It’s only been a few days since the last update… but I have little to do at work currently so thought I may aswell document my thoughts and share them with the world! You must feel so blessed to be reading this right now….
So what has been going in since the last post?
Well, firstly Amelia and I appear to have managed to work around the distance and it now seems to be that we will still be together most of the time when we are not at work, which is good news for us both. Being alone 10,000 km from home in a country where nobody speaks the same language as you and where it is a heck of a lot of hassle just to even do relatively trivial things such as to find out a bus time or just to find out how much a bunch of bananas will cost is not much fun after a while when you’re on your own. Neither of us really fancied weeknights alone after work in the middle of December when the temperature can drop down to minus 25 degrees celsius either in a pretty sleepy place where there are hardly any other westerners,
or anything else we are familiar with for that matter! I really admire the people that have come here and are doing what we are, but on their own.
Fortunately we now seem to have found a way around the issue of our a******* district supervisor thanks to our lovely co-teachers. Happy days.
Also I have pretty much grown immune to being stared at all the time in these parts by Koreans. Being the only 6 foot tall white man with blonde hair and blue eyes for probably a good 50 mile radius from what I know of can attract attention and some people here seem to like to stare. It doesn’t bother me and I’ve kind of stopped noticing now really. However, it did bother me the other day when I’m stood waiting for my bus outside my school. A troop carrier (great big military truck) carrying a good 20 odd soldiers, all heavily armed with machine guns, armour, face paint and generally looking like they are off to war (they were off to the border of course) was approaching me at a normal speed. I am not exaggerating when I say this truck seemed to slow down to drive past me and every single soldier on board regardless of whether his back was turned to me just stared at me intensely for this period that can’t have been any longer than 10 seconds, but it seemed much longer! I wish I had remembered my sunglasses because I didn’t want to stare back even though I was as intrigued by them, so I ended up just staring at the floor and pretending nothing out of the ordinary was going on and wishing for them to hurry up and drive past! But yeah, it made for a relatively intimidating/uncomfortable experience even though the troops are all good as gold and I know that they are probably just intrigued by this odd-looking westerner randomly standing at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere about 10km from North Korea and asking each other, ‘why is he here?!’
Anyway, since I last spoke to you we have had a pretty easy-going weekend. We headed into our nearest big town (Chuncheon) on Saturday which is about 45-50 mins away by bus. It’s located in a very attractive setting and is about the same size as Leicester – population wise anyway. However it is just one big Korean concrete jungle. It pretty much makes Leicester look like Venice!
There are plenty of places to visit in the surrounding areas of this town though, which are naturally beautiful. We went to one of these places called ‘Nami Island’. Apparently it is the setting for a very popular drama in Asia known as ‘Winter Sonata’. As a consequence Japanese and Chinese Tourists visit it in their hordes. This place was pretty don’t get me wrong, but the number of tourists at this place was just ridiculous. For those of you familiar with Bournemouth or that area, think a Brownsea Island kind of place but either side of two rivers and surrounded by mountains. Very nice, but not exactly awe-inspiring. But the bloody Chinese, Koreans and Japs were going wild for it.
Anyway we walked round there for a couple of hours and even rowed on a little boat which was nice (some might say ‘romantic’) and then headed home. Neither of us can understand Asian tourists in general, this is a sweeping generalisation granted – but they have peculiar (some might call it tacky) tastes in where they choose to visit. Earlier on that day we had decided to head to a huge lake which is about 10 minutes bus ride from where we live, it is absolutely beautiful. It was as nice as the nicest lakes in the Lake District, if not more so, and it actually had good weather. But there was nobody there. Literally it was deserted. In the UK this would be a primary tourist attraction, but in Korea – it’s just a body of water that is a grave to 5,000 Chinese soldiers who drowned there during the Korean War. Weird. Anyway we couldn’t walk around it, hire a boat or anything so we just decided to snap a few photos in the one spot we could, and headed to Chuncheon as I have already mentioned.
Whilst we were in Chuncheon I got mildly annoyed, Koreans seem to have absolutely no manners. In their custom they do not say please thankyou or apologise regularly like we do. I would like to add that the vast majority of Koreans I have met have been wonderful, warm, dignified and very friendly so far. However, one man particularly annoyed me on Saturday. We were buying our tickets to get the short ferry to this Island, and a little Korean (About 50, fat, and 5’5) tried to push in ahead of us in the queue as if I was not there. This irritated me a little bit, but then as we are asking the ticket collector one more question about which ferry to catch I feel this hand grab me from behind and push me away from the ticket collector. I was furious. I turned round to give this little man a look of total disgust, to make it known how I felt towards him but this little bloody fat man hadn’t even bothered to look back at me and it didn’t even seem to occur to him that what he had done was incredibly rude (in our culture at least). This annoyed me even further so poor Amelia had to put up with me ranting about it for a good 10 minutes afterwards!
We made it back to our apartment no problem and pretty much just lazed around for the rest of the weekend.
I’ve had a chest infection and cold already(I always get ill wherever I go!) so decided to rest and recuperate. It’s kind of my own fault though…. it was raining heavily Thursday morning before we left to work so I thought I’d just walk to school with my umbrella, trousers, shirt and tie and I’ll be fine as the previous times it had rained there’d been hardly any wind so it wouldn’t be a problem. However, I didn’t realise that this rain storm was actually a typhoon (which in the west = hurricane) so it turned out there was a lot of wind in addition to quite a bit of rain. My 1 pound 50 (3000 Won) Korean Tesco Value equivalent umbrella pretty much broke which meant I got soaked like a drowned rat (except for my head and hair weirdly). I then had to sit in my office the whole day at school with no change of clothes. Cue chest infection and cold. Despite it being 30 degrees or above and around 90% humidity most of the time here! Amelia didn’t fare much better, and I appear to have passed my illness on! She also ended up walking for 20 minutes to the bus-stop mid typhoon bare foot as she had only brought flip-flops when she came round the previous night. Bless her. This typhoon it turns out was the worst to hit North South Korea and Seoul in 15 years, I later found out that 3 people had died and millions of dollars worth of damage had been caused! With hindsight maybe I should have purchased a better umbrella and worn a little more waterproof clothing perhaps…. maybe Amelia should have brought some more ‘appropriate’ footwear round. Nevermind – we survived.
I’ve taught my first few lessons and students now also, I think its gone relatively well. The students seem easily pleased and they are all ultra friendly, super innocent and sweet. I am teaching children ranging in age from 11-18 so some of them are not much younger than me! It’s quite refreshing seeing how innocent they are when I think back to when I was that age and the things that used to happen in our schools! They are normal teenagers in many ways, they fall asleep in lessons, the girls get very giggly everytime I seem to speak to them, (which makes me highly embarrassed and feeling very awkward) and there are of course a few boys that fancy themselves a little bit, as well as a few that are a little ‘socially awkward’.
My classes are small, some as small as 6 students, the largest I have had so far – there was 12. It’s very enjoyable and personal. My first lesson was just an introductory lesson about who I am, where I am from, and what I like. In addition to telling the students a little bit about the UK and finding out what they knew about Britain!
I was appalled/shocked/disappointed to discover that the only things these Korean children could tell me about Britain when prompted was ‘Manchester’ ‘London’ ‘David Beckham’ ‘Queen’ and ‘EPL’ (English Premier League) and ‘Mr Dan’ as I am probably the only British person they had ever met or spoken too. It’s quite insightful really finding out what impressions people have of us in such a far off land. There was one young boy however (I cannot remember his name yet), who told me he enjoyed learning British History. I instantly took a shining to this young little whipper snapper and even more so when he started trying to talk to me about Admiral Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar! It was quite bizarre but refreshing also. In Korea they seem to absolutely hero-worship everything about America, the American dream, and ‘the land of the free’. Britain seems to be viewed as a pretty irrelevant nation over here. Mrs Kim my co-teacher tried explaining to me ‘America help us in Korean War, we are very grateful to them’. I tried pointing out that Britain amongst other nations also paid a great sacrifice and cost to help the Korean people, but I don’t think she understood. At our orientation when our lecturers were asking where we were all from, several even forgot to ask if there were any Brits in attendance. As if we didn’t even matter. This was very frustrating to us Brits who were there, and I know some of the other non-American teachers also found the love of everything American a little bit tiring, illogical and boring after a while.
When I asked my students where they would like to visit probably 75% said America, the others divided between Japan, Italy and one student did actually say the UK. Serious brownie points for her.
I think finding out that my Korean students seemed to think Harry Potter was American today has sent me over the edge. This fictional character could not be more English, created by an English author, and the films are even set in England! Somehow the little Koreans bless them managed to convince themselves that he was indeed American. You will all be pleased to know that I very quickly corrected them, and proceeded to explain to them about the Queen, Princess Di, Winston Churchill and the Beatles. The only Beatle any of them could name was ‘John Lennon’ but this was not overly surprisingly.
I also managed to tell them about Leicester City, my love for them, that we once played in the Premier League and that we are now bottom of the Championship (or second division to them!). Despite my best efforts to get them interested in the mighty foxes, they seemed to be very disinterested and I reluctantly moved onto the next slide in my presentation pretty quickly. Unless its Man Utd – Park Ji-Sung or Bolton weirdly because a Korean plays for them – they don’t care. Although one girl told me she liked Liverpool and Torres. This made a pleasant change.
Mr Bae, who is one of my co-teachers is a bit of a hero. I literally get to be the nice guy who teaches them and encourages them to have fun, and he walks around the classroom like some strict military policeman ready to give them a clip around the ear if they are not paying attention or doing something they shouldnt. He clipped at least 3 of them around the ear in yesterdays lesson, to them it is perfectly normal. They just accept it, start behaving and it doesn’t harm them. Mr Bae is one of the most friendly, smallest and loveable people I think I have ever met. He is about 5’4, must weigh about 9 stone and is so warm and friendly. But my god you would not want to step out of line in one of his (or mine now!) lessons. haha
But all in all, I like the students. I will teach them about England and the UK, and I expect they will teach me about Korea and their lives. After worrying a little about actually having to teach and realising that I had serious work to do, I feel my little panic is over. My Korean co-teachers have all complimented me and told me how impressed they were for the first lesson, and most of the students seemed to enjoy it (except for the one or two lower level students who just dozed off!) The co-teachers keep discipline and the students for now seem excited to have a new foreign teacher from some far off land and culture. For the first time since we arrived in Hwacheon, I feel like everything is now falling into place and I am no longer worrying about things. I feel like it is going to be a good year and that there is a lot for both of us to be optimistic about.
Anyway, I am off for now. This is very long. If you have read this far. Wow. I am most impressed. It must have taken a while. Love to all those back home xxxxx
PS Dad – my Korean students and co-teachers were genuinely shocked to see that you were my father – they were like ‘woahhhhh, teachaaa your father is so young, you mean brother yes?!’ Mum I am afraid they did not say the same for you.