pancake which is eaten in strips dipped in soy sauce. My favourite drink at the moment is dong dong ju. This is a farmers’ drink and is usually homemade as it ferments in the bottle and cannot easily be marketed. The colour of this drink various from milky white to creamy yellow and I am told it is a drink you either love or hate. Often, ginseng has been added to it. A little while later, U-chun asked if I wanted to go to the sauna, apparently there was one right next to the café and part of their premises. We went outside to the small mud hut adjacent the cafe, and which is known as a hwan toa bang. Inside, a bamboo mats covered the floor on which two children lounged, their faces dripping in sweat. The room was filled with the smell of pine as pine needles and cones were strewn around the outer edge of the bamboo floor. The room itself was heated by a burner that used pine logs. At first the dry heat was intense but before long all of us were strewn out on the floor relaxing. We stayed in the hwan toa bang for some twenty minutes before returning to the cafe.  It was an interesting experience and I am told hwan toa bangs are even fired up during the hot summer months.

On Monday lunchtimes I have started going to another go to another mokyuktang, as the one I usually use is closed. In less than a month I have made over 15 trips to mokyuktangs. On this visit one of the attendants asked if I wanted a rub down and I bravely said yes. This was something I was intending to do but at a much later date – why wait. For the rub down you lie naked on a couch and have warm water poured all over you before being rubbed vigorously all over, and I mean all over, by an abrasive cloth. They rub your crotch and up your bum crack. As the attendant progresses from one side of your body to another, you have to adopt certain positions by putting you arm of legs in various positions. The attendant wore boxer shorts which were wet and on quite a few occasions I could feel his dick resting on my arm. The whole procedure is performed publicly and with a conversation in progress.

Life at Di Dim Dol  gets more and more boring everyday with exactly the same routine and the same books. I am beginning to wonder if I can really teach here for another five months. I am even considering if I should go back home early.

Thursday was a public holiday, this time for ‘Arbor Day” when it is believed anything planted will flourish. The teachers from Di Dim Dol were all wishing me a ‘happy holiday’ as if I were departing on a two week vacation. I told them it wasn’t a holiday but simply a day off and not even that as they would have to make up for lost time by working on the coming Saturday. Regardless, most of them see it as a holiday. Pak U-chun and her family picked me up from my apartment at ten in the morning and we drove out of the city towards Sang-ju (상주) and the Kaya mountains which lie further north in the province of Kyongsangbookdo (경상복도). Travelling in Korea is interesting as you travel along the highways which are situated in the and between the valleys which are surrounded by farms, rice paddies and enormous cloches. Small yellow melons not much larger than the size of a pear have just appeared on the markets and I recently read that the appearance of these melons is a traditional sign that spring is well under way.  Anyway, these melons are one of the main products of the province and were on sale from many small markets stalls on the twisting road that led from the highway to the mountains. Often small lorries, filled with the melons, were parked in lay-bys.

the start of the walk up to Heinsa Temple in the Kaya Mountains (2001)

beside the main temple in Heinsa (2001)

The scenery was absolutely beautiful as the lilacs were almost in full bloom. In Daegu they were already in full flower. Everywhere, cherry blossom (벚꽃) and yellow forsythia (개나리)  coloured the hillside. Spring blossom, in Korean, is known as pom namu (봄 나무).  Up in the mountainside you could see the various shades of green from emerging foliage speckled here and there by dashes of pink and yellow.  One flower, particularly common, was the national flower of South Korea, adopted after the liberation. This flower, Hibiscus Syriacus, known also as the Rose of Sharon and in Korean mugunghwa (무궁화). The atmosphere in the car was wonderful and Ga-in and Min-Ju were excited at the various sights. We climbed the mountain for quite a while, the little car straining when suddenly, out of the right hand side of the vehicle, the peaks of the mountain range appeared. It was a breath taking sight; the jagged peaks of bare rock were highlighted against a bright blue sky. Almost at the top of the range, there was an observation point where we stopped and took some photos. In the small car park were several farmers selling various fruits and vegetables. I took a photograph of some elderly women sat among their produce. One made a fuss of me and said she was too ugly to photograph, but she wasn’t, she was beautiful and she reminded me how lucky people are who still have mothers and grandmothers. I wanted to take a photograph of them sat naturally but instead they sat upright, hands on knees and all looked very serious.

roadside traders on the road up to Heinsa Temple – Kaya Mountains (2001)

a stupa in the large forecourt before the main temple (2001)

We were now in the heart of the Kayasan (가야 산) national park and in U-no’s little car we travelled down from the observation point into another valley before climbing back up into more mountains towards the Haeinsa (해인 사) temple. May 1st in the lunar calendar this year marks the celebration of Buddha’s birthday and so the roads in the park were edged with yellow, red and purple lanterns which at night are lit. The park was impeccably clean, not a piece of litter anywhere. We passed through a number of small villages where up in the surrounding hillside people could be seen tidying up their relatives tombs after the long winter. Arbour Day is one of the days when people walk up to their relatives tombs, tidy them and then present offerings which involve paying their respects by prostrating themselves on the ground, forehead to earth.

note the bees nest hanging from the side of the head

At many places on route to the temple, there were interesting sights. Small stupas, small pagoda constructions which house the spirit of Buddha dotted the landscape. We stopped at a larger sight where there was a small temple nestled up in the hillside. At the foot of the hill, just off the road and through some trees, stood an enormous statue of a Buddha flanked on either side by stupas. In front of the Buddha ran a burpling river which meandered down from the mountain. Stupas are common across the Buddhist world but Korean ones are very distinct with small bells hanging from the corners of each protrusuion. The stupa tapers into  a pointed spire. Like other Buddha statues I had seen in Korea, a large stone like ‘hat’ sat  on his head, from this one hung a large bees’ nest. From the nearby temple drifted the sound of a monk chanting and striking his small, spherical wooden percussion instrument made from hollowed out oak. It makes a hypnotic sound when continual tapped. Behind the Buddha was wall housing twenty or so class cases each containing a life-size Buddha in a different pose. In front of the statue stood a stone table where visitor placed offering of food for the monks, bags of rice or fruits and nuts. Those making offerings lit joss sticks and then prostrated themselves in front of the Buddha. There were several elderly women who had been busy prostrating themselves for the entire 20 minutes of our visit. U-chun told me a respectable number of prostrations is ten but if you want to be particularly devoted you perform 180. This is no mean feat as a complete prostration begins and ends from a standing position.

Min-ju and I (2001)

Eventually, after a further journey, we parked the car  in a large car park high in the mountains and joined the enormous conga of people progressing up to Haeinsa Temple. The walk talks about an hour. In places the climb was quite steep. One of the first sites we stopped at was a pond, called the  -Yong-ji. This lay just outside the entrance to the Haeinsa complex. According to the legend, seven sons wanted to become monks and left home to travel to Haeinsa. Later, longing for her sons, their mother travelled the long distance to visit them but as they had already taken their vows, they could not see her in person. Instead, they looked at each other’s reflection in the pond.

The temple complex was full of fascinating sights. The elaborate art work of the central temple, which housed a golden Buddha, consisted of intricate patterns of blue, green, orange and gold. Inside the main temple, monks prayed in front of the large golden Buddha, the air scented by both spring and incense. The Haeinsa Temple, was built in the Shilla (57bc-935ad) period though it was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in the 15th century. The temple houses the Triptaka Koreana which is the most extensive Buddhist text and is written on 82000 wooden engravings. The text is in the process of being translated. The wooden engravings are housed in outhouses surrounding the main temple.

Pak Yu-chun and her family (2001)

After spending several hours in the temple, we walked down the mountain and headed to a picnic area further into the Kayasan range. Koreans love to picnic and are well equipped with picnic mats, barbecues and baskets and when the finish, they meticulously tidy away all their mess. U-chun had cooked pulgogi and chap’che – a fried noodle dish with pork and beef through it. As usual the meal was accompanied with kimchee. After the meal we drove back to Daegu.

On Saturday, the Yon San Dong school had planned a staff trip to Kyong Ju (경주). Matt and I took a taxi down to the school to meet the mini bus. All the western teachers went except for Lisa who never seems to want to mix with anyone but who, in fairness, has been ill during the week. She continually moans anyway, so perhaps is it a good thing. There were four Korean staff coming with us, To-yung, Amy, Meg (who has a mouthful of wonky, impacted teeth and who looks like one of the Cenobite’s from Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser,’) and Qui-Aie. We all brought packed lunches and set off  in high spirits. I can’t remember if I have previously mentioned the significance of Kyong Ju, but it was at one time the capital of the Shilla (57bc-975ad) dynasty. Between approximately 40bc and 400ad the peninsula was divided into three kingdoms – the Shilla, Koguryo and Paekche. Around 400ad, the Shilla dynasty, situated in the east and militarily very powerful, overthrew the other kingdoms and united the peninsula. The Shilla dynasty ruled until approx 900ad. Needless to say the area is full of interesting sights and it is particularly famous for its spring blossoms.

Back – Qui-aie, me, Pauline, Angelin. Front – ?,? Angel, Matt, (2001)

Kyong Ju isn’t a large city but when we arrived it was teeming with people on bicycles hired from one of numerous shops. Matt shared a tandem with the Cenobite and the rest of us all hired standard bicycles and headed off to the nearby Shilla tombs. The most impressive tomb in the site we visited was the Heavenly Horse Tomb. Though several other tombs lay in the same location, only this tomb had been excavated and inside a coffin and 15 items, including a sword of 98cm long. The tombs are all large mounds and the Heavenly Horse Tomb had been hollowed out so we were able to walk around inside it. Nearby was the oldest observatory in Asia and this was a large circular building made of stone. From here we went to the Kyong-ju National Museum which lay next to the Anapj (Goose and Lake). In 1972 the lake was temporarily drained and over 41.000 artefacts were found which now appear in the museum. Outside the museum was a large bell known as the Emelie Bell. Apparently this bell was cast in the ninth century and its unusual tone is attributed to the fact that a baby was thrown into the smelting metal during its casting.

Tombs of Kings

We ate lunch in the gardens of the museum and then set of to visit a large lake outside the town. The cycle took ages and all along the route cherry blossom showered onto us like snow whenever a breeze blew. Pauline found the cycle strenuous and no matter how many times we asked where we were going, how long the cycle was likely to take, or how far it was, our host Koreans avoided our questions. After an hour or so cycling, Matt decided to stop and complain. We had all become split up and there were thousands of other cyclists travelling in both directions along our route. Despite our protestations, Qui-Aie wanted to push ahead and as soon as she saw Pauline struggling in the distance, she continued cycling with renewed vigour. I actually think it was part of her master plan to stop us getting together and moaning. After about another fifteen minutes, we reached this large lake which sat on top of a hill. All around the edge of the lake the cycle path could be traced by the line of cherry blossom. At the far end of the lake stood an enormous pagoda which I later discovered was a Hilton Hotel. On a large grass bank teeming with relaxing Koreans, we sat and had some refreshments bought from nearby stalls. We thought we would be able to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery but under the leadership of ‘Hitler Tours,’ other plans were afoot.

the cycle up to the edge of the lake – under a canopy of blossom (2001)

All to soon Qui-aie and the other Koreans ushered us to continue cycling towards the Hotel. It was an awkward cycle as the path an narrowed and was packed with walkers and cyclists in an enormous conga that seemed to travel in both directions unbroken, around the lake. As is natural, Koreans didn’t get stressed with the incompetent cyclists who frequently blocked out passage or slowed our journey. I don’t think Koreans are very well organised in terms of driving on the roads, walking in packed supermarkets or cycling. Mopeds and motorbikes can be seen everyday using the pavements and I regularly see potential accidents about to occur. In busy supermarkets they will push and shove each other in order to squeeze through little gaps. They do exactly the same when driving yet rarely do they loose their tempers or get stressed. Matt and I have a time limit when we shop in a supermarket – usually about half an hour, after which we deteriorate into a frustrated state. On the path around the lake there seemed no consensus about which side of the pavement to cycle on and it seemed total chaos to us westerners. We cycled for another half an hour, making painfully slow progress and on the few occasions on which I stopped to take a photograph, I was made to feel I was wasting time. Next, I suggested we stop because we had lost Pauline. Twenty minutes later and she appeared  in the distance and immediately, Qui-aie jumped on her bike. Matt wouldn’t get on his and was looking very cross.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked. He didn’t look up.

‘If there’s one thing I fucking hate it’s being asked if I’m alright when I’m fucking not,’ he snarled. Qui-aie was still trying to prompt us to cycle and I said we were going to wait for Pauline so she could take a break.

However, it wasn’t long before Qui-aie was leading us towards the fast approaching hotel. Soon, the path turned away from the lake. Our Korean guides, ‘Hitler Tours,’ grouped up ahead and were busy talking. I joked that they were probably deciding whose job it was going to be to tell us that we still had another few hours cycle ahead of us. Suddenly, To-yung told us we were turning towards the town and that we would be back at the minibus in some 20 minutes.  We were momentarily relieved as this is Korea and Koreans and often lacking in organisation.

After more cycling, I noticed that the fairground wheel which had lain behind the hotel now lay behind us and that we were in fact travelling towards Kyong-ju but by the longest route; around the perimeter of the lake. We were some two hours cycle away from the point at which we had arrived at the lake’s shore. Here we were in this beautiful location with cafes and boat rides and wonderful sights and all we were doing was racing amongst a huge conga of cyclists and walkers. At one point there was an enormous hold up and bikes were knocking into each other all over the place – which no one minded except us westerners. When some silly Korean in front of us, braked for no reason and then blocked our way we cursed but the facial expression of the perpetrator was one of innocence and bewilderment. There was a long lay-by next to us, lines with market stalls, not one Korean in the enormous hold up, broke ranks to circumnavigate the jam. I moved into the empty road, calling for Angela to follow me and within minutes there was a long clear path in front of us. For some fifteen minutes we flew down the almost empty path and when we reached the main road at the bottom, we had to wait forty minutes before we all re-grouped. Angela spent our time leering at sexy Korean lads and we both agreed that westerners are mutant mongrels by comparison. Our hair is assorted colours and textures, we have pallid skin, yellow teeth and we are usually fatter than Koreans.

The rest of our party eventually appeared, free-wheeling down the hill towards us but they did not look very happy, apparently, they had waited for us assuming we must have got held up. By now a tense silence had developed between the Korean and foreign teachers. We arrived back in Kyong-ju city centre, tired and with sore backsides but of course, once we had handed our bicycles back, ‘Hitler Tours’ wouldn’t allow us time to get a coffee or an ice-cream. Instead, it was straight back and onto the bus! Back in Song-so the foreign teachers went for a drink in the Elvis Bar which isn’t far from Kemyoung University. Tomorrow, April 8th, is Pauline’s birthday.

On Wednesday I went to the doctor’s to get my gout pills and to have Bill, the hernia, checked out. Bill hasn’t been bothering me lately though he is still there and pops in and out with a sort of squidgy, jelly-like feeling. Doctor Lee always wants to have a chat and practice his quite competent English. I asked him to check Bill out as I was worried it might be a cancer of something. I have multiple cancers at the moment and develop new ones regularly. He looked at me quite strangely when I told him this and so I had to explain that whenever I get a headache, a pain or a blemish, I assume it’s a potential cancer. He got to work with the ultra-sound and then showed me, by way of the monitor, that a small lump of fat was moving between different layers of my stomach muscle. He assured me it wasn’t a hernia or anything serious. I love my trip to the doctors as he is the first doctor I have ever had that actually I actually refer to as ‘my doctor.’ He genuinely seems interested in me and always asks if there is anything else wrong with me or anything he can do. No matter how long I take at the doctors, no matter whether five minutes or fifty minutes, the cost is always 10.000W which is less than five pounds. Even if one assumes the cost of living to be four less than in the UK, that puts my doctor’s fee at around £20. When my mother went to a specialist over five years ago she was charged £60. My doctor is actually an internal medicine specialist! It’s strange that my health seems more protected and guaranteed here in Korea than it is is the smug world of the ‘developed west.’ Even the poodle parlours here offer a better service than does the British NHS! Teachers like Matt and Angela from New Zealand all prefer the Korean medical system. We all seem to have access to drugs and medicine seen as too expensive to provide freely in our home countries. After my monthly trip to my doctor I went and relaxed at the sauna. I have been going to the mokyuktang several times a week.

My Taekwondo has been progressing very well and now it is warmer I have suffer less injuries. Spring is almost over and already we have had temperatures in the 80’s. Korea has a spring and autumn of only three weeks or a month and has long winters and summers. The blossom has fallen from the trees and now the streets around Song So are being lined with pink and yellow lanterns in readiness for Buddha’s birthday (May 1st of this years lunar calendar). I often train for forty five minutes at lunchtime either stretching at home or in my club. My stretching programme has paid off and I am able to do exercises I haven’t done for fifteen years or so. I can sit in a hurdler’s straddle and almost put my head on my knee and I can sit on my knees and lean right back so my shoulders are on the floor. From this position I can do sit-ups. My axe kick, one of my favourite and formerly most devastating kicks, is almost as good as it was when I took my black belt.  I now have a purple belt and my blue belt exam I will take in a few weeks time. After blue, I will have brown, red, red and black belts to take before I can finally take my black belt exam. I would be quite content to go home with a brown belt but gaining a black belt is within my grasp. I realise how unfit I have become in the last four years – all due to sitting at a computer writing and riding a motorcycle. It has taken me a lot of effort to get fitter and a few months ago I was going to give up Taekwondo for good.

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