Sunday, 30 May 2004


I experienced and lived through an earthquake yesterday.

I'd just returned from the orphanage and was in my apartment recovering. It was a seeringly hot day yesterday (moreso than it ever gets in Scotland) and I'd been running around playing football and basketball and was an ocean of sweat. I was watching TV when suddenly the world began shaking. Only for about three seconds, and I didn't really know what it was at the time. It was like a lorry had crashed into the building, or like twenty gigantic lorries had driven by all at once.

However, don't get any images of tower blocks crumbling. It was just a little shake and until today I didn't even know what it had been. Here's the news report that I found.

South Korea Jolted by Strongest Earthquake Yet

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details from 4th para)

SEOUL, May 29 (Yonhap) -- The strongest earthquake to ever hit South Korea took place Saturday evening sending minor tremors across the country, with its epicenter in the sea off Uljin, the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said.

Measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale, the quake occurred at 7:14 p.m. Saturday about 80 kilometers east of Uljin, KMA officials said. Uljin of North Gyeongsang Province is about 330 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The tremor was felt across the country, including Seoul, but no damage was reported, they said, adding that jolts were particularly strong in North Gyeongsang Province.

"Buildings were shaken across South Korea. But casualties were not reported as the epicenter was very far from the mainland," a KMA official said. "A complex of nuclear power plants located in Uljin sustained no damage."

The East Sea earthquake was the 20th one to hit South Korea this year.

In 1978, a 5.2-magnitude earthquake was reported at Mount Songni of North Chungcheong Province, about 180 kilometers south of Seoul, while a 5.3-magnitude quake occurred near the North Korea-China border in 1980. Most earthquakes reported in South Korea are weaker than 3 on the Richter scale.

You see that? Korea's strongest ever earthquake. My God, I'm a hero for bravely enduring such a trauma.

Friday, 28 May 2004

Happy Birthday Children!

After Buddha's birthday on Wednesday, it's now all my kids' birthdays. Or loads of them anyway. This isn't because of some well co-ordinated Korean baby fertilisation scheme but because every two months my school has a morning to celebrate all the kindergarten birthdays since the last celebration.

Celebrating children

For me, this is good because it meant that instead of having morning classes, I just had to have my photo taken with some traditionally dressed kids and take a few photos myself. Then I crammed loads of pizza into my gob.

Gob is a great word.

This afternoon, it's back to some proper work however. But Friday afternoon is generally not a difficult one. The kids are easy and not once do I have to resort to my new punishment - "4th floor pavement dive".

Thursday, 27 May 2004

Buddha's Birthday

It was Buddha's birthday yesterday which was a good thing, not just because birthdays are a happy event generally, and not just with deities, but because it meant a public holiday in Korea.

So a day off for me, and one that I celebrated not by nursing a hangover but, rather, being up at 8am and meeting a group of people at Dong-bu bus station for 10am, to take a trip to the nearby town of Gyeong-ju.

A big water wheel

My group, by the way, featured the following people:

1. Matt, a NZ fellow whose misadventures have been previously catalogued here.

2. Rebecca, a dark-haired Irish nymphette good friend of Matt's.

3. Carolyn, a highly motivated and fast-walking friend of Rebecca's from home.

4. Nicki, Matt's cousin, a pleasant girl who makes comments that give cause for wonder about the New Zealand educational system.

5. Pamela, a Canadian who is perfectly pleasant in a kind of dull North American female way.

6. And some guy called Lackey, Lockey, Lucky, Lanky or possibly even Lusty (but perhaps not) who was new to Korea. He was Australian and a very nice guy, but I was wary of him the entire trip due to his tall, surfer good looks and suspicions that he might like stuff like incense burning.

Pam, Matt and Carolyn

Anyway, we got to Gyeong-ju, got another bus and ended up at some big temple. I have no doubt that this temple is very signifcant, not just for Buddhist heritage but as a general Korean tourist attraction, but as I did absoutely no background reading or paid any attention to any historical details, all I can tell you was that it was lots of temple-like buildings with big golden Buddhas.

Bulguksa temple woth lots of lanterns.

A trio of Westerners sit outside a temple (Matt, Rebecca, myself)

Being the big man's birthday, the place was heaving with people and even moreso with paper lanterns which seemed to defy the realms of space, so much were crammed into one area. At times, I couldn't actually see anything around me as I'd be surrounded by paper lanterns. Carolyn, Pam and "Lackey" were away hiking, leaving the rest of us to cruise around the temple, observe some small singing concert that was taking place outside the main temple, and me and Matt had an ugly Westerner competition.

We had 1000 Won (50p) riding on it. Who could spot the ugliest Westerner. There were a number floating around, predominantly ugly ones, and so Matt took a quick lead by spotting some ratty looking jerk with a stupid hairstyle, but I then surged ahead with an awkward geeky looking guy with bad glasses and probably bad teeth too. This victory was sealed when later I saw some poor soul with a roundish face that was just wrong. He was in the distance but I guessed by looking at him that his skin is too dry, he likes Dungeons and Dragons and that he wasn't popular at school.

Aside from this, I was waiting by the front of the mian temple with Matt when I noticed two Korean girls, perhaps about 19 or 20 years old, hovering nearby. They seemd to be looking at us nervously, and one seemed poised to approach me. With a nervous giggle she asked me, mainly be gesturing, if I'd mind posing for a photo. Well, ok, so I stood with her and smiled as her friend took a photo of us on her camera-phone. I was thanked, and the girls, giggling, scampered off, surely pleased with their trophy. God knows what they'll do with it - show their friends they day they saw the white man? Maybe gaze at the image dreaming. Or perhaps the girl will concoct an elaborate story around me being her Western boyfriend.

But then it occurred to me. Maybe they were having their own "ugly Westerner" competition.

Actually, this is not the first time I've been approached for the sole purpose with appearing in a Korean's photograph. Months ago, while at Hyundae beach in Busan, myself and Matt were stopped by a group of both male and female Koreans and made to appear in a group photo.

Anyway, me and Matt quickly grew bored of temples of ancient historical and religious significance, and with the girls we all headed into the town of Gyeong-ju, where we had a leaisurely beer and went down to the lake. A blue, shining beacon of crystalline water? No, this is Korea, it was a murky, dubious water that sloshed before us. But on it floated loads of little pedal-controlled boats fashioned as either swan-like ducks or duck-like swans, and so we had no choice but to hire one and pedal like maniacs about the lake. I was quite drenched with sweat by the end of doing this, but it was tremendous fun. especially controlling the lever that decided which direction our duck/swan-like swan/duck went

Swanboat happiness

Then just a reunion with the three hikers and back to Daegu, arriving at about 7.30pm. I decided not to go with the rest to the Pakistani restaurant as I was just there a few days ago, so just went home.

And there we are. No holidays now for a couple of months. Just the endless onslaught and bleakness of relentless work. There should be more religions around so I could celebrate more deity's birthdays.

Monday, 24 May 2004


It's Monday now, and as the sun shines down over Daegu and warms the layers of pollution, I sit at my school to the (pretty irritating) sound of children playing. I've got a fairly hard day ahead of me, but I don't care because I had a great weekend, one of my best on Korea so far, and I didn't even get drunk.

Yeah, it was a wonderful weekend. Busy but never hectic, full but with space to relax. The sun shone brightly and each day started and finished satisfyingly.

Saturday began about 8am and a couple of hours of studying Korean before going to my Korean class. It was a good class too, where I felt my knowledge pushed but never too far, and I always understood what was going on. And I got 9/10 in the test, which was equal top mark. Such little victories can feel so good.

I had lunch with Tim after the class, then bought a couple of CDs and went back to my apartment. Not for too long though as I had to be at the orphanage for 4pm.

I think the impact we make as teachers at the orphanage is pretty minimal. There's no structure and the kids aren't really wanting another class, they just want to have fun. So while we make an effort to reinforce certain English words and the alphabet, it's all pretty freeform, and if a kid (all girls actually, for the English part) gets bored she just walks away. Or jumps on your head, as one little girl called Man Du (the Korean word for "water dumpling") was keen on doing.

Interestingly enough, an Asian American girl called Emily helped out at the orphanage for the first time that day. This is interesting because upon speaking to her, I discovered she was ethnically Korean but had been adopted when very young by American parents and brought up in America. She was back in Korea to study and learn the Korean language, and so helping at an orphanage was like going full circle.

So that was quite interesting. Unfortunately it was all that was interesting about her, as otherwise she was a bit boring (good looking though).

After the rather random English teaching we all headed outside. No football this time, as the orphanage boys were all absent for some reason, but instead I pushed an incredibly demanding little girl on a swing, and pretended to chase some other girls. They were very easily pleased. They'd inch closer to me, calling me "babu" (jokey Korean word for "fool") and if I even took one step towards them, they'd all run away screaming.

I suppose then that I have taught these orphans something. That is, keep away from the hairy man who says he likes children, no matter how friendly he may seem.

It was a beautiful day and everything felt relaxed, and after dinner at the orphanage I headed back to my apartment, where I relaxed for the rest of the evening. I could have gone out with Matt to see a film but I couldn't be bothered. And I made sure I didn't go out for even a couple of drinks because that inevitably leads to at least a 4am bedtime. Instead, and this is really quite shocking especially for a Saturday night, I was in bed and asleep before midnight.

But I was extremely glad of that in Sunday. For the first Sunday in ages, I was awake early, feeling fresh, and was out of the apartment by 10am. Compared to the hazy hollow wreck I normally am at this time, I felt wonderful. More shining sun and a whole day ahead of me. I did some shopping, then some stuff on the computer (actually, I'm about to apply for a job in Burma, very speculatively, but more on that later maybe), and got some photos back. Then met with Matt in town for about 2pm.

He was supposed to be going to see the football with me but changed his mind, so I went there myself and met with Greta and Mik, and later Eileen to watch Daegu FC lose 3-2 to Seongnam in a fairly entertaining game

Then it was curry time, back at the Pakistani restaurant of last week. Man, it was good. I stuffed myself like a filthy little piece of insect larva. I'm hoping they do indeed stuff themself otherwise my analogy is erroneous. But you get my drift. I also managed to stain my clothes with curry too.

Then home, where I watched some wrestling and eased into the night, where once again I was asleep by about midnight

What's happening to me?

Friday, 21 May 2004

Korea Never Rests

Much like my kids seem unable to sit still, Korea doesn't appear to enjoy sitting back and resting peacefully. By this, I mean that everywhere you go, shops are being taken down and new ones put up, apartment blocks are continuously springing up, and nothing seems to stay the same for very long.

The British love their roadworks, and the Koreans love continually changing their buildings. Since I've been here, a motel has appeared across the road, a new restaurant has appeared a few metres from my apartment and an entirely new apartment complex suddenly appeared in the space of just a few weeks right next to my apartment (and looking far nicer).

The most upsetting example of this is the great little CD shop that gave a foreigner discount. I turned up one day and it was being torn apart. Now it's yet another clothes shop.

Anyway, that's my insightful observation of the day. I saw a job in Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma) advertised and I'm currenty harbouring dreams of going there, but I think it's very fanciful thinking.

Wednesday, 19 May 2004

New Entries For Foul Children

When I wrote my list of most despised students, I completely forgot about my awful F2 class. I probably deliberately shunted them out my mind. They veer from funereal silence to very irritating chit-chatting. I don't mind a little talking in my class as long as it's not getting the way, but theirs is very distracting. I also get them at the end of the day, when they just don't care any more.

Anyway, that class has the screeching harpy that is Jenn. She easily nudges likewise harpy Annie for no.1 most vile child. She bellows and screeches and keep saying what sounds like "Cindy" all the time, which I don't quite understand (it probably means "turd" in Korean or something). She creates a bad atmosphere for the whole class, turning what would simply be a sullen class into a disgusting class. She poisons Alice, who I believe who be ok otherwise, and she intimidates some of the quiter kids who would have more of a voice if it wasn't for her insiduous vulgarities.

There's Jason too who, I'm afraid, is just a spastic. He's a runt of a child, looking like a deformed cartoon character but less funny. He also reminds me of an old man, but halved in size. Academically he's poor but not shocking, but his actual sense of the world around him is positively backwards. He's either chattering away to anyone or no-one, or has his mouth agape in confusion. Any question I ask him gets a bewildered and even shocked response, as if he doesn't believe I'm speaking to him.

Then there's Timothy, who's a gigantic lumbering beast of stupidity. But he's docile at least.

The other kids go from ok to slightly annoying, but are mostly submerged by Jenn's (and Alice's often) talking, or the sheer stupidity of Timothy or the very odd-looking Jason. They are definitely my worst class, the only class I have that I really have no fun teaching ever.

And I've got to teach them in just 20 minutes now. Here we go.

Corporation Haters

What a damn mess my mouth has become. After the toothache of last month that led to the removal of a tooth (to be replaced soon), that ulcer has now poisoning my daily existence as I try not to open my mouth too wide. Brushing my teeth today, my mouth filled with blood.

Though I do admit I prefer a little blood with my pain. Pain is only fun if it's visible.

Anyway, I was going to catch up with my weekend and the last couple of days. It was a busy weekend, and fairly constructive. It began with my Korean class, which went fine. Being as it was, Teachers' Day on Saturday, as well as Rose Day, I brought a rose for my Korean teacher (that she is attractive is, of course, incidental). I've received three roses from students, so I thought I would recycle one. My teacher seemed bemused and somewhat baffled by the gesture. Maybe I should have brought her some cleaning products, as the trend for Teachers' Day appears to be.

After that, I met with Matt and saw Kill Bill Vol 2 in the cinema. I haven't seen the first film so I can't compare, but I gather it was much less violent, but I still enjoyed it. Then we headed over to Rebecca's flat, where her and fellow Irishgirl and sort-of flatmate Carolyn were supposed to be having a barbecue. The weather had put a stop to this, as it was pissing down rain, but an indoor version was had instead.

It was a good night, nothing exceptional, but generally fun, I did end up in a club later on, but after just one drink wisely realised that if I kept going I'd kept pointlessly drunk, and so headed back home, probably for about 3am which is early for a Saturday. This weekend I plan not to go out at all at night.

Sunday morning wasn't too groggy, and later in the afternoon I met up with Matt to begin our Russian study. It was just the alphabet and having previously visisted countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet (Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria) it was more a reminder for me than actual learning. The language looks to be fun and I'm looking forward to beginning.

After that then, was something of massive excitement - an Indian meal (well, technically Pakistani I think). I'd first heard about it last week and Matt had been there on Friday with the ethnically Romanian anti-corporation girl "Iguana" that he knows. He was there with her friends, who all sounded horribly negative: anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-corporation. I appreciate having these beliefs don't necessarily make you a bad person, but like many things, it depends how you carry them. And from Matt's reliable reports, they carried them badly. The best example is when Matt mentioned to them that he'd managed to find Colgate in a shop, a rarity in Korea. This simple and happy story was twisted by them into how evil Colgate was as a company, probably for just making profits. They remind me of the departed John, whose view on everything in life was relentlessly cynical.

For the record, I'm not a big fan of Bush but I don't hate the man either, I think the war was done for good reasons but subsequently could have been handled a lot better, I like capitalism and I think corporations are great.

Anyway, I veer off course. The Indian meal was a buffet, effectively 10,000 Won (#5) for all I could eat. Which was quite a lot. I was virtually disabled by the amount I ate, stuck vegetating in my seat until I managed to haul myself into a taxi with Matt and watch a film at a DVD room - a very creepy Korean film called The Tale of Two Sisters.

That was my weekend. Monday morning the Indian meal caught up with me in a big way and my body managed to demonstrate that in some impressive ways. I apologise for the crudeness, but I managed to do a fart that I believe last for 20 seconds. That must be some sort of record.

Yesterday was a school trip to some pottery place with the kindergarten, where I made what almost resembled a teapot, and the kids all managed to create total messes.

And today, fighting through the pain in my mouth (made worse because the ulcer is always rubbing against a tooth) there's some sort of staff night out. We're meeting up with some ex-teachers: Jasmine (who left just as a I arrived), Ally (left about 2 months ago) and Chan/Roy (about 3 months ago). All Korean. The bleak John may be coming too, but I hope not. Physical pain is fine enough, but I really can't face the bleak mental anguish of the world being an oppressive, conspiratorial and downright corporation-controlled superstate that John would have me believe.


Tuesday, 18 May 2004

Biting My Mouth

You'd think after 25 years I'd have learned how to eat safely. Yet a few days ago I managed to bite the inside of my mouth. It wasn't too sore but yesterday a painful ulcer had developed.

Eating and even talking were a little painful. However, it wasn't going to get any worse and today should have been ok. Unfortunately, last night I once again bit the inside of my mouth, biting right through the ulcer and causing my mouth to bleed.

As a result, talking and especially eating aren't my favourite things right now, but alas, both are necessary.

I'd other stuff to write about, but pain always overrules everything else.

Monday, 17 May 2004


I had a curry last night, which was great, the first since I've been here. But my God, it's messing me up this morning.

Friday, 14 May 2004

Hidden Meaning

So far, for Teachers' Day, I have now received: shampoo, body wash, deoderant and chewing gum for fresher breath.

Do you think my kids are trying to tell me something?

Teachers' Day

Tomorrow is Teachers' Day, a great day of celebration in Korea where teachers are rewarded by their students for the great work that they do. Of course, if the gifts were awarded on a merit scale then I'd be getting a double knighthood, but as I work at a humble school in a cut-throat culture, I've got to settle for socks.

Or so I thought. Teachers' Day this year is a Saturday which means today, Friday, is the day I get the gifts. I was expecting a deluge of socks, from everything I've heard, but so far have received exactly none. So far it's been shampoo, body scrub and some handkerchiefs from a Cosmos class's Sandra who referred to me as "Lab Teacher". Where are the socks, kids?

The day is only half finished - or half started depending on your outlook, so I hold out hope for some socks to come. In retrospect I should have been dropping bigger hints to my classes, such as making them take notes home with them informing parents of my list of presents.

On a totally different note, I received a strange message today. From little Daniel in Forest class, the very youngest of all classes. He's probably about 4 and although he knows some of his alphabet, isn't a commander of the English yet. He's certainly not quite as retarded as some of his tiny classmates, but neither is he about to win multiple scholarships. Anyway, today, while colouring in the letter E, he wrote a message on his paper: "sm5 is a soana"

I'm pretty sure little Daniel isn't capable of this level of English yet, even though it isn't really English and just semi-gibberish. I think it must be some sort of unworldly message to me from some mysterious force. Remember, the only reason I'm here is because I woke up one morning with a voice in my head saying "Teach English, you must teach English. Teach English." Obviously the next phase of the guiding voice is beginning. But what could it mean? SM5? Maybe SMS, it might have been. Soana? Sauna, perhaps? Who or what is sm5?

Heavy analysis will obviously have to be done, any suggestions welcome. And I'll be keeping a close eye on Daniel's next written words too.

Thursday, 13 May 2004

Top 5/Bottom 5 Kids

Is it "harp on about" or "carp on about", when you're talking about going on and on about something. A harp is a musical instrument and a carp is a fish, so neither make much sense to me.

I only ask because I was going to use it in my opening sentence. Which was, that many people harp/carp on about not being judgemental about people. But that, frankly, is bollocks. I'm very judgemental of people and proud of it. I judge people all the time. How the hell are you to make opinion if you don't exercise judgement?

Actually, maybe it's just goths and ex-goths and certain strains of hippies that go on about it. Either way, they're all wrong. Especially the goths who I really can't fathom out. Hippies, fair enough, they're just idiots, but goths deserve every moment of persecution they get, and they relish it anyway. I hate goths almost as much as the Swiss.

Anyway, all this is tangental/tangentoid to the point of this entry, which was about judgement and my judgement and rating of my children. One day I may make a full list of all my kids, in order of preference, though given I have about 120 in total this would have be a day or particular pointlessness and I hope I never actually resort to it. However, I have made a list of my top and bottom 5 kids, i.e. the kids I'd first send to their deaths should a firing squad insist upon five live targets, and the kids I'd make a token effort to save, should that unlikely scenario occur.

My bottom 5, therefore:

No. 5: Eddie, T1 class. Poor Eddie. As the teeth rot inside his mouth, the world charges on faster than he can comprehend. He sits in T1 class smiling aimlessly without a clue about what is happening. A podgy child, without charisma or brains, there's little that can be said positively about him, except that he's at least not infected with evil. I can't even feel sorry for him, because his presence just stirs a mild annoyance within, that I know is wrong, but can't help. And trying to explain even simple concepts can be a Herculean challenge. Poor Eddie.

No. 4: Kevin, Cosmos Class. Kevin is the director's son, and is on a totally different planet altogether. Not stupid, but is so permanently distracted that his productivity is a mere fraction of what it could be. He's about 7, wear glasses that hang from his face, has a continuously running nose, and can often be found staring ahead with his mouth agape. I wouldn't mind too much, but he's just so disruptive in class. He'll stand on his chair for no reason, or wander about to put something in the bin, and can't stay quiet. I can talk and talk at him and he's just completely unaware of my presence. Kevin is a very annoying child. But don't tell my director (I pretend to be nice to him when she's around...)

No. 3: Victor, M1 Class. Like Kevin, but one year up and one step up. Not stupid but all over the place. He will only work, pretty much, if I sit and watch him. I think he may also have a spinal problem as he is continually slumped on his desk with his head lolling about.

No. 2: Elliot, M8 Class. A loner without charm. Though sometimes associating with sullen Brian, 9/10 year old Elliot is the child equivalent of a pathetic homeless dog that nobody could ever love. He scowls and makes no pretence that English is not his favourite lesson of the day. Sometimes he's just moody and surly and I don't mind that so much, because at least he's not being a distraction and all I have to do is try to get him to do some work, but it's when he sets off kids like the hyperactive and grossly over-eager Robin, or starts annoying one of the girls, that he becomes a real pain. Occasionally his scowl mutates into a gawky buck-toothed grin, but for the most part he's just that scraggy stray dog that gets under your feet, until someone finally kicks the life out of it in a grotesque spectacle of man-defeats-beast.

No. 1: Annie, M7 Class (formerly of T4 Class): Fuzzy-haired, gangly, big-glassed Annie. Every day good honest people die from unfortunate and random incidents, and you just have to wonder why our good Lord above doesn't set one up for this screeching bane of my life. A crane toppling over, falling onto a stalagmite, or being kidnapped on mistaken identity and tortured horrendously with an iron. Alas, Annie still lives, and has managed 12 years so far. Initially she was quite funny, but the humour has soured, especially since I cracked down on that class and drummed grammar into them until they bled. Now she just talks and talks and talks, and when I say "Annie, quiet please," she looks at me as if persecuted like a Jew and screeches "Whaaat!?" in this harpy-like wail. On Monday I wrote the word "rude" in her book and told her to look it up at home. I doubt she did, but "rude" is the perfect word to describe her, I barely need to write anything else. My only hope is that now her class have merged with the likewise borderline too-cheeky M7, she might quieten a little, as was hinted at my her debut lesson there. Otherwise I am imploring God above to fire down upon her with almighty and possibly even unholy vengeance.

And here are my top 5.

No. 5: Ann, M7 Class. Amidst the cheekiness that emanates from M7 quietly sits the calm, happy and always helpful Ann. About 11 years old, Ann is a very pretty and friendly girl, who contributes well in class, works hard, has an excellent attitude and unlike most of her fellow classmates, never talks back. If every student was like Ann, teaching would be the easiest profession in the world. A real pity then such fresh and youthful good nature will inevitably sour as she passes through the stinking intestines of the rancid beast that is life, leaving just a dirty stain of a person in the end.

No. 4: Cindy, T3 Class. Must be about 10, though tall for her age, in a fun though demanding class of kids at beginner level English. Cindy is a clever and conscientious worker, but a very happy one with a lively sense of humour that contributes to the class without ever obstructing the smooth flow of the lesson. It was her and a friend, Cathy, who would crack up with laughter every lesson for about two months every time I said "monkey", which I developed into a deeply sounded "Mmunck-EH". It seems a shame that her bright spirits will be dashed by the many failures that life brings, until eventually left a shell with only memories of what fun and laughter once were.

No. 3: Eric, Ocean Class. A bright and very eager 5 year old from the marvellous Ocean class. His English is excellent for his age, and he picks things up easily, but his intelligence is matched by his good nature and enthusiasm. Well behaved, the only disiplinary flaws he displays are due to sheer excitement or competitiveness, but his anger is directed inwards and whenever he unwittingly hurts someone else, he immediately responds with a very cute "I'm sorry." But his intelligence and charm will surely only serve to corrupt him as he grows into an arrogant, nasty, controlling and bullying adult, hellbent with abusing his sick power over all those weaker than him.

No. 2: Ray, T1 Class. Ray must be about 8 or 9 years old and is in a class of pretty average ability, but one which is always energetic and entertaining to teach. Ray wins me over with his sheer determination and eagerness to get things right, and his genuine joy on his face when he gets a question right. Hard work is definitely paying off for him, and his boisterousness is always good natured as he doesn't haven't a malicious bone in his body. Alas, that hurt puppy-dog look in his eye he sometimes gets will only develop into a permanent and ever-raw scarring as life cuts him into painful pieces.

No. 1: Fiona, Ocean Class. Fiona is a delightful little girl of about 5. Bright and always happy, albeit unable to sit in her seat for more than 15 seconds straight, her English is good and she has a wonderful innocent enthusiasm. Most charming is when, about once a lesson, she'll say to me, unprompted, "Nev teacher, I love you." It seems a shame that age, experience, cynicism, bitterness, pressure and the hell of living will eventually destroy this lovely little girl and deform her into a wrinkled crone of misery.

That's the extreme spectrum of my kids then, which, to be fair, are on the most part very good. Even the bad ones aren't really a problem. They're just annoying. They're not fighting or kicking or biting me (not unknown).

I'm also considering promoting Luke to "best kid" as, aside from having vastly improved in the last couple of months, he (or his mother) gave me a present today for Teachers' Day on Saturday. A lovely gift wrapped present of shampoo and conditioner which will transform my already clean and slightly long hair into a golden beacon of sunshine.

When it comes to teaching, I'm as corrupt as can be. Presents will win favours. Today Luke got free candy and the pick of the questions to answer and whiteboard drawings.

Wednesday, 12 May 2004

The Red Mask

I first heard this over the weekend, vaguely, from some friends, but yesterday it arrived in full force in my school. This is: The Legend Of The "Red Mask".

I'm not sure exactly how long this story has been in circulation, but it was the focus of much excited talk and much fear. One boy, usually a very rough and ready 9 year old called Michael, was silent and trembling for the whole lesson yesterday, and every time a kid even mentioned the word "ghost" he started to whimper with fright. Most kids weren't quite as petrified as he, but nerves were still jangling.

The Red Mask is apparently a ghost, or some other such entity, of a Japanese women with failed cosmetic surgery. This led her mouth to be grossly widened into a huge red smile. Now, she preys on children and if they see her then it's certain death, or maybe just getting their mouth cut open into a huge wide red bloody grin. Details are all a little sketchy. It's something to do with being asked if you're beautiful. If you say yes, then she'll kill you, and if no, then she'll cut your face open. Or maybe vice versa.

I've been searching for some pictures of this Red Mask lady, so that I can dress up as her and terrify my young kids, but so far haven't found anything.

The only way to ward off this terrible demon is to wear the Chinese symbol for "dog" on your hand, because she's apparently scared of dogs. Thus, most of kids had some badly drawn Chinese symbol on their hands yesterday, and probably today too.

I remember back home at my primary school in Dingwall, there was the legend of "The Green Lady". The tale is vague indeed, and hundreds of different versions abounded, but it was something to do with a lady who'd lost her child at the nearby Tulloch Castle, and this correlated with a splodge of green paint on our school wall.

There was also "Poof's Corner", which wasn't actually a corner, rather an alcove. But I don't think there was anything supernatural about that.

Tuesday, 11 May 2004

M7 And My Wife

Class chemistry is a continually fluctuating beast, and I find that a class I can't stand one month can transform into a really good class the next month. Sometimes the disappearance or addition of a student can do it, sometimes a change in textbook, sometimes just the passage of time.

M7 are a prime example of this. Months ago they were my most dreaded class. Rodger, Abraham, Paul and Phillip the four main rats I wanted to exterminate. Just as I'd got the class tamed, term changed and the class lost Phillip (and the very odd Fred, who I can picture murdering a hooker in later life) and gained some girls.

It killed the class and put me back to square one, with the class either clammed up in silence, or with insolent comments flying around.

But since that, they've come round again and they're great fun. Always at the verge of cheekiness, but I keep them in line and they're often quite funny. They like to avoid actual work and just chat as much as possible, which I encourage as it relaxes them and is better practice at the language than reading from their book, which they shut off from half the time. As long as they don't become silly I don't mind.

One of their favourite subjects of recent was my "wife". They occasionally at least feign an interest in my life, and they wondered if I was married. As I have a ring (my delightful owl ring I bought in New York) on my non-wedding finger I pretended that I was. This got them very enthused and they were desperate to meet her. I told them I'd try and arrange for her to visit the next week.

Of course, not actually being married meant that unless my situation were to rapidly and dramatically turn around, it was a promise I'd be unable to fulfill. But I led them on for a while, saying she was sick or working, and at one point I brought in a selection of 5 photos of girls so that they could guess who my wife was.

Three photos were of me with female friends, and two were random photos of two of the most unappealing woman you're likely to see. God knows who they are, but they appeared in my photos. One looks like a bloated and shaved gorilla, and the other one is this sweaty muthra of beastwoman, with greasy thinning hair. These women are of such low standard that I'd probably reject them even when drunk (probably).

Anyway, M7 loved this, and found the two less visually appealing women very funny. And curiously, they all unaminously voted for my wife being Sarah, that is, the Sarah that was in my final year of university and was a flatmate of mine briefly. I'm out of touch with her now, but she got all the votes, with neither beastwoman, Finnish ex-flatmate Heta or half-Malaysian Diana (selected because I thought I might fool the kids into thinking I was married to a Korean) getting a vote.

So they were very keen to meet my wife by now, but the odds of me even faking it were now low, given that I'd have to had shipped in Sarah. So I came in one day, they asked eagerly about my wife, and I informed them she'd been killed in a boating accident in Busan they day before. They all wondered why I seemed so happy about it, and I said simply "money."

Being Korea, they actually accepted this very readily.

Anyway, the topic of interest yesterday was who would win in a fight between me and Korean teacher Daniel. No decision was reached. Daniel seems a bit soft but he spent time in the army and the police, so may have some tricks.

Alas, I fear my M7 class may revert to it's old annoying form. They're merging with part of the disbanded T4 class, three loud girls. Two are ok, but then there's Annie, this wire-haired bag of a 12 year old, who talks and gripes incessantly, and won't be a good influence on the lovely students of M7.

I may do what Daniel does. Get the ruler out and whack them. I may not have military training but I can still injure a 10 year old if I want to.


I sometimes wish my "Ocean" class would stop acting like idiots and grow up. But then, I suppose they are only 4

Monday, 10 May 2004

Catch Up

I've slackened off with my writing of late, I'm aware. I have good intentions but simply don't have the same opportunities to write as I used to. My class schedule is such that the short breaks I do get these days I use for mental recouperation and trying to retell my recent events over the internet is too demanding. But - I'm going to make a concerted effort to improve, and write at least something every couple of days.

So, my new and improved lifestyle continues, with continuing stutters. Since I've decided not to drink heavily on Saturdays, I've managed to still get drunk 2 out of 3 Saturdays. Both times were accidental and ultimately it was the work of White Russians (the drink, obviously) that ended my good clean-living efforts. I'm managing to get up at about 7.30am each morning though, and although last week's studies weren't as good as the prior two, it still went well. I'm enjoying my Korean class a lot, and can now string sentences together, even if my conversation is still limited to saying "This morning, at 8 o'clock, I studied Korean" or "Today afternoon I watch movie".

I wasn't at the orphanage this weekend, and won't be at it next weekend either, but after that I hope to make it weekly. In a few weeks there's a football aka soccer tournament arranged to raise money for it, which I think I'm supposed to be taking part in. This is a prospect that terrifies me. As I think I mentioned before, my only other proper footballing experience was when I was goalkeeper for my university department team, and I let in 60 goals in 8 games. Ever since then I've harboured traumas about taking to the pitch again. These stupid little orphans better appreciate the sacrifice I'm making for them.

Talking of football, I went to my second Daegu FC game on Saturday. They lost 3-2 in a well fought game to Chonbuk Rovers, or something like that.

This weekend, oh dear me, I'm going to Seoul with Matt for what we both hope and hope won't be a repeat of our last Seoul weekend together, my first weekend in Korea, and a weekend we still talk about often. We're meeting with our slick ex-gangster friends June and Chung, or whatever the hell their names are, and I'll impress then with my longer hair and improved Korean.

Me and Matt are dead set on the trans Siberian express next year. About April time we'll take 2 weeks in China, go to North Korea for a week, then slowly make our way to Moscow via Mongolia and, if possible, popping by some crazy sounding countries like Kazakhstan and the almost vowel-less Kyrgyzstan. I've already warned Matt (who hasn't been drinking in three weeks, for very amusing circumstances that I can't tell you about) that he'd better drink like hell while travelling with me, because I don't damn well travel for the cultural experience.

Ok, so there's all sort of other details I've missed, but I'm going to try and write more in future because I don't like having months of my life undetailed. Now, I've got about 19 hours of straight teaching ahead of me, so I'd better get ready.

Monday, 3 May 2004

Teachers' Day

Apparently it's "Teachers' Day" next Wednesday. I don't know if this is just a thing with my school or a national day (Korea has all kinds of crazy national days, including one for a popular sweet) but it's definitely a good thing.

I can hopefully expect to receive socks, maybe food, and if I'm very lucky such commodities as umbrellas or even a coffee maker.

God Bless Teachers' Day.

Saturday, 1 May 2004

Korean And The Orphanage

Another day in the ongoing transformation of me from being a useless drunken waster to a useful, productive and positive member of society. I'll be a Christian before you know it.

I slept in however, till 8.30am this morning, a rare slumburious luxury. I'd been out last night, not drinking but seeing a DVD with Matt (who had a very amusing tale which I'm sworn to secrecy about and can't possibly tell here, I'm afraid). We saw Cube 2, which was like Cube (1) but slicker and even more cryptic. I could watch endless films about people stuck in cubes, just shove them in there, film it, and I'm a happy, happy young man.

Anyway, so I got up, did some light revision and was at the YMCA for before 11am, where my weekly Korean class takes place. As you may know, all I have done in the last two weeks is hardcore studying of Korean. I've been up at 7am each weekday morning, do two hours of study, go to work, then do an hour or two in the evening after work. My social life has evaporated into nothingness, but I don't care. I'm hugely enjoying learning the language and in two weeks I've come from knowing almost nothing to now being able to (slowly) string sentences together, past and present tense.

However, I always get a bit nervous before the Korean class, because when you've devoted your week to learning the language you kind of hope the class will go well and reflect the work you've put into it.

And today went by brilliantly. I understood everything that happened. My written Korean isn't bad at all, and now I'm managing to transfer that to speaking, and now that I understand the grammar and sentence structure, it's just a matter of learning words. But after two weeks I feel I've made massive progress, and if I can keep it up then I hope to be able to hold a reasonable conversation by... I have no idea. I want to leave Korea being able to speak the language.

So I left the 2 and a half hour class feeling great, had lunch with Tim and Ericka, then went back to my apartment before heading off to my orphanage.

Ah, the orphanage. My key to having a good CV, impressing girls with my sensitive and caring nature (already having an impact), my ticket to heaven and also a free meal. The food's crap but if it's free I'll eat anything.

Yeah, when I was asked by the Korean teacher in my Korean class what I was doing this afternoon, my answer (oh-hu eh - orphanage(I forget the Korean word offhand) - eh kayo) elicited what was almost a woo of wonder from the teacher and a couple of other young ladies. They seemed less impressed when I was asked how often I went and said "Every Saturday, as long there's not football on."

So, the orphanage was fun. Some slightly chaotic alphabet lessons followed by football, whereby I can pretend that my terrible ability is better than it is when surrounded by small children. For a rubbish player like myself, there can be no greater satisfaction than cruising through a field of players before rounding the keeper and scoring.

Unfortunately it looks like I may be in the orphanage fund raising football match in June. This will be against actual adults, and the sheer folly that is me attempting football will be impossible to mask. Some of you may recall I played - inexplicably - as captain and goalkeeper for my university department football team, something which looks far better on paper than on the pitch.

(I let in over 60 goals in 8 games.)

Here's some Korean for you. This would, of course, be written in Hanguel, the Korean script, but non-Korean computers wouldn't be able to recognise the characters so I'll transliterate to English.

eonul eoje yeol-si eh Matt chingu-lul mannayo.

That means, roughly: 10pm tonight I'll meet my friend Matt.

I can do much more but my mind is resting from Korean right now and will get back into gear tomorrow.

So I'm meeting Matt tonight, and join up with Eileen, Maebh and Denise. A few quiet drinks but I hope to be home by 2am at the latest, and I won't get drunk.

I don't know what's happening to me either.