Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
114Trip End May 23, 2008
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· GMT +8:00 hours
We're still here
Hello and welcome back. Remember us? Chances are (and here's hoping) you do. It's been a while - 3 weeks actually - since attentions of any kind have been turned to the little corner of cyberspace that is our Travelpod. Some of you know that and for those holding out for an update over the past few weeks we apologise for the delay in enlightening you with our goings on over here in Korea. The reasons for our absence are many, the main one being that we have had, believe it or not, other things to do over the past 3 weeks. The fact that we've been in and out to Seoul each weekend (part of which is normally reserved for updates) hasn't helped the Travelpod update cause either, nor has it done much for our so-called relaxing weekends. But mustn't gripe. We're here now and best get on with it.
Since we last spoke weeks 3, 4 and 5 of camp have come and gone; our students are still far from fluent, we've had some interesting things to do on the weekends, we've seen the odd aliment or two come and go and the past Korean summer has well and truly morphed into a Korean autumn. Oh, and I missed my little sisters 21st birthday party. Anyway, while I'd love to peddle the line that "there really isn't much to report", I'd be lying. Not that I'm going to sit here for hours telling you all about it; if you don't mind I'll let the accompanying pictures do the talking for me. What I will do however while I'm here is to very quickly summarise the past 3 weeks and pass on a few observations we made during that time (it has been a while since I've made observations). As always, I'll try to make it all as compendious as possible but keep in mind that the pictures will, as always, do a much better job at exposing our goings on over here than I could otherwise do.
Camp Week 3 - Days 63 to 69 (October 15th to 21st)
Meg was taken out to dinner by her kids, we finally got to see, 3 months later, some of our wedding pictures (albeit on-line), the CEO of our students company visited camp (picture 03), we were introduced to some 'interesting' Korean food and on a freezing weekend Saturday afternoon we headed into Seoul for a spot of Christmas shopping. Yes, in October, pre-Halloween.
Camp Week 4 - Days 70 to 76 (October 22nd to 28th)
The 4th week of camp was dominated by the preparations for (by teachers and students), and worrying (by students) over, mid-camp interviews & presentations, both of which were completed by the end of the work week. I've yet to understand why but for some
Camp Week 5 - Days 77 to 83 (October 29th to November 4th)
The past week was uneventful where camp was concerned. I'll remember it as the week that saw me branded as a "good" soccer player (now there's a first). I'll also remember it as the week that saw me taking more pills than a transplant patient
Wow, it's amazing how quickly I can compact 3 weeks of our life into 3 little paragraphs. Regardless, it still seems to take an eternity for me to get around to filing updates and as a result I thought it best that I offer up my excuse here and now for the lack of an entry next weekend (and possibly beyond). You see, some of the students (no doubt the ones with tolerant wife's) have decided to take Meg, Henk and myself away for the weekend. They have told us where we'll be going (somewhere in the south-east of the country, about 3 hours from here) but not why. Regardless, it should be fun, albeit exhausting - the students will, no doubt, be aiming to entertain us but something tells me us westerners will be the entertainment. We're not quite sure what to expect, beyond not having to pay for much (if anything), drinking copious amounts of soju and suffering hangovers on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Whatever happens we'll be sure to report on the highs and lows in the coming weeks, whenever we get around to saying hello again.
Even further afield
Looking even further afield, barring any further schedule changes we'll be finished in this camp, and thus unemployed again, on Friday November 30th. We have three more teaching weeks here in Yangji to go, three weeks that'll be interrupted by a week break (the working week of November 19th - 23rd). During this week Meg and I plan to hop across the Sea of Japan to.... umm, Japan. We'll be returning to Korea with a fresh new work visa all nicely secured into our passports, a visa that will allow us to work (legally, I might add) for Camp Korea for the month of January (February will see us hitting the road again and continuing our travels). We'll be hoping to get work before that of course, else December could be a long, boring money-sapping month. But let's not worry about that right now. We've got lessons to plan and you have observations to read.
Day 63 to 83 Observations (October 15th to November 4th 2007)
· Gone Country
I did an activity with the camp students a few weeks ago that involved listening to various types of music (classical, pop, blues, electronica etc). What I quickly learnt was that Koreans generally don't like any sort of dance, techno or new age music (the impression I got was that they don't see the point of such music), they tolerate pretty much anything else and they love ballads, which was no surprise considering their penchant for breaking out the karaoke machine to sing along to Celine Dion once they've sunk a few vocal cord liberating beers. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover they liked country and bluegrass music and was only more than happy to spread the joys of the likes of Rhonda Vincent, John Anderson and Ricky Skaggs with the few students who asked for the music. Enjoy.
· Schedule Changes
We are of the impression that sticking to a schedule is somewhat of a challenge for the company the students work for (Korea Express, a Korean logistics company... kind of ironic really). We were aware of a few camp schedule changes prior to getting to Korea and now that we're here, and camp has well and truly started, the changes continue. Initially our 10 week commitment to the 'KE Global Challenge Program' (the official name of the camp) was broken up as follows - 4 weeks teaching, 2 week break, 1 week teaching, 1 week break, 2 weeks teaching. But midway through week 3 we were asked if we could make ourselves available as follows - 7 weeks teaching, 1 week break, 1 week teaching. "No problem" we said. It means we'll be finishing a week or so earlier, giving us more time to source work elsewhere (assuming, of course, there is work elsewhere). But what the latest schedule change also means is that we definitely won't now have the opportunity to 'legalise' our present work status here in the country (if you remember, we were planning a trip to Japan to do just that during the 2 week break we had as part of the previous camp schedule). We doubt Korean immigration would accept KE schedule changes as a valid excuse for not having a visa, were we ever to find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of having to explain ourselves to them.
· Sustenance acclimatisation (and sustenance abuse)
We've taken well to the Korean food challenge. We had to really; it was either that or starve. Our 'western' breakfast of toast, fried egg and thousand island dressed diced cabbage (nicer than it sounds) is still my favourite meal of the day but lunch and dinner isn't all that bad. We still avoid most of the fiery red stuff (red means danger) and the stuff that looks uncooked (Koreans tend to like raw stuff) but there is normally enough on offer at meal times to appease us. If things are particularly bad there's always the ever-present bowl of rice which, while never particularly tasty, does a good job keeping you alive between meals. Meal times became a particularly joyous time of the day recently when they (those nice Echo Green Town staff members who prepare the food) noticed my fondness of potatoes. Spuds, in whatever form they decide to serve them, are now always on the menu.
Apart from standard camp meals we're getting a hell of an education on Korean food during our time here. In the past weeks alone we've been 'treated' to numerous Korean delicacies, all of which seem to be fish or pig based. We've eaten or, more accurately, sampled quite a few different types of fish, both raw and cooked, including one that reputedly costs about $600 (see the pictures for more). If super expensive raw fish doesn't sound adventurous enough for you then how about fish innards - "fish liver anyone?". Yes, they are as slimy, disgusting and, quite frankly, as unnecessary as you might expect them to be and are most definitely best consumed with sufficient quantities of alcohol on board. What other delights have we sampled? Well, if it's not fish, or fish parts, on the plate you can bet its some part, any part, of a pig, probably a part you, as a westerner, never though edible. Pigs feet, skin, intestine, yep, they are all gobbled up over here with typical gusto. About the only part of Porky Koreans don't eat are his toenails (although here's betting they end up in some form on some dish). The general advice we garnered over here from the Koreans is that if you are 'fortunate' enough to get to try such 'delicacies' then waste no time getting them into you... oh, and don't forget the ever present fat; it's full of something you should eat a lot of, as no doubt any discerning nutritionist would tell you.
· Winter warmer
The weekend of October 20th-21st saw us in Seoul Christmas shopping. I know, I know, but having to post stuff half way around the world in the hopes that it arrives before the big day, and without spending a weeks salary on postage, sort of necessitated our early consumerism. It was a cold weekend
Speaking of Korean seasons, autumn is upon us. Yep, the leaves are falling, everywhere is brown and evenings are getting darker earlier. It's a nice time to be in Korea, but then again autumn is a nice time to be anywhere that experiences distinctive seasons.
· Mutt & Jeff
During the first week in camp I began having issues with my surgically repaired ear, the one I had repaired way back in 1991. Having a problem with my ear isn't uncommon, especially in Korea where I always seem to have some sort of an issue. Nor is it normally something that requires attention. But this problem was different because whatever happened in there this time hampered my hearing quite a bit; sort of an annoying ailment when you're trying to teach a language. So after about 3 weeks of slight deafness I gave up waiting for the hearing to return of its own accord and paid a visit to the International Medical Centre of a Seoul
· Have you seen?
We've seen quite a few movies since coming to Korea, be it in a private DVD rooms (common here in Korea), on our laptop, during camp movie nights or in the various accommodations we've enjoyed. The list includes Titanic, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, The Last King of Scotland, Contact, The Hoax, Becoming Jane, Copying Beethoven, Kingdom of Heaven, Dreamgirls, Lost in Translation, 300, The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, Perfect Stranger, Mr Brooks, Blood Diamond, Click, some western with John Wayne and some Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movie. We've also found time to watch a few episodes of Friends and the complete series of Faulty Towers, some of which we've shown to the students. Hilarious, as always, but needless to say the students didn't understand much of John Cleeses' ramblings.
· "I dunno... it just sounds right"
I guess this is the same for any language but here goes with an observation on teaching English to adults. If doing it (teaching English to adults) has taught me anything, it's that I'm glad I don't have to learn it in the same way my students do. I've only now come to realise that, as a native English speaker, I've taken speaking the language for granted all these years. To a student learning English as a second language speaking it correctly is all about learning, remembering and knowing when to use hundreds of convoluted grammar rules. And while that in itself MAY be possible, there is one extra rule that complicates things ever further - the rule that there is always exceptions to the rules. I cringe in class when we are reviewing grammar and I get asked a "but why is it like that" question. My answer is always quick and never convincing. Sometimes I just want to say "because it just is... it just sounds right". But of course my students aren't comfortable enough with English, and probably never will be, to know when "it just sounds right", so they have to battle with rule after rule, most of which are unfamiliar even to the members of the KE Global Challenge Program teaching staff. Btw, if you're wondering why I'm only making this observation now, on my 5th teaching assignment to Korea, it's because up to now I've only ever taught kids in a fun camp environment, kids who didn't require learning to a level that required analysing and dissecting various grammar rules.
If attending and presenting in front of 100 teachers at the Korean Government EPIK (English Program in Korea) seminar this past weekend has taught us anything it is that as long as your wearing a suit (even, as in my case, a borrowed one) and sound remotely like you know what you're preaching about then you can get away with anything. It also helps to have an Irish accent. That, believe it or not, wins you some credibility as well.
· Kindergarten. Korean style
There are a few interesting ideas being branded about by a few even more interesting men here in Korea regarding possible future business ventures, one of which could effect our plans quite a bit. We'll have to wait and see how that plays out. But right now we're intrigued. Very intrigued.
Where I stayed