Wednesday, 31 December 2003

Concerts and Staff Nights Out

It's New Year's Eve now, and here I am in a PC Bang (a version of an internet cafe) alone, on a computer. This is what it's come to, stranded in a foreign nation in solitude while the world celebrates around me.

No, don't worry, I've just popped in to check email and write a quick entry. Later on, John (a teacher from the school) is calling by and we're going downtown for some food and see what's up. It's going to be a civilised night though, due to money and - oddly - choice. We may visit a jazz bar John knows of and drink red wine.

Yesterday was fun. My second day of teaching but a quiet one. Just a handful of classes and I found it all very bearable. In fact, I even felt progress was made in one class.

I was caught up in a storm after lunchtime. A metaphorical storm that is to say, as John reached boiling point with Mrs Kim, our director. Not because she's called Kim like every single damn Korean but because of what he saw, mostly correctly, as her mismanagement and mistreatment of the staff. I'm just new so I didnt get involved, though I did stay around as a quiet moral support for John, but via our interpretor, a teacher called Chan, some angry words were exchanged but ultimately resolving themselves into a conciliation. I lke Mrs Kim at face value, as she smiles a lot, buys me food because she thinks I'm too thin and even bought me a towel the other day (?) but I appreciate her management is a little slack at times. However, it looks like hearing John's opinion gave her a kick up the sizeable backside and she vowed to inform us of decision with greater clarity.

That's school politics then, in the evening was the school festival. This was a concert held by the children as a PR exercise effectively, as each class was wheeled on stage and they trot out an English song, or do a play in patchy English or speak at deafening volume into a microphone declaring their ambitions or describing their life (one memorably announcing "I hate my mother and my father they are fat")

I rather enjoyed the display though was not overly upset when it eventually came to an end. For the finale the schoolkids all went on stage together along with the teachers, which included me. Then we all sang "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" which the kids knew far better than me.

After this joyous spectacle all the teachers went out for a meal together, paid for by the school. A meal out in Korea invariably involves enthusistic alcohol consumption and this one certainly didn't disappoint.

After a fairly short perod of time, the female teachers - about 8 of them - all usually rather shy and reserved became decidely boisterous. One in particular, a toothy woman named Jasmine who it later transpired had finished working at the school that day, became very raucous. I don't know what she was saying but it was said loud and Chan - the only male Korean teacher - was pissing himself laughing, though never offered a translation.

Umm... oh, I can't be bothered writing any more, I've got better things to do. Basically, it was a fun evening, a very good ice-breaker, we went to a Norebang later (a venue with individual karaoke rooms) and I truly murdered Sinatra's "New York", then to a bar where the women became more raucous and I impressed them with my drinking feats.

I've acquired a Korean name too. Most Koreans adopt an English name to make it easier for us (probably because when 14/15 individuals are called xxx-Kim it gets confusing) so I decided I needed a Korean name, so the teachers named me Nam-il. Apparently it's the name of a sexy and popular Korean footballer.

That's that then. No teaching today or tomorrow. Have a good New Year. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, though that's not hugely restrictive.

Monday, 29 December 2003

First Day of Teaching

God, just finished my first day of teaching. It was exhausting, though thankfully Monday is my biggest day. It went alright, my main hitches were the fact that each class I took (and there were 8 40 minute classes in total) I was going in blind, not really knowing what I was going to do, though sometimes I had a book and a really rubbish cassette player that doesn't work.

One class I gave up on because they were all at totally different stages in some bizarre book, the tape player refused to work and the class from the outset were demanding "games". Mostly I struggled through and I take heart from the fact that it's always going to be hardest when starting off, at least tomorrow I'll know roughly what each class will be like and what I need to teach them. I'm also going to improve my repetoire of games, as they are vital for spinning out the final minutes of a lesson.

The worst kids are the ones that don't say anything. At least the boisterous ones provide entertainment, but no kids are dreadful (yet). Korean children are disciplined properly and know how to behave.

Matt said a couple of weeks ago that every child in Korea is cute, and I agreed with him until today. I expect they'll all grow less cuter with time, but even now there's a couple of fat kids who not even a mother could love.

I'm off to recouperate at home now. Tomorrow there's a school concert, so I gather.

Sunday, 28 December 2003

Birthdays and Propositions

Out last night for some birthday and leaving celebrations, though not a stellar night. I've decided that January will be a very subdued month for me as I've got 150,000 Won (75UKP) to last the month. My school is happy to give me an advance if I need it, but I'd rather delay getting an advance to as late as possible.

So last night was just meeting in a bar with loads of English teachers before heading to another bar. I think because it's the festive season there's been a lot of big gatherings which in one sense is good because it means I've met everyone to a degree, although on the other hand can seem a little overwhelming when you suddenly find yourself in a large crowd of people you barely know but they all seem to know each other.

It's good overall though. The main people I know right now are Matt and Nicki, the NZ cousins. Sangoon, you may be disappointed to know, has left Daegu and will be going to Australia in a week or two. So, alas, he's out of the picture. But to add to his complex character picture, I did learn from Matt that he's apparently an excellent singer. If you've seen Sangoon it would appear an unlikely image, but Matt claims he has an amazing voice. It would appear that it's his weapon for attracting the ladies.

Talking of ladies, on the way into town last night I found myself walking down a poorly lit street. It wasn't in a dodgy area, to my knowledge, as it was very near the centre of the city. But as I joined the street a young woman cried out for me "Hey! Hey!" and I found myself joined by a quite attractive Korean girl. "So time?" she seemed to ask. "So time?" I said, and she said it over and over. Realising I wasn't comprehending, she then said "You and me, have sex right?"

Now Korean women can be quite forward but I admit being slightly surprised. So I said "ok" and took her back and did her like a dirty dog.

No, of course not, I politely said I had to meet friends in a bar. She seemed disappointed and for a moment I thought she was actually going to follow me there, but mercifully she took her rejection. Seconds later another couple of women approached me, saying in better English "Showtime?" and I realised that I'd accidently wandered into either a street full of very forward women, or more likely a street of very forward women wanting money.

I presume they wanted money at least. Maybe they just wanted me.

Tomorrow I start teaching then. I could speculate now as to my thoughts and hopes and fears, but I can't be bothered. I'm going to look through all my workbooks tonight but probably get bored very quickly and end up watching BBC World or an action film on OCN (Con Air, Highlander and The Green Mile are popular right now).

Haven't decided about New Year yet. If money wasn't an issue I'd go with a bunch of people to Seoul where Carl Cox is DJing, but I know if I did this I'd blow my remaining monthly budget. Going out in Daegu is an option but I have a feeling I might have a deliberately quiet one and just stay in. I know this seems like a very lonely option but I actually quite fancy it. On New Years Day I'm supposed to be going out for a meal with an English guy Mik (as in Mick but without the c) and a few others. Mik seems like a decent guy, despite having a chinbeard and appearing to like metal (music, not the material).

Anyhow, that's all ahead, and I'm just waffling now. Email me if you want.

Saturday, 27 December 2003

Getting Things Up To Date

Ok, as I'm about a week out of date I'm going to do a quick catch up to get things current.

After returning from the Visa run I had a couple of days at the school, sitting in on lessons. I sat in on the teacher I'm to replace, a fairly quiet and gentle American called Josh with a beard I only award 5/10. For comparison I award mine between 8 and 9/10. I also sat in on another teacher called John's lessons. John is allegedly Scottish but sounds too well spoken to be truly Scottish, but he has a calm, dry sense of humour which appeals. Josh also had a sense of humour but it wasn't very developed (ie, wasn't as degraded as I prefer).

50 year old paedo-glasses David has no sense of humour at all. I know this because I made a joke about him being a child molester and he didn't even smile a little.

No, that's not true, don't worry.

On the weekend I went to Cheonan (pronounced Chu-nan), a city of 500,000 quite near Seoul. Not out of any keen interest to experience the city itself, but to visit H, the "inspiration" for my being in Korea.

It was a bitterly cold weekend in Cheonan, and emotions between myself and H grew barely warmer than the weather. No no, of course it was an overwhelming delight to see the old deviant again, and straight from meeting hm we went out for some food then drinks. I was reminded quite quickly what an absolute lightweight H is when it comes to alcohol as after just 4 pints he was becoming incoherent. But it was fun catching up with him and getting his impressions of the country, and hearing him speak patchy Korean. For those of you who know H you'll know that even his first language English caused his not infrequent difficulty, so his mastery of Korean was not quite complete, although it was enough to function.

The next day the plan was to visit the Independence Hall/Museum a few miles from the city. It's a massive near-Communist looking piece of architecture dedicated to Korean indepedence from Japanese occupancy at the first half of the 20th century. The museum briefly mentioned the history of Korean and then focussed almost entirely on the Japanese occupation and the evil of Japan. After a good hour or two of anti-Japanese propaganda you got the slight impression that there was a bit of animosity.

Back into town then and a visit to a contemporary art exhibition featuring people like Damien Hurst and Tracey Emin, which I found quite interesting. According to H, the guy who owns most of the centre of Cheonan, a guy called Ci Kim, is a big fan of modern art and is the reason for the bizarre sculptures that grace the city centre. Like a giant stairway stuck on the side of a building with people walking up it. It definitely improved the city in my opinion, as otherwise Cheonan would be nothing more notable than a transport hub, as it didn't really stand out otherwise.

We saw Lord of the Rings later on, which was suitably impressive, and that was it for the day.

Back to Daegu the next day, and pre-Christmas days were spent in my apartment, at the school, or visiting Matt and Nicki one evening.

Christmas Eve I dressed up as Santa for the bemused/terrified/delighted (mostly the first two) children who had to sit on my knee and get their photo taken. After about the 50th child this became quite exhausting.

On Christmas Eve I got drunk with a bunch of Westerners and lost my camera much to my annoyance as I'd only had it a week and it a sexy sexy piece of equipment. It was a pretty drunken evening though, round a series of mostly forgotten bars/clubs ending with me in some restaurant in the morning of Christmas Day with some entirely random people. I got some sleep then, felt quite ill, then met up with some more Westerners in the evening for a more laid back night.

I'm already in touch with the Daegu English speaking community and it seems like quite a good one. Of the many people I've met, 15% seem people that I judge as undesirable in my life, 50% seem like people that I don't mind knowing but if were shot dead then I wouldn't grieve for too long, but the remaining 35% have potential to be ok.

Tonight then looks to be a combined birthday(s)/leaving night(s) for various people which I'll attend but behave myself because my money really is very tight now and until I get paid I simply can't afford the lifestyle of a waster.

Ok, but I'm up to date now, to my relief, so will write again when I've got news of any relevance.

And Merry Christmas to everyone too.

My school.

The return of the original deviant, H.

The Independence Hall in Cheonan.


Detailed Description of First Impressions of Teaching

5/5 First impressions of teaching

I can't be bothered writing this entry, but I'm sure my impressions of teaching will inevitably come across in the future entries. After all, I have got a year of it ahead.

Basically, first impressions seemed OK.

Friday, 26 December 2003

Japanese Visa Run

Number 4/5: Japanese Visa Run

Because I arrived in Korea just over a week after getting the job, I didn't have time to get a work visa and arrived in the country on a tourist visa. As you might imagine, it's illegal to work in Korea on a tourist visa, so this meant that I had to go to the Korean Embassy in Japan in what is known as the visa run.

I'm not exactly sure why it's necessary to leave the country to get a work visa, but it meant a day trip to Japan, so I wasn't complaining.

So Tuesday morning I got the train to Busan (4 million people, 2nd biggest city in Korea) and without much hassle got a return ferry ticket to Japan - the amalgamted city of Fukouku and Hakata. I'd opted for the slow overnight ferry, because it was much cheaper than the speedy 3 hour boat, and also meant I could save money on accommodation as my sleeping would be done on the ferry.

I had a couple of hours to kill in Busan so took a wander. Despite being vast and stretching forever, with just a few abrupt hills puncturing the endless sprawl of urban blocks, the city appealed to me and had a calm feel. It also had a big tower on a hill, a la Seoul, which I had to go up, of course, and got a good view.

The ferry then, leaving at 7pm. I'd gone for 2nd class, and I quickly found that they certainly didn't go overboard to spoil you in 2nd class. I was room 307, and room 307, like all the rooms neighbouring it, was just a big open space with lots of floormats laid out. We were given blankets too.

I was the only Westerner here, among an endless sea of jabbering Koreans, most of whom seemed to have huge boxes full of Pot Noodles or electronic stuff that I presume was for export to Japan to sell for inflated prices. There were quite a lot of schoolchildren too. I had a wander round the boat and quickly realised there was nothing to do whatsoever. Nothing. So I just went to sleep.

I slept alright, considering the conditions certainly, but was up at awake by 6am, and very hungry. But I'd only Korean Won with me and the boat, for some unfathomable reason, was only working in Japanese Yen. This seemed like somewhat of an oversight considering a good 90% of passengers were Korean.

The oversight was mine however regarding the currency situation. I had presumed that at the ferry terminal in Fukouku there would be a currency exchange place. It did seem a logical presumption. But there was nothing of the kind and as I wandered the ferry terminal in desperate search it dawned on me that I was in Japan with no usable money, and this was clearly not a desirable situation.

I was also very very hungry by now.

But I was resourceful, and with the help of a Japanese receptionist whose English mercifully stretched just far enough for basic communication, I got a taxi to a bank to change money, and then to the Korean Embassy. This cost me an absolute fortune, at least about 20UKP, but I had little choice.

My boat was leaving Japan at 5pm, but I reckoned I would need to be there to board about 2,30pm, so a speedy processing of my visa was vital. The scowling man behind the desk didn't seem to appreciate my urgency, but I managed to haggle him down from 4.30pm to 3pm. This gave me a good few hours to wander the Japanese streets.

It was pissing it down with rain most of the time, and I had nowhere to go, so I wandered round a giant baseball stadium, took a subway to the city centre and back, wandered round an HMV, and bought some food. At about 2pm I returned to the embassy and asked if my visa was ready yet. The scowling man wasn't happy about this, saying it would be ready for 3pm and wouldn't be negotiated with, so I sat watching him and trying to look pensive. Maybe it worked, because at 2.50pm he did whatever he needed to do (which probably took less than about 30 seconds) and gave me my work visa.

Time was of the essence now as if I missed boarding to the ferry I'd be well and trult screwed. My Yen was virtually out as well. I got a taxi and he dawdled through slow traffic, but very kindly agreed to take me all the way to the ferry terminal despite the fact that I didn't have enough money to pay him for the whole journey. Unfortunately he delivered me at the wrong ferry terminal, so I had to literally run to get to the correct one, deeply fearing I might be too late.

Fortunately, boarding wasn't till 4pm, so I had a good half hour clear.

The return journey was again spent mostly sleeping, and trying to avoid the only other Westerner there. I would have spoken to him, but he more or less ignored me initially so I decided to avoid him, despite the fact we were sharing the same 2nd class room.

I got to Busan for the morning, and quickly got a train back to Daegu, and back to my apartment where David was due to pass by and take me to the school for my first experience of English teaching.

View of Busan from a big tower.

My sleeping quarters in the ferry.

The Korean consulate in Fukuoka.

Sunrise from the ferry.

Monday, 22 December 2003

New Apartment

Number 3/5: Getting my apartment.

On Monday afternoon (that is, Monday 15th) I moved into my new apartment. Jason drove me to it where we were met by my director, a woman with big teeth. The apartment was the same as I'd remembered it, thankfully (I'd worried that it might have been a lot worse than my first impression) and so I got settled in.

All I really did on Monday was lie on floor, knackered from my Seoul weekend. I dozed quite a lot. My director returned with some food for me, and later one of my fellow teachers-to-be called by just to answer any questions I might have.

This guy is an American called David. I don't really want to be cruel about him, but just to describe him honestly is bein cruel, I feel.

He looks like a paedo. I would not trust this man with my children, or the children of others. He is between 40 nd 50 and is an ugly, ugly man. He's bald and has giant paedophile glasses and has taught for 20 years, ten in Japan. He's not much imbued in the way of sparkling personailty either. He's a step above Mr Whiney, but when asked about if he had a phone in his apartment he replied in his nasal US accent "No. Nobody wants to phone me, and I don't want to phone anyone either." Ok.

But in fairness, he probably isn't a child molester, and is probably just a quiet and slightly lifeless middle-aged man who isn't unfriendly, but just isn't naturally friendly either. He's not offensive. Well, except to look at a little.

So, my apartment is ok. It's just one room, like a bedsit, with bed, washing-machine, fridge-freezer, TV, video, stove-top, desk and chairs. And a separate bathroom. The heating is centrally controlled by the block manager, but it's always been warm so far, and I have hot water and a good shower. It's spacious enough and in a good location. Because while being next to a main road and therefore a little noisy, it's also a couple of minutes from a subway station, which is extremely convenient..

Daegu is a big city, 2.5 million people and quite spread out and so certainly not walkable. And so I count myself extremely lucky I live so close to a subway because otherwise it's a confusing a slow series of buses to link me to the city. Especially as of the two subways of the city, only one is functional, due to some madman last year who set fire to a subway train last year (might have been a bomb, the story is a bit confused) and killed about 30 people, and disabled an entire line.

So I'm linked to the city and have plenty of useful shops nearby, especially a Carrefour, which is a French version of Wal-Mart and sells rare products such as coffee, butter and cheese.

So, yeah, I'm happy with my apartment. But I barely got time to break it in, because the following morning I had to leave the city, and later the countr, to go to Japan on my visa run. On an overnight ferry crammed full of Koreans with big boxes of cheap exports...

The mansion.

Saturday, 20 December 2003

Seoul Part 2

Seoul Part 2

And so it was that we hit the town.

After a film first. Jumping into a taxi, we managed to communicate the ideaof "cinema" after some effort, and we were driven to a random part of Seoul and to "Cinema City". Randomly, e chose to see a film called "Coronaldo" which was mercifully in English, but less mercifully absolute rubbish. If this film does reach the cinemas in Britain or America I'd be very surprised, and wouldn't recommend it. Although it was mildly entertaining and featured one slightly famous person, it was nonsense. Something about an LA bimbo unwittingly getting involved with the rebel overthrow of a corrupt South American government. You get the idea.

After that, we got another taxi back to Itaewon, and went for a drink at "King Bar". It was full of big black soldiers with medallions playing pool. We stayed for just one drink before taking a short wander. It was here that we stumbled upon a bar that seemed to have wasted Westerners literally stumbling out, so we reckoned it had to have something going for it.

It did. 1500 Won draft pints (75p). We'd found our bar.

I showed absolutely no restraint and quickly began a major guzzle. There was a choice between OB and Red Rock, both of which were identical, s I happily alternated. We sat at the bar, and over time got speaking to a Korean guy next to us. Well, he was sort of American as he'd spent about 10 years there and was completely fluent but was in Korea to do military service, which I believe is compulsary for 2 years before the age of 30.

His name was Gilbert. His English name at least, his Korean name would inevitably have been Chun-Woo Kim as they all seem to be. He was, frankly, an ugly man but made some good chat, so we drank and talked for a good while. He had friends with him who appeared every now again, drunkenly hugging him, and as it reached about 2am it was deemed time to go to a club, and we were invited along.

With us, somehow, two American girls tagged along, that I affectionaly termed "The Rough Birds" - though not to their faces. Beauty and elegance were not gifts God had endowed them with, alas. Still, despite them also being rather annoying, they were cause for entertainment for myself and Matt, and I believe I did partake in a little dancing with one of the Rough Birds.

The club we went to was Western style and just across the road. Truth be told, I'd drunk a hell of a lot before even reaching there and my memory fizzles out quite quickly. I recall buying drinks, insisting I'd been short-changed, talking to a variety of Koreans, dancing and laughing about the Rough Birds with Matt, but these memories are just fragments in no order. I do recall the night being exceptionally fun, and it going on for quite some time but details are extremely vague.

And so the next thing I know is that I'm waking up the next morning, still drunk and very confused.

And somewhere that I'd never consciously seen before.

I was in some random Korean's house, though I could find no fragment of memory to link how I'd got here or where I was. I'd lost my camera, and a cursory search revealed nothing. And I had absolutely no money, not a penny, though whether I'dv lost it or spent it I cannot say.

But worse, it was noon, and me and Matt were to have checked out the hotel by 11.30am.

I realised my possible problem situation as I stumbled out the house. I was lost in Seoul without money, or contact number for Matt, and without any guarantee he'd be waiting for me at the hotel. In fact, I'd no idea what had even happened to him. However, somehow I had his coat.

All I knew was that I had to get to the hotel in Itaewon, so I found a subway with thankful ease. Having no money hough, I was forced to stick very close behind a Korean and run through the barrier after them. I'm not sure what the Korean punishment for fare dodging is, but at the bck of my mind I pictured lying naked in a stone cell being beaten with whips and sticks. (actually, in many ways more a reward than punishment)

I was MILES away from Itaewon, but eventually got there, and thank the Lord, Matt was still in the hotel, having paid for a second night. We went to the nearby Burger King and spent a good hour just laughing at the previous night as we pieced things together, including many details unsuitable for public consumption here. Matt found it particularly amusing how I'd woken up on the other side of Seoul, penniless. The reason I had his coat, it emerged, was because they were both on the same cloakroom ticket.

After Burger King we spent the rest of daylight sleeping and resting in the hotel. We were knackered, and still soberng up. Plus, we had plans that night, and needed to be at full health.

Matt had been speaking to some of Gilbert's friends (despite the fact they weren't able to speak English) and had swapped phone numbers, and they'd promised to take us out to some Korean bars and clubs. There were between 2 and 8 of them, we genuinely couldn't recall, and Matt seemed to think one was a Japanese international footballer. But as promised, at 8pm, one phoned us and invited us out.

We had to decline, however. I had no money and Matt wasn't far off broke. And their destination was apparently the most expensive area in Seoul.

Five minutes later, they phoned again. The night would be on them, and they insisted. So a few hours later we were in a taxi to the expensive area of Apgujeong, and going to a Korean-style bar with Chun and uh... Jong. Or something.

Korean-style bars are quite like restaurants. You're given a table and order a little food, shared among all, and then drink as much as you can. The Koreans like to think they're heavy drinkers and they're not bad (certainly better than Egyptians, Turks, Israelis, Albanians and Americans) but I wouldn't put them in the hardcore league. I'm willing to bet I could challenge any one of the 44 million Koreans and beat them in a drinking competetion. Still, they go at it with gusto and enthusiasm, and it's the spirit that matters, so to speak.

Chun had reasonable English, but Jong's was very basic, but he got away with it because he had crazy bouncy hair and a massive grin and was very obviously a hilarious character. And, it emerged, an ex-gangster too. But he didn't like to talk about it...

The wine and soju (local rice-brew. Too nasty for some, but I've already embraced i into my future as it's cheap and potent) flowed, and we were all gettng on very well. Matt's very good with people and so seemed to smooth over the occasional communication breakdown. I had a detailed conversation with Jong about Man Utd - "Beckham", "van Nistlerooy" and "red" being the key words. We drank many toasts and I learned only my second Korean word after thank-you (which I'm still mastering) - cheers! being "gonbeh!"

After this, it was time for the Korean nightclub experience. And what an experience it was.

The first nightclub we went to was Boss Club, the second best or possibly equal first best nightclub in Seoul, therefore Korea. We weren't able to get in however, as we arrived quite late (about 1am). But it did give me and Matt a good chance to perve on the girls. My God, they were good looking. And immaculately dressed.

Yeah, this is one thing about Korea, and particularly Seoul, and even more particularly the Apgujeong area - the people dress immaculately. Absolutely everyone looks impeccable. It made me and Matt feel like tramps. Many men are smoothly turned out in suits, and the girls look superb likewise. It's most impressive, and something I can't imagine seeing anywhere in Scotland.

Boss Club was over-subscribed, so our hosts took us back into Itaewon, to a similar style Korean nightclub called something like Internment. Apparently foreigners weren't allowed here, but Jong smoothly brushed the bouncers aside, and we were allocated our own room.

Korean clubs are very different from the ones you find in the Western world. In Scotland, I'll go to a club, drink cheap pints and sweat in a small dark hole blasting brutal techno. Well, ok, that's my personal experiences at least. This Korean club was far classier. Guys go separately from girls and are allocated their own rooms. In this room they make the drinks order for the night, and so we were soon brough a massive tray full of fruit, and another massive tray full of a variety of drinks. The room also had a screen showing the dancefloor, and it's own karoake machine - called Norebang over here. The Koreans love their Norebang.

But the strangest part of the whole experience is the deal allocated to the Korean girls. They turn up in their droves, and mingle about in the main club area. And every now and again, a waiter will grab one of them and take them to the men.

So it was that every 20 minutes or so, our door would open and a new girl would be presented to us. I should stress that this is a far cry from the hostess scene, this is simply how nightclubs work and a common way for Korean males and females to meet.

So some of our girls lasted just a few minutes, uninterested in our chat (which for many would have been in an unintelligable language as well as unintelligably drunken), but some enjoyed it and stayed longer, notably a girl called Sunny who was initially very shy but charmed us all, and a girl who I managed to deduct was a fashion designer after a great deal of effort ("pasa dezana! pasa dezana!"). She was also decidely drunk.

This influx of girls never ceased, although we never had any more than four at any one time. But even at the end of the night, new girls were being brought in, probably very bewildered at the chaos they were witnessing. Because myself, Matt, Chun and Jong had not held off on the drink and were in full revelry, yelling pidgin English and laughing at anything. We were transferred to a better room later on, and it was here that we finally gave into our urges and took part in the Norebang. I should mention that both me and Matt had entirely forgotten about the Norebang until the next day when somebody mentioned the word and we both looked at each other with the same dawning of realisation. There was a fantastic selection of music there, and I sang "Creep" by Radiohead. If memory serves me correctly, I actually sang the song very well. Memory, however, probably does not serve me correctly.

The club closed at 6am, and Chun and Jong paid. We got a glimpse of the bill - over 500,000 Won, which is about 250UKP. Even if we'd had money they wouldn't have let us pay, but we've promised them to treat them if they ever visit Daegu. To be fair though, the Korean way is to foot the bill, they like to be good hosts. And good hosts they certainly were, it was an enormously fun night.

We had to be out of our hotel by 11.30am the next morning, so what sleep we had was a necessity rather than a luxury. Sangoon wasn't due to drive us back to Daegu till 8pm so we had a day to fill. A listless day, I should say, as we were not inclined for much in the way of excitement or activity. We met up with some Daegu Irish girls who were also in Seoul for the weekend that Matt knows. Carolyn, Rebecca and two other non-Daegites, girl x (not her real name) and a Canadian guy who possibly exuded the least amount of charisma in a person that I've ever met. He was such a drab man. He seemed like a whiney man. He had a rubbish haircut. I hope I never have to see this man again as the thought of him makes me want to punch someone.

We just sat in a coffeeshop for the afternoon, then said goodbye to the Irish girls and Mr Whiney, and me and Matt went to see a film. The only English language one showing at the cinema was Love Actually, which despite being light comedy was very enjoyable. I left the cinema feeling good about humanity.

Then was the drive home. Sangoon was even less full of conversation than usual, defying what I'd have thought possible. Did he have a good weekend. "No." Oh dear, Sangoon, what did you do? "Sleep". All you did was sleep, Sangoon? "Hm."

Eventually, we got from Sangoon that he had punished his wayward friend, but not by death thankfully, but just by a slap, but with the promise of death if the friend didn't pay back by monthly installments.

Sangoon drove home like a genuine bona-fide maniac. Honestly, I have rarely been so scared being in a car with someone. Aside from his usual weaving in and out of traffic, he would drive very fast and close behind cars - I'm talking centimetres here - and flash his lights till they got out the way. His heater was on full, but sometimes he'd wind down his window to get some air in because he was falling asleep at the wheel

But we didn't crash, and I vowed never to get in a car with Sangoon aain. Not just because he represents a real chance of death, but because it would have been cheaper getting the train anyway. He charged us for petrol, and motorway tolls, but I find it hard to believe the combined total of petrl was as much as he claimed. I just think, as agreed with Matt, that Sangoon is just a genuinely bad person.

So, that was my Seoul experience. I wke the next morning in Daegu, ready to ove into my new apartment...

* edited for content

Matt and Gilbert appear none too sure about the Rough Birds.

I am wasted, but even I am wary.

Matt and um... Jung? in conversation.

The best gang of us in the nightclub, including the "Fashion Designer" (left) and Sunny. Observe: my smile, and Matt's "Trust Me" T-shirt.

Some palace in Seoul. We visited this for precisely twenty seconds.

Samgoon's wheels of death.

Friday, 19 December 2003

Seoul Part 1

Number 2/5: The Mental Weekend in Seoul

On Thursday evening then, it was off to Seoul, with Matt and Sangoon. No bus or train for us though, but sportscar, driven by the rich, spoily and surly Sangoon.

And not driven very well.

Korea - and not Japan - is the world capital of online gaming, and it showed in Sangoon's driving. He treats his car like an arcade game, foot hard on acceleration, revving it up and weaving in and out of traffic. During the course of the 3 hour drive, further developments in Sangoon's delightful character emerged, delivered in surly monotone. His reason for visiting Seoul was to see his girlfriend, or so it was supposed to be. It also seemed that he was to pay an old friend a visit, an old friend who had stolen 50 million Won (about 50,000 UKP) from him. With Sangoon's alleged Mafia connections, he planned to have hm beaten up or killed. "Don't kill him!" Matt exclaimed. Sangoon glowered. "Maybe not".

A spark of enthusiasm almost lit in Sangoon with his next topic of conversation - "hostesses". Beginning with his talk of having once visited a hostess, it soon emerged he was somewhat a regular at massage parlours and it seemed that every town and city we drove through brought comment from him about prices. He seemed rather pleased with the town where he was only charged 15,000 Won (about 7.50UKP).

To be fair though, Sangoon is not alone among Korean males for his fondness of hostesses. The strong, brute arm of feminism is yet to beat down upon the males of this nation.

Ok, so we arrived in Seoul and Sangoon dropped myself and Matt off at a motel in an area called Sinchon, then disappeared for the weekend to do whatever he needed to do (girlfriend/hostesses/gangland killings/online gaming). Me and Matt decided that Sangoon really is an all round bad person. He's not going to heaven. But yet, we sort of like him.

I had a wander round the area with Matt - neon-lit obviously - and a couple of quiet drinks, but we retired quite early to our motel, with the massive TV, internet in every room, and free condoms for all.

Next day, we did a little wander of the city. The World Cup Statium first of all, which I was especially pleased to see. It was one of the main stadiums of the 2002 World Cup and for those that knew me around this time, featured quite a lot in my life as I endured my World Cup marathon. This was my self-inflicted task of watching every single game of the World Cup while not compromising my lifestyle. As in UK time, the matches started frm 6.30am and ended early afternoon, this meant I suffered from chronic lack of sleep and was as unhealthy as I've ever been. A number of people commented on how gaunt I became during that four weeks of football.

Anyway, we were allowed into the stadium, and I took a number of photos, then we took a look round a nearby fish market which had crazy crazy fish. Huge mothers of fish. One which looked scarily like a penis. And huge, demonic crabs that could chop a baby into pieces effortlessly, should it be given the chance.

Next, we went by some electronics markets, which I grew bored off within 50 seconds, then to a big big tower.

When I travelled through Eastern Europe, one of the things that impressed me about a town or city was whether it had a big tower in the middle, and whether I was able to climb this tower. Seoul did not disappoint. Not only did it have a huge tower, but the tower was on top of a huge hill, I was allowed up it AND it had a revolving restaurant at the top. Wow!

We got their and sunset and the view was great, despite the smog clouds. Both me and Matt were more than happy to pay too much for crap food as we sat in a slowly revolving restaurant.

Then we headed to Itaewon, a rougher area of Seoul with a large US army base next to it, thereby causing a proliferation of bars and clubs, many aimed at army and expats. We found a motel "recommended" by the Lonely Planet called the Hilltop Motel. It's main feature was being at the top of what is informally known as Hooker Hill, a winding street with dodgy bars running alongside it, and Korean hostesses trying to drag you into their bar. "Hello!" and "Come here" became very familar sounds as we made our way up and down that street.

It was night-time now, and we were ready to hit the town properly, hoping for an entertaining evening.

Seoul didn't disappoint.

The futuristic neon-lit streets of Seoul.

World Cup Stadium. And me.

Matt standing outside the stadium. Why is unable to just smile and look normal?

Matt and I sharing a magic moment at the revolving restaurant.

Thursday, 18 December 2003

My first few days in Daegu

Number 1/5: My first few days in Daegu.

Ok, so I arrived in Korea at 11.30am, Korean time, at Incheon airport near Seoul. Stupidly, the only money I'd brought with me was Scottish, and Scottish money doesn't translate abroad, but fortunately my credit card had just enough money to get by, so I managed to get a bus to Daegu, which was a few hours away. In this time I also managed to nearly lose my phonenumber book (leaving it at a phonebooth) which would have left me alone in Korea with 25UKP to my name, but it was recovered, and soon I was on the bus and arriving in Daegu.

I arrived about 8pm, into a city of flashing neon. Crazy flashing neon of crazy flashing Korean words on the sides of alien buildings; no doubt I wasn't still in Aberdeen here. I waited at the cold bus station a short while, and suddenly a white man and a Korean appeared - Matt and Sangoon.

Matt was from NZ, seemed friendly if initally a little wholesome (don't worry, this turned out to be far from the case). Sangoon seemed surly (this never changed, though perhaps is his best quality). We got in a jeep and drove for miles into what seemed like the wilderness, though still lit by neon. It turned out that my accommodation wasn't sorted out yet, so I was staying in the spare room in a block with Matt, his cousin Nikki, and Sangoon, who was Matt's student.

I was tired, but not knackered, so went for a little food with Matt, and a beer.

Next day I was up quite early. Matt has to meet Jason - also his agent - to see his new apartment, but also an opportunity for me to meet Jason too. Jason seemed very pleasant, well connected, probably shady but nonetheless very helpful. He dropped me and Matt off randomly in Daegu where some lazy-speaking, lazy-dressing Canadian called Josh, with a lazy attitude and lazy manner appeared. It was his apartment Matt was to view. Josh had been teaching for three years in Korea, and it showed. He had the lazily arrogant attitude of an expat.

His apartment was up to much either. Just a drab, dank hole he shared with his Korean girlfriend. Matt was distinctly unimpressed. We all took a look round the nearby Wall-Mart then me and Matt went to the city centre for a short while before returning so Matt could teach Sangoon.

I met with Jason here, and it became apparant that due to some miscommunication, I wasn't meant to start immediately, but in January. This misunderstanding was certainly not my fault, because all my emails led me to believe that an apartment was ready and waiting for me and the school were keen for me to start as soon as possible. But it seemed that an apartment wasn't quite ready yet, so I'd another week to stay with Matt and co.

I explained to Jason that this wasn't quite ideal, so he said he'd see what he could do. And he kept to his word, getting me and apartment within the week and a start date within two weeks. The bonus of the whole scenario being that instead of arriving in Korea and immediately working, I've had a couple of weeks of sight-seeing and getting settled in.

So that evening, myself, Matt, Nikki, the ever enthusiastic Sangoon and an Irish girl, Una (as in Unabomber) went for drinks and food at a nearby restaurant. It was rather pleasant. Me and Matt were getting on well, he's got a pretty laid back and reckless attitide which appeals to me. Una was sharp tongued but amusing. Nikki is pleasant and sensible, but not boring. Sangoon is just surly. We all got medium drunk on cheap Korean beer (called "Hite", though you're very welcome to stick an S on the front of that).

Daytime Thursday I just lazed. Perhaps jetlag, perhaps just the non-stop nature of the previous few days or week even, but I was knackered. My lethargy was only broken in the early evening when Matt and Sangoon appeared. Sangoon's money from his rich father had come through - we were going to Seoul. Was I coming?

Well, of course.

My first ever Korean meal.

Matt and Nicki outside the restaurant near their home.

This is the sort of man that Matt is.

A Busy Week

Well, hell, it's been a busy week since I last wrote. In fact, an absolutely mental week. I'm going to update the week in installments. These are:

1. My first few days in Daegu (and Korea)

2. One of the most mental weekends of my life in Seoul.

3. Getting my apartment in Daegu.

4. The visa run to Japan.

5. First impressions of teaching.

Wednesday, 10 December 2003


Ok, today has been an informative day, and one I'll get onto later, after a quick summary of why and what I'm doing here for those that I've not been in touch with recently.

I only got to Korea yesterday and indeed only got the job just over a week before that, which made for a pretty damn frantic week getting all Scottish affairs in order. After leaving the castle in September, and a short sojourn to New York, I went back home to Dingwall, with my mother who was all too keen to cook and clean for me. I'd decided that the cost of living (ie the cost of drinking 6 or 7 days a week) was too high in Aberdeen and that living there could only be a comedown after my fantastic year in the castle. And so I returned home to Dingwall, with a mission to be in Korea by the end of the year.

The idea to work in Korea had occurred to me a few months previous to this. It came, originally, from a friend, the extreme deviant known simply as "H", who has been working there since October 2002. He casually mentioned in an email that I could work there, and I was interested, but the idea slipped out of mind as a summer of parties at the castle begun.

But it was one memorable morning that hauled the idea back to the forefront of my mind. I woke in bed in the castle about 10am, finding myself suddenly frozen in place. There was an intense feeling of there being someone just to the right of my head, but though I desperately tried, I could not move my head to see who. And I heard a voice, possibly female, say "Teach English, you must teach English, teach English" in a whisper.

I then had the strong feeling someone was standing at the end of my bed, but still I was frozen rigid in place and could not budge to see, and it was only when I relaxed that I could move again, but by then there was no-one.

And so that day I realised that I should go over to teach English in Korea.

For the sceptics, I should mention that I'd not been drinking (heavily) the night before, and I'm not usually attuned to hearing voices in my head. In fact, I'm utterly opposed to any idea of destiny or fate and therefore guiding voices and suchlike; however, as I pretty much make my life up as I go along, when I hear a voice in my head telling me "You must teach English", I have a strong inclination to go with the flow.

So, here I am. Following a voice in my head and finding myself halfway across the world teaching English to a bunch of foreigners who speak a language that I'm reluctant to believe can actually be real (or at very least understood by Western ears). My alternative was yet more years washing dishes and getting drunk in my spare time.

Ok, so I've spent 24 hours in Daegu now. Impressions?

Well, it's certainly foreign. I've seen a few other countries in my 25 years, but none of them would I mistake for here. It's flash, neon, often half-finished, affluent yet still with numerous throwbacks to a poorer age that I've not found in established developed cities, such as the many stalls in the street and dusty little side-streets.

It's bustling, and I know I've not seen it at its busiest. Traffic is mental, cars are dented and the few motorcyclists I've seen are living on the edge. Apparently Korea has one of the highest road fatality rates in Asia, so if you stop hearing from me suddenly, you know why.

So the news today is that I've seen my school, met my director, seen my future apartment and have my next couple of weeks planned out. The next couple of weeks not actually including any teaching due to a mix-up which wasn't my fault. Somewhere along the line was some confusion and, so though I rushed here within a week of getting the job in a blur of frantic life organisation, it turns out they don't need me to start till the very beginning of January (although it may be Dec 22 if my agency get their way). At first I thought "Well, I'm wasting my time being here then, aren't I?" but I've since revised that realising that I may as well spin out a couple of weeks in Korea rather than Scotland. Anyway, I'm visiting Seoul this weekend with Matt, a NZer, and um... Sungoon or something, Matt's student. A free journey. Next week I go on my visa run to Japan, and that weekend I intent to visit H in Cheonan. Hopefully I'd be able to start teaching the following week.

So far I've found the Koreans very helpful and friendly. The first I met was a guy on the bus to Daegu, who had just returned from a 2 month trip to London where he'd been studying in a church as part of his theology course. He intend to become a minister. He helped me get off at the right stop, then phoned my agent to tell him where I was, and then waited at the bus station with me to make sure I was ok. He was called Steven, though I suspect that was not his real name.

Jason Kim probably isn't the real name of my agent either, but it's likely much easier to say than his actual Korean one. He's basically my negotiator, and is there to serve all my needs. He speaks good English and has been very helpful, though he does have an aura of being a slightly dodgy dealer too. He seems to drive only when simultaneously on the phone. I think he quite likes me, probably because I accepted the slight confusion of misunderstood starting dates without much grumbling, and he's since then helped and offered to help a lot. He's used to a lot of whinging Westerners so I think he likes one that say "Oh, no problem, that's fine, don't worry about it etc".

Other Koreans I've met have been Sungoon, Matt's student, who drives a car and is driving us to Seoul for the weekend. He reminds me of a well-fed and spoilt child. There's been the school director who was very smiley and reminded me of someone, but I haven't yet placed who. And there were the teachers of the school - one was a guy who spoke excellent English and the rest were women who giggled lots.

I've properly met three Westerners, though I'll be meeting more tonight. Matt is the one I've seen most, who has sort of been my guide. He's been here a month. He's very easy-going and friendly. There's his cousin, Nicky, who I've only met a little, but she seems fine. And there was some Canadian guy, Josh, who'd been here three years and seemed very much like a foreigner abroad too long.

Anyway, I've had enough of writing. Bye.

Tuesday, 9 December 2003

Arrival Into Korea

Well then, I'm in Korea. I arrived in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people (not 250 million people as a guy in the bus reliably informed me) about 3 hours ago. That was after a 5 hour bus journey from the main airport, Incheon, near Seoul. Which was after a 3 hour wait in the airport, following a 10 hour flight, following a 4 hour wait in Amsterdam airport which followed a mere hour or so flight from Aberdeen, where I'd been up since 8am. Before that you really don't need to know.

So I'm quite tired then, as sleep was restricted to patches of dozing and dreaming on the final bus journey. Tired, but in good spirits as my first impression of Korea - or Daegu more specifically - is good. Neon yes, but good. Friendly people, and I've already met a couple of fellow English teachers who assure me the ex-pat life is a thriving one here.

A fuller entry will follow in the next few days, for those of you who don't know why or what I'm doing here. But I'm a little fatigued and I think tomorrow may be a big day, so I'm going to get some rest now.