Elwood 5566

Kindy Life – Jan 1st – 20th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children by 노강호 on January 2, 2001

Kindergarten classes finish at 2pm and we then have to start hagwon classes straight away. The kindergarten is soul-destroying as we follow that stupid Letterland syllabus and the resources are not suitable for kids whose first language is not English. Then of course, to make things more boring, most of the kids know the alphabet anyway but we are still compelled to teach it from the beginning.

Jo told me to make sure we took a whole month to do the letters ABC and within ten days of dragging lessons out the kids, all had finished their work books. Last Monday, I said to Precious, which is the adopted English name of the young woman who is both a teacher and receptionist at the school’s front desk, that I needed the next workbook but she said I had to keep the kids on the current one, the ‘Annie Fucking Apple’ workbook, for the next month! The activities are fine for kids who have weak spatial skills but the colouring in letter ‘A’s’ or ‘B’s’ is a totally useless activity. One boy copied a line of ‘A’s’ in eight seconds. I’m sure some kids could complete the entire workbook in half an hour.

The videos cannot be understood as the vocabulary is too complex or the English too confusing. One moment something is called a ‘puppy,’ next moment it is a ‘dog’ and the books are full of lengthy words which might be understood by a native English speaker but not by an ESL (English as a Second Language) student.

Deok-hyeon, terrified to enter my classes – many kids back in 2000 had never seen a real foreigner

There is another boy who is supposed to be in my class except he hasn’t yet attended, his name is Deok-hyun (덕현). I terrified him the first time he attended the school and every time I went near him he screamed. He was petrified of coming into my class and when we initially managed to get him in he sat trembling. Eventually he ran out of the class and has since spent almost two weeks sitting in the reception with Precious. Whenever I walked past he runs away and hides.

I have settled into the teaching life at Letter and Sound and have noticed how my girls are all brain-dead. I don’t know what Koreans do with many of the girls but it is quite criminal as a noticeable proportion of them are morons. For example, whenever I asked Da-hae (다해) a question she starts to slaver and dribble all over the table. Then she proceeds to eat the edge of her desk or the cuff or her coat or jumper. Precious has told me that one the bus in the mornings she forever has to tell Da-hae to stop licking the windows. In every class I have girls who fail to communicate with me or are petrified by my simple questions. When I ask them something easy to answer, and then given them a hint, they stare off at a tangent and refuse to speak to me. I have noticed how most of the girls who do this are the ones dressed in pink or with fluffy furry clothing and it reinforces my belief that there is a link between being clinically brain-dead and make-up, the colour pink and My Little Pony paraphernalia. Of course we destroy and undermine the potential of female personalities in the west but here it seems much more acute. In fact if I taught girls in the UK who acted in this manner I might assume they’d been abused in some way but then the Korean girls will have been mentally abused. It is quite sad how many girls second themselves to boys and men.

Matt, Angela and Pauline refer to my class as ‘The Cabbage Patch.’ After lunch, which we serve to the kids in their classrooms, I will help Precious clean up the room. It has now become common practice for us to make jokes about where Da-hae (다해) was sat as there will be a patch of drool and licky food smears. Out of my three boys one is normal while Deok-hyun (덕현) is constantly running out of my classes as he is terrified of me. Dong-seop has started competing with Deok-hyun for the attention of Precious and has also started to have crying fits at the start of each day.

So far I’ve managed to avoid taking kids for a piss – the boys at least. The girls I don’t mind as much as they are surprisingly independent at this task. Boys however, are quite different. However, this week Dong-seop wanted me to take him for a piss. Koreans kids use the word ‘shee’ (씨) which translates into something like ‘tinkle’ or ‘wee wee’ as whenever I use it in front of Korean adults it promotes laughter. Dong-seop started making the gesture for wanting a piss, which is to make stabbing motions towards to their crotch with the palms open.  It is quite a funny gesture and is always done with both hands. I was forced to take him as there were no other adults around. When we got to the urinal I was hoping he would do it himself but little Korean boys will usually just stand there as they are used to their parents doing everything for them. I had to pull down his trousers, and then his long johns however, before I could get them fully down he started pissing into them.

On the Chinese New Year we had three days off which happened to fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, in Korea you wouldn’t expect to be given even the Monday or Friday off by your boss, let alone both days. Koreans don’t seem to complain or even be bothered about this themselves. On the Monday evening I meet Ryo Hyu-sun and a friend of his and together we went to the bar, Mr Seven, which is next to my apartment. They asked me what I wanted to eat and I said I didn’t mind. This wasn’t a sensible thing to do as next moment we were served a communal plate of chicken feet in spicy red pepper sauce. At first I thought they were prawns but when I lifted one out of the sauce it wobbled grotesquely from the end of my chopsticks. I ate a few just to be polite and all the time had to suppress an urge to chuck up. All the bones seem to have been removed from the feet but they still had bits of gristle in them or maybe that was the bones but regardless, there was a continual crunching in my mouth and throughout the duration I couldn’t help how much chicken shit each little foot had trodden in. Whenever Koreans drink alcohol there is food on the table and they consider it unhealthy to drink without constantly nibbling.

When it was about one in the morning, and after another of Ryo Hyu-sun’s friends had joined us, we went to one of the numerous soju tents known as pojangmacha (포장 마차) which are doted all over the place. These are simply red and white or blue and white stripped plastic tents which stand on disused land or parking lots. They are large with entrances and plastic windows and inside they are heated by kerosene heaters which remind me of living under canvas in the army.  The owner of this tent, a middle-aged man and his wife, had a small portion of the tent where they sleep and watch TV as these tents are open 24 hours a day. We must have spent an hour in Mr Seven discussing the merits of cod soup and cod roe (대구탕,알탕). Incidentally, Daegu, is also the Korean for cod.  Ryo Hyu-sun kept telling me how delicious these soups were and no sooner had we sat down in the soju tent, pojangmacha when a gas burner was brought to our table and a communal bowl of soup prepared. The soups were quite tasty but then we were huddled around the kerosene heater with an outside temperature of minus 10, pissed and hungry. Even a packet of dehydrated soup would have been something to talk about.  Koreans make several assumptions about their culture. The first is that their food is hot and spicy. Koreans are always saying to me, ‘Oh Nik, that meal is very hot!’ or “Nik! That is too spicy for you!’ Another assumption is that their food is delicious. I see their assumptions as a form of racism and whilst I don’t find them terribly insulting they are irritating. I am aware their assumptions are just that and are borne out of naivety rather than malice. Few Koreans have traveled abroad and the country is lacking in western restaurants. Of course MacDonald’s and ‘Kay Pi Shi’ (KFC) are here but there a few Indian, Thai or Mexican restaurants. Most Koreans think their food is too hot for westerners and are surprised if you eat rice noodle soup (떡보기) without complaining about how hot it is. They look at you in awe if you dare eat a raw chilli or glove of garlic at the meal table. As yet I haven’t eaten one Korean meal that is hot, I mean hot like vindaloo or hot like Mexican food. Generally Korean food is comfortably hot. I would love to see a Korean eating a Scot’s bonnet chilli or a habanero. Spicy hot in Korea is one that burns at both end! Then there is the assumption Korean food is spicy – well that’s not really true. Yes, it’s spicy hot-ish but it certainly isn’t spicy. I am sure other spices exist here but the only ones I have experienced are ginger, cinnamon, garlic. Combining a wide range of spices, as in Indian cuisine, is not the essence of Korean cooking and everything is served with copious amounts of either red pepper paste (고추장) or red pepper powder. Matt and I were talking about Korean food at school last week, as we were eating lunch and everything at the table contained some form of red pepper. The kimchi is loaded with it, it was copious in my meal and Matt’s soup and it was in all three of the various pickles at our table. You can rarely eat Korean food without eating some form of red pepper or chilli. Despite this Koreans will tell you their food is spicy. Well it’s hot but the only spice in it is chilli, that’s the only spice in anything.

As for kimchi, Koreans are obsessed with it. Kimchi is a national ‘dish’ and is a form of pickled cabbage a little similar in its properties to sauerkraut. It is made with Chinese leaf cabbage. The other main ingredient of kimchi is of course, red pepper powder along with garlic, ginger, various spring onions a form of fish sauce similar to Thai fish sauce and grated mooli which in Korea is called moo. Kimchi is served with almost everything and I can think of few meals with which it is not an accompaniment. In many meals it is a vital component along with rice or as the basis for soup. You can also buy kimchi flavoured noodles and crisps. If you mention kimchi to some children they get very animated and so far I have only met one child that doesn’t like it. I have been asking children their views on kimchi in my classes and on one occasion the kids became really excited when I said I liked it. Now I have to admit it but when I writing this diary in Korea, I hated the stuff. I would only eat small amounts of it and usually only as an accompaniment mixed with other things I thought it smelt disgusting, and a juxtaposition of something like a blend of flatulence aromas and something rotting. Now I love it and in fact I am pretty expert at making it. Many Koreans have been impressed by my skill at making this condiment. Neither have I really found Korean food delicious, at least not delicious in the same way as one might enjoy Chinese, Thai or Indian food but I do find it very satisfying.

It is amazing watching the kindergarten children eating their meals as their behaviour differs drastically to that of western kids. Korean children, even the very young ones, don’t start eating a meal until it is all served. There is no squabbling over who has a bigger portion and if one child asks for something extra the others don’t all follow suit. The children then all eat in silence apart from these rather unpleasant insect-like noises they make such as juicy clicking noises, smacking of lips and slurping. They eat so slowly and with intensity as if the flavours and consistency of every mouthful is being pondered. Finally, when finished, they take their tray to the reception, clean it and put it back in the rack. All this is done without being prompted.

Many of the kindy kids are three or four years old and yet I haven’t noticed pissy or foetid smells lingering on them. So far, I haven’t had to take any kids for a crap, and I don’t want to, but in the UK you would expect to take such children for a pooh every now and then.  Korean children are impeccably clean but their teeth are often bad and I have noticed the worse a child’s teeth are, the richer the parents seem to be.  The kids at the up market Letter and Sound seem to have significantly more rotten milk teeth than corresponding kids from Di Dim Dol. Despite this however, Korean adults all seem to have decent teeth.

(note – the pojangmacha (포장 마차) I visited stood where Lotte Cinema was subsequently built. At the time, this area was a huge vacant lot with several soju tens permanently stood on its edges. On my third trip to Korea, in 2005, the site was already under construction. Pojangmachas were common on vacant lots between buildings even in built-up areas; indeed, one lay not too far from MacDonald’s in Song-So. The vacant lots have rapidly disappeared and soju tens are becoming a rarer sight.

Bathhouse Ballads chronicles many aspects of my life in South Korea. Kimchi Gone Fusion focuses on ‘the way of the pickled cabbage’ while Mister Makgeolli is dedicated to Korean rice wine.

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

My Birthday – December 27th – 31st 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 27, 2000

Not being happy certainly curtails writing a diary, as well as other things in my life. However, after several confrontations with Jo, in which we all threatened to resign, things have cheered up a little. Jo has promised that I won’t be teaching in the Yon San Dong school much more than a month when I will go back to teaching in Song So. However, I don’t really trust him.

Chi-u, a young Einstein

The new school is hard work and we each have around 7.5 contact time a day with classes. The first four hours are purely kindergarten classes for kids of very rich parents. Their parents fork out around 800.000KW for the first month then pay subsequent monthly tuition fees of 450.000KW. These amounts work out at something like 500 and 250 UK pounds. I have never seen kids so well dressed and Koreans spend a lot of time and effort presenting their children. One of my favourite pupils is a three-year old boy called Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) who is in effect two years old. In Korea, a child is one the day they are born so you always have to minus one from their age to make them comparable with westerners. I am told this habit arose because when Korea was poor, many children died before their first birthday. Second birthdays here, especially for boys, are a very important affair. I have yet to see Chi-Woo (이치우) in the same little outfit twice. He can already speak a fair amount of English and every morning, when he sits next to me on the hagwon bus, he asks how I am and will then proceed to ask ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s that?’ His memory is quite amazing as next day he will have remembered all the previous morning’s words.

Jo’s School, ‘Letter and Sound,’ is a kindergarten in the morning and a hagwon in the afternoon when the middle schools  finish. We don’t have the equivalent of hagwons  in the UK; they are private schools which teach a range of subjects outside normal school hours and to which most children go in addition to state schooling. Normal schools are known as hakkyos (학교). There are hagwons on probably every street in a Korean town and many don’t close until 10 or 11 pm. Like the Taekwondo schools, piano academies, ballet schools and art schools, hagwons always have their own fleet of brightly coloured minibuses which ferry students between designated pick up points and their respective establishments. The ‘Letter and Sound’ bus picks me up every morning from near my apartment.

Jong Hoon – a great kid but a total nutter!

I think the kindy will do quite well financially as it is really about keeping the kids out of the parents way as much as it is about them learning. My class has only four five-year old kids; two boys, Dong-seop (동섭) and Jeong-hoon (중훈) and three girls. Jeong-hoon (중훈) is a total nutter who throws himself about without any concern for his safety. This week he arrived at school with a cut chin and bashed nose. He speaks the best English of the four kids and is very bright. Then there is Dong-seop (동섭) who has no spatial skills and cannot decide whether he is left or right-handed. I try to help him draw a letter but when I leave his side he just scrawls on the paper. I have nicknamed him ‘Picasso.’  My two girls are fucking brain-dead. It’s quite disgusting how there seems to be a universal trend in encouraging girls to be wriggly little pathetic things that must whimper and second themselves to the brashness of boys. This trend seems particularly more acute in Korea than in the west, though maybe I am being too critical. On of the girls is Da-hae (다해), slips off her chair onto the floor every time I speak to her and when she does utter a sound it is in a revolting girly manner. The other girl is Ji-soo (치수) and to get her to respond I have to call her name about twenty times and then poke her.

What does Annie Apple say?’ I chant, and then someone shouts out a long ‘A’ as in father. I say, ‘No, Annie says ‘A,’ as in cat.’ The kids are sick and fed up of Annie Apple and Bouncy Ben alphabet songs. The accompanying videos have characters with regional British accents and of course the kids find this confusing. Annie Apple talks like a Somerset cider slob and Clever Cat has a frightfully posh Oxford accent. Then there are the story books with phrases like ‘skiddly doo doo’ which is a nightmare trying to explain to small children. Even when there are cassettes with Korean interpretations on them the pronunciations are bad. Bouncy Ben, for example, is always pronounced ‘Bounshey Ben’ and this has become a bit of a joke between Pauline and I.

In class I call myself Bilbo Baggins and have written this, in Korean, on my wall.  I have decided I don’t want any of the kids knowing my real name. In the short space of a couple of weeks I have become adept at totally degrading myself in the singing of kiddy songs all accompanied with mad facial expressions or hand actions. Suddenly I am like a character out of Play School. I can even degrade myself in front of parents. I take kids out to piss, wipe their noses and comfort them when upset. None of this was in my contract and I definitely stipulated that I wanted to teach middle, or high school kids.

Nana moved out of the apartment this week and Matt, a new teacher from New Zealand has moved in with me. Matt seems a good laugh. On Thursday another teacher, Angela, arrived from New Zealand. She is a friend of Matt’s.

My Birthday, Dec 30th, 2000. Pak Jun-ee and Sun-hee (left) and Pauline (far right)

Taekwondo is off the cards until after the winter vacation finishes which is  in a week or so. I don’t finish my classes in time to go training and besides I’m too tired.

On a Wednesday evening I teach Pak Ji-won (박지원) English in the restaurant besides the Shin-woo supermarket in Song So. I spent my birthday here and the family have sort of adopted me. Ji-won is very attractive but he’s only 18 and like so many Korean boys, androgynous. I suspect if anyone touched the front of his pants he wouldn’t have a clue what they were doing. This is no criticism, I love the innocence that seems to typify so many Korean teenagers and which is so different to many of the promiscuous male and female whores I’ve taught in the West.

I taught Ji-won every Saturday for most of 2001. He is now one of my closest Korean friends.

On Friday I had to go to U-chun’s and teach her daughter and niece English. I really like her and if I had to leave Korea now I would be sad because she is such a fun person. She was supposed to be giving me Korean lessons in exchange for English lessons but this seems to have been forgotten but her company is payment enough.

On Saturday it snowed really heavily but the temperature has risen and it is no longer minus 15. The snow has set and Matt and I met up with U-chun at the local E Mart. This is the local supermarket. Then we got a taxi to the local Baskin Robbins which was amusing as I asked for three big pots of ice-cream and of course, Koreans are never so greedy and generally share a pot – and probably a smaller pot too! After that we walked down the main road, through busy and around the university campus. From a high spot on the campus we add a view straight down the wide main road that leads all the way back down to Song-So and beyond which must at least be a few miles. Though it was afternoon, a cold mist hung over the entire city.

I telephoned my sister on my birthday and the call, which lasted an hour, cost a staggering £80. (note – today I can call unlimited for next to nothing).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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