Wednesday, 24 November 2004

Making My Mark

After 11 months and 2 weeks in Korea, I have finally made my mark.

Last night I managed to get the 14th highest score on Tetris at the downtown arcades, and my name is thus etched there for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Being A Spastic

I'm feeling good today.

I've been feeling good for the last few days, but each day has got better. This is in stark contrast to the last few weeks where I've been feeling anything but good. In fact, last week was possibly my worst week in Korea to date.

It was burn out. I'm on holiday and am feeling supremely relaxed and back to the Nev we know and love. I'm recharging after a period of being completely drained. Not just physically tired, which I can take, but completely drained and devoid of thought or inspiration. Don't worry, it was never a big problem because I knew I just needed a holiday, but up until my holiday started I'd become like an automaton, like a shell. I wasn't looking forward to anything, and was poor company forced to go out socially.

It peaked the weekend before last. That was when I went to Geoje-do (a pretty island off the south coast) with Suk-jeong and her friends. There were about 12 friends in all, but none spoke anything but patchy English. On the Saturday night we stayed at a large hotel, the 12 of us renting out one large room to share. That night was quite fun, as we sat round, ate food, drank soju, and laughed and chatted. I wasn't on great form and my Korean was dreadful, but after some drinks it didn't really matter.

But the Sunday was hell. It started with waking on the floor, nauseus and with a pounding headache. Bodies were all around me. I struggled to my feet and found a seat as the bodies awoke. The nausea and headache subsided a little, but left behind a spastic of a man. For that day (and hopefully that day only), I was a complete spastic.

I had nothing. Nothing in me at all. Not a word to say, in English or Korean. I felt mentally dead, and all I wanted to do for the entire day was to go home. But I was with three carloads of Koreans, all very lovely people, and an alternative day was planned.

We started with a drive to a rocky beach. This drive took us along scenic roads that twisted and turned, and had there been any life in me I would have revelled in the marvellous view of sea and mountains. But the only thing in me was my breakfast, and not for much longer. As nausea crept up inside me, and my stomach slowly climbed to my mouth, my thoughts became focussed only on not spraying the car with my morning's digestions. This I mercifully managed, but only just. The car came to a halt, and I managed to fight my way ou of the car before vomitting in front of my Korean friends.

I felt better after that, physically. But mentally I was as spastic as ever. It was horrible actually, really horrible. Not only had I forgotten all the Korean I knew, but I'd forgotten how to make any conversation anyway.

So the day took us to some lovely scenes, a couple of rocky beaches, and an interesting POW camp/museum but it all washed through me. We got back to Daegu at 11pm and I collapsed at home a pathetic wreck. All last week at work I was a shell, just going through the motions.

I'd just been overdoing it. Monday to Friday is dominated by work, and slowly has been draining me. Plus, I'm studying Korean hard each morning for a couple of hours. My apartment is next to a very busy, loud road so I never get any peace. And it all caught up with me. The last few weekend I was perpetually tired and never particularly keen to meet people socially as it just drained me more.

But the solution was my holiday, which I was eagerly looking forward to and which I'm very much enjoying. On Saturday I locked myself in my room and spent the entire day cleaning, naked. My room is now spotless. I think it is the first time in my life I've spent a full 24 hours naked.

On Sunday I met with the Gin Girls, then met with Matt and Rebecca and went to Busan. We stayed in a love motel, which are always rather luxurious, if slightly seedy. This one had a vending machine with vibrators. As always, the rooms come with complementary condoms and tissues by the bedside. But they always have massive widescreen TVs, a DVD player and a computer with internet, and are spacious and comfortable. We went out to eat at an Indian restaurant, which was divine. Indian food, Western style, which I've not tasted in over a year. Expensive but none of us cared.

Yesterday I returned to Daegu and had coffee in the afternoon, relaxed, then met Maebh and Eileen in the evening. I've not seen them in a while. We ate shabu-shabu (or something) which was delicious. I was back to good form too, and we regaled one another with amusing stories and interesting chat.

Today I've been feeling especially relaxed. I had a leisurely morning before going downtown to drink coffee. Later I'm meeting Jamaleh for a meal. She's the attractive American, but ethnically Korean an adopted at birth, who is also Bahai (a religion). She doesn't drink however, so I suppose I'll have to drop the Rohypnol in her tea.

The next few days will continue leisurely, then on Friday is my birthday. It's back to work on Monday but I've only a month left after that before finishing my contract.

It's good to feel human again.

Monday, 8 November 2004

Weary, Tired Weekend

It was a bit of a sub-par weekend, and I'm still feeling pretty sub-par now. By no means dying, but just feeling generally run-down and with a slightly sore ulcer on my tongue making it a little sore to speak loudly.

The whole weekend I was tired, and I've not yet shaken it off today. I definitely need my holiday, just a couple of weeks away.

Anyway, Friday was the best day of the weekend. I met with Matt, Rebecca and some American girl called Leila. This girl was very pleasant, but a little loud and very analytical and perpetually trying to take the conversation down serious paths. Me and Matt had none of this, so whenever she tried to discuss art, politics, emotions, or any issue, we'd immediately start talking about dwarfs, transexuals, how many fish we thought we could carry, and Matt's claim that his mother was black. This girl seemed a little taken aback by some of our banter, although she enjoyed our continual references to the deep love we share for each other, but by the end of the evening I think she just reckoned I was mental.

Anyway, although I only had a few drinks that night, on Saturday I was ruined the whole day. I don't think it was being hungover, just knackered in general. I made it to my Korean class but had a nagging headache and heavy eyes. Then, after, I met with Suk-jeong so I could stare at her breasts and lips while pretending to make conversation. This actually went quite well, even though I felt dreadful, and we sat at a coffeeshop for a few hours. Next week is the island of Geoje-do, where I intend to ruin her honour.

That evening I met with Matt and Rebecca - who are my staple friends - and saw a film/movie with them at a DVD Bang. Matt was feeling as shattered as me so we needed something very undemanding, and we chose "Steve Irwin: Crocodile Hunter". This was absolute nonsense but very enjoyable indeed.

Yesterday I had a generally bad day. It was one of these days where everybody seemed to be getting in my way, and kids would say "hello!" in a cheeky way behind my back which hardly ever happens these days. One early teenage boy, in a group, swore at me in English behind my back too. I marooned myself in my apartment in the afternoon, after doing some shopping, felt generally lacklustre. In the evening I met Matt and Rebecca again and was very irritable. We saw another film, Resident Evil 2. It is a very deep and complex film.

I'm on better form today, although Monday is my worst day for teaching. It has my two worst classes at the end of the day: M6 and M7. I can deal with them, but because they are my 8th and 9th classes respectively, I'm usually pretty tired and find it very wearing. Today also, M7 start a story featuring a black kid which I know they will make silly comments about. Korea isn't very enlightened racially. Not neo-Nazi hatred, but sometimes a little insular and ignorant. I expect a battle with M7 today.

I am very much looking forward to my week's holiday.

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Open House Finishes

Well the last "Open House" class finished today and went very well. It was Cosmos, always rambunctious and enthusiastic, which translated very well to the rehearsed Open House class with their mothers watching (one father today too).

Even better was yesterday gym lesson with Forest, the class I'd most dreaded. With their mothers present and with the change in routine they were much more subdued. David had to teach them first and said they were dead. But by the time I got them for gym, they had relaxed a little and so were suitably lively while still easily kept in order. I ran a specially disciplined gym lesson and it went without a hitch.

So, all four Open House classes went almost perfectly. The small bit of pressure beforehand was worth it, because now in the afterglow I feel as though I passed a test.

Also going well is my Korean. This last week it has taken a definite upswing. I go through phases but I'm finding conversation easier and easier. Oh, it's still very limited, but more and more I can say roughly what I want, and faster. Korean word order is making sense now and is beginning to allow me to more easily incorporate the fairly good vocabulary I have. Although I don't expect to leave Korea being fluent, I think in a year's time I can hopefully classify myself as competent.

I had a meal with the Gin Girls last night too. They've certainly been a key factor to my learning, as they are always more happy to let me talk away in Korean than in English. We went to a typically Korean restuarant (i.e. low tables, sit on the floor, cook your own food at the table, loads of free side dishes) across the road from the school, and little Benny from Cosmos class appeared with his family. He took a while to notice the only white man in the building, but when he did he cooed with exictement and ran over. I asked him, in English, "How are you?" and he dutifully replied "I'm fine!" and scampered off as the Gin Girls cooed in wonder. They were quite taken with them as he scampered about the restaurant with some other little friends that appeared.

Yeah, Korea is far more relaxed with children in this respect. Benny and a few friends were free to roam the restaurant, having fun, and nobody minded in the slightest. In fact, everybody liked it. He was able to speak to myself and the Gin Girls and the parents weren't even remotely concerned he was speaking to strangers. Although Korea is not relaxing for kids with regard to the severe education system they are hauled through, it's far more relaxed and less paranoid than Western countries.

So, still five more classes to teach today, but Thursday is one of my easier days. Later, I think I'm going to Matt's (well, Matt and Rebecca's right now, as she's living there for the next month for so before going home) and watching a film, or "movie" as I've started to call it. I'm really sorry, but slowly Americanisms are beginning to infiltrate my British sensibilities.

Talking of our US cousins, I would like also to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Bush (or Boo-shee, as Korean renders his name) for his re-election. And at the same time comisserate with America for the four years of increasing paranoia and unpopularity that will follow.

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Public Speaking

Something I have always hated is public speaking. Not even in front of a large crowd, but anything falling under the classification of "speech" used to reduce me to a twitchy paraplegic. In school, my speeches would be garbled and rushed recitations of a pre-prepared script. This barely improved for university, which mercifully only gave me a handful of speeches to present, although as these were always about something completely incoherent like beta-endocrine systems and the Krebs citric cycle they would just be nervy and hurried affairs that fortunately no-one listened to anyway. At no point would I ever improvise, for that could only bring about total collapse.

This lack of speech-making ability continued after university. Last year I hosted a dinner party for friends at my castle, about thirty in all. Before the meal (and subsequent ghoulish debauchery) commenced, I was asked to make a short speech, impromptu. The moment I stood up, all English vanished from my head and all I could manage was something along the lines of "Thanks for coming, enjoy the meal." Even in front of friends, I froze. No matter the size or nature of the audience, it seemed, all public speaking reduced me to an imbecile.

Which was one of my concerns before I started teaching. Although teaching a class is somewhat different from standing up and delivering a formal speech, some key components remained. That is, all attention is on me, I am in charge of proceedings and thus am doing a lot of speaking. Given my previous track record at public speaking I had a twinge of anxiety that I might freeze.

Fortunately, that didn't happen, and I have just about exactly zero nerves in a class. Initially there were a few classes that I would worry "How will I drag out a 40 minute lesson with them," but by now I'm so into my stride that I'm pretty confident I could walk into most classes of non-English speaking children below 12 without any teaching material and spin out a 40 minute lesson without breaking sweat. Public speaking and teaching are, the reality quickly became clear, very different beasts. It's pretty difficult to get nervous in a class of eight 4 year olds. Tired, bored, weary, annoyed, exasperated, hoarse, violent, desperate yes, but never nervous.

As a result of this, I now think that should I ever have to do public speaking, I would probably be a lot better. I can't imagine my speeches ever winning me a seat in government, but I think I'd be a little more relaxed and coherent. Hence, today, yesterday and the next couple of days have been interesting, with regard to the Open House lessons, whereby the parents (all mothers so far) can sit in through the classes.

You see, teaching kids I don't give a damn what the kids think. I want them to be quiet, listen, and answer when asked, but as they as they do those three things they can think I'm the biggest tosser on Earth for all I care. Really, these kids opinions mean very little to me. They are just children and, of course, I don't want them to be murdered or have limbs severed in industrial accidents, but at that age a kid's opinion is just a mish-mash of parroted parental opinions, pure gut emotion and whatever cartoon they've watched that day.

However, with an army of mothers sitting in through a class, there is a little more pressure. These are the women who influence the men who pay for my students to go to this school. They want to see my (specially rehearsed) lesson as a professional one, both educational but entertaining for their small joys. "Edutainment" is the wonderful thing I am meant to provide. I hope that every member of the committee (for it could only have been a committee) that thought of the word "edutainment" have since been murdered, or at least lost a few limbs in industrial accidents.

So, before each Open House class - two so far at one a day - I've had a little pre-stage nerves. Not quivering like a wretched vomitting baby, but just a little on edge. Like public speaking, I'm again expected to present before judgement adults, I'm on show to more than just brainless children. A child has no idea if I'm teaching well or not, but the parents are very much hoping and expecting that I am.

But it's all gone well so far. Certainly, in each class with over twenty adult eyes on me I've not been as "loose" as I might often be. I feel more rigid and less the very relaxed teacher I usually am. The kids are far more rigid than normal - far better behaved too. If the parents sat in through every class these kids would learn twice as fast. But nonetheless, my rehearsed lessons have gone to plan, they've been received pretty well, the kids have done as I've asked them and, to these watching parents, I think I've made a good job of appearing like a real teacher.

Tomorrow, though, is the dreaded Forest class, and their gym lesson. I am not looking forward to this, as a bundle of chaotic children way too young to understand anything systemically fail to do anything I want them to. Let's just hope the parents appreciate some very ultimate means of discipline because after 20 minutes with these dwarf idiots I will not be fully responsible for any potential murders or, indeed, limbs lost in some form of industrial accident re-enaction.

Monday, 1 November 2004

Open House kicks off

Usually the computer room where I spend my precious little free time at school is fairly peaceful, but occasionally a class of children descend upon it. Hence, right now I have Cosmos class with me. Each of them is playing the same English game, spread across 9 different computers creating a surreal cacophany of repeated English words blasting at different times from the computers. It's a little like the nightmare you might have if you went to sleep in a room with nine jumping record players.

Today, so far, had my first Open House class, with Ocean class, and it went pretty well. After the director's criticisms, I managed to liven the kids up a little and although much more subdued than usual, hence much easier to teach, I think they still had some of the youthful enthusiasm the director was wanting.

I'm feeling quite healthy today, in contrast to the end of last week where I was very tired, although didn't realise it so much at the time. It was only Saturday morning I realised that I needed aome proper rest. As well as my usually exhausting teaching schedule, my countless early mornings to study Korean had crept up on me and I was well in need to some time to do nothing.

I didn't do that on Friday night, unfortunately. I went out with Matt, Rebecca and some friend of theirs called Cheryl from South Africa who was about to leave Korea. It was a quiet night and I only had a few beers, but my general lack of health conspired to make Saturday morning hell.

I still made my Korean class, but had a thumping headache, a stomach in knots and nausea waving through me. It was then I realised that this undeserved hangover was exacerbated by my general state of tiredness and that it was time to fully rest. So my Saturday afternoon was spent asleep in my bathroom.

This isn't because my bathroom has any magical qualities of regeneration, but because it's pleasant and cool in there. I have no control over the heating in my apartment, which is a pain in the fat hole, and means the underfloor heating makes going to bed like sleeping on a hotplate sometimes. But my bathroom is free of underfloor heating, and I got some very good rest there and woke with my pains all gone and feeling like a brand new Nev.

Which was good, because I was meeting the Gin Girls in the evening for a few drinks downtown, and wanted to be in good health. I also wanted my Korean to be on good form, as it seems to go through cycles right now. Sometimes it's all there and I find I can say most of what I want to, albeit slowly and patchily, but sometimes I'm absolutely uninspired and can't think of a word.

Fortunately, on Saturday, the former was the case and it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening. My Korean was on terrific form and we all got on well. The Gin Girls really are very lovely girls, so lovely in fact that I no longer want to destroy them with gin and brutalise them. I know, I don't know what's wrong with me, but they are just so pleasant and innocent.

Anyway, I have tired of writing already. I will detail the rest of my weekend in bullet points:

- Maebh & Eileen joined us at AU.
- As did a magician
- Later saw Hellboy with Matt and Rebecca at a DVD Bang but walked out before the end. It is very dull.
- Sunday was spent relaxing.
- Went for dinner with Jessy/Suk-jeong and her sister in the evening.