It’s been almost a couple of weeks since the last post, so thought I’d better give you an update!
So what have we been doing these past couple of weeks?
Amelia has now completed a week of teaching and I think it’s gone quite well from what she has said. One or two of her classes are a little unruly apparently, but I’m sure once she has got a little more practise and experience she will have nothing to worry about. Her timetable is a lot busier and more hectic than mine (I am writing this again whilst at work) so I think trying to find time during the working day to lesson plan is a little bit of an issue for her currently, but at least it’s keeping her busy and shes not wasting copious amounts of time on the internet…
Apparently the local authority are installing spyware on the computers we use so that we can monitor what we do. When I first heard this I thought ‘Shoot, what am I going to do with all my time now?’ as there is only so much one can do when lesson planning and with 13 hours a week of actual teaching, especially when you work 830-5 five days a week! Anyhow, I have since been informed that social networking sites, online shopping and general procrastinating are more than acceptable. The only big ‘No-Nos’ are ‘Watching pornography, and downloading movies and music onto the computers’. Apparently in the head office of the local authority most of the staff just spend most of their time on youtube, facebook and online shopping. Some I have been reliably informed even sit there and watch movies during work! There would be outcry back home if local authority employees were doing this with their time. However, this isn’t Britain, we are in Korea….
Also another source of amusement for me is the English names that my students have given themselves to make it easier for me to remember their names. Some of my students are now referred to as ‘Hot Dog’; ‘Monkey’, ‘Bear’, ‘Worst’, and ‘Tower’. Another teenage boy has decided to call himself ‘Jodie’ and another has decided to call himself ‘Czech’ in homage to the ‘Czech Republic’ after being inspired by it’s ‘unique’ spelling and pronounciation during one of my classes last week! Quite bizarre. What amuses me even more is that these students aren’t doing it to take the mickey, they are being quite serious and sincere! Some have of course called themselves ‘John’ and ‘Peter’ but half my students seem to have ridiculous names. I am now expected to call them this for the rest of the year.
Last weekend we headed to the East Coast of Korea to a city called ‘Gangneung’. We decided we needed to explore further afield and it was only 3 and half hours by bus in total so wasn’t too bad! The aim was to go to the beach and soak up some of the suns rays, whilst checking out a different place. We left straight from work on the Friday night in the pouring rain, and unfortunately the weather was to remain fairly poor for the duration of the weekend. It was however cheap, the return bus fare came to a little over 10 GBP (I cannot do a pound sign on the computer I am using) and the accomodation we stayed in was relatively cheap. Just under 20 GBP for the two of us per night. It was clean, fairly spacious and we couldn’t really complain about it.
We have found Korea to be surprisingly expensive so far, food over here is as expensive if not more so than back home. Even rice is more expensive than back home, and Korea is famous for it’s rice! This amongst other numerous things makes you realise that we moan far too much about things and the cost back home when you compare the UK to most other countries around the world, even to other first world countries such as Korea.
I am also (I think Amelia may feel the same) overcome with an immense sense of pride about our NHS whilst out here. For all our misgivings about it, it’s pretty sweet having all the services and healthcare free when you need it. We have medical insurance here like they have in the States I think, but if you need an operation or any significant form of treatment (highly likely given my track record at some point) you will still be expected to pay upwards of 100GBP for a minor operation, obviously more for a more serious complex one. That’s still a heavily subsidised figure of course, and the Koreans and Americans don’t complain about it and seem to think it’s more than reasonable. I however, think it is a fundamentally immoral system! My American friend Ryan here told me his grandfather had a triple heart bypass. This cost $280,000 but his health insurance only covered him for $200,000. As a result he had no choice but to pay $80,000 just to have a chance of survival. Maybe that is just me being a bit left-wing, but I can’t help but feel that any government should make sure it’s people have free access to a good provision of healthcare facilities and services. Of course most people will be able to afford it, but what about the people that can’t? What about the old people who are more likely to need healthcare, worked hard all their lives but earnt little and don’t have the money to spare for it when they need it most? Of course there is the argument ‘Yeah you pay more in tax’, but I think most Brits don’t generally mind paying a little bit more if it means a fair and equal healthcare system for everyone. The only time we do get annoyed is when people screw the system and the taxpayers money is ‘wasted’. In terms of the principle of free healthcare for all however, I think most of us more than agree with it though. This seems to be unlike most other people in the developed world judging on my conversations with others from other countries! I’m so proud and happy to be a Brit. I can’t help but feel that the rest of the world could learn something from us on that front!
Sorry for going all political, I’ll try to avoid doing that again as it’s just not cool and this is not a platform for me to broadcast my political thoughts and opinions! It’s an issue that has came to my attention and has arisen a lot whilst over here though, hence the mini-essay!
Anyway back to what we’ve been doing… We have gotten more friendly with the other English teachers that are staying in our apartment block also which is quite nice. We are all very different and a diverse range of people but everyones very friendly and it’s nice to have others to speak to in English (especially for Amelia when she gets tired of listening to my Leicestarian tones!) and it’s also very interesting hearing about other countries such as America and particularly South Africa (which is just fascinating) in a lot greater detail.
There is an American guy called Will who is from somewhere in Kentucky living downstairs from us. He’s up for playing tennis, ‘soccer’ and going to the gym most nights which is pretty nice. I can even have a conversation with him about the English Premier League (although not Leicester – he mocks them – bloody yank) which is always appreciated! He gets on very well with Amelia also so we’ve been spending quite a bit of time with him in the evenings and stuff.
We went for a day trip on Saturday around where we live with a couple who live upstairs from us. Jake who is from Texas and Soo his Korean wife. They are a little older than us (around 30) but they have been uber friendly and nice ever since we got here and we get on really well! Jake was a wrestler and on the American Football team in ‘college’ (or uni to us), so in America I guess that’s quite a big deal? He’s very much a stereotypical all- American (he loves his baseball, American Football and basketball – but not ‘soccer’ so much – his words not mine!) and his family are largely US Military from what I have gathered. Soo is his very cute and loveable wife. The size difference between these two makes Amelia and I look pretty well balanced, Jake is a man mountain while Soo is about the same size as Amelia.
Anyway, we went on this trip around where we live, which was really good fun and had a thoroughly enjoyable day. We visited a local Korean museum where we tried on traditional Korean dress which led to some amusing photos. We then headed off to a little Island on the river by where we live which was nicer than we realised, before heading to the ‘famous’ Peace Dam via a very enjoyable ferry ride on Lake Paraho.. The Peace Dam was built very quickly in response to satelite images showing the main dam in North Korea leaking and in a very poor condition during the 1980’s I think? This caused huge concern in the South as the surge of water would have swept down stream destroying everything in it’s path and would have flooded Seoul (The 2nd biggest city in the world with 22 million inhabitants) within an hour. The devastation caused by this potential ‘mega-flood’ /Tsunami would have been equal to, if not more devastating than a nuclear blast in the city. Hence the need to build the Dam to protect Seoul and the towns downstream (where we live) from the danger of a poorly maintained North Korean Dam. We visited this Dam and it was quite an impressive structure. Although it is a little odd to see a dam that doesn’t have a reservoir behind it?
The dam is a tribute to the Korean War and dedicated to the re-unification of Korea. The Peace Bell has not been completed as yet, and will not be completed until North and South Korea are finally re-united. It was all quite interesting as I’m sure you can imagine, although the tour guide didn’t speak any English so we gathered most of our information from Soo who very kindly translated for us!
Whilst we were at the Dam we bumped into a large group of Korean Military Veterans who served in Vietnam from 1966/1967 apparently. They spoke very little English except to ask where are you from? To which we replied ‘England’ to be told ‘Gentleman’ and that was about it. They had been drinking large volumes of alcohol (It was 3pm) and proceeded to talk to us in Korean very animatedly for quite some time, I’m sure it would have been interesting to hear what they were saying, but all we could make out was ‘Marine Corps’ ‘Vietnam 1966,1967’ ‘Machine Gun’ and then watching them ‘imitate’ machine gun fire like they used to in the ‘good old days’! They were all very friendly and it was quite amusing seeing men of pensionable age so merry and enjoying life so much! Several of them were very eager to pose for a photo with us!
After this encounter we headed into the DMZ (The De-Militarized Zone) with North Korea. This was all very exciting as we waited at the military checkpoint to be allowed to drive through. I had to cover my face with a Korean Nuns visor hat (who was also on our coach) and had to slump in my seat to draw less attention to myself as foreigners weren’t actually allowed in the DMZ without a special permit. However, me being the true lad that I am, and Amelia being the Asian that she is, we managed to drive into the most militarized place on the planet (2.5 million soldiers are based here) totally undetected. This was cause for a great sense of excitment, however it was all a bit of an anti-climax. We got to say we went to the DMZ, and we drove through it. We were told that North Korea was the other side of a mountain that was 2km away from us, which was exciting. Unfortunately/understandably we couldn’t get off the bus as the DMZ is full of landmines off-road, so it probably wouldn’t have been the best time or place for us to go for a ‘romantic’ little stroll…! Photos are also banned but once again being the true lad that I am I managed to snap several sneeky photos! Unfortunately they are all relatively boring and show very little except that the DMZ is actually a very beautiful place but with lots of barbed wire and military bases! I tried to get a photo of the soldiers at the checkpoint we had to pass to exit the DMZ which would have been pretty cool as they were all kitted out and were in possession of the biggest guns I have ever seen. I had my camera at the ready and everything. However Amelia like a mother telling a small child off deliberately knocked my lens off focus at the crucial moment and then told me off for trying to photograph ‘the men with guns’ as it was ‘against the rules and we were not allowed too’. I was not happy with this. Where is her sense of adventure?!
We are going on an official DMZ Tour next month where we will spend the whole day in the more developed parts of it which should be quite interesting and insightful I think. I will do my best to provide some sneeky photos of it for you, but I guess that depends on whether my ‘little asian friend’ will allow me too or not!
I wrote this blog yesterday, but I lost the last 500 words as the schools internet conked out and I forgot to save it. This annoyed me to say the least. I have tried to re-write it tonight but it has not been quite the same I am afraid due to tiredness!
It is Korean thanksgiving this week so we have the week off except for Monday. As a result Amelia and I decided that naturally the best (and most expensive) way to spend ‘Chuseok’ is by jetting off to Tokyo for the week. This is where I am as I write this. In a hostel sat next to a French girl who is currently stalking some asian looking fellow on facebook. Enthralling stuff. It is gone midnight here now so I should probably go to bed. Amelia went to bed an hour ago, she was exhausted bless her, I wasn’t so tired so I thought I’d finish updating this as it’s been a while. We are off to Mount Fuji on Friday so please pray for good weather for us as we are desperate to see it in all it’s glory! Expect a very long post next week sometime telling you all about it with lots of photos. All I’m saying so far from our first impressions is that it is incomprehensibly huge, and just very, very cool.
I will also add some photos from our weekend trip of the Peace Dam and DMZ to this blog next week when we arrive back in Korea, I cannot do that here I am afraid!
I hope everyone is well at home. I hope that you are feeling better now Grandpa. Boys – Enjoy freshers part IV and EPIK’ers happy Chuseok!
Lots of love xxx
PS Boys of 26 and father, I have started playing footie with a group of random Korean blokes on a Wednesday night 11-a side I think. Obviously there is a slight language barrier before you ask. But football is the language of the world so this is irrelevant. Anyway, a meagre 3 minutes into my debut (I’m playing centre forward – lol) the ball falls to me on the corner of the box 20 yards out. I bend it right foot into the top corner over the keepers outstretched arms. It was the stuff dreams are made of. Literally Billy Hughes eat your heart out kind of stuff. Forget any of my wonder goals for Stansdad last year, this was better. Lingardinho this was even better than that famous free kick I took at Taly remember? Anyway, the Koreans loved it. And then I ‘slotted one home’ from 6 yards. High fives galore. I just wanted to share that with you. x