Elwood 5566


Posted in Photo diary by 노강호 on June 21, 2011

It’s close enough…

he he he

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A Tale of Philosophers and Carrots

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, esl, Korean language, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 8, 2011

podcast 74

There is a Korean ‘idiom, dang-guen-i-ji (당근이지 – that’s the carrot, or absolutely!). Now, this isn’t directly borrowed from English but is apparently a development, by children, of dang-hyeon ha-ji (당연 하지 – absolutely!) If you say them repeatedly and alternatively, dang-guen-i-ji is definitely easier.

dang-guen (당근) the carrot, a familiar Korean crudité

So, one day I am buying something in a shop and use my newly acquired idiom and proudly ‘joke, ‘ ‘dan-goon-i-chi ‘(단군이지). The old lady serving gives me a funny look, no doubt amazed at my ability to use colloquial Korean. That day, I use the phrase several times and not just overdo its use but probably use it in slightly odd situations and this, so I believe, accounts for the bemused faces it induces.

Dan Goon (단군), legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC

A week or so later, I use it after having my hair cut and then I discover, I’ve been confusing the Dan-goon Wang-geom (단군왕검), the revered emperor-philosopher with dang-guen (당근), the common carrot. In translation, I suppose Dan Goon-i-ji might be rendered, ‘that’s the Socrates,’ or ‘that’s the Wittgenstein,’ depending on your current taste in philosophical schools. I should have realised my mistake earlier as I have a long history of confusing the legendary founder of Korea with Bugs Bunny’s favourite crudité.

Part of the course in learning a language is that you make mistakes and some of them can be amusing even if they do cause embarrassment.  I’m probably quite famous in the area in which I live for entertaining locals with my bumblings.  One of the local Monday morning market vendors was very bemused when she realised that the ‘eagle jelly’ I was asking for, was in fact ‘acorn jelly’ and on more than one occasion I’ve asked for, ‘some thinking,’ rather than ‘some ‘ginger.’

I’ve been there so many times! (link to Lulu)

In English the sounds ‘kan’ (간) and ‘kang’ (강) or  ‘tan’ (탄) and ‘tang’ (탕) are very easy to distinguish but this is not the case in Korean. For years I’ve heard and read silly arguments between western taekwondo students quibbling about the transliteration of terminology into English without realizing that the relationship between many Korean letters and English ones is an approximation and that many simply cannot be effectively captured with a letter of the English alphabet. English script isn’t adequate enough to differentiate the sounds  of its own language let alone those of another  as is borne out by the discrepancies between the ‘a’ in ‘cat and ‘father’ which result in disagreements between those speaking northern  and southern variations of British English.  Koreans for example, finalise a word ending in ‘n’ with the tongue between their teeth and distinguishing between some sounds often necessitates watching the mouth closely. So, I often mispronounce ‘soy-sauce’ and end up asking for ‘liver sauce’ and confuse ‘soup’ with ‘briquette.’ ‘The reason I’ve spent so long mispronouncing Dan Goon (단군) is because it was one of the first 10 Korean words I learnt some 30 years ago when I began training in taekwon-do. Many non-Korean TKD teachers mispronounce the word because the transliteration often rendered it ‘Dan Gun.’ If you want to pronounce Korean accurately you have to learn the Korean script or at least study the systems of transliteration used closely so as to avoid simply producing ‘approximate’ pronunciations.


And then there’s ‘ddong’ ( 똥 – shit)!  A westerner only has to attempt the combination ‘dong’  (동 – east) to elicit laughter and hence ‘dong-sa’ (동사 – verb) and ‘dong-wui-o’ (동의어 – synonym) have the potential to temporarily disrupt English lessons.  Maybe it’s just my lack of ability, but it seems no matter how hard you try, Korean kids seem to choose to hear ‘dong’  (east) as ‘ddong’ (shit).

and I love mandu

Some Koreans, can be quite cruel in their derision should you attempt to speak their language and even ‘sounding’ a word  or phrase in a Korean manner, can elicit sniggers and subsequent mimickery.  I’ve even known friends write my blunders down so they can  narrate them to others but I don’t mind as I too have learnt such blunders, regardless of nationality, are cute and on occasion my pen comes out to record  mistakes.

First, there are the obvious ones:

I’m fine – I’m pine

I like fish – I like pish.

Last week a new student appeared in a class and a student informed me, ‘there is a new pace in the class.’

‘I like crab’ usually always sounds like, ‘I like crap.’

And there is always the older boy who tries to impress you with his knowledge of ‘naughty English’ and proudly states, ‘puk-you! On the subject of four letter vulgarity, ‘vacuum cleaner’ becomes ‘pak-um creaner.’

How about, ‘make a mistake,’ which students often repeat as ‘make a steak’ or similarly, ‘be careful,’ which becomes ‘big apple.’ I hadn’t thought of combining the two but there’s a  laugh  when I want to exact some revenge; ‘be careful not to make a mistake’ – ‘big apple not to make a steak.’

However, the one I remember best was years ago when a colleague was teaching a class to sing, Queen’s, ‘We Will Rock You.’ The kids were thoroughly enjoying the sing along as they loudly sang,  ‘we will, we will LOCK you.’

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

More Crappy Ingrish

Posted in Korean language, Photo diary by 노강호 on November 26, 2010

Crappy Korean English is great especially when practiced by schools that specialize in teaching English as a foreign language.


even better with a pint of Cass

one of my student’s shirts

Almost as good as my all time favourite, ‘Milky Boy’

Fantastic! Great advice… if you can actually decipher it

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Feeding Mummy's Milk

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, esl, Korean children by 노강호 on September 5, 2010


I’m often amazed at the blunders Koreans make in translating English and anyone who has lived in Korea even a short time will have amassed some great examples. In my writing, I write little Korean but I strive to make sure my spelling is correct. Conversely, many Koreans are quite happy to widely publicise something in crappy English, probably under the assumption that if you can tag an English sentence on your product or business sign, it is invested with greater authority. The gaff isn’t so bad, and can even be cute, on a mug or bar of chocolate; I have an old notebook on my desk on which is an enormous strawberry which a couple of years ago, when new, was scented. A caption under it reads: I’ve got a loaf of strawberries.’ But my favourite, from a packets of smoked salmon, reads:

‘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.’

Nursery rhymes

Ironically, the crappy English actually spurs my taste buds in anticipation of that creamy, special pink flesh, unfortunately eaten many years ago. But when the ‘company’ or individual is involved in English education or aspires to be ‘educated’, it becomes a glaring error upon which an astute reader is going to base a value judgment. Online commentary on anything regarding education demands careful checking in terms of vocabulary, grammar and spelling and should one make even the slightest mistake, it can be expected that no matter how sound the argument, your credibility will be vaporized.

I quite like nursery rhymes! No! I don’t wander around my one-room singing them to myself but as a musician, I have an appreciation for their catchy melodies. The English composer Roger Quilter wove a very successful overture, a Children’s Overture, out of nursery rhymes which I frequently happened to play as a flautist in the British Army. Quilter was a student of the extremely eccentric Australian composer, Percy Grainger.

A year ago I bought a a set of two CDs in E-Mart, badly named, English Chants and of course, a nursery rhyme is nothing like a chant. However, out of the 160 songs, I thought I was sure to find a few of use especially with classics like Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock and Polly put the Kettle on, included.

It was only in a bout of boredom that this week, I perused the titles of the other songs:

Time to stetch – your guess is as good as mine but I’ll go for ‘stretch’.

Going to the friend’s house – no comments!

Going to the Pediatrician, Going to the ENT Doctor and Going to Orthodontist, presume the child is both  acquainted with medical terminology and of a sickly disposition.

Going the DepartmentI can only guess is meant to be a ‘store.’

It’s a snack time – it amusing.

Want to go Potty – Who? Hilarious

Going Back from School – simply confusing!

On birthday – and whose birthday might that be?

But the king of all gaffs is, Feeding Mommy’s Milk. One still has to ask, ‘feeding mommy’s milk’ to whom? And the lyrics are classic:

Are you hungry? Are you hungry?

Feed mummy’s milk

And taste it good.

Sucking. Sucking. Sucking. Sucking

Mummy’s milk is good.

Are you done?

Hear it for yourself – drinking a glass of milk, especially with a straw, will never be the same again!

Click link below:

Are you hungry?

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Toss English

Posted in Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on June 17, 2010

I should have known better but after a hard day’s work, feeling clammy and tired, my brain wasn’t functioning. I ‘d stopped to take a photo of one of the school’s mini buses which was parked on the sidewalk, doors wide open to vent the heat before being crammed full of students. I’d no sooner got my camera out of my bag when a waygukin came around the corner. Being caught with your camera out, a sure sign you are a white belt waygukin, is embarrassing and the equivalent to being caught tossing or picking your nose. Like most of the boring western tossers in Korea, there was an avoidance of eye contact and a reticence to acknowledge another foreigner lest it taint their air of being a waygukin who thinks they’re either Korean or the only westerner in Korea.. I’d passed another two in exactly the same spot earlier in the day – one I’d nodded at but behind his dark glasses he totally ignored me. The other was walking into his school wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts that made him look like a  tosser and then there were the flip-flops. I find it a form of racism for waygukins to go and work in a school dressed like they’ve just sauntered up from the beach as it demonstrates a complete lack of any understanding of or sensitivity to Korean culture and short of working for Mediterranean Beach Club 18-22, you wouldn’t dress as such back home.

The minibus I am photographing belongs to Toss English Academy and ‘toss’ is a British-English slang term for ‘masturbate’ or ‘crap.’ The school has been in situ for well over 10 years and I often smile when I see one of their buses passing. You’d really think companies, especially the big ones and ones which teach English, would ask a native speaker to check their  English so as to avoid making such gaffes! Other alternatives conveying the same sense of meaning and range of nuances would be: ‘Wank English Academy,’ Masturbate English Academy,’ and  ‘Shit English Academy.’  And for some examples:

Going for a toss – to have a wank, to toss off

tosser – a wanker or masturbator

to call something ‘toss’ – to state it is ‘rubbish,’ ‘shit,’ or ‘crap.’

a tosspot – a stupid person, an arsehole or a boozer.

As I’m taking the photo the driver comes up and asks me why I want a photo. I’m sensitive enough to gauge how appropriate it is to tell him what ‘toss’ means and even assume he might find it amusing and as he’s approximately the same age as I am, I go ahead and explain.  My pronunciation of ‘wank’ is impeccable as I’d heard it so often in my last school, a boys’ high school  as whenever you asked a student  any question about what they did, are doing, or might do, someone would mutter, ‘wank.’   Now, initially I assumed the driver understood me because with a little look of surprise on his face, he reiterates the word, ‘wank?’   I repeat myself and point to the word but suddenly he is looking  a little annoyed and walks back to the little group of drivers from which he had initially emerged.

Poor guy has probably been driving one of those mini-buses for ten years and then discovered from a stupid waygukin that  ‘toss’ means ‘wank.’  That’s a mighty kick to a Korean ‘kibun.’ I should have kept my mouth shut! I explain my faux pas  to a friend  who sees nothing wrong or offensive in my comments and the context they were made in but suggests he may have been worried about ‘company’ image.  However, as I replay the event through my mind  I am beginning to wonder if he understood what I meant by ‘wank’ but misunderstood the rest of my Korean. If such were the case then they guy probably thinks I’m a weirdo. Maybe he thought I was after a ‘wank’ in his bus or maybe he thought I was suggesting I ‘wank’ him. Now I’m going to have to avoid that stretch of road to by-pass the Toss Buses and their drivers.

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©努江虎-노강호 2010  Creative Commons Licence.

Toss English went bankrupt in 2012.

June 2010

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I'm Pine! And you?

Posted in Diary notes, esl by 노강호 on April 24, 2010

Are you an ESL teacher in  Korea?  Bored of teaching? Tired of asking the same questions day in and day out? Suicidal at hearing the same flat, dull and unemotional responses? Look no further! Simply download the PDF, copy and distribute to your students. Then sit back and enjoy the laugh.

I’M PINE is a mini dialogue for 3 characters designed to  raise awareness of mispronunciation and provide some amusement for bored teachers. If you have the energy you can explain to your class the differences between, for example, ‘fine’ and ‘pine’ or you can simply hand out the script and let them get on with it.



FINE (Mr Fine walks into the Fish-shop)

SK Hello Mr Fine. How are you today?

FINE I’m pine and you?

SK I’m fine too. What would you like to buy? I  have some lovely seafood this  morning.

FINE Shi-pood! Ohh, Lovery!  What have you got?

SK I have some nice fish, cod, and delicious mackerel.

FISH (suddenly Mr Fish walks in)

FINE I want some pish!

FISH Well, here I am Mr Pine. Good morning?

FINE Good morning Mr Pish, have you come for a pish.

FISH Well, Mr Pine you do look pine. Yes, I’ve come for a pish, I love a pish on a priday.

FINE Yes, pish is so tasty and lovery. I was going to have a presh pish but I think I might have a crap instead.

FISH What sort of crap do you like?

FINE I love big, fat brown ones, esperarry with big craws. A big crap boiled is best and better than a robster. Mmm, dericious. I like my pood presh. What sort of pish do you like Mr Pish?

FISH I love a long one. Long ones are more tasty. The longer the pish the better. Mmm, tasty. (MR FISH TURNS TO SK) Can I have a long pish please? Pish and pren-chee pry – dericious!

SK Pish and cherry pie? I wish you’d speak Engrish!   

FINE And I want a big crap, a big brown crap that will fill my pot.

SK Ooooo! sorry gentlemen! You can’t pish here and you can’t crap! That’s tewibble, disgusting. If you want a pish or a crap go to the toilet!

FISH Pardon, I don’t understand. I only want a pish please.

FINE And I just want a crap, a big brown one.

SK You’re disgusting, nasty people. Go away!

FISH But, I don’t understand. This is a shi-pood shop.

FINE Yes, a pish shop is where you go for a crap.

FISH And a pish!

SK Go away! You’re very bad! Get out!

(Mr FISH and FINE walk down the road very confused why they could not buy fish or crab at a fish shop.)

FINE What a strange man Mr Pish. There are so many strange people. Last night I asked my neighbour if she’d like to see penus out of my window.

FISH How big was it? Was it ra-gee?

FINE Oooo! it was the big. Very big. I’ve never seen it so ra-gee.

FISH Was it shinny, too?

FINE Of course, Penus is always big and shiny.

FISH Was she excited? I would have been.

FINE No, she wasn’t excited at all. She was tewibbly frightened.

FISH What did you say?

FINE I said hurry, hurry Mrs Dick, you can see Penus out of my window and it is really big and shiny.

FISH What happened next?

FINE Her husband came to the door. ‘Puck you!’ He said,  and hit me in the pace with his pist.

the end…

I’m Pine PDF

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Posted in Korean language, Photo diary by 노강호 on April 22, 2010

'Homemade riceball and beef on the ricel.'

I don’t know if a term has already been coined or if indeed there is a name, for the blending of Konglish with bad English. I am going to call it ‘Kongrish’ and below are some of the examples I’ve collected. I wish I’d had a camera for some of the ‘classics,’ just to have substantiated their validity.

Kongrish Around Song-So, Daegu

‘Hair Deciener Shop’

‘Twin Twon Coffee Shop.’ I assume this is meant to read, ‘Twin Town.’

‘Shitty Pizza.’ This has to be one of my favourites!

There was  also a boy in one of my classes who wore a t-shirt on which there was a large ‘20’ under which was written, ‘Sporty, Young and Milky.’

‘Kolon Sports’ – on a hakkwon bus.

‘I’ve got a loaf of strawberries’ – This was on scratch and sniff notebook.

‘Every morning of sun shine glowing warm shafts upon us’ – I wish something ‘sporty, young and milky’ would ‘shaft’ upon me some morning!

The following was from a packet of smoked salmon bought in E Mart:

‘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.’ Classic!

And though there’s no errors with this one, it appeals to my childish humour:

'Hotel Venus,' except 'Venus' is pronounced 'Penus--uh'. Also the name of a popular lingerie shop.

This one was taken this year

A bar, not too far from Lotte Cinema, Song-So. 'Skewer is a Speciality?'

This one is from Cheonan – just amusing!

A pork restaurant

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It’s all in the Touch – Skinship. (스킨십)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Diary notes, No Pumpkin Category by 노강호 on April 10, 2010

This week, I was invited to the apartment of a student’s father who, after a soju session, happened to find me alone, eating dinner in a small restaurant. I’d been both training and to the bathhouse and at 10.10pm, after an intense day, I didn’t really want to party.  Unlike many in a similar state of being a little tipsy, he refrained from coaxing me into drinking and so, feeling in control, I agreed to accompany him to his apartment. Needles to say, my dinner was paid for. Outside, on the street, he led me by the hand and throughout the hour or so we sat on the floor in his apartment, surrounded by his family, he kept giving me ‘high fives’ after which he’d hold my hand, interlocking his fingers around mine or squeezing my palm with both his hands and every so often, in a slightly inebriated fashion, he’d say ‘Nick, I love you,’ or ‘Nick, you are my friend.’

A communal pillow

I can imagine how intensely invasive such situations can be for many western men. From the age  18 to 27, I lived in West Germany and in my free time I trained with friends  in a taekwondo school. Although most of the students were German, a fair few were Turkish and whenever they shook your hand, which as is the custom in Germany, was upon every meeting, they’d shake it and continue to hold it. It seemed they held it for minutes and as each second passed, I could feel my body tensing. Worse however, was when they began caressing it between their hands until with temperature rising, you could feel your palm becoming horribly clammy.  Today, such innocent intimacy doesn’t bother me and I can as easily initiate it as be the recipient; but, if I think back to my first experiences of such behaviour, I can relive the horror. Without any doubt, it was invasive, almost like going in your zipper, but of course, you couldn’t pull your hand away, that would have been quite rude. And despite the fact my friends and I were only 18 or 19, that we’d never been to university and were soldiers, we had enough experience to know the discomfort stemmed from a simple clash of cultures. It just had to be endured. By the time I returned to England some years later, I wasn’t shocked when a Kenyan friend held my hand in Richmond, London, on a busy Saturday afternoon.


Within a Korean context, my new friend, Jae-seong'(재성), is behaving quiet naturally and his intimacy should not for one moment be construed as sexually motivated. In a male to male setting, Koreans are much quicker to initiate ‘skinship,’ than are British or North Americans and when initiated it is quickly upgraded to a level we would construe as ‘almost sexual,’  ‘certainly suggestive,’ and ‘definitely alarming.’ Men and boys sharing umbrellas, arms draped over each other shoulders, sometimes holding hands,  that’s the sort of stuff homos do! I googled ‘skinship’ prior to writing this entry and the fifth reference on the very first site, Urban Dictionary, began:  ‘disturbingly intimate skin-to-skin relationship between adolescent boys in Japan.’  This value judgment itself struck me as disturbing. However, more judgments were to follow:

(a new English teacher in Japan working in a junior high school) ”Man, I went into one of my classes today, and this one boy was sitting on the lap of another one right there and he had his one hand in his half-buttoned down shirt feeling up the other boys chest, and with the other hand he was playing with the other boys hair. Both of them seemed fine with it, and nobody else seemed to care at all. And I knew both of the kids have girlfriends because I talk to them after class. It was so weird…”

(a veteran English teacher) ”It’s called ‘skinship.’ I don’t know why, but they all love that shit over here.”

I am tempted to dismiss such comments as I know some people can be blind to travel, that travel doesn’t necessarily broaden the  mind.  I met a very pleasant fellow countryman a few weeks ago. We were roughly the same age, both ex army, having in fact served at the same time and in the same area, both professional school teachers and with a  lot  in common.  He had only been  in Korea a few weeks so I pass no judgment on him, but when I asked if he’d like to go to the movies, he rapidly declined assuming Koreans would think two men watching a film together,  gay! I have to ask myself whether I’m weird to find the intimacy of skinship endearing and should the hostility and masculine bravado I am accustomed with back home, be preferable? That girls can be intimate with each other without being labeled ‘lesbian’, while for boys the  only opportunity for physical contact is generally through a contact sport, in my opinion epitomizes the lives of insects, where every other  insect, even of ones own species, is a potential threat.

‘hierachical collectivism’

‘Skinship,’  is both a Japanese and Korean concept, derived originally from the relationship between mother and baby where physical contact is an important bonding process. The term is used to describe general intimate physical contact, as between parents and children, as well as more a more sexual expression involving petting, especially between teenagers. The Korean term, an example of Konglish, appears to differ in practice from Japanese ‘skinship’ as it is practiced between men, and especially teenage boys. It involves a range of common and not so common practices including:  draping arms over each other, sharing umbrellas, sitting in each other’s laps, massaging, stroking, toying with each other’s hair, holding hands, playing with fingers, resting head on another’s lap or thigh, playing with ears, etc, etc. It can also be used to describe bonding with someone through sports or games and which are often common practices among business men.

In the west, I have always found that even cursory physical contact between people, for example, touching of an arm or shoulder, signifies a deeper level of relationship. I can remember touching the arms of parents on parents evening in schools 10 years ago, parents whom I only met once, yet seemed to have an empathy with, which resulted in the fleeting touching of a hand or arm. And I have noted in the past, that a short cut to bonding is through physical touch but its initiation has to be mutual and stress free for it to be successful. Of course, physical contact and its  importance in bonding, form the basis of courses designed to promote workplace relationships – those courses where a partner has to fall backwards and you catch them or some such activity.

Normal behaviour

However, digressing momentarily, forced intimacy can occasionally have a negative effect. I recall, once going to a friend’s birthday party. She was English but practiced an Indian religion and along with twenty or so other friends, sat in a large and busy North London restaurant, and ‘forced’ to sit in designated seats next to people you didn’t know, we had to close our eyes, turn to the person next to us and then simultaneously, begin feeling the contours of each other’s face. The cringingly stressful procedure was  accompanied by new age whale music. Oh, my God! It was horrible! Not because of the intimacy but because you knew the rest of the restaurant were watching you in disbelief. Then we had to turn to the other partner and massage their shoulders. All I could think was, Karl Marx’s grave is just down the road and I’ve never seen it! There’s a time and  place for physical intimacy, for skinship but not in a busy restaurant on a Friday night  to the serenade of migrating humpbacks.

So, after a coffee, some strawberries, some holding of hands and intertwining of fingers, I actually feel closer to Kim Jae-seong than several hours earlier. Already, he’s inviting me to the beach at Pusan and even suggest a date. The chances are it will materialise. And then he progresses to  ask me if Id take his son to the UK  when I go on my next holiday. I agree and then to make light of it, as I know it’s probably the soju talking, I joke about how he’d fit in my bag.  And meanwhile  Ben, his son, is eagerly taking a photograph of me and muttering ‘ that his friends won’t believe his teacher has been to his house.’

I have probably taught more students back in the UK than in Korea but I have never sat in a parent’s house, I have never been invited into a parent’s house, I have never socialized with  a parent, I have never been invited on a trip with them, I have never had a student photograph me because they needed proof a teacher had been  in their house, I have never had a student hold my hand or do anymore than fleetingly touch me, and the same goes for a parent, and neither parent or student has really ever wanted to associate with me. And all in instance I feel both a yearning to be back home with my friends and family and a sense that this is home. Certainly, it is where I’m valued.

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© 林東哲 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.