Sunday, 29 February 2004


I think I passed out on the subway this morning. I was rather drunk, and I'm sure I got on the subway at about 6am, maybe 7. And I'm sure I was going in the right direction. Because suddenly it was 9am and I found myself on the wrong side of the city, at the end of the line, and the only way I could possibly have done this is to do an entire revolution on the subway.

It's been a fun weekend of drinking. With Kristi away to Seoul for the weekend with the keys to the Manor, I've had a void in my life and so alcohol has been my only companion. But a trusty companion it always makes.

On Friday night it was a "boy's night out" with my school, that is me, Daniel the sometimes annoying Korean teacher, and David. We ate food, had some drink and then ended up at some fantastically large Korean nightclub which had thunderingly odd music (an ultra bouncy version of Cliff Richard's Congratulations being one example). There was a stage with dancers bopping about. Poor David, who doesn't drink because it makes him ill, was clearly very very miserable at this stage, but me and Daniel were guzzling the beer and it was great fun. I was dancing quite a bit, and I think even became sleazy Nev and was molesting some poor girl on the dancefloor, but the overwhelming memory of the club was the sheer size of it.

Things got strange here, and I ended up at some goddam norebang yet again, with Daniel and some Korean girls. I have absolutely no idea who they were, how we met them, if they spoke English, how we got to the norebang or anything really, except that my singing was truly truly awful.

Last night was a party at Eileen and Maebh's house - two Irish girls. It was Maebh's birthday. It was good fun, plenty of familiar faces, and we all progressed to a couple of bars and clubs and I recall it being a generally good night, except for my subway mishap.

I get tomorrow off work as it's a national holiday so I think the plan is to go snowboarding in the north of the country. With Mik, Laura and a NZ girl called Greta. We're getting an overnight bus at midnight tonight, and I think before we're watching a couple of films in a DVD room.

I watched Finding Nemo on Thursday in a DVD room. It was great. I thought it would just be some stupid kids cartoon about a damn fish swimming about, but it was so enjoyable I'm seeing it agai today. That, and a Korean film recommended by Greta called The Two Sisters, or something, which she says is the scariest film ever.

Anyway, I'm in a diabolical writing mood as I should have written far more details but I just don't give a royal damn. I've got better things to do than to write for ages telling you my news.

Thursday, 26 February 2004

Wage Raise

Hurray, I negotiated a wage. 2 million a month now, up from 1.8 million.

I took a slight gamble actually, but whatever the result I don't really lose. She was offering me 1.9 million straight, but what I've negotiated is for 2.0 million for the 42 classes a week I'll be doing, down to 1.9m if my classes go down to 40 (which is the number I've been doing for 1.8m anyway) and if they go down to 38 or less then it's 1.8m. So I could have taken a fixed 1.9m deal but this way the more I do, the more I get. To be honest, if it did go down to 38 classes then I wouldn't be too bothered as I'd still be on the same wage as I've been.

She also, I think, thanked me for the work I've done so far. It was either that or she wanted to me and the kids to work hard, there was a bit of a communication confusion, but the tone suggested the former.

Anyway, I'm sure all this has just been a series of dull numbers, but I'm quite chuffed about my successful contract negotiations as it's not the sort of thing I've ever been very good at before.

Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Graduation And New Schedule

I've been in a pretty good mood all this week, due in part to good financial news from home, and my financial good news has continued today, but I'll get onto that later.

It's been a fun day today, as it's been kindergarten graduation. Term starts in March over here, so this is the final week of the term year, and as a result all the kindergarten either go up a class or leave altogether (which is a shame because my Cosmos class, whom I really enjoyed teaching, are going). This meant that all my morning classes were replaced by a small assembly, certificates being handed out, good food everywhere and really very little for me to do except piss about, get my photo taken and eat food. Four afternoon classes, but they were a breeze. And for tomorrow and Friday I've no morning classes at all, and so don't have to be here till 2pm.

My good financial news came today. With the advent of a new term comes a whole new teaching schedule. Since we're down from 3 teachers to 2, this was of concern to me as I'd worried I might be screwed in terms of numbers of classes. 40 is more than enough. And so I mentioned this last week, saying I'd be unhappy to have to do any more than I'm, currently doing. Trust me, I hope all those who know me well know me not to be a whinger, and so it wasn't laziness that was my inspiration, it was sense. If I believe the work to be worthwhile then I'll work hard. Hence, in kitchens in Scotland I'd happily wash dishes and obviously dirty things, but I couldn't give a fat toss about wiping down a clean wall. Wiping down a clean wall is something you're told to do when there's not really anything to do. When there's nothing to do, do nothing. Not my motto but it could be.

Ok, so I'm spinning off on a tangent/trajectory here (take your pick). The point is that today my director approached me with my new contract, with a degree of trepidation. Before she even showed me it, she said she was aware I wasn't wanting to do any more classes and so they were willing to give me a raise. Of 100,000 won a month, about £50, raising my salary to 1.9 million.

And the schedule wasn't too bad either. 42 classes a week, which is tolerable. I'd had 42 as being my very upper limit anyway, although not told my director of course.

I played it cool. I said I'd think it over and tell her what I think tomorrow. I'm going to negotiate for 2 million a month, ie a raise of £100 a month. This means I'll be earning £1000 monthly, which is pretty good. That's more than I ever earned in Scotland. Mind you, aside from the drinking, my career in Scotland consisted of washing dishes.

It's also good news because the raise was offered without any prompting by me. Showing that they can't afford to lose me and they know it. I'm now the daddy of this relationship. Who's the daddy? I am!

Making me feel even better is David (I'm not calling him paedo teacher any more because it's not fair) who has worked for the school for two years now, has well over a decade of English teaching experience, and is currently paid 2.2 million a month, has been given 43 classes a week. He's been royally screwed. Kind of his own fault. After the messing about with him that they did he should have either left to get a better job - which he could get with a bit of gumption - or renegotiated a better contract. But he placed his own head under that guillotine.

But all these developments, though they mean a slightly harder week overall, are good as I'm essentially getting #100 extra (hopefully) for an extra 5 hours work a month. And under my original contract they could have made me do tis anyway.

But I'm sure all this contract talk is boring you. So I'll go. G,o,o,d,b,y,e.

Sunday, 22 February 2004

Pork Cutlet Mishaps

The subway takes seconds when you're drunk but an eternity when you're hungover.

I woke up at noon today, with a thundering headache that soon progressed to nausea. My room was stiflingly hot and a little smoky and I realised after a while it was because my pork cutlet was still cooking. Upon getting home at 8am this morning, I'd started to fry a pork cutlet, before passing out due to drunkenness. So my pork cutlet cooked to a crisp in that four hours, and made my room unbearable to be in.

I got somewhat drunk last night. A fun night, though with no stories of real note.

I forgot to mention that in that dream I had, the girl's name was Somerfield, as in the UK supermarket of rapidly fading popularity.

I feel like dancing like an absolute maniac.

That's all for now.

Saturday, 21 February 2004

Pizza Bloat

It rained last night. Back home in Scotland that would be an entirely standard observation, but in Daegu this is the first time I've noticed it rain since I've been here. Two and a half months and no rain. It snowed twice, lightly, but last night was the first evidence I've had that it rains here.

I didn't actually do anything last night. My intentions had been to go out and have a few drinks, but these were ended by pizzas from Carrefour. Carrefour is a large, Wal Mart-type French store one subway stop away, and I recently discovered they sell freshly made pizzas for 2000 Won, about a pound. And they're delicious, and very filling. So I bought four after work, and promptly guzzled two. And I was utterly bloated. I couldn't move and promptly passed out on my bed for two hours. When I woke, at 10pm, it was all I could manage to drag myself to the Manor in Ansim, where I collapsed on the floor and was too exhausted and stuffed with pizza to stand. So I propelled myself about the apartment by lying on my duvet and pushing myself about. Then I slept for about 10 hours.

It's been a very quiet week. Work then back to the Manor, that's all. Tonight I'm going to a party.

Work's been ok. I spoke to the director about now being willing to do over 40 lessons a week and I think she understood. At least if I am given more then I'll be in good position to complain. Believe me, 40 is more than enough as it is. The director likes me though. Unlike waiting-slowly-for-death John, I'm quite friendly to her and there's good communication. She bought me vitamins the other day and she continually worries about my health. She thinks I'm too thin. Believe me, if I continue to cram my filthy gob full of Carrefour pizza then that'll change.

I had a dream last night. Not Luther King in scope, it was nonetheless hard hitting. I dreamt I'd been pissing about it class, and had thrown a tape recorder from one side of the room to another, and it skimmed past a girl's head, just missing. Later in the day I was informed that the girl's parents were suing me for injuring her, and I spoke to a guy over the phone who informed me that school policy in this case was for me to stop working there. So I sat on a balcony for a while thinking "oh dear". Then the director spoke to me, saying that if I took a week off and came back with a better attitude then they'd let me continue working there. I said ok, but realised that this would probably mean they could screw me with lessons.

Do you think Luther King really had a dream, or did he just make it up? At least my dream is real.

Ok. When I start rambling about my dreams it's probably time to go. Bye.

Thursday, 19 February 2004

The Director's Children And Other Stories

The director has two children: Karly and Kevin. Both attend the school, but aside from same mother and same school, all similarity ends, because I find it hard to believe two such different ends of the child spectrum can be of the same father.

Karly is about 8 and is very bright. Quite cheeky, but not too much so. She's a keen worker, very instinctive at English, very good at reading, and any inattentiveness is due to the ease of the work before her rather than laziness. She's a good child for any parent to have.

Kevin, on the other hand, is a disaster of a child. He's about 6 and is on some other planet entirely. He manages to have a continuously running nose and cannot ever keep still in class: he resembles a rag doll flailing about entirely at random. Flashes of intelligence occasionally hint at something other than an irritating, snot-nosed space cadet, but he's one of the kids that I have to just ignore sometimes. Some kids aren't worth the effort of teaching when their forced education is at the detriment of the rest of the class.

On a different note, but still regarding the director, is the approach of March. March heralds the beginning of a new term and a new timetable for me. This is a potential problem because with the departure of John means a whle set of teacherless classes. Which I worry they may try and fob off on me. So very tactfully, I yesterday asked my director about this, about how many classes I'd have next term. "Because any more than 40 would kill me" I said. I can handle 40. It's not easy but I can do it. More would just slowly tear my soul out.

Talking of souls, I was wondering something. People talk of going for a "number 1", ie a piss, and a "number 2" ie a crap. So what would a number 3 be? A lung? 4? 5? I reckon by the time you get to a number 7, you're literally evacuating your soul. I think I'll just stick to piss and crap.

I bought a camera yesterday. I promise not to lose this one in a week, like the last two I've had in Korea. I also bought a toaster but I think I'm safe from losing this.

Also, I bought some Korean dance music. It's numbingly bad.

I've been staying at the Manor full time now. What a difference it makes. Weeks in a noisy and small one room apartment do feel claustrophobic. But time and space seem abundant at the Manor.

Since John's left, there's a stand in teacher for his Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes. I don't yet know his name but I do know he's Australian, looks dashing from a distance but goofy up close, and has a festering smell about him.

He also made a pretty bad first impression with me. He said he was from Perth in Australia but had lived in Sydney recently. He then started to complain about all the foreigners there - focussing on the Chinese and Arabs. Now whether or not you agree with immigraton (and as Australians are all immigrants anyway I can't see how they couldn't), there are certain ways to act when you first meet a person. I happen to be fairly pro-immigration but I do understand the anti-immigration arguments and don't necessarily think they are racist. So I don't necessarily think less of a friend if they turn out to be anti-immigration for legitimate reasons.

But when you first meet someone, to immediately launch into a speech about too many Chinese and Arabs being in Sydney, and that being the whole reason you don't like the city, well that's stupid. And sounds pretty bigoted and ignorant. Whatever his reasons, it's not an introduction you should give.

And more significantly, for him or me or any Westerner to start moaning about foreigners in our country is astonishingly hipocritical. (hippocritical, how do you spell this word? Two p's in the word imply a whole different meaning). Because look at us, we're goddam foreigners in the Koreans country. We're here just because we happen to speak English as our native language, and for that we get paid better than most Koreans. And we're treated well over here, we're respected. And we have it easy, we're here by choice, not because living in our home country is impossible and we're running from persecution and god know what horrors.

Anyway, before I get ranting, I'd better go and do something else.

Tuesday, 17 February 2004

Handsome Boy

I'm looking extremely handsome today.

Monday, 16 February 2004

My Fellow Teachers

Before teaching, I had a number of jobs back in Scotland, mostly working in kitchens. The staff turnover in bars and restaurants is high so I've worked with loads of people. As far as staff go, I'd have to rate my fellow teachers quite far down the list compared to my fellow kitchen workers or bar staff.

They're just so damn dull. I've no idea whether or not my lot are typical, but I'm sure most schools have a little more life-force to their staff-force.

I'm actually warming to the very unfairly titled paedo teacher. He may be as ugly as he is uninteresting, but he's a good teacher, a good man and inoffensively mild. The most cynical man in the world, John, has now gone - it's still a little strange not having the air of abject gloom that he brought to the staff room.

The Korean teachers are alright. I liked Ally as she was upbeat and friendly, but she's leaving soon. Clara is very quiet which is more shyness than anything else. Sharon seems more severe, but when approached has always been helpful, even if I sometimes get the impression she thinks I'm an idiot. There's one who I can't even remember the name of, who just blends into the background. There's Lisa (I think) who's very pretty and friendly, even though her English is limited.

Daniel the new teacher (Korean) has quickly become my least favourite person in the building. He's just a pillock. A twit. A ninny. A twerp. All these outdated terms apply. I don't think he likes me much either. He makes bad jokes which are either just really bad jokes or a veiled conveyance of irritation with me. Like telling me my desk is untidy. Dammit, I just tidied it on Thursday you turd. It's better than it's ever been since I started this job to a chaos of a desk. And when he's looking for a book and it turns out I have it, he makes me feel as though I'm careless and reckless for having possession of the book and not letting him know. It's one of these things where you really have to just witness him a few times. He's not a bad guy by any means, but if a truck ran over his head or he found his mother gunned down in her kitchen, bleeding her last, I wouldn't weep.

There's a new English teacher too. From a distance he looks quite swish, but close up he looks a bit goofier, so that's ok. I don't want better looking staff than me around. I think he's just temporary for two weeks until the start of term in March.

Start of term is make or break for me, by the way. I have a feeling they're going to screw me with new lessons. I do about 40 a week as it is, which is a lot, and if they try and shunt it up to 45 then I'm going to say something.

Ok, that's it for now. I was meant to be doing a test this lesson, but the Korean teacher isn't about so I've no idea what to do, so I just took the kids to the computers.

Sunday, 15 February 2004

Manor Weekend

A good weekend. Friday I went to a DVD bang with Matt and Rebecca and saw a couple of films, then met with Kristi and some others and got mildly drunk.

Yesterday was a Manor night in, with me, Matt, Kristi, a American friend of Matt's called John who I've met a few times, and an English girl called Laura who I'd only met vaguely before. We drank loads of red wine, until I passed out on the floor, where I woke at 8am this morning.

Saturday 13th March is to be our grand housewarming party. I've made invitations and we're all prepared for some heavy promotion. The Manormates are the ELITE of Daegu, and we're going to hold the best damn party this city has ever seen.

Friday, 13 February 2004

Ugly Students

I think my ugliest child has to be a girl called Betty. She's about 6, and I only take her for a couple of gym classes every week. She's an unattractively podgy little girl, with a clumsy hippo-like face, and a lack of any real spark of charisma. Her only good quality might be a mild inoffensiveness. I would feel sorry for her, but she can't even muster that emotion in me. In fact, the only reason I've really noticed her is her sheer lack of interesting features.

Most small Korean kids are cute, but she's not.

Sunny, who must be about 7 or 8, also manages to avoid looking cute. Like an angry pig, yes, but not cute.

Kids who look cute get better treatment from me. Fair, maybe not, but they may as well learn the laws of life in my lessons as well as just a few lessons in English.

Actually, I often let little Betty win dodgeball, but that's only because it annoys the boys in the class.

Transitions At The School

The end of February is the end of term for my school, and I think all the schools in Korea. New term doesn't hang about, as it begins on Tuesday 2nd March.

Whether or not the approaching new term is responsible for the current transition period my school is going through, I don't know. In part yes, in part no, I suspect. Because both staff and student numbers are fluctuating fairly dramatically right now.

Student numbers are waning. One of my classes is down from 7 when I started, to just 4, and is going to merge with another of my classes, down from 8 to 7. My kindergarten class appears to be down from 7 to 4. Most other classes have 1 or 2 students "disappeared". Each time I wave goodbye to a small sea of happy faces, I never quite know for certain if that's to be the last I see of them.

I think waning student numbers are indicative either of parents choosing to move their child to what they think is a better school, or often parents give their kids a rest for a month or so about this time, as the school schedule is punishing over here.

However, the staff population is not any more stable. Today is depressive cynicial John's last day. Last week, Chan, a Korean teacher left a note on his desk and never reappeared. Another, Ally, has just got a new job, and I remember hearing Clara saying she would be going soon. In the last two weeks, three new Korean teachers have appeared. The first two were about for a couple of days, never to be seen again. Yesterday, a Korean teacher called Daniel appeared, or re-appeared, as he's worked here before.

Daniel doesn't seem like a bad guy. Maybe a bit wet and I could easily beat him in a fight, but his heart seems in the right place. Unike his hair, which resembles a thinning wig. But Daniel has the unwitting unfortunate ability to wander pass classes when I'm teaching just when they're at their very worst. Every time he looks in, it must seem to him that I'm just pissing about. I can have a good class, and in the last minute rub all the stuff off the board, and the kids are putting their books away, and he'll walk by to what appears a small scene of chaos. Or he'll look in just as I'm looking out the window and a couple of kids have started to make a racket. His timing is very poor, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, my next two weeks are going to be awful. Because John is leaving, there are two weeks to be filled with his classes. Apparently another English speaking teacher is being drafted in (permanently?) to cover his Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but I've been saddled with an number of extra classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays - my slightly more relaxed days - and even my other days have an extra class somehow wedged in. It all means that it's going to be relentless, and the last two weeks of term are not going to be my most enjoyable.

Anyway, that's for next week. This week has just finished, and therefore I'm going to get drunk now.

Tuesday, 10 February 2004

The Manor

Tonight will be my first night in my new residence, The Manor.

For those familiar with my life in Aberdeen, you will unavoidably be familiar with The Castle. The Castle was a mansion in the very remote North East coast, situated on the ruins on an 800 year old castle, with one ancient wall of the castle still dominating the landscape, plus a few Spanish Armada cannons in our garden. We were surrounded by cliffs, had two beaches, and it was best year of my life. It was the site of some amazing parties and a divine summer, and much of Aberdeen grew to know of The Castle, with the 4 (5 for a while) castlemates, their numerous cars and their uncountable tales of bad behaviour.

It's fair to say I'm still in recovery for that year. Psychologically and financially. My poor mother still gets debt collection agencies sending threatening letters to her door looking for me, for which I am very apologetic and my time in Korea is, as part of many things, hopefully going to resolve these debts.

That's the intention however, but if The Manor turns out to be anywhere near the legend of The Castle, then I dare not think of the peril I'll be in by the end of 2004.

The Manor is the name that myself and Matt have given to Kristi's apartment, whether she likes it or not (although I'm sure she will). During our weekend trip we were discussing it as eagerly as my M7 class discuss Stone Cold Steve Austin and the wrestling. It parallels the castle in a number of ways.

Mainly because it's a large residence quite far from the city centre, that's much larger than that of any of our friends', and like the castle is both divinely peaceful but also a potential location for great parties. Ok, it doesn't quite have the history of the castle as I bet it's barely 800 days let alone 800 years old, but the plus to this is that while it lacks Spanish cannons it does have hot water, heating, a videophone security system and no pinemartens in the loft.

So, tonight I go shopping with my two fellow Manormates and we drink some wine and eat some food for our first evening together in The Manor. I'm moving my hifi there, plus all my CDs, and during the visit to the DMZ, me and Matt bought three small oil paintings for the place (one for each of us) and a number of art posters. The Manor is to be tastefully decorated, and like The Castle, TV is banned from the main room. Daegu is a noisy and intense city and we want our residence to be far removed from that chaos.

Kristi hasn't 100% confirmed that she's keeping the Manor as she's keen to live somewhere closer to her school, but me and Matt have launched a major charm offensive (the focus on the offensive...) and we're very confident. This place is fabulous and there's no way we're letting an opportunity like this slip from our fingers. After living in one room bedsits for a couple of months, the prospect of living in a large and luxurious apartment is mouthwatering.

It looks to be exciting times ahead then. I expected my year in Korea to be in a pretty average, pokey little single room apartment. Now I'm about to get two flatmates of my choice in the sort of residence I'd count myself lucky to live in at age 45 after twenty years of hard work.

Drawbacks: Kristi likes yoga and Matt likes fitness, where I just like techno.

Oh, and if Kristi decides not to keep The Manor, then we and Matt are terminating our friendship with her and spreading hugely destructive and unfair rumours about her to everyone we know.

DMZ Part 2

Ok, so from the previous entry.

Arrived in Seoul and we were in plenty of time to get the tourbus to the DMZ. The DMZ is about an hour's drive north so there was plenty of time for our guide to give us some of the history and politics.

I've read a fair bit about North and South Korean politics and history since I've been here, and H moreso. Matt is a kiwi so doesn't have any such sensibilities. So most of what we were told was like a summary, but it was still very interesting, especially as we'd be pointed out things as we were driving - just as North Korea situated just over a river, the South Korean billboard propaganda opposite, and the tank wall by the side of the road. This is a wall packed with explosives so if North Korea decides to pour their 1950's ex Soviet tanks into the South, the wall's can be detonated and hold up the North for a while. Knowing the efficiency of North Korea's regime, it might take them several years to pass each wall.

Most of our bus were Japanese, as part of a large Japanese tour which filled the other tourbus ahead, so the commentary was dual language. In fact, there were only about 12 English speakers on board, and one of them I admit becoming more than a little obsessed with.

It was this guy with a beard. Not just any beard but a breathtakingly stupid chinbeard. Some very carefully trimmed black beard at the sides, trimmed into a point, then a big tufty bit on the chin. No upper lip hair. He also had big black pretentious glasses, and I learnt later he was Canadian. He clearly thought he was the coolest thing since French jazz, but he looked such a tosser. And I found myself unable to stop myself laughing at him every time he walked past. With him were three girls. One with a fat ass, one arrogant, pretentious looking one, and ne who actually looked ok. But any girl who associates with that guy has to be a silly cow. He dominated my thoughts for much of the tour, but fortunately didn't obscure it all.

Our English speaking Korean tourguide was a delightful woman. Very enthusiastic, very knowledgable, very keen to share her knowledge and with a fervency close to fascism about taking photos of every conceivable moment of interest (when we were allowed to take photos as some places were military sensitive). Her passion really came across and made me, Matt and H eager to listen just to please her.

First stop was Freedom Bridge, which was just a bridge with barbed wire in front of it. There was other stuff too, like monuments, but this was all before the DMZ anyway. We stopped for a while, bought some souvenirs, and got back on the bus. Into a more military area and then into the actual DMZ itself, past some anti-tank walls and minefields.

Dinner at Camp Bonifas, which was American food imported for the US GI's benefit. It was a big buffet meal so I stuffed my face with pizza.

A briefing then, on more history of the DMZ. I would retell it to you but I can't be bothered. Basically, it's the zone which is the border between the north and south, very heavy militarized and the scene of various minor scuffles amidst very heavy tension. The North is a mentalist regime, originally under the absolute control of The Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, but since his death under the absolute control of The Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. The North is very poor with all resources poured into the military, very paranoid about all foreigners, and almost impossible to reason with especially as they now have nuclear capability. The South, while not perfect in its time, is at least now democratic, progressing rapidly with a high quality of life for its citizens, and a well respected member of the international community. Just one with an evil twin brother.

Whenever you tell the story about the two Koreas, it always sounds like you're reciting propaganda from the South, but that's because the North are so bizarre that it makes the truth sound one sided.

Then was the main attraction of the trip - to the actual border line of the two nations. In a building where we regimantly had to stay in a line, not allowed to stop and dawdle, and a healthy number of military.

We went into a building, a small hut really, called the Mac Building, or something like that. There are a few of them, all in a line, used for negotiations, and they straddle both countries as the border cuts each building in half.

Inside were two South Korean soldiers, and they looked unbelievably hard. Photos were allowed with them, but they stood unflinchingly still, looking like psycho robots, with their hands ready to pull their guns out. They were massive, and not people I ever want to mess with.

And to my surprise, we were even allowed to cross over to North Korea. So technically, I've been to the North, although I won't be crossing it off my list. It felt... just like the south.

Right, that was the climax of it all. After, we saw some other stuff, like the distant North Korean propaganda village and the biggest flag in the world, then headed back to Seoul where I bought a couple of CDs. Then to Cheonan where we saw a film and went out for a few drinks (uh... till 6.30am) with H's friends who me and Matt eventually decided annoyed us.

Although one - no joke - had been to a naked party with President Bush's daughter Laura Bush, at Yale University. And Miss L. Bush has no bush, she claimed. Trimmed to smoothness, it appears.

I was feeling like purest hell, like a true repenting sinner on Sunday and just got the train home where I slinked to bed for the rest of the day.

Monday, 9 February 2004

DMZ part 1

Who was it that sung "I don't like Mondays. Tell me why? I don't like Mondays - tell me why? I don't like Mondays, oh oh oh" or something. Was it the Boomtown Rats? The question is rhetorical because I really don't give a damn, but whether their question within the song was rhetorical or not, I am fairly certain that they weren't referring to life as an English teacher in Korea and why that English teacher in question wasn't too fond of Mondays.

That English teacher in question is, as you may have guessed, me. I don't like Mondays. Not just because it heralds the start of the working week (as I suspect was the reason for The Rats) but because my Monday is a hot mother of a tough day. 9.50am to 6.25pm, with an hour break about noon and otherwise solid teaching. I'm not afraid of long shifts, but long shifts when you're teaching young children are very demanding. Especially this week when I have phone teaching which took me till 7pm today.

I'm also not feeling 100%. Just a bit of a cold, sore head, feeling weak. It's possibly this avian chicken bird flu which is sweeping Asia and claiming every man, woman and child around. Avian flu is not to be confused with Evian flu, which is, of course, an illness based upon drinking too much mineral water.

More likely than avian flu for my weak state of being is just general lack of care for myself. Since that Wednesday night out with the dental nurses I haven't been quite right, just needing a good night's sleep which I'm afraid my weekend certainly didn't give me. Hence why Sunday was a dreadful day for me, and today I woke feeling pretty lousy, though I'm improved now.

It was the fault of my weekend really, as it wasn't a relaxing one. When you go to visit one of the tensest places in the whole world you can't expect relaxation. I was visiting the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, the 5km diameter wide border that divide North and South Korea. Heavily populated by soldiers, it's not a place to raise the children, though in fact I think the only raising of children done there is by the local wildlife when it manages to avoid the many landmines liberally scattered.

I went with H and Matt. Friday, straight after work, me and Matt got the train to Cheonan, where H lives. Cheonan is a plain city, if it were a woman it would have a flat, dour face and no chest. However, like that woman if she wears make-up and a padded bra (especially if you're drunk also) it can look nice under certain conditions and so Matt's first impression was good as we arrived to a Cheonan with freshly fallen snow. Snow makes almost everything look good, and Cheonan looked very pretty.

H met us at the train station and we went for a meal, with a friend of H's called Simon additionally. Just at some local little restaurant, where the proprietor was this very enthusiastic woman who was familar with H, although not familiar with the English language, and her drunk friends. They stuffed us full of food, and me and Simon with some soju (the other gayboys weren't drinking) but it was an early night.

For it was to be an early morning. The tour of the DMZ started at 10am in Seoul, meaning we were up by 6.45am and left Cheonan by 7.30am.

That train journey provided me and Matt with possibly our highlight of the whole visit. There was standing room only in the train, but the journey was just over and hour so that was fine. As we stood, a girl offered H a selection of sweets. To me and Matt, the offer was clear. It was "hello strange Westerner, you're not from here but I want to be friendly. Here is some sweets, please take a couple."

H took the whole lot, and as he did so the girl audibly gasped. H was absolutely obvlivious to this, thinking her noticeable surprise was because he said thankyou in Korean. He gave me and Matt a few, and as we were almost as surprised as the girl we said "You took all her sweets!"

At this point, H realised his social faux pas in stealing this young girl's sweets, and at the same time me and Matt became uncontrollable with laughter. All this poor girl would have known was that an arrogant foreigner had taken all her sweets, given them to his friends, and then we'd all started to piss ourselves laughing. We gave H a guilt trip until about 30 minutes later he gave two sweets back to the girl, which I think would have just added insult to injury.

Ok, we got to Seoul and got to where the tour was setting off, and that'll do for now and I've got other stuff to do, but I'll continue part 2 tomorrow.

Friday, 6 February 2004

Prospect Of Three Apartments

I met up with Matt last night and pieced together more of my forgotten Wednesday evening. As well as going to a Norebang and phoning Kristi to shout abuse at her, I also yelled abuse at some Koreans who were fighting outside Matt's apartment - insulting their mothers, it seems - and hurled abuse at Matt the whole evening before physically attacking him in his apartment. Apparently the actual fight took place durng the call to Kristi, and she expressed a degree of bemusement and amusement at the whole thing. Also, I passed out in the Norebang but only after the dentist, and another two people joined me later. Matt says that one of the dentists, married, was also cavorting with a dental nurse with a boyfriend.

I remember nothing.

Last night was possibly a very significant night however. I met with Matt and Kristi and we went out to her place. She lives quite far away, at the very end of the subway line in Ansim and has to commute to work - up to two hours daily. I think she finds this very inconvenient, as you can imagine, especially as most other English teachers live 5 minutes walk away.

But on the other hand, her apartment is fantastic. Better than anywhere else I've seen in Korea - certainly for an English teacher. A massive main room and joined kitchen, with three bedrooms leading off it, each room with a balcony (4th floor). It's a beautiful place, peaceful and relaxing, and just so big for just her. It's the kind of place you can work for 20 years before living in.

And still, she's considering moving somewhere closer to work. She feels it's too distant and makes it harder to meet up with people. Me and Matt are having none of this. The place is fabulous, no way is she leaving.

So we're moving in. It'd only be a 15 minute commute for me and the extra time is more than worth it. Most English teachers live in small studio apartments, like me. I don't mind my place, I've made it seem quite homely, but it's next to a busy road, is never quiet, and Kristi's place is 100 times better. I wouldn't move out of my place entirely, just keep it as a second home.

With Matt's apartment as a 3rd. We're all going to be flatmates in Kristi's place, and have two other apartments shared between us. An ideal arrangement - effectively we'll have three residences.

Kristi's still toying with the idea but I think the prospect of having flatmates may sway her. Even bad, bad men like myself and Matt. With three of us there, in fabulous accomodation as it is, more people would come to visit anyway and it would quite a social centre. We could have excellent parties but it's also an excellent place just to relax.

Me and Matt are moving in on Tuesday, whether Kristi likes it or not.

Ok, just the afternoon of teaching to go, and then it's to Cheonan with Matt to see H, and then on Saturday we're all going to the DMZ. Demilitarized zone, the border between North and South Korea. One of the tensest in the world. We're going to get raging drunk and defect to the North.

Thursday, 5 February 2004

My First Hungover Day Of Teaching

Fun: running, screaming, dancing, throwing things, parties, films, playing, driving fast, swimming, steak pies, rolling around.

Not fun: working when hungover.

I really didn't intend to get drunk last night, but it seems that it's an inevitability when you go out for a meal with Koreans. Korean dental nurses in this case.

It was Matt's fault, though he'd probably blame me. He has a private lesson once a week with some Korean woman and she invited him to dinner along with her workmates, and so I thought I'd tag along too. But being a weekday I really did think that it'd be a pleasant, civilised meal and a few drinks. But alas, I forgot that Koreans don't understand "a few drinks".

I met Matt off the subway line, at the other end of the city, and we waited for his woman at the dental surgery she works in. It was a big work meal out, with both dentists and their entourage of dental nurses, and we went to some kind of sushi restaurant.

Immediately upon entering, it was clear that this place was good. It may have been joined to a hotel, but it was huge, and very swanky, with private rooms to eat in. There were about 9 of us and we were shown our room (which was booked, a rarity in Korean from my experience) and in numerous installments our meal was brought to us.

The food was simply amazing. All seafood, and all delicious. The best meal I've had in Korea and possibly one of the best ever. All kinds of fish, cooked but mainly raw, and very fresh. I'd bet half of it was freshly killed. There were prawns and crabs and tuna and periwinkles and oysters and mussels and all kinds of crazy fish. I stuffed my face like a starved dog guzzles away at a binbag full of Pedigree Chum.

And the wine began to flow. Fine, fine, but then it was the soju. For any dedicated readers, you may have noticed that soju is intrinsically linked with dreadful insobriety.

The dentist opposite me, Dr Pak I think (he told me several times but these damn names are so just instantly forgettable) was particularly enouraging us. Matt, the pussy boy, wasn't drinking at first because he's on some stupid health kick - "Body For Life" it's called, or The Body Beautiful as I refer to it - and stopped drinking. Dr Pak had none of that and after about 30 minutes, to great cheers from the table, he finally broke Matt's resolve.

With the soju flowing, the room got rather boisterous. They were a great bunch of people, noisy and good fun, and laughing loads. I ended up making a "boyfriend-girlfriend" agreement with a Korean girl who for ages I was under the impression was a famous comedy actress in Korea, but it turned out she was just an aspiring comedy actress (hence why she worked in a dental surgery). She was hilarious. She insisted on numerous "love shots" which is downing a shot of soju with your arm round the other's arm (harder to explain than it looks).

Anyway, it was a terrific meal and everyone was havng a great time. Me and Dr Pak agreed to swap jobs for the day (although as I'm still working in the school this obviously didn't eventuate). But I've no idea what then happened.

Because suddenly I found myself waking up in bed with Matt. Gracious me. Fully clothed, I hasten to add, but Matt's a dirty dirty dog and I wouldn't trust him.

Anyway, speaking to Matt I realise there's a considerable chunk of the evening I've misplaced. Because after the meal we went to a Norebang, which I have absolutely no memory of. I'm sure it was great fun. I also apparently phoned Kristi and hurled abuse at her over the phone. Again, no memory. I'm seeing Matt later today so I'l try and get the full story.

The morning was rough then. I was in Matt's flat so had to cross the whole city to get to mine. I lay about for an hour feeling like a diseased dog that's been kicked in by peasants, and dragged myself off to school for 10am.

It's difficult to excite and enthuse young children when all you want to do is curl up and cry. So I'm afraid that my teaching was a little below par today. None of the kids seemed to suspect their alcholic teacher though. I'm feeling mostly recovered now, but the morning wasn't enjoyable. 3% enjoyment, 97% suffering.

Made worse by the fact that I didn't really want to share my suffering. When I worked in the kitchens in Scotland, being wrecked from the previous night was celebrated and revelled in. But it's less acceptable for a teacher of young children, so I kept quiet.

I tell you though, my first hungover day of work and it's not one I want to repeat. I think I'll try and stick to good behaviour during the week.

Ok, one more class today, and then it's a few games of pool with Matt and Kristi. A couple of drinks, yes, but there's no way there'll be a repeat of last night.

Hmm. I know I've heard that said before....

Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Korean TV

Korean TV is surprisingly good. Ok, it's mostly the purest bollocks, but separate the chaff from the wheat and there's a fair amount of... chaff? wheat? I don't understand this metaphor.

There's about 60 channels, and of these there are about 5 of decent viewing. Evenings certainly usually have enough to preoccupy me if I want a passive evening's entertainment.

There's the American Forces Network - AFN. It's great. The commercials are all US military propaganda and feature great American war heroes, great American landscapes, adverts saying don't be horrible to your children, where to sit on pubic transport to minimise your chance of being hit by a terrorist, and many more. It also warns to be on your guard against spies, and - curiously - UFOs. Seriously, there's an advert featuring this very fake UFO flying about and these soldiers going "Hey!" and "What was that?!" and the message at the end tells to report anything suspicious to your superiors.

AFN also has good TV, like Seinfeld, 24, David Letterman and other bits and pieces. Ok, it's got the ghastly Oprah and genuinely unwatchable stuff like The Bachelorette, but overall it's a reasonable hit rate. I've also become partial to Judge Judy.

Then there's BBC World, an absolute godsend. Despite Hutton enquiries, it's thoroughly reliable news from a British perspective. I always know where I stand. Additionally it has programmes like The History of Britain and Top Gear.

There's a few movies channels, OCN being the best. Mostly action, but sometimes gems like Memento. The overall quality is good. Late night you get abysmal porn (Korean laws are strict, so you can show only breasts, and the Korean's skill in any form of film-making is very lacking). OCN also shows stuff like Sex And The City (I shamefully admit to watching a few episodes) and another channel also has The Nanny, a mid 90s American comedy which I've become fond of. I don't know if it was every shown in Britain, probably because the title theme features the line "What was she to do, she was out on her fanny", which has a much different meaning in America than it does in Britain.

Then there's Star Sports, which I have developed a love-hate relationship with. I hate it because it's rubbish. It's my only sports channel and instead of showing football or decent sports, it has a bewildering selection on offer. There's Asian woman's 10 pin bowling. There's pool championships from between 1994 to 2003 (I'm actually quite partial to this), featuring numerous snooker heroes. There's ancient tennis, Bjorn Borg a favourite, which seems to go on for hours. Golf sometimes goes on endlessly. And most bizarrely is the boxing from 1934. Flickering black and white pictures of black and white guys punching each other like gentlemen.

Then there's tons of shopping channels, a few cartoon channels, loads of dreary Korean soaps, a couple of channels for English teaching, a couple of channels mostly dedicated to boxing or wrestling, some very odd Korean comedies shows, a Christian TV channel in English, rubbish MTV Asia and the National Geographic channel which can be good when the voices are dubbed over in Korean. Additionally there's about three channels focussing purely on computer games. All you ever see are computer games being played. The Koreans love their computer games.

However, I was pissing about with my TV the other day, wondering if I could get a better picture, when something happened and I suddenly realised I'd wiped all but four of my channels. This was dreadful news, but I didn't despair and tried to sort it out.

And suddenly, all my channels were back - and more! It was like Christmas and birthday all rolled into one, albeit hardly classic Christmasses or birthdays.

I now have Super Action Movie channel, which is just like OCN. I have a few channels with American comedies or other vaguely watchable programmes. I have a fashion channel, and also a porn channel I think which has such a poor reception all I can see are the words "Erotic Island" at the top, lots of fuzz, and some grunting noises.

Best of all, I've now got two new sports channels, one of which already has shown a healthy amount of football. I'm optimistic that it may be the channel that shows live English and European football. Football is something I'm really missing, so if this channel lives up to its potential it will complete the unexpected goodness of Korean TV.

If I can just tune in Neighbours then my life will be complete...

Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Another Child Cries

I got little Esther crying today.

She's in one of my least favourite classes - T3. Six of them, they're mostly boring with small cheeky flourishes. Little Emily is a pleasant enough girl, and quite bright. She's brought down by her friends little Jane and little Sue, two little blighters. They're not stupid and Jane can be keen but I don't like their attitude. Little Timmothy (two m's) and little Matt are ok. Clever enough, but not outstanding in either intelligence, enthusiasm or personailty.

Little Esther is a particularly sullen child usually. Very quiet, not very bright, and puts in minimal effort. Today I was involving the whole class and she wasn't putting in any input. I pressed her for some, only getting the minimum after pressing very hard and threatening "OUT"

10 minutes later it was the same situation. She wasn't making any effort. Not a trace. I pushed and pushed - gently, not aggressively as I'm a pretty mild tempered teacher - but was getting nowhere. So I stormed up to the board and wrote OUT in big letters and her name underneath.

She was devastated. Tears welling then pouring. If I had slain the family cat and started guzzling away at its stomach she couldn't have been more upset. Actually, she'd probably start screaming at that, but if I'd simply shown her a photo of her dead cat, it would probably have got the same response.

Did I comfort this poor distressed girl. Did I hell! I ignored her, and carried on with my lesson, with the other kids in certain awe of their callous teacher.

Teaching has many highs and lows, but there can be few greater highs than making a child cry.

That is why I love this job.

My Weekend, Without Lopez, Affleck or Daddy/Diddy

I've definitely recovered from the suspect food/alcohol poisoning after my Haeinsa weekend, as I proved the past weekend, my first after getting paid.

Friday night was quiet actually, but on Saturday I met up with Matt plus two others, a fat guy called John and a fairly attractive dark haired girl called Heather. We saw Paycheck at the cinema, starring Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck used to go out with Jenny from the Block who used to go out everyone's favourite daddy, Puff (now called, inexplicably, P.Diddy). I'm not a fan of Lopez as I thinks she needs a kicking.

I find I get on with people who can go out and get absolutely guttered, and revel in it. Some people get embarrased about idiotic beheaviour when drunk, but I far prefer the people who love it. Lopez doesn't strike me as a lady who would drink till the morning. It is for this reason that it is unlikely that I'll ever be good friends with Lopez.

Affleck on the other hand, while a bit of a jerk, has potential - with some conditioning - to be a drinker. I think his upbringing has not been one of nightly boozing, and I don't think me and him would ever really hit it off, but he's not all bad.

Puff/P Daddy/Diddy is my favourite of the trio. While he's all gangster chic, I think he'd be a good laugh if you got over the ego. His drinking ability is questionable but I think he'd try, and I think he'd have a good joke about himself. I mean, this is the man who raps about brandy.

Anyway, none of the above were present on my weekend. It was an entertaining enough one, although with no real big headlines that I can print. Drinking in Communes mostly, the unofficial English teacher bar. It's good for meeting other English teachers but I don't like to frequent it too much as it feels odd being in Korea surrounded my whiteys.

I also bought a hifi off a guy called Dan, who's leaving. It's a nice piece of machinery with good bass, and I've worn out my 4 CDs already. I'm listening to Ulrich Schnauss (laid back, relaxing electronica), Plastikman (dark, sinister, paranoid, minimilist techno for stalkers) and a Ken Ishii mix album (funky techno with occasional percussional flourishes).

That'll do for now.