Elwood 5566

Danger! Donuts!

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Blogging, Comparative, Westerners by 노강호 on August 19, 2010


I enjoy reading other westerners accounts of the bathhouse experience as so often, and to varying degrees, they highlight how ‘fucked up’ we waygukins are. I’m just as ‘fucked’ as everyone else, though probably in a different way, as I only have a problem with nudity and changing rooms if I am in the west when I find they ooze a hostile atmosphere that seems a juxtaposition of hyper masculinity and homo-eroticism. And I am further ‘fucked’ because I now find semi clothed far more sexually appealing than totally naked and in you face.

I stumbled upon  a commentary of a guy’s experiences in a bathhouse that was both open-minded and yet humorously exposed some reactions to the stranger observations bathhouses provide. Quote:

much nicer

We then had to soap up and shower down. An old man saw me struggling and helped me adjust the temperature of my shower, and even got me a fresh cloth to lather up with. After cleaning, we chilled in various hot tubs and saunas for about 30 minutes. Contrary to what I had heard from a female friend, nobody stared at me because I was a foreigner. This might be because men don’t give fuck about seeing other men naked. Personally, I got over seeing other men naked thanks to hockey change rooms, which can desensitize you to male nudity pretty quickly. I was feeling good about remaining unperturbed by this excessive nudity, because my colleague was worried I would not be able to handle all the male genitals/being naked in front of a hundred men. Then I saw a man doing push ups naked beside a man doing disgusting stretches I will never describe to anyone. At that point, I emphatically informed Mun-Gi I was ready to go.

I had to laugh because, as stark and to the point as it is, his comments capture some significant cultural differences. Unfortunately, the author of: I’m In Seoul but I’m not a Soldier, returned to Canada this month.

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

When the Cuckoo Dies

Posted in Uncategorized by 노강호 on June 28, 2010

Cute Cuckoo

Sitting in my kitchen is a cuckoo rice cooker; it’s pink, not my first choice of colour but at the time of purchase there were only 2 smaller rice cookers both identical, both  pink.  It sits on a shelf either on duty or turned off but generally it is turned on for months at a time only being ‘stood down’ while I refill it.  I suppose it’s one of my most fundamental and important cooking implements, certainly more useful than a microwave even in the absence of an oven, and yet I treat it with little regard. Occasionally it will get a clean, inside and out though last time I opened the lid in anticipation of a clean, I forgot about it and a few days later discovered  it was still operating.

My refrigerator, air conditioner and washing machine all warrant the luxury of some consideration because they are problematic to replace and any breakdown would cause a major inconvenience. In an attempt to prolong their lives I regularly adjust the fridge temperature, so as not to over work it, or I will use the  fan instead of the air conditioner and then washing machine I will occasionally treat to lime dissolving powder. However, I am aware that all are prone to failure and steel myself for that moment. The poor little cuckoo, as cute as it is, doesn’t even get a  look in! I wouldn’t dream of boiling rice in a pan to prolong its life and when it dies it will be chucked in the bin without sadness or ceremony and a replacement, another cuckoo, will be in situ within a few hours of terminal failure.

A lot of teachers in Korea probably feel like cuckoos. I arrived for my first spell in Korea in late August 2000 and looking back over my diary I had deduced an attitude towards foreigners, and especially English teachers, within my first day. I arrived  at  Kimpo International Airport in the late evening, believing I was going to Ilsan to teach middle to high school age students, a condition agreed upon before I accepted a post. The next day, I was dragged to five different schools  in what was clearly an attempt to sell the Letterland system and I was the cuckoo being used to promote it.   Even in the car being driven between schools, neither of my hosts saw fit to give me any commentary  as I gawked in awe at a culture far removed from my own.  And when I asked when I was going to be taken to my school, or what it was like, or where it was, their English suddenly seemed to evaporate. Not much after 10 am and the jet lag began to kick in and in one school I feel asleep in the bosses office. Despite knowing nothing about the Letterland system, a book was thrust into my hand in several schools and I was asked to talk to  ‘teach’ the kids.  In the evening I was taken back to Kimpo Airport and  while I sat  intermittently sleeping my hosts were busy on their mobile phones.  After an hour of nothing they burst into life and hurried me to a ticket booth and  before I knew it I was boarding a plane for Daegu and a post that involved teaching elementary school and kindergarten.

Introducing the new English teacher.

I can imagine the discussions prior to my arrival: ‘If you collect the new cuckoo at Kimpo you can borrow it for the day. Take it around some prospective clients and turn it on, get it to do some work, show it off! Just being a western cuckoo will impress them! Then,  in the evening, when you are finished, pack it onto the last plane bound for Daegu and we can have it collected from the airport.’

On my third stint in Korea, teaching in Ch’eonan, I arrived on a Sunday evening, in early September. My new boss collected me at the airport and then took me to my one room. I had to spend my first night sleeping in unwashed bedding with the previous teacher’s dribble stained pillow.  It was like sleeping with a stranger; I could smell the guy all  night and without a doubt his bedding  hadn’t been washed for months. It was horribly humid  and no one had thought to put a bottle of water in the fridge, or some toilet paper in the bathroom. When I asked if the school could arrange for me to have internet access, I was simply told it wasn’t possible. The school also took the liberty of billeting me alongside 36 boxes which belonged to the outgoing teacher who was planning to return to Korea at sometime in the future.  The boxes took up a third of my floor space and transformed what could have been a fairly pleasant, if not small one room complex, into a warehouse.  After a few months they were a daily reminder of my cuckoo status and on more than one occasion I launched a barrage of kicks against them or stabbed them  in a crazed carving knife attack. Eventually, I tore a few open and tossed the contents about my room, then claimed I’d been  burgled. The next day the school provided a small truck to move the boxes into the school. But guess who supplied the labour?

Just like the cuckoo rice cooker, the cuckoo teacher should have no special needs or requirements. once un-boxed the cuckoo should be ready to function until failure when it can be chucked out and replaced.

Just like you never bother to tell your cuckoo what your plans are or give it some notice prior to activation, many Korean bosses spring things on you at the last moment – often through the school secretary. One boss would occasionally drag me to other towns, always under the pretense of sightseeing and we’d suddenly pull into a school. After meeting the principal and being given a brief tour and lunch, it would then be ‘sprung’ on me that I had to teach for an hour. In the UK we call this kind of teaching ‘door knob teaching’ as generally you have no idea what your supposed to be doing until you enter the classroom.

In the Ch’eonan high school, foreign teachers would arrive at school to find it was a day off or all the staff except you would be in casual clothes because it was a sports day. The status of rice cooker is no more obvious than when you are ill – the equivalent of your cuckoo being broken and of course, carting it to the nearest service center is beyond the question. When I had a particularly nasty flu and had to stay in bed three days, my first boss didn’t even bother to call in and see me and on the third day sent the landlord to summon me. When I returned to school he pointed to the classrooms and simply shouted, ‘do your duty!’ I called him a ‘fucking wanker!’ and promptly resigned. Rice cookers aren’t supposed to talk back! An accident, long illness or some similar calamity and you realise very quickly how disposable you are.

On occasion I’ve been quite proud of my cuckoo, partially because its cute but also because it has a novelty value as they are fairly rare back home. And likewise, there are times when bosses will wheel out foreign teachers to show off.  When my high school had a contingent of teachers visiting from the USA, for negotiations concerning a potential partnership, we were summoned to the principal’s office, a space approximately twice the size of a classroom, and were  prompted to chat and be friendly while the press took photos.  Another boss hated any foreign teacher speaking or learning Korean, except when potential parents were visiting when he’d  giggle and ask you to  introduce yourself in Korean. I was never quite sure whether he did this to impress parents or provide them a little humour.

Unlike my cuckoo, which firmly belongs to me, teachers are almost seen as public utilities. Every English-speaking waygukin will have experienced those fleeting interactions with passers-by who will use you to speak English or nudge their kids forward  for a free lesson. Whereas I am the only person accessing my cuckoo, every  Korean sees it as legitimate to finger my buttons.  Even when we are ‘stood down’ we frequently get turned back on.

A few years ago I bought a rice cooker in the UK, it’s crap as it cooks rice and then  automatically turns itself off as it has no  ‘warm’ mode and hence, can’t be so easily abused.  As much as I love Korea and enjoy teaching, I often wish I  were similarly designed.

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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.

Lisa’s Moaning. March 27th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, Teaching by 노강호 on March 26, 2001

On Tuesday, Mr Joe took the foreign teachers, and the Korean teachers from the Yon San Dong school, out for a meal. Of course, Mr Joe never told me we were going out and as usual I heard it ‘through the grape-vine.’ I have told Joe many times to let me know when he plans to do things as I have such a busy schedule. The meal had been planned for Friday, but then I heard he had changed it as he was going to Seoul on Saturday and was no doubt going the be having a heavy soju session. He had a little go at joking with us by telling us that the Korean president, Kim Dae-young, wanted his advice on things and that was why he was going to Seoul. As I was already supposed to be meeting Pak U-chun on Friday evening, I told the other teachers I wouldn’t be going but Mr Joe is very cunning. On Tuesday afternoon he turned up at his office, which is situated right behind my desk in the reception area where Nana and I keep our books and relax in the five minutes between each class. He quite often comes in and then can be seen sitting in his office, feet up on his sofa, reading a newspaper or watching his television or even sleeping. I can always tell when he is sleeping as his feet dangle of the end of the sofa which can be seen even if his door is slightly ajar. Well, it was the start of the last lesson and I was planning to make a rapid escape so as to avoid him. As I passed his door I could see he was still sleeping but then, just as the lesson bell sounded, he appeared behind my back.

“Nick, what time do you finish?” he asked.

“9.30, about,” I replied with a ready-made reply.

“What! You teach that late?”

“No! That’s when I finish taekwon-do!”

“What time does that start then?” he asked.

“At eight.”

“Well, we are going for a meal at 6.50.”

He had caught me out as there was time to go for a meal and then go training. I suppose I could have made a further excuse, but I didn’t. At around 6.30 the crowd from Yon San Dong, arrived and walked down to a nearby restaurant that serves pork barbecue. The pork is sliced thinly rather like bacon and you barbecue at a grill on your table. As usual there were plenty of small side dishes. The meal was really tasty and a little later Lisa arrived looking very grumpy. Mr Joe had cancelled her class and sent someone to walk her to the restaurant. She wasn’t pleased as she had prepared a lesson and to make matters worse Joe had her ‘escorted’ to the restaurant. There really is no pleasing her and she is forever moaning. To think her lesson was cancelled and she was being paid to eat a free meal. Later, Mr Joe asked if she wanted to come to the noraebang for a sing-song and she curtly shouted down the length of the table;

“No! No! No! Definitely not, Mr Joe! I have to be ready for work tomorrow morning and I have to prepare!” She is such a snappy old bag.  I encouraged her to come down for a bit but when we got into the singing room she sat on her own and refused to sing anything.

Mr Joe is excellent at singing and performed all his favourites which are usually anything by the Bee Gees, Tom Jones or the Beatles. Lisa has been blagging on about how she is a writer for a local paper in New Zealand, where she lives. She keeps telling me that her local paper wants her to write an article on life in Korea. She certainly doesn’t open her self up to new experiences and is very colonial in her attitudes. For her, nothing is right in Korea, it’s either too dirty, poorly organised or it’s uncivilised. I wouldn’t mind so much  if I heard her saying something positive about the place to counterbalance her criticism, but she doesn’t.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon in and around Song So with Pak U-chun and her daughter, Ga-in. She bought me lunch in a small Chinese restaurant that is right opposite Macdonalds and which I must have passed a hundred times but never noticed. It is a small delivery restaurant with only a few tables in it. I have counted twelve restaurants between my house and Di Dim Dol (디딤덜), a walk that takes only five minutes. All of them, with the exception of Macdonalds and KFC (K P shee), are delivery restaurants and always have a couple of mopeds outside them (Incidentally, Macs started offering a delivery service around 2008). The roads and pavements are crawling with mopeds that rush food to work places and apartments. The riders, mostly teenage boys, don’t wear protective clothing or crash helmets and carry a large metal box, containing the meals, in one hand. I often wonder how many of these lads get killed or injured each year.

Yu-chun ordered seafood fried rice and it was delicious. It wasn’t particularly Chinese but the absence of red pepper paste, plus king prawns, bamboo and water chestnuts, made a welcome change. However, few meals in Korea are complete without kimchi or moo (mooli).

Suddenly the blossom is out! I’ve been waiting for it to flower all week and all at once it has. All the trees now have a green fuzziness and I expect they will be fully green in a few weeks. The grass, parched and brown throughout the winter and since I arrived in Korea, is slowly coming back to life. When you walk past the flower shops, there is the most beautiful smell of hyacinths, azaleas and spring flowers. I miss my garden and plants back home!

Before Yu-chun left, we sat in a park just down the road from my school and in the space between Song So and Kemyoung University. Dusk was falling and on the football pitch boys kicked about a ball, their legs obscured by the dust kicked up by their feet. We sat under one of the typical oriental arbours that you see dotted around every park and on top of small hills throughout the city. They don’t serve much purpose in the winter and spring but I am aware that their importance will grow with the rising temperature. Then they will be a respite from the glaring heat which I regard with trepidation.

After I left Yu-chun  and Ga-in, I went straight to Pak Jun-hee’s restaurant as it was time for my weekly lesson with his son, Pak Ji-won. During the lesson he asked me if there were taekwon-do, kumdo, or hapkido schools in the UK? I  explained that the main form of popular sport in the UK was football and that martial art clubs were normally once a week in a grotty church hall. He looked at me with a puzzled expression.

“But football is just a game.”

“How are taekwon-do, hapkido and gumdo different? Aren’t they games too?” I asked.

“No! No! They are not games. Games are for fun and enjoyment. If you don’t have martial arts schools how do you train your mind to concentrate? How do you develop your discipline?”

“We don’t!” I replied.

On Sunday I relaxed, watched a video and did my stretching programme and then went to have a chat with a woman who runs a nearby pc (PC 방) room. She is going to Canada and wants a few English lessons or at least the chance to talk with an English speaker. I’m getting rather tired of talking English all the time with people who don’t speak it as a first language. Everyone here wants lessons. I reckon I could stand in the street and ask the first person I see if they’d like some lessons and the chances are probably 99%  that they would be interested. In 8 years of teaching in the UK, I have not once been asked by a pupil for me to give them extra lessons.

I left my apartment as usual this morning, at about 8.30am, to go to a nearby pc bang (PC 방).   As I was coming down the stairs I realised I needed to blow my nose  but I was already halfway down the stairs. I couldn’t be bothered going back to the house so when I got out onto the street I just ‘henged’ it up onto the pavement. “Heng’ is the Korean word for this practice. After, I  stood laughing because quite an unpleasant mass lay on the sidewalk and my nose felt wonderfully clear. No having to blow your gubbings into a hanky, no having to smear it around your nose and lips and no having to put it in your packet to be carried around all day. When I think of it hankies are such filthy, revolting things.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

The Letterland Saga – 11th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 11, 2000

I didn’t really feel like going to school this morning however, I had to get up early to give Dong-soo (박동수) a lesson and then go to my school, Di Dim Dol to meet Mr Jo. Mr Jo is taking Nana and I to his new Letterland School over in Yon San Dong. As usual, Mr Jo didn’t turn up and it wasn’t until we’d telephoned him that he did. He was still in bed when we phoned and he didn’t arrive at Di Dim Dol until after midday.

After he arrived he drove us out to the new school where we are also due to meet the new teacher from Australia. The Letterland School was totally brand new and things like white boards and books were arriving as we entered the building. We met Pauline, the new teacher and after a cup of coffee went to have a planning meeting to discuss what we are required to do when the school opens on Tuesday. This meeting was led by Young-seop (영섭) who is the senior Korean-English teacher, but he is only about 26. Nana and I were given seven books and were told that we were to teach in front of the prospective parents. Neither of us has ever taught the Letterland system and don’t know anything about this method of instruction. Pauline tried to make some suggestions and it quickly became clear that she thought it was only Nana and I involved in this activity.

‘But you’re teaching too,’ I told her. ‘The three of us have to do it!’

‘But I’ve never taught before,’ said Pauline, obviously under the impression we were going to be able to give her some guidance.

‘Well we’ve never taught Letterland either so we’re all in the same boat,’ I replied trying to console her. Pauline couldn’t believe what we were saying and looked very concerned. The meeting was tense especially as Young-seop (영섭) didn’t seem to know what was going on either and of course we couldn’t really make sense of what he was saying. Much of our failure to communicate was derived from the way Koreans respond to negative-type questions, basically any question with ‘not’ in the question (don’t, aren’t, couldn’t etc).

‘Are we teaching to three separate classes or one class?’ asked Pauline.

‘To three,’ replied Young-seop (영섭).

‘So were not teaching to one big class, then?’ asked Pauline trying to clarify what was to happen. It didn’t help that she was talking very fast.

‘Yes,’ said Young-seop (영섭). Pauline was becoming very agitated.

‘You are confusing me, Young. Let me get this right, we’re not teaching one big class?’

‘Yes, he replied.

‘Oh Jesus! One moment you are saying we are teaching one big class and the next three separate classes, what the freak are we doing?’ I didn’t understand the confusion at first and later discovered that Koreans agree with a negative question so when Pauline asked, ‘so we’re not teaching one big class,’ Young-seop’s reply meant, ‘yes, we’re not teaching one big class.’

At this point I decided to start moaning about how ridiculous it was that we were expected to give a presentation and teach in front of parents when we had no idea at all about the Letterland system. To make matters worse, we only had seven pupil workbooks from which to deduce the Letterland philosophy. The meeting dragged on until 2 pm when it was decided we should meet this evening at 8.30. Mr Jo drove us back to Song-so where we visited a noodle restaurant and I arrived back in Di Dim Dol only minutes before my first class was to start.

My head was still pounding from a hangover when we met at 8.30 and I wasn’t too pleased that I was having to do all this un-scheduled work without being consulted. It’s not the money I’m bothered about but the fact I came to Korea to experience Korean culture and Jo’s lack of organisation is impinging in that. The group had now swollen with the addition of several other Korean-English teachers including Gloria, Angela and Winnie. Mr Jo started the meeting of with a little speech and was desperately trying to give the impression he knew what was going on. I moaned a bit more to the Koreans and tried to explain to them the meaning of ‘being a mushroom, being kept in the dark and fed on shit’ but I don’t think anyone understood what I meant. I tried to move things along and so did Pauline but Nana kept criticizing our suggestions.  Young-seop (영섭) then told us that there were some teachers’ planning books at the Letterland school. This revelation made me really annoyed as they were the books we needed to consult, someone needed to be sent to get them. An hour later and they arrived but it was now 11 pm so we decided to meet on Monday at 9 am in the Letterland School.

On Saturday morning I took a taxi over to Pauline’s house to see if she wanted to do anything this evening. I remembered how lonely and lost I felt on my first weekend. Pauline lives not too far from Yon San Dong, on the edge of town and with a good view of the mountains. It was refreshing to get away from the high-rises of Song So (성서) and to see some new views. Pauline was busy cleaning her floor and she wasn’t very impressed with the condition of her flat – basically a porta-cabin sandwiched between some houses. She has no iron, TV, or video. In addition no one from the school had visited her to see if she was okay or needed anything. Mr Jo really has no idea how to treat people, especially westerners and it is quite clear South Koreans need a revolution to reorganise the slavish way people are expected to work.

In the evening Pauline and I met up and had bibimbap in my favourite restaurant. I came out to her and she seemed genuinely pleased I was gay. Most of her friends in Australia are gay and so we spent some time criticizing straight men. She has a really good sense of humour, wears no make-up and likes to eat as she is very fat. I expect we will get along fine. I told her I had had a book published and she asked if she could read it. It took me a while to find it as I had hidden it in case Nana came across it by mistake.

On Sunday, I went for a walk up the mountain behind my flat; the mountain is called the Warayong Mountain. This is the first weekend since I’ve been here that I didn’t feel all achey and tired. Today is December 3rd and I can remember doing a guard duty in Polemedia Camp, Cyprus, when I was with United Nations, on a December 3rd. Somewhere I have a photo of myself at the guard post. I think that would have been in 1973, the year I joined the army. I was surprised with the change of scenery up the mountain as when I was last here, some five weeks ago; the trees were still green though some where changing to red. Now all the leaves have fallen and you are able to see much more of the city below. I walked the same routes as on previous trips, basically straight up the mountain to the resting place at the top. At one point there was a really clear view of Wu Bang tower in the distance with a large Buddhist temple between both points. I took a photo of it but it never came out. At the top of the mountain is an open air gym equipped with benches, dumb bells, a clock suspended from a tree, a radio and speakers, some weights and hoops. No one steals them and nothing is vandalized as it would most certainly be in the UK.  Friends and families were exercising here and it was interesting to see fathers of forty plus doing this with as much vigour as their sons. Once you get to this point on the climb you realise that there are higher mountains behind it. There must be miles and miles of walks up here.  I walked back down the mountain and went to write my notes up at a nearby internet cafe, known as a PC bang.



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

Further References

A New Rice Cooker (Teacher) Arrives from Australia – Sunday December 10th (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Food and Drink, Korean Accounts Part 1, Martial Arts by 노강호 on December 10, 2000

At the taegeukkweon this week, (태극권 – is a Korean form of tai chi which is taught twice a week as part of  my  taekwondo classes), one of the boys was hit with a padded stick used to simulate a club attack. I don’t know what the boy had been doing but the instructor, Mr Park, struck him three times across the back of his legs. The boy, aged about 12, started crying and had his head bowed and Mr Park seemed to be telling him to stand in the ready position. The boy ignored him and so he was beaten. Eventually he complied and the class continued.

a rice cooker and a teacher share a lot in common in Korea

On Thursday, Mr Jo asked me if I would go to the railway station with him to meet a teacher arriving from New Zealand. He wanted me to go there at eight in the evening and as I wasn’t going training, I agreed. Nothing in Korea is simple, at least not in my school and after waiting at the school to be collected by Mr Jo, I discover she isn’t arriving until nine. Nine-thirty arrived and still there was no sign of Mr Jo and then Miss Pak, the school secretary, told me she was arriving at eleven. Next, Mr Jo arrives with a change of plans and sent another teacher to collect the new teacher  and decided to take Nana and I for dinner. We went to one of the many restaurants near the school, a sort of cross between a drinking house and a restaurant and there were western style tables to sit at. Before the drinks arrived at our table Mr Jo started telling us about some of his plans and I quickly sensed something else was afoot (note – Koreans initiate business meetings through food and drink). I had originally arranged to meet this Korean woman, a teacher in the school, for dinner, at 10.pm, her name is Pak U-chun (박유천 – 12 years later, she was to become my boss). As soon as I told Mr Jo I was supposed to be meeting her he telephoned her on his mobile and cancelled our meeting. He then decided we should meet at 10.am but I was supposed to be giving Dong-soo (박동수) an English lesson then. Nana suggested I phone him and cancel the meeting but I quickly retorted that I didn’t have his phone number. Nana’s next suggestion was that I should simply not turn up for Dong-soo (박동수). Jo got up and went to the toilet and I told Nana that I didn’t want to cancel my plans on the whims of Jo. When Mr Jo returned, we agreed to meet at 10.45 next morning.

If I was pissed off with Jo, I was even more pissed off when the meal arrived as it was totally Klingon and disgusting. What I thought was a purple bean curd (note – probably my early under standing of acorn curd, 도토리묵) and octopus turned out to be raw lived and stomach. Then there was this thick, white gloopy soup which resembled ejaculate. The liver and tripe I passed aside and the soup actually made me gag. However some recognizable meat and vegetables arrived for us to cook on the pot at our table and this was quite tasty (note – I’ve gradually become more accustomed to Korean food but there are still some foods I don’t enjoy and raw liver and stomach or good examples).

As we drank more soju (소주), Mr Jo’s plans began to unfold and it transpires that he wants Nana and I to go to his new Letterland school tomorrow to start planning the Letterland system. The trouble with the Korean way of business is that you have to be very careful about committing yourself through the influence of alcohol and do you even have a choice?

By the time we left the restaurant we’d drunk several bottles of soju (소주)  and beer and despite this Jo drove us to a noraebang (노래 방)  almost adjacent my flat. We spent several hours here singing and I must have ordered 7 or 8 rounds of beer. Next morning I had a bad hangover and had lost my voice.

(note- I’ve learnt that a number of Korean bosses treat you like a ‘rice cooker’ and once you have a problem or don’t function as they want and you’re simply replaced with another wayguk. Others bosses are quite the opposite!)


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

Further References

When the Cuckoo Dies (Bathhouse Ballads, June 2010)