Tag Archives: moaning

Teacher’s Dinner 2 – The Return

6 Nov

Teacher’s dinners are always an interesting experience. At my school only a few teachers can speak any English, and of those only a few want to speak to me. Usually I end up with one co-teacher who will occasionally speak to me, and then I just kind of eat and nod and smile and get accidentally kind of insulted (“she’s very quiet” one teacher accused me, in Korean, via my co-teacher, frowning at me) and often very confused (“would you like a drink? How about a coke?”  *co-teacher says something in Korean behind her hand whilst pointing at me* *everyone laughs*). It’s also a good opportunity to bond with the staff – I usually make a few jokes and eat my way through the meal valiantly enough to make a decent impression.

Tonight my teacher’s dinner involved two things that surprised me:

1) We were eating at a shabu shabu restaurant. This is a type of meal where a boiling pot of water is put in the middle of the table, and a lot of raw food is brought out for you to throw in. Like fondue without the cheese. Our shabu shabu had beef and a massive platter of interesting-looking seafood. I’m not a huge seafood fan – I like fish and prawns but that’s pretty much where I stop. Our platter incorporated a whole octopus. An octopus I’d assumed was dead. Oh no. My co-teacher dumped the motionless octopus into the water, and it immediately started writhing around whilst she used the tongs to push it’s tentacles under water. I wasn’t expecting this, and must have made an obviously shocked/confused/terrified expression because one by one, my colleagues began to laugh.

Maybe it was the effect of the accumulative laughter (there are always so many awkward “I know you’re talking about me” moments at these things that seem to involve Koreans laughing at me) but something in me said you have to eat this octopus. You may remember my feelings on the be-tentacled sea creatures that make their way onto my plate. If you don’t, check out my previous post “Ten Tips on How to Survive Korean School Lunches“. Regardless of the horror, I severed some barely-boiled tentacles with the scissors at our table (in Korea you get scissors not knives) and chowed down. Afterwards I felt a kind of weird, manic glee. I felt like Ozzy Osbourne post-bat. I had WON the dinner!

No one else cared.

2) The second surprising occurrence happened in the car as one of my co-teachers was giving me a lift home. He was chatting to me about missing my previous co-teacher and friend (who left for another school) and lamenting that he felt bad for not finding more time to talk to me at work. He asked me if I would be staying another year, and I said that I wanted to go home. He expressed the usual surprise at this answer (although on a one year contract I’m sure many teachers don’t intend to stay long-term) but then said “I’m sorry you’re leaving. You are a good teacher. I like your lessons a lot. I hope you will teach in your country because you will be a great teacher, I’m sure.”

I nearly had a heart attack. Feedback! Positive feedback! Feedback is like gold dust in Korea – it’s not in the culture, seemingly, to make a big deal about commenting on work performance. I know one of the things I’ve struggled with is a lack of performance reviews and support about the actual teaching aspect of my job. If I ask for feedback I often get a smile and something evasive. I learned not to take this too personally, but it can be demoralising when the only feedback you get is negative comments from your Vice Principal (which is what I usually get) about things that have nothing to do with your teaching. It reinforces to me the idea that I’m really only set dressing for the school – I’m here to make them look good, but not to do any actual teaching. It’s a little frustrating. So to actually hear that one of my co-teachers is happy with the way I teach his classes? Made me ridiculously happy.

Procrastination is a swamp, social media sites are the R.O.U.S

31 Oct

Wow, I’ve been really bad at updating this bad boy, huh? Hardly surprising, given that I am the Queen of Procrastination. I’m so lazy that if there was a competition for procrastinating, I would probably have a nap and then forget about it.

Actually, terrible jokes aside, motivation is something that I really struggle with. When I was at university I used to write quite close to my deadlines, although when it came to my dissertation I actually managed to hand it in early – printing it out at the library and stepping over piles of huddled, crying students as I left. Then post university my motivation has been slowly draining away, until I find it hard to do work without an imminent deadline. I often leave my lesson planning until the last minute to finish – spending ages making minor changes to a power-point and then finally doing the majority of the work the Friday before I have to teach it. I sometimes plan after school classes the same day as I teach them in an attempt to motivate myself with a rapidly approaching deadline.

At this job, my procrastination is made all the more obvious by the amount of free time I have. I teach four 45 minute lessons a day and run a lunchtime “English cafe” (i.e. open classroom) for half an hour. I have three free periods every day to plan, prepare my materials, and generally sit at my desk. That’s nearly 2 ½ hours a day. I barely manage to finish my lesson planning in that time, and rarely manage to do much else constructive. I usually fritter away the hours on various blogs and social media sites. When I get home, I do more of the same until 6ish, when I generally eat dinner (or go out in search of food) and then I put on the TV. And that’s it until bed! 

I need to recondition myself into making better use of my free time. Maybe the reason I’ve not been able to do it since I left university, is that university was the last time I was spending all my time and energy on something I wanted to do, and enjoyed – studying literature. I want to start my own business when I go home to England, and only work part-time to pay the rent, but this is going to require a lot of self-motivation. I’m sick of feeling so lazy all the time, and I’m sick of losing hours to Facebook.

To this end, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. For the next month I’m going to try to cut out (or at least down on!) my internet-based procrastination, and my TV watching, and write 50,000 words instead. I’m hoping that the idea of failing, the tight deadline, and the powerful motivator of shame, will help me get some of my old energy back. I used to write for fun when I was a student, in between reading for fun, reading for university, and writing essays. And working part time! If 21-year-old-me could do it, then 27 year-old-me can do it to.

Wish me luck. As the Koreans would say- fighting!

Oh, and congratulations if you got the reference in the title. I’m officially crushing on you a little bit right now.

Sad face

13 Jun

 

Last night my guinea pig died, and I’m feeling pretty sad about it.

 

He was living with my mum, and she noticed he was eating less, and behaving strangely, so she took him to the vet. To cut a long story short, she had to make the decision to have him put down last night.

 

I feel bad about this for many reasons. For starters, my poor mum had to make the decision alone about what to do. My guinea pig was in pain so there was a time pressure on the decision, and she tried multiple times to call me with no luck. She called my mobile phone – but here in Korea no one calls me who I don’t know unless it’s a nuisance call or a weird boy (long story), so I didn’t pick up to the strange number. My laptop keeps overheating lately, and it did so last night so I turned it off and wasn’t on Skype, or email.

 

To say I feel bad about that is an understatement; I feel horrible. I know how hard it is, and how terrible it feels, to have to make decisions for someone else about their pets. I’m grateful to my mum for taking care of the little guy for me whilst I was away, but I wish I could have eased the responsibility for her last night.

 

I’m also sad because – hey, my pet died. I got the guinea pigs when I lived in a tiny flat in London and was feeling pretty depressed about life. They cheered me up, and gave me something else to focus on. As I said in a previous post, I miss having animals around me here in Korea because I’ve always had pets at home. I feel wrong without a pet. I feel weird knowing mine died when I wasn’t around.

 

Merlin, as my pig was called, was a ridiculous creature. He loved to eat, and when he briefly lived with my mum he preyed on her ignorance about the appetites of guinea pigs and grew to a ridiculous size. One time I took him to the vet, and warned him that Merlin was a bit fat. When I lifted him out of his box, the vet laughed so hard he shook and then exclaimed through the tears “that is the biggest guinea pig I have ever seen!”

 

 

Merlin in his favourite “flashing her my balls” pose. Sadly, this is how I will always remember him!

 

Merlin liked to scare the vet by squeaking loudly whilst having his claws clipped so that everyone thought he’d lost a toe. He loved to make popping noises along to the Hollyoaks theme tune (he had terrible taste) and would purr when being snuggled in a towel. He loved to show me his balls in the summer, and climb into my armpits in the winter.

 

I’m taking tonight to mope around the flat and feel bad about it, because sometimes you need to do that. I’m also going to eat junk food and watch shit TV and knit because these things are comforting. It sucks to be so far away from all the people I’d be hugging if I were in the UK right now. Tomorrow I hope to be cheered up by spending time with some awesome people, though. Luckily I know plenty of those in Korea.


My first week and a bit in Busan

6 Mar

Oh. My. God. What have I done?

This is the question I ask myself, sometimes several times a day, but definitely repeatedly over the last week. There have been some definite holy crap moments as it dawns on me what I’m letting myself in for, moving to live and work in a country where I don’t speak the language, minimal English is spoken, and I have little grasp of the customs and culture.

As I’ve been lax and not posted for ages, I will try to summarise some of these holy crap moments for you below:

– I arrived last Monday in Busan and was collected by a teacher from my school, who informed me that she was going on sabbatical for six months and wouldn’t see me until September, and couldn’t really help me with anything. She dropped me off at my flat, stayed to get the heating working and answer some of my questions (rather impatiently) and then left me alone with the parting advice of “ask (the English teacher I’m replacing, who was popping by for lunch) tomorrow” and “the kids are terrible. They have mental health problems. See you in September!”

– She MAY have just hated me because I scratched her car trying to get my suitcase out of her boot. Oops.

– I went to school on Friday and was given some more information about teaching, but no school calendar, and a vague “maybe next week” on getting my compulsory Alien Registration Card.

– I went to a restaurant with some friends, where no one spoke much English, and none of the menus had pictures. We pointed to the table next to us and said “joo sey yo” (give me that, please). We ended up with barbequed pork fat. I’m not kidding, it was not fatty pork. No hyperbole here. It was JUST fat and skin, cut up and cooked in front of us. We were so embarrassed about ordering something we couldn’t force down (we tried, it wasn’t even tasty crunchy type stuff) that we hid the pork fat in a napkin, which I then slipped into my pocket.

– Korea doesn’t have a lot of public bins, like hardly any. You have to pay for rubbish here so that makes sense. BUT it meant I spent a good hour walking around with pork fat in my pocket before I found somewhere to ditch it.

– I have no clue how the rubbish works in my apartment. The security/maintenance guy (a little old Korean man who was apparently very rude to the woman who dropped me off) came up to do a demo for me with lots of different bags and some rubbish for me to practice with (adorable) so I know how to separate it… I think. But I have no clue what to do with it now! My flat is just full of rubbish waiting for me to get brave enough to try and throw it out.

– School is terrifying. Finding out any information is a weird game of interrogating determinedly, but smiling and trying to give off an air of patience and good humour. Those of you who know me in person will know how difficult I find it to sound polite and genuine even when I am feeling polite and good humoured. When I’ve just asked someone for some information and I’m getting the same thing repeated at me with increasingly exaggerated gestures, it gets even harder. My tactic is asking a couple of times and if I don’t think I’ve been understood, I smile and say thank you, and then ask a different way later. Saves embarrassment all round.

– I haven’t applied for my ARC (Alien Registration Card) yet. I need it. I need it if I get sick, or if I want to leave the country, and it’s going to take WEEKS (at least 3) to get to me after I apply for it. I can’t open a bank account (which I need so I can be paid on time) until I’ve applied for it. On Friday my co-teacher said “you’ll go with (another co-teacher) maybe next week.” This week I asked him, and he said “I’ll go with you. Next week maybe?” And I was like “yes, but tell me WHEN.” He agreed to next Tuesday. We’ll see. I asked if I could go alone, but that was a no go. I need some info from the school, and it will be much easier with a translator. Which is lovely, because it’s going to be dull as ditchwater, but I still wish we could go sooner!

– Seafood comes with everything. And by seafood I mostly mean tentacles (since it’s tentacles that I don’t like!). At home I complained about “stealth cheese” because I can’t eat dairy and even when it isn’t on the menu, it appears in your food. Here it’s stealth cephalopods. We ordered a “green onion pancake” in a restaurant and when it arrived… prawns and tentacles!

Can't see the tentacles and whole baby octopus in this? Trust me, they're in there.

– Teaching children itself is a rather steep learning curve. Holy crap moments abound, like when one of my tasks fell totally flat and I had to ad lib an alternative… which mostly involved me returning to the board and going through some common errors and drilling the corrections. Stalling until the bell, basically!

Despite the hundreds of “what am I doing?” moments, there have been some really good moments too, that make me excited for my year here. In the interest of balance, here are a few of my best moments in South Korea so far:

– The Korean maintenance man for my building LOVES ME. Since I asked him how to do the rubbish (and he was rude to the teacher who dropped me off) he’s been grinning and waving like a maniac at me every time he sees me. I don’t think Korean’s wave as a rule, so I suspect he’s developed the wave for the westerners in the building. It’s pretty adorable. He also keeps packages for me so I don’t have to have things sent to my school and then carry them down the steep hill home. He’s awesome.

– I met the English teacher who taught at my school and lived in my flat before me, and she was really helpful. She showed me where the school actually was and how to get there (yeah, no one from the school bothered to do that!) and answered tons of questions. She helped me get my Mybi (Busan version of an Oyster card) and showed me a great place to eat Korean food in Nampo-dong. Made me feel a lot less stressed out about my arrival in Korea!

– I like my area. Dongdaesin isn’t far from some fun areas of town, but is also far enough away that it’s pretty quiet. I like that. I’m exploring some good places to go out locally, and my school is only a ten minute walk (admittedly up a very steep hill) away. Plus the shopping in Nampo is insanely good. I know where my wages are going. If I get to the end of my year, and I don’t have to ship a massive box of adorable Korean clothes and tat home, I have FAILED, people.

– In Nampo station I had a lovely encounter with some young guys who were running a shop selling cute accessories. I bought some very Korean headbands, and they took photos with me and my friend, and then stuck them on the wall of the shop. Totally adorable, and extremely welcoming. Yay for lovely Koreans!

– I quite like a lot of Korean food. The soups and stews especially are brilliant for the tail end of winter. I’m also a fan of the pancakes… I seem to be coping well with the spice now too (although I try and keep it to a minimum and let my body build up to it, otherwise I might have an IBS fail) which is good. Fruit is super pricey, but I’ve never been much of a fruit fan. My general tactic is to try anything, especially if I have no clue what it is. It seems to be working so far.

– Eating out here is also super cheap, did I mention that? Cheap AND yummy.

– I met a dog at the beach. He was wearing shoes with bells on. See, Busan has beaches AND dogs in shoes!

Photo by Desmond Poon

– Generally speaking my co-teachers in the English department at school are brilliant. I’ve not taught with them all yet… and unlike some places, they take a back seat in my lessons and let me teach. HOWEVER that’s not to say they aren’t involved in the lesson – they do a great job keeping the class in control, helping monitor and encourage kids with tasks, and assist with translations when the kids just aren’t getting my instructions… some translate more than others, but they are all very positive, enthusiastic co-teachers and the kids really like them, which is so helpful!

– I found a couple of bars I really like. As a Brit abroad, I was really looking for places that suited my love of pub culture. There are a lot of what I think of as American-style bars – loud music, etc, not really designed for slow drinking and chatting. I have found two places I like, one of which is a chain called Beer Mart. At Beer Mart you buy beers and snacks at the front, like a convenience store, and then after you pay you can sit at a booth in the back. It was surprisingly nice and trendy, and populated by the coolest-looking Korean kids. You can even buy popcorn and they microwave it for you! Heaven. The second place is basically a tiny pub-style place which plays a lot of classic rock. A nice break from the onslaught of Kpop, and as a classic rock fan I was pretty excited.

– My flat is lovely! It’s super roomy, and I actually have separate rooms, which a lot of people here don’t have. I have a sofa which pulls out into a double bed, too, so come on you visitors! You can see a video tour of my new place here.

– One of the best things here has to be the support network. I’ve met so many fellow Guest English Teachers (GETs) out here, both new and old, and everyone is so friendly and helpful it’s unbelievable. We come from all over the English-speaking world, and  everyone is so generous with sharing their knowledge and experience. Even if that sometimes just means a rant over a beer. It feels good to have some like-minded people to explore South Korea with whilst I’m here.

There is so much more that I could say, but this post is getting freakishly long! Congratulations if you made it to the end! I promise to try and update more frequently so I don’t have to do these kinds of crammed catch-ups.

Oh, and friends/family from home… if there’s something you want to know about my first couple of weeks, or you saw on Facebook maybe and want me to elaborate, let me know!

Now I’m off to try some pineapple Fanta… I’ll let you know how that goes later…

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